Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fall Armyworm Invasion

This is the time of year when hunters start getting the itch to plow up some ground and plant some wildlife food plots in hopes of attracting some deer to their neighborhood. But sometimes we attract critters we never intended, especially some very small ones called fall army worms. These caterpillars are well named and they can launch an army-like offensive that will leave your food plot looking like ground zero in a bombing raid.

A few years ago I learned this lesson from personal experience. I like to bow hunt and so I was eager to get my plots in early so when the opening day of bow season arrived I would have a nice plush green patch for the deer to visit. I prepared the soil well ahead of time, applied fertilizer and seed, and caught nice soft rain right after planting. The brown soil seemed to turn bright green overnight. I think every wheat seed germinated at once and everything was looking great. A couple weeks later I went back to check on the progress – nothing! It looked like I had never even planted the field. Then I looked down close to the ground and found lots of little caterpillars munching on what few wheat stems were left. There was an invasion going on.

We hear a lot in the news about making our borders secure, but we have some alien invaders who could care less about the border patrol and will fly right past them. They come here as adult moths by the name of Spodoptera frugiperda, but we know them by their children’s name - Fall Armyworms. These invaders do not like cold weather and cannot even survive a mild winter in Alabama, but they are very efficient at migrating north every summer out of Central and South America and some do overwinter in Florida.

The moths typically arrive in late April or May and begin laying eggs. This first generation will hatch out of their egg cases, grow into large worms, pupate and start the next generation, often without being noticed because the numbers are relatively small. But here’s the rub. They then repeat this cycle to have a second and third generation with each generation becoming more widespread. So even though they have been here all summer it is not until late summer/early fall when we notice the most damage, hence the name Fall Armyworm.

They feed on almost any kind of forage, including hayfield grasses such as bermudagrass, tall fescue, sorghum sudan hybrids, and millet. They also relish crops such as field corn, alfalfa, cotton, soybeans, and vegetables. They will also feed heavily on cool season forages such as wheat, oats, rye and ryegrass. Since their numbers are greatest in the fall this is typically when we see the worst damage.

The worms can be controlled, especially if you catch the invasion early while the worms are still small. The caterpillars start off looking like little small worms with dark heads. As they molt and get larger they develop stripes and four small spots on the tip of the abdomen. The head also has a distinctive upside down “Y” on the face. Products containing carbaryl (SEVIN), methoxyfenozide (INTREPID), or spinosad (TRACER) are all very effective if applied to the early stages.

This year we have seen high populations of armyworms – they are out there right now! So here is the bottom line. You might want to wait and plant your food plots a little later than normal or if you plant early, be sure to keep a close watch on your patches. Keep in mind these insects do not like cool weather and the first cool snap they start to disappear. Generally it is safe to plant around the end of September or early October. This is one army you can beat by just waiting them out or if you are prepared for battle, go ahead and plant this weekend.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How To Persecute Privet

I love to get outdoors this time of year. The leaves are changing colors, air temperatures are comfortable, and the sky seems to be a deeper blue. All this makes it a great time to go hunting, take a casual hike through the woods, or maybe just go kill some Chinese Privet. You probably have some on your property somewhere.
This invasive plant was once planted around old home places because of the fragrant blooms and evergreen foliage. However, this shrub has become a major invasive pest. It spreads by root sprouts and also by the production of thousands or even millions of seeds that are attractive to birds who help spread this plant across the southern landscape. In fact in many areas, especially creek bottoms, this shrub can grow and spread so quickly that it can become nothing more than a privet jungle.

So how do we get rid of this stuff? The first thing to know is that cutting it down will do very little good, since it will re-sprout from the stump and grow back in a hurry. Some folks have gone into areas with a mulching machine which looks like a lawnmower on steroids. This machine can grind even large privet bushes down to level ground but even then the problem comes right back. Now if the area is fenced and you happen to like goats they will eat the new shoots with great enjoyment and eventually deplete the energy reserves in the roots as they continually eat the new shoots. Using a mower or bush hog will have similar results if done on a continuous basis – especially if grass is seeded in to increase the competition on the young shoots.

A much better way is to use a herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate applied as foliar spray to the young plants. In general a 3-5 percent mixture of glyphosate will kill privet if you can get good coverage, which means you need to add a surfactant to help the herbicide stick to the foliage. Keep in mind whatever may be growing around the privet will be killed or damaged since this is a non-selective herbicide.

