New York State IPM Program

December 2, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

First things first, should you have heard the sudden flurry of news about thousands of bugs infesting your Christmas tree. Not true, not true at all. Stories like this are way overblown.

Here in New York, Christmas tree growers use solid IPM practices to deal with pests — and “most insects aren’t hanging around this time of year anyway,” says Elizabeth Lamb, a Christmas tree expert with NYS IPM. Know also that most Christmas tree farms — whether cut-your-own or wholesale — have shakers, special machines that shake bugs to the ground before the trees are sold.

Whether it’s a cut your own or wholesale Christmas tree farm, growers focus on providing happy, healthy trees.

But now back to our story. Already some of us have begun the quest for the just-right Christmas tree. Are you one? Before you go tree-shopping, keep these seven simple steps in mind:

  1. Measure your space before you shop so your tree will fit nicely in your home. And don’t put it next to a radiator or furnace vent.
  2. Look for a tree with a solid green color — or for some kinds, blue-green. Do you see yellowing needles or slight brown speckles? Be forewarned — its needles might drop early.
  3. Choose a tree that fits your needs. Each kind offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness — important for holding ornaments.
  4. Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. The needles shouldn’t come off in your hands. The shoots should be flexible. If its shoots crack or snap with handling, this is not the tree for you.

    Do the needles stay on the tree? Are they flexible? Are they fragrant? All these point to a healthy tree.

  5. Christmas trees should smell good. Not much fragrance when you flex the needles? The tree might have been cut too long ago.
  6. Resist if you can the impulse to bring your tree inside right away. Keeping it  outside (on a deck, porch, or even a balcony) in the chill air, its base in a bucket of water, will keep it happy and healthy until you and yours just can’t wait any longer. If you have a small bowsaw, make a fresh cut on the bottom to help it take up water.
  7. Trees get thirsty. They can drink  as much as a gallon a day. Once your tree is inside, always keep the water in the tree stand topped off.

At NYS IPM, we put prevention first by promoting healthy plants. But in this case preventing disappointment — your disappointment — is what we’re about.

July 27, 2017
by Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann
Comments Off on Ants in your house? Throw them a party!

Ants in your house? Throw them a party!

Not fond of ants in the kitchen? You are not alone. And even after you’ve cleaned them up, washed the countertop, swept away the crumbs and taken out the garbage — they just keep coming, looking for more.

It’s this time of year when ants invade homes looking for food, water and shelter. Where are they coming from — and how are they getting there?

At 1/16 to 1/8 inch long, this is one tiny ant. Photo credit Joseph Berger.

A number of ant species seem to specialize in homes. Among the most tenacious: the odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile. You can tell it by its smell.  Just crush it in your fingers and give it a sniff.

What’s that smell? Some say it’s the smell of rotting coconut, but how many of us know the pleasure of a rotting coconut? Just call it pungent.

Odorous house ants are well adapted to the urban environment. In fact, being around man-made structures allows them to become the dominant ant species with enormous interconnected colonies. They invade homes and apartments through the smallest cracks and gaps, foraging for sweets. So keeping them out may be near impossible.

Pesticides and insecticidal ant baits are the most common forms of ant control. In IPM we almost never recommend spraying over other sound tactics. In the case of odorous house ants, spraying the foundation and soil around a structure can help. But it can also kill non-target insects.

Plus — it rarely kills the queen (an urban supercolony may have scores; even hundreds) and the colony might well live on.

Baiting for odorous house ants with sweet gel baits is an effective way to reduce the whole colony. Adult ants carried them back to the nest and fed to the larvae and queens — the beating heart of the colony.

You might choose to hire a professional who will identify the ant species (very important for baiting correctly) and place bait where ants are active. Or you might decide to use sweet boric acid bait from the hardware store. Either way there’s a critical step here.

…..  LET THE ANTS PARTY!  ….

Whatever the source — spilled food or bait station — ants do like to party. Invite yours with a sweet ant bait. Photo credit M. Potter, UKY.

If the odorous house ants accept the bait, more and more ants will show up for the feast. The more ants, the more bait they will transfer back to the larvae and queens. Let the party rage on! You could see dozens of ants, maybe hundreds.

Ignore them until at least the following day — and never spray an insecticide or cleanser on or near the bait. With professional-use baits, the disappearance of ants is quite dramatic. Boric acid baits will take a bit longer but are no less effective.

As always, before you use a pesticide, read the label and follow instructions. Once the party is over, clean up the remains with soap and water.

And remember, ants are like a sanitation department. They forage on what we leave behind, so keep those counters (and the sink, garbage can, compost bucket, microwave…) clean and free of food spills and crumbs. We best coexist with ants when we don’t invite them inside.

 

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