Amidst spring color, unfurling ferns offer different kind of beauty

May 17, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The May landscape at Winterthur is reminiscent of a child’s finger painting. Here, a bright splash of red and coral from azaleas. There, luminescent lavender on lilacs and phlox. Throw in a cheerful dab of gold from Rhododendron luteumand a dash of pastel pinks from dogwoods, too.

Amidst this riot of color, Linda Eirhart was a woman on a mission one recent morning. Oblivious to the rainbow hues around her, Eirhart drove a golf cart down Winterthur’s pathways, searching for new ferns unfurling their fronds.

fernsAt first glance, one might wonder why Eirhart, Winterthur’s assistant director of horticulture, would bother chasing down ferns. Unlike spring blooms, there’s no immediate wow factor. All the ferns are pretty small now, even the ones that will ultimately reach two to three feet high. It’s easy to overlook a tiny fern growing just a few inches from the ground. However, if you crouch down for a closer look, you’ll enjoy a sight as spectacular in its own right as the brash blooms of spring.

Take, for example, emerging hay-scented ferns. These clusters of chartreuse apostrophes twirling in the breeze resemble some bizarre plant from a Dr. Seuss book. Another fern that looks other-worldly now is cinnamon fern. Its fronds are tightly wound in a circular clump, encased in white hairs.

“Ferns are a real favorite of mine,” says Eirhart. “They’re fascinating as they emerge. Then, once they unfurl and mature, they provide interesting foliage and texture throughout the growing season.”

Not to mention the way they seem to lower the thermometer once the steamy hot days of summer arrive.

“Ferns create a cooling, peaceful effect in a landscape,” says Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture. “The March Bank at Winterthur is a great example of this cooling effect.”

The March Bank’s main claim to fame is its spring color. In the early 1900s, H.F. du Pont began planting thousands of bulbs on a hillside near his home that he dubbed the March Bank. He mixed ostrich, cinnamon and New York ferns amidst the bulbs for season-long interest. Du Pont would go on to inherit Winterthur from his father and, a short time after that, establish the property as a museum.

Come summer, the ferns that du Pont planted will create a thick, lush carpet of green in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. There’s the almost chartreuse green of the New York fern, which contrasts with the multi-colored hues of the cinnamon fern. The cinnamon fern has two types of fronds – large green sterile ones and smaller fertile ones that start out bright green and soon turn a cinnamon color. Some of the taller varieties include the ostrich fern, which can reach 5 feet and the New York fern, which tops out at 2 feet in ideal conditions.

“I love ferns,” says Chris Strand, director of garden and estate at Winterthur. “Growing up in Colorado, ferns weren’t common. We didn’t get 39 inches of rain annually like Delaware gets, nor did we have the right soil conditions for ferns. When I moved East, I was amazed by all the ferns here. It’s beautiful now, when the bluebells are fading on the March Bank and the emerging ferns are coming in. All the fronds waving in the breeze look like waves on the ocean.”

Delaware has 67 native ferns, according to Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Winterthur doesn’t have all those ferns but it’s certainly got a lot. In addition to the March Bank, there are good collections of ferns in the children’s garden, Enchanted Woods; as well as in the Pinetum. And what was once a small fern collection at the Visitor’s Center has been given a big boost recently. Over the past five years, Eirhart, her staff, and volunteers have added thousands of new ferns to this area.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is another great place to search for unfurling ferns now and enjoy their cooling presence later this summer. There are painted and Christmas ferns in the Dunham Garden, at the main entrance; autumn and Christmas ferns by the Creamery ice cream shop; and still more Christmas ferns in the native garden.

In shady or partial shady conditions, ferns can be the workhorse of the garden. They can be used as groundcover in places where few other plants will thrive and also spotlighted as specimen plantings, notes Barton. Most varieties are low maintenance, drought tolerant and deer resistant. A few ferns will even tolerate full sun, as long as they have adequate moisture.

