What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA
Chinch Bugs, Caterpillars, and Whiteflies
June is the month we really start to see changes in the landscape. Some of these changes are pronounced as many of our plants begin their flowering or fruiting seasons. Unfortunately, with all good things, there has to be a little bad. Fertilizer restrictions begin; watering our plants and lawns becomes problematic. Chinch bugs start devastating our turf grasses. Caterpillars munch on our vegetables and flowering plants, and whitefly populations explode. Managing these problems in a timely manner is the key to maintaining a healthy landscape. In this article, I will go over several simple solutions that can help you keep your garden and landscape thriving.
Beginning June 1st through September 30th, our fertilizer blackout period commences. During this time, retailers and garden centers are not allowed to sell fertilizers for lawns or landscape plants. You will still be able to purchase fertilizers for your vegetable gardens and fruit trees, but these products will have to be labeled exclusively for them. Homeowners will also be restricted from the application of these products during the same time frame, even if you purchased the products prior to the blackout. The reason behind the blackout period is to prevent the leaching of nitrogen into our waterways. While I agree, this is a noble cause; the harm to our landscapes created by the lack of nutrients applied during the growing season is unavoidable.
Plants need their nutrition just as you need to eat to stay healthy. Unless you have made two applications of granular fertilizer since the beginning of the year, and plan on making two more after September 30th, then your lawn and plants will not receive the recommended amount of nutrition they require. During this blackout period, you may apply products like Ironite, Chelated Iron, Minor Essential Elements, and Potassium Nitrate. Although these products are components of fertilizers, they are not covered by the ban and can still be applied. Applications of these products will cover the minor nutritional needs of your plants, but you will still have to worry about keeping your plants hydrated.
Proper watering during the summer months can be just as challenging as feeding your landscape. Once our temperatures reach ninety degrees, our turf grass and plants dry out very quickly. As our plants reach the wilting point, damage begins. Even with a sprinkler system running at peak performance, you can only water two days a week. I have seen lawns and plants watered in the morning, start to wilt by afternoon. One way to stop this drying out of the landscape is to consider using a product called, Hydretain. Hydretain is a liquid product that comes packaged to use with your garden hose. Just hook it up and spray the material over your lawn and ornamental plant beds. This should only take about five minutes, then water in with a quarter-inch of water. Save the empty Hydretain bottle to use later when applying other lawn products or fertilizers.
Once the Hydretain is watered into the root zone, it attaches to the roots and pulls water vapor out of the air, directing this additional water to your plants. Some pest-control companies offer Hydretain as an add-on service to their client’s regular pest-control applications to help keep their landscapes from drying out. Hydretain should be re-applied every three months. Keeping your lawn and plants properly watered is very important, especially when pest pressures present themselves. Most landscapes can withstand a lack of water, but when pests like chinch bugs and sod web worms attack at the same time, damage can occur very quickly.
Chinch bugs start attacking lawns in early June and continue throughout the summer months. St. Augustine lawns are their primary source of food. The chinch bug feeds on the grass sheaths by piercing and sucking the plant juices causing the grass to yellow out and then die. Central Florida will see seven to ten generations of chinch bugs each year giving you very little time to apply the proper controls. I strongly suggest you hire a pest-control company to apply these products for you. Professional companies know which products work to gain control of these pests. Homeowners usually only apply products after damage has occurred and then continue to use the same products each time they spray. This leads to the risk of resistance to that material by the chinch bugs in the next generation. You must alternate controls to eliminate these destructive pests.
If you are planning to treat your lawn yourself, then you can use the following product rotation to control these pests. In early June, treat your lawn with either Bifenthrin or Liquid Sevin. Make sure you have read the entire label before making any application. In mid to late July, you will need to purchase a product containing Arena. Look for Arena 0.25 in thirty-pound bags. You will be able to apply this product with a fertilizer spreader, then water with at least a quarter-inch of water to move the material into the root zone. Repeat these applications every six weeks to maintain control of chinch bugs. If you follow my directions, then you will get a head start on controlling these pests before they get the chance to destroy your lawn. Both of the products I listed above will also rid your lawn of army and sod web worms. For caterpillars in the garden, apply Dipel or Thuricide every two weeks. Whiteflies on ornamental plants or in the garden are a different problem we have to discuss.
Whiteflies look like tiny white moths and are found on many ornamental plants and in vegetable gardens. These little pests seem to be attracted to succulent new growth, and once they have found a good food source; they do not want to leave. You may notice them as you brush up alongside one of your plants and fifty or more of these insects will be seen fluttering around. Whiteflies damage your plants by sucking plant juices causing your plants to wither and die. There are several varieties of whiteflies you need to be aware of. The most damaging variety we have seen, lives along the coast and is called the Spiraling Whitefly.
Spiraling Whiteflies can do severe damage to trees and shrubs. The first signs of an infestation are the sticky substances they excrete as they feed on your plants. In some instances, sidewalks, patio furniture, and plants low to the ground are covered with a thick black coating of this material. The only control I recommend for these pests is a product called Safari. Safari is a true systemic insecticide and is applied as a foliar spray, a soil drench, or by trunk injection. Unfortunately, this product is expensive, and I recommend you seek out professional services to treat your plants or trees. However, if you want to do this application yourself, then I will tell you the trade names of the products you need to purchase.
For non-fruiting trees and shrubs you will need to purchase Core tech, Safari, Bayer Advance Twelve Month Tree or Shrub Care, or Meridian. Read the labels and apply the recommended amount as determined by the height of the plant you are treating. Safari and Core Tech require only one application per year, but you should still monitor your plants for signs of re-infestation. Meridian should be used bi-monthly, and the Bayer product is effective for about six months. The key is to get these products into the plants before they are infested. I like to give these products at least thirty days to work after my first application. Do not use these products on fruit-bearing trees or vegetables. For fruiting trees and vegetables use a product called Sevin. Severely infested vegetable plants should be pulled from the garden.
I know there is a lot going on, but if you follow my directions, you will stay ahead of the pests. Monitor your plants regularly for pests and take appropriate action when insects are spotted. Thank you for your support and until next time, remember without plants, we would not be here!