Another option is to make a basal bark spray with a product containing triclopyr ester mixed as a 25% mixture with some kind of penetrant like diesel or bark oil. There is also a ready-to-use product called Pathfinder II that requires no mixing. This method is often used for moderate sized privet plants with trunks about the size of your arm or smaller. The herbicide is applied to the bottom 12 to 15 inches of the privet trunk. You might also want to add a little dye marker, to help you recognize which stems you have hit and which ones still need treating. The herbicide will soak through the bark and then be transported to the roots and tops using the plant’s vascular system. This can be done almost any time of year except early spring when there is a heavy sap flow. The fall is ideal since much of the product will be transported down into the roots.
The last method is called the cut stump system which is fairly labor intensive but very effective, especially on large trunks. It is best done with two people working in tandem. The first person runs a chainsaw and cuts the large privet trunks down even with the ground. Then as soon as possible the second person sprays the stump with a 20% mixture of a product containing triclopyr amine and water. Again be sure to use a dye so you can see which stumps have been treated. Oh yeah and remember to stand up straight every now and then – you can admire your work and give your back some relief.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Trees Are Lichenfected

Not long ago I got a phone call from a home owner who said her trees were “like infected” with some kind of disease. Well she was right and wrong. I guess you could say she was phonetically correct but diagnostically wrong. The trees did have something growing on them called lichens (pronounced like-ens) but it was not a disease. Lichens appear as green to brownish crusty growth on the bark of some trees and shrubs and sure can look like a disease. In fact we most commonly find lichens on trees and shrubs that are already in decline.

Lichens are actually two different organisms growing together in what is called a symbiotic relationship, a term that refers to two organisms growing together for mutual or shared benefit. In this case it is an alga, that provides the photosynthesis to manufacture food, and a fungus that provides a structure to grow in and upon to protect the algae from the environment. The tree or shrub is simply a nice location where the lichen can “hang out” and get the sunlight it needs.

Most often we see lichens appear on trees or shrubs that are already in decline for some other reason such as insect damage, poor fertility, poor soil drainage, root damage or some other infectious disease. If the foliage gets thin and the plant is not growing vigorously, then it becomes a likely location for lichen colonization. So in reality lichens are often an indicator of poor plant health but they are not the causal agent. On an interesting note, lichens do NOT grow where air quality is poor, such as acid rain or high levels of ozone or sulfur dioxide. So the tree or shrub may be un-healthy but at least the air quality is good.

Lichens prefer trees or shrubs with sparse foliage where it can get plenty of sunlight. However every lichen is not the same since several different kinds of algae and several different kinds of fungi can develop into lichens. It can also be very different in appearance. There are three basic types commonly seen growing in our area. The first is called the crustose lichens which resemble a flat lumpy green piece of paper. The second type is called the folicose type which appears in wavy folds on the twigs and bark and the third type is called the fruiticose type that looks more like green hair or moss (almost like Spanish moss).

Lichens are very common on azaleas, dogwoods and pecans but can be found on a wide variety of woody ornamentals. There are no pesticides registered for lichen control, however there is a fungicide called Kocide 2000 that is labeled for control of the Stigula that causes leaf spot on Southern magnolias and other trees. It is most effective if applied early in the season before any symptoms are noticed and then applied every two weeks until the trees new foliage matures. Pruning is also an option as it can be used to remove the small limbs with early developing lichens and stimulate new growth to create a more densely shaded limb.

On a side note, here is another little interesting thing about lichens. They are often found growing on rocks or large boulders – another hint that they are not infectious to plants. I remember in college, I took a microbiology course and we played around with some lichens we scrapped off rocks. Turns out, there is a small organism that likes to use lichens as a temporary home. These organisms are named tardigrades which are also called “water bears”. Now this is a strange organism indeed. Since living in a crusty piece of lichen on a boulder in the hot blazing sun can be pretty harsh, these little tardigrades often go into a state of “cryptobiosis”. They roll up like a rolly polly and then dry up, but they are not dead. While in this state they can endure extreme temperatures from very hot to very cold. For example, tardigrades can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures about 6 times stronger than pressures found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than the lethal dose for a person, and the vacuum of outer space. They can even go without food or water for more than 10 years, drying out to the point where they are 3% or less water, only to rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.

This is a great project for kids if you have a microscope. Just scrape some lichens off a nearby rock and put it in a dish with warm water. After 10 or 15 minutes take a dropper of this water and put it on a microscope slide and you may just find them. Sometimes you can even watch them “pop out” of their cryptobiotic state and see eight legs pop out and start wiggling around. Each of these stubby legs will have tiny claws which gives them the appearance of tiny bears. How cool is that? So if you have an inquisitive youngster who loves science, you might get him or her a good microscope and let them “lichen vestigate” some lichens!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fruitful Living

Have you noticed some of your neighbors hunched over a hoe in the backyard? This isn’t just a trend. For some growers, such as Noah Sanders of Coosa County, it is about restoring a way of life that until recently seemed to be washing away with the rising tide of consumer culture.

