July 15, 2009

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Chinch bugs feed primarily on St. Augustine grass, sucking the juice out of stems and nodes at the base of the leaves. (Texas AgriLife Research photo by Dr. James Reinert)
Whatís killing the great lawns of Texas?
Drought, chinch bugs, disease all among the suspects

By Paul Schattenberg
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

Lawns throughout the Lone Star State are dead and dying. While drought is the main suspect, other forces may be at work, according to Texas AgriLife experts.

"Chinch bugs thrive in hot, dry weather and feed primarily on St. Augustine grass, but can also damage Bermuda and zoysia grass, although this is rare," said Molly Keck, integrated pest management specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County. "They prefer areas of the lawn that absorb the most heat, like where the grass meets the walkway, driveway or foundation of the house."

Chinch bugs are thought to insert a toxin that kills the grass while they suck out its juices. They feed on stems and nodes near the base of the plant, leaving brown patches that will continue to grow larger if left untreated. Damage to lawns has been extensive throughout Texas due to the extended drought which has created ideal conditions for the pest to feed and proliferate.

Grown chinch bugs are typically about 0.2 inch long. Adults are black with white wings showing a triangular black mark; immature bugs are wingless and bright to burnt orange with a light-colored horizontal band across their back.

Keck said chinch bug damage often looks like fungal damage ó dead grass with a "halo" of yellow grass surrounding the dead spot ó so itís important to try and find out if theyíre present.

One way to check for the pests, she said, is to take an empty can with both ends open, a piece of PVC pipe or other cylinder and work it into the soil so it will hold water in an area of the lawn where the grass is yellowing.

"Fill the can with water and after about 10 minutes you should see chinch bugs floating to the top," Keck said.

Lawns infested with chinch bugs can be treated using an insecticide that's labeled for use on the pests, she said.

Some ways of managing lawns to reduce the possibility of chinch bugs include aerating the turf and applying a layer of top dressing, as well as not over- or under-watering, according to other AgriLife Extension experts.

Grub worms also are active during the summer months and into early fall, and their damage is often confused with that caused by chinch bugs, said Dr. James Reinert, an entomologist with Texas AgriLife Research in Dallas.

Reinert said grubs are white, C-shaped, wormlike creatures with three sets of legs and are the larvae of beetles that take flight in May or June, usually following a storm.

"Grubs are one of the biggest problems in lawns throughout Texas," he said. "While chinch bugs feed on the surface of grasses, grubs feed on the root system. If grubs are present, the grass will pull up easily because the anchorage of the plant to the soil has been cut off at the roots."

Without roots to take up moisture and plant nutrients, the grass will brown and die and appear to be under drought stress, Reinert said. Grass damaged by white grubs can be pulled up easily or even rolled up like a carpet, while grass under drought stress remains anchored to the soil and cannot be easily pulled up, even though it is turning yellow or brown.

Dead or dying grass roots will be black or brown, while healthy roots are white, he added.

Reinert said seeing a significant number of May or June beetles flying near a home is a good indication of grubs in that or a neighbor's lawn.

"If you dig into the soil two or so inches deep about three weeks after a major beetle flight, this is the time to look for grubs," he said. "They will be small this time of the year, but if you begin to find four or more per one square foot, they may cause damage to the lawn later in the summer or fall. Damage will depend on the condition of the turf and how well you manage your lawn."

Reinert added that other smaller, straighter and legless wormlike larvae may also be found in Texas lawns.

"These smaller ones are the larvae of the hunting billbug, which have become more damaging in recent years," he said. "When populations of these insects are high, they can be just as harmful as May or June bug larvae."

Reinert said white grubs too can be treated with an insecticide specifically labeled for use on them.

"If you discover white grubs and are using granular treatment, you need to water it well to push the insecticide down to the target site to kill the grubs where they are feeding on the roots," he said.

While turf grass disease isn't typically a problem in hot, dry weather, it can occur when a lawn is under drought stress, said Daphne Richards, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Travis County.

"Stress from drought, as well as too little or too much watering, can lead to turf grass disease," Richards said. "A common turf grass disease in the summertime is take-all root rot, a fungal disease that affects mainly St. Augustine lawns, but also Bermuda, zoysia and other turf grasses."

Serious take-all infestations produce large discolored patches, dead roots and significant loss of grass stolons or runners.

"In the summer take-all is common in lawns throughout the state and is often mistaken for a chinch bug infestation or another turf grass disease known as brown patch," Richards said.

But brown patch kills only the leaves, while take-all kills the plant's roots and stolons as well.

"If your lawn gets large yellow or brown spots in the spring, odds are it's take-all; but in the summer it could be something else," she added. "Identifying the real cause can save you time and money."

