April 11, 2007

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Humans serve as accidental hosts of chiggers in their larval stage. They leave red, itchy welts but do not burrow into the skin or feed on blood. (Texas Cooperative Extension Photo by Dr. Michael Merchant)

Chiggers are so small they are not visible to the naked eye. They have claw-like mouth parts that feed on human skin liquefied by an enzyme in chigger saliva. (Illustration by Centers for Disease Control.)

  Itchy chiggers coming to life

By Rod Santa Ana III
Texas Cooperative Extension

As spring temperatures rise, so do chiggers, up the legs of unsuspecting humans who serve as accidental hosts for the tiny parasites that can leave itchy welts, an expert says.

But there are ways to avoid and treat the wrath of chiggers without avoiding the outdoors, said Dr. Boris Castro, a Texas Cooperative Extension entomologist in Weslaco.

"Chiggers are not insects," Castro said. "They are mites, and when they are in the larval, or baby stage of their lives, they are parasitic. And humans are actually accidental hosts. Chiggers prefer rodents, birds, toads or livestock. But if a human happens along, in lawns or maybe hiking in tall weeds, they'll hop on a human leg for the ride."

In their larval stage, chiggers crawl to the end of vegetation, including weeds and blades of grass, lying in wait for a host, Castro said. When a human walks by, they will latch on and crawl up the leg of their new host until they come to a fold in the skin or an area where clothes bind the skin.

"They feel protected in these areas, which would be where the elastic of a sock or underwear binds the skin, or in folds of skin like behind the knee, in the crotch or in the armpit," he said.

Once chiggers find their human resting place, they begin to do their damage.

"Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow into the skin or suck blood," Castro said. "Instead, they insert their claw-like mouth parts into the skin and release a digestive enzyme in their saliva which actually liquefies the skin. The liquefied skin, enzyme and saliva then harden into a sort of feeding tube from which the chigger draws nutrients. They feed on the digested skin cell material."

Left unmolested, the chigger, which is so small as to be invisible to the naked eye, will continue feeding for about three days.

"Usually we'll scratch the chigger off, or knock it off while bathing, but the enzyme is left behind and that's what causes the allergic reaction, the itching and the red welts," Castro said.

Medical treatment is not usually necessary unless the chigger bites are so numerous as to be alarming, or if the allergic reaction is severe, he said.

"The effects of chiggers on the skin can be bothersome, but shouldn't keep people indoors," Castro said. "Instead, consider avoidance, protection and treatment."

Avoidance would include keeping lawns mowed and vegetation trimmed since manicured lawns are less preferred by chiggers, Castro said.

"Consider treating lawns with pesticides labeled for such use," he said. "Insecticide sprays, such as those containing bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, esfenvalerate or permethrin can reduce chigger populations. Use of hose-end spray applicators may be the best way to apply liquid insecticide sprays to large lawn areas. Make sure to follow label directions carefully when using insecticides, and pets should not be allowed in treated areas until the spray residue is dry. Retreat every three weeks as needed."

Protection would include wearing boots outdoors and tucking pant cuffs into your socks to prevent entry. Also, spray your footwear, lower pant legs or exposed leg areas with mosquito repellant that contains DEET, and reapply every three hours. Using sulfur powder is an option, but that can be smelly, Castro advised.

"And immediately after being outdoors, bathe or shower in warm water, scrubbing your skin with a wash cloth. Wash clothes in warm water separate from bed linens, and treat any chigger welts with a topical, over-the-counter itch relief cream that contains an antibacterial. It will take the body a week to 10 days to repair the skin damage. Scratching will open a wound that could provide opportunity for a secondary infection of some other bacteria," he said.

Chiggers are not active in cool weather, but once temperatures warm up, eggs hatch and chiggers begin looking for hosts. In North Texas, chiggers may be a problem only for a couple of generations that last 40 to 70 days. But in South Texas where warm temperatures last longer, chiggers may be a problem for up to four generations, Castro said.

