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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mosquitoes and Zika virus: What you should know

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

Mosquito season is just around the corner for us here in Minnesota. Most of us know the drill when mosquitoes arrive; wear protective clothes and use repellents to protect ourselves from these biting menaces.

There is added concern this summer as we not only worry about mosquitoes but are also anxious about the Zika virus (Zika). Zika has been talked about a lot in the media especially with the upcoming summer Olympics in Brazil. People want to know whether they are at risk here and what can they do to protect themselves.

Fortunately, the threat of Zika in Minnesota right now is negligible. In fact Zika has not been found locally in any state in the U.S so far. However, the potential does exist for the virus to be a problem in this country. The mosquito primarily associated with transmitting Zika, the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is found in the southern and eastern areas of the U.S. but is not known in Minnesota. A second species, the Asian tiger mosquito, A. albopictus, has also been implicated in transmission of Zika; it too is found in warmer areas of the country but is not established in Minnesota.
Yellow fever mosquito, the primary vector of Zika virus.
Photo: Unknown

The biggest risk to Minnesotans are to those that travel to countries where Zika is known to be present - primarily South and Central America into Mexico as well as some areas of the Caribbean. There have been 17 cases of Minnesotans contracting Zika due to travel to these areas.

Fortunately in most cases, the symptoms of Zika are mild and many people may not even realize they were ever infected. The symptoms people do experience are usually fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). This illness normally lasts for several days to a week after they have been bitten by an infected mosquito.

However, a more important concern is the potential for pregnant women to become infected. Zika can be passed on from the mother to the fetus. There is increasing evidence that there is a link between Zika and microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with heads and brains smaller than expected. There is even additional evidence that infected men can sexually transmit Zika to woman. Additionally, there is a link between Zika and Guillain-Barré syndrome

The current range of the yellow fever mosquito in the U.S.
and the potential risk for major U.S. cities.  Photo: NASA
If you are staying put in Minnesota and not traveling out of the state, your risk to Zika is extremely minimal. Protect yourself from mosquitoes as you would normally. Keep in mind that there is a risk of other mosquito transmitted diseases in Minnesota, such as west Nile virus.

If you are planning an international trip, be aware of where Zika is found and take the proper precautions if you visit such a country. Presently, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika but there are steps you can take to help prevent mosquito bites. Use personal protection, including long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and repellents, like DEET. Be sure to protect yourself during the day as that is when mosquitoes that transmit Zika are active.

If you are a pregnant woman protect yourself against mosquitoes in Zika risk areas. Practice safe sex to protect against potentially passing on Zika to her from her partner by correctly using condoms during any sexual activity. Abstaining from sex is the safest option to protect against Zika.

For more information about Zika, see the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website.

Design for U: Protect tree roots and create great garden spaces

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator

Q: The roots of our shade trees are becoming more exposed as they age and the grass is is not growing well beneath the trees. What can we do to take care of the trees and avoid damaging the roots with the lawn mower?

Small trees and shrubs benefit from being mulched.
Spring bulbs are a good option for some early bloom.
Photo: D. Waldoch

A: Protecting the roots of mature trees is important. Mowing and other activities may potentially wound these roots exposing them to pests and disease. Likewise, grass can be difficult to grow under trees as it is often shaded out and becomes thin. Grass also competes with tree roots for moisture and nutrients, and - as you know - can be challenging to mow properly.

Protect the roots by mulching them with wood mulch. Remove any lawn grass growing between / over the roots. The minimum recommended diameter of a mulch ring is 6-feet, but you may certainly go larger. Likewise, a kidney-shaped form or some other unique shape may better fit your site and aesthetic. You might also choose to plant shade-loving plants in the mulch and create a great shade garden. Attached is an example a large tree that is mulched and planted underneath with shade plants, and a second example of smaller mulch trees / beds planted with spring bulbs.
Take advantage of mulched tree roots
and create a beautiful shade garden.
Photo: D. Waldoch

Clavate tortoise beetles in gardens

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

An interesting insect has been found in some gardens recently. The clavate tortoise beetle, Plagiometriona clavata, is about a ¼ inch long or a little smaller, mostly round, and turtle-like. A thin, opaque, shield-like structure extends from the body and covers the head. There is a distinct brown figure on its back that somewhat resembles an animal.
Clavate tortoise beetle on tomato; they cause little, if any
damage, to garden plants.  Photo: Steve Katovich

This tortoise beetle has been reported this year feeding on tomato and eggplant. They can also feed on other Solanum spp., such as potatoes. In the past, the clavate tortoise beetle has been found on Chinese lantern. The literature also records this insect on jimson weed Datura stramonium and ground cherries, Physalis spp. When these beetles feed, they create roundish holes in the interior of the leaves.

