Integrated Pest Management

Prune your trees now before winter storms do it for you. Remove any dead or weak branches. Thin the branches of trees with dense growth such as ‘Bradford’ pear and red maple. Trees maintained with proper pruning are less likely to be damaged by snow, ice, and wind.

Develop a plan to revitalize a portion of your garden when spring comes. Choose an area particularly hard hit by drought, insects, or diseases. Research alternative plant materials that fit the soil and water conditions on the site. You can cover the site with a tarp to keep the soil dry so you can get a jump on amending the soil and planting next spring.

When looking at catalogs be sure to select disease resistant seeds and plants for next year. Resistant plants may still be damaged by insects and diseases, but they usually are not killed or permanently damaged.

It’s natural for some of your evergreens change their foliage color this winter. It’s their way of responding to the falling temperatures. Arborvitae develops a brownish-tan color and some junipers turn purple. When temperatures rise in spring the foliage will return to its normal color.

Don’t be concerned if some insects such as wood-boring beetles, carpenter ants, termites, powderpost beetles, or bark beetles make their way into your home on your firewood this winter. They’re only attracted to wood that is soft and chronically wet and should not damage structural wood or furniture in your home. Termites are social insects that dwell in the ground; when a small part of a colony is moved in a piece of firewood the termites perish. Also, it’s a good idea to restack old wood piles yearly to discourage rodents from making a home in them.

Don’t be alarmed by bulb foliage that is exposed during the winter. Daffodils and tulips begin growing as soon as soil temperatures warm to above 40°F and the foliage is remarkably cold tolerant. Some bulbs, such as grape hyacinth, naturally grow leaves in the fall and winter months.

If you are planning to start seeds inside this winter take steps to avoid ‘damping off’ disease. This disease is caused by water molds and weakens the roots and lower stem causing the seedlings to collapse shortly after germination. Sanitation is the key to preventing this disease. Be sure to use sterilized soil and clean pots. You can reuse old pots by sterilizing them with a one percent bleach solution. Use new soil every time you start seeds.

Diplodia tip blight is a fungal disease that affects Australian, mugo, Scots, and other two-needle pines. The new growth dies as the new needles are emerging from the shoots in spring. Shoots turn dry and brown and may curl up. Symptoms are prevalent during wet spring weather, but winter is a good time to take preventive action. The drought this past summer has made many pines more susceptible to disease and if this winter is followed by a wet spring new infections could be widespread. Prune out all dead and dying branches and remove all cones as well since large numbers of spores overwinter on them. The cones make wonderful fire starters for those cold winter nights. If you’re thinking about planting a new pine choose a resistant species like Japanese black pine or loblolly pine.

Integrated Pest Management

Now is the time to wrap your shrubs with twine for the winter. The branches of plants like boxwood, arborvitae, and columnar junipers are susceptible to splaying or breaking under the weight of snow and ice. Secure the twine to the bottom of the trunk and wrap it upward in a spiral form. After reaching the top of the shrub, begin wrapping downward in the same spiral motion until you reach the starting point. Finish by tying the twine securely to the trunk. Twine can be removed in the spring after snow and ice threats have passed.

Composting your green waste is a great way to help the environment, and it will provide your garden with a rich, organic soil conditioner. Compost your jack-o’-lantern after Halloween and your pumpkin rinds after holiday baking.

The cool weather of the autumn months may bring the onset of white pine aphids that feed on the eastern white pine, Pinus strobus. Small trees can be killed by large populations of this insect. Signs of heavy infestation include branch dieback, increased ant activity, sooty mold, and honeydew. White pine aphids overwinter in rows of black eggs on the needles. If the eggs are present in small numbers, the needles can be removed by hand. If present in large numbers, they can be destroyed by applying horticultural oil.

