Chiggers by Wizzie Brown

AgriLife Logo

Illustration of chigger life stageWhat Exactly Are Chiggers?

Chiggers are the first stage out of the egg of a particular type of mite. They climb onto people and other animals walking through infested areas, crawl upwards, and wander around the body seeking a good site to settle down and feed. Feeding preference for these mites on humans is in areas where skin is thinnest (behind knees, armpits) or where clothing fits tightly, such as the ankles, waist, and the groin area.

What Causes All That Itching?

Chiggers do not burrow into skin as many people believe, so “smothering” them with nail polish is useless. When chiggers feed, they inject a digestive enzyme that breaks down skin cells. The skin cells then create a feeding tube called a stylostome that the chigger uses to suck up liquified skin cells to eat. Itching and redness is caused when our body reacts to the enzymes injected into our skin as well as the body breaking down the stylostome. Itching typically begins 3-6 hours after being bitten, peaks at 24 hours, and can last up to two weeks. By the time you begin to itch from chiggers, they are usually long gone as they will fall off the body once feeding is completed or can be brushed off by clothing or showering.

How to Avoid Chiggers

The best way to avoid getting chiggers is to avoid infested areas. Since this is not always possible, here are some other things to try:

  • Wear protective clothing- tightly woven items that fit loosely; including long sleeves & pants; shoes or boots
  • Tuck pant legs into socks and boots
  • Use an insect repellent with DEET or picaridin before entering an infested area
  • Avoid sitting on the ground
  • Remove & launder clothing ASAP after being in infested areas
  • Shower/ bathe after being in an infested area; scrub vigorously with a washcloth

How to Treat Infestations

To treat chigger infestations around the home, try the following:

  • Keep lawn trimmed
  • Maintain vegetation; do not allow weeds to grow up & keep brush cleared
  • Target infested areas with residual pesticide sprays

How to Treat Chigger Bites

For chigger bites:

  • Do not scratch pustules; opening pustule might lead to infection
  • Oral antihistamines or topical anti-itch creams to relieve itching sensation

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

Additional Resources

Chiggers – Biology, Defense, Treating Bites

Diagnosing Mysterious Bug Bites

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.

Austin’s August Vegetable Garden

AgriLife Logo

Stay Hydrated and Keep Gardening!

okra wilting in the August vegetable garden

Even Okra wilts in the August vegetable garden.

I’m not going to lie. I lose the will to garden in the August vegetable garden. I’m out of rainwater, the heat is relentless, and the last thing I want to do is battle the sun to save some seedlings. But somehow, I bully myself into doing it anyway, and it’s a good thing. If you wait until the weather is easier to deal with, you will be out of luck for fall gardening.

Last Call for Warm Season Vegetable Starts

The first of August is the last window for planting warm season crops like squash, corn, cucumbers, and green beans if you want a harvest before frost. Here in Austin our last frost date is usually the first week of December, although it has arrived as early as Halloween.

Empty flats ready for seeds

Seed your vegetables in individual cells or in a single tray. Either way you’ll need to transplant into larger pots once they have at least two true leaves.

Trying to keep things alive right now is a challenge, but there are a couple of strategies to try. One is to keep seedlings in the house for as long as possible. If you’ve got grow lights or an especially bright area in front of a patio door or large window, this might be an option. Outside, shade cloth can help save young plants. Just be sure that you’ve got plenty of ventilation or you will create a greenhouse effect. I like to use shade cloth only on the west side of the bed so that I get plenty of air circulation but protect the plants from the brutish afternoon sun.

Inspect for Disease in the August Vegetable Garden

Now is a good time to check for root knot nematodes. In general, I prefer not to disturb the soil in my vegetable beds because I want to preserve the fungal networks attached to the roots. However, I have a problem with root knot nematodes, so I make a slight exception.

gnarled roots infected by root knot nematodes

Gnarled or extremely knobby roots indicate root knot nematodes are present in your soil.

I check each of my garden beds by pulling up two to three plants to check their roots. I’m looking for the telltale signs of gnarled, lumpy roots that indicate the root knot nematodes are present. If they are, that helps me decide my crop rotation plan. Grasses are one plant that nematodes infect but can’t reproduce in. So, if it’s August, I plant sweet corn. I’ll follow up with a winter sowing of Elbon cereal rye too for good measure. Elbon is a Southern type of cereal rye developed by the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station.

