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Monday, April 10, 2017

Video: The ragdoll method for starting seeds and testing viability

By Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator

Sometimes we discover seeds that we've saved and wonder if they are still viable (will germinate). The ragdoll method of creating a damp seed packet that will prompt germination is an inexpensive and easy way to test seed viability. It is also a good way to start warm season plants like tomatoes, peppers, etc. In this video, I'll demonstrate how to make a ragdoll for Pride of Wisconsin muskmelon. You'll need a sheet of damp paper towel, a sealable plastic quart bag, seeds or your choice and a marking pen. Watch the video.

Pepper seeds 8 days later: The first root has emerged from some of the seeds. Just gently remove and plant in potting soil. Place in a warm sunny window or under grow lights. Keep the soil moist (not wet). It should feel like a damp sponge when you touch it. These pepper plants should be large enough to plant in a large pot or a sunny garden location by end of May / early June.

New publication from the U of MN Bee Squad on befriending bumble bees

Reprinted from Extension In the News, a weekly email digest highlighting Extension coverage in news media, University of Minnesota publications and other channels. For more coverage, see In The News.

University of Minnesota Extension has published Befriending Bumble Bees: A practical guide to raising local bumble bees. The guide provides the step-by-step information needed to find, capture, house, and feed the next generation of bumble bees. Read more ...

Monday, April 3, 2017

What is Roundup for Lawns?

Recently, we’ve received several questions regarding a new product offering from The Scott’s Company called “Roundup for Lawns.”  There are several versions of this product, including both Northern and Southern grass options.  The Northern grass product, for use on Minnesota lawns, states that the product “kills weeds, not the lawn.”  Most of us are familiar with the original version of Roundup, which contains the active ingredient glyphosate, and we know that glyphosate is a non-selective vegetation killer- meaning that it kills most plants that it is sprayed on.  So, how does Roundup for Lawns not kill the entire lawn? 

The answer is simple; this product isn’t Roundup.  In this case, Scott’s is taking the liberty of using a widely known name of one of the most effective herbicides, and putting something else in the bottle.  So, what exactly is Roundup for Lawns?  The Northern version of Roundup for lawns contains the very well-known synthetic auxin herbicides MCPA and dicamba, as well as quinclorac and sulfentrazone.  You will find some of these same active ingredients in other products because they are so common.  For example, Ortho Weed B Gon Plus Crabgrass Control contains both quinclorac and dicamba, as well as 2,4-D; in this product, dicamba and 2,4-D are the broadleaf weed control products, and quinclorac provides the post-emergent control of crabgrass.  Bayer Advance Weed Killer for Lawns contains only the synthetic auxin herbicides and will not control crabgrass.  Additionally, Bonide Weed Beater Plus contains both quinclorac and dicamba, as well as 2,4-D.  Sulfentrazone is added to Roundup for Lawns because of its added benefit of controlling sedges, such as yellow nutsedge, in addition to broadleaf weeds.  And if you’re looking for a product that is very similar to the formulation of Roundup for Lawns, you can find that in the PBI Gordon product called Surge, although this does not contain quinclorac.

Some points to note.  1) if you plan to use Roundup for Lawns on your lawn, be sure you do not mistake this for a bottle of Roundup containing glyphosate, which will kill your lawn; 2) Roundup is an emotional topic for many, but just because this bottle says Roundup, it is not Roundup as we think of it; in fact, the herbicide active ingredients in Roundup for Lawns are regarded as more toxic than glyphosate (see: Toxicity of Pesticides); 3) if you’re looking for a good broad-spectrum post-emergent weed control product, Roundup for Lawns will work fine for you; 4) be sure to follow all label instructions when using this product, including proper personal protective equipment, application strategies, and re-entry intervals.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Growing healthy seedlings

M. Grabowski, UMN Extension Educator
M. Grabowski, UMN Extension

As the growing season approaches, many gardeners are starting seeds indoors and making plans for direct seeding in the garden. Unfortunately, damping off, a common disease of seedlings, can dampen dreams of garden fresh produce by killing plants before they get started. Here are a few critical steps that gardeners can take to ensure a healthy crop of sturdy seedlings ready to face the growing season.

