Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Tangled Web........

Look, up in that it a Spider? Is it a Fungus? No, It's a Tent Caterpillar!
Or is it?????
This time of year you may see web like tents in numerous trees. Most everybody has heard of the Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum). It has been reported to have been in the United States since the 1600's.
It looks like this:

This time of the year though, the Tent Caterpillar shares the tree tops with another web spinning caterpillar, the poorly named Fall Webworm (Hyphantria cunea). I say poorly named because it arrives in early Summer.
It looks like this:

Photo courtesy of University of Georgia.

The Fall Webworm is a native of North America, and feeds on many species of deciduous forest, shade, and fruit trees. It is one of the few American insect pests that has been introduced into Europe and Asia. Oops, sorry.
So how do you tell the difference? Look to see where the web or tent is.
If the webbing is in the crotches or forks of tree trunks and limbs, then it is the Eastern Tent Caterpillar.

Whereas the Fall Webworm prefers to just use the ends of branches.

Both of these insects can do a lot of damage to your tree by eating the leaves. An interesting tidbit of info though, and this is useful to remember when it comes time for controlling them, the Fall Webworm eats inside the protection of the web, they just keep expanding it. Eastern tent caterpillars typically feed during the day time and return to the nest at evening. They may remain in the nest during bad weather and eat later. The menu for both of these critters is a who's who of trees including, but not limited to...Birch, Crabapple, Ash, Blackgum, Willow and Ornamental Cherry trees, just to name a few.
The Eastern Tent Caterpillar lays a mass of eggs that encircles the twigs of the host plant. The dark brown, oval mass contains between 150 - 350 eggs, and has a varnished appearance. This egg mass overwinters on those twigs.
One of the ways to control the Eastern Tent is by removing the egg mass before it hatches, just cut off the branch and destroy it. Once the leaves fall off it is much easier to see them, look for something resembling this:

In the Spring the larvae hatch. When they are fully grown, they leave the host tree and find a place to spin cocoons. They pupate inside the cocoons for about three weeks before transforming into reddish-brown moths.

The Fall Webworm has a slightly different life history. The pupae over Winter as cocoons in the ground. They may also be found under loose bark and in leaf litter or mulch.
The Adult moth is also very different than the Tent Caterpillar.

Once the adults emerge they lay several hundred eggs that are deposited on the underside of leaves.

Here again controlling them can be as simple as cutting off the branch or leaf if you find an egg mass and destroy it.
Both of these insects have natural enemies, among them are birds, predatory stink bugs and toads. Some beneficial wasps will parasitize the eggs, larvae, and pupae.
If Mother Natures helpers are not doing a good enough job for you there is always Bacillus thuringiensis also known as Bt. It is a natural, organic product and works well to kill caterpillars if applied while the caterpillars are in the early stages of development and therefore small. Sprays are best applied in the early morning or late afternoon. Direct the sprays onto the foliage around the nests, as these leaves will likely be their next meal. Bt is the safest product to use and only kills caterpillars. It will not affect birds or beneficial insects that may be in the trees or feed on the caterpillars.
I know there are some people out there that really don't CARE which caterpillar is feasting on their prized ornamental Cherry tree, they just want them gone. I go back to an old military slogan, "To defeat your enemy, you need to KNOW your enemy". Having a name and where their eggs are and what the moths look like sounds like a good way to KNOW your enemy!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Put Your Leaf Foot In......

Every year there seems to be a different insect or other critter that comes into my yard and gives me headaches. Some years it is Aphids, (actually almost every year for this one), Mealies, Whitefly, Deer, Opossums, even Japanese Beetles only seem to raise their ugly heads occasionally. This time the culprit is higher in numbers than I have ever seen.....Do you recognize this insect?

