Friday, October 26, 2012

Drought Continues, and Trees Still Need Water

This week's update for Georgia on the U.S. Drought Monitor website shows that Cobb County is still experiencing extreme drought conditions. Sure, we've had some rain, but we are far enough behind that the deeper soils are dry. Here is the Oct. 23 update:

Overall, the state is in better shape with regard to rain this year than it was last year, with much of the agricultural southern end completely "caught up," but here in Cobb County we will need to keep track of the rain and the soil moisture levels a while longer.

Valuable landscape trees are of particular concern. These need to be kept watered, in spite of the cooler temperatures and falling leaves, according to the UGA publication "Watering Trees During Winter Drought." The publication was written for the 2007 drought, but the recommendations are just as applicable in 2012:

"Dormant season watering during a winter drought is important, especially for evergreen trees and juvenile hardwood trees that have not lost their leaves. Because of lower temperatures and relative humidity, much less water is required in the dormant season, but water is still needed. Drought conditions can lead to tree decline, pest problems, and non-recoverable damage. Supplemental watering can greatly assist in maintaining tree health during droughts - both during the growing season or during the dormant season."
The publication explains how to determine the amount of water needed and how to apply it safely, with a note to avoid watering when the soil surface temperature is below 40 degrees F.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Storage and Disposal of Household Pesticides

A lot of the lawn and garden care activities for the year are winding down, and homeowners who are looking at one or more containers, each with a little bit of leftover pesticide, may be wondering what to do over the winter with those containers and their contents.

In Cobb County, there currently are no scheduled drop-off days for household hazardous waste, which means homeowners will need to take extra care in storing and/or disposing of any pesticides for which there is no immediate need.

The UGA publication Pesticide Safety for the Homeowner explains, "chemical pesticides cannot be stored in the same way as other household items. Follow these precautions:
  • Do not store pesticides near food, seed, animals or flammable materials.
  • Store pesticides in a locked place out of reach of children, unauthorized people and pets. Keep the area dry, cool, ventilated and out of direct sunlight.
  • Store the pesticide in its original container. If you must transfer it to a different container, be sure to transfer the label also. Never store pesticide in an old food or drink container, because someone may mistake it for something edible.
  • Check containers often for leaks.
  • Keep the storage area clean and well organized.
  • Have spill kits and first aid kits readily available in case of an accident.
  • Do not store pesticides for more than two years; many break down after this time."
For any leftover chemicals, the publication recommends that they be used, either by the original owner or by someone to whom it has been given, traded, or sold. If a product cannot be used, the recommendation is to "Wrap the container in several layers of newspaper and put it in the household trash (if not prohibited by the label directions)."

The publication also has recommnedations for the emptied containers: "Empty pesticide containers are considered hazardous waste unless they are properly processed. Follow these guidelines:
  • Rinse each container at least three times, add the rinse to your spray tank, and apply the mix to a labeled site.
  • Punch holes in metal, plastic or cardboard containers, crush them, wrap them in newspaper and put them in the household trash (if not prohibited by the label directions)."
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs offers additional information to Georgia residents for disposing of household hazardous wastes. In an untitled document on its website, the Georgia DCA explains that any liquid wastes should be either left outside with the lid off to evaporate (when possible) or made into a solid by adding an absorbent substance like kitty litter to the container before wrapping the container in newspaper and adding it to the household trash.

The DCA also offers a couple of observations to those who are trying to address the problem of their household hazardous waste as responsibly as possible:

1. "The often frustrating reality is that in Georgia at this time, reuse and recycling options are extremely limited."

and 2. "One lesson should be apparent: the next time you have to buy this sort of material, consider how much you really need for the job, and explore less-toxic alternatives."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fuzzy Orange Caterpiller

Cleaning up the garden can turn up some great (and not-so-great) surprises. One that might at first be alarming is the discovery of a fuzzy orange caterpillar.

Spilosoma virginica; Photo by Amy Whitney
Anyone who has lost a tomato plant to hornworms or to armyworms is likely to scrutinize every caterpiller fairly closely.

This particular caterpillar, though, turns out not to sting (like some other fuzzy caterpillars) and not to be a significant garden pest. It is a fairly dark specimen of Yellow Woollybear.

According to the book Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw, many of these are more yellow, some so pale as to almost be white, but some are actually brown.

The adults are a white moth, the Virginian Tiger Moth. Cranshaw includes this information about the Fuzzy Woolleybear:

"Larvae chew foliage. Damage is rare and most commonly occurs late in the season when many hosts die, causing the yellow woolleybear to concentrate on remaining succulent crops."
The caterpillar pictured above was found in a sweet potato patch, which was being harvested at the time, so Cranshaw's information is especially apt. The caterpillar was found both when and where it would be predicted to be found.

