July 5, 2006

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Vanessa Carney, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station entomology research associate, unzips the tent containing the newly released Uzbekistan salt cedar beetles that was set up in a dense stand on private property. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Dense stands of salt cedar on the banks of the Canadian River drink up thousands of gallons of water every year. Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researchers are trying to introduce salt cedar beetles as biological control. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Kay Ledbetter)

A salt cedar beetle climbs a limb in one of the confinement tents that are a part of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station study. Beetles from Posidi, Greece, and Uzbekistan are a part of the experiment. (Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Kay Ledbetter)

  Better beetle sought for salt cedar control

By Kay Ledbetter
Texas Agricultural Extension

Beetles from Uzbekistan are more prolific salt cedar eaters than beetles from Greece. At least that's what Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researchers hope.

Uzbekistan salt cedar beetles being released by the Experiment Station's entomology department are the same species as those released on the salt cedar stands near Lake Meredith. They are just from a different collection point, said Vanessa Carney, Experiment Station entomology research associate.

Researchers first looked at latitude and longitude to find the beetle they thought would be best suited to this region, and they came up with salt cedar beetles from Posidi, Greece, Carney said.

"Because some of the releases in other states haven't been successful, we're starting to think it may be more complicated than that," she said. "These beetles from Uzbekistan seem to be most suited to our climate at the same latitude and longitude."

At the Meredith site, the Posidi beetles released in 2004 have made it through two winters and had two summers of success, Carney said. However, because of an early warm-up followed by a cold spell, they seem to be less prolific this summer and haven't exploded in numbers.

Dr. Jerry Michels, Experiment Station entomology research project leader, and Carney are making new releases of the Uzbekistan beetle this year in the heavy salt cedar stands on private land north of Borger.

The new site was selected because of its remote location and because it is not subject to other control methods, such as fire and chemical treatments, Carney said.

A total of 25 egg masses have been released at three different sites, all within cages, Carney said. While the Posidi beetles are approved for open release, the Uzbekistan beetles have not been approved by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for open release so they must be enclosed in tents.

The beetles being released into the confined salt cedar trials were provided by Dr. Jack DeLoach with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service at Temple, where other studies are being done.

Each egg mass had 10 to 30 eggs. Another 60 adults were released between the three sites, Carney said. Each egg will go through three larval stages, during which time they feed on the salt cedar, before they drop into the ground and emerge a week later as a beetle.

"Almost immediately they will start mating and will live for about 30 days," she said. "We're doing more extensive work on those figures in our lab at Bushland. We want to determine how many eggs they lay, the life cycle times and how many batches of eggs they lay in a lifetime."

Damage is what the researchers want to start seeing, Carney said. The Posidi beetles at Lake Meredith defoliate small branches, but the damage hasn't been widespread. So far, the Uzbekistan beetles haven't been here long enough for the scientists to gauge what they can do.

"They just came in May and the first year we don't expect to see major damage," she said. "But they may defoliate the trees within the cages. We were warned that it will go quickly, and we may run out of food within the tents."

Michels and Carney said their Texas salt cedar beetle work is part of a larger study that is looking at beetles from Fukang, China; Crete, Greece; Tunisia, Africa; and Turpan, China.

These four strains of beetles will be released in various sites throughout the U.S., with emphasis on establishing them at two Texas sites, and in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Nebraska.

"What we want to see is the differences of these strains at different latitudes," Michels said. "People have released a strain here or a strain there, but what we want to do is release all of these strains at each site and maybe then be able to make some decisions that are backed up by research."

Ultimately, the study should help determine which strains are adapted to which latitude, he said. The Crete strain was released from Wyoming to South Texas and did not work everywhere. At the same time, some of these strains are new and haven't been tested anywhere.

This new widespread study will begin once researchers receive approval from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Michels said.

A phorid fly. (Photo courtesy of Sanford Porter, USDA)


  New phorid fly released in fight against fire ants

By Paul Schattenberg
Texas Agricultural Extension

There's a new phorid fly in town, and this one could be even deadlier to fire ants than other species, said a Texas Cooperative Extension entomologist.

"We've been releasing a different type of phorid fly in New Braunfels to see how effective it will be in the controlling fire ants," said Molly Keck, Extension entomologist for Bexar County. "We're hoping this one will be even more deadly to them than the other species of phorid fly we've been using throughout the state for fire ant management."

If the release is successful, additional releases of the new phorid fly species will likely be forthcoming, she said.

Phorid flies kill fire ants by "dive-bombing" them in order to lay their eggs in the ant's thorax, Keck explained. Once hatched, the fly larvae migrates into the head of the ant, eating the contents. Eventually, the ant's head falls off.

