Pesticide Applicator CEU Opportunities

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Opportunities for TDA Licensed Pesticide Applicators to earn CEUs for License Renewal

In the absence of an ANR Agent, Travis County is partnering with Uvalde County to offer an opportunity for licensed pesticide applicators to participate virtually in Uvalde County’s upcoming hybrid (in-person and virtual) CEU training. There are also two other opportunities for Travis County TDA licensed pesticide applicators to earn CEUs virtually in nearby counties. For license holders whose license will expire in February, these are great opportunities to get some last-minute CEUs. Registration and contact information for all three upcoming opportunities is below. Please contact the respective county for details or more inforamtion on how to register and participate.

1. FEBRUARY 9 AND 10, 2022: Uvalde/Multi-county 2022 Hybrid CEU Training (with both in-person and virtual options, via Microsoft Teams)
Registration is online, via AgriLife Register 
More Information: Dr. Noel Troxclair, 830-278-6661, noel.troxclair@ag.tamu.edu 

Wednesday, Feb 9, 8 AM to 2 PM
CEUs: 5 Total      1 General,  3 IPM, 1 Laws & Regs
Fee:  $40 in Person, $30 Virtual
Registration: AgriLife Register
AGENDA

Thursday, Feb 10, 8 AM to 3 PM
CEUs: 6 Total      3 General,  2 IPM, 1 Laws & Regs
Fee:  $40 in Person, $30 Virtual
Registration: AgriLife Register
AGENDA

2.  JANUARY 28, 2022:  Brazos Valley CEU Conference (Hybrid program, with both in-person and virtual options, via Microsoft Teams)
Friday, Jan 28, 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM
CEUs: 5 Total      2 General,  1 IPM, 1 Laws & Regs, 1 Drift
Fee:  $60
Registration and more information Burleson County Extension office:  979 567-2308
AGENDA

3.  JANUARY 27, 2022:  Victoria County CEU Virtual Seminar (virtual only: via Zoom)
Thursday, Jan 27, 8 AM to 3 PM
CEUs: 5 Total     1 General,  2 IPM, 2 Laws & Regs
Fee:  $40
Registration:  Eventbrite
More information Victoria County Extension office (ANR Aent Matt Bochat): 361-575-4581, or mtbochat@ag.tamu.edu
AGENDA

Variegated Ginger – Surprising 2021 Winter Storm Survivor by Kirk Walden

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Micro-climate, Macro-effect

The Snowmageddon of February 2021 totally wiped out 26 of my agaves. But a tender perennial, variegated ginger, made a surprising comeback.

white flowers with green and yellow foliage of variegated ginger.

Fig. 1 – Alpinia zerumbet flowers

My Variegated Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) was a real specimen plant, anchoring one end of my front porch. It was ideally situated: sheltered by the house on one side and the porch on the other, next to an intake to a French drain. It got six hours or less of sun a day. Over the eight years it had been in place, it had grown to six feet tall and eight feet wide. It even flowered one year. [Fig. 1]

When the snow finally melted on February 16th, the damage looked fatal. The weight of the ice had broken most of the stalks. The few that remained upright were brown and mostly shredded. [Fig. 2]

I was vaguely hopeful, so I left it as-is for a few weeks – to no avail. Reality finally set in. I cut it all to the ground in early March. [Fig. 3]

Dry and brown leaves of freeze damaged variegated ginger Plant is cut to the ground, revealing the round rocks in the french drain.
Fig. 2 – Freeze damage appears fatal. Fig. 3 – The plant cut back to the ground.

The Virtue of Patience

By the time April rolled around, there were some very minor signs of encouragement. [Fig. 4] Those little sprouts along with Texas A&M Forestry Service advice not to act hastily was enough for me to leave it alone for another month.

In May, I saw some real progress. Not massive growth. But more and more sprouts and some fully-formed (though tiny) leaves. [Fig. 5]  Patience is not my natural habit. Renewed hope kept me from digging it up. And I am so glad I resisted.

fresh green sprouts emerging from dead looking plant New leaves unfolding from green shoots variegated ginger leaves filled out and resembling a mature specimen
Fig. 4 – Shoots emerging! Fig. 5 – New leaves unfurling.  Fig. 6 – Mostly recovered by September

The summer was good to the Variegated Ginger. By September it had mostly recovered. [Fig. 6] The stalks were not as strong or as tall as before. And some of the newer leaves were still curled. But it was clearly returning to its earlier glory.

Large variegated ginger plant next to a limestone wall

Fig. 7 – Fully recovered!

At year’s end, the plant clocked in at four-and-one-half feet tall and seven feet wide with increasing density. [Fig.7] It’s well on its way to reaching its original six feet height and eight feet width.

I’m convinced this rebirth could not have happened without the confluence of multiple environmental factors: the right amount of sun, protective shelter, and water funneling through to the French drain. The ideal micro-climate for a welcome comeback. A pleasure I see every time I drive by. I wish I could say the same for my agaves.

Additional Resources

Kirk is participating in the Travis County Master Gardener Winter Storm Project.

Weather Strategies for Austin Gardens

Frosts and Freezes

Native and Adapted Landscape Plants searchable database

Climate Graph for Austin Bergstrom

About Kirk Walden

Kirk Walden

Kirk is a hands-on experiential gardener. While he appreciates the cerebral aspects of gardening, he revels in the visceral experience of digging in the dirt. When he moved to Austin in 1998, the home had virtually no landscaping, mostly just limestone and cedars. His determination to beautify it led to an avocation as a serious gardener that culminated in Travis County Master Gardener Certification in 2014.