AgriLife Extension offices in counties throughout Texas have soil sample collection kits and forms for mailing turf grass samples to the Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory at Texas A&M university in College Station. The lab is part of the university's department of soil and crop sciences, and the fee for routine testing is typically about $30.

Additionally, researchers continually try to develop new resistant turf grass cultivars, Reinert added, but resistance may wear down over time since the pests are constantly evolving and adapting.

"We are always working on new cultivars of grass that will resist these pests and the other abiotic challenges, including drought and heat stress," he said.

New citrus center will enhance, extend global reach

By Rod Santa Ana
Texas AgriLife Extension Service

Breaking ground for a new citrus center in South Texas signals the next chapter in the book of 60 years of research excellence, said Dr. Michael D. McKinney, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System.

McKinney and others ceremoniously turned spades of soil June 23 to kick off the construction of new research facilities for the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco.

"We break ground today for new facilities at the birthplace of the Star Ruby and Ruby Red, dark red grapefruit varieties that are grown and enjoyed all over the world," McKinney said.

He said the next 60 years would bring unimaginable marvels.

"The research conducted here is of great advantage not only to this area, but in Turkey, Australia, South Africa and many other citrus growing regions," he said. "This new center will help extend that reach into phases we haven't even thought of yet."

Other speakers at the groundbreaking included Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples; Dr. John da Graca, center director; state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.; state Rep. Armando "Mando" Martinez; Dr. Steven H. Tallant, president of Texas A&M-Kingsville; Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual; and Geof Edwards, of the architectural firm Kell Munoz in San Antonio.

Da Graca said the ceremony marked the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one.

"Since 1948, citrus research here was conducted in refurbished army barracks that were dragged to Weslaco from the deactivated Harlingen Air Base," he said.

"They've been remodeled many times over the years, but maintenance on these old structures has been tedious and expensive."

Da Graca said the new facilities will be state-of-the-art.

"The first floor will have meeting rooms, classrooms, diagnostics laboratories and administrative office," he said. "The second floor will house research laboratories, student cubicles and faculty offices. A large open laboratory will include space for specialized equipment and containment labs for tissue cultures, a cold room and mass spectroscopy equipment."

Construction is scheduled to begin in July and should be completed next summer.

Martinez said the new facility will be an area showplace.

"I am so proud to be here," he said. "The new Citrus Center will be a jewel in the crown for Weslaco and the Rio Grande Valley. It has been a long time coming."

Staples said the center would attract experts and researchers from afar.

"This center, with its continued research, will be an anchor for the citrus industry," he said. "It will attract people from all over the world to learn here, to train here. It will continue to place Weslaco as a big, bright spot on the map."

Tallant said the new facility presented endless possibilities and was part of a much larger construction effort at the main Texas A&M-Kingsville campus, some 120 miles north of Weslaco.

"Imagine decoding the genetic basis of cold tolerance to resist future freezes here," Tallant said, referring to two tree-killing freezes in the 1980s. "This new center will be an example for the whole world to emulate. It's been a great 60 years and will get even better."

Lucio noted the impact of the center's history.

"We do research here that impacts the entire world," he said. "I am very proud of the scientists and workers here. They need to be thanked, not just by me, but by the people of the Valley and the whole country. They reap the benefits on their kitchen tables each and every day when they have citrus or orange juice or grapefruit juice at breakfast."

Prewett, who was praised by Lucio for his lobbying efforts in Austin to fund the new construction, brought applause from the crowd of about 100 when he alluded to the area's $120 million citrus industry.

"We do grow the best grapefruit in the world," he said. "But the credit for the good fruit and the strong industry is a credit to this place. On behalf of the citrus industry, thanks. Our successes couldn't have happened without this center."

Edwards, of the architectural firm contracted for the new building, said the final designs were the result of excellent collaborations with citrus center staff.

"I was amazed at all the agricultural successes this center has enjoyed over the years," he said. "And those successes will continue in a first-class, world-class facility that we can all be proud of."


Gardening tips

As summer progresses remember to raise the blade on you lawn mower. By allowing your turf to grow taller it will develop a deeper, healthier root system capable of surviving on less water. When it comes to watering: less frequent, longer and deep soakings are better that frequent short applications of water. If you are tired of mowing and watering all together, consider planting native buffalo grass next year.

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 send you a free copy of Texas Gardener's 2009 Planning Guide & Calendar. Please send your tips of 50 words or less to the editor at: Gardening Tips.

Did You Know...

July is perfect time of year to order wildflower seed for planting in August or September so donít wait until you see them blooming next spring to start this project. Most local garden centers and nurseries have seed now for you to select from. If you would rather make your selections from the comfort and coolness of your living room, then visit Native American Seed at www.seedsource.com or call them at 1-800-728-4043 and ask for their free catalog.

