Lyn Chimera

Don’t Get Ticked

by cathym on May 13, 2019

by Lyn Chimera

Appearance and relative sizes of adult male and female, nymph, and larval ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Photo courtesy U.S. federal government Center for Disease Control (CDC)

I recently attended “Don’t Get Ticked,” an informational program about ticks, conducted by Lynn Braband, who heads the NYSIPM (Integrated Pest Management) program at Cornell. He covered the myths and facts. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. I for one don’t take tick protection seriously enough, but will from now on. Lyme is now the most common vector-borne disease in the U. S., so it needs to be taken seriously.

Ticks have eight legs, so are not insects but related to spiders and mites. There are three types of ticks in our area:

The American dog tick, which carries Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and prefers grasslands.

The black legged tick (deer tick), which carries Lyme disease and prefers woods and wood edges.

The Lone Star tick, which arrives on migrating birds as our climate warms and prefers dry areas.

All these ticks spread a variety of diseases, but it is only the deer tick that carries Lyme.

Ticks hitch a ride on people and animals through an “ambush” technique. They can’t jump, fly or drop from trees so they rely on grabbing on as you pass by. A tick will crawl to the end of a leaf or blade of grass from ground level to one-and-a-half feet, hold on with their back legs, and reach forward with their front two elongated legs to grab a hold on whatever passes by. 

Walking in the middle of paths so you don’t brush up against vegetation is a good way to avoid these hitch-hikers. Tucking long pants into socks is another good method. DEET is the most effective tick pesticide. Braband suggests putting all clothing in a dryer on high as soon as you come in. The heat will kill the ticks. He also recommends taking a shower within half an hour of coming in. This can possibly wash off ticks as well as give you the opportunity to check yourself.

If you do get a tick on you the most important thing about removing it is NOT to squeeze the body or head. That just forces more of their fluids into you. Use very thin tweezers and place them between the head and your skin. Pull gently. There is also a tick removal device available at drugstores. If you want to check the tick for Lyme disease, put in a container in the freezer or drop it in a container with alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill it. Then take the tick to your doctor or the county health department.

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

  • Deer are an important location for ticks to reproduce, however they don’t carry Lyme Disease.
  • June and July are the highest months for tick activity. Although they can be active all year long, any day it’s above 40 degrees.
  • Tick larvae don’t initially have Lyme. They have to take a blood meal on an infected host like a deer mouse.
  • Deer mice are not the only host animals. Chipmunks, squirrels and other small mammals can be the vectors. 
  • Most ticks have a two-year life cycle.
  • Wearing light colored clothes makes ticks easier to spot.
  • A tick does NOT have to be on you for 36 hours for you to become infected, however the longer it’s on you the higher your chance is of getting Lyme.
  •  Ticks inject a numbing agent so you can’t feel them bite.
  • To check if you have ticks in your yard, drag a two-by-three-foot piece of white flannel or corduroy across the area, then check it for ticks.

An interesting panel discussion and Q&A followed the presentation. The overall impression I was left with was you have to be your own advocate. Dress properly, use protection, avoid potential tick habitat and check yourself daily. Many doctors are not up on Lyme disease symptoms, which can vary, so you have to be perseverant if you suddenly become ill.

An outstanding website with all the information on ticks, their life cycle, and bite prevention is nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/.

For a Claymation video on ticks go to dontgettickedny.org.

Lyn Chimera is an Erie County Master Gardener. 

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Almanac: May – June 2019

by cathym on May 8, 2019

Here come the seedlings

“So much to do, so little time” could be the mantra for this time of the year. How lucky gardeners are whose work is such a joy! 

When buying plants, choose compact, healthy specimens with unopened buds, or plan to remove the flowers before planting so energy goes into establishing good roots. Check for chewing and puncture wounds on both sides of leaves. And yes… read the plant tags. Place plants in the soil at the proper depth. Keep in mind “right plant, right place” to avoid disappointment later. Be sure to spider (spread) out the roots. And don’t forget to try at least one new plant! Consider a native to help pollinators and birds.