In the January Vegetable Garden

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Freeze Wallops the January Vegetable Garden

And just like that the hard freeze arrives and wipes out a good portion of my January vegetable garden. Happy new year to you too mother nature!

Fava beans blackened from the recent freeze in the January vegetable garden

Fava beans blackened from the recent freeze

Like many of you, I’ve been gardening like crazy up until a few days ago and enjoying constant harvests from just about everything. I was even picking okra! But not anymore. All those tender vegetables and herbs are blackened and shriveled from the hard freeze that hit my Austin garden. I’ve been paying attention to the weather so went out and harvested everything I could. I’ve got garbage bags full of greens and even a few snap peas stuffed into my refrigerator.

A few things that took a hit should bounce back. In my experience, the fava beans, arugula, broccoli, and turnips may lose some top growth but will sprout from the roots. To my surprise the spinach that I cut way back a few days ago didn’t die …yet.

Year of the Salad Greens

Greens grown in containers save space in garden beds

Grow cool weather greens in containers to expand your valuable growing space

If you need inspiration for your next planting, the National Garden Bureau has declared 2022 The Year of the Salad Greens.

There are two big plant families that you can choose from when planning which greens to grow right now. The Asteraceae family is the source of most of the traditional greens like lettuce and chicories (endive and radicchio.) And let’s not forget dandelion greens for those who are adventurous eaters. The Brassicaceae family includes arugula, kale, and mustards, which tend to be a little more frost tolerant than other greens.

The January Vegetable Garden Checklist

Here are some other things you can do in the January vegetable garden:

Fertilize

  • Send in your soil sample if you haven’t already. (forms available here)
  • Fertilize established plantings of asparagus late in the month to encourage healthy new shoots.

Water and Irrigation

  • Water as needed to keep soil moist. Soil moisture helps protect plant roots from freezing.

Planting

  • Plant asparagus roots in a bed prepared with compost and fertilizer. Be sure to plant them where they will grow for the next 15 years or so.

    Tomato seeds being planted in seed starting containers

    Start tomatoes indoors if you haven’t already.

  • Plant seeds of tomatoes indoors under grow lights in sterile potting soil. After 4 or 5 weeks pot them up to a larger container. A fixture with one warm and one cool T8 fluorescent bulb is generally sufficient for growing transplants. These inexpensive bulbs should be replaced every year or so as they tend to get dim and become less effective, leading to spindly seedlings. Use a heat mat and a plastic dome to create a warm, moist germination chamber but as soon as seeds sprout remove cover and turn off the heat mat to discourage damping off and spindly growth.
Onion transplants, called "sets", ready to be planted.

Onion transplants, called “sets”, ready to be planted.

  • Onion transplants should start appearing in the garden centers later in the month. Recommended varieties are ‘Texas Legend,’ ‘Texas Early White,’ ‘1015Y Texas Super Sweet,’ ‘Yellow Granex’ and ‘Southern Belle Red.’ Set onion transplants into the garden in mid to late January, planting 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. After a few weeks thin to every 4 inches and eat what you thin as green onions.
  • Get another round of cool season crops such as greens, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, collards, peas and broccoli into the ground. Plant seeds of turnips, radishes, carrots, arugula, beets, kohlrabi, and peas directly into garden beds. Plant transplants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, spinach, Asian greens and artichokes.
  • Purchase seed potatoes from a reputable nursery or mail order supplier. Cut large potatoes into small pieces and let cure indoors for a week or two in preparation for planting in mid-February. (See our recommendations here.)

Soil

  • Use a weed eater, a sharp hoe or a scythe to cut back cereal ryegrass that is growing as a cover crop. Turn it under or let it decompose on top of the bed.
  • Add compost to energize the microbe populations.

Diseases and/or Pests to Look For

Maintenance

  • Cut back dead or yellowed asparagus foliage on established plantings.
  • Use row cover or hot caps to protect cilantro, chives and parsley if temperatures dip below freezing.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Huisache – the 2021 Winter Storm Survivor by Kirk Walden

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The Right Plant for the Right Place

Driving around the Austin area you see a lot of trees suffering winter storm damage from the February 2021 freeze. And while arborists have been busy cutting down trees, I have a great success story to share.

In September of 2020, a Wax Myrtle across from my front door died inexplicably. I didn’t want such a prominent spot to be empty for long, so set to selecting a replacement.

Fluffy yellow blossoms of Huisache

Fig 1. Huisache has very fragrant fluffy yellow blossoms in spring

I wanted something showy, since it sits directly across from the front door, and that can take full sun. I also required an upright habit so as not to infringe on the driveway. I did not need it to block the neighbor because it sits in front of decorative fencing, so it could be medium height. My other requirements were that it should be native, require low water, and be limestone tolerant.

After some research, I selected the Huisache (pronounced “wee·saa·chee”) tree [Fig 1]. The other common name for Acacia farnesiana  is Sweet Acacia. It is similar in appearance to a Mesquite, but lighter and airier with oodles of fragrant, fluffy balls in the spring.

And Then February Arrived…

I planted a beautiful specimen seven feet tall by three feet wide in mid-October, looking forward to spring blooms. Four months later, the fledgling was bent in half touching the ground, weighted down with ice and snow. [Fig 2]

Huiasche tree bent in half touching the ground, weighted down with ice and snow

Fig 2. New tree pulled to the ground due to weight.

Damaged tree tied to the fence to keep upright

Fig 3. Damaged tree tied to the fence to keep upright.

I was horrified. Surely, the Huisache had not had sufficient time to establish a root system strong enough to withstand such an assault. Not ready to give up, I used a hair dryer to melt the ice, stood it up straight, and lashed it to the fence to keep it upright. [Fig 3]

When Do You Give Up?