Learn more

On June 19, Linda Eirhart will lead a fern workshop that covers the basics of fern botany and cultivation as well as an introduction to the best ferns for this area. 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Winterthur Museum and Gardens. To register, call 888-4600.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Kleczewski joins UD Cooperative Extension as plant pathology specialist

May 15, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Nathan Kleczewski has joined the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Service as the plant pathology specialist. He replaces Bob Mulrooney, who retired after 38 years with UD Cooperative Extension.

Kleczewski received his bachelor of science degree in biology from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and his doctorate in plant pathology from Ohio State University. He did postdoctoral research at Indiana and Purdue universities. Most recently, he worked as a plant pathologist with FMC Agricultural Products.

At UD, Kleczewski’s work will concentrate on plant pathology in field crops. Although he has only been in his new job since May 1, Kleczewski has hit the ground running. He already has set up meetings with local growers to better understand their needs.

“My work is grower-driven,” notes Kleczewski. “All of my applied research projects will focus on the concerns of Delaware’s farmers.”

KleczewskiNathanRecognizing the ever-increasing role that technology plays in daily life, Kleczewski will create a Facebook page where he will post up-to-the-minute information on plant diseases in Delaware and surrounding states. A farmer in the field need only glance at his or her smartphone to find out the latest issues and learn how to prevent or mitigate crop loss.

“We are very pleased to have Nathan join our Extension team. Each growing season brings its own disease challenges and having plant pathology expertise on our team in Delaware is a critical aspect of successful crop production and sustaining Delaware agriculture,” says Michelle Rodgers, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension and Outreach.

Kleczewski grew up in rural Wisconsin. Both his maternal and paternal grandparents owned dairy farms and his uncles currently work as dairy farmers. He always enjoyed studying the sciences but when the time came to enter graduate school he told a college professor, “I want to work in the sciences but I want to do work that my uncles will understand and appreciate. I want to make a difference in the lives of people I know.”

His professor suggested plant pathology and Kleczewski quickly discovered that it was the perfect discipline for his interests. Kleczewski’s wife, Victoria, also works in the agricultural field; she is employed in field development for DuPont.

Kleczewski is enjoying a busy spring. He and his wife settled on a new house in Middletown in late April, and are looking forward to the birth of their first child later this month.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Native Delaware: UD expert releases list of top five bad bugs of summer

May 7, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Summer is right around the corner and along with the good (long days, holiday weekends and lush, green landscapes) comes the bad (humidity, beach traffic and bugs).

Admittedly, there are plenty of beneficial insects that pollinate flowers or gobble pests, and plenty of insects that just hang around, doing neither bad nor good.

In fact, beneficial insects far outnumber pests, according to Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “More than 97 percent of arthropods typically seen in the home landscape are either beneficial or innocuous,” he says.

But it’s the other three percent that can drive us crazy, wreaking havoc with our prized rose bushes, tomato plants or elm trees. Or, in the case of biting insects, leaving itchy welts all over us.

Kunkel has pulled together a list of the worst pests – what he’s dubbed the “top five bad bugs of summer.”

“Another entomologist might come up with a very different ranking – pest conditions change from year to year and from location to location. I’ve had people call me about a stink bug outbreak in one neighborhood and the next neighborhood only had mild issues,” notes Kunkel. “But these ‘top five bad bugs’ are the ones that Extension gets the most calls about; the ones that inflict the most damage in area gardens, nurseries, and neighborhoods.”

Here’s Kunkel’s list of the top five bad bugs of summer 2013:

1. Scale pests

2. Wasps

3. Bagworms

4. Japanese beetles

5. Stink bugs

You might be wondering why cicadas didn’t top this list – after all, it’s been all over the news about the millions of cicadas ready to emerge in the Mid-Atlantic after a 17-year slumber.

While plenty of cicadas will be flying around southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Maryland this summer, Delaware will see only the occasional cicada crossing the state line. That’s because Delaware’s brood – called Brood X – is still burrowed under ground and isn’t due to emerge until 2021.

Bagworms are a pest in DelawareFar more worrisome than big, fat cicadas are teeny tiny scale pests, notes Kunkel. In fact, scale pest are the single biggest threat to Delaware home landscapes virtually every growing season, he says.