As with all caterpillars, even though this one doesn't have any painful-to-human defenses, it is very easy to damage the larva by picking it up or trying to move it by hand. Any damage might not be immediately visible, but, to avoid harming them, caterpillars should not be handled at all. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Upcoming Events

Raised Bed Gardening
Friday, Oct. 12, noon to 1:00 p.m. Free and open to the public. Bring your lunch and enjoy the presentation! Presented by Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Amy Whitney, at the County Water Lab at 660 S. Cobb Drive (the smaller brick building at the back of the property), as part of the ongoing Lunch & Learn presentation series of Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County.

Daylily Culture
Tuesday, Oct. 16,  6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. Presented by Cobb County Master Gardener Fran Sommerville, at West Cobb Regional Library, as part of the ongoing Gardeners Night Out presentation series of Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County.

The Green Team Full Day Workshop
Thursday, Oct. 18, 8:30 a.m. - 4:15 p.m. On-site registration begins at 8:00 a.m. Program participation earns 7 CEUs, Category 24. $30 fee. Pre-register with check made out to Bartow County Extension, mailed with name, address, and contact information and request to register, to Bartow County Extension Office, 320 West Cherokee Ave., Rm. 112, Cartersville, GA, 30120. Event will be held at Chattahoochee Tech's North Metro Campus, 5198 Ross Rd., Acworth. Topics include ornamental plant diseases, turfgrass diseases, color beds, pest management in turf, insect pests of ornamentals, weeds of ornamental beds, insect pests of turf, and weed control in turf. For information, email or call Cobb County Extension at 770-528-4070.

Putting Your Yard to Bed: Fall Landscape and Gardening Chores
Thursday, Oct. 25, 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. Free and open to the public. Learn about helping your lawn and landscape survive the fall and winter and about preparing it for next spring. Topics include bed cleanup, soil preparation, lawn mower storage, pruning, and more! Presented by Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Urban Agriculture Agent Neil Tarver. Please call 770-528-4070 to pre-register.

Gardening in Atlanta in the Winter
Friday, Nov. 9, noon to 1:00 p.m. Free and open to the public. Bring your lunch and enjoy the presentation! Presented by Cobb County Master Gardener Sue Burgess, at the County Water Lab at 660 S. Cobb Drive (the smaller brick building at the back of the property), as part of the ongoing Lunch & Learn presentation series of Cobb County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County. Sue will discuss plants that can contribute to a beautiful landscape in winter.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

That Spider Time of Year

Spider populations tend to peak in the later summer and early fall, and their webs seem to be everywhere right now. Some mornings, just walking out the door can bring a homeowner face to face with a giant web spun the previous evening by an industrious spider.

Anyone who has walked into a web by accident has probably encountered one of these, which seem to be especially abundant this year:

                                                (Photo from Cobb County resident Janet A.)

The crablike spiny orb weaver (Gasteracantha elipsoides, sometimes also called the kite spider), shown above, usually exhibits some combination of white and/or yellow and black, with red, thorn-like "spines."  It may look like something from outer space, but it actually is native from North Carolina to Florida, and west all the way to California.

These spiders tend to hang out along woodland edges. Like other spiders, the spiny orb weaver eats insects, so it is a great helper in the yard.

Reference: The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders, by Lorus and Margery Milne and Susan Rayfield. NY: Knopf, 1980.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Time for Planting Garlic

The harvests from summer crops in home vegetable gardens have begun to slow down, and some gardeners have been busy replacing their heat-loving tomatoes and peppers with vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage that thrive in cooler weather. For those gardeners who still have a little room for fall vegetables, or will have some room as soon as they dig up their sweet potatoes, garlic is a crop that can be planted now through November.

Garlic planted now - in early fall - will have plenty of time to develop through the cooler days ahead and in advance of bulb-formation. According to the UGA Extension publication Garlic Production for the Home Gardener,

"The reason that garlic is planted in the fall in Georgia is to permit full leaf development. As soon as bulbing starts, leaf initiation ceases. For highest yields, therefore, the cloves must be planted early enough to permit the development of large vegetative plants during the short cool days of late winter. The yield potential of the plants depends on the amount of vegetative growth before bulbing commences. Bulb growth and development in the garlic plant is favored by long days and warm temperatures."
As with most garden vegetables, soil preparation is key to successful production, but garlic especially benefits from a bed that's been well-amended with organic matter if the garden's soil is a heavy clay. Garlic grown in clay, according to the UGA publication, can become misshapen and difficult to harvest.

Gardeners interested in growing garlic this year can check the UGA publication linked above for full information on varieties, planting, care, and harvest-information.