by Jen Lerner – Senior Resource Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Putnam County
Here in the Hudson Valley, we have weathered waves of invasion . . . Insect invasion that is. Think of the multicolored Asian lady beetle buzzing around your house, soon replaced by the brown marmorated stinkbug dive-bombing your reading light at night. The emerald ash borer followed, and we see our native ash trees, their bark chipped away by woodpeckers foraging for larvae, standing as reminders that our actions have far-reaching impacts. Enter the newest invader. . .
The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a colorful insect in the planthopper family that congregates in large numbers to feed on the sap of trees. As it feeds, it excretes “honeydew” a nice name for what is essentially a sticky excrement. That honeydew sometimes alerts people to the presence of the pest.
While the honeydew is a nuisance, the strain placed on the trees’ resources by the insects feeding often kills the tree. The spotted lanternfly’s preferred host, the Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), is also an unwanted invader despite its heavenly moniker. Great, you say? Maybe the lanternfly will polish off the Tree of Heaven? Well these gregarious insects have a few more tricks up their spotted sleeves.
Why are we worried?
Like the brown marmorated stinkbug, spotted lanternflies are a pest of some important agricultural crops. They feed on and harm many fruit producing plants, including apples, peaches, plums, blueberries and grapes, as well as approximately 70 other plants. Besides the far-reaching economic impacts, there are ecological considerations too. Many of these trees and shrubs have relatives in our native ecosystem. For example, our native Shadblow or Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) is a close relative of the apple. It provides important forage for migratory birds who return to their nesting sites expecting to find its nutritious early fruits. Imagine the hole their loss would make in our ecosystem. We simply do not know yet how many host plants this insect can survive on or how wide their impact will be.
How can You Help?
Keep on the lookout and report your observations. Learn to recognize the insects themselves as well as the signs of the spotted lanternfly. While the insect may be easy to spot because of its bright spots, the egg clusters are harder to spy. They are tan to light grey, laid in row and sometimes covered with a mud-like protective layer. If you see the insects or spot the egg clusters, please report the sighting to the NYS DEC ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). Digital photos or dead insects are helpful too. While sticky honeydew is another signs of these sap-feeding insects, many other insects also excrete honeydew in quantities sufficient to make cars, fences and deck surfaces feel tacky.
Don’t help them spread!
Though spotted lanternflies may hitch a ride on a boat, trailer, or vehicle, their egg clusters pose the most insidious risk because the female will lay them on just about anything!
Hitchhiking egg masses can be found on pallets of stone, firewood shipments, Christmas trees, and outdoor furniture. Remember . . . never take firewood from your home to a favorite campground or weekend retreat. Similarly don’t pick up wood from far away and bring it home: you may be bringing a hidden invader with you. Observe the “Don’t Move Firewood” rule. Inspect boats and trailers for hitchhiking egg masses. If purchasing used outdoor furniture, or items frequently stored outside like garden tools and wheelbarrows, check all surfaces for egg masses. Yes, the adult insects can fly, but they spread much more quickly when humans help them along.
How did they get here? And how far have they spread?
Spotted lanternfly is native to China, India, and Vietnam. This insect was introduced into South Korea and spread throughout the country (approximately the size of Pennsylvania) in 3 years. On this side of the world, an initial infestation was found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. This first infestation is thought to have arrived on a shipment of stone in 2012. Currently the insect is found in 13 counties in South Eastern Pennsylvania and these and many other PA and NJ locations are under NYS quarantine. Historically we know from Korea’s experience that this insect spreads fast. In 2017, one dead was insect found in Delaware County, NY. In New York, 2018 saw spotted lanternfly adults or egg masses in Albany, Chemung, Monroe, Suffolk and Yates Counties, as well as Brooklyn and Manhattan– all thought to be hitchhikers. So far, there are no known New York infestations. Let’s work hard to keep it that way!
Currently, there are 70 active Master Gardener Volunteers in Orange County. These volunteers help Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County disseminates research-based information to the community. Volunteers go through an intensive training to increase their knowledge of gardening and landscaping. Once they complete the training, they are required to volunteer 30 hours a year, which includes six hours of continuing education.
Master Gardener Volunteers write for the Gardening in Orange County newsletter, answer gardening questions on the “Garden Helpline”, participate in community and school gardens, read to school children, and we provide workshops to the community on a wide range of topics.
Master Gardener Volunteers come from different backgrounds and careers. Here are just a few stories of their stories.
Brooke M., New Windsor Master Gardener Volunteer
Becoming a Master Gardener six years ago was the fulfillment of a longtime dream! I was introduced to gardening by my maternal grandmother who grew wild abundant perennial borders. She changed her color scheme regularly and encouraged me to see gardening like painting, providing joy in every glance. Being a Master Gardner lets me combine my skills from being a teacher, Museum Educator, and photographer with my absolute passion for plants. Going out to schools, garden clubs, and other public gatherings to share knowledge is one of my favorite things. Contributing to GOC by writing and editing is another. This year, helping to start a new school garden was the highlight. Nothing is more fun than hearing the laughter of children in the garden and seeing the wonder on their faces when they taste a fresh carrot. I have found new friends and opportunities in this program and it enriches my life.
When I was a child, my dad grew zinnias from seed and I know my love of gardening was cultivated by the beautiful gardens he created in our yard. I asked a thousand questions; he did not always know the answers, but he let me keep asking! I think he grew delphiniums for their beautiful (and rare) periwinkle color.
I bought my house in 1992, and shortly thereafter I attended the Garden Days sponsored by the Master Gardeners. I soaked up all the material and tried to apply it in my own yard. I subscribed to “Gardening in Orange County”. Now my gardens are filled with Milkweed and plants that the deer do not eat. My andromeda (Pieris japonica) is about 35 years old.