These insidious pests are easy to overlook because of their diminutive size and inconspicuous color. Oystershell scales are about one-eighth of an inch long and dark brown, blending right into the tree branches that they latch onto. It usually isn’t until the branch is dying that the homeowner realizes that these bumps are actually insects sucking sap from the tree.

While oystershell scales prefer certain trees – willows, lilacs, dogwoods and poplars here, as well as aspens and cotoneasters out West – they aren’t picky. They’ve been found on 130 different species of plants. And oystershell is just one of 8,000-plus different scale insects; almost every plant is vulnerable to some type of scale insect.

Kunkel rates wasps as the number two bad guy, not because of damage they do to the landscape but because of the damage they can do to people.

Only the female wasp stings but when she does, you’re going to know it. Even a normal, non-allergic reaction usually results in pain, swelling and redness around the sting site. A localized reaction can bring swelling to an entire limb. Allergic reactions, of course, require immediate medical attention.

Next up on the bad bug list are bagworms. Kunkel says there is variability from year to year in the size of Delaware’s bagworm population. “Some years are a lot worse than others,” he says.

Like scale pests, bagworms start out very small and aren’t likely to be noticed by the homeowner. They are generalists in their eating habits – they are known to eat about 100 different species of plants, including cherries, pines, junipers, arborvitae and birch.

Japanese beetles makes Kunkel’s list primarily because of Sussex County outbreaks in recent years “The population of Japanese beetles in Sussex is much higher than in Kent and New Castle counties,” says Kunkel. “Georgetown has some decent-sized populations but throughout Sussex they can be an issue.”

The last pest to make it onto the bad guy list – the stink bug – is the one everyone loves to hate. The brown marmorated stink bug made serious inroads into Delaware in 2011, particularly in New Castle County. Last summer, the population was considerably lower.

Farmers and homeowners in other states have seen considerable damage to their plants. Fruit orchards have been particularly hard hit.

“Thus far, brown marmorated stink bug has been more of a nuisance than a pest in the home landscape in Delaware,” says Kunkel. “However, some of our farmers have experienced issues. We have a number of UD research projects underway so we can work to control this pest.” 

Help for what’s bugging you

Got a pest problem in your yard or garden? Call Cooperative Extension’s free garden help line. In New Castle, call 831-8862; in Kent call 730-4000; in Sussex call 856-2585, ext. 535.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Brian Kunkel

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Kent and Sussex Master Gardener taking applications for Class of 2013

May 1, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

The application period is open for Master Gardener training in Kent and Sussex counties. Master Gardeners enjoy gardening, have gardening experience, want to learn more about gardening and have a desire to help others in their community. Following an intensive twelve-week training program with day-time classes alternating between the two county Extension offices, the trainees volunteer a minimum of 45 hours during their first year before becoming official Master Gardeners. Training is held every other year in the fall. Sessions for the Class of 2013 will begin in September (right after Labor Day and will be completed before Thanksgiving).

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. Master Gardeners are part of a vibrant community of individuals dedicated to growing a greener Delaware, with a more bio-diverse and sustainable environment. They extend the home garden outreach of Delaware Cooperative Extension, staffing garden “hotlines” for much of the year, offering information at events such as community fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets, talking to local civic groups and working with youth groups and schools. Many provide workshops on favorite garden topics and are available through a speakers’ bureau to make presentations for community groups upon request. A dedicated group of puppeteers in Sussex County perform an educational version of “Peter Rabbit” to the delight of children of all age

Tracy Wootten, horticultural agent for Sussex County, said, “Without these wonderful volunteers, Cooperative Extension would not be able to provide the impressive amount of outreach that is being offered to local Delaware communities.”

The training program includes formal lectures, discussion sessions, tours, workshops, and problem-solving sessions. Advanced training opportunities include state, regional and national workshops, lectures at monthly business meetings, special training sessions, and the shared experiences of a group of skilled, experienced gardeners.

