Caring for Poinsettias

Many homes, offices and churches are decorated with festive trees, lights, and popular holiday plants like the poinsettia. December 12 marked National Poinsettia Day, a day celebrating our country’s most popular holiday plant! This day recognizes Joel Robert Poinsett, the first US ambassador to Mexico who introduced poinsettias to our country in 1821.

In their native habitat in Mexico and Central America, poinsettias grow as shrubs and can even develop into small trees. Today, the poinsettia is prized as an indoor holiday potted plant with over 100 varieties grown in varying shades of red, burgundy, coral, pink, white and combinations of the above.

The brightly colored leaves of poinsettia are often mistaken for the flowers. These colorful leaves are called bracts and surround the small, inconspicuous, yellow flowers called cyathia. The cyathia are clustered in the center of the bracts and shed yellow pollen. Once the pollen is shed, the bracts begin to fade. When shopping for a poinsettia, choose plants that have closed flowers or those that are only slightly open and not shedding pollen.

Since poinsettias are native to warm, tropical habitats, they can be injured if exposed to low temperatures below 55°F. Despite a few warm days here and there, you will want to make sure to cover plants with a paper or plastic sheath when transporting them from the place of purchase to your car and from your car to your home or office. Exposure to low temperatures can result in damage to the bracts and leaves, and in some cases, death of the plant.

Indoor conditions during the winter are not ideal for poinsettias, but proper care will help plants perform well throughout the holiday season. Poinsettias are grown in greenhouses under conditions that mimic their native habitat – temperatures of 65-70°F with high relative humidity and bright light. Once inside the home, provide at least six hours of bright, natural daylight such as near a sunny window. Maintain air temperatures between 65 and 70° F and avoid places where plants are exposed to drafts, fluctuating air currents, and excess heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or ventilation ducts.

Poinsettias prefer evenly moist soils that are not too wet and not too dry.  Water plants thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to the touch.  Make sure the water begins to drain out of the holes at the base of the pot. Discard any excess water, as poinsettias left sitting in water generally develop root rots.

Signs that your plants are stressed and not happy include yellow leaves as well as rolling and dropping of leaves and bracts. Wilted plants will also drop leaves prematurely.  If wilting does occur, water the plant thoroughly to moisten the soil, then re-water again after 10 minutes. Never allow the plant to stand in excess water.

Poinsettia plants can be maintained in the home throughout the year and encouraged to rebloom the following winter with some coaxing. It is often easier to discard plants once they have finished blooming and look forward to purchasing fresh, vibrantly colored plants next year.

 

Soil Testing

What is one of the most helpful resources to use when establishing or maintaining a garden bed, lawn, landscape, or cultivated field?  A soil test!  For relatively little cost, soil testing labs provide invaluable information for homeowners, gardeners, and farmers by pinpointing nutrient needs and providing fertilizer recommendations or corrective actions for sampled soils.

Why should you test soil?  There are four main reasons to test your soil: 1.) to guide plant selection  2.) to maintain proper soil fertility 3.) to diagnose plant problems and 4.) to follow industry-accepted management practices, such as those used for tree care or for agronomic crop production.

What does a soil test measure? A basic soil test provides information on soil properties including soil pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), base saturation, lime requirement index, and levels of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg). Additional tests can measure soil texture and the amount of copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), soluble salts, nitrates, and organic matter in the soil.

Why is soil pH important? Knowing your soil pH is a cost effective way to match a plant’s pH requirement with that of the soil in which you are planting. Soil tests provide a pH value from 1 to 10, though soil pH rarely measures below 3.5 or above 9. Soil is considered acidic when it measures less than 7.0 and alkaline when it measures more than 7.0.

Many plants grow in a wide range of soil pH levels, while others have more specific requirements. For example, numerous ornamental flowering plants, fruits, vegetables, and turfgrass species grow well when the soil pH ranges from 6.2 to 6.8. Other plants such as pin oaks, azaleas and blueberries require a more acidic soil (5.5 to 6.5) to thrive in our area. When grown in a higher pH soil, they tend to exhibit nutrient deficiency symptoms such as leaf yellowing and/or stunted growth.

When should soil be tested? With the growing and harvesting season winding up in NW Ohio, now is a perfectly good time to soil test. Soil testing can be done throughout the year as long as the soil is workable to collect a sample. Since soil test results are used in planning what needs to be done with a specific growing area, they should be taken with ample time to evaluate and act upon the recommendations. Fall is an excellent time to make lime applications to raise soil pH, while spring is best to apply sulfur to lower soil pH.

How often should should soil be tested? For most garden, landscape and agronomic purposes, soil testing every two to three years is adequate to maintain soil fertility. More frequent sampling may be required when diagnosing plant problems or for nutrient-hungry plantings.

Where can soil be tested and how do you interpret results? While Ohio State University no longer provides soil testing services, we do provide soil sampling kits from Penn State University for $10 at the Extension office. After you collect and mail your sample to the lab, recommendations on how to improve soil fertility based upon the desired plants or crops to be grown will soon follow. While many online resources can help explain soil test results, you may also bring or email soil reports to the extension office for further interpretation.

 

 

 

Believe it or not – it’s Bat Week!

Coincidentally Ohio Bat Week and International Bat Week are celebrated from October 24 through October 31 – just in time for Halloween! What is Bat Week? Bat Week celebrates the immense contributions that bats provide in nature and heightens awareness for bat conservation through education.