If you guessed Leptoglossus phyllopus or Eastern Leaf Footed Bug, you would be correct!
Apparently many people are having a problem this year. Could it be because of the past mild Winter? Let's learn about this problematic pest.
Leaf footed bugs' common name comes from the hind legs that have a flattened, leaf-like expansion, you can see it in the above picture.
It is a very common insect in the Untied States, there are reported sightings as far north as Long Island, New York, and then they range south to Florida, west to Iowa and Kansas, and southwest through Texas to California.
Adults are about 3/4 inch in length and are dark brown with a whitish to yellowish stripe across the central part of the back. The nymphs have much the same shape as adults, though they are usually a bright Orange and do not acquire the flattened leaf-like hind leg until they are almost full grown adults.


This pest has a wide range of plants that it likes to attack including: apple, bean, bell pepper, blueberry, blackberry, citrus, cowpea, cucurbits, eggplant, lychee, loquat, okra, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, potato, tomato, and sunflower....just to name a few.
Leaf footed bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts. They stick the piercing part into their food material, use their saliva to dissolve the contents and then suck up the digesting mixture. Then as the puncture heals, the feeding site becomes hard and darkens. Damage early in development of the fruit or vegetable can lead to it falling off or at the very least cause severe deformities.
The Leaf Footed Bug can be controlled!!
With application of insecticides, cultural practices, a little help from Mother Nature and by hand picking.
The last one is obvious, pick the little buggers off by hand and either drown them in a bucket of soapy water or squash them.
Cultural controls include, keeping the weeds down in adjacent fields and replacing the mulch around your yard every year. They like to over Winter there.
Mother Nature might give you a helping hand, there are some species of birds that will eat Leaf Footed bugs. There are also some Parasitic wasps that attack the eggs and parasitic flies that attack the nymphs and adults. Some other helpers include: big-eyed bugs (Geocoris spp.), damsel bugs (Nabis spp.) and spiders.
I saved the Chemical control for last because hopefully that would be your last resort. If the threshold of damage to your crop has been reached then it is time to reach for the bottle. The insecticides used most often to control these bugs include the pyrethroid insecticides, carbaryl and endosulfan. Look for these ingredients on the label. Then make sure that what you want to use it on is also listed, i.e. Tomatoes, Citrus, Sunflowers, etc. The label is the law!!
A few side notes to keep in mind when confronting Leaf Footed bugs. They are very skiddish. The adults will fly away when disturbed, but will quickly return when the disturbance is gone. The nymphs will try to run away and hide on the other side of the plant.
You may also notice that the really like to hang out together.

One of the odd things about this behavior is, you may see a herd of them like above on one plant and yet a plant right next door will have none.
When you will see these is variable. Adults have been taken during all months of the year in the deep South, but populations are highest during the warmer months.
I should also warn you of one other thing and sadly, I fell for this. The nymphs of Leaf Footed Bugs look VERY much like our friends the Assassin Bugs.


The abdomen of the Leaf Footed bug tends to be a little wider.
One other good way to tell is, if you see a bunch of them clustered together or if they are hanging out with adults, then they’re Leaf Footed bugs. This is NOT always the case but it might give you a better idea.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Potted Papaya

As the price of food goes up, more and more people are wanting to grow their own produce. Which is fine if you want Tomatoes, Lettuce, Strawberries,Corn, Okra or any of the other common fruits and vegetables. What if you have a hankering for some kind of exotic fruit, like Papaya, but don't live in the tropics? Well, you too can grow it, in a container!!
Carica papaya is a short lived perennial that can attain heights of 10-15 feet tall and produce fruit within a year because of its rapid rate of growth. Originally from southern Mexico and neighboring Central America, though the exact area of origin is unknown, it is now present in pretty much every tropical and subtropical country. There is also a small commercial crop in Florida. It has a hollow, herbaceous stem that does not branch out, however, if a papaya loses the growing tip or is cut back it can develop multiple trunks. It is usually grown from seed which works out great because it is readily available and fairly cheap. You can get some from the Papaya that you buy at your local grocery store. There will be enough seeds in one fruit to plant an entire plantation! Generally speaking, germination may take from 3-5 weeks.