The application can be found online at http://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/master-gardener-volunteer-educators/become-a-master-gardener/

Send completed applications to: Kent County Extension Office, 69 Transportation Circle, Dover, 19901.

All applications must be received by June 1, 2013. Class size is limited. All applicants must attend a reception on June 20, 2013, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kent County Extension office. If accepted, you will be notified by letter and will receive further information about classes. It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin. The Delaware Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program is provided in coordination with the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.

For more information, contact Tracy Wootten or Tammy Schirmer in Sussex County, (302) 856-2585, ext. 544 or Maggie Moor-Orth in Kent County, (302) 857-6426, or the University of Delaware Paradee Center Kent County Extension office at (302) 730-4000.

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Extension to host Retail Farm Market School

April 23, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

On Wednesday, May 29, Delaware Cooperative Extension will conduct a day-long Retail Farm Market School for anyone who handles, processes or merchandises fresh market produce, such as local farm market vendors. The school is sponsored by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Penn State University, Delaware Department of Agriculture and Delaware Agritourism Association. The course runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and will be held at the Elbert N. & Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown. Instructors will be Gordon Johnson from UD and John Berry from Penn State. The tuition is $45.

Topics will include produce handling and merchandising, customer service, sanitation and fresh cut produce. The course will be comprised of several delivery modes including professionally produced video segments, take-home text, post-harvest handling references, hands-on activities and a “certification quiz.”

Each school participant will receive a full-day of retail farm marketing education and networking, a 40-page text that follows the school curriculum, a professional produce knife, a digital produce thermometer, sign blanks and the opportunity to receive a Retail Produce Professional certificate.

The school material is appropriate for new employee training and as a refresher for existing employees who work with fresh produce.

University of Delaware Cooperative Extension welcomes and encourages public participation of their programs, events, and workshops scheduled for the public. All reasonable efforts will be used to meet the accessibility requests. Please contact the office two weeks prior to event to request assistance with any special needs you may have.

Registration deadline is Friday, May 17. Please contact Karen Adams at adams@udel.edu or call (302) 856-2585 ext. 540 to register, obtain additional information and directions. Class is limited to the 35 seats.

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Bloom season kicks into high gear for garden enthusiasts

April 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

In April, bloom season kicks into high gear in Delaware. In fact, it might be the single best month to get outside and enjoy the views at the area’s world-class gardens.

At Winterthur, the Winterhazel Walk will soon be the star of the show, reports Linda Eirhart, assistant director of horticulture for the museum, which features a 60-acre naturalistic garden in the midst of nearly 1,000 acres of land.

Delaware bloom season kicks off“The cold weather has held things back but before long the Winterhazel Walk will dazzle with its combination of soft yellow winter hazel and the warm lavender of Korean rhododendron. This is under planted with hellebores, which are still going strong,” she says.

These species are non-native but many of Winterthur’s native plants will soon be in bloom, too. Bloodroot is a sweet little perennial with pure white, cup-shaped flowers. You can find it in Azalea Woods and other wooded areas and thickets throughout the property.

Spring beauty is another little charmer, sporting white petals with stripes that vary from pale pink to bright pink. Like bloodroot, it grows in woodlands. Pay attention to weather conditions during your visit to Winterthur. If it’s warm and sunny, spring beauty will open its petals but on a cloudy day or at night the petals close up and nod downward.

Winterthur’s bluebells aren’t in bloom quite yet but the buds have appeared and will soon burst into bloom. Eirhart says that bluebell is her favorite native wildflower.

“I love the bluebell’s shades of blues and the touch of pink and purple you can get in the blossoms,” she says. “Between the color of the flower buds and the last fading flowers, there is a good length of time of color interest.”

Sue Barton also is a fan of Virginia bluebells, which grow in clusters near the creek on her property. “It’s fun to come upon a mass of bluebells while walking in the woods,” says Barton, who is ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

But it’s flowering redbuds, not bluebells, that signal that spring has sprung to Barton.

“The redbud has an extremely colorful, dark purple or pink flower and an unusual habit of flowers borne directly on the stem,” she says. “I like the ‘Forest Pansy’ cultivar because of its attractive bronze foliage.”