Home gardening, once a common if not indispensable lifestyle practice among earlier generations, is making a resounding comeback.

And Sanders hopes that this newfound passion will spread throughout the country as more people choose to become self-sufficient food producers.

For his part, Sanders practices what he preaches. With the help of his seven younger siblings, 20-year-old Sanders is raising his own produce and livestock and selling some of what he produces at the Birmingham Farmers Market.

Sanders is doing it all on a 100-acre plot in rural Coosa County, where he’s raising fruits and vegetables as well as some 300 laying hens in a cotton wagon converted into a chicken coop. For Sanders, it’s as much of an avocation as it is a vocation—“a way to provide people with something they need.”

“Farming takes a lot of thinking,” he says. “It requires thinking about how much to plant and how much the market will bear. It builds character.”

Other Coosa County residents are also pressing ahead with efforts to raise some or all of their food. Roger Vines is one of several Extension educators who have taken notice of this emerging trend. After attending an in-service training session on backyard poultry production, he was inspired to offer one of his own in Coosa County.

In time, Vines discerned more than just an interest in home food production: He saw a passion in many people—
much like the passion in Sanders. This inspired Vines to develop a comprehensive training course that focused
on all aspects of food production.

In addition to backyard poultry production, Vines’ Grow Your Own training sessions address fruit and vegetable production; food preservation; beef, goat, and catfish production; and beekeeping. Some 40 people attended the first training.

Vines perceives that concerns about worsening economic conditions are only one factor among many behind the resurgence of home gardening.

“A growing number of people simply want to know where their food is coming from,” he says. According to Vines, a spate of recent outbreaks associated with processed food products has also influenced this resurgence. Other factors, Vines says, include a desire for fresh produce and a zeal for the exercise that gardening typically affords.

Vines sees this initial effort—Grow Your Own—as only the beginning and hopes to offer a similar training in 2010.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Possible New World Record Largemouth Bass

The fishing world has just felt the tremors of a bass fisherman’s earthquake. The long standing largemouth bass world record may have just been broken or tied. And of all places in Japan!
Has the United States lost one of its most cherished world records?

The current world record largemouth bass came from a lake in Georgia back in 1932, and weighed a whopping 22 pounds and 4 ounces. It was caught by George Perry and he has held the record for all these years since then. There have been some close runner ups in the last several years in California and Mexico, but so far no greater champions have been caught.

There is still some question however, whether this fish is a new record, a close tie, or could it be disqualified? There are several criteria that must be met in order for a fish to earn the title of world record. Our knowledge of pond management is increasing and every year more and bigger fish are being harvested all across the country.

The Japanese fisherman landed the 22 pound, 5 ounce largemouth bass in one of Japan’s most famous natural lakes in early July. However there are some questions regarding the actual weight and where it was caught. According to Extension Fisheries Specialist, Rusty Wright, a fish would have to weigh at least 2 ounces more than a current record holder to become a new champion. Since this fish is only one ounce more it is technically still a tie.

Also to be declared a world record, a fish must be caught legally using conventional tackle and then weighed on certified scales. There are still some questions whether the fish was taken legally since it may have been taken from an area closed to fishing.

Fish this size are definitely a rare occurance. Like most all species of animals there is a genetic range from the smallest to the largest that may be found in a population. How many people do you know over 8 feet tall – not many I’m sure. Still there are some things that help big fish get bigger. First a pond or lake must have an abundant food supply, a long growing season, and it helps to have some deep cold water. The fish can then feed in shallow warmer water where the food is abundant and then retreat to cooler temperatures that conserves energy and allows it to gain weight rather than expend calories in warmer water.

The Extension Office is planning an Intensive Fish Pond Management Workshop this fall that will cover pond weed control, fertilization, construction designs, supplemental feeding and more. Be sure to subscribe to this blog so you will receive updates as the event is scheduled.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Really Mean Plants

I guess this is the week for mean plants. In the last few days I have had two different people come in and ask for information about two different “mean” plants found in our area. First a friend caught me and started describing a tree he found on his property. He said “this is no ordinary tree, it has long thorns all over it and some of them are huge!” The thorns are really hard and they are in bunches on the trunk and the limbs.

The tree he was describing is called a “honeylocust”. It is not a rare or endangered tree by any means but it is fairly uncommon compared to some of our other native trees. This tree is very unique in that it can produce some very mean thorns. I recall coming out of the woods on a hunting trip one time after dark and running into one of these trees. I guarantee I will never forget that location. The thorns grow on the trunk of the tree and can get quite long, branched and very hard. The thorns have been known to cause a flat tire on ATV’s and even tractor tires.