Thousands of Asian ladybird beetles may soon gather on the outside of your houses, garages, and sheds in search of a place to overwinter. This beetle, Harmonia axyridis, was introduced from Asia over ten years ago in the hopes of controlling aphids and scales in this country. This species has over 100 forms with different colors ranging from yellow to orange to red and with no spots or as many as 19. Most commonly, it is orange with black spots or black with four red spots. Like other ladybird beetles, this one is beneficial and should not be destroyed. In autumn they congregate on light colored surfaces on warm days. Asian ladybird beetles are harmless to humans. They do not bite or sting, but they can be a nuisance in large numbers. To prevent them from making their way inside, caulk your windows and doors and screen attic and exhaust vents. If they do make it inside, put a new bag in your vacuum cleaner and suck them up. You can keep the bag in your unheated garage or shed until mid-April, then release them into your yard to feast on springtime pests.

Don’t be concerned if the houseplants that you have brought in from the outside for the winter are turning yellow or dropping some of their leaves. They are adjusting to the changes in temperature and humidity. Remember to water them less frequently; with fewer leaves they do not need as much. Also, refrain from fertilizing them during this period of adjustment.

It’s not too early to start planning for next year’s garden. Make note of which plants pulled through the drought and which ones suffered. It can be survival of the fittest as seasonal weather extremes take their toll. Consider replacing plants that are stressed with ones that are more drought hardy and pest resistant, and remember to amend your soil with organic matter before planting. Wait until spring before removing any deciduous shrubs or trees that are especially valuable to you. You may suspect that these plants are dead, but failure to leaf out in the spring is the only true test.

Integrated Pest Management

Fall is a good time to prune out any dead wood on your trees and shrubs. Branches are often killed by bacterial or fungal pathogens, and should be cut back to prevent the disease from spreading into healthy tissue. To find infected branches, look for branches with dead or yellowed leaves that are prone to wilting or seem off-color. When you cut into the branch, you may see tan or brown areas in the wood that are evidence of infection. If you are removing cankered branches, be sure to make your cut below the infected area into healthy, green tissue, slightly above a healthy bud.

Remove broadleaf weeds in your lawn when soil moisture is replenished and growth resumes. Weeds such as wild garlic, white clover, knotweed, plantain, yellow wood sorrel, and common chickweed can be removed by hand or may be treated with an herbicide containing 2,4,-D.

Did you know only 10% of the insects around your home are harmful to plants? Many insects such as earwigs, pill bugs, and ground beetles are common around homes and do not harm plants, pets, or humans. Pesticides do little to control many of these insects, and the use of pesticides so close to the home may lead to unnecessary exposure to harmful chemicals.

It is perfectly normal for conifers, especially pines, to shed some of their older needles in the fall, but the drought conditions this year may cause more shedding than usual. With less foliage needing water, the tree has a better chance of survival through the drought period. For more details on how to deal with the drought, check the USNA website.

It is not too early to think about spring flowering bulbs. Fall is the time to plant such bulbs as tulips, narcissus, dutch iris, and crocus. If the soil is dry, water bulbs after you plant them, and keep soil moist until the ground freezes this winter. Moisture is essential for proper root growth.

Boxelder bugs, which feed primarily on boxelder, Acer negundo, are showing up in places and on plants where they are not usually found, and may be in search of moisture. These insects are black and red and may be seen around your home when evenings begin to cool down. Boxelder bugs do no noticeable harm to plants, but if you find them in large numbers around your home, you can use a shop vacuum to collect them for disposal.

Skip fertilizing trees and shrubs this fall if weather has been dry in your area. Few nutrients have been leached from the soil with all the dry weather, and stressed plants aren’t able to use the nutrients. Excess fertilizer in the soil contaminates our ground and surface water.

Keep an eye out now for magnolia scale. These sucking insects can be found on the twigs as small bumps nearly a half inch in diameter. They may be white, yellow, or brown depending on their age. By September the eggs hatch into tiny crawlers. The crawlers look like tiny black dots about the size of a typed period, and can be easily spotted by tapping a branch over a sheet of white paper. Use horticultural oil only if you count more than 15 crawlers on the paper.

As autumn approaches, practice good sanitation in your garden. Remove spent vegetables and annual bedding plants and cut back spent flower stalks of perennials. Be sure to remove weeds before they disperse seeds. All of the resulting debris can be composted.