This small native tree grows wild in many of Delaware woodlands. As you buzz down I-95, check out the large stand of redbuds by the roadside, just south of Wilmington. For a more leisurely setting to enjoy redbud blooms, head to the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. You can find flowering redbuds there, and a whole lot more.

“In bloom, or soon to bloom, are a number of natives, including silverbells, fothergilla, serviceberry, redbud, dogwood and pawpaw,” says Claudia Bradley, nursery coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.

She is particularly fond of fothergilla and tends to it not only in UD’s gardens but also in her own home garden. “I always look forward to seeing the fothergilla in flower,” says Bradley. “I like its bottlebrush white flowers now and, then, in fall, its awesome red color.”

Mt. Cuba Center is another great place to check out spring blooms, especially since it’s expanding its public hours. Starting April 19, you won’t need a reservation to visit on Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (From May 3 to July 26, the gardens will stay open until 7 p.m. on Fridays.)  Guided tours will still be available by reservation on other days and times.

Chilly weather delayed some of the blooms at Mt. Cuba, just as it as at Winterthur and other area gardens. But now that it has warmed up, native spring ephemerals will soon emerge in Mt. Cuba’s woodlands, reports Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturist at the center. Look for flowering liverleaf, trout lily, bloodroot, rue-anemone, cut-leaf toothwort and Dutchman’s breeches.

Trees and shrubs also are starting to bloom at Mt. Cuba. If you’d like some April flowering shrubs in your own yard, Frett suggests American bladdernut and spicebush.

“Both of these are found locally in the woodlands and at Mt. Cuba Center,” says Frett. “They’re very appropriate choices for creating your own naturalistic gardens using locally native species.”

Spicebush is one of Delaware’s most common native shrubs. On the female plants, small clusters of yellow flowers appear now, and later develop into red fruit. American bladdernut isn’t the most beautiful April bloomer but it could be the most interesting.

“More of a curiosity than a specimen shrub, the American bladdernut has bell-shaped flowers that develop into three-lobed, inflated, brown papery capsules later in the season,” says Frett.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots of green on growing green things

March 26, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Quick, hide the credit cards; spring is here. Even the most budget-conscious gardener can get into trouble now. A trip to the nursery for a flat of plants results in three flats, plus a new spade and pair of garden gloves. A plan to grow tomatoes in containers morphs into a raised bed of pricey redwood. Even a stop at the market for bread and milk brings about a new basket of blooms.

University of Delaware’s Sussex Master Gardeners feel your pain. “We’re garden-a-holics; we have a tough time controlling ourselves in spring,” acknowledges Fran Meehan, a Milton-based Master Gardener.

While they can’t help you with your self-control, the Master Gardeners do have some good advice on saving on gardening expenses.

For starters, get your soil tested, says Tracy Wootten, a horticulture agent with UD Cooperative Extension who oversees the Sussex Master Gardeners. You’ll spend a few bucks for the test but could save in the long run. For example, if you have acidic soil, cabbage and other vegetables won’t do well. You’ll need to fix the problem with limestone or other amendments before planting.

Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots on green thingsMany of the Sussex Master Gardeners save money by starting vegetables from seed. It’s also easy to start flowers from seed, notes Maggie Moor-Orth, a Delaware State University horticulture agent who provides technical assistance to the Master Gardeners.

If you’ve had bad luck starting plants from seed, try using a sterile, soil-less medium, says Moor-Orth. Seeds started in soil can suffer rot because of over-watering or non-sterile conditions.

Save money on your soil-less medium by buying dry mix rather than the wet mix formulation, advises Melora Davis, a New Castle County Master Gardener. “With the wet mix, you’re paying for water,” she notes.

Don’t buy those special (and expensive) plastic trays for starting seeds. Recycle plastic containers you already have; just be sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom. Davis suggests using single-serving coffee pods (such as the K-Cup brand).