Another Pitch for Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is a proven technique to help maintain soil health from pests/disease build up and from depleting specific micronutrients. For a deep dive into this subject, visit this article Vegetable Rotations-Successions and Intercropping by Roland E. Roberts, Extension Vegetable Specialist. I also saw recently a simple four-year rotation that you can try. First you divide your garden bed or area into four sections. Then plant the following families in rotation:

Year 1 Section 1 Nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant)
Section 2 Legumes (beans, peas, or summer vetch cover crop) or onions and roots (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes)
Section 3 Brassicas (kales, broccoli, collards or turnips)
Section 4 Grasses (corn, Elbon rye winter cover crop) or squash
Year 2 Section 1 Legumes (beans, peas, or summer vetch cover crop) or onions and roots (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes)
Section 2 Brassicas (kales, broccoli, collards or turnips)
Section 3 Grasses (corn, Elbon rye winter cover crop) or squash
Section 4 Nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant)
Year 3 Section 1 Brassicas (kales, broccoli, collards or turnips)
Section 2 Grasses (corn, Elbon rye winter cover crop) or squash
Section 3 Nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant)
Section 4 Legumes (beans, peas, or summer vetch cover crop) or onions and roots (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes)
Year 4 Section 1 Grasses (corn, Elbon rye winter cover crop) or squash
Section 2 Nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant)
Section 3 Legumes (beans, peas, or summer vetch cover crop) or onions and roots (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes)
Section 4 Brassicas (kales, broccoli, collards or turnips)

August Vegetable Garden Checklist

Here are some other items that you can add to your August Vegetable Garden Checklist.

Fertilizer

  • Keep your peppers and eggplant growing strong with a regular supply of moisture and a dose of water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks; they love fall weather and will produce right up until frost.

Water and Irrigation

  • Fruiting crops like okra, pumpkins, eggplant and Southern peas need a dependable supply of moisture, especially during flowering and fruit enlargement in order to develop properly.
  • Irrigate in the morning. Wilted plants in the afternoon is a natural response. Watering at night in times of high humidity can promote fungal disease.

Planting

  • Plant your favorite varieties of green beans, cucumbers, and squash later this month. It’s best to stick with varieties that produce in 60 days or less. This information should be on the seed pack-et or catalog description.
  • Plant seeds for brassicas, Swiss chard and other fall vegetables in small pots indoors under grow lights or outside in a bright shady spot. Seedlings will be transplant size in about 6 weeks. Extend your harvest by planting a few seeds a week or so apart so that plants will mature at different times.

Soil

  • Mulch well to inhibit weed germination and conserve precious moisture.
  • Re-start the compost pile so you’ll have plenty of finished compost next month for fall gardening, or research soil yards for best compost to purchase.

Diseases and/or Pests to Look For

  • Remove any spent or diseased plants in preparation for fall planting. Check the roots to see if root knot nematodes were a contributing factor.
  • Even though it’s hot, Inspect the garden on a regular basis, keeping an eye out for damaging pests who don’t slow down in the summer.

Maintenance

  • Thin plants to the proper spacing once they are up and growing; crowded plants rarely reach their production potential and compete for moisture
  • Provide shade for young plants. Provide plenty of air movement to prevent.

    bamboo mat used to provide shade for vegetables

    Master Gardener Patty Leander likes using bamboo fencing for shade cover.

Harvest

  • Harvest herbs for use in the kitchen. Prune lightly to encourage new growth. I really like herb infused water or herbs in my ice cubes.
  • Keep up with Okra harvesting and don’t let those pods develop into cruise missiles

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (繁体中文)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

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.

Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas Registration Opens

AgriLife Logo

Texas Master Gardener Logo

Step One for Acceptance into the 2022 Travis County Master Gardener Program

Have you been thinking about becoming a master gardener or just want to learn more about gardening?

On August 24th at 12:00 pm, the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas training program with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service begins with a series of virtual, self-paced webinars presented by AgriLife Extension specialists, staff, and Texas Master Gardeners. This virtual course starts on August 24th at 12 pm with an information session explaining how program training will unfold. The cost of the course is $250 with the Texas Master Gardener Handbook or $175 without the Handbook, payable upon registration. Completion of this course is a required prerequisite for those participants who wish to apply to the Travis County Master Gardener Program in December 2022.

Watch the Information Session Here

The 2022 program began with an information session on June 22. You can watch that session here. The recording explains more how the course will run and what to expect in an all-virtual program. Application to become a Travis County Master Gardener is by invitation only once you pass the course final exam.

Register here for the course: https://tamu.estore.flywire.com/products/horticultural-principles-and-practices-for-central-texas-virtual-training

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining Microsoft Teams and participating in the virtual learning course.

Course Description

The Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas course is completely virtual and will consist of two parts: one weekly pre-recorded seminar (self-paced) and one weekly Q&A session (Wednesdays,12 to 1 PM, from Sept 7 to Nov 16). Various Extension personnel are the webinar presenters, and the Q&A sessions are led by Travis County CEA-Hort, Daphne Richards or Travis County Master Gardeners.

