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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

After the Flood: Fighting the Mosquitos

     West Nile Virus was a growing problem in Colorado long before the devastating floods of this past week.  Now, as the water begins to recede and warm temperatures return, mosquitos are likely to be hatching out in possibly dangerous numbers.  This is the time to take the threat of West Nile very seriously. 

Be on the alert for standing water!

     Female mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water, but they don't need much water to feel welcome. 

     I'd urge you to take a walk around your property and look for any low spots or containers that you wouldn't normally think of as a mosquito-breeding ground.  Old tires, buckets, trash can lids, bird baths, garden ponds and gutters on your roof can easily hold enough water to incubate the mosquito eggs into adults.  The sooner you take that walk, the better.  Mosquitos can mature from egg to adult in just four to seven days. 

More than a nuiscance

    Adult female mosquitos are the only insects that can transmit West Nile virus to humans.  On the positive side, most people who get West Nile will never show any symptoms.  But for the two or three people in ten who do get sick, some of them get very sick.  Before last week's flooding, the State Health Department was reporting nearly 100 diagnosed cases of West Nile in Colorado.  Two of the people died, one in Arapahoe County and one in Weld County.

     Symptoms of West Nile include headache, high fever and neck stiffness.  If the disease progresses, it can lead to tremors, seizures, paralysis and coma.  These symptoms can begin within just three to fourteen days after an infected mosquito bites. 

Fighting back

     There are lots of ways to protect your family and yourself.  The most obvious tactic is to wear light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs.  And don't count on the old adage that mosquitos feed primarily in the cool of early morning and evening.  I've taken out a couple that decided high noon on an 85 degree day was the perfect time for lunch. 
    Tagawa's has several ways to help you fight back against the 'skeeters.   We carry insect repellents with and without Deet.  Your choice.

     One of my favorite ways of defeating the mosquitos in my neighbor's pond is with an earth-friendly "larvacide" with a special bacteria that affects only the mosquitos.  There's no harm to birds, bats or other creatures that eat the treated mosquitos.

     This biological insecticide is sold as "Mosquito Dunks" or "Mosquito Beater."   The good folks in Dick's Corner at Tagawa's will be happy to help you choose the product that is right for your situation. 

A long fight?

     Studies have shown that some mosquitos can actually survive the winter.  Fortunately, most of them don't.  Our first hard freeze should kill most of them.  But this being Colorado and all, there's really no telling when that first freeze will come. 

     In the meantime, be on the alert for the familiar buzzing that the female mosquitos make. That sound is meant to attract the male mosquitos.  But we can use it as an alarm... a kind of call-to-arms that it's time take precautions against this nasty pest. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The 'Shrooms' are Coming!

     If you're a fan of fungi, you're in luck!  Our recent rains (as in many days of downpours!) may trigger an interesting crop of mushrooms throughout much of Colorado, including in your lawn and landscape.  They're already popping up in my yard.

     Colorado is home to dozens of types of mushrooms.  I find them fascinating and often comical, but these odd "fruiting structures" of fungi need to be taken seriously, especially where kids and pets are concerned.

"When in doubt, throw them out!"

     There are a lot of wild mushrooms in Colorado that are both edible and delicious.... but there are a few that can be deadly.  Many of Colorado's wild 'shrooms fall somewhere in between.  They can easily make adults, children and pets very sick.  Unless you're absolutely sure that a wild mushroom is edible.... meaning its been examined by a fungi expert.... don't eat it!  And don't leave it around for kids or pets to find.  Just pluck it up with a plastic bag and get rid of it.  You don't need to spray with fungicides or other chemicals.  Most of the thread-like body of the fungi are underground.  The mushroom itself is just the fruit.

A teachable moment

     With adult supervision, mushrooms can make for a fun little scientific experiment.  One of the ways that fungi experts identify a mushroom is by its "spore print."   You can make one yourself.  Simply pick the cap off of a mushroom as it is close to being fully  open.  Remove enough of the stem so the cap will sit flat, then set the cap onto a piece of clean white paper. 

The cap on the right was left for just a few hours. 
Heavier spore prints from caps left on longer
    Within a few hours, the underside of the mushroom will begin to release its fungal spores.... the dust-like powdery little wonders that serve as the mushroom's "seeds."  The spores will settle onto the paper and create a beautiful print that duplicates the pattern of the mushroom's "gills," the fan-like structure on the underside of the cap.  They can be quite lovely!

     The longer the mushroom is left in place (as in a few days rather than a few hours), the heavier the spore print will be, 'til the gill pattern disappears altogether.  It's kinda fun!

Just be careful

     I'm not trying to lecture.  I'm just saying "heads up!" while the mushrooms are beginning  to appear, seemingly overnight.  They're likely to be popping up in your yard, in parks and open spaces and along hiking trails.  Kids and pets are always full of surprises.  Don't let nibbling on a new and curious thing like a mushroom be one of them. 


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Do your trees have leaf scorch?

     I'm seeing it just about everywhere I look:  leaf scorch... where the outer margins of a tree's leaves turn brittle and crumble when touched.  I'm seeing it at the big box stores.  I'm seeing it at the gym.  I'm seeing it in lots of parks and median strips.  And most of it could have been prevented if the trees had been better cared for.

A textbook example of leaf scorch
    Leaf scorch is common when a tree's roots have been damaged and can't deliver enough water once the heat of summer sets in.  The roots' ability to supply the needed moisture is limited because many of the roots dried up and died over the winter. Come summer, the roots system can't take in enough water.  The end of the "supply line" is the  outer-most edges of the leaves, and they pay the price.

Winter watering

     The leaf scorch damage we're seeing now could easily have been caused last winter.  "Winter watering" is one of my favorite soapbox topics.  A lot of gardeners and homeowners just don't fully appreciate how important winter watering can be for keeping our plants healthy.  Back in my Master Gardener days, "winter drought" was easily one of the most common problems that would prompt homeowners to call the Master Gardener helpline in July and August, when the temperatures climb into the 90's and above. Most of the time, the callers had no idea that the damage began months earlier.

Good care now could save this tree

     Our trees and shrubs are dormant during the winter, but they're not completely shut down.  If we don't have a good, wet soaking snow at least once a month in the winter, it's up to us to keep the roots of our trees and shrubs (and even our lawns) healthy. We need to drag out the hoses or the buckets on a warm morning and put down an inch or so of water to make up for what Mother Nature isn't delivering.

     Winter drought  is one of the most common causes of root damage, but other things can kill the roots, too.  Watering too much or too little, especially on younger trees, can destroy roots and eventually show up as leaf scorch.  Again, the roots are damaged and can't perform their job.  Construction like trenching, use of heavy equipment over the roots and paving can create problems, too.

So what's the answer?

Too late for any T.L.C.

     If you're seeing leaf scorch on your trees, there's no way to repair the leaves that have already been damaged.  But regardless of what caused the damage, the "answer" is pretty basic:  give the tree or shrub the best and most appropriate care you can now.  Don't try to over-compensate with excessive watering or fertilization.  That's not the answer, and could actually make matters worse.

     The staff at Tagawa's can offer lots of advice on what "best and most appropriate care" means, given your particular plants and growing conditions.  We encourage you to take a few pictures of the tree or shrub and bring them into our nursery experts for detailed advice.

     Leaf scorch doesn't have to happen.  Even when we start out the gardening season with watering restrictions as we did this year, good basic care is still possible.  The folks at Tagawa's will be happy to show you how.