July 26, 2006

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With little to eat in the pastures, grasshoppers move to home gardens and landscape plants, said experts with Texas Cooperative Extension.

A grasshopper munches on a soybean plant in a Texas Cooperative Extension test plot in Rusk County.

Grasshoppers lay their eggs in weedy areas along fence rows, ditches and pastures, said experts with Texas Cooperative Extension.
(Texas Cooperative Extension photos by Robert Burns)

  Grasshoppers Thrive in Hot, Dry Weather

By Robert Burns
Texas Agricultural Extension

While crops and gardens suffer under the hot summer sun, grasshoppers thrive, eating more and growing faster, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.

"For a number of reasons, grasshoppers thrive under hot, dry conditions," said Dr. Allen Knutson, Extension entomologist, Dallas.

And with little to find to eat in the pastures and dryland crop areas, home gardens or watered lawns look like an "an oasis" to them, Knutson said.

Grasshoppers lay their eggs along fence rows, ditches and pastures, he said.

"Eggs of different grasshopper species hatch out at different times, so young grasshoppers can be seen throughout the spring and early summer," Knutson said.

Fungi are one of the main threats to grasshopper eggs. Hot, dry weather limits the growth of fungi and thereby results in a larger proportion of eggs hatching.

And grasshoppers just thrive in hot weather, Knutson said. As insects are cold-blooded creatures, hot weather means their metabolism runs faster, so they eat more and grow faster.

Extension agents and personnel reported grasshoppers are pervasive throughout most of East Texas.

"We've got them bad," said Diana Cantu, Extension office manager, Houston County. Cantu and her husband have 10 acres near Grapeland where they keep horses.

"Between the drought and the grasshoppers, we don't have much left," she said.

Cantu said grasshoppers also are invading Crockett and other towns.

In Polk County, to the south of Cantu, the situation is much different, said Mark Currie, Extension agent for agriculture.

"We've had a little more rain than some, and so the grasshoppers aren't as bad," he said. "To the north and west of us, it's a different story."

In Rusk County, Blaine Jernigan said they've "got plenty of grasshoppers. They've gone through a couple in instars (growth stages) and they seem to just be getting larger and larger."

In Wood County, some have been spraying for grasshoppers, said Clint Perkins, Extension agent for agriculture. Other people don't have enough grass for the grasshoppers to eat to justify the cost of spraying.

Most of Panola County is relatively grasshopper free, said Doug McKinney, Extension agent for agriculture.

"The eastern part of the county received 6 to 7 inches of rain in June," McKinney said. "Now the western part of the county, where I live, got less than 2 inches, so we have some grasshoppers. But it's much worse to the west of us."

Weed control in the fall and spring can reduce grasshoppers throughout the summer, Knutson said.

"Eliminating weeds will starve young hoppers and later discourage adults from laying eggs in the area," he said.

But if there are already a lot of grasshoppers in the weedy areas, it's not a good idea to spray or till.

"Destroying weeds infested with large numbers of grasshoppers can force the hungry grasshoppers to move to nearby crops or landscapes," he said. "Control the grasshoppers in the weedy area first with insecticides or be ready to protect nearby crops if they become infested."

"Floating row covers," made of lightweight fabrics, can be used to protect vegetable gardens, flowers and small fruit trees, Knutson noted. The covers are the same type sold at home garden centers to protect landscape plants from freezing temperatures.

"These lightweight fabrics let sunlight in while protecting plants from insects," he said.

There are a number of insecticides that will kill grasshoppers, Knutson said. Most pesticides, however, do not persist for more than a few days, and grasshoppers are likely to quickly re-infest a sprayed area.

The most successful treatment plan is to spray when the grasshoppers are small, he said. The larger, more mature grasshoppers are harder to kill.

Some insecticides may be safe for home lawns but not for gardens, Knutson said.

Whether treating home landscapes, crops or gardens, he recommended homeowners and agricultural producers contact the Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in their county.

A phone list for Extension offices in all Texas counties can be found on the Web at http://perdir.tamu.edu/phone.cfm. Links to county office Web sites can be found at http://county-tx.tamu.edu/.

Knutson also recommended the Extension bulletin L-5201: "Grasshoppers and Their Control," which should be available at county Extension offices.

Texas Cooperative Extension entomologist Dr. Boris Castro sprays the underside of leaves of a small Ficus tree with a mixture of soapy water and cooking oil to treat for whitefly infestation.
(Texas Agricultural Experiment Station photo by Rod Santa Ana III)

  Whiteflies Moving From Cotton Fields to Back Yards

By Rod Santa Ana III
Texas Agricultural Extension

Thick clouds of tiny whiteflies have invaded the Lower Rio Grande Valley with a vengeance. They can be seen outdoors almost everywhere — flying through the air en masse, on windshields, in joggers' faces and among landscape plants.

Although not a danger to human health, whiteflies can be harmful to plants, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert. Fortunately, there are various ways to deal with them.

"We're seeing whiteflies in great numbers now because they are migrating from maturing cotton fields to other food sources, including garden and landscape plants in town," said Dr. Boris Castro, an Extension entomologist at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

"Unfortunately, they can debilitate or even kill ornamental plants, so it's important to keep a watchful eye and treat for them if necessary," he said.

Whiteflies prefer the abundant food supply found in more than 500 plant species, including commercial field crops. But as those crops mature and are harvested, the whiteflies move into the city to feed on urban plants, Castro said.

"They start out in the spring in our winter vegetable crops, then, as those crops are harvested, they'll move on to cotton in the summer," he said. "Whiteflies can actually sense the cotton plants' senescence, or maturing, as they are doing now, so they move on to the next most abundant food supply, which at this time of year happens to be homeowners' plants."