Topics are Earth-Kind Principles; Basic Plant Science; Soils; Water & Irrigation; Entomology and Integrated Pest Management; Plant Pathology; Turfgrass; Fruit Crops; and Vegetable Gardening. Other pre-recorded webinar topics are also available to course participants.

The weekly Q&A sessions utilize Microsoft Teams. You can use Teams via web browser, but it functions best by utilizing the Microsoft Teams app. If you are using an Apple iOS device, you must use a Chrome browser to access Teams, or download the Teams app. Microsoft Teams does not function on the Safari browser. Course materials are in a Microsoft Teams class notebook. A Texas Master Gardener Handbook is included in the cost of the $250 registration.

Master Gardener Training

Only those who successfully complete Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas and pass the final exam may apply for the Master Gardener Training program. Master Gardener training is tentatively set to be multi-week and in-person/hands-on training, starting in early 2023. This training will cover additional subject matter and will incur an additional registration fee. Master Gardener training includes the requisite volunteer service to become fully certified TCMG volunteers.

What’s a Master Gardener?

The Travis County Master Gardeners are volunteers for the Travis County AgriLife Extension Service. They assist Extension’s mission to disseminate research-based horticultural and environmental knowledge among the citizens of Central Texas. The Master Gardener training program has a limited number of spaces. Candidates completing the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas coursework and who submit the best applications will meet with the selection committee for personal interviews. Committee-selected applicants will receive invitations to attend Master Gardener training.

Preferred Skills for Master Gardener Candidates

Successful applicants to the Travis County Master Gardener program have the following list of characteristics, skills, and interests:

  • Enjoys helping others
  • Enjoys speaking to groups of people
  • A willingness to lead projects or events
  • Is a lifelong learner
  • Has experience teaching others through volunteer work, community organizations, or professional career
  • Can successfully work with others in both small and large groups
  • Has experience with social media either personally or professionally
  • Is willing to contribute blog posts, articles, photographs, or go on camera in virtual formats like webinars or videos
  • Loves to garden!

Applications Issued Once Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas Completed

You must complete all the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas modules and pass the final exam to receive an application,

Please register early to secure a seat in the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas course. You can register here: https://tamu.estore.flywire.com/products/horticultural-principles-and-practices-for-central-texas-virtual-training

The first class of the course covers the details of the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas course and is an opportunity to answer your questions.

Training Cost

The total early-bird registration fees for the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas  course are $250 with the Texas Master Gardener Handbook or $175 without the Handbook.

The course cost is payable at registration. The subsequent Travis County Master Gardener training is $150, payable upon acceptance into the program.

Criminal Background Check Required

As a matter of policy, criminal background checks occur on all persons accepted into the Master Gardener training program, and every three years thereafter.

Training Schedule

Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas Course

The Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas course consists of Q&A Lunch and Learn Microsoft Teams meetings each Wednesday at 12:00 pm to 1 pm, from August 24th through November 2nd, and webinar recordings hosted on YouTube. Each week participants will receive an email notice containing links to the lesson and a google form to confirm participation. Recordings are only available for 10 days after the email notice. The Q&A Lunch and Learn Microsoft Teams meetings are hosted by AgriLife Extension staff and are focused on the lesson emailed to participants the week before. Topics are Earth-Kind Principles; Basic Plant Science; Soils; Water & Irrigation; Entomology and Integrated Pest Management; Plant Pathology; Turfgrass; Fruit Crops; and Vegetable Gardening.

Travis County Master Gardener Training

The Travis County Master Gardener training is a combination of in-person workshops and e-learning. The tentative schedule is Wednesdays from 9 am to 12pm, in January and February. Workshops are at the AgriLife Extension office (1600 Smith Rd, Austin, 78721) and other Travis County locations. Participants will receive the exact schedule at registration. Transportation is the responsibility of the participant.

Volunteer Commitment

You will complete a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer service on Extension-approved projects by December 31 , 2023, in order to be certified a Texas Master Gardener.

Certification

Participants earn the title “Texas Master Gardener” after they have completed the training course, passed the final exam, and fulfilled their volunteer commitment. More information about Master Gardeners is available on the Texas Master Gardener Association web page.

What if You Just Want the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas Course?

Taking the Horticultural Principles and Practices for Central Texas course does not require application to the Travis County Master Gardener program. Sign up for Travis County Horticulture Event Notifications about other garden education opportunities or visit our calendar.

Questions?

Please contact Sheryl Williams if you have questions about the program. sheryl.williams@ag.tamu.edu

Cicada Killer Wasps by Wizzie Brown

AgriLife Logo

What are these giant wasps?!?!?!?!