Integrated Pest Management

Bagworms have already left their mark this year on evergreens such as junipers, arborvitae, and chamaecyparis. You can act now, though, to reduce their population for next year. Bagworms overwinter as eggs inside the leaf covered bags left hanging on the tree. Remove the bags before spring and destroy them by squashing them underfoot. Handpicking usually provides sufficient control. In June the tiny caterpillars will hatch, and if they appear in large numbers, you can spray them with a pesticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Give your houseplants an April shower in December. Dust that collects on the foliage blocks out needed sunlight and can clog the pours of the leaf surface, affecting the plant’s ability to breathe. Rinsing your plants gently with tepid water will also wash away mites and other pest insects that may be on the plant.

Deciduous shrubs may need protection from deer, rabbits, mice, and other animals that eat the buds, bark, and twigs of many plants. Your local nursery or home center may carry animal repellents or you can use tree wraps, hardware cloth, and shrub rings. Try using shrubs that these animals do not normally eat, including mountain laurel, Japanese plum yew, and holly.

Be resourceful and creative with your holiday decorations by using small branches you’ve pruned from your boxwoods. Boxwoods are susceptible to Volutella blight, a fungus that thrives in damp conditions. Thinning opens the branching structure of the plant, improves air circulation, and creates unfavorable conditions for the development of this fungus. The cut branches can be used in centerpieces, wreaths, and as accessories on wrapped packages.

If you are planning to purchase a live Christmas tree this season, give careful thought to the selection and care of your tree. In choosing a tree, it is important to know its growth habits. Most of the pines, firs, and spruce trees sold as Christmas trees will reach a height of forty to one hundred feet and a width of ten feet or more. Avoid placing your live tree inside too early. Most potted trees do best if kept inside no longer than one week. Place it near a window away from heating vents, keep the soil slightly moist, and mist the foliage often. It is a good idea to dig your hole before the ground freezes, making sure that it is large enough for the root ball. When planting the tree, place it at least twenty feet from the side of any building, structure or plantings, water it well. Keep the soil moist if rain is lacking throughout the winter and the soil isn’t frozen?

Try using calcium chloride or sand instead of rock salt for deicing your walkways and driveways this winter. Rock salt (sodium chloride) has several disadvantages when used as a de-icing agent. Most importantly, it changes the structure and chemical makeup of soils that it washes into, and is harmful to the plants around areas where it is used, causing injury or even death.

Inspect holiday plants like poinsettias, chrysanthemums, and ornamental peppers for whiteflies before purchasing them. Look for tiny, white, moth-like insects flying from the plant when you touch it. Heavy infestations produce a cloud-like swarm when the plant is shaken. Whiteflies suck sap from the plant causing leaves to yellow, shrivel, and drop prematurely. Whitefly larvae are small, white to yellow, and can be found on the undersides of the foliage. Nymphs secrete honeydew which attracts ants and can lead to sooty mold growth. If you suspect one of your plants has whiteflies, separate it from other houseplants. Insecticidal soaps can be used to control this pest, but you may have to apply it repeatedly for several weeks.

Integrated Pest Management

Woody and perennial weeds can be controlled now by spraying their foliage with glyphosate or triclopyr. Plants are moving sugars from their leaves down to their roots, and the herbicide will be moved as well, killing the root system of the weed and eliminating the chance for regrowth. Don’t spray unless winds are calm. Nonselective herbicides like these could kill any plant that comes in contact with the spray, so be extremely careful. In a tight spot, apply the herbicide with a paint brush or sponge attached to a long stick.

Remember that stressed plants are more prone to disease. Be sure that your plants are in the proper location and have adequate light, water, and nutrients.

Dogwood trees can succumb to a fatal fungal disease called Discula anthracnose. The fungus spreads in cool, wet spring and fall conditions. Summer drought stresses trees so they are more susceptible to attack. Early symptoms occur on the leaves and, if left unchecked, the disease can spread into the twigs and branches resulting in cankers. To help prevent the spread of this disease, promptly dispose of all fallen dogwood leaves.