Fortunately, this beetle typically occurs in just small numbers and rarely, if ever, causes significant defoliation to plants. If these beetles are found in your garden, physical removal should be the only necessary control. They are mostly just a curiosity.

Nuisance forest tent caterpillars

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

People in some parts of central and northern Minnesota have been finding themselves inundated by forest tent caterpillar, also called armyworms. The caterpillars feed during May on a wide variety of trees and shrubs, especially aspen, birch, linden, and oak. As they become fully grown, they move down the trees and start crawling on the ground to do some last minute feeding and looking for places to pupate.
Forest tent caterpillars crawling up a house; unfortunately,
there are few good options when these insects are numerous.
Photo: Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension

This brings them onto lawns, gardens, homes and other building, and essential any object they encounter. Interestingly while people generally did not notice forest tent caterpillars feeding in trees this year, it is hard to miss large numbers moving across a property. Unfortunately, a resident’s options are limited. For those found in lawns, they are not injuring the grass and treatment is not necessary.

However, when they get on buildings, people can try physical removal, e.g. taking a broom and sweeping them off and/or spray the exterior with an insecticide treatment, such as permethrin. Be sure that the product is labeled for use around the outside of buildings.  Be extremely careful when making an application near water so pesticide does not move into surface water.

However, if there are a lot of caterpillars, neither of these methods will completely control them. People will ultimately have to patient until they eventually go away on their own.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

MDA Weed of the Month: Multiflora Rose

From the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Minnesota Noxious Weed Program

Multiflora rose plant covered in white flowers
Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) invades new areas through seed dispersal
when animals consume the fruit and spread the seed,
and it also spreads by the elongated stems rooting to the ground.
Photo: MN Dept. of Agriculture  
May’s weed of the month is an aggressively spreading, thorny plant. Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is native to eastern Asia. It was introduced to North America as a rootstock for ornamental roses, and for erosion control, living fencerows, and wildlife habitat. Because of its highly invasive nature, it escaped cultivation and has become a serious threat to habitats where it outcompetes native plants and desirable agricultural forages. Read more ....

Friday, May 20, 2016

Spring leaf drop and anthracnose

M. Grabowski, UMN Extension Educator

Fallen ash leaves infected with anthracnose.
M. Grabowski, UMN Extension 
Lawns scattered with fallen tree leaves in spring and early summer often point to infection of shade trees by anthracnose. Many common shade trees can be infected with anthracnose including ash, oak, and maple. Anthracnose is caused by several different fungi. Each fungus infects a particular type of tree. The fungal pathogens that cause anthracnose infect young developing leaves during cool wet weather. Symptoms include dark brown to black water soaked spots on leaves, curled or cupped leaves, and leaf drop in spring and early summer.

There is no management needed for trees suffering from anthracnose. Although the disease can be somewhat unsightly, it is only a minor stress on the tree. As the weather becomes warm and dry, tree leaves are able to mature without infection. Once leaves are mature they are largely resistant to the anthracnose fungi. Even trees that have dropped many leaves due to infection will produce a new flush of leaves and recover with warm summer weather.

Four-lined plant bugs are now active

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

If you have perennials in your garden, start monitoring for four-lined plant bugs now, especially if you have had problems with them in the past. These insects are bright red and 1/16th inch long when they first hatch. The immature nymphs and adults feed with piercing-sucking mouthparts which creates small, dark, circular, sunken spots on leaves. To determine whether these insects are present in your garden, watch for both four-lined plants bugs and their damage.
To the causal observer, these wild geraniums look pest free.
  Photo: Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension

Fortunately, while four-lined plant bug damage can affect the plant’s appearance, it normally does not seriously injure them. How much damage is deemed unacceptable is subjective and will vary with different gardeners.