Large Cicada Killer Wasp

Cicada killer wasps, common this time of year, are native to Texas.  They are some of the largest wasps that you can find in Texas, reaching up to 1 ½ inches long and can be somewhat frightening if you see them flying about your lawn.

Cicada killers have a reddish-brown head and thorax, a black and yellow abdomen, and wings with a rusty tinge.  Only females are capable of stinging because the stinger is a modified egg laying structure.

Fortunately, female cicada killer wasps are rarely aggressive.  Males look similar to females and are territorial. They will buzz near you if you enter their territory, but once you leave the male’s territory they ignore you.

Scary But Beneficial Garden Insect

Hole in ground next to hose is a wasp burrow

This hole is a Cicada Killers nest.

Cicada killers are beneficial insects because they help to control cicada populations.  Cicadas, the noisy insects of summer, are stung and paralyzed by female cicada killer wasps.  They then carry the paralyzed cicadas back to a burrow that the wasp digs in the ground.  The female wasp pulls the cicada into the burrow and tucks it into a side tunnel. Once there are 3-4 cicadas in the side tunnel, an egg deposited with the cicadas and the side tunnel sealed.    When the egg hatches, the cicada killer larva eats the cicadas provided.  The cicada killer wasp that is developing emerges the following year.

No Control Necessary

Cicada killers usually do not warrant any control methods.  If someone is allergic to wasps, you can sprinkle insecticidal dust around the opening of the burrow.  Tamp the dust around the opening with your shoe and as the wasps work on cleaning out the entrance to the burrow, they will pick up the dust on their body and eventually die.

Please note that cicada killer wasps are often mistaken for Asian giant hornets (AGH), also referred to as “murder hornets”.  AGH have not been found in Texas and have only been located in Washington state within the U.S.

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

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.

In the (Hot) July Vegetable Garden

AgriLife Logo
Tomatoes and peppers arranged into a face

Enjoy your harvest! Photo courtesy of Kerry Drake, Sunshine Community Gardens

It’s Dry in the July Vegetable Garden

If you’re a new gardener in the Austin area, you’re probably wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.

The U.S. Drought Monitor tells the story. Over 2/3 of Travis County is now tagged as experiencing extreme drought. Dry conditions mean that the soil has a reduced capacity to capture and store heat, exacerbating the high temperatures we are already experiencing.

High nighttime temperatures cause many varieties of tomatoes to produce sterile pollen, which means your plants are going to stop fruiting (if they haven’t already.) Cherry tomatoes aren’t as impacted, but even they might be suffering in the heat. If your garden has become infested with scale, whiteflies, or overrun by beetles, it’s time to cut those plants off at the ground and contribute them to the compost bin. It’s not worth the water to try to keep stressed plants alive through the summer. Cut your losses and let’s get on with fall gardening!

Start Planning the Fall Garden

Yes, that’s right, it’s time to think about fall gardening. July is a great month to get your fall tomatoes and broccoli started. It’s also a good use of your time while hiding in the house from the heat. Choose varieties that mature in 65 days or less. Use a peat-free seed starting mix and find a location with bright indirect sunlight (or use grow lights.)

While choosing what to plant for fall, sketch out a rotation plan for growing vegetables. Crops within the same family are often susceptible to the same pests or diseases. Moving or rotating them to a different location helps break the pest/disease cycle.

If you’re still determined to slog it out in the heat, wear long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from the sun. I’m picking okra every day right now and have planted enough for a continuous harvest right through to frost. Okra is originally from Africa and can tolerate (and prefer) our hot summers. You can still plant sweet corn this month too. Just keep it watered until well established. Make sure to lightly mulch around the stalks to keep the soil from drying out. I like using composted leaves (from all those leaves I gathered from the neighborhood last fall.) Composted pine needles work great too. They usually come from East Texas, and you can find them at local nurseries or farm supply stores.

July Vegetable Garden Checklist:

Water
  • Irrigate deeply and as infrequently as possible to encourage deep root growth. Water in the morning so that plants can use the moisture during the heat of the day.
Soil
  • Keep garden beds mulched, adding or replacing mulch as necessary. Be sure to mulch empty beds to conserve moisture and protect the soil and microorganisms from the heat in anticipation for fall planting.
Fertilize
  • Over-fertilizing in summer is a common plant killer. Excess fertilizer (especially nitrogen) can burn plants in dry weather. This happens because the salts in fertilizer draw moisture out of plants that they are not able to replenish from soil moisture or retain due to evaporation on hot days. Lack of moisture results in scorched leaves resembling fire damage, or “burn”. Use liquid fertilizers and be sure to water deeply.
Plant/Transplant
  • Peruse the seed catalogs and place your order for fall planting.
  • Tomato transplants should be planted in the garden by late July or early August in order to set fruit and produce a harvest before the first freeze. Grow your own from seed planted indoors the first week of July.
  • Plant pumpkins by mid-July to harvest before Halloween. Most varieties take 90-100 days to mature.
  • Plant zinnia and marigold seeds now for a vivid fall display. You’ll have to water them regularly.
  • It takes about 6 weeks to grow a broccoli or kale transplant from seed. Start planting seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cole crops so they will be ready for setting in the garden by mid-September.
Broccoli seedlings

Start broccoli or kale seeds to transplant in fall.