Grew plants from seed? Be sure to harden them off and to place collars around them so cut worms don’t make you cry after all your work. Direct-sowing seeds into the garden soil? Be sure to thin the seedlings to prevent crowding and competition for light, water, and food.

Still have foliage from spring bulbs? Leave it so the leaves can re-nourish the bulbs for next year. Your annuals and perennials planted nearby will soon hide them. Want to divide or move your spring bulbs? Do it after the foliage dies.

In early May to early June you can cut back perennials such asphlox, bee balm, sedum, asters, and goldenrod by one-third to one-half. (This is called the “Chelsea Chop,” named after the flower show that takes place at this time in London.) The plants will flower later and be more compact. You might try only cutting back some of them so there are blooms over a longer period of time. While you are pruning you can cut back spring flowering perennials such as pulmonaria, brunnera, and perennial geraniums after they bloom. They will reward you with fresh leaves and sometimes more flowers. And while you are pruning cut back to the ground one-third of the oldest stems of weigela, forsythias, and spiraea. Then remove the wilted seed heads from azaleas and rhododendrons so energy goes to the foliage rather than to the making of seeds.

While you are at it, place stakes next to taller flowering plants or put other supports over them so they can grow up through them without damage to foliage and flowers later in the season. Rethink at least one of your gardens. Begin to make changes now. 

Check the Cornell Recommended Vegetable list for suggested and disease resistant varieties of vegetables and fruits. When the soil is warm, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (soil, not air!), you will be able to plant tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers (all relatives, by the way) as well as cole crops, beans, and root crops. If May was too warm you can try reseeding spinach. Be sure to try Swiss chard both for its edibility and its beauty. This is also a good time to plant dahlias, gladiolas, lilies, begonias, and cannas.

Continue to cut or snap off your asparagus spears at ground level. Remove rhubarb flower stalks so the plant energy doesn’t go to the seeds. Pull each edible stalk from the base and twist to harvest, but don’t harvest more than half of the stalks. 

Need to move a tree or shrub? Evaluate the new site to make sure it will have the best growing conditions for success: the right light, soil pH, and exposure. Ideally you will have pruned the roots several months ago to encourage the tree or shrub to produce some new feeder roots. Make sure the root ball is not dry and is covered during the move. Prepare the new hole in advance of the move. (See Cornell University Information Bulletin 24 for more information.) Keep newly planted trees, shrubs, vegetables, perennials, and flowers well watered (about one inch per week). This is also a good time to make softwood cuttings, before plant tissue hardens.

Put diatomaceous earth at the base of your hostas. Since slugs can climb up the leaves from the ground you may consider pruning back hosta leaves that arch to touch the ground. 

Still have a lawn? Mow lawn at least three inches high. This encourages deeper, healthier root growth. Leave grass clippings on the lawn toreturn nutrients to the soil. You can skip a spring lawn feeding if desired as the late autumn feeding is far more important. A top dressing of compost is an excellent and natural fertilizer. For optimal pre-emergent crabgrass control, do not apply until soil is close to 60 degrees. Crabgrass doesn’t germinate until the soil temperature two inches deep is between 60 and 64 degrees. Applying when the ground is too cold is a waste of money and chemicals. 

Don’t let your vegetable and garden waste go to waste! If you are not composting this is a good time to start. Consider worm composting for indoors or begin composting outdoors. When it is finished you will be thrilled when adding your compost to all of your garden beds as well as a quarter inch to your lawn.

Thin out excess immature fruit from your fruit trees to ensure fruit of a reasonable size and to keep the trees strong. Then gradually move your houseplants outdoors when night temperatures are above 50 degrees. 

Whew! If you do all this, you will have an incredible garden. 

—Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County

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Almanac: September-October 2018

by cathym on September 5, 2018

What To Do in the Garden in September & October

Planting spring flowering bulbs

AUTUMN GARDENING CHORES
Remove, pick up, and discard any diseased plants or leaves. Disinfect your pruners as you move from plant to plant to prevent spreading fungal spores, bacteria, phytoplasma, and viruses.

Divide early-summer–blooming perennials that have become overgrown, show diminished bloom, or have a bare spot in the clump center (doughnut). Do this in early fall while there is still enough time for the roots to settle in for the winter.