Upcoming garden events

Austin: The Austin Pond Society will host the 2009 Pound Tour July 18 and 19. Approximately 15 ponds will be included in the tour on Saturday and another 15 on Sunday. For additional information, visit www.austinpondsociety.org.

Rockport: The Aransas/San Patrico Master Gardeners will host "Xeriscape Gardening with Native Plants," presented by Karen Ivey, Administrator, San Patricio Municipal Water District, as one of their Brown Bag events, from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 21, at the Aransas County Library, 701 Mimosa, Rockport. For additional information, e-mail ararsas-tx@tamu.edu or call (361) 790-0103.

Victoria: Victoria County Master Gardeners will present "Mulching, Composting and Water Conservation," Noon-1 p.m., August 10, at the Pattie Dodson Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St., Victoria. Monica Pilat will speak. Free to public. Bring sack lunch. For additional information, contact Victoria County Extension Office, (361) 575-4581.

Schertz: The next Guadalupe County Master Gardener training class is for anyone with a love for gardening and a desire to learn more about horticulture. Classes are on Wednesday August 12 to December 9th from 6:15 p.m. until 9:15 p.m. and two Saturdays at the Schertz Civic Center, 1400 Schertz Parkway, Schertz. Instructors include Texas A&M AgriLife Extension specialists, staff and local experts, including Malcolm Beck, Patty Leander and Drs. Larry Stein and Mark Black. Topics include botany and plant growth, entomology, Xeriscaping, propagation, herbs and vegetables, tree care and pruning principles, composting and organic horticulture, water conservation and much more. Registration is $170 with a 10% discount if received by June 10, and $125 for 2nd household member if sharing a handbook. Payment plan also available. For more information, an application and a list of speakers, please email gsammermann@gvec.net or call (830) 372-4690. Applications are also available on our Web site at www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

Woodway: Steven Chamblee, Chief Horticulturist at Chandor Gardens, Weatherford, will present "Texas Tough Plants" (Improving your Landscape), Wednesday, August 12, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. at Carleen Bright Arboretum, 9001 Bosque Blvd., Woodway. Topics include: Best choices for annuals & perennials, trees, groundcover, shrubs & bushes, roses and accent plants. This free event is sponsored by McLennan County Master Gardeners and McLennan County AgriLife Extension. For more information, contact (254) 757-5180.

Austin: The 17th Annual Texas Bamboo Festival will be held August 22-23 at Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road, Austin. There will be bamboo plants and crafts for sale, a live auction, and various presentations. For more information, visit www.bamboocentral.net.

San Antonio: The San Antonio Botanical Society is bringing David Rogers' Big Bugs to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston at North New Braunfels Ave., this fall. The exhibit opens Labor Day weekend (September 5-7), and will remain on location through December 6. Featuring gargantuan sculptures of insects, the exhibit alters viewers' perceptions and magnifies the role of insects as nature's "hidden gardeners." Sculptures are constructed entirely from natural materials, complementing and blending with the existing landscape. Interactive programs for children and families, and integrated materials for educators, will be available at the Garden throughout the three-month exhibit. For more information, call (210) 207-3255, or visit www.sabot.org.


Rockport: The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners meets at 9 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the AgriLife Extension Office - Aransas County, 611 E. Mimosa, Rockport. For additional information, e-mail aransas-tx@tamu.edu or call (361) 790-0103.

Kilgore: Northeast Texas Organic Gardeners meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at Wildwood Eco-Farm in Kilgore. For more information, call Carole Ramke at (903) 986-9475.

Allen: The Allen Garden Club meets at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, February through December, at the Allen Heritage Center, 100 E. Main St., Allen. For more information, visit www.allengardenclub.org.

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.

Pearland: The second Tuesday of each month the Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold a free evening educational program for the public, called the Green Thumb Series, at Bass Pro Shop, Highway 288 at Sam Houston Tollway, Pearland. For more information visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu or call (281) 991-8437.

Schertz: The Guadalupe County (Schertz/Seguin) Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) meets the second Tuesday of each month except July and August at the Guadalupe County Annex, 1101 Elbel Road, Shertz. A plant exchange and meet-and-greet begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by a program at 7. For additional information or an application to join NPSOT, contact guadalupecounty@npsot.org.

Rockport: The Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group, founded in March 2003, meets the second Wednesday of each month, with the exceptions of June and July, to discuss all aspects of using and growing herbs, including historical uses and tips for successful propagation and cultivation, meets at 619 N. Live Oak Street, Room 14, Rockport at 10 a.m. Sometimes they take field trips and have cooking demonstrations in different locations. For more information, contact Linda (361) 729-6037, Ruth (361) 729-8923 or Cindy (979) 562-2153 or visit www.rockportherbs.com.