  1. Use clean pots. It is o.k. to reuse old pots and trays but wash them first. Scrub out any old soil and plant roots. Soak the pots in solution that is one part bleach and nine parts water for 10-30 minutes. Then rinse in clean water. 
  2. Purchase new potting mix designed for seed starting. Potting mix that has been previously used often contains low levels of plant pathogens. Newly emerged seedlings have little to no natural defenses and quickly succumb to these pathogens. 
  3. Warm the soil with a heating mat designed to go below planting trays. If seeding directly into the garden, wait until the soil temperature has warmed to the optimal temperature for germination (70 F or greater for most vegetables). 
  4. Keep soil moist but not soggy. Seedlings need moisture to germinate and grow but too much water will encourage damping off pathogens. Use a potting mix that drains well. Pots should have drain holes that allow excess water to drain off.
  5. Water with warm water. Cold water slows plant growth and keeps seedlings in a vulnerable stage for a longer period of time. Warm water to 68-77 F before watering plants.

The key to success is to provide seedlings a clean environment and optimal conditions for growth to help them quickly grow out of the vulnerable seedling stage and into a study healthy transplant.

Learn more about Starting seeds indoors
Learn more about Damping off of seedlings

Ants in spring

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

As we transition into spring, ants are starting to become active in and around homes. If you are having a problem with ants, the first step is correct identification of them. This is important because there are a variety of ants that may be seen. Different species have different nesting sites, food preferences, potential for damage, and other habits which require different methods of control. Treating ants is not one size fits all.
Carpenter ant, a common ant in Minnesota.  Note the one-
segmented petiole.  Photo: Jeff Hahn, U of M Extension

The most common ants seen in Minnesota are carpenter ants and pavements ants, although other ants, including yellow ants, odorous house ants, and thief ants can also be found. Identifying ants can be challenging, especially because of their small size.

When identifying ants, first determine how many segments the petiole (the section connecting the abdomen with the thorax) is, one or two. Then depending on the ant, other characteristics such as the shape of the thorax, number of segments in the antennae, and presence or absence of spines, can also be important. Be careful about using size and color to identify ants as that is often not an accurate method. If it is not apparent what kind of ant is being encountered, submit a sample (which could also be a picture) to an expert for identification.
Pavement ant, a common ant in Minnesota.  Note the two-
segmented petiole.  Photo: Jeff Hahn, U of M Extension

Once the ants have been identified, it is easier to understand the options available for controlling them. Good sanitation can help reduce the number ants that are attracted indoors. Keep kitchen surfaces clean, rinse recyclable containers before storage, and regularly take out kitchen garbage. Keep in mind that if the ants are nesting indoors (probably true when ants are sighted this early in the spring), this may not reduce the number of ants that are seen.

The best method for controlling ants is delivering a toxic dose of insecticide into their nest. Spraying the ants that are seen foraging around your home is a short term solution that does not affect the nest. Just a small number of workers from the nest are out searching for food so it is not possible to destroy it through attrition.

Depending on what ant is present, it may be possible to apply an insecticide directly into the nest. This becomes more complicated when the ants are nesting in out of the way places, like wall voids or under concrete slabs.

Sometimes the most effective treatment is baiting them. The foraging workers consume the bait; take it back to the nest where they share it with the other ants. If enough bait is taken back to the nest and the queen is also killed, the nest can be eradicated. However there are a variety of factors that can influence the success of baits, e.g. they are not attractive to the target ants, there are competing food sources, more than one nest is coming to the bait, and not enough bait is available, so baiting may not always be effective.

If ants continue to be a problem despite the steps taken by a resident to control them, they should consider contacting a professional pest control company to treat the ants. They have the experience and access to the necessary resources to more effectively control ants.

For more information see What to do about household ants  and Carpenter ants.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Educational Opportunity: Low Maintenance and Environmentally Friendly Lawns

Minnesota State Horticultural Society and University of Minnesota Extension Present: 

Low Maintenance and Environmentally Friendly Lawns
Saturday, April 8, 2017 - Saturday, April 8, 2017  9:30am - 12:00pm
University of Minnesota
1970 Folwell Avenue, Alderman Hall, Room 405 St. Paul
Fees:           $30 Members, $35 Nonmembers

Low Maintenance and Environmentally Friendly Lawns –limit 75
Saturday April 8, 9:30 a.m. to noon.
Join us at 9 a.m. for coffee
$30 members, $35 nonmembers
Location: Alderman Hall Room 405, UMN, 1970 Folwell Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108 
Parking: the upper Buford Circle parking lot (#S106 on map)
While our neighbors might be pushing for a perfect manicured lawn, many of us want to embrace a reduction in water use, fertilizer applications, and pesticide inputs and still have a decent looking lawn.  Can we have both: perfect and low-maintenance?  The answer is yes, but it all starts from the ground up.  Join us for a morning with a local expert and find out how you can be a good steward of the environment and have a good lawn. Turfgrass species selection, soil types and preparation, fertility and watering practices, and pest management will be discussed.
Sam Bauer is a U of MN Extension Educator. His research revolves around practical management strategies to improve the performance of turfgrass, specifically as it relate to low maintenance grasses, water conservation, and nutrient and pesticide loss.