Flower flies, also known as hover flies, are important late season pollinators and predators in your garden. The tiny adults, which look like bees, are easy to see with their bright orange, yellow, and black markings. They feed on pollen and are especially attracted to asters, marigolds, goldenrod, and blue mist shrub. The immature larvae are brightly colored red, orange, and green maggots. They have a ferocious appetite for aphids, rivaled only by ladybird beetles and lacewings.

Flower flies, also known as hover flies, are important late season pollinators and predators in your garden. The tiny adults, which look like bees, are easy to see with their bright orange, yellow, and black markings. They feed on pollen and are especially attracted to asters, marigolds, goldenrod, and blue mist shrub. The immature larvae are brightly colored red, orange, and green maggots. They have a ferocious appetite for aphids, rivaled only by ladybird beetles and lacewings.

Bring your houseplants inside when night temperatures drop below 45°F. Most houseplants are from tropical climates where the average temperature during the coolest month is 64°F. Before moving them inside, spray your houseplants with a 1% horticultural oil solution to prevent insects or eggs from making their way into your home.

Look for signs of juniper webworm on junipers. The adult moth can lay 50 to 130 eggs in the late summer. During early fall, caterpillars mine the leaves on the inner foliage of the plant. This feeding is difficult to see because the caterpillars do not reach maturity until the onset of winter. It is important to act now if your junipers are heavily infested since most pesticides do not adequately control the caterpillars in the spring when they do most of their damage. In serious infestations, the mature caterpillars cover branches with their webs and eat most of the interior foliage. Carefully check interior foliage now, separating the branches to look for silk webbing and, small tan caterpillars with brownish red stripes. Prune out the webs and brown foliage. If caterpillar populations are high you may want to apply a pesticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Integrated Pest Management

Pay close attention to your azaleas now to prevent ghastly yellowed and stippled leaves caused by the azalea lace bug. The lace bug feeds on the underside of leaves, but damage is apparent on the upper surface. Lace bugs leave cast skins and black, gummy, varnish-like feces on the underside of leaves. They deposit eggs, cemented with a brown crusty material, near leaf veins. Warm temperatures cause the eggs to hatch, usually in May. The damage becomes more visible as successive generations hatch in June and July. The lace bug thrives on azaleas grown in the sun; it falls victim to spiders on azaleas properly grown in the shade. Insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, or a systemic insecticide help to control this pest.

Determine the damage threshold for your plants. Decide ahead of time how much injury you can tolerate and don’t take action until this level is reached. Premature measures, taken when they are not necessary, may lead to a resurgence of another pest or harm beneficial insects, mites, and spiders.

Have you heard of an insect with a 13 or 17 year life span? We usually think insects are short-lived, but the periodical cicada can live longer than your cat or dog! Unlike many pests, the adult cicadas don’t feed on leaves, but cause damage by depositing their eggs in the bark of trees. The females saw into the bark of small branches, splintering the sapwood to make slits for their eggs. Damaged branches break off easily in a storm or high winds. Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground, burrow into the soil, and remain there for the remainder of their development. Nymphs suck sap from the roots of trees, but not enough to inflict serious harm. Keep your eyes open for dead twigs and branches. Trees showing conspicuous damage from egg laying include oak, hickory, ash, and dogwood. Mature, established trees usually recover from the damage. Small and newly planted trees may be seriously injured or killed. Protect them by covering them with netting.

Your garden will benefit from your knowledge of what insects populate it. Monitor your garden frequently to find small pest populations before they become destructive. Look for beneficial insects that are feeding on the pests, too. Their relative abundance is a key component in making accurate decisions on whether or not pesticides are necessary. For example, if you observe many beneficial insects and small numbers of pests, you may need to do nothing. Problems usually will not become severe if you notice them early and keep an eye on them. To find small numbers of small insects and mites, place a sheet of white paper under a branch or plant and tap the foliage so these tiny creatures fall onto the paper.

Watch for powdery mildew on your dogwoods. It is a serious disease that stunts new growth and stops growth entirely if severe. Unlike most fungi, powdery mildew does not require water on the leaf surface for spore germination, so it will invade even in dry weather. Neem-based pesticides or horticultural oil will cure the problem.