Brownwood: Brown County Master Gardeners Association meets the second Thursday of each month, from Noon to 1 p.m., at the Brown County AgriLife Extension Office, 605 Fisk, Brownwood. For additional information, call Freda Day (325) 643-1077, or Mary Engle (325) 784-8453.

Georgetown: The Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Georgetown Public Library, 402 W. 8th Street. Georgetown. For additional information, contract Billye Adams at (512) 863-9636 or visit http://www.npsot.org/WilliamsonCounty/default.htm.

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.

College Station: The A&M Garden Club meets on the second Friday of each month during the school year at 9:30 a.m. at the Senior Circle Rooms, College Station Professional Building II, 1651 Rock Prairie Road, College Station. Expert speakers, plant sharing, and federated club projects help members learn about gardening in the Brazos Valley, floral design, conservation topics, and more. For more information, visit www.sallysfamilyplace.com/Clubs/GardenClub.htm.

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.

Cleburne: The Johnson County Master Gardener Association meets at 6 p.m. on the third Monday of each month. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 556-6370 or visit http://www.jcmga.org/.

Sugar Land: The Sugar Land Garden Club meets on the third Tuesday of each month, September through November and January through April at 10 a.m. at the Sugar Land Community Center, 226 Matlage Way, Sugar Land. The club hosts a different speaker each month. For more information, visit www.sugarlandgardenclub.org.

Denton: The Denton Organic Society, a group devoted to sharing information and educating the public regarding organic principles, meets the third Wednesday of each month (except July, August and December) at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Avenue. Meetings are free and open to the public. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are preceded by a social at 6:30. For more information, call (940) 382-8551.

Glen Rose: The Somervell County Master Gardeners meet at 10 a.m., the third Wednesday of each month at the Somervell County AgriLife Extension office, 1405 Texas Drive, Glen Rose. Visitors are welcome. For more information, call (254) 897-2809 or visit www.somervellmastergardener.org.

Granbury: The Lake Granbury Master Gardeners meet at 1 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Hood County Annex 1, 1410 West Pearl Street, Granbury. The public is invited to attend. There is an educational program each month preceding the business meeting. For information on topics call (817) 579-3280 or visit http://www.hoodcountymastergardeners.org/.

Seabrook: The Harris County Precinct 2 Master Gardeners hold an educational program at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at The Meeting Room at Clear Lake Park (on the Lakeside), 5001 NASA Road 1, Seabrook. The programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://hcmgap2.tamu.edu.

Houston: The Native Plant Society of Texas — Houston (NPSOT-H) meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except for October (4th Thursday) and December (2nd Thursday). Location varies. For locations, for more information on programs, and for information about native plants for Houston, visit http://www.npsot.org/Houston.

Rosenberg: The Fort Bend Master Gardeners meet at 7:15 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month except December at the Bud O’Shieles Community Center located at 1330 Band Road, Rosenberg. For more information, call (281) 341-7068 or visit www.fbmg.com.

Seguin: The Guadalupe County Master Gardeners meets the third Thursday of each month at the Texas AgriLife Extension Bldg. at 210 E. Live Oak at 7 p.m. For more information, phone (830) 379-1972 or visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.

Longview: The Northeast Texas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas meets the third Thursday of each month at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Longview. For more information, call Logan Damewood at (903) 295-1984.

Edna: The Jackson County Master Gardeners present their "Come Grown With Us" seminars on the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through October, beginning at 7 p.m. at 411 N. Wells, Edna. The seminars are free, open to the public and offer 2 CEU hours to Master Gardeners or others requiring them. For additional information, contact the Jackson County Extension Office at (361) 782-3312.

Fort Worth: The Organic Garden Club of Forth Worth meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month except July and December at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens main building. Refreshments are served. For more information, call (817) 274-8460.

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. To ensure inclusion in this column, please provide complete details at least three weeks prior to the event.

Lone Star Wildflowers:
A Guide to Texas Flowering Plants

By LaShara J. Neiland and Willa F. Finley

Each spring throughout the celebrated Hill Country and well beyond, locals and visitors revel in the palettes and variety of Texas wildflowers. From the Panhandle canyonlands to the islands of South Texas, from the eastern Pineywoods to the farthest reaches of the arid Trans-Pecos, some 5,000 species dot Texas's 268,820 square miles. Now Lone Star Wildflowers offers easy identification through color grouping and a wealth of insight from the origin of scientific and common names to growth cycles, uses, history, and native lore.

Nieland and Finley have made countless forays with camera and notebook and have broadened their approach through years of research. In language accessible to every enthusiast, they offer wildflower lovers unparalleled enrichment.

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