Then I not-so-patiently waited for spring. It was easy tracking its progress since I saw it every time I walked out my front door. By mid-April, not a single leaf had returned. Only a few shoots were coming from the bottom. I thought the tree was essentially dead. [Fig 4]

Dead tree with green shoots appearing at the ground

Fig 4. Tree appears dead but green shoots emerge at the ground.

New shoots growing well at the bottom of the dead tree.

Fig 5. The main trunk still bare but shoots are growing well.

But, I followed the Texas A&M Forest Service‘s advice and left it in place to see what would happen. That advice saved my tree.

By mid-May, the new growth from the bottom was prolific, two feet tall and just as wide. Alas, the main trunk still had no leaves, and no promise for them. So, I cut it down to three feet, and let all the new, thin trunks grow in every direction. [Fig 5]

Freeze? What Freeze?

Miraculously, when September rolled around, the tree had been restored to it’s original seven feet height and it was wider at five feet. [Fig 6]

Huisache now has multiple stems and appears recovered

Fig 6. Huisache will be pruned to shape as it continues to grow

Yes, the shape changed a bit from the winter storm damage. I now have multiple trunks that I will selectively prune for shape as the tree continues to grow. And, it’s still a little thin on top. However, I no longer grimace every time I reach my front door. Instead, I smile anticipating all those perfumed little yellow clouds this spring. What a wonderful tree! Wonderful Huisache!

Additional Resources

Kirk is participating in the 2021 Winter Storm Project. Other Posts on this topic:

Weather Strategies for Austin Gardens

Frosts and Freezes

Native and Adapted Landscape Plants searchable database

Climate Graph for Austin Bergstrom

About Kirk Walden

Kirk Walden

Kirk is a hands-on experiential gardener. While he appreciates the cerebral aspects of gardening, he revels in the visceral experience of digging in the dirt. When he moved to Austin in 1998, the home had virtually no landscaping, mostly just limestone and cedars. His determination to beautify it led to an avocation as a serious gardener that culminated in Travis County Master Gardener Certification in 2014.

Austin Landscapes Survive 2021 Winter Storm Uri by Yvonne Schneider

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Travis County Master Gardeners Track Winter Freeze Recovery Process

Fallen tree from winter storm Uri

Fallen trees and frozen foliage was a common sight

Numerous landscape plants and trees were toppled by the freezing rain and snow sent by Winter Storm Uri in February, with most plant foliage becoming brown and crispy within days or weeks. Homeowners and gardeners wondered – do we have to start over with the landscape, and how much is all this going to cost? Can we even find the plants we’d like to buy? The Travis County Master Gardeners had the same questions, and researched the progress of over 50 native and adapted plant/tree species post the impact of February’s freeze. Record sustained temperatures below freezing tested many new and mature plantings with varied results. The research will continue for long-term impacts. However, we’re got sufficient evidence to share with you as we enter the current winter season.

Key Themes for Winter Storm Uri Survivors

The gardeners determined that each specimen has it’s own story as to why it survived or failed. However, looking at the entire group of research, three key themes emerged:

  • Microclimates matter. The microclimate directly impacted the speed of specimen recovery. Local factors such as sun exposure, wind protection, southern exposure, and age/maturity played a significant role in the recovery of the specimen. This explains why some trees and plants died while others flourished. Exposure to the northwest winds caused many trees and plants to lose branches, or completely topple over in the weight of the frozen rain and snow.
  • Natives performed splendidly. Perennials and natives/adapted specimens had very few issues. In fact, the winter temperatures seemed to have given a needed break, or dormancy period, readying the plant for spring growth. Most rose varieties bloomed profusely in the springtime – a gift after such a frigid winter.
  • Container plants suffered. If not brought indoors for protection, most plants contained within pots suffered irreparable damage to the root systems and perished, without regard to age or health. Even after ensuring the container had been watered and the plant covered, the brutal temperatures froze most root balls to a point that recovery was not an option. Many citrus trees were lost since container gardening is a popular solution for the Austin area.

Freeze? What Freeze?

Red Yucca In bloom

Hesperaloe parviflora proved resilient to Winter Storm Uri

While most plant specimens showed a negative impact from the freezing temperatures, there emerged a big landscape winner from Winter Storm Uri, the Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), also known as the Hummingbird Yucca. This hardy specimen remained evergreen, bloomed right on time in the spring, continued blooming all summer long, and continued to propagate itself with offsets. Staying true to its ‘maintenance free’ description, the specimen is an excellent choice as a small to medium-sized landscape selection. Although normally small when purchased, it grows rather quickly in our hot arid climate, so give it plenty of room to expand. At maturity, this variety can easily grow to 3-5 ft. in width.

Death begot Life

Mexican Honeysuckle blackened from freeze damage Mexican Honeysuckle freeze recovery

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) in February and again in September 2021

While several of the researched specimens perished, another common theme emerged. With mature (typically greater than 5 years) specimens, new life emerged from the root zone. Where a specimen may have survived, additional growth was often noted emerging from the base. In most cases, the surviving plant reached a size equal or greater than that prior to the freeze by mid-to-late summer. It appears the energy normally used to sustain the foliage on mature plants was used to reproduce and rebuild the plants – often with more stems than the original specimen. And we cannot forget about the bulbs, which normally take a break during the winter months. The freeze invigorated many with profuse blooms, but some skipped their normal spring cycle, instead shooting up extensive green foliage in lieu of the flower.

What Next?

The lesson learned is nature rebounds, and in the case of our local yards, quicker and with greater resilience than most expected. The Travis County Master Gardeners will continue to track local native and adapted specimens and publish future blogs on specific specimens for current and future gardener reference. Have a question about a specific plant or tree? Contact the Travis County Master Gardener Helpdesk at travismg@ag.tamu.edu.

Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) blackened leaves after freeze damage Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) starting to recover from freeze with new leaves Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) fully recovered from freeze damage

Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica) in February, April, and again in October 2021

Additional Resources

Other Posts on this topic:

Weather Strategies for Austin Gardens

Frosts and Freezes

Native and Adapted Landscape Plants searchable database

Climate Graph for Austin Bergstrom

 About Yvonne Schneider
Yvonne Schneider, guest blogger

Yvonne was a 35+year veteran in the computer and information technology industry when she retired and moved from Houston to the Austin area. In 2018, Yvonne certified as a Travis County Texas Master Gardener to follow her passion for gardening and volunteering within the community. She has spent 20+ years enjoying gardening and working with bulbs and perennials. She now tackles the challenges presented by the Austin area wildlife, drought, and limestone soil.

In the December Vegetable Garden

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Peas and Okra growing together in the December Vegetable Garden

‘Clemson Spineless’ Okra and ‘Oregon Sugar Pod 2’ Peas both growing in December

When is it Winter in Austin Texas?

Winter is a relative term for the December vegetable garden if you live in Austin. The first freeze hasn’t arrived yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t lurking around the corner (the average frost date is the first week of December.) It is classic weather for Austin – which means anything can happen. According to NOAA, we have entered into a La Nina weather pattern, which for us here in Central Texas means we can expect warmer than normal temperatures and less than normal rainfall. That’s a good news bad news scenario for me. My okra is still blooming, but what I really want is for it to serve as a trellis for my snow peas, which are also blooming. I guess I’ll just have to stir-fry them together for dinner until that okra-killing freeze finally arrives.

Pac Choi and Bloomsdale Spinach growing together

Bug-eaten Pac Choi and Bloomsdale Spinach growing together.

I have another oddball paring over in the greens patch. I interplanted ‘Bloomsdale’ spinach with ‘Joi Choi’ pac choi a few months ago, hoping to hedge my bet when the freeze kills the spinach. The pac choi has traditionally held up to a light frost and will keep growing most of the winter without covering it. This year I have it planted in an area that gets natural frost protection from a rock garden and fruit tree berm. However, if the weather continues to be somewhat mild, the spinach will out compete the pac choi.  Another nice problem to have! I just wish the snails and cucumber beetles would bug off though.

Your December Vegetable Garden Checklist

If you’re like me and haven’t really noticed anything slowing down in the garden, here are some more things that should be on the vegetable gardener’s checklist for December:

FERTILIZE
  • Continue to feed vegetables with fish emulsion or other water-soluble fertilizer every 2 weeks. Soil microbe activity slows down in the cold so supplemental fertilizer may be needed. There is no need to fertilizer any other plant.
WATER
  • Water vegetable beds so that plantings do not dry out. Check the soil first, irrigate only if the soil is dry a few inches below the surface or in newly established seedbeds.
PLANT
  • Grow your own seedlings of broccoli, bok choy, mustard, Swiss chard or other greens so you will have a continual supply of transplants for setting out in January and February. It takes 5-6 weeks to reach transplant size, so plan accordingly. Start them in the house or greenhouse but be sure to harden them off before transplanting and be prepared to protect from frost.
  • Start shopping for seed potatoes and order for the February planting season.
  • Say goodbye to your basil (if you haven’t already done so) and plant some cool weather, fuss-free herbs like cilantro, parsley, oregano, sage, or winter savory.
  • You might also consider starting your tomatoes this month. The goal is to have a gallon size plant ready to transplant the first part of March.
SOIL
  • Use mild days to turn compost and build up mulch.
DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR
  • Cabbage loopers, aphids, snails/slugs, and some beetles can remain active all winter. Protect plants from damage and insulate from freezing weather with a layer of row cover. This can be left on all winter. Anchor the fabric in several places with u-shaped pins, bricks, stones or sandbags. Another option is to lay 4-6 foot lengths of heavy t-posts or wooden boards along the long edge of the row. They are easy to remove if you want to lift up a section of row cover to periodically check the progress of your plants.
MAINTENANCE
  • Keep up with weeds while they are young, before they have a chance to put down roots. A sharp hoe or cultivator makes quick work in vegetable beds.
  • Take advantage of mild winter days to tidy up the tool shed and the greenhouse. Remove rust from tools and apply a light coat of machine oil for protection. Remove annuals that were killed or burned by frost.
  • Pay attention to the forecast. If temperatures are predicted to fall below 28° cover plants with row cover, securing edges with soil, bricks, rocks or pins.
HARVEST
  • Keep your vegetable consumption high this winter as you continue to harvest Swiss chard, kale, collards and lettuce. Use a “cut and come again” strategy. You’ll be surprised how fast everything grows.
  • Cut or twist the leafy tops off of turnips, beets, radishes and carrots before storing, and don’t overlook the culinary potential of those
    leafy greens. They are totally edible and nutritious, especially when harvested fresh from the garden. They may have a bitter bite
    when eaten unadorned in their natural state, but their flavor is transformed when chopped up and incorporated into soups, casseroles,
    vegetable sautés or dips. Carrot tops make a tasty pesto for adventurous eaters.
PLANNING
  • Take some time to sit down with garden notes and graph paper or a computer app and plan your vegetable garden for next year. Peruse seed catalogs, and place your order for the spring season while they still have plenty of inventory.
  • Get your menus set for January 1. I go through my stash of homegrown dried black-eyed peas to make sure I have enough. If needed, I try to shop early and pick up extra now before the local grocery store sells out. I don’t want to miss out fixing a big pot of black-eyed peas (for good luck) and collard greens (for prosperity) on New Year’s Day, (along with a nice slab of hot cornbread.) Lift your spoon and let’s hope for better days in 2022.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

Carpenter Ants May Be a Problem This Year by Wizzie Brown

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Carpenter Ants Capitalizing on Freeze Damage

With the freeze we had earlier this year, many people lost trees or branches of trees. Many people have already cleaned up their yard but others are still waiting for help from arborists to cut down dead trees or prune damaged limbs. If you, or your neighbor, is one of the people who choose to leave things in place, you may now be dealing with carpenter ants.