It’s not too late to plant some vegetables! Plant summer squash in late June to avoid the squash borer. You will miss the prime time for borer damage. The borer feeds in the stems in early summer and completes its life cycle soon after. A late planting of tomatoes and peppers will provide a bumper crop this fall and will avoid diseases that are damaging in hot, humid weather. These plants won’t set fruit during high summer temperatures, but the large plants will produce loads of fruit when nights get cooler in late summer and early fall.

Reduce water usage on your lawn in hot, humid weather. Your grass will go dormant if allowed to dry out and will escape diseases that are common during summer months. Remember to mow high to choke out weeds and let clippings fly to recycle nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizer.

Integrated Pest Management

Remove weeds from your lawn before they set seed. You can use a trowel or asparagus knife to remove weeds like dandelion, plantain, and clover if there are only a few of them. If you don’t have time to pull the weeds, spot treat weedy areas with a selective herbicide for broadleaf weeds. Do not spray on a windy day and be sure to use a sprayer that produces a coarse spray rather than a fine mist to avoid drift that is harmful to other plants in your landscape. You can also prepare a small amount of herbicide and use a disposable sponge and disposable rubber glove to wipe the herbicide on the weed foliage.

Check wild cherry trees and apples for Eastern tent caterpillars. During the day, the fuzzy black caterpillars rest in silken webs in the crotches between branches. Remove the nests, caterpillars and all. A stick or pole may be helpful for removing nests that are out of reach.

If you’re doing some spring mulching, be sure to do the job right. Use no more than two inches of mulch and keep it a few inches away from the trunks of trees to prevent decay of the bark. Avoid covering the crowns of perennials or shrubs with mulch, since it encourages diseases such as Southern blight.

Instead of purchasing beneficial insects, conserve those that nature sends your way. Spray pesticides only when it is absolutely necessary, and treat only the plants that are being attacked by pests or diseases. Whenever possible, use a reduced-risk pesticide such as horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or neem seed extract to combat pests and diseases. These pesticides have minimal impact on beneficial insects. Look for insect predators when you note a burgeoning insect problem; they may be working to bring it under control for you. You can avoid using pesticides that harm beneficial insects by exploring other control options. Physically remove pest insects from their host plants with a jet of water from your garden hose, or hand pick them into a bucket of soapy water. Be sure that you are providing your landscape plants with the conditions they need to thrive; healthy plants are less likely to be subject to pest and disease problems. When shopping for new plants, be sure to select pest and disease resistant varieties whenever you can.

Resist the temptation to rush spring growth with heavy applications of fertilizer. Lawns, if fertilized now, will be much more prone to disease when hot, humid weather arrives. Heavily fertilized trees and shrubs are better hosts for aphids, scale insects, and diseases such as fire blight. Make a mental note to fertilize in the autumn when most plants are making new root growth and are best able to use the nutrients you apply. Spring flowering bulbs are an important exception to this rule. Fertilize them as the flowers fade to promote healthy foliage that will result in a bigger bulb and more flowers next spring.

Check azaleas, andromeda, and rhododendrons for lace bug hatchlings. Look at last year’s foliage; if you notice yellow stipples on the leaves, it is likely that last year’s lace bugs laid eggs on the underside of the leaves. The black eggs are well camouflaged by the tarry black excrement left by the adult lace bugs. It is easiest to detect them using the beat test. Place a white sheet of paper under the foliage and tap the plant vigorously. Young lace bugs are black, spiny, and no larger than a pinhead. If you detect large numbers of them, spray infested plants with horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or a pesticide containing acephate.

Ovulinia petal blight may cause azalea flowers to turn tan and mushy if rainy weather coincides with their bloom. Apply a fungicide labelled for petal blight to your azaleas when the flower buds have begun to show color. The life of the flowers may be prolonged by as much as two weeks with this treatment.

