- Author: Help Desk Team
A poet once said, “A weed is but an unloved flower.” Sometimes though, a weed, an insect, or a four-legged critter can become a dangerous pest. In a state like California where so much of our economy is agriculturally based, these pests can wreak havoc. In our home gardens they threaten our landscape and ornamental plants and make the creation of natural areas a significant challenge when they displace native plants and wildlife.
Exotic and Invasive
California's native ecosystems were uniquely adapted to our Mediterranean climate, with its dry summers and wet winters. However, as the population changed and grew with immigration alongside increased international travel and commerce, new species of plants, many bringing insects and pathogens with them, were imported from Asia and Europe (often inadvertently) and introduced into the landscape. These exotic plants sometimes failed and sometimes flourished. Sometimes we move them unwittingly from state to state as we travel. The result is that some exotics have become invasive, spreading through the native ecosystem.
You might recognize some of these pests. The pathogen that causes sudden oak death was accidentally introduced on nursery stock and is estimated to have killed more than 1 million oak and tanoak trees over the last decade. In addition to disease, invasive plants can change the composition of soil as scotch broom does by adding nitrogen to the soil, or outcompete shallow rooted native species during dry summer months as the star thistle does with its deep root system.
Of special concern currently is the Asian Citrus Psyllid (Diaphorina citri), a tiny insect that attacks all varieties of citrus, and is a vector for the bacterium that causes Huanglongbing (HLB) disease. An infestation can spread quickly and there is no cure for HLB. Although the psyllid is rarely seen in Northern California, it has become a serious problem in Southern California where it arrived from Mexico in 2008 and is slowly spreading north. The USDA notes that HLB “has devastated millions of acres of citrus production around the world, including in the United States.” http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74155.html
Steps to Take to Stop the Spread
We can all have an impact on the spread of invasive species into our ecosystem.
1. Become familiar with invasive pests, how to identify them, and where to find information. The UC IPM website is a good source of information about managing exotic and invasive pests. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/Invasive-and-Exotic-Pests/
2. When you see suspicious organisms, get help identifying them. Contact your local UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk or Agricultural Commission to report invasive species and to get help with managing them. https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/
3. Inspect new plants carefully before planting them. When possible, plant native species — they are better adapted to our climate, support butterflies and other pollinators, and are less likely to have pest problems! https://plantright.org/
4. Don't bring plants into California from outside the state, and don't purchase invasive plant species. This includes planting gifts from friends across the country into your garden, and ordering online from nurseries that are outside of California. https://www.cal-ipc.org/
5. Buy your firewood where you burn it. Many pest insects and pathogens move with firewood. Don't move it far from its source. http://www.firewood.ca.gov/
To learn more about the invasive species prevalent in California, their impact and how to address them, the UC IPM website is a wealth of important information. We can all make a difference in protecting our beautiful state.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (RDH)
- Author: Help Desk Team
If you have a history of “worms” in your apples, pears, or English walnuts, and have felt perplexed as to how to manage this problem, the very first step is to understand what is happening. When one understands that, the management becomes more understandable and approachable.
The “worms” are actually caterpillars, the immature stage of an adult moth. The life cycle is egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, adult. The adult moth is mottled gray and small (½ to ¾ inch) and therefore hard to see and often goes unnoticed.
The adult female moth lays her eggs on or near developing fruit. The egg hatches and the caterpillar immediately will chew its way into the fruit where it lives and feeds. Entry holes are referred to as “stings” and typically exhibit a sawdust like residue called “frass”. If one sees a sting, the larva has already entered the fruit and is impervious to insecticidal sprays.
When it is ready to pupate, it will chew its way out and drop to the ground where it pupates in soil or leaf debris or under tree bark. After pupation an adult emerges and starts the cycle all over again.
The rate of development varies with temperature, proceeding more rapidly in warmer weather and climates. Depending upon the climate, codling moths can have two, three, and sometimes four generations per year. Our county has warmer climates inland and cooler climates by the coast. This means adult moths will start flying sooner and have more generations in the warmer areas and start flying later and have fewer generations in the cooler areas. Adult moths can start flying and laying eggs as early as March. The link below shows the approximate timing of the multiple generations.