Carpenter Ant

Identifying Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are large ants varying in color from all black to reddish to yellowish or a combination of these colors. They have one node, no stinger, and a circle of hairs at the tip of their abdomen (which you’ll need a good hand lens or microscope to see). They also have a smoothly humped thorax when you look at them in profile.

Carpenter ants typically nest outdoors in dead wood (tree stumps, dead limbs, fences, firewood, etc.). Sometimes the ants are in wood siding, beams, joists, fascia boards, or trim on structures. Damage is usually limited since carpenter ants tunnel and nest within wood; they do not eat wood. However, wood can become weakened by carpenter ant excavation.

Damage is Different than Termites

Galleries in carpenter ant nests are excavated following the grain of the wood and have clean, smooth walls which allows you tell the difference between carpenter ant damage and termite damage. Nest locations can sometimes be discovered by searching for piles of sawdust-looking material under kick-out or exit holes; this is the carpenter ant frass or waste material. Frass is made up of coarse pieces of wood and may also contain soil or sand, uneaten insects, as well as dead ants from the colony.

Carpenter ants have mating flights, or swarms, to begin new colonies. After mating, males die while females drop to the ground, chew off their wings, and locate a suitable nesting site. Females then lay 15-20 eggs which develop into worker ants in about two months. The queen cares for the first batch of brood (eggs, larvae, pupae) and feeds them secretions from her body. Once the first batch of brood has emerged as adult workers, they take over care of the colony by expanding the nest, providing food for the queen, and caring for new brood.

Not a Problem Unless House is Infested

When carpenter ants are found outdoors, they do not really cause much of an issue, but they are able to enter homes from tree branches or utility lines touching the home, through cracks and crevices around windows and doors, cracks in foundation walls, ventilation openings, or heating and air conditioning ducts.

Avoid Problems With These Tips

Here are some tips for a carpenter ant infestation:

  • Remove dead trees, limbs, and tree stumps from the landscape. You can remove the (possible) nesting sites and get rid of the ants without using pesticides.
  • Prune trees and shrubs that touch or overhang the home. Carpenter ants can use these areas as a bridge to enter homes.
  • Replace wood that has water, fungal, or termite damage. Carpenter ants prefer wood that has damage from previous issues.
  • Remove wood debris and firewood that is near the home. Carpenter ants may nest in firewood and when it is stacked right next to the home, it allows ants to enter easily.

For more information or help with identification, contact Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension Service Program Specialist at 512.854.9600.

About Wizzie

Wizzie Brown

Wizzie Brown
County Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management
Email:EBrown@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service since 2002 and has been playing with insects since she was a toddler. She is an Extension Program Specialist with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Wizzie holds a B.S. in entomology from The Ohio State University and a M.S. in entomology from Texas A&M University. The integrated pest management program provides identification, biological and management information to whomever needs help. Wizzie’s research focuses on imported fire ants, including community wide fire ant management. Wizzie also is happy to provide programs to area groups on a variety of arthropod-related topics. You can find insect and other arthropod information on Wizzie’s blog.

Why You Should Care About Oak Wilt by Linda Drga

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What is Oak Wilt and Why Do We Care About it?

Trees are a valuable resource, so we do not want to lose them to disease. Oak Wilt is caused by Bretziella fagacearum, (formerly called Ceratocystis fagacearum), a non-native invasive fungus. It can be found in MN, NY, Tx, IL, OH all together 21 states are infected. In 1944 it was discovered in oak trees in the Midwest. It is spread through the vascular (water-conducting system) roots at about 75 feet per year. All oak trees are susceptible to this infection. Live oaks, like the tree Quercus virginiana, can recover but red oaks, like Quercus falcata, are much more susceptible. Red oaks can die within two-three weeks. Oak wilt fungus is related to the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease (Ceratocytis ulmi).

How Oak Wilt is Spread

Beetles that feed on sap are a common carrier and spreader of disease.

The sap-feeding beetle that transmits the disease is the Coleoptera: Nitidulid beetle. They are pinhead size and fly for distance of one mile. The sweet smell of the sap is what attracts the beetle, which is why painting pruning cuts is an important prevention strategy. November through January are the best time to trim oaks because the beetle activity is minimal and the fungal mats are not producing as many spores.

Fungal Mats

Fungal mat crack in a red oak

Fungal mats can start to appear as cracks

The spores of the oak wilt are contained in the fungal mat. Red oak trees with rounded tipped leaves (such as Shumard, Spanish and blackjack) are some trees that form these mats when specific moist environmental conditions are present. The trees that are infected in the summer or the fall will form fungal mats during the spring. Look for small cracks to develop in the bark.

Trees that have been dead greater than a year do not produce spore mats. White and live oak are somewhat resistant to wilt and do not form fungal mats.

The Coleoptera: Nitidulid beetles feed and breed on the fungal mat and then carry the spores on their body. The beetles travel from one fungal mat to another to continue feeding.