Integrated Pest Management

Begin monitoring conifers for spruce spider mites. These small, dark arachnids are active in cool weather and can be found on pines, hemlocks, arborvitae, and spruce and are especially damaging to Norway and dwarf Alberta spruce. Look for stippling on the needles and webbing in between the needles on the underside of the branches. A simple beat test is also a good way to detect their presence. Tap a branch over a white sheet of paper and look for tiny, slow moving, yellowish green mites. Also look for faster moving predatory mites or tiny, round black ladybird beetles that feed on the mites. If a beat test reveals more than twenty mites per beat, and you do not see predatory mites or ladybird beetles, you should treat your tree with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

Begin checking your dwarf white pines for white pine tip dwarf mites. Unlike most mites, white pine tip dwarf mites like cool weather and are most active in early spring. They cause older needles to become yellow and drop, and, if the tree is severely infested, it can become completely defoliated just before new foliage emerges in the spring. Beat test your trees weekly in early spring by tapping a branch on a piece of paper. Using a magnifying glass or 10x hand lens, look for very small, translucent yellowish mites moving across the paper. If you see more than fifty mites per beat test, you should treat the tree with an acaracide like neem oil. If you are designing a new landscape or are making changes in your current scheme, consider planting a resistant species like Japanese white pine.

Practicing good sanitation is an environmentally sound and effective means of controlling disease and insect pests in your landscape. Take the time to dispose of debris that may harbor overwintering pests. When replacing problem plants or adding new plants to your landscape plan, consider using pest-resistant varieties.

March is a good month for tending to your lawn. When reseeding, select pest- and disease- resistant tall fescue. Rake up debris and dead leaves that have accumulated during the winter months. Sharpen mower blades and start mowing early to discourage annual weeds that will be going to seed. Know the proper mowing height of the turf you are planting. Bluegrass and red fescue should be mowed to 2-3″, tall fescue to 2-4″, and zoysia and Bermuda grass to 1″.

You can reduce the need for insecticides in your landscape by using plants that attract beneficial insects. Ladybird beetles, hover flies, lacewings, spiders, and parasitic wasps are natural enemies of plant damaging insects like aphids, mites, whitefly, scale, and thrips.

Plant Attracts
common yarrow ladybird beetles, wasps, hover flies
coriander lacewings, hover flies, braconid wasps, spiders
cosmos lacewings, overflies, braconid wasps, spiders
fennel lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, spiders
Queen Anne’s lace lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, braconid wasps
spearmint lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, spiders
sweet alyssum hover flies, spiders
hover flies, braconid wasps

Don’t let the first warm days of spring tempt you to put your houseplants outdoors. Tropical plants are easily injured by temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so wait until the weather has settled to move them.

Integrated Pest Management

As temperatures begin to warm in late winter, inspect your hemlocks for the presence of eriophyid rust mites. These plant sucking arachnids can cause needles to turn bronze and drop prematurely. To monitor these insects, place a sheet of white paper under a branch and tap vigorously. With a hand lens or magnifying glass, look for tiny, yellow, wedge-shaped mites on the paper. Also look for larger, fast-moving predatory mites that may be feeding on the pesty eriophyid mite. If you do not see any predatory mites, and if the beat test count is 50 or higher, you may want to treat the hemlock with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Only use horticultural oil if temperatures will be above freezing for 48 hours following application.

Wood ashes from your fireplace or wood stove are a rich source of potassium for the plants in your garden. Potassium is a major plant nutrient that is easily leached from the soil by rain. By following a few simple guidelines, you can do something good for your plants and practice an effective recycling technique. First, have your soil tested for pH level. Wood ashes are alkaline and should not be added to soil that is already testing in the alkaline range of 5.8 to 6.5. Do not use ashes from chemically treated or lead-painted wood, as these could harm your plants. Also, avoid using wood ashes around acid-loving plants like blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Apply the ashes evenly, and if possible, mix them into the soil. An average cord of wood will yield about twenty pounds of ash, which may be applied to a thousand square feet of soil. In flower beds, a good rule of thumb is one-half to one pound of ash per year per plant.

