New York State IPM Program

November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:

A tick’s lifespan is

  • three months
  • ten months
  • twenty-four months (that is, about two years)

The best way to remove a tick is to

  • swab it with nail polish
  • hold a hot match to its behind
  • pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers

Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)

But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.

Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.

And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.

Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.

Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)

Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).

Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.

Our second  quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)

Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)

If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.

With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.

Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.

September 5, 2017
by Bryan Brown
Comments Off on Weed control specialist joins NYS IPM

Weed control specialist joins NYS IPM

Bryan Brown

Bryan Brown, Ph.D., is the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist

I’m Bryan Brown, the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist at NYS IPM. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with growers and promote IPM solutions for weed management. I came here from the University of Maine, where I compared the economic and ecological effects of several weed management strategies and tested a new cultivation technology that uses several tools, sometimes in tandem, to target the in-row zone.

Integrated weed management

No single weed control tactic is completely effective. And relying on one single tactic is how weeds develop resistance. So what we need to do is integrate more tactics. Attack weeds in as many ways as possible. For conventional growers, a basic step is to use a range of herbicides with different modes of action. Other direct controls include cultivation, flaming, mowing, and biocontrol.

Less direct tactics can also make a huge difference in weed control effectiveness. For example, crop rotation allows for use of different herbicides, fertility, and tillage dates — all of which can be adjusted to combat certain weed species. Likewise, crop cultivar and plant spacing can be altered to maximize competitiveness with weeds, and cover-crop residues can lessen weed emergence. Growers can be even more successful with these practices if they are used to target the biology and life cycle of their most problematic weeds.

When many growers think about weeds, they think of big nasty plants. But I like to encourage growers to think about weed seeds. The number of weed seeds in the soil is very important to the success of weed control tactics. Even if you kill 99% of the weeds in your crop, if you start with 1,000 germinating weed seeds per square foot (yes, that’s common), ten of those weeds will survive and compete with your crop. So depleting the number of weed seeds in the soil is key to effective management. As is often the case in IPM, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How do you reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil? Control weeds before they produce seed, mow crop boarders to prevent seeds from blowing in, and use seed-free fertilizers. You can also create a stale seedbed by encouraging weed seeds to germinate, then killing them before planting. With these techniques, some farmers have sharply reduced the number of weed seeds in their soil, improving their in-season weed control.

Next steps

I’m especially interested in finding weed management solutions that have multiple benefits. For example, cultivation kills weeds but can also be used to increase nitrogen mineralization, improve water infiltration, and control soil-dwelling pests like cutworms. Cover-crop residue can suppress weeds but it can also increase soil organic matter, interfere with navigation of some insect pests, and reduce splashing of soil-borne pathogens. So perhaps weed management can be integrated with management of soils, pathogens, and insect pests?

If you’re interested, please contact me at 315-787-2432 or bryan.brown@cornell.edu.

July 18, 2017
by Amara Dunn
Comments Off on New biocontrol specialist joins NYS IPM

New biocontrol specialist joins NYS IPM

Amara Dunn, biocontrol specialist with NYS IPM

Amara Dunn joined NYSIPM as a biocontrol specialist in early June.

Hello! My name is Amara Dunn, and I am excited to have joined the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYSIPM) program as the biocontrol specialist. Prior to starting this position, I studied vegetable diseases at Cornell University and taught in the Biology Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I enjoy finding new ways to manage pests and helping others to manage them more effectively.

What is biocontrol?

Definitions of biological control (biocontrol, for short) vary, but biocontrol is often broadly defined as:

using natural enemies to reduce or maintain populations of pest organisms at sufficiently low levels.

Either the pest or its natural enemy might be a vertebrate (e.g., rodents), an invertebrate (e.g., insects, ticks, slugs), or a microorganism (e.g., fungi or bacteria). Aphids and ladybugs are an example you might be familiar with. Ladybug larvae eat the aphids that might otherwise damage plants.

But biocontrol isn’t limited to releasing beneficial insects like ladybugs. Some bacteria and fungi produce compounds that are toxic to pests, including insects, bacteria and fungi. Others can boost the health of plants and animals. Some nematodes (microscopic worms) invade and kill grubs that live in the soil.