Garden accessories are another area where you can economize. Stakes, twine, plant markers and weed fabric can get pricey so the Sussex Master Gardeners are creative recyclers. Cut pieces from an old mini-blind for plant markers, suggests Betty Layton of Greenwood. Pantyhose can be used instead of twine, and T-shirts work well, too. “One year, I grew three-pound watermelons on a trellis and used my husband’s old T-shirt as a sling,” recalls Wootten.

“Some gardeners like to use bamboo for stakes,” she adds. “It’s such an aggressive plant that if your neighbors have any, I’m sure they’d be happy to let you cut some for garden stakes.”

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, has even seen old golf clubs used to stake vegetable plants at Bellevue State Park’s community garden.

If you’re willing to consider more radical ways to save, get rid of your lawn. That’s what Master Gardener Brent Marsh did about 10 years ago. Ever since, he hasn’t spent a penny on lawn fertilizers, re-seeding bare spots, watering the lawn, lawnmower repair, or gas to run the mower. In place of turf grass, Marsh’s one-acre Georgetown yard is filled with perennials, shrubs and trees.

Even if you remove a portion of your lawn, you could save money.

“If you’re mowing a lot of lawn, you might think about turning part of it into a meadow planted with native grasses and wildflowers,” says Marsh. “You’ll see lots of birds and butterflies, enjoy the sounds of those songbirds and insects, and provide food for baby birds. And you won’t have as much grass to cut.”

Of course, Marsh didn’t go out and buy all those plants that now fill his yard. When a sapling turns up – its seed carried by wind or birds – he allows it to grow. He also propagates his plants by taking cuttings, seeds, and dividing them.

Murphy has been waiting patiently to divide some ornamental grasses that she purchased three years ago. She wanted to hold off until she had good-size divisions to add to a new landscape bed at her North Wilmington home. Those original three plants will become six plants – for the price of just three.

Once you’ve decided to divide your plants, it’s important to divide at the appropriate time of year. Murphy divides her perennials in early spring or later in the fall, depending on when they bloom.

Backyard propagation

May 14, 7 p.m.: Minimize the costs of gardening by reproducing plants in your backyard. New Castle County Cooperative Extension office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Spring means lush blooms and wide variety of beneficial bugs

March 20, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

assassin bugSpring officially gets underway March 20, bringing blooms, birds and bugs. Lots of people get excited about the first redbud flower or returning tree swallow. Fewer get enthused about the first Eastern tent caterpillar or green lacewing that emerges in spring.

But a wide variety of flowering plants and songbirds wouldn’t exist without insects. “A number of different insects pollinate plants and many are an important protein source for birds,” notes Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Bugs get a bad rap, says Kunkel. Some bugs – stink bugs, Japanese beetles and yes, Eastern tent caterpillars — deserve the nasty reputation because they damage or destroy ornamental plants, turf grass or agricultural crops.

But many insect species are innocuous – they do no harm. And plenty more, like immature green lacewings, are good guys.

While the adult form of this insect eats pollen and nectar, the young green lacewing gobbles up a slew of pests, including white flies, aphids, adult mealy bugs, and mealy bug eggs and larvae.

“Beneficial insects far outnumber the pests,” says Kunkel. “In fact, more than 97 percent of arthropods typically seen in the home landscape are either beneficial or innocuous.”

(Arthropods, as you may recall from your school days, include not only insects but also spiders, predatory mites and other creepy crawlies.)

Gardeners often grab a can of pesticide at the first sight of a bug, without even bothering to figure out whether the species is a pest.  Retired Hercules technologist and current Master Gardener Frank Ebright used to do that, too.

“I spent my career working with chemicals. I have nothing against them; chemicals have helped to save lives. But I don’t see a need for them in my garden,” says Ebright.

He tends to a two-acre yard in Cecil County, Md. Once he became a Master Gardener 19 years ago, Ebright’s use of chemical pesticides declined but he still spot-treated roses and other plants with pest problems. About five years ago he abandoned lawn chemicals for good and reports that his landscape has never looked better.

“Once I got rid of the chemicals, the beneficial insects starting coming to my yard and taking care of my pest problems,” he says.