The new fly, Pseudacton curvatis, is imported from South America and has been acquired though the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspection Service, Keck said.

An initial release of about 75,000 of these flies was completed over three days June 14, 20 and 23 in the southeastern part of the city.

"This type of phorid fly is different from the Pseudacton tricuspis, which is already being used in several counties as a biological fire ant control," Keck said. "It's more robust and prefers the smaller-sized worker ants. It also handles cold weather better than tricuspus, so it's less likely to die out during fall or winter."

The new fly's aggressiveness toward smaller worker ants is especially useful in eliminating fire ant colonies with multiple queens, Keck said.

"Those colonies usually have large numbers of the smaller worker ants in and around them," she said. "So they provide more 'targets' for this fly. And these types of colonies are abundant throughout the state."

A similar release of the new species has already taken place near Denton, but this is the first in the South Central Texas, Keck added.

"We're also trying to keep the release of the new fly far enough away from where we have released or plan to release the Pseudacton tricuspus," she said. "That way the two species won't be competing with one another. And although it's likely the two can survive in the same area, the curvatis would likely to out-compete the tricuspus in a given area, so it just makes more sense to release them far enough apart."

After the initial release, Keck will revisit the release area about every six months to check the progress of the new species in controlling fire ants. However, it may be two years before any significant evidence of the fly's effectiveness in killing fire ants and adapting to the area is visible, she said.

"We may see tangible evidence in as little as a year, but sometimes it takes longer," she said.

Even if the fly proves highly effective in controlling fire ants, it should not be viewed as a "golden bullet" for killing them, she warned.

"The new species should be seen as another weapon in fight against fire ants in the state," she said. "But we hope it will be a strong addition to the existing arsenal of chemical and biological controls in the management of fire ants, which include its predecessor: Pseudacton tricuspus."


  Readers' Gardening Tips

From Robert Medd: "Helping Hummingbirds combat ants and yellow jackets on their feeders is quite a problem, but I have come up with a solution. Cutter Insect repellent. I spray a bit on my hand, wipe down the cord holding the feeder, and lightly wipe surface where Hummingbirds feed. Voila, no more clogged feeders from ants and the yellow jackets don't come around anymore. I do this every time I clean feeders."

From Toni Fransen: "Since I live in the country, I've lost many newly planted shrubs and small trees to gophers and burrowing rodents. Even though it is more work and requires a larger hole, I've started lining the new plantings with hardware cloth. The plants get a good start at root development and the roots can grow through the hardware cloth as they mature."

Have a favorite gardening tip you'd like to share? Texas Gardener's Seeds is seeking brief gardening tips from Texas gardeners to use in future issues. If we publish your tip in Seeds, we will seed you a free Texas Gardener cap. Here's a chance to get published and keep your head in the shade! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Before the days of modern, bagged compost and soil mixes, gardeners used the loose soil pushed up by moles and gophers for potting their favorite plants.

  Upcoming Garden Events

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, will host Nature Nights each Thursday in July, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Nature Nights are fun, interactive explorations of animals, plants and ecology in Central Texas, present in cooperation with Texas Parks & Wildlife. July 6: "Symphonies of the Night: Finding a Frog Concerto in Your Backyard." July 13: "The Fascinating World of Texas Bats." July 20: "Slither and Slide: Get to Know the Snakes of Texas." July 27: "Creepy Crawlies: Insects Working the Night Shift." Admission is $1; free to members. For more information, visit http://www.wildflower.org/?nd=nature.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden will host the Junior Naturalist for those aged 7 through 11 July 10 through 14. Activities will include hands-on gardening, arts and crafts, nature studies, and other outdoor activities. Registration in $150, with discounts available for San Antonio Botanical Society members. For more information or to make reservations, call (201) 207-3270.

The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners will hold their 2006 Master Gardener Class from August 2 through November 15, at Niemietz Park in Cibolo. Classes will be every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will include at least one Saturday field trip. Registration fee is $170, with $50 refunded after completion of 50 volunteer hours. For more information please contact Ross Risz, Class Coordinator, at rossrisz@aol.com. Or you can call the Guadalupe County Extension Office at (830) 379-1972.

The Texas Bamboo Society will host the 14th Annual Texas Bamboo Festival at Zilker Botanical Garden, Austin, on Saturday and Sunday, August 26 through 27, from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Darrel DeBoer, will present a program entitled "Bamboo Architecture Around the World." The festival will also feature bamboo plants, crafts, musical instruments, poles, presentations, demonstrations and educational information about bamboo. Admission is free and parking is $3. For more information, visit www.bamboocentral.net or call (512) 929-9565.