Often natural enemies of a pest are already nearby (e.g., bats that eat insects or birds of prey that eat rodents). By improving their habitat, we can also improve pest control. Finally, many insects use their sense of smell to find mates. By using these scents — “pheromones” — to trap or confuse pest insects, the pest’s biology can be used for its own control.

If you’d like to learn more about biocontrol, a lot of information is available through a website created by Dr. Tony Shelton (Professor of Entomology, Cornell University): Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America.

Delphastus beetle eating whitefly

A small Delphastus beetle has caught and is eating a whitefly. Another whitefly nearby hopes to escape the same fate but may not be so lucky.

Why biocontrol?

Biocontrol can be an important part of an integrated pest management strategy. For example, biocontrol organisms that support plant health can make them less susceptible to the pests that damage them (prevention). If something needs to be applied to reduce pest populations (or keep them low), biocontrol products tend to be less harmful to other critters or people than chemical pesticides (choosing a pest management strategy with low environmental impact).

My goal is to help the people of New York – householders, people who work in schools and businesses, and farmers – understand when and how to use biocontrol as part of a successful integrated pest management strategy. If you have questions, you can email me at arc55@cornell.edu, or you can call my office at (315)787-2206. And soon I’ll launch a blog to provide additional information about biocontrol and its use in New York.

July 11, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week all over the U.S.

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week all over the U.S.

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week — now. Pay it heed. Invasive species, it turns out, are a huge deal in the US, in New York. Everywhere, in fact.

Coping with invasive insects, pathogens and the like have cost, in the US as a whole, upward of … OK, I’m hedging already. Is it $40 billion a year? $120 billion, maybe? The estimates vary widely.

What about global losses?  Ahhhhh. Nailing those, especially vital ecosystem-regulating services, is where “difficult” morphs into “impossible,” for now and perhaps forever. It’s tricky, measuring something when it’s gone.

So what about the price here in New York? Unknown, though not for lack of trying.

Example: My admittedly quick-and-dirty search uncovered a 2005 report which  noted that costs for  eradicating Asian Long-horned beetle from New York City and Long Island had ranged between $13 and $40 million.

Killer beetle has distinctive markings. See something? Say something. Photo credit Kyle Ramirez.

Likewise in of 2005, New York spent about a half million dollars to control sea lampreys in lakes Ontario and Erie — with no end in sight.

More recently, in 2016, I learned that oak wilt — first discovered In New York in 2008 — has cost $500 grand to control. Some midwestern states spend over $1 million a year to control it. Pretty pricey if you ask me.

What helped here? Partly it’s the luck of the draw — oak wilt arrived decades ago, making inroads throughout the Midwest slowly but relentlessly. It can take time to recognize the true nature of  a pathogen — or most any invasive pest. Then it’s a catch-up game to stay on top of it. If you can.

On the loose all over the Midwest — and now here. Photo courtesy Iowa State Plant Disease Clinic.

New York saw what had happened elsewhere and has aggressively surveyed (good IPM!) and eradicated infestations quickly while still small. But that $500 grand price tag? Yow.

Still, the economic costs of losing every (yes, every) oak would far greater.

Yet to come — what to if you find Asian long-horned beetle, oak wilt, and the like.

June 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.

Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.

Remember the days when we could play with our tykes in tall grass near a wooded hedgerow? When we could wander at will through open meadows, picking wildflowers? When we could have impromptu picnics in the shade of tall oaks and basswoods deep in wild violets and leaf litter where a park blended into a tennis court, say, or a golf course rough? (Here, “rough” is a technical term used by the golf literati.)

Those days are gone. Now people in the Northeast and upper Midwest who live near anything green also live in a world that — subjectively at least — seems dominated by ticks. Blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks) especially come to mind, but others are coming down the pike. (Lone star tick, anyone?)

The Southeast, eastern Texas, and the Pacific coast likewise see blacklegged ticks setting up shop.

Now — and remember this before you freak out — by no means does every tick vector Lyme disease or any of its coinfections, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a bountiful supply of carefully researched  information on these diseases.