Codling moths can be difficult to manage, and a goal of 100% undamaged fruit may be unrealistic. A more reasonable goal would be to harvest enough undamaged fruit to meet your needs. In most backyard situations, the best course of action would be to combine a variety of the following non-chemical and low toxicity chemical methods early in the season.
- Pheromone traps (sticky traps laced with female pheromone to attract males) are not an effective management approach by themselves. They may be helpful if multiple traps are placed in a tree, but primarily they are used to monitor when adults are flying in order to time chemical applications. Traps can be purchased at most home and garden stores or online.
- Thinning your crop is important. The moths are most attracted to the place where two apples touch. Four to eight weeks after bloom, thin the fruit to only one per cluster, about every 6 inches.
- If you have thinned your fruit you may want to go one step further by “bagging” it. Although tedious and time consuming, placing bags over individual fruits early in the season, when the fruit is ½ to 1 inch in diameter, provides excellent control. The bag could be paper or cotton string. The link below provides a drawing of the bagging process. https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pni7412-2.html
- Beginning about six to eight weeks after bloom, and continuing every week or two throughout the season, check fruit on the tree for signs of damage (stings). Remove and destroy any infested fruit. Do not put the culled fruit in your backyard composting system, rather place it in green waste so it gets removed from your property.
- Since pupation takes place in litter on ground under the tree, keep the area continuously clean throughout the season, even though winter.
Low toxicity chemicals:
- CYD-X is a biological insecticide, a granulosis virus that affects only codling moth caterpillars. It kills by ingestion, therefore it must be ingested by the caterpillar prior to or as entering the fruit. To achieve this, it needs to be applied weekly beginning at the time of egg hatch. CYD-X is primarily available online.
- Spinosad is a biological insecticide, a bacterium that is toxic to insects in general. It kills by both contact and ingestion, therefore it needs to be applied at 10-day intervals beginning at the time of egg hatch. Spinosad is readily available at most home and garden stores.
- Adding 1% horticultural oil to either of the above improves effectiveness.
- Identifying the timing of egg hatch is key to the success of chemical applications. Egg hatch can be estimated by visually monitoring first stings or by using the UC Degree Day Calculator for codling moth https://ipm.ucanr.edu/calludt.cgi/DDMODEL?MODEL=CM&CROP=landscape
It is important to begin implementing control measures early in the season. The link below to the UC Integrated Pest Management website provides the detailed information you will need for implementation of your codling moth management program.
Photo credits: Three photos above: Copyright UC Regents - photographer Jack Kelly Clark
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (EDC)
- Author: Help Desk Team
Aphids can be a scourge in the garden. There are over 4,000 species of aphids in the world, but fortunately only(!) about 250 species are attracted to the plants we grow in our gardens and landscapes.
Aphids are small, slow-moving insects that come in a variety of colors—green, yellow, brown, red, or black. They sometimes match the color of the plant they feed on, but not always. They have long legs and antennae, and usually have a pair of cornicles (tube-like structures) sticking out of their hind end. No other insects have cornicles. Some adult aphids have wings—this can occur when populations are high or during spring and fall—that can allow them to disperse to other plants.
Aphid reproduction is interesting. Adult females can give birth to up to 12 live offspring each day without mating. During warm weather, many aphid species can grow from newborn nymph to reproductive adult in a week. No wonder it seems like they appear overnight.
Aphids are attracted to plants on which they can feed. Plants that are actively growing are prime targets. Right now, these include plants in our winter gardens such as kale and broccoli and landscape plants such as roses, but also the many winter weeds growing abundantly in many neighborhoods.
Aphids have sucking mouth parts, somewhat like little straws. They use them to suck sap (which is a plant's sugar source). What they excrete is commonly referred to as ‘honeydew' which contains sugar and is therefore sticky. Ants are attracted to this honeydew and will actively “farm” the aphids and protect them against natural predators.
Many plants, especially trees and shrubs, can survive just fine with low to moderate numbers of leaf-feeding aphids. Damage can occur with larger populations. Yellowing leaves and stunted growth are common.
Aphids can also transmit viruses from plant to plant on many vegetable crops and ornamental plants. Symptoms can include mottled, yellow, or curled leaves, along with stunted growth.
Understanding their life cycle is key to their management. By checking plants twice a week while they are growing rapidly, you can catch infestations early. With small populations of wingless aphids, hosing them off with a strong stream of water works well. Once off the plants, aphids are unlikely to be able to return. You can also prune out the most infested parts. Make sure you also remove nearby weeds that can serve as a reservoir of new infestations.