  • You can still plant southern peas, okra, and sweet corn this month if you keep the soil moist while they are establishing deep roots.
  • Prepare for transplants by watering and mulching designated planting areas for a few days before adding plants.
Diseases/Pests to Look For
  • Pull up any tomato plants infested with pest damage or disease. Whatever malady they are suffering from will get worse, not better, during the stress of summer heat. Use green tomatoes for roasted tomato salsa, chow-chow relish, fried green tomatoes, or chop and add to a vegetable sauté.
Maintenance
  • Pull up any tomato plants that are infested with pest damage or disease. Whatever malady they are suffering from will get worse, not better, during the stress of summer heat. Use green tomatoes for roasted tomato salsa, chow-chow relish, fried green tomatoes, or chop and add to a vegetable sauté.
  • Peppers and eggplant handle Texas heat better than tomatoes. Keep them watered and mulched and, even if they pause production during summer’s peak, they will power through and produce a bumper crop this fall.
  • Provide birds fresh water daily during the summer. Place the birdbath in an open area with shrubs or trees nearby where birds can have easy access and observe possible threats. They will help control summer caterpillars and locusts.

    Window screen providing shade for transplants

    Use shade cloth, old window screens, bed sheets or burlap to fashion a temporary shade covering for new transplants.

  • Providing shade cloth helps protect tender plants from afternoon sun. Fashion a temporary covering using shade cloth, old screens, umbrellas, etc.
Harvest
  • Harvest okra pods frequently before they get too big; over-grown okra is tough and stringy.
  • Beat the squirrels by harvesting tomatoes when they start to show some color. Bring the fruit inside the house to finish ripening on a table or a countertop.
  • Herb infused water is a great pick-me-up for hot days. Throw in a few cucumber slices if you have them.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (繁体中文)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

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.

Cactus Bugs by Wizzie Brown

AgriLife Logo

What Are These Bugs on My Cactus?!

Red Cactus coreids swarming on a prickly pear pad

Early signs of damage by these insects are round, yellowish spots on cactus pads.

Cactus coreids or cactus bugs, Chelinidea vittiger, are shield-shaped insects with piercing-sucking mouthparts. They are most commonly red but can vary in color. They have distinctive antennae; if you look at the antennae in cross section, they are triangular in shape. Adults have fully developed wings while immatures, or nymphs, do not and are sometimes mistaken for weevils. Cactus coreids feed in groups on prickly pear cactus. Often the first indication of damage is round, yellowish spots on the cactus pads. If left unchecked, feeding areas can increase in size until they cover entire pads causing a yellow, pitted appearance.

Use Least Toxic Solution For Control

If you feel the need for management, try high pressure water sprays, hand-picking or squishing, or vacuuming them off the plants. Insecticidal soap can be utilized on smaller stages but may not work as well on larger nymphs and adults. You could also use a contact pesticide, either naturally derived or synthetic. If you eat the fruits or pads, avoid using systemic products which are taken into plant tissue.

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.

In the Central Texas June Vegetable Garden

AgriLife Logo
Butter beans ready for harvest

Plant heat-loving butter beans for a delicious summer harvest that will last until frost.

Harvest the June Vegetable Garden Before the Squirrels Wake Up!

June is normally the peak harvest season for many spring-planted vegetables. However, we’ve had such a dry year, that many of you may be experiencing delays or have watched plants wither under the heat. Others have seen early harvests of tomatoes and cucumbers due to warm temperatures. If you haven’t learned it by now, there is no “normal” for Austin vegetable gardeners!

Cracking Tomatoes?

Speaking of tomatoes, the warm days of May have contributed to some vigorous plant growth which may promote cracking of tomatoes. This happens when the fruit enlarges so quickly that it outgrows its skin. Some varieties may be more susceptible to cracking. Hybrids and other varieties like Early Girl, Juliet, Celebrity, Jaune Flamme, and Valley Girl have thicker skin and seem to be more resistant. If you notice cracking, try harvesting fruit at the first blush of pink and let them finish ripening in the house. If you do experience cracked or split tomatoes, they are usually still edible if the cracked or exposed flesh can be cut away.