Painting all fresh wounds immediately with pruning or latex paint provides a barrier, keeping this insect vector Nitidulid from feeding on the sap. Only fresh wounds will let the oak wilt fungus establish itself. If fresh wounds are open more than 24-hour painting will not prevent the disease.

Symptoms of Oak Wilt Disease

Live Oak symptoms showing yellow veins

Live Oak leaf displaying symptoms of oak wilt

In Live Oaks the veins on the leaf turn yellow (chlorotic) or brown, while the remainder of the tree stays green. In red oaks, the tips of the leaves turn reddish-brown giving the appearance of autumn colors. Leaves will fall from the tree when they should be green. Inspect the leaves for the prominent yellow veins. Also smell the bark of a red oak tree if infected it should have a sweet smell. This smell is what attracts the tiny beetle to a tree.

Some of the first indications of oak wilt will be a complete leaf drop in mid-summer, as well as, discolored, wilted, and curled leaves (in the Austin area Live Oaks normally lose their leaves in March.) The disease can be noticed in the very top of the tree, then will travel down to kill suckers at at the tree base. Individual leaves may brown from the tip to the stem.

This serious, highly destructive oak tree disease can become an epidemic which kills trees in a matter of months. It can kill a red oak tree in 3-4 weeks. It can spread tree to tree through root systems that naturally graft onto one another.

Red Oak Symptoms Occur in Spring

Symptoms show up on red oaks in early May with changing leaf color from green to bronze. Development of disease usually occurs on one limb or branch and can quickly spread to the entire tree. Since summer green leaf drop is unusual, it may be indicative of an oak wilt infection. The Texas Plant Disease Handbook has pictures and descriptions of oak wilt and other diseases of oak trees. For diagnostic purposes a tree sample can be sent to the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for analysis.

Oak Wilt Treatment

Some treatments are available but costly. Only high value trees warrant prophylactic and therapeutic treatments by an experienced certified arborist. Attempts to get a cheap treatment will only result in subpar results. The best thing to do may be to remove the infected tree to prevent the spread. Since oak wilt is spread through the root and the vascular system, trenching at least four to five feet deep and 100 feet away from an infected oak may help stop the disease spread. Since this disease spreads root to root, it is difficulty and expense of trenching in urban neighborhoods with building, fences, and neighbor’s yards disrupted. An infected tree can be injected with a fungicide in the Spring to possibly reduce symptoms.  Neighborhood associations or neighbors working together are the best way to manage oak wilt.

How to Protect Trees

Protect your trees by utilizing the following tips:

  1. Identify the disease early and destroy diseased trees.
  2. Avoid wounding by lawn equipment and inspect after ice and storms for damage.
  3. Always disinfect cutting tools before using on each tree with 10% bleach solution or Lysol.
  4. Paint all oak wounds immediately with a latex-bases paint to exclude the beetles. Other kinds of trees generally do not need wounds painted.
  5. Prune dead wood and twigs during dormancy. Prune only when necessary.
  6. Select well-seasoned firewood, locally acquired.
  7. Store firewood away from oak trees and keep completely wrapped in clear plastic.
  8. Do not prune oaks after February 1st to July 1st or from September to after first hard freeze (on average the first week of December.)
  9. Buy firewood locally and ask where the wood is from to prevent disease spread. Only store disease-free one-year-cured oak wood.

Proper Firewood Handling Prevents Disease Spread

Firewood taken from oat trees that have a fungus mat can spread the disease. Cracked wood or bark falling off wood indicates that the fungus will no longer be alive. If you don’t know the source or type of firewood, cover the wood pile completely with clear plastic. Anchor the edges of the plastic into the soil to prevent insect spread.

A dying tree cannot support the growth of the oak wilt fungus but can still contain the disease. Avoid cutting up a dead branches and trees until the coldest part of winter. Do not store Oak wilt infected wood, burn it as soon as it is dry. Burning the wood kills all spores and beetles. Beetles active in freshly stored wood can fly away to infect healthy trees. Smoke from the wood does not transmit disease.

If You Need to Prune Your Oak Trees…

Not all trees need maintenance. If you absolutely must prune your oak trees, keep the following in mind:

  1. Prune trees during the hottest part of the summer or the coldest part of the winter when the fungal mats are least likely to form.
  2. Prune for safety on roadways and streets by removing low branches that may be hazardous to large vehicles like fire trucks.
  3. Remove dead and diseased branches which left in place can attract sap beetles that spread Oak Wilt fungus.

Know Your Oaks Before You Buy

Oak wilt is devastating to live and red oaks. Once a tree is diseased it is extremely difficult and maybe impossible to treat.

When planting, it is best to avoid a monoculture by varying the types of plants and trees in your landscape. There are two great resources available to help you choose the right tree for your location.

Texas oak wilt .org has a list of tree species for each Texas Ecoregion. If you live on the west side of I-35, choose the Edwards Plateau ecoregion. If you live on the east side of I-35, choose the Blackland Prairies ecoregion. If you really want to have an oak tree, plant one that is less susceptible to the disease such as white oaks, chinquapin, Monterrey (also known as Mexican White Oak,) or lacey oaks.

The city of Austin has a Native tree guide for Central Texas with many helpful suggestions and illustrations of the trees. You can learn more about each tree by visiting the Native and Adapted Landscape Plant Guide database.

Additional Resources

Oak Wilt Assistance and Arborists:

https://texasoakwilt.org

https://isatexas.com

More About Oak Wilt:

City of Austin Oak Wilt Information: http://www.austintexas.gov/page/oak-wilt

City of Austin Grow Green Program: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/grow-green

Texas A&M Forest Service: http://tfsweb.tamu.edu/

About Linda Drga

Linda Drga is a Lifetime Member of the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. She grew up on a Pennsylvania truck farm and spent her youth working with vegetables. She has a degree in nursing and a MPH (Masters in Public Health) from Tulane. She spent 20+ years living and gardening in South American, the Caribbean, and Africa. She says gardening is her escape and how she keeps her mind at ease. She loves to get dirty in her garden but still dedicates time every day to study and learn something new.