"Chiggers are a nuisance more than anything, but with a few common sense steps, it's possible to minimize their effects without sacrificing outdoor activities," he said.

This living fence uses a variety of plants with various colors and shapes to give it a soft, natural look. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)
  Between friends: a living fence

The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide

An old adage asserts that good fences make good neighbors. True enough. But a living fence composed of a variety of large and small shrubs and trees makes good sense, too. For example, a living fence ...

  • Can be a nesting place for birds and a source of food for butterflies and hummingbirds
  • Provides an attractive border, or hedgerow
  • Produces greenery that can keep your property shaded and cool during the warm months
  • Is low-maintenance
  • Blooms on and off from spring to late summer
  • Provides colorful foliage in the fall

The key to an effective and attractive living fence is to plant shrubs and trees at intervals, rather than in a single row. This will result in a hedge that blooms at different times and has a variety of shapes, giving it a soft, natural look.

This dandelion escaped the author's neighborhood to live a long, happy life in a field not far away. (Photo by Chris S. Corby)
  The lighter side of gardening
Dandelion Whine

By Michael Bracken

I woke one recent Saturday morning to find my front yard had turned into a bed of yellow. With a smile that split my face in two, I proudly showed my wife my first successful crop ever.

"Those are dandelions," she said. "What are we going to do with them?"

"Use them for salads," I explained. "Or wine."

"Our lawn's not a vineyard," my wife protested. "It's a restroom for Fifi."

Fifi is her Bull Mastiff, a four-legged composter of anything that hits the kitchen floor. He was sitting at the front door giving me that "I need to fertilize now!" stare, so I attached his lead and headed outside to admire my good fortune.

My neighbor, the gardening Good Samaritan, met me at the invisible property line that separates his yard from mine. Coincidentally, it was also the exact spot where my glorious bed of yellow abruptly ended and his perfectly sculpted sea of St. Augustine began.

"Put a lot of work into your yard this year?" he asked.

"Nah," I said, shuffling my feet with feigned humility, "I just got out of the way and let Mother Nature do it all."

"You must be blessed," he said.

"Why's that?"

"Nothing's dead yet, and you haven't had to paint anything." He knew about my lawn (see "Fashionable gardeners say pink in the new green") and my tomatoes (see "Why my face is red but my tomatoes aren't"). "By the way," he asked, "whatever happened to your gnomes?"

"They're roaming," I told him. "The last I heard, they'd gone to Alaska." (See "Gnome on the range.")

"And what are you going to do about that?" He pointed at my beautiful bed of dandelions.

Before I could answer, another neighbor joined us and soon I had crowd of anxious green thumbs whining about my early spring crop.

"That stuff will spread," said one.

"And we can't have that," said another, "not in this neighborhood."

That's when I looked around and realized the heavy spring rains had turned my neighborhood into a sea of green and my yard into an island of yellow. As my neighbors crowded around me like angry villagers, I began to feel like Frankenstein's monster, wholly unappreciated and clearly doomed.

Despite the commotion surrounding him, Fifi patiently fertilized and that made the most olfactory-sensitive neighbors step backward. I used the opportunity to bolt for the house. As soon as I was inside with the door safely latched behind me, I grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper and began sketching our house and yard.

My wife looked over my shoulder. "What are you doing now?"

"I'm planning a water garden," I said.

"That goes all the way around the house?"

"OK," I admitted. "It's a moat. Have you seen the neighbors? They've gone crazy."

She peeked through the blinds and then called me to the window. I could no longer see the beautiful field of yellow because my yard was covered with neighbors in ball caps and bonnets, each one with a weed-puller and a bucket. Before I had a chance to protest, my dandelion crop had been decimated.

I finally ventured outside at nightfall and rescued the dandelion corpses from the compost heap my neighbors had thoughtfully created. I still intended to make dandelion wine, but I can save the story of how I nearly burned down the garage for another time.