Inspect the twigs of your apple, crabapple, and cherry trees for the egg masses of the eastern tent caterpillar. The small, shiny black masses resemble Styrofoam and contain from 150 to 400 eggs. They are found near the ends of branches and can easily be pruned out. The caterpillars usually hatch in early March when the buds begin to open, spin silken tents in the crotch of the trees, and then emerge to begin feeding on the leaves. Large populations can be devastating and may defoliate the tree. Newly planted trees are especially vulnerable to stress from defoliation. If you miss the egg masses, hand picking is the best control of eastern tent caterpillars. Remove the webs by scraping them with gloved hands or by twirling them onto a stick and disposing of the nest.

Take the time to remove winter annuals like chickweed, wintercress, and annual bluegrass before they go to seed. Hand removal now will help reduce weed growth in the spring, and will cut down on the need for herbicides.

If you receive a houseplant for Valentine’s Day, it is a good idea to quarantine it from your other houseplants for a couple of weeks. It may host a harmful, unnoticed insect population that could spread to other houseplants in your home. At the end of two weeks, inspect your new plant carefully before placing it in its new location. If you discover a pest problem, such as aphids, whiteflies, or mites, treat your plant with 1% horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

February is a good time to remove tree branches that are crowded, broken, diseased, or dead. Also, remove suckers to improve the tree’s vigor. If you suspect a tree is affected by a vascular disease, it is a good idea to sterilize your pruning tools by dipping them in a solution of disinfectant or bleach between cuts. This will prevent spreading the disease to other parts of the tree.

Integrated Pest Management

Firewood that has been stacked outside for a long period of time is an ideal habitat for animals. Restack your wood periodically to discourage nesting. Don’t be alarmed if you discover small insects such as carpenter ants, termites, and bark beetles. None of these insects can survive the trip indoors to damage wood in your home. Termites cannot survive when taken away from their colony; wood eating beetles and carpenter ants cannot use wood unless it has a high moisture content.

When purchasing seeds or plant material, select varieties that are known for their resistance to insects and diseases. Resistance does not guarantee a plant’s immunity to pests or diseases, but the plant is usually able to survive pest attacks without any long-term damage.

Cold winter temperatures can cause color changes in the foliage of evergreens, producing showy tans to browns on arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis; bronze on Siberian cypress, Microbiata decussata; and purples on some junipers like ‘Bar Harbor’, ‘Wiltonii’, and ‘Andorra’. This is a natural, seasonal occurrence, and when spring temperatures warm up, the normal colors of evergreens will return.

Pine tip blight, caused by Sphaeropsis sapinea, is a fungal disease which affects the new growth of more than 20 species of two and three-needled pines including Austrian, mugo, ponderosa, Monterey, and Scots pines. It takes advantage of older trees that are under stress from various factors including drought, insects, mechanical injury, hail, or strong winds. Damage is usually first evident on the lower crown and can kill current-year shoots, major branches, and eventually entire trees. Conspicuous symptoms on the new growth include stunted shoots, brown needles, and small black fungal fruiting structures at the base of needles or on the scales of the second-year cones. Pine tip blight thrives in wet spring weather; winter is a good time to take some preventative measures against the spread of this fungus. Prune out all dying and dead branches and remove infected cones since the spores of this fungus overwinter on them. The dry cones can be used as kindling in your fireplace. Also, consider planting pines that are resistant to tip blight such as Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergiana; white pine, Pinus strobus; or loblolly pine, Pinus taeda.

Give our environment a helping hand by recycling your holiday tree. By removing the boughs and cutting them into smaller branches, you can provide your perennial garden with a natural, biodegradable mulch that will in turn help prevent injury to dormant plants during the freezing and thawing of the winter months. The trunk can be used as a trellis for annual vines next spring.

When starting seeds indoors for spring plantings, you may want to follow a few simple steps to help prevent damping-off, a term used to describe a number of soil borne diseases of plants and seed borne fungi. Pythium and Phytophthora are two common causes of damping-off. Seeds, roots, and stems can rot quickly after sprouting as a result of overwatering and from cool, wet, soil conditions. The best defense against damping-off is good sanitation. Before reusing old containers, wash them in a 1% bleach solution and use a sterile, porous soil mix for planting. Good cultural practices will help as well. Make sure to use containers with drainage holes, avoid overcrowding plants and overcovering seeds, and allow the soil surface to dry between waterings