Deadhead (cut off the flower/seed heads) plants that seed freely unless you want seedlings. This will cut down on your weeding next year. Leave the seed heads of astilbe, black-eyed-Susan, coneflower, and daisies intact to provide food for birds and winter interest.

Remove weeds to prevent both perennial and annual weeds from getting a head start in the spring.

Add compost to your beds to improve soil texture and promote beneficial microbes to prepare the garden for next spring.

Spread fallen leaves to serve as a protective mulch for your plants.

Don’t heavily prune trees or shrubs at this time. Pruning now may prevent hardening off and encourage new growth that can be killed back during the winter.

Don’t prune lavender, azaleas, viburnums, rhododendrons, forsythias, or spiraea.

BULBS, TUBERS, AND CORMS
Plant spring flowering bulbs from mid-September through October to allow bulbs to set strong roots—resulting in more successful blooms.

It’s difficult to tell the top from the bottom of some bulbs. The skin is loose at the top and attached at the bottom. If you can’t tell, plant them sideways.

To deter moles, voles, and squirrels, ring the planting area with a mixture of soil and gravel or put small chicken wire between the bulbs and soil surface.

Plant bulbs two-to-three times as deep as their height, or a little deeper for naturalizing varieties.

Dig and store summer-blooming tubers such as caladium and elephant ear before frost and tuberous begonias, cannas, and dahlias after the foliage is blackened by frost.

FRUITS – VEGETABLES – HERBS
Pot up some of your garden herbs and bring them in the house for fresh herbs during the winter.

Cover plants if early frost is expected.

Harvest frost-tender veggies and herbs such as basil, tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplants, squash, and pumpkins.

Don’t wait too long before picking pears—they ripen from the inside out. Take a fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally. If the fruit comes off the branch it is time to pick your pears.

Cut off the growing tip of each tomato stem to prevent new flowering. The energy will then go into the tomatoes already on the vine.

Continue watering into the autumn so developing vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers mature.

Allow winter squash such as butternut and acorn to fully ripen on the vine. The rind will be hard and not easily punctured. Harvest before the frost.

Harvest onions when the bulbs are mature and the tops start to turn yellow. Store in a dry place.

Plant radishes, kale and spinach for your last crops of the season.

Plant your largest garlic cloves around Columbus Day about three inches deep.

Plant cover crops or spread composted manure or compost over unplanted areas.

Mulch carrot rows for winter harvesting.

LAWNS
September is the best time to fertilize your lawn or seed a new one. Remember to water newly seeded areas regularly to keep the soil moist. Choose high quality seed appropriate for your site.

Overseed bare spots in the lawn. Filling in bare spots helps prevent weeds in those areas next year.

Check your lawn for grubs by lifting up about one square foot of sod. If there are more than 10–12 grubs per foot you may want to treat the lawn.

GENERAL

Don’t spread mulch until the ground freezes.

Trees, shrubs or any newly planted perennials should be  kept well-watered until the soil freezes.

In late September, bring in any houseplants that have been outside or annuals you want to winter over. Give the foliage a good soapy bath and check them carefully for insects. Keep them isolated from your other houseplants for two to three weeks. Do this is before you have to turn on the furnace. This cuts down on the shock of moving inside.

Harvest sunflowers when the seeds are firm. (Cover with mesh if birds are a problem.) Cut the heads with about a foot of stem. Hang in a dry area to complete seed ripening.

Watch out for Asian ladybugs, stink bugs and western conifer seed bugs that enter homes looking for warmth and shelter. Caulking and weather stripping helps prevent their entry. They are not harmful and can be vacuumed up. Empty the vacuum bag to dispose of them.

This is the time for fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea). Spraying is not necessary. Consider hosing down the webs to disturb the cycle.

Take pictures of your gardens. Make notes for next year’s gardens now—what worked, what didn’t; what to add, remove, or move. You think you will remember next year, but you won’t!

Plant winter pansies, ornamental kale, and mums. In October bring some pumpkins and gourds to the landscape for seasonal interest.

—Lyn Chimera and Carol Ann Harlos, Erie County Master Gardeners

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