The Colors of October

This article was first published in the Oct. 9, 2017 edition of The Journal.


The most relaxing place I know is a ridge top in October that overlooks a deciduous forest. That place is where I can find inner peace. With a good cup of coffee in one hand and an excellent book in the other, that is my place of solitude. So today, I will pay homage to the leaf pigments that create the splendid colors of October.

Deciduous trees are those which drop their leaves in autumn. Before the leaves drop, a color change occurs. The leaves of some trees turn a crusty brown. It gives the illusion that the leaf has simply died and will drop, but it is really more complex than that.

Within the leaves are a complex combination of pigments. Usually the pigment that is most apparent in the spring and summer is chlorophyll. It is responsible for green leaves. Therefore, when leaves begin to change it is the sign that chlorophyll is breaking down (due to fewer hours of sunlight during the day) and we see a color change. Where do the other pigments come from?

The other pigments were there all along, we just couldn’t see them. If chlorophyll was the dominant pigment, we only saw green. When chlorophyll declines, the other pigments are expressed. Carotene and xanthophyll pigments exhibit yellow colors. Anthocyanin pigments are responsible for reds and purples. In acidic conditions red is widely expressed and in alkaline conditions blue is expressed.

The combinations of these pigments vary from species to species, tree to tree, and even leaf to leaf. They create the lovely variety of fall colors so many of us enjoy this time of year. In wet years, you may see more reds and purples. In dry years, you may see more yellows and oranges. This is because anthocyanin pigments are water soluble.

A great local place to observe the autumn scenery is the Eastern Agricultural Research Station in Belle Valley. On a clear day from the overlook at the top of the ridge, you can see for miles. I encourage you to come and see.

A great time to do that would be at Beef and Grazing School, which continues on Tuesday, October 10 and Tuesday, October 17. Both programs run from 5:30-8 p.m. If you would like to know more details about these events, please call 740-732-5681.

Poison Ivy Scouting

Poison Ivy Growing Among Woodsorrel

Whenever I take a walk around our house, I keep my eyes open for poison ivy. In the past couple weeks it seems to have awoke from its seasonal slumber and is ready to take off. The sooner you can control poison ivy the better. In order to control it well, it is important to understand this persistent plant.

The old saying “leaves of three, let it be” has been most helpful for me over the years to keep from getting confused between poison ivy and other look alikes. Poison ivy is a climbing woody vine that loses it’s leaves each winter. Leaves are egg shaped with three leaves per petiole that may be toothed, lobed, or entire. Poison ivy attaches to trees and rocks with aerial roots, which may have a hairy, fibrous appearance. Leaves may take on a reddish hue late in the season. It reproduces by creeping stems, roots, and seed transported by birds. Poison ivy can thrive in many areas that other plants do not.

All parts of the plant contain resins that cause allergic reactions for most of the U.S. population. These resins cause issues if burned, directly touched, or indirectly transferred from one surface to another. Resins are continually present on the leaves, stems, and roots, even in the winter.

Poison ivy is often confused with Virginia creeper, which is a creeping and trailing vine that secures itself to objects with specialized stems call tendrils. Virginia creeper has 5 leaflets, instead of three and is not poisonous. Poison oak is another common mix up. Poison oak has three leaflets, but the leaves look very similar to a classic oak leaf. The lobes have blunt tips and hairs on both the top and bottom of the leaf. Poison oak is not a creeping weed, but rather grows upright from the soil surface. For this plant the “leaves of three, let it be” statement still applies.

Poison ivy and poison oak are responsive to glyphosate, triclopyr, and 2, 4-D herbicides, which are commonly used in poison ivy killers. Always follow the label when using a herbicide and wear adequate protective gear while handling!

     Virginia Creeper

Poison Oak (Photo Credit-School of Forest Resources & Conservation – University of Florida)

17 year periodical Cicadas

In case you haven’t seen them yet,  

They’re Back!!!!

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Photographed by Marcus McCartney at the Washington County Extension office on the old oak tree in the front yard

For more information on the 17 yr. periodical cicadas contact your local extension office.

Also, click the link to read OSU’s factsheet about this natural phenomenon:



OSU/WVU Extension Radio Jan-Feb 2016

OSU/WVU Extension Radio

Catch us on 1170 WWVA, Sunday mornings at 5:00 AM





Knowns and Unknowns of Oil and Gas from Landowner  Perspective


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2/14/2016: Advantages of Crop Diversity in Pasture Fields


 2/21/2016: GMOs: Why They are Created and Labeling


2/28/2016: Bt and its Variable Uses and Agrobacterium  

The Great Christmas Tree Debate: Real or Artificial

One great holiday debate is which type of Christmas tree is best: real or artificial.