Whiteflies are abundant this year because of ideal weather conditions that have helped females lay up to as many as 300 eggs, and offspring live as long as three weeks.

"In hot, dry weather like we've had lately, it doesn't take long for their populations to increase to huge numbers," Castro said. "And the strong winds we've been having can carry them for long distances."

As whiteflies ride winds into town, they are naturally attracted to plants, Castro said, but will eventually move on to their favorites: green plants with broad leaves.

"Don't be concerned if you kick them up while you're walking through your lawn," he said. "Turf grasses are not a preferred host. It's the broadleaf plants we need to watch. These would include any garden vegetables, poinsettias, Ficus, geraniums, gardenia, hibiscus and some fruit trees, including guava."

Whiteflies cause damage in several ways, Castro said. They feed by using their piercing snouts to suck sap from leaves, which can kill small plants and wilt larger ones. Leaves turn yellow and plants lose vigor. The feeding can also promote physiological disorders in vegetable plants, causing fruit reduction or uneven ripening.

"Whiteflies can also transmit plant diseases, which are not harmful to humans, but they will stunt or deform the plant," Castro said.

"But the most prominent whitefly damage to plants is related to the waste product they secrete on leaves called honeydew," he said. "It's a sticky substance made of sugars from the plant which attracts a black fungus called sooty mold. If it's dense enough, it will interfere with photosynthesis and cause the plant to stress and eventually die."

Home gardeners should monitor plants and take action before whiteflies become too densely populated, Castro said. If large numbers of the pests have caused leaves to drop, he recommends pruning off the affected stems. These cuttings should be disposed of in a tightly sealed bag to keep whiteflies from spreading. If the populations are not too heavy, Castro recommends spraying the plants with soapy water.

"A mild liquid hand soap diluted in water is recommended," he said. "Spray until you see runoff, with special care to spray the underside of leaves where eggs and immature whiteflies are attached. Insecticidal oils are also good. These are specially formulated for plants, but if none are available, they're easy to make."

Two tablespoons of liquid dishwashing soap (not the harsher automatic dishwasher soap) and 2 tablespoons of cooking oil mixed with a gallon of water is environmentally safe and highly effective, if only a few plants are infested, Castro said.

"Don't use the dishwashing soap with de-greasing agents," he said. "The soap will safely wash the plant of the sooty mold and the cooking oil creates a tiny film on the leaves that suffocates the immature stages of whitefly. Be sure to spray the underside of leaves."

Castro recommends weekly applications if needed until whitefly populations leave in search of rural winter vegetable crops that are planted in early fall.

Effective insecticides that can be used in home vegetables and ornamentals include those derived from Neem, including Azatin, Neem Oil and other brands, Castro said.

"They are good for the immature stages of the insect," he said. "Another product called Marathon works well on adults and immature stages, as does Bayer Tree and Shrub Systemic. They can be used in ornamental, non-bearing fruit trees and vegetables grown for resale. They both have the same chemical ingredient, imidacloprid. Marathon is applied to either the soil or the leaves; the Tree and Shrub systemic is applied only to the soil and is absorbed by the plant.

"Imidacloprid insecticides are long-lasting and should be used only once a year," Castro said. "Remember to follow the label recommendations when using them."


  Readers' Gardening Tips

From Patrick J. Kennedy: "So you don't like those pesky mosquitoes, especially now that they have the potential to carry the West Nile Virus? Here's a tip that was given at a recent gardening forum. Put some water in a white dinner plate and add a couple drops of Lemon Fresh Joy dish detergent. Set the dish on your porch, patio, or other outdoor area. Not sure what attracts them — the lemon smell, the white plate color, or what — but mosquitoes flock to it, and drop dead shortly after drinking the Lemon Fresh Joy/water mixture, and usually within about 10 feet of the plate."

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...

Some folks avoid saving seeds because they are not quite sure how to store them. Commercial seed packets often come hermetically sealed in fancy foil packaging. Seeds can be stored in plain paper envelopes and last just as long. Label your packets with the name of the variety, date collected and store in a cool, dry place. After a couple of years, most seed will lose its viability and should be tested for germination or discarded.

  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, presented in cooperation with Texas Parks & Wildlife. 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.

Dr. William Welch will speak about "Landscape Horticulture" from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., Wednesday, August 2, at the Carleen Bright Arboretum, 9001 Bosque Blvd., Woodway. This event is sponsored by the McLennan County Master Gardeners. Admission is $5. For more information, call (254) 754-6954 or e-mail jtye@grandecom.net.

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 Austin Herb Society celebrates Herb Awareness Month in October with HerbFest, Saturday, October 21, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, located in the Burger Center, 3200 Jones Rd., off I-290 between Brodie Lane and Westgate Blvd. No entrance fee for shoppers, free parking. For additional information, call (512) 468-9126.

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 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 2006 Annual Garden Tour in Victoria County will take place on Saturday and Sunday, October 28-29, showcasing five gardens at historic homes in Old Victoria. Imagination will be fulfilled beyond garden gates with the theme “Nature’s Beauty Beyond the Gate” in fall and pre-Halloween garden settings. Highlighted garden plants will be catalogued in educational materials and for plant sale identification on the weekend of the tour. Guided tours at $18 per person are scheduled from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Sunday. Individual garden tours are $5 per garden. Workshops will be conducted on culinary cooking and holiday decorating from the garden for additional fees. For further information, contact Victoria County Extension Office at (361) 575-4581.

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.

  Plagued by Pests?  

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  Two hats are better than one!

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