Ebright will be leading a Master Gardener workshop about beneficial insects and integrated pest management on May 16. “I want gardeners to use chemical control as a last resort, not the first defense, and learn who their friends are.”

Sometimes it’s easy to identify your friends. Even though there are some 150 species of lady beetles in the U.S., these beneficials are a cinch to recognize. Their size and color may vary but all sport characteristic spots on their abdomens.

Other times, it’s tough to tell friend from foe. For example, the hover fly looks like a stinging hornet but the adult form is a first-rate pollinator that has been ranked just after the honeybee in its effectiveness. Plus, the larvae of many species of hover flies gorge on aphids, a pest that can wreak havoc on everything from roses to maple trees.

Ebright’s go-to book for identifying insects is Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw. If he sees an unknown bug, he snaps a photo of it then compares it to images in Cranshaw’s book.

One of the first steps in integrated pest management is “making sure your plants are happy,” says Kunkel. Essentially, that comes down to “planting the right plant in the right place,” he notes.

If a plant requires moist soil, don’t put it in a dry spot. If it needs full sun, don’t think you can get away with partial shade. A stressed plant won’t be happy and can be more vulnerable to pest infestations, says Kunkel.

Companion plants are another element of integrated pest management. Nasturtium is commonly used as a companion plant, especially in vegetable gardens. Plant nasturtium near cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, collards and kale. The aroma of this colorful annual will repel aphids, squash bugs and striped pumpkin beetles.

Presentations

• May 16, 6-8 p.m.: Find out how to use integrated pest management for an attractive yard and productive vegetable garden. New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

• June 11, 6-8 p.m.: Join Brian Kunkel and other experts for a plant, pest and beneficial insect walk. New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, Newark. Free. Register by email to cjmurphy@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy of Brian Kunkel

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD Equine Seminar Series Set for the Delaware Horse Expo

March 4, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The 2013 Delaware Horse Expo will be held this year on Saturday, April 6 from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday, April 7 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, Delaware. As part of the Delaware Horse Expo, the University of Delaware will be hosting the “UD Equine Seminar Series” with speakers scheduled for both days of the event.

Topics will include equine nutrition, spring horse health, care and management of retired racehorses and more.

The speakers include:

Saturday – April 6

11:00 a.m., Dr. Nettie Liburt, Equine Specialist, Kent Nutrition Group – “Selecting the Right Feed for Your Horse.”

12:00 p.m., Dr. Carey Williams, Associate Professor and Equine Extension Specialist, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey – “Supplements: Choosing them Wisely.”

2:15 p.m., Delmarva Equine Clinic – “Spring Horse Health Care.”

3:15 p.m., Dr. Carissa Wickens, Assistant Professor and Equine Extension Specialist, University of Delaware – “What We Know About Stereotypic Behavior in Horses.”

Sunday – April 7

11:00 a.m., Erin Pittman, Board Member, Retired Racehorse Training Project, Business Manager, Dodon Farm – “Care and Feeding of the Retired Racehorse.”

12:00 p.m., Wendy Lippincott, Dusty Chaps Farm, Co-owner and Instructor  – “Backyard Horse- keeping, is it Doable or Should I Board?”

2:00 p.m., Steuart Pittman, President, Retired Racehorse Training Project with New Bolton Center clinician – “Lameness Issues in the Thoroughbred Racehorse and Therapies to Resolve Unsoundness.”

3:00 p.m., Mary Bashtarz, BALANCE Registered Test Ride Facilitator  – “Horse Friendly Saddle Features.”

The UD Equine Seminar Series is a collaborative effort between UD, the Delaware Equine Council, and Chick’s Saddlery.

For more information on the Delaware Horse Expo, visit the Delaware Horse Expo website.

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Native Delaware: Early signs of spring are popping up in Delaware

February 28, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Spring has sprung – or, if you’re an optimist like Dot Abbott it has.

“The skunk cabbage is popping up and will leaf out soon. Groundhogs and skunks are active again. And the spring peepers will be calling any day now,” says Abbott, a renewable resources agent for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20, but early signs of the season are evident – that is, if you’ve been outside and observant enough to notice.