CDC and NIH also keep tabs on long-term effects of Lyme — for instance, complications  like Lyme carditis and Lyme encephalopathy — that are important to understand.

And because Lyme can also mimic a considerable range of diseases — many less than pleasant — NIH and PubMed (the website is admittedly a bit of a slog) fund a considerable amount of research on these sorts of things.

Researchers might find, for instance, that what appeared to be ALS was actually  Lyme — for this patient, surely an enormous relief. A course of antibiotics and it was over. But if you find websites that link Lyme with upward of 300 diseases, best be skeptical until you can confirm the  science behind the claims that interest you most.

So let’s circle back to where we began.  Yes, you can still get your fill of nature. You can still hang out in your yard. You just need to know some basics. Prevention, in a word. That IPM mantra.

Prevent — well, most of us especially want to know how to keep those little buggers off us. So … how then? Well, consider the permethrin route. Permethrin is synthesized from a compound — pyrethrin — found in the seed cases of chrysanthemums. (Know that many plants include toxins to a lesser or greater degree — it’s the nature of nature. But that’s a whole other post.)

So take a hike over to Tick Encounter and learn all about treating your clothes, your shoes, whatever, with permethrin. Other search terms for permethrin, whether at Tick Encounter or elsewhere, might include “treat backpacks, tents, ground cloths …” You get the idea. But please — keep your antennae tuned for potentially bogus claims.

Want to learn everything you can about the ecology and biology behind ticks and Lyme disease? The Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies is where you belong.

And if you’re perplexed by where “blacklegged tick” comes from when “deer tick” seemed to say it all — well, it’s worth knowing that deer aren’t the reservoir hosts; they don’t carry Lyme. Essentially it was a case of mistaken identity. Back in the day, when Lyme first erupted, researchers thought they’d discovered a tick new to North America; its common name became “deer tick.” A few years later scientists discovered that this deer tick was none other than the already-known blacklegged tick. There you have it and so it remains.

June 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Invasives are pests! Learn more at our July IPM conference.

Invasives are pests! Learn more at our July IPM conference.

We tend to default to bugs — to insects — when we think about pests. But plant diseases and weeds are pests too. And all threaten our fields and farms, our forests and streams, our homes and workplaces.

Pests provide no end of challenges — especially pests that come from afar. Among IPM’s strengths? Researching and crafting powerful ways to cope with them.

Coming up soon, our “Invasive Species in New York: Where We Are and What We Can Do” conference, held just north of Albany at Siena College. The date? July 13, 2017. Join us!

May 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Keep Off the Grass? IPM for Anyone With a Lawnmower

Keep Off the Grass? IPM for Anyone With a Lawnmower

Now that spring has arrived and you’ve dusted off the lawn mower …

As a kid of about five, I became suspicious of lawns. In a rare moment of TV viewing, I had seen a public-service ad wherein a bundle of green leafy stuff thudded into an eerily vacant playground while a baritone voice boomed out something like “Grass. We think it’s bad for kids. Stay away from it.” My mom insisted this was “bad grass” which did not grow in our yard. However, she declined to elaborate, which fueled my mistrust. So I kept off the lawn a while.

These days, “bread” is no longer money, “mint” is just a flavor, and the pernicious leafy stuff mostly goes by other names. There is only one grass, and it is almost time to cut it again. Jargon may change, but things like paying taxes and mowing lawns don’t seem to.

To help you, or so they say, a bewildering array of lawn-care products have sprouted at big-box stores and garden centers. It’s easy to spend a lot of dough — I mean money — on fertilizers, weed killers, and seed. But it’s hard to make sense of which products are right for you.

Before you shop, a couple of thoughts to help sort things out.

  • Grass is not for everyone. Or everywhere. If an area does not get 4 or more hours of full sun daily from March through September, trying to grow grass there is a waste of time.
  • Steep slopes and high-traffic zones probably need something other than grass, too.