Prevent Sunburn and Insect Bits While Gardening in the June Vegetable Garden

Take precautions this summer to protect yourself from both mosquitoes and exposure to summer’s intense sun. Wear sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses along with mosquito repellent, such as products with DEET, lemon oil or eucalyptus. Eliminate all sources of standing water – even the ones you don’t think about or see, like shallow plant saucers, gutters, depressions in plastic tarps or folds in lawn bags that might hold even a small amount of water. Cover rainwater containers and/or treat with dunks or granules containing BTI (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis).

Here is the vegetable gardener’s checklist for June:

FERTILIZE

  • Add compost to annuals and vegetables, fertilize only if needed. Scratch the fertilizer into the top layer of soil and water deeply to quickly move the nutrients into solution. Alternatively, use a liquid fertilizer and a siphon mixer to deliver through your irrigation system.
  • It’s probably too late to treat for iron chlorosis because our daytime temperatures are in the 80’s. But just in case we get a “cold” spell, provide supplemental iron through foliar applications or drenches, if needed, before daytime temperatures exceed 80°F. Dr. Larry Stein from Texas A&M University recommends EDDHA water soluble chelated iron because it performs the best in alkaline soils.

WATER

  • Irrigate deeply and as infrequently as you can to encourage deep roots.
  • Keep an eye on container grown vegetable plants. As the temperatures rise and rain diminishes, these plants may require daily watering. Consider using a grow box or other self-watering container to help plants cope with increased water needs.

PLANT

  • dark green leaves of Malabar Spinach

    Dark green and succulent, Malabar spinach is nutrient rich; chop and sauté with squash, peppers or okra.

    Plant okra and sweet potatoes if you haven’t done so already.

  • Plant some butter beans such as Jackson Wonder or Henderson
  •  Plant cream peas or black-eyed peas.
  • Sow another crop of corn if you have the room.
  • Grow greens that don’t mind the heat of summer such as Malabar spinach, vegetable amaranth or purslane (available online from Johnny’s Seeds or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds).
  • Start tomatoes in pots this month for fall transplanting. Because the fall growing season is shorter, it’s best to stick with early-maturing, determinate varieties. See the full Vegetable Garden Planting Guide (Español, 繁体中文) and Vegetable Varieties for Central Texas.

TRANSPLANT

  • It’s time to hold off transplanting new vegetables into the garden. The increased heat makes it hard for plants to draw up enough water while their roots are becoming established.

SOIL

  • As you finish up your vegetable harvest, plant a cover crop. I really like buckwheat’ it grows fast, and I can chop and drop it once it starts to bloom. Cover crops are a great way to enrich garden soil for the following season.
  • Pull back mulch, apply compost, then replace mulch to retain soil moisture. Pine straw is popular with vegetable growers because it can contribute acidity, it’s loose enough to allow rainwater to soak through but still suppresses weeds. It’s not always available or affordable. You can use unscreened homemade compost in a pinch.

DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR

  • Spider mites tend to show up as the days get hotter and drier. Check for mites by holding a white paper plate underneath a leaf and tap a few times. Dislodged mites will fall onto the plate and look like tiny specks crawling around. Once they are present, the top surface of the leaves will have a pale, stippled appearance. Organic controls for spider mites include horticultural oils, insecticidal soap, sulfur dust or strong blasts of water to the underside of leaves. Once their population explodes, you may see a fine webbing develop under the leaves. At that point it is too late to treat, and the affected plant should be removed from the garden.
  • Be on the lookout for aphids. They show up in droves, multiply exponentially and are fairly easy to spot, often on the underside of leaves or along the stems of plants. They can be green, yellow, black or red and are a favorite snack for ladybug and lacewing larvae. Ideally we want to encourage beneficial garden creatures to take care of pests, but if aphids get out of hand their populations can be effectively diminished with targeted sprays of insecticidal soap or by simply washing them off with a strong spray of water. They are a persistent pest and may require repeated spraying to get them under control.
  • Squash vine borers are out in full force this month. Check stems daily for eggs and use row cover to keep the moth out. You’ll have to remove the row cover to pollinate the flowers. Pollinate by hand with an artists paint brush or leave the cover off for an hour in the afternoon when the moth is least active.
  • Harvest ripe vegetables before spraying plants with any pesticide, whether organic or synthetic. Always read the label for instructions on mixing, dilution, how often to spray, or if there is a waiting period after spraying. If infestations are heavy, remove the plants and replace with something else.

MAINTENANCE

  • Stake peppers and eggplant to provide support as they go into production.
  • Keep up with weeding to prevent them from setting seeds. They will put on a growth spurt in June to try to complete their reproductive cycle.