Natural enemies are important for aphid control. Parasitic wasps lay eggs inside live aphids, causing them to turn into mummies. You can recognize these by light-colored aphid bodies with circular holes on top where the wasp has emerged. Lady beetles (especially the larvae), syrphid fly larvae, and green lacewings are voracious eaters of aphids. See this website: https://ipm.ucanr.edu/natural-enemies/
If spraying with water is not effective enough, insecticidal soaps and oils are the best choices for most situations. Oils include petroleum-based horticultural oils or plant-derived oils such as neem or canola oil. These products kill primarily by smothering the aphid, so thorough coverage of infested foliage is required. Soaps and oils kill only those aphids present on the day they are sprayed, so applications may need to be repeated. Although these products can kill some natural enemies that are present on the plant and hit by the spray, they don't leave a toxic residue.
It is easier to manage aphids earlier in an infestation than later when populations are high. Some aphids cause leaves to curl around them, protecting them from sprays and beneficial insects.
- When you purchase new plants, inspect them carefully.
- Don't over-fertilize. Excess fertilizers, especially too much nitrogen, can stimulate plants to put out lush new growth that will entice aphids to set up home.
- Excessive pruning can also stimulate plants to put out attractive new growth.
- Use a row cover, especially on seedlings and new plants. This will keep out aphids but also protect from other pests.
- Control ants that can protect aphids.
For more information, check these websites:
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County (SEH)
Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Help Desk Client: I think I have insects destroying my lawn. Would you please tell me what they are and what I can do to eliminate them?
The drench test will not identify one common lawn grub that feeds on the roots of turf grasses—the masked chafer or white grub. For guidance on identifying and managing that pest, you will want to consult this UC website: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/TOOLS/TURF/PESTS/inchaf.html
I hope that this information is useful. I apologize that we didn't have time to deal with some of your other garden questions. As we discussed, a good way to communicate with us about those problems will be to send us an email or come visit us at our office (below).
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (tkl)
Note: UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available almost year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays (e.g., last 2 weeks December), we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 2380 Bisso Lane, Concord, CA 94520. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 608-6683, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/. MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog.
Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Client's Requests: I have these pests on EVERYTHING from my tomato plants to my Rose bushes & flowers to my Lambs Ear plant! I'm certain the green worms are eating these because I've seen them on the leaf undersides. However, I'm not certain if the beetles are eating as well. I have an infestation of both pests every year along with White Flies & Aphids!! 😬 We've sprayed with ALL the common treatments from Neem Oil to calling the pest control man. They continue to come back and destroy nearly every flower, or plant I have. Any thoughts??? Thank you, Very frustrated!
Help Desk Response: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk. You asked about insects in your yard. There aren't insects named green horned worm or red boxed beetles, but you probably mean the tomato hornworm (a green worm with a pointy "horn" on its rear) and possibly the box elder bug or the red-shouldered bug.
The insect you refer to as red boxed beetles could be either box elder bugs or red-shouldered bugs, also known as golden rain tree or soapberry bugs. Neither of these bugs does much damage to ornamental or fruit trees. You might be seeing the red-shouldered bugs right now. They are out in numbers in my yard. They eat the seeds of the golden rain tree or other related plants, but nothing else. Both of these bugs are more of a nuisance than a pest that needs to be controlled. Here is more information about box elder bugs: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74114.html.
You also mentioned problems with aphids and whiteflies which are very common pests throughout the County. The links below are to more information about both of these pests: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7404.html and http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7401.html.
It is important to identify the pest before spraying. There are some pests that are controlled by natural predators that won't become more prevalent if the predators are indiscriminately killed by sprays. It is easier to deal with problems when they are caught early. As you notice something amiss, either damage from insects or disease, feel free to contact us. Photos of the problem/pest will help us diagnose it and enable us to send you information on what to do.
Please don't hesitate to contact us again if you have more questions.
|Don't miss our 2019 Great Tomato Plant Sale -
Walnut Creek 3/30, Richmond 4/6, Antioch 4/13.
Click here for more information:http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/tomato/
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (SEH)
Note: UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available almost year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays (e.g., last 2 weeks December), we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 2380 Bisso Lane, Concord, CA 94520. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 608-6683, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/. MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog./table>