The Herb Association of Texas and the Antique Rose Emporium will host A Celebration of the Herbal Harvest: A Focus on Culinary Herbs, September 22 through 23, San Antonio. The event will include a road trip, cooking classes, herbal refreshments, lectures and a vendor fair featuring locally grown herbs and related products. To register or for more information, contact Beth Patterson at (830) 257-6732 or e-mail info@texasherbs.org.

The Garden Conservancy will host a tour of five private gardens in Dallas, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., September 23. The tour is self-guided. The conservancy will also sponsor similar tours in Galveston, October 14 and Austin, October 21. Admission to each garden is $5, no reservations required, rain or shine. For more information, visit www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays.html or call toll-free (888) 842-2442.

ArtScape, September 23 and 24, 9 a.m. to 5. p.m., is the Dallas Arboretum's first ever fine art show and sale. The two-day art fair is a family-oriented event that will kick off the Dallas Blooms Autumn festival. ArtScape will feature artists from around the country, the Tour de Fleurs race, the Ultimate Tree Houses exhibit, entertainment and many exciting classes. ArtScape will complement Ultimate Tree Houses, a juried exhibit of 12 tree houses that will be on display throughout the garden. In addition, this year's event will kick off with Tour de Fleurs a 10k, 5k and 1 mile fun run. What a great way to start the weekend! For additional information, please email jijams@dallasarboretum.org.

The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners will sponsor the annual Hidden Garden Tour September 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Rockport. Enjoy touring Rockport and the surrounding area and tour some of the area's private gardens plus Green Acres Demonstration gardens. Bus tours will be available for $15 and tickets must be purchased ahead. Self-guided tours are $10. A plant sale will occur at Green Acres on the day of the tour. Green Acres Demonstration gardens, located at the Aransas County Extension Office (611 E. Mimosa behind Monroe's Furniture on Hwy 35) is the start of the tour on September 30. Maps and additional tour information for the Hidden Garden Tour can be obtained by contacting the Aransas County Extension Office at (361) 790-0103.

The Johnson County Herb Society will hold its Herbal Thymes Show and Symposium, October 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cleburne Senior Center, Cleburne. The event will feature speakers, demonstrations herb plants and related products. For more information, contact Esther Chambliss at (817) 263-9322 or visit www.cleburnearea.info/herbies/.

The San Antonio chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas will host the groups' annual symposium Convergence and Diversity: Native Plants of South Central Texas, October 19 through 22, San Antonio. The symposium will feature guided tours to natural areas, seminars on native plants and a special program on cooking with native plants. For more information, contact (210) 733-0034, (830) 997-9272 or visit www.npsot.org.

The Texas Gourd Society will hold its 11th annual "Show and Tell" at the Waco Convention Center, Waco, November 11 and 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The two-day show will include gourd artists, seminars, demonstrations and much more. Admission is $5 for adults; children under 12 free. For more information, visit www.texasgourdsociety.org.

The Garland Organic Club meets the first Sunday of each month in the little red school house at 1651 Wall St., Garland. All interested gardeners are invited to attend. For more information, call (972) 864-1934 or (800) 864-4445.

Austin Organic Gardeners meet at 7:00 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at the Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin. For more information, visit www.main.org/aog.

The Dallas Organic Garden Club meets at 6:45 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Fretz Park Recreation Center, located at the corner of Hillcrest and Beltline Road in Dallas. For more information, call (214) 676-4326 or visit www.dogc.org.

  Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard with welcoming landscapes  

Roll out the welcome mat for butterflies and hummingbirds. In this lavishly illustrated book, author Sally Roth reveals the secrets for creating irresistible gardens and welcoming landscapes that lure these amazing creatures up close and personal.

 $18.09 plus shipping*

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020 or order on-line.

 *Mention Texas Gardener's Seeds when ordering by phone during the month of July and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Two hats are better than one!

Let your friends and neighbors know that you are proud to be a Texas Gardener with this top-quality cap. Heavy construction, six-panel, pro-style brushed cotton twill, low-profile khaki with dark green bill and logo. Buy one cap and received a second at no additional charge.

 $17.07 (includes shipping!)

Order by calling 1-800-727-9020. Not available through on-line bookstore.

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


Texas Gardener's Seeds
is published weekly. Suntex Communications, Inc. 2006. All rights reserved. You may forward this publication to your friends and colleagues if it is sent in its entirety. No individual part of this newsletter may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

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Publisher: Chris S. Corby Editor: Michael Bracken

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