HARVEST

Red potato tubers hanging from roots

Harvest potatoes when the tops turn yellow and begin to die down.

  • Harvest vegetables frequently to ensure peak quality and encourage continual production. Morning is usually best – especially if you want to beat the squirrels.
  • Dig potatoes when the tops turn yellow and start to die back; handle carefully to avoid bruising. Cure in a warm, humid spot for 1-2 weeks then store in a single layer in a cool, dark location. Washing may encourage disease so wash just before eating.
  • If cracking is a problem with tomatoes, harvest at first blush and let them ripen off the vine.
  • Harvest sweet potato leaves. They are delicious fresh or cooked. Harvesting leaves will reduce your potato yield but they are so good it’s totally worth it.
  • Green beans generally produce a concentrated set of pods over a 2-4 week period before petering out. Cut and remove the plants at soil level when they’ve finished and replace with heat-tolerant southern beans.
  • Harvest onions and garlic when tops fall over. Cure in a warm, dry location for a few days before storing.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (繁体中文)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

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.

Kern’s Flower Beetles by Wizzie Brown

AgriLife Logo

What is This Beetle in My Flowers?

Kern's Flower beetle eating pollen from a yellow flower

Kern’s Flower beetles eat pollen, not flowers.

Kern’s flower beetles are a type of scarab beetle, closely related to May and June beetles.  They are medium in size, reaching about 1/3 inch in length.  There are multiple color variations ranging from all black, to brownish-orange or creamy white with black markings.

Should You Treat for Them?

These beetles eat pollen in multiple types of flowers.  Often you will find numerous beetles in a single flower.  Treatment of these beetles is optional as they feed on pollen and typically do not eat the flower itself. If you feel the need to remove the beetles, you can hand pick them and dump them into a bucket of soapy water.

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

Additional Information

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.

All Wisteria Are Not Created Equally by Gayleen Rabakukk

AgriLife Logo

Not All Wisterias Are the Same

Wisteria frutescens vine climbing up a cattle panel fence. Purple blooms hang within the foliage

Wisteria frutescens will help make this cattle panel trellis a colorful privacy screen.

Last month we decided to build a privacy screen to block our bedroom patio area. We settled on an open design with stock panel trellises and added planter boxes below. I was giddy at the prospect of another garden spot, imagining all sorts of vining vegetables climbing up the trellis. Nearly 12 feet of extra space for beans or peas!

My husband had other ideas. “It’s permanent, I’d like something we can plant once, then it’ll grow for years.” He suggested wisteria and I cringed. I’d known more than one person with wisteria that had grown into a monster vine, overtaking the trellis then moving on to the house, damaging siding and shingles. But in the interest of marital harmony, I decided to do some research.

A Native Texas Wisteria to the Rescue

Turns out there are multiple kinds of wisteria, and this is where using scientific names can come in handy. Wisteria frutescens, also known as Texas wisteria, is native to east Texas and the southeastern United States. The native Wisteria frutescens has a slower growth rate than its Asian counterpart, Wisteria sinensis, an import considered an invasive species by some.

Wisteria sinensis grows lightning fast: up to 10 feet a year and can choke out other trees as its hard, woody vines wrap tightly around a host tree and cause death by girdling. This rapid growth made it a darling of those in a hurry to have lots of coverage in a short time and I’m confident this is the type my friends with the roof problems must’ve had.

Wisteria frutescens can still reach heights of 30 feet, just not as quickly. It also has other advantages when it comes to flowers. Wisteria frutescens can flower in its first year and bloom throughout the summer. The plants we found at our local nursery already had flower buds which opened up shortly after planting. Wisteria sinensis can take 10 years or more to flower.

How to Tell the Difference

Purple flowers of Wisteria frutescens

If you’re buying plants, look for the scientific name on the tag: Wisteria frutescens is the native species. This was the only choice offered at my favorite local nursery, but box stores definitely carry Wisteria sinensis. If the scientific name isn’t listed look for key phrases like: “growing up to 10 ft. or more annually.”

If you’re wondering about a vine already growing in your yard, if it’s taken over, there’s a good chance it’s Wisteria sinensis. Here are a few ways to tell the species apart:

  • With Wisteria frutescens, leaves emerge first, then it flowers. Asian species bloom first, then leaf out.
  • Also, Wisteria frutescens bloom clusters (racemes) are round and compact – like a pine cone, 3-6 inches in length, while the Asian species are twice that size.
  • Once the blooms go to seed, Wisteria frutescens has smooth seed pods opposed to fuzzy pods with the Asian species.