Instead, I'll just say that my wife de-moated me when she nixed the "water garden" and the neighbors have formed a Volunteer Gardening Department complete with red wheelbarrows and a Dalmatian. They've been taking shifts monitoring my lawn. At the first sign of a new weed, I hear a siren and soon a half-dozen or more neighbors arrive to pull it out before it has a chance to blossom.

And Fifi just realized the Dalmatian is a girl.

  Gardening tips

"I keep some peat moss handy and when I plant I sprinkle a thin layer on top of the soil over the seeds," writes Edwin Smith. "This keeps the soil from crusting over. It really helps in August planting carrots."

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 T-shirt. Here's a chance to get published and be a garden stylist as well! Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

  Did you know...

Plants need water to survive but too much water can cause problems because plants need to be able to draw oxygen from the soil along with water and nutrients. Oxygen is not accessible in very wet soil. To avoid this problem, provide good drainage or plant in raised beds.


  Upcoming garden events

Bryan-College Station: The A&M Garden Club Horticultural Celebration will host "70 Years of Gardening in Brazos Valley," a celebration of the club's 70th anniversary, Wednesday, April 11, from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the Brazos Center, 3232 Briarcrest Drive, Bryan. This community-wide activity will include horticulture and design entries and educational displays by local garden clubs, local horticulture businesses, and a photo contest for individuals. The Horticulture Tables will have three classes: Foliage Plants, Cactus and Succulents, and Flowering Plants, with correct nomenclature, groomed pots, and specimens placed on top of the tables. Admission is free. For additional information, contact Idalia Aguilar at IdaliaAguilarV@hotmail.com.

Nacogdoches: The annual Spring Garden Gala plant sale at Stephen F. Austin State University’s Mast Arboretum will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the intramural field on Wilson Drive, Nacogdoches. "We will offer a great selection of rare, unusual, and Texas-tough trees, shrubs, succulents, and herbaceous perennials, as well as many heat loving tropicals," said Dawn Stover, Mast Arboretum research associate. "All of the plants are produced at SFA by the staff, students and volunteers." Greg Grant, Pineywoods Native Plant Center research associate, will have a number of his introductions available as well, including the pink flowered 'Pam Puryear' and large flowered 'Big Momma' Turk's cap. "Many of the rare Aromi hybrid deciduous azaleas will be offered, as will a good number of the rarely available native East Texas red buckeye," Stover said. Proceeds from the plant sale help support the SFA Mast Arboretum, the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, the Pineywoods Native Plant Center and educational programs. For more information, call (936) 468-4404 or visit http://arboretum.sfasu.edu/.

Cedar Hill: Petal Pusher's, 813 Straus Road, will host "English Gardening Texas Style" by Master Gardener and British Native Andrea Rucker on Saturday, April 14 at 10:30 a.m. This event is free. For more information, call (972) 291-7650.

Cedar Hill: Petal Pusher's, 813 Straus Road, will host "Petal Pusher's Picks" by nationally known landscape architect Rosa Finsley on Saturday, April 14 at 1 p.m. This event is free. For more information, call (972) 291-7650.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "New Native and Adaptive Xeriscape Plants for the Austin Landscape," a free lecture by Pat McNeil, Sunday, April 15, at 2 p.m. Learn about the the mazari palm, the mountain pea, and other exciting, new drought tolerant plants. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

Waco: "Easy-Care Roses for Busy People," an EarthKind Rose Symposium hosted by McLennan County Master Gardeners and Texas Cooperative Extension, will take place in Waco, Saturday, April 21, 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., at Texas State Technical College, 3801 Campus Drive. Among the speakers will be Dr. Steve George, Professor and Landscape Horticulture Specialist, Texas Cooperative Extension, Dallas; Mark Chamblee, owner Chamblee Rose Nursery, Tyler; Gaye Hammond, President, Houston Rose Society; Steve Huddleston, Senior Horticulturalist, Fort Worth Botanic Garden; and Rachelle Kemp, Landscape Design Instructor, Texas State Technical College, Waco. Registration is $56 per person and pre-registration is required. Registration includes snacks, beverages, all course materials, and a two-gallon rose. For more information, call (254) 757-5180 or visit www.mclennanmastergardeners.org.