If you find a really tasty fruit, save the seeds from it, they generally come true to type. Dry the seeds by placing them in a brown paper bag and storing in a warm place until the seeds become slightly wrinkled, then they are ready to plant.
The Papaya tree needs lots of water and has rather shallow roots, which make it great for growing in containers.

Papaya thrives best under warm, humid conditions.It must remain warm throughout the year, though mine have dropped to 35 degrees for short periods of time in my greenhouse with no ill effects. In the Winter time the plant should be allowed to stay on the drier side, especially if it will get down around the 40 degree range, root rot is the prime problem.
You will want to start with a trade 30 gallon container or something similar to a half whiskey barrel. The potting mix should be a good, soiless mix that has an ample amount of organic matter in it. Like I said, the Papaya likes lots of water, but it does not like standing in that water, so drainage is also a must.
You can plant the seeds directly in the big pot, they supposedly don't like to be transplanted. I have done so numerous times and they didn't seem to mind.
You will also want to plant and grow at least 4 or 5 because each plant can be either Male, Female or Hermaphrodite. The Female and Hermaphrodite will produce fruit, the Male will not. When it comes to flower types, you might need a score card to keep track. The flowers have five trumpet shaped petals and appear in the leaf axils of the tree during the Summer. They are fleshy, waxy and slightly fragrant. Some plants bear only short-stalked female flowers, or bisexual flowers (considered perfect) which are also on short stalks, while others may bear only male flowers. Some plants may have both male and female flowers. Others during certain seasons produce short-stalked male flowers, and at other times perfect flowers. I found this picture that might give you a better idea of what you might have:

Photo courtesy of

If you want to know which sex you have before they flower, you can get an idea by being very observant and looking very closely at your plants. The Males tend to grow faster and have a wider berth between the branches, the other two will be closer together. Only one Male is needed for every 15-20 Females. Pollination is done by honeybees, moths and light breezes. Hand pollination may be needed to set more fruit.
There are two types of papayas, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian varieties are the papayas commonly found in supermarkets. 'Solo' is the most common and it produces perfect flowers. This variety will not produce any male trees so each plant will provide fruit.
When it comes to sun, give it all you can. Reflective heat and light is also a bonus. They can be grown in some shade,but the fruit is rarely sweet. They dislike a lot of wind, so if you have a place that is inhospitable for other plants that is secluded the Papaya will be happy.
Feeding is somewhat up to the individual plant. Being that they are so fast growing they require regular applications of nitrogen fertilizers. Again, how much is up to the personality of your plant. Feed it once a month the applicable rates on the package and then adjust according to how the plant reacts. Remember that nitrogen leaches through the soil quickly, so you may not be feeding it as much as you think.
The only real major pests that you might encounter will be Whitefly and Spider Mites, both of which can be taken care of with insecticidal soap or a horticultural oil.
When it comes to diseases, chances are you will not have to worry. The shrub is a short lived plant and will probably die before any diseases really get a hold of yours. Most Papayas reach their peak of production after 3-4 years, then they tend to decline. What to do? Just plant more.
Okay, so what good would growing these tropical beauties be if you didn't want to harvest the fruit? Papayas are ready to harvest when most of the skin is yellow-green. In Hawaii the fruit is considered at the peak of perfection when the skin is 80% colored. After several days of ripening at room temperature, they will be almost fully yellow and slightly soft to the touch. Dark green fruit will not ripen properly off the tree, even though it may turn yellow on the outside.
The fruit is usually eaten fresh, peeled, cut in chunks or shaped into balls and served. The juice or nectar is also highly valued.
So you can see, if you have someplace that can stay warm, given either abundant sunlight or grow lights and will allow the tree to grow up to 15 feet, you too can grow your own Papaya.
My first attempt at this was very rewarding, this is a close up of my very first crop, which is also seen above from a distance:

Happy Growing!