There are 13 species of bats reportedly found across Ohio, including the little brown and big brown bats. These mammals are essential for controlling insect pests, pollinating flowers, and spreading seed across wide areas. On any given summer night, you can see them flying about consuming their weight in mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and other insects. In fact, insects are the only thing that bats in Ohio eat. If bugs are out and about, bats are out and about too.

If you have ever sampled a margarita – you have bats to thank for pollinating and dispersing agave seed. Blue agave plants are the only plants used to make tequila!

History suggests that bats became associated with Halloween due to their dark coloration, nocturnal habits, and tendency to roost in caves and dark places. They can also be seen in large swarms this time of year looking for places to hibernate for the winter. Some bat species will fly south while others find more local retreats with moderate temperatures including caves and mines.

Fear not!  Bats are not the scary, blood-sucking creatures depicted in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” or countless other vampire-themed tales and movies.  Rather, they are harmless, beneficial mammals that intentionally avoid human contact. Bats coexist around us generally without ever being detected. In some rare cases, you might cross paths with a bat.

Bats can enter homes and buildings through small openings or through open windows, doors, or cracks. The best way to prevent encounters with bats is to seal entry points and install one-way exclusion openings that allow bats to leave but not return. The extension office has a nice bulletin on excluding bats from buildings, so please call for a copy.

If you find a bat in your home or other living space, it is best to isolate it to a single room, turn off all lights, and leave a window or door to the outside open, The bat will leave on its own. I had a bat in the garage over the weekend, turned off the garage light and let the door open – and the bat was gone before morning.

Once excluded – it is a good idea to provide bats with a more suitable living space. Bat houses can be easily constructed or purchased. Place bat houses around your property to encourage bat-friendly habitats.

Bats can carry the rabies virus, though fewer than 4% of bats in Ohio have rabies. For this reason, it is advised to not touch or handle bats with bare hands as a precaution. If you are bitten by a bat it is wise to seek medical care immediately.

To learn more about bats in Ohio as well as other mammals, please visit The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Mammals of Ohio guide.

Bats are threatened by the loss of natural habitats due to development of land and deforestation, wind turbines, and pesticide use. For more information on bat conservation, please visit Bat Conservation International (batcon.org), Batweek.org, or the Extension office at 1206 East Second St. in Ottawa. You may also contact us by phone at 419-523-6294, email at scheckelhoff.11@osu.edu, or find us on Facebook by searching for OSU Extension Putnam County.

Leave the Leaves

Leaves across Northwest Ohio are near peak fall color. The brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange will vanish over the next few weeks as leaves drop to the ground. One question often asked this time of year is “What should I do with all these leaves?”. As you might guess, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends. Homeowners have many options for dealing with fallen leaves including mowing, mulching, composting – and just letting them be.

What happens when trees lose their leaves in a forest or a natural area? Fallen leaves generally form a carpet of sorts on the ground, keeping the soil moist and of moderate temperature. This in turn allows living organisms like animals and fungi to thrive. In fact, leaves provide winter protection for countless animals including butterflies and moths, beetles, spiders, among others.

Deciduous tree leaves are an excellent source of organic matter and fertilizer. Over time, decomposing leaves provide a slow release of nutrients, roughly 2% nitrogen, which can be used by plants for growth.

If you have turfgrass, mowing is a good option when the lawn is covered by a light layer of leaves. A lawn mower can quickly reduce fallen leaves into smaller leaf fragments that break down quickly. Mowing also eliminates wet, matted piles of whole leaves that can prevent grass from growing in the future.

One word of caution – rake and remove leaves from trees that have certain foliar diseases such as tubakia leaf spot on oak, tar spot on maple, or guignardia on buckeye.  Leaving diseased leaves in the landscape will keep the fungi around to possibly infect trees again next year.

Mulching can reduce large amounts of leaves in your yard. Leaves can be mulched and collected in a leaf bag attached to a mower or by using a leaf shredder. Applying several inches of leaf litter mulch to landscape or garden beds will help conserve moisture, moderate soil temperatures, and reduce weed growth.

Whole or mulched leaves can also be incorporated into the soil with a tiller to increase organic matter and improve soil texture, aeration, and drainage. Leaves can be broken down along with other yard wastes into compost. The composting process reduces these wastes into a nutrient-rich organic material that can be used in containers, gardens, and flower beds.

Finally, you can simply leave the leaves. Leaf piles provide ample winter cover for a wide variety of insects and spiders – and eventually add organic matter, nutrients, and improve soil health as they break down. What will you do with your leaves this year?

Crane Fly Craze

It’s a plane! It’s a bird! Actually, it is probably a crane fly. Crane flies have emerged over the past week across our area. We have received reports from homeowners and farmers of large numbers of mosquito-like insects covering lawns, walls, tractors and combines during harvest.

Crane flies are slender insects with long, lanky legs resembling mosquitos on steroids. They are not supersized mosquitos, but rather a type of fly. Crane flies have also been called “mosquito hawks” or “skeeter eaters” though neither name is accurate. Crane flies do not eat mosquitos, nor do they bite people or animals. In fact, most crane flies only have mouthparts that sip nectar or water during their short life span.

Adult crane flies live only a few days to a week. Their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs for the next generation.  Though they may be bothersome today, they will likely be gone tomorrow or at least in the very near future.

Female crane flies lay their eggs in moist areas such as near streams and rivers, irrigated lawns, gardens, and landscapes, or any other suitable place. Eggs hatch to reveal larvae that resemble small worms. These tiny larvae are called leatherjackets and begin consuming plant material such as fallen leaves and plant roots.

One type of crane fly, the European crane fly, was introduced to the US from Europe