Keep mower blades sharp — it can help reduce disease, plus it looks nicer and saves on mower gas. (Flickr Creative Commons Brian Boucheron)

Comparison spells trouble. Well not literally, but it’s mighty unfair. Fashion models have airbrush artists and makeup consultants. Golf courses have full-time turf experts and a massive budget. With good information and a little work, we and our lawns can both look good, but let’s not compare with deep-pocketed pros.

Dr. Frank Rossi, a leading Cornell Turfgrass Science researcher, puts it this way:

“Chances are you can grow a pretty good lawn without using insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides. You may even be able to do it using little or no chemical fertilizer… Will your lawn look like a putting green? No… But if you arm yourself with an understanding of what grasses need to thrive, and commit to a long-term plan to meet those needs, you can grow a perfectly acceptable lawn…”

Get the dirt on your soil. If your grass looks bedraggled, fertilizer may not be the answer; in fact, early-season nitrogen can weaken grass and make lawns worse in the long run.

At the very least, get a soil pH test—a pH more acidic (lower) than 6.0, or more alkaline (higher) than 7.0 will hinder plants’ ability to absorb nutrients. The majority of samples I get at the office have pH values too high for healthy lawns, sometimes 100 or even 1,000 times too alkaline due to annual lime treatments. Lime is only good if it’s needed.

If it’s been over three years since the soil was tested, you might want to invest in a lab analysis. For under twenty bucks you can get nutrient levels with specific recommendations, plus pH and salt content. This last item may seem odd, but fertilizers, herbicides, wood ash and deicing agents are all sources of salt — which can damage soil structure, harm microbes, and aggravate water stress.

Only fertilize based on soil test results, and only use nitrogen in the fall.

Nature abhors a vacuum, which is why I keep mine hidden away indoors — no sense offending nature if you can avoid it. This hatred of emptiness means that if you don’t re-seed bare or weak spots in the lawn, Nature will fill it with whatever is handy — probably weeds.

Edging along the sidewalk or driveway may produce the look you want, but it also produces a lot of bare earth, so if you have a weed issue, especially crabgrass, breaking this habit will give you an edge on weed control.

Another type of vacuum is a close-cropped lawn. Not only does close mowing cause weak, stunted grass roots (and thus plants), it allows the sun full access to the soil. This gives weeds a tremendous advantage.

Have trouble with ground ivy? Put away the vacuum. Stop shaving the earth and start mowing the grass.

The most important thing you can give your lawn is more of its hair. Studies show that changing to a grass height of 3.5 inches leads to a vast improvement in lawn health. Leaving grass longer will greatly reduce weed pressure, lawn diseases, and fertilizer requirements. Perhaps the most dramatic change with longer grass is a lasting drop in weed population.

If you need to use herbicides to reduce weeds, follow the label instructions closely. Some broadleaf (selective) herbicides contain chemicals that could stress or injure trees. Pre-emergent herbicides inhibit weed germination, and are used for crabgrass control. Apply pre-emergent products around the time forsythia flowers are starting to drop.

Another tip is not to mow more than a third of the grass at a time. For example, to maintain a 3.5-inch turf height, mow before the grass gets over five inches high. Try to keep the blades sharp — it can help reduce disease, plus it looks nicer and saves on mower gas. And it almost goes without saying that grass clippings belong to the lawn, not the landfill. Leave the clippings—that’s your fertilizer.

White grubs — we have five species in northern NY — can become a problem if there are more than ten per square foot of lawn. Several nontoxic and low-toxicity treatments have come on the market in the past few years, but timing varies for all of them. Milky spore treatment is safe, but is not effective up north due to cool soils. You can also use beneficial nematodes to kill grubs. 

There are many solid lawn-care resources out there, but always check the source, which should be from .edu or .gov sites. Cornell Senior Extension Associate Lori Brewer has assembled the work of many experts, including Dr. Rossi, into a comprehensive 47-page book entitled “Lawn Care,” which is free at http://hort.cornell.edu/turf/lawn-care.pdf

I think it will contribute to a better world if we teach our kids to stay grounded and let the grass get high.

See more at Morning Ag Clips.