In Austin’s November Vegetable Garden

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First Frost on the Way

Fall has arrived and winter is on the way, but there is still plenty to do in the November vegetable garden. The first frost to Central Texas usually arrives after Thanksgiving (the average is the first week of December.) We are lucky that even with the occasional frost we have many  mild days that are perfect for cool season vegetable growth.

row cover placed over planting bed to protect the November vegetable garden from frost

Watch the weather and cover your beds if the temperature is predicted to be in the low 30’s

Your November vegetable garden plan is to get your plants through the cold snaps so they can keep growing until ready for harvest. Mulch your veggies well and make plans to cover them with row cover or other lightweight protection when the weather forecast says temperatures will dip into the low 30s. Use bricks, heavy rocks, soil or U-shaped pins to secure the row cover so it doesn’t blow off. Most of our cool season crops will do just fine in a light freeze, especially if they are well established, but when the temperature drops from 75° to 25° overnight they will need a little extra protection.

Be sure to keep up with irrigation as dehydrated plants are more susceptible to frost.

Stockpile Leaves for Mulch or Compost

Stockpile leaves over the next few months to use for spring and summer mulch. Those leaf bags make handy storage containers if you’ve got room to pile them up. Leaves can also be mixed with kitchen waste and added to the compost pile over the winter. Water lightly if the pile is dry to keep the microbial life active.

Plan Your Spring Crop Rotation

Those tempting spring seed catalogs should be arriving so now is a good time to sketch out your plan for spring.  Rotating your planting beds is a good way to manage pupating insect pests, nematodes, essential minerals, and even organic matter. This is because not all vegetables have the same growing requirements, and leaving them in the same place year after year can cause unbalances. This applies to large and small spaces, even if it means just changing things up hole to hole.

A successful rotation strategy focuses on plant families. The goal is to plant a new family every time you change out plants. The planting sequence order of the families is less important, but some gardeners develop their own method schedule to address specific issues. I have issues with nematodes in my own patch, so make sure to rotate the nightshade family right after the grass family. Nematodes can’t reproduce in grasses, so it’s a good trap plant. More on nematode management can be found in this great video from Texas A&M AgriLife Specialist, Dr. Joe Masabni.

Rotate the Ten Families

Here are the ten plant families to concentrate on:

  1. Cruicifer (Brassicaceae) Family: Cabbage (the blue varieties do better), Broccoli (be sure to eat the side shoots, not just the head), Cauliflower (color is the big trend – easier to grow, more than just white), Kale, Kohlrabi, Brussels sprout, turnips, Collards, and Mustard Greens
  2. Goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae – now subfamily in Amaranthaceae) Family: Beets, Swiss Chard, and Spinach
  3. Umbel (Umbelliferae) Family: Carrot (color a big trend), Parsley, Cilantro, Fennel, and Dill
  4. Allium (Amaryllidaceae) Family: Onions, Leeks, Chives, Scallions, and Garlic
  5. Composite (Asteraceae) Family: Lettuce, Sunflowers, and Chicory
  6. Nightshade (Solanaceae) Family: Tomato, Peppers, Potato, Tomatillo, and Eggplant
  7. Bean (Fabaceae) Family: Green Beans, Fava Beans, Black-eyed Peas, Southern (or Cream) Peas, Pinto/Black (or any dry bean), Butterbeans (lima bean), and Sugar Snap Peas. NOTE: If rhizobia nodules are present, use this family as a nitrogen rotator crop.
  8. Gourd (Cucurbitaceae) Family: Cucumber, Summer squash, Winter squash, Melons, Pumpkins, and Gourds
  9. Mallow (Malvaceae) Family: Okra
  10. Grass (Graminaceae) Family:  Sweet Corn, Elbon Rye (Cereal Rye) NOTE: Grass can be used as a rotator crop to trap root-knot nematodes. Plant densely to cover planting bed. More information on nematodes can be found here 

November Vegetable Garden Checklist

While you’re developing your rotation plan, here are some other jobs you can do in your November vegetable garden:

Water and Irrigation

  • Irrigate transplants and seedlings weekly (unless it rains) for an even supply of moisture.

Diseases and/or Pests to Look For

  • Aphids and cabbage loopers can still be active in November. Use row cover to keep them from your crop.

Maintenance

  • Be sure to disconnect hoses, wrap faucets and drain sprinklers before that first freezing night arrives.
  • Cover unplanted vegetable beds with a layer of leaves or shredded mulch.
  • Keep birds in the yard to eat pesky caterpillars by keeping those birdbaths filled.

Harvest

Wrapping leaves over cauliflower head and securing with twine

White varieties of cauliflower will turn yellow if exposed to direct sunlight. To avoid this issue gather leaves around developing heads and secure with a rubber band, clothespin or twine.

  • Harvest near-ripe tomatoes before the first freeze, and allow them to ripen indoors out of direct sun.
  • Enjoy a supply of fresh salad greens by harvesting young leaves of lettuce, kale and spinach. This is when the leaves are small and tender, and have the sweetest flavor. Regular harvesting will stimulate plants to produce more leaves
  • For snow-white cauliflower, pull the leaves up around the head when it starts to form using a clothespin, rubber band or string. Exposure to sunlight will cause the head to be an off-white color – still fine for eating, just not as pretty.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.