The honeylocust tree is actually a beneficial tree in some ways. Deer and other wildlife often eat the sweet edible seed pods which look similar to large flat beans hanging on the tree. The tree is a legume and so it can fix nitrogen from the air and make this nutrient available to the plant. The wood is also very durable and resistant to decay so it has been used for fence posts. It is also a fairly durable tree in that it can survive some harsh environments such as along city streets and so it has been used for landscaping. Fortunately, there are cultivars and wild stains that do not produce the mean nasty thorns, because otherwise it is a very attractive tree. It has pinnately compound leaves that look similar to a fern in some ways, so it can be a very nice shade tree. Young trees also transplants quiet well when they are small.

Later in the week, one of our cattle producers came into my office wearing gloves and toting a very mean herbaceous plant to have identified. The plant was growing in one of his pastures and was about to take over. The plant was a “musk thistle”, which is a biennial plant that takes two years to complete its life cycle. The first year it grows as what is called a rosette fairly close to the ground. Then the next year it bolts and runs up these long stalks with seed heads. The plant is prickly all over – the leaves, the stalk, and even the flowers. Cows have no desire to eat it and so it grows, and then makes lots of seed to produce the next generation of weeds. It continues to spread unless it is either dug up and removed by hand or killed with a herbicide.

An application of 2,4-D herbicide in the fall and/or early spring is the best way to control this weed. It is almost impossible to get it all in one year so follow up scouting and spraying will be needed for two or three years. Also keep in mind that spraying a plant that has already made seed is a waste of time and herbicide since that plant will die anyway after making seed. The goal is to kill the young plants in the rosette stage before they flower the second year. Butterflies seem to really enjoy the flowers, so I guess everything has at least one redeeming factor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tremendous Trees

Have you ever seen a tree that just made you say “WOW”? I know I have. A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit California and see some of the Giant Redwoods and it seems ironic to me that this little three letter word “wow” is the best way to describe something so big. It was a damp foggy day with water dripping all around, and the trees seemed to evaporate into the sky. I almost expected to see a Tyranosaurus rex come walking through the mist.

We don’t have trees like that here in Coosa County but we do have some trees around here that still make you stop and say that little word. I saw one recently while visiting the home of Mary Franklin and her daughter Joan Hardy in Goodwater. They had called the Extension Office to check on the health of their huge oaks. It was an enjoyable visit to say the least. The largest tree was a white oak that measured fourteen and a half feet around the trunk. It was tall and wide and cast a shade over the entire yard.

I don’t think I could even come close to guessing the age of this beautiful tree, but it had seen a lot of spring, summer, fall and winters come and go. It has weathered storms, wind, hail, droughts, freezing temperatures, and summers reaching near to or over one hundred degrees. How many birds have visited this tree or squirrels found their next meal of acorns here. The City of Goodwater has grown all around this landmark. Just think of the history this tree has seen.

The owner is a landmark in her own right. You see, Mary Franklin, is ninety nine years young and will turn one hundred this month. This is a sharp little lady who is a pleasure to talk to. She explained to me that she grew up in Clay County, but later moved to Goodwater. The oak tree was already there and they have lived side by side ever since. Mrs. Franklin credits some of her longevity to her enjoyment of working in the yard. I can just imagine the many times when she likely paused to cool off in the shade of her mighty oak friend.

The State Forestry Commission has a program that recognizes exceptionally large trees called the Champion Tree Program. It is listing of all the largest trees found and nominated by species. While Mrs. Franklin’s tree does not yet qualify as a state champion it is still growing and in great condition.

Coosa County currently has two state champions – a Chinese Chestnut owned by George and Ronnie Zack in Mt. Moriah and a Sweetgum owned by George and Sondra Neighbors in Hanover, but has since suffered lightning damage that will likely lead to it’s being dethroned. Another near state champion white oak belonged to David and Vivian Crosswy in Stewartville until about a year ago when it was toppled by a strong wind storm. The current white oak champion resides in Montgomery County and has a trunk that is eighteen feet around.

To make the Champion Tree list a formula is used to calculate the total score for the tree. The formula involves adding the circumference in inches, plus the height in feet, plus one fourth of the crown spread in feet. The sum of these measurements is the tree’s total score. For some species this is a very large number but for others it may surprise you. For example the State Champion Witch-Hazel has a trunk that is only 12 inches around.

So if you think you have a large tree on your property, it may be a champion. A complete listing can be found on-line at http://www.forestry.alabama.gov/. If you have a large tree and need help with identification or measurements, feel free to contact me at Coosa County Extension Office in Rockford or visit our website at http://www.aces.edu/counties/Coosa/. Remember that trees can be tremendous and sometimes the owners are pretty special too.