Early detection is crucial for effective four-lined plant bug management. It is easy for gardeners to overlook the damage until it becomes too severe. Your goal should be to find the insects before they cause unacceptable damage. As you long as you do not find them feeding on your plants, you do not need to take any action. Even if you find that they are present, if only small numbers are present, it may not be necessary to treat them. You can also base your action on how severe their feeding has been in your garden in the past.

If you discover their presence, you have several options. Insecticidal soap, a low impact product,
However, when examined more closely, these same plants
reveal some minor feeding and a four-lined plant bug nymph.
Photo: Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension
would work reasonably well against the young nymphs but it is necessary to hit the insects directly. Insecticidal soap also does not have any residual activity so repeat applications will probably be necessary. Insecticidal soap is not very effective on older nymphs and adults. Pyrethrins, another insecticide without any residual, can be effective as long as you hit the insects directly. There are also a variety of residual insecticidal insecticides, such as permethrin, that can be sprayed to protect the appearance of the plants.

For more information, see Four-lined plant bugs in hone gardens.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The value of lawn weeds for pollinators: not all weeds are created equal

Karl Foord, Extension Educator

In my travels around the state of Minnesota regardless of rural or urban, I have encountered a significant lack of flowers. Because pollinators rely on flowers for sustenance, this lack can lead to nutritional problems for pollinators. This is why Dr. Marla Spivak is always encouraging people to plant flowers as part of the solution to the “pollinator crisis”.

The lawn is practically omnipresent in the landscapes of any building be it home residence, public, or commercial. As a culture, we have evolved into thinking that one’s lawn should be maintained in such a way that it is of playing surface quality meaning there are no broadleaf weeds present, and that the lawn is continuously verdant as a result of the choice of grass varieties, as well as fertilizer and irrigation regimens.

One potential way to address the “pollinator crisis” personally is to accept broadleaf plants (perceived as weeds) to establish in one’s lawn. Given the mindset, this creates aesthetic problems. However, if one wishes to contribute to pollinator nutrition and accept changes in appearance, the lawn offers such an opportunity.

Pollinator Nutrition

Plants contribute to pollinator nutrition by: 1) providing sugary nectar predominantly as an energy source for the high demands required for flight, and 2) providing pollen as a source of protein and other nutrients for the development of their young. However, there is significant variation among plants in regards to: 1) both the quantity of and the quality of nectar provided, usually in terms of sugar concentration, and 2) the crude protein and amino acid content of the pollen.

In this article, we will examine the nectar and pollen characteristics of two lawn “weeds”, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens). Less information is available for creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea) and violet species, so these will only be mentioned in passing.


Dandelions are one of the most successful plants in having adapted to the mowing regimes inherent in our lawn maintenance practices. As a plant, dandelion has characteristics that lend to and detract from its value as a pollinator plant. As one of the first flowering plants in the spring, dandelion provides a plentiful source of nectar. According to the following table, "Nectar and Pollen Characteristics of some Commonly Encountered Lawn Weeds", the dandelion flower provides between 3.7 and 7.4 µl (micro-liters) of nectar daily. In comparison with other plants, this is a respectable quantity, as we shall see. In addition, the sugar concentration of dandelion nectar varies from 42.6 to 55.1% which is also a respectable if not high percentage. Notice the variation in nectar production in one year.

Twenty percent (20%) protein content level is considered beneficial to bees; however, the pollen protein content level of dandelion is only 15%. Pollen with crude protein levels below 20% have been shown to contribute to health problems for honey bees. Dandelion pollen also lacks four of the essential amino acids required for protein synthesis. Therefore, bees feeding on dandelion pollen alone would fare poorly. In conclusion, dandelion makes a significant contribution to pollinators in the form of early spring nectar, but pollinators need to find pollen with a higher crude protein content and a complete essential amino acid complement in order to be healthy.

Note: Superscript numbers refer to references cited below.