In the October Vegetable Garden

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Fall Finally Arrives in the October Vegetable Garden

I am so thankful for fall weather. Shorter days and cool mornings have brought back the gardening enthusiasm that the relentless heat of summer usually drains. If you haven’t already, take advantage of the mild, frost-free weather this month and get cole crops, root crops, greens, and garlic established in the garden.

Try Garlic This Year

Garlic makes a great addition to any garden as long as you pick the right variety for the time of year you plan to harvest. I plant very early varieties to make sure that I get a good harvest in mid May. Usually May is our rainiest month, and in my heavy clay soil, the garlic heads will rot if I don’t get them out of the ground. For the rest of you with better soil, you’ll want to plant cloves this month and harvest no later than June.

Garlic hanging on rack to dry in the June vegetable garden

Early maturing garlic varieties can be easy to grow.

Some online garlic sources are starting to sell out, but your local nursery may still have seed garlic in stock. You can plant them in a row, a raised bed, or even in your landscape. Prepare a planting area in full sun and add 3-4”
layer of well-decomposed compost to help improve soil structure. Garlic likes to grow in fertile free-draining conditions. Plant the cloves 1-2 inches deep, 6” apart, with the pointy side up. Water regularly throughout the winter and fertilize every 2-3 weeks with fish emulsion, blood meal, or other high nitrogen fertilizer. Full sun and high fertility are needed to produce large bulbs. Cultivate lightly to eliminate competition from weeds being careful to not damage garlic’s shallow roots.

Two Categories of Garlic

There are two categories of garlic: hardneck and softneck. Hardneck is the type that forms a flower stalk or scape as it matures. It grows best in colder climates but you might have some success growing it in Central Texas, especially if you refrigerate it a few weeks before planting. Hardneck varieties include Purple Stripe, Music, Ajo Rojo and Metichi.

I’ve had much better luck with softneck garlic because it’s better suited to our mild winters. Varieties to look for include California Early, Lorz, Inchelium Red, Creole Red, Cuban Purple, and Texas Rose. My favorite variety is Chinese Pink, but I’ve not been able to find it these past two years.

There are hundreds of garlic varieties and every year I experiment with at least one new variety. When you find one that works for you, make sure to write down the name for next year.

October Vegetable Garden Checklist

If garlic isn’t your thing, here are some other items in your October vegetable garden checklist:

Fertilizer

  • Fertilize garden vegetables with a water-soluble fertilizer or fish emulsion every 1-2 weeks. You want to give plants every opportunity to grow before our first freeze hits in late November or early December

Water and Irrigation

  • Water as needed. Monitor the moisture in your planting beds by using a hand trowel. Dig down to a six-inch depth and use your hand to feel for a soil dampness.
  • Newly planted seeds and transplants will need extra water to get established. Water more frequently until seeds and transplants put out new leaves.

Planting

Collards

  • Plant garlic any time from mid-October thru early December.
  • Start planting lettuce and spinach as the temperatures begin to cool; a little shade above the plants will help with establishment if warm weather lingers. Look for nursery transplants or plant seed directly in the garden.
  • Cool-season herbs planted now, including cilantro, dill, chives, fennel, parsley and sage, will add zest to meals throughout the winter. Plan to let them flower in the spring to attract beneficial insects.
  • Plant cover crops in fallow areas to improve the condition of the soil. Cool-season
    options include Elbon rye, clover, Austrian winter peas and hairy vetch. Elbon rye is also a good rotation crop if you have nematode issues. It forms thick root mats that nematodes invade but can’t reproduce in, thus reducing the population in the planting area. Elbon rye is also called “cereal rye” and most independent nurseries in Austin sell it. Make sure you are buying the rye grain, not ryegrass.

Diseases and/or Pests to Look For

Cabbage loopers and other caterpillars can damage fall vegetable crops

Inspect plants regularly for caterpillars that can severely damage leaves of cole crops. Row cover or netting can be used to protect plants from moths that lay the eggs.

  • Keep an eye out for fall pests such as caterpillars, aphids and harlequin bugs. Look for and destroy eggs. Handpick caterpillars. Use a
    strong spray of water to dislodge aphids from plants.
  • Use row cover over brassica crops to keep the moths and butterflies from laying eggs on the foliage.

Maintenance

  • Weeds love fall weather as much as vegetables. Keep them in check by regular pulling, hoeing and mulching. An extra bonus is that many weeds can be chopped up and added as a green to the compost pile.

Harvest

  • Sweet potatoes are generally harvested this month as their growth begins to slow down. Cut back on irrigation 2-3 weeks before you
    plan to harvest so soil is dry. Dig carefully to avoid bruising, brush the dirt off and place in a dry, shady location to cure for 5-10 days
    before storing or eating. Keep pests like squirrels and rats from helping themselves by covering the drying rack with chicken wire and/or netting
  • Harvest winter squash and pumpkins when the rind is hard. Use pruners to cut from the vine, leaving 1-2 inches of stem attached. Be
    careful not to nick or scratch the skin as this could invite decay should you decide to store them.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets

Texas Farmers Markets

Monthly Gardening Calendar for Austin and Central Texas

About Sheryl Williams

Photo of Sheryl WilliamsSheryl Williams has been a Travis County Master Gardener since 2010 and currently works as the Horticulture Program Assistant at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Travis County. She was introduced to gardening by her mom and grandma and has been an avid vegetable gardener most of her life. Sheryl believes that there is nothing more satisfying than growing and preparing your own food. She likes gardening in Austin year round and concedes that means pulling weeds every day. She practices organic gardening principles and enjoys the challenge of outsmarting garden pests. Occasionally she loses these battles, but doesn’t mind sharing a good meal.