It may take a few years for our Wisteria frutescens to cover the privacy screen, but that’s okay – I snuck in some bean seeds to grow alongside them this summer.

Additional Resources

Texas Invasive Species Institute

Wisteria frutescens information in the Wildflower.org Native Plant Database

Grow Green Native & Adapted Landscape Plants Searchable Database

Texas Native Shrubs

About Gayleen Rabakukk

Gayleen gardens in the hills of northwest Travis County. When she’s not digging in the dirt, she’s either writing or tending to her Bed & Breakfast, Hill Country Highland. Gayleen is a Travis County Master Gardener intern.

 

 

In Austin’s May Vegetable Garden

AgriLife Logo

Summer Season Has Arrived in the May Vegetable Garden

It’s right about now that gardeners really settle in to bragging about what they are harvesting from their garden. It can be really annoying if yours isn’t as far along or if the deer and squirrels have picked everything clean.

But if you are one of the lucky ones and are enjoying squash, cucumbers, and maybe even a tomato, pat yourself on the back. You deserve it for surviving the rough spring that we’ve had.

May is the beginning of our summer gardening season for heat loving plants. And, unfortunately, the beginning of another wave of pests ready to mow down your crop. See what is on the May vegetable garden checklist to make the most of this month.

FERTILIZE
  • To keep vegetables growing vigorously fertilize lightly when the first fruit appear and again 3-4 weeks later. A general recommendation is 1 cup of organic fertilizer per 10’ of row, but please follow your soil test recommendations if you have them. If you have a small garden with only a few plants, work in 1-2 tablespoons of fertilizer per plant
WATER AND IRRIGATION
  • This spring’s severe lack of rain has reminded us to irrigate smartly. Consider a rain water collection system, no matter how small, and conserve water by using drip irrigation rather than overhead sprinklers.

    Drip Irrigation Installation examples

    Examples of drip irrigation

  • Remember to water the soil, not the leaves. It’s the roots that provide moisture to the plant. Leaves have a coating on their upper side to shed water, not absorb it.
  • Water plants deeply and as infrequently as you can to encourage deep roots in preparation for stricter water restrictions.
PLANT
  • Plant heat-loving plants like sweet potatoes, Malabar spinach, okra, and Southern peas anytime this month. Just keep in mind that the sooner they get established the better they will be able to withstand the heat that is to come.
TRANSPLANT
  • Eggplant and pepper transplants can still go in the ground early this month.
SOIL
  • Apply a compost layer and then mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
  • Consider growing a summer cover crop like cow peas or vetch in areas that you can later cut and drop into place for mulch.
DISEASES/PESTS TO LOOK FOR
  • Hornworms will be more prevalent, especially in the vegetable garden. Pick them off plants when you see them and feed them to the birds.
  • Blackspot and other fungal diseases will be prevalent due to high temperatures and May rainfall. Apply fungicides according to label directions during dry spells.

    Squash vine borer moth

    Squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae

  • Monitor plants for squash vine borers, cabbage loopers, corn earworms, and beetles. See our Texas Vegetable Garden Insects Field Guide for identification and management strategies.
  • Watch for squash vine borer eggs at the base of stems, loopers under the leaves, earworms inside the cob, and beetles everywhere else.
  • Rather than spraying, bag and destroy infested plants that are nearing the end of their harvesting season.
HARVEST
White and red potatoes

Small tubers may be ready this month if you planted in February.

  • If you’ve planted potatoes, harvest a few new potatoes from the perimeter of the potato plant by carefully pulling back the soil without disturbing the plant. Potato blooms are a good signal that the plant has matured enough to form some small tubers.
  • Harvest onions when the tops fall over, then let them dry for a week before storing or eating.
MAINTENANCE
  • Keep up with weeding and don’t let them produce seed. Make yourself a weed wiper to spot treat. Since most weeds are annuals, they will go dormant in the coming heat and give you a respite.

    weed wiper

    Use a homemade weed wiper to spot treat for stubborn weeds.

  • Install drip irrigation systems in vegetable beds in preparation for summer.
  • Strawberries are beginning to wane so it is time to pull them out. It’s better to grow them as annuals from fall through spring than trying to nurse them through a droughty summer.
  • It is critical to mulch everything growing in your garden to help conserve moisture and regulate soil temperature. Over the summer, the mulch will gradually break down and enrich the soil for future plantings.

Additional Resources

Watch the Vegetable Gardening in Central Texas Webinar

Vegetable Planting Calendar (English) (Español) (traditional Chinese)

Recommended Vegetable Varieties for Travis County

Vegetable Seed Sources

Vegetable Gardening in Austin

Plant Rotations, Successions and Intercropping

Rootknot Nematode Management

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.