Friday, March 24, 2017

EAB discovered in Goodhue County

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

The following is based on a recent news release by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has placed Goodhue County under an emergency quarantine after emerald ash borer (EAB) was found in the city of Red Wing earlier this month.

An MDA employee noticed an ash tree with significant woodpecker damage, a tell-tale sign of possible EAB infestation, during a hike over the weekend at Barn Bluff. She took photos of the tree and noted the location. After further investigation, the MDA found EAB larvae in the tree. Today the USDA officially confirmed the insect to be emerald ash borer.

There are several things residents should look for when checking for emerald ash borer.

• Be sure you’ve identified an ash tree. This is an important first step since EAB only feeds on ash trees. Ash have opposite branching – meaning branches come off the trunk directly across from each other. On older trees, the bark is in a tight, diamond-shaped pattern. Younger trees have a relatively smooth bark.

Now is a good time to look for woodpecker
pecking on an ash as this often indicates an
EAB infestation.  Photo: Jeff Hahn, U of M
• Look for woodpecker damage. Woodpeckers like EAB larvae and woodpecker holes may indicate the presence of EAB.

• Check for bark cracks. EAB larvae tunneling under the bark can cause the bark to split open, revealing the larval (S-shaped) tunnels underneath.

• Contact a professional. If you feel your ash tree may be infested with EAB, contact a tree care professional, your city forester, or the MDA at or 888-545-6684 (voicemail).

Minnesotans can also help stop the spread of EAB by burning firewood where you buy it and don’t transport it. Look for wood that is MDA certified as heat-treated to ensure it is pest-free.

Because this is the first time EAB has been identified in Goodhue County, the MDA is enacting an emergency quarantine to limit the movement of firewood and ash material out of the county. This will reduce the risk of further spreading the tree-killing insect. Currently 14 other Minnesota counties are under quarantine to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer.

Emerald ash borer larvae kill ash trees by tunneling under the bark and feeding on the part of the tree that moves nutrients up and down the trunk. The invasive insect was first discovered in Minnesota in 2009 and is now found in 30 states.

For more information on EAB, see the University of Minnesota Extension fact sheet Emerald ash borer in Minnesota

Go here to see the original MDA news release.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Forest Pest First Detector workshop registration now open

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

Consider registering for a 2017 Forest Pest First Detector (FPFD workshop. Anyone interested in forests, trees and invasive pests, including foresters, arborists and master volunteers (who are comfortable with tree identification), are welcome to attend a FPFD workshop and become FPFD volunteers if they wish.
Velvet longhorned beetle, one of the invasive pests that are
covered in FPFD workshops. Photo: WikiMedia Commons

New this year, we're going to incorporate more of a flipped classroom approach for our face-to-face workshops with significant technical and species specific content provided before the workshop through the University of Minnesota's online learning platform, Moodle. This will allow workshop participants more hands-on time with pest displays, time to talk and brainstorm with content specialists and more peer-to-peer learning during the workshop. So whether you are new to Forest Pest First Detectors or have previously attended a workshop, there will be something new and fresh for everyone.

This year’s workshops are at:

Cloquet Forestry Center, 175 University Rd, Cloquet, MN 55720 (Thursday, March 2, 2017, 8 AM - 3 PM)

Oakdale Discovery Center, 4444 Hadley Ave N, St Paul, MN 55128 (Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 8:30 AM - 3:30 PM)

Workshop registration is $50, payable online. To register for either of these workshops and for the online Moodle modules, go here [Be sure to "Add to Cart" to continue with the online registration. For registration questions contact UMN Extension Forestry Program Coordinator, Emily Dombeck:].

For additional information on the Forest Pest First Detector program, visit our FPFD website.