Dutch White Clover

In contrast, Dutch white clover pollen has an excellent crude protein content level of 25% and provides all essential amino acids. However, Dutch white clover provides nectar in smaller volumes and with a lower sugar concentration per flower than dandelion (see above table) therefore pollinators feeding on white clover will have to work harder to meet their energy needs by visiting more flowers. In addition, white clover blooms later than dandelion and thus does not provide a compliment to dandelion nectar and pollen. According to Southwick et. al in "Nectar Production, Composition, Energetics, and Pollinator Attractiveness in Spring Flowers of Western New York", a given population of flowers may vary significantly in nectar quantity and quality. This does not take into account withdrawals by other insects that can be happening continually. This will likely shift the mean nectar quantity per flower in a downwards direction. From the pollinators perspective, the probabilities of greater nectar reward are reduced.

Creeping Charlie and Violets

To clarify this point, consider the nectar volumes of Dutch white clover and creeping charlie (see above table). The range of nectar volumes encountered for creeping charlie is greater than that of white clover, but the mean nectar quantity encountered for clover is more than twice what it is for creeping charlie. From a probability perspective the pollinator captures greater nectar rewards from white clover than creeping charlie in spite of the latter’s higher sugar content.

I was unable to find nectar and pollen data for our common violet (Viola sororia), but to the degree that plants in the same genus retain similar characteristics, please consider the following data. A Brazilian violet (Viola subdimidiata) contained less than average nectar volume and a significantly smaller range of nectar quantities than nectar of creeping charlie (see above table). In addition, close to 40% of the flowers sampled contained no nectar at all. If our common violet has flowers with nectar properties similar to the Brazilian species, it will rank relatively low on the pollinator attractiveness scale.


Each flower is has its own nectar production and sugar concentration profile. What any individual plant provides in any one moment in time will be affected by a series of weather conditions as well as its recent visitation history. Nonetheless the averages permit ranking of flowers relative to nectar volumes created and sugar concentrations present. This comes down to the amount of energy that a pollinator can gather from any particular plant.

Each flower will also have a pollen profile based on crude protein percentage and amino acid content. The nutritional qualities of pollen continue to be a subject of interest and it is likely that other characteristics will come to light as research proceeds. Variation among the reported nutritional qualities of pollen exists, but this variation is significantly less than that encountered for nectar quantity and quality variation. This appears to be due more to variation in research technique, and much less so to environmental influences (reference #s 6 &7).


1. T.I. Szabo, "Nectar Secretion in Dandelion". Journal of Apicultural Research, 1984 Vol. 23 (No. 4) pp. 204-208
2. Edward E. Southwick, Gerald M. Loper and Steven E. Sadwick, "Nectar Production, Composition, Energetics, and Pollinator Attractiveness in Spring Flowers of Western New York". American Journal of Botany, Vol. 68, No. 7 (Aug., 1981), pp. 994-1002
3. P.G Willmer, A.A.M. Bataw, and J. P. Hughes, "The Superiority of Bumble Bees to Honey Bees as Pollinators: Insect visits to Raspberry Flowers". Ecological Entomology (1994) 19, 271-284
4. Leadro Freitas and Marlies Sazima, "Floral Biology and Pollination Mechanisms in Two Viola Species - From Nectar to Pollen Flowers?". Annals of Botany 91:311-317, 2003
5. Gerald M. Looper and Allen C. Cohen, "Amino Acid Content of Dandelion Pollen, a Honey Bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Nutritional Evaluation". Journal of Economic Entomology (1987) 80(1):14-17
6. Louis Matej, "Pollen and Pollination." Master Beekeeper Certification Course. May 2004
7. "Nutritional Value of Bee Collected Pollens – Publications."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wild parsnip

From the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Minnesota Noxious Weed Program

A path cuts through a large wild parsnip infestation
A path cuts through wild parsnip. Photo: Minn Dept of Ag
Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), is a toxic plant with an edible root. Native to Eurasia, it escaped cultivation and is commonly found throughout Minnesota and North America. Wild parsnip is a member of the carrot family. It produces a sap that can cause blistering, swelling, and discoloration of the skin when in the presence of sunlight. Protective clothing should be worn when working with this plant. Animals, including livestock, can also be burned by the sap in combination with sunlight. Read more...

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