These nematodes Hetzler mentions — beneficial organisms — are key to good IPM. In fact, good IPM embraces every concept Hetzler stands by. With IPM, prevention is always the best cure. And remember: even herbicides are a type of pesticide, because weeds are pests too. If you’ve ever spent a whole day weeding a not-that-big garden, you know that sometimes weeds are the most difficult contenders we face. — ed. MW.

April 17, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Earth Day: What It Means to Me — and the IPM Connection

Earth Day: What It Means to Me — and the IPM Connection

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together … all things connect.” — attributed to Chief Seattle

I’m an environmental educator. Have been one all my life. Among my goals? To erase the line between us and the environment. So often we think of nature as someplace we have to travel to. But this separates us from understanding how we affect our world — for good or for bad.

Amazing creatures like this robber fly can be found in your backyard. These excellent predators catch their prey in the air.

At this time of year we are surrounded by appeals to plant trees. Conserve water. Recycle. Save the polar bears. Want to find examples of IPM as an Earth Day theme? Good luck.

Which is too bad. Because the critters and plants that surround us prove that the environment is right here, right now, all the time. The mice in your kitchen are proof that we coexist with nature even inside.

There is no line.

What’s in a name? Is this a weed or a spontaneous lawn flower? The bee doesn’t care!

Basic ecology tells us that all living things need food, water, shelter, and space. Overwater an indoor plant and you will find fungus gnats. Mow your lawn too short and spontaneous lawn flowers will outcompete the grass. Fail to empty outdoor buckets or refresh the water in your birdbath and there will be no shortage of mosquitoes.

When living things move into our space, we typically label them as pests. But this, my friends, is how nature works. When we provide food by leaving dirty dishes around, don’t seal the garbage right, or plant a favorite flower (tulips, say) in an area with no shortage of deer, we might as well just sit back and watch what comes to partake of our offerings.

Who needs to visit Africa? We can watch the circle of life in our backyards! And no need to get all those shots!

I dream of a world where, along with learning about tigers and redwood trees, children learn about our environment through ants and dandelions. For even in the most urban areas, we find ourselves in nature if we only open our eyes and take the time to recognize it.

My appeal? For Earth Day 2017, let’s each learn about one critter we see often – especially one we consider a pest. Where does it fit in the food web? What helping hand have we given it? And to help your exploration, I recommend starting with the NYS IPM Program’s What’s Bugging You webpage.

Erase the line. And have a very happy Earth Day.

p.s. I would love to hear about what you learned. Feel free to contact me at jkz6@cornell.edu with your story!

March 23, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on IPM celebrates Earth Day — the countdown to April 22

IPM celebrates Earth Day — the countdown to April 22

By most measures it’s spring in the northern hemisphere. Technicalities count: regardless if you live in snowy Labrador City (pop. 9354; high of 15ºF) or greater Miami, Florida (pop. ~5.5 million and summery 76ºF), the vernal equinox marked the official start to spring.

Whether or not the weather concurs with your expectations, of course, depends on your point of view. (Here in New York, opinions are mixed.)

This Federally-endangered dragonfly is an indicator species — and indicates a healthy ecosystem. (Courtesy Xerces Society)

A month and two days later, scores of countries worldwide on six continents will celebrate Earth Day.

Issued in 2005: Even a tiny stamp can raise awareness of dwindling resources and the importance of living in harmony with nature. (Courtesy designer Chen Shaohua)

Our question to you — what does Earth Day mean for our homes and forests, our farms, lakes, and rivers? And how does IPM help?

Join the conversation via photos, Facebook, tweets — and ThinkIPM. After all, April 22 is just around the corner. Got good stories? Get in touch with Joellen Lampman at jkz6@cornell.edu.

March 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Invasive species New York: save the date for IPM conference

Invasive species New York: save the date for IPM conference

We’re planning a statewide conference covering the A to Z of invasive plants, pathogens and pests that plague our farms, our forests, our homes — us.

We’ve got a superb lineup of speakers — along with a wide array of take-home IPM messages from educators at tables in the lobby and two adjacent classrooms.

Join us in Loudonville on July 13 for the lowdown on what you can do to help.

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