Hope to see you in March,

Angela Gupta and the Forest Pest First Detector team

Friday, January 27, 2017

Boxelder bugs inside homes during winter

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

With the recent mild weather we have experienced, some residents have been finding boxelder bugs and lady beetles in their homes. This is actually not unusual in the middle of the winter. These insects remain inactive as long as their hiding places in various wall voids, attics, and other nooks and crannies in and around buildings remain cold. However, if we receive mild, sunny temperatures, this can cause these overwintering insects to break their dormancy and become active. They then move towards the warmth inside the building where residents find them crawling around. Once active, they do not live much more than a few days to about a week.
Boxelder bugs do not damage property but can be very
annoying when found indoors.  Photo: Jeff Hahn, U of M

Despite the circumstantial evidence; these insects are not laying eggs and reproducing indoors. All of the boxelder bugs or lady beetles that are seen indoors now entered buildings last fall. Unfortunately, there are not many good options for dealing with boxelder bugs and lady beetles at this time of year. It is not possible to prevent them from emerging from wall voids and other spaces. And once they become active in your home, they only realistic option is to physically remove them, e.g. with a vacuum cleaner.

The best time to deal with boxelder bugs and other insects that seek harborage for the winter is in late summer or fall before they start to move into buildings. The best methods for reducing these insects are seal up cracks and spaces that may allow them into your home combined with a timely treatment of an appropriate residual insecticide. Some insects will still get inside but you should be able to reduce the number that would otherwise get inside.

For more information, see the University of Minnesota Extension publication Boxelder bugs.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Plight of the bumble bee: MN's threatened and endangered bumble bees

Elaine Evans, Extension Educator, Entomology/Pollinators/Bee Lab

Bumble bees are a common site in most Minnesota gardens, but some species have become increasingly uncommon, particularly over the last 20 years. Historically, Minnesota is home to 23 of North America’s 48 bumble bee species. Five species out of these 23 are in serious decline with severe loss of range as well as declines in numbers of bees. Another 3 species are in decline, though the losses are not as dramatic. This means that over one in three bumble bee species in Minnesota are vulnerable to decline. Although bumble bees may still be a common site in gardens, prairies, meadows, and fields, the bumble bee community you are seeing today is most likely a less diverse
group of bumble bees.
The rusty-patched bumble bee is now on
the endangered species list.  Photo:
Heather Holm

On December 11th, 2016, one of Minnesota’s declining bumble bee species, Bombus affinis, the rusty-patched bumble bee, was listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the first bumble bee to be given this status and the first bee in the continental U.S. In the United States, endangered species are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which as amended, is one of the most far-reaching wildlife conservation laws ever enacted by any nation. The listing focuses conservation planning and funding, raises awareness, and by regulation protects listed species from intentional and unintentional harm.

Historically, the rusty-patched bumble bee was commonly seen throughout its range which spread from Minnesota to the east coast, north into southern parts of Canada and south through the Appalachian mountains. Declines were first noticed in the late 1990s. Through the efforts of both professional and citizen scientists, evidence shows that rusty-patched bumble bee populations have declined by about 87%. In addition, their geographic distribution has decreased. They are only found in about 13% of their former range. While evidence of the decline is clear, the cause or causes of the decline are not fully understood. The probable causes include disease (possibly transmitted by managed bumble bees), habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides.

The greater Twin Cities area is one of a handful of areas where the rusty-patched bumble bee is found with regularity. As Minnesotans, we have an opportunity before us to prevent the extinction of a species! Bee-friendly gardening could be a key step in preserving this species. Plant flowers, including flowering trees and shrubs preferred by bees. Aim to have something blooming at all times between mid-April and September. Native plants are a great choice for supporting bumble bees, as well as other native wildlife. Avoid pesticides. If you can’t avoid pesticide use, apply them only where needed and avoid drift into non-target areas. Join efforts to document the rusty-patched and other declining bumble bees. Get out your camera this summer and join Bumble Bee Watch. Strap on your boots and volunteer for bumble bee surveys in the Twin Cities with the Minnesota Bumble Bee Survey or state-wide with the Minnesota Bee Atlas. Together, we can help the recovery of the rusty-patched bumble bee.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Caring for your amaryllis

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator

'Picotee' - note the thin red
margins on the white petals
Whether the first bulb or the fiftieth, there is high anticipation for the plant owner when the large, bright green bud emerges from a beefy amaryllis bulb! Amaryllis may be purchased as bare or planted bulbs, and are prized for their exotic trumpet-shaped flowers born on 1 to 2 foot leafless stalks or “scapes.” They add dramatic color to homes and gardens, and make wonderful gifts to gardeners from beginners to experts. Read more on the new Extension publication Growing and Caring for Amaryllis
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