I became a Master Gardener because of all the wonderful people who answered all my questions on the “helpline” at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Middletown.
I have been a Master Gardener for 11 years now. I enjoy being in the company of other volunteers who love plants, trees, shrubs and flowers. Go ahead and ask questions. I am happy to help others cultivate their love of nature!
Doug M., Middletown Master Gardener
Although I have lived in Orange County all my life, the experience of purchasing and renovating a neglected property in Middletown ignited a love for gardening which changed my life.
My gardening obsession led me away from a career in interior design to attaining a Certificate of Horticulture from the New York Botanical Garden where I also discovered my passion for creating botanical artwork. With that change in place, my life was now consumed by horticulture.
I was drawn to the Master Gardener program because it is a stimulating and satisfying educational process where members are continually receiving and sharing information.
I am especially drawn to the design and artistry of gardening and have led programs on container gardening and botanical drawing. I also enjoy projects where I can get my hands dirty.
My four years as a Master Gardener have been rewarding, especially the shared experiences with other volunteers.
Jim H., Monroe Master Gardener
I have lived in Orange County for 21 years but I am a native of Texas. I grew up in the fruit orchards of Dallas County, Texas and every home of mine has had a garden. A career in High Tech Communication took me around the globe six times. I have experienced a lot of things in my life, but I am pulled to the challenge of gardens.
I love vegetable gardening and I want to pass on my passion to elementary children. I am involved with two school gardens in Monroe. The North Main Garden is located in a 100-year-old church courtyard next to the school. It is a pollination garden with six raised beds and the vegetables are donated to a local food bank. We work with the Ecology Club and teach classes on recycling and composting.
The Pine Tree Elementary garden was built with donations from the Girl Scout cookie sales. This garden is totally managed by 3rd grade students and it is a learning garden from the soil up! The students plant seeds, learn correct watering techniques, transplant material, weed and mulch. It is a hands-on endeavor with no smartphones or computers.
The Master Gardening Program has given me the opportunity to give back to my community. What keeps the gardens running is the look in the children’s eyes when they pick a ripe vegetable!
Joe G., Warwick Master Gardener
I’m the son of a passionate gardener and grew up in a small Connecticut town in the 1970’s. Dad had a huge vegetable garden and I spent many hours with him there, tending his plants and growing an area of my own starting at age 7. Giant pumpkins were my favorite.
My gardening passion grew and I worked for a landscaper through high school and college. My adult career is in packaging, so my gardening passion had to be limited to a hobby, but I became a Master Gardener in 2013 to deepen my knowledge and spread my passion to others.
My retirement goal is to operate a farm, which I decided to start in my 40’s rather than wait. I farm part time, growing Hops and Shiitake Mushrooms and benefit from the education and access to information the Cooperative Extension network has provided through the Master Gardening program. I enjoy creating and presenting educational workshops through the MG program and writing articles for Gardening in Orange County and the Time Herald Record.
Kate H., Cuddebackville Master Gardener Volunteer
I have lived in Orange County for over 40 years, but I am originally from California. What brought me to the East Coast was a position as an instructor, and clinic coordinator, in SUNY Orange’s dental hygiene department.
When I learned of the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, I was intrigued. I have always loved gardening, and I love teaching, so being part of a volunteer program where I could teach horticulture topics sounded perfect to me. I knew I would learn a lot when I started the MG training, but how much I learned, and have continued to learn for the past 11 years, is astounding!
I have also come to understand more about Cornell Cooperative Extension – what an incredible resource it is for the people of Orange County. Its scope of programs and outreach is amazing and inspiring.
I have been involved in community gardens, children’s programs, lectures, and workshops. They have been fun, interesting and satisfying. But what really amazes and delights me is the group of Master Gardeners themselves. They have a great variety of interests and specialties; they are talented, generous, and wonderful company! I feel lucky to be part of this group of volunteers.
Nancy F., Cornwall Master Gardener Volunteer
I graduated from the Orange County Master Gardener Program in March of 2016 following my retirement in 2015 as a Family Nurse Practitioner for Newburgh Enlarged City School District. My love for flower gardening expanded to vegetable gardening and a variety of gardening and health-related school programs. As a result of collaborations with the Orange County Department of Health Healthy Orange Team, the Newburgh Enlarged City School District’s Wellness Team and the Fuel Up to Play 60 grant, my journey lead me to my lifelong passion to be a Master Gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program.
The Master Gardener Program has provided me with opportunities for continued professional development in areas that require research-based gardening knowledge and has afforded me the opportunity to continue collaborations with other gardeners and associations.
A Master Gardener has many volunteer opportunities. I personally enjoy the Garden Help Line, writing for the Gardening in Orange County Newsletter, assisting student learning about bees, composting, flowers, vegetables, and bugs at the Orange County Arboretum.
Samantha G., Harriman Master Gardener Volunteer
My Master Gardener story is very simple. I have been a gardener ever since my mom said she would pay me a penny for every dandelion I dug up. I made ten dollars. Now I forbid dandelion removal in my yard! I came to Orange County in 2004, and promptly got a job in the Walmart lawn and garden department. I quickly realized that I was going to have to dig a little deeper to meet fellow gardeners and new friends. Lucky for me I noticed a small article in the local paper advertising the registration for the 2007-08 Master Gardener class. Although this really stretched my comfort zone, I knew that this program was what I needed to really become part of my new community. As a gardener I have very simple needs – a beautiful habitat in the middle of suburbia and a small garden to feed my family. As a Master Gardener it fills me with joy to show people how to find the answers for gardening success. I love to put the light back in their gardening shade.