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners will have a plant sale on Saturday, April 21, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Jackson County Services Building Auditorium, 411 North Wells, Edna. Shrubs, bedding plants, flowering shrubs, and plants propagated by the Master Gardeners are being sold. Yard accessories being sold include decorative indoor and outdoor birdhouses. The public is invited.

Brownwood: The Brownwood Garden Club is sponsoring the free Heart of Texas Wildflower Exhibit and Plant Sale Thursday-Saturday, April 26 through 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Activity Center of First Baptist Church, Brownwood. Specimens of wildflowers from Brown and surrounding counties will be displayed and identified by common and scientific names. At 1 p.m. Friday, John Begnaud, Extension Horticulturist from Tom Green County, will present the program "Landscaping with Native Plants." Saturday, Dr. Jack Stanford will speak on "Central Texas Wildflowers." Maps of suggested routes to view wildflowers will be available, and Dr. Stanford will lead a field trip following his presentation. For more information, call (325) 646-8739.

Tyler: The 9th annual Tyler Men's Club "Spring Fling" plant sale will take place Saturday, April 28 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Tyler Rose Garden in the East Pavilion (Farmer's Market Shed). The ere is no admission charge and the event will be held "rain or shine." Additional information is available at http://home.earthlink.net/~tylermensgardenclub/.

Longview: The Northwest Texas Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas is having its annual plant sale at Wal-Mart, 2440 Gilmer Road, Longview, on April 28 beginning at 8 a.m. and usually sells out by noon. Attendees who join the NPSOT will receive a plethora of butterfly plant seeds. For additional information, contact emmanell@peoplepc.com.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "How to Select, Plant and Grow Palm Trees in the Austin Area," a free lecture and demonstration by Hays County Free Press gardening columnist Chris Winslow, Sunday, April 29, at 2 p.m. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

El Paso, Fort Worth, Dallas: Visit America's very best, rarely seen, Private Gardens. The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program has been opening the gates to America's best private gardens since 1995. The 2007 season features more than 350 gardens across 21 states. Learn about gardens participating in your area through the Open Days Directory, an annual publication listing open gardens with garden descriptions, open dates and hours, and directions. To purchase a Directory or for more information, call (888)842-2442 or visit www.opendaysprogram.org. The $5 admission fee supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy's work of preserving exceptional American gardens such Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. 2007 Texas Open Days: El Paso: May 5 & 6; Fort Worth: October 14; Dallas: October 20.

Tyler: The Smith County Master Gardeners will host the 6th annual Spring Home Garden Tour May 5, Tyler. Area gardens will be showcased and will offer visitors ideas an inspiration for their own garden, large or small. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions or discuss planting ideas. For more information, call (903) 894-7950.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "It's About Thyme Herb Festival," an afternoon of cooking and gardening demonstrations with vendors and music, Saturday, May 5, noon until 6 p.m. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

Denton: The Denton County Master Gardeners will hold their 6th annual Walk in the Garden Tour and Plant Sale on Saturday, May 12, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Five gardens will be featured, ranging from expansive country acreage to smaller scale city gardens. There is a focus on vegetable gardening. Information on tickets and garden locations may be obtained at www.dcmga.com or the Denton County Extension Office, (940) 349-2883.

Houston: The Westbury Garden Tour — Great Backyards in Westbury will take place Saturday, May 12 from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. See five gardens for $7. Tickets may be purchased at 5506 Briarbend.

Salado: The 4th annual Salado Yard and Garden Tour, a tour of yards and gardens in the historic village of Salado, will highlight characteristic and varied private and public gardens for the Central Texas landscape. From large to small, rambling to organized, annuals to perennials, water wise planting to courtyard container gardens, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The tour will be Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sunday, May 13 from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Gardens will be self-guided with volunteers helping to answer questions when needed. Tickets will be $15 to view all gardens and are good for the two days. Maps will be available leading to each location with a description of each garden. Tours will be conducted rain or shine. The tour is sponsored by the Salado Garden Club and the Public Arts League of Salado. For further information, visit the Village of Salado website at www.salado.com or call (254) 947-8300.