If you haven’t spent time outside recently, get out there now, and take the kids with you, says Abbott.

Native Delaware Spring has Sprung“Today’s kids spend twice as much time indoors as their parents did,” notes Abbott, a board member of the Delaware Association for Environmental Education. “It’s important to be exposed to nature education at school but it’s even better to experience nature with your parents or other caregivers.”

Although the earth appears to be in winter slumber, it’s teeming with life and activity. Abbott suggests these ways to get the kids outside to spot the earliest signs of spring:

Track animals

Do your kids love mud? Then they’ll love looking for animal tracks. Tracks are easiest to find in mud (as well as snow). Throughout the winter, you can see tracks from white-tailed deer, fox, squirrels, muskrats and beavers – all of which are active year-round.

Now, as spring draws near, you can spot groundhog and skunk tracks, too. Delaware has few true hibernators but in winter groundhogs, skunks and some other mammals exist in a semi-hibernation state known as torpor.

Lately, the groundhogs and skunks have been out and about, especially on days when temperatures climbed above the mid-40s. A groundhog track is pretty easy to identify. Look for imprints with four toes on the front paws and five toes on the back. They will be spaced 4-12 inches apart.

Skunk tracks show five toes on both the front and back foot. The front tracks usually show claw marks farther ahead of the toe marks than the rear prints do. These longer front claws help the skunk dig up roots and insects.

Search for stream critters

Macro invertebrates are a good indicator of a stream’s health. They’re also a great way to see if spring has sprung.

Head to a pond or stream and take a close look at the water, says Abbott. The nymphs of dragonflies, mayflies and stoneflies are active all winter, often living beneath the ice. They feed and grow throughout the cold weather months to emerge as adults in early spring. If you have a smart phone, pull up photos of the adult form of these insects and see if your kids can spot any new adults in the water.

Increase your chances of seeing this transformation by scooping up a bucketful of nymphs and creek water. Place the bucket in a sunny but cool room of your house. If you’re lucky, you may get to witness some nymphs metamorphosize into adults.

Take a night hike

As winter heads into spring, the woods become noisier at night. Owl breeding season is underway, and with it, a cacophony of calls.

“Great horned owls started defending their territory and looking for mates at the end of January. They were the first calls I heard. Next, came the barred and barn owls. The last few nights, I’ve also heard screech owls,” says Abbott.

“Yet in between the owl calls, it can become so quiet that you can hear every leaf that crackles underfoot,” she notes.

It’s this combination of silence punctuated by mysterious sounds that makes Abbott love a night hike this time of year. Owls are just the start. Abbott often hears red foxes. These voluble creatures produce a variety of barks, howls and whines. Some are sharp yaps; others are long, mournful howls.

Spot the first robin of spring (or not)

Have you seen a robin? It feels more like spring, doesn’t it?

We hate to burst your bubble but robins stick around all year. Formerly a migratory bird, large numbers of robins now over-winter in Delaware. Abbott first noticed this phenomenon in the early to mid-1990s, though she’s quick to note that she’s not an expert on the subject.

Robins have been able adapt to Delaware winters. They switch from their summer diet of insects to eating seed in wintertime. Because they are fairly large birds, they’re usually able to withstand cold snaps.

Not every bird adapts so easily. For example, a homeowner called Abbott last month to report dead goldfinches in her backyard. Goldfinches normally migrate south but a half-dozen or so stragglers hung out in this Dover backyard during the fall and into winter. Unfortunately, when bitter cold weather hit, they weren’t able to survive.

Now that spring is drawing near, the robins have changed up their behavior. The early pollinators like skunk cabbage have appeared, and with them, insects. Robins can now be found feeding on invertebrates in grassy and disturbed areas.

Abbott enjoys birding at Wyoming Mill Pond. Other good birding spots include the St. Jones River, Mispillon River, and the many millponds found in Kent and Sussex counties. Be on the look out for resident robins, as well as some of the earliest returning migrants, says Abbott.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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