Real trees have a very long and significant history.  The use of evergreen trees to celebrate the winter season occurred before the birth of Christ.  The first decorated Christmas tree reportedly appeared in the Baltic region of Latvia in Northern Europe around 1510.  The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531.  In the early 1900s, retail stores began displaying big Christmas trees and by 1933, Rockefeller Center in New York City began its Christmas tree tradition.

Artificial trees were first developed in Germany during the 19th century.  These trees were made using goose feathers that were dyed, attached to wire branches and then wrapped around a central dowel rod.  In 1930, the U.S. based Addis Brush Company, created artificial trees using the same machinery used to manufacture toilet brushes.  The popular mid-20th century aluminum artificial Christmas trees were first produced in Chicago in 1958.  The aluminum tree popularity died down in the late 1960s, however in recent years, collectors have been buying and selling the trees, especially on online auction web sites which have created a small reemergence.  Today, most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic and imported to the United States.

For myself, I grew up with an artificial Christmas tree but for the past eight years I went “real” and never looked backed.  The reason I never looked back is there are economic, social, environmental and safety advantages to real Christmas trees compared to artificial ones.

Buying a real Christmas can have significant economic benefits.  When you buy a real tree, more often than not, the tree comes from a local tree farmer.  Your money stays within the community which you live; making for a stronger community.  There are more than 15,000 Christmas tree farm in the US with approximately 350 million trees currently growing.  In 2012, 24.5 million trees were sold with a market value of $1.01 billion dollars. A majority of today’s artificial trees are manufactured in foreign countries, like Taiwan, Korea, and China. China itself manufactures 80% of the worldwide demand.

Real Christmas trees have substantial environmental benefits as well.  On average, trees are harvested for Christmas anywhere from five to fifteen years in age.  During this time, they provide oxygen for us to breathe (an acre of Christmas trees will provide enough daily oxygen for 18 people), remove dust and pollen from the air, provide habitat for wildlife, help purify groundwater, and help control soil erosion on hillsides.  Also, when real Christmas trees are discarded, they can be used for sand and soil erosion barriers or can be placed in ponds for fish shelter.  Since real Christmas are natural, they will breakdown rapidly whereas artificial trees will last centuries in landfills and take up space.  On average, artificial trees are replaced about every six years.

Also, there can be many social benefits from real Christmas trees.   Going to a Christmas tree lot or a U-cut Christmas tree farm can be a great family activity.  It’s another way get to children involved with Christmas and gives them a since of ownership in the selection process.  Also, buying a “living” Christmas tree (ball and burlap tree) to plant after the holidays will bring many fond memories for years to come as the tree grows and enhances your landscape.

Finally, real trees are less likely to catch on fire than artificial trees if properly watered and in the unfortunate event of a Christmas tree catching fire, artificial trees give off toxic fumes whereas real trees do not.

With all of the sights and sounds of the holiday season, the one thing that completes the magic of Christmas is filling your home with the fresh aroma of evergreen from a real tree.

For more information on Christmas tree care or help in finding real Christmas distributors, contact your local extension office.

Is it Bagworms or Fall Webworms Damaging My Trees?


As Chris Penrose mentioned in a post last month, damage from bagworms is often seen this time of year by homeowners. Bagworms are the insects which make the pine-cone like structures at the ends of branches on many evergreen and other tree/shrub species in the landscape.  As the larva feeds and grows, often unnoticed throughout the summer, it enlarges the bag and begins to incorporate bits and pieces of plant material. By mid-August, the larvae are mature and they often move to a sturdy branch or other structure where they attach the bag firmly with a strong band of silk. We are now to the point where spraying insecticide on your tree or shrub at this time of year will not kill the larva inside the bag. Hand picking the bag at this time of year is the best strategy. The mature larvae usually attach their bags to a branch by wrapping extra silk, which does not decay rapidly. This band of silk may girdle the branch as it grows, resulting in dead branches several years later. Be sure to cut or scratch off this silk band when removing bags from a plant. FOR MORE DETAILS:


Fall Webworm

Another pest often noticed this time of year is the fall webworm. It is actually the second generation of nests that are being seen now. The first generation nests (usually in June-July) are seldom as numerous or as large in size as those produced by the second generation. First generation nests normally involve only a few leaves.  Female moths however, often lay their eggs on or near the nests from which they developed, thus second generation caterpillars expand the nests once occupied by first generation caterpillars. The second generation nests in Ohio typically reach their maximum size in the fall (late August thru October) which accounts for the common name. The fall webworm is not usually a serious pest in woodland forest stands, but infestations are of greatest concern to homeowners on shade, ornamental, and landscape trees. Here, loss of foliage and unsightly webs seriously reduce the aesthetics of the trees in the yard. In this circumstance, control of the fall webworm may be desirable. Control measures should be initiated when the webs and the larvae are small. Large webs make it difficult for insecticides to penetrate and contact the larvae within. Smaller larvae are also easier to kill. For effective control spray the web and the foliage surrounding the web. Many insecticides (such as (Sevin), orthene, BT or Malathion, etc.) may be used. Hand eradication is also possible when smaller webs are spotted early. Note…burning webs out of your trees with fire usually does more damage to the tree than the damage caused by the webworm. FOR MORE DETAILS:


Now is the time to control bagworms!

Every year, around Labor Day, we start receiving calls of damage to many of our evergreen trees. There are numerous small, two inch long brown to gray football shaped bags on the plants, devouring the needles. These are called bagworms. Feeding damage is heavy enough on some plants; spruces, junipers and arborvitae in particular, to have a significant impact on the overall health of the infested plants. Portions of these plants are thinning and/or turning brown and approaching the point of not being able to recover from the damage.  In some cases, the bagworms are still very small with their bags being less than 1/2″ long.

The good news is young bagworms can be effectively controlled using a biological insecticide that will not hurt beneficial insects. The efficacy of these biological insecticides declines once bags reach 3/4″, so a standard insecticide will need to be used after bags exceed this length. However, if the bag gets too big and the worm has too much protection from the bag, no insecticide will work. If possible and if the infestation is not too bad, you can simply pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water (picture source: University of Kentucky ENTFACT 440).


Yellow Poplar Weevil

Yellow Poplar Weevil


Recently I’ve noticed in Southeastern Ohio damaged leaves on Yellow Poplar, Sassafras and Magnolia trees.  This has also generated several calls to our Extension Offices.  The cause of this damage is the yellow poplar weevil.  These are tiny insects only about 2/16” long and are sometimes thought to be ticks at first glance.  Older trees will normally sustain the attack of these pests, but if you have newly planted trees in your landscape you may want to apply an insecticidal treatment.  The following links have additional information and control strategies:,

Poisonous Plants

Whether it is in the pasture or in your back yard it’s that time of year again where poisonous plants are around and can cause trouble if not properly identified. Some of the most common poisonous plants that affect us in our backyard and surrounding areas are poison ivy, oak and sumac. All contain urushiol, which is a plant oil that can cause a severe skin rash. However, identification of these plants can be difficult as they might be confused with other non-poisonous species.

Poison ivy grows in shady or sunny locations and may be either a woody shrub or a vine that can climb up to 150 feet tall! All parts of the plant, including the roots contain urushiol at all times of the year, even when bare of leaves in the winter. Leaf forms are variable among plants and even among leaves on the same plant however; the leaves always consist of three leaflets. Leaflets can be 2-6 inches long and may be toothed or have smooth edges. The stem that is attached to the terminal leaflet is longer than the stems attaching the other two. Fruit of the poison ivy is always in clusters on slender stems between the leaves and woody twigs. They are round and grooved with a white, waxy coating and are attractive to birds and are an important food source for deer. A common poison ivy look-alike is Virginia creeper. It is also a trailing vine but it has 5 divide palmate leaflets. It also has blue-black berries.

Poison oak is a low growing shrub that can be about 3 feet tall. It is located in dry, sunny locations and not usually in heavy shade. Poison oak displays lobed leaves, which give it the appearance of an oak leaf. The leaves are generally about 6 inches long and the middle leaflet is alike lobed on both margins and the two lateral leaflets are often irregularly lobed.

Poison sumac leaves consist of 7-13 leaflets arranged in pairs with a single leaflet at the end. Leaflets are elongated, oval and have smooth margins. The sumac plant also has reddish stems.

There are numerous other plants, trees and shrubs that can be poisonous to humans and livestock as well. If you spot something that you aren’t familiar with, please feel free to bring it to the office for identification. However, if you are having a reaction, please seek the advice of your doctor.

Poison Ivy                               Poison Oak                                 Poison Sumac

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