Victoria: The Victoria County Master Gardeners Spring Plant Sale will be held May 19 at the Victoria County 4H Activity Center (at the airport) 259 Bachelor Drive, Victoria, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. or until sold out. The plants for sale have been raised by the Master Gardeners themselves. You know the plants will grow in our area because they come from our area! Come also to see the Victoria Educational Garden along with its newest expansion. The expansion Grand Opening is to be held May 20th.

Ft. Worth: The Greater Fort Worth Herb Society presents its 21st Annual Herb Festival May 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth. The Festival will feature the sale of herb plants and herb-related products. There will also be a silent auction, crafts, music, demos, food and much more. Special event speakers will be Randy Weston of Weston Gardens and Mary Doebelling of Our Thyme Garden. Admission is $5 for adults. The Botanic Gardens are located at 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd Dr., Fort Worth. For more information, please visit www.greaterfortworthherbsociety.org or call (817) 966-7126.

Austin: It's About Thyme, 11726 Manchaca, Austin, will host "Choosing the Perfect Crepe Myrtle for Your Garden," a free clinic for gardeners to learn about disease resistance, choices of size, and length of bloom time, presented by Hays County Free Press columnist and crepe myrtle expert Chris Winslow, Sunday, May 27, at 2 p.m. For more information, call (512) 280-1192 or visit www.itsaboutthyme.com.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Garden is sponsoring a trip to Italy September 4 through 15, featuring Italy's villas and gardens. Escorted by Bob Brackman, the Director of the Garden, an exceptional itinerary has been designed for lovers of leisurely travel and beautiful homes and gardens. Famous for their gardens, Italians still build on their ancestors' legacy with the creation of exquisite country villas surrounded by terraced, fountain-filled gardens that have become symbolic of Italian style. Experience the rich cultural heritage of Italy. Visit special gardens, famous museums, the important cities of Florence and Rome, plus the Lake District, and the small villages which make Italy so charming, such as Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita and Tuscan villages. Feast on fabulous Italian cuisine and enjoy la dolce vita. Land cost per person sharing is $3550 plus air, which includes a $100 tax deductible donation, most meals and gratuities. For more information, contact Marianne Martz of Fuller Travel at (210) 828-6311 or marianne@fullertvl.com.

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

Rockport: An herb study group founded in March 2003 meets the second Wednesday of every month at the ACISD Maintenance Department (Formerly Rockport Elementary), 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including the historical uses of the herbs and tips for successful propagation and cultivation.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Herb Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels (corner of Funston & N. New Braunfels). For more information on programs, visit www.sanantonioherbs.org.

Dallas: The Rainbow Garden Club of North Texas meets the second Sunday of each month at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Meetings are held at member's homes and garden centers around the area. For more information, visit www.RainbowGardenClub.com.

Dallas: 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) 824-2448 or visit www.dogc.org.

Arlington: The Arlington Organic Garden Club meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month (except November and December) at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center Street, Arlington. For more information, contact David at (817) 483-7746.

If you would like your organization's events included in "Upcoming Garden Events," please contact us at Garden Events.

  The New Book Of Salvias features 15 new species

Fifteen new species have been added to the revised edition of Betsy Clebsch's time-honored guide that covers more than 100 species of salvias in one colorful book. Blooming cycles, cultural practices and companion plants are listed. This is a great gift for those wishing to add low-maintenance plants to the landscape.

$31.97 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 April and we'll waive shipping charges. (Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)

  Fiber row cover valuable year-round

Grow-Web encourages plant growth and development, and also provides protection from insects, birds, diseases and frosts. It is also air and water permeable and allows for ventilation. Grow-Web provides excellent protection to seedlings when applied directly to the seedbed.

 $30.64 per 12.3' x 32.8' roll (includes shipping!)

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

(Discover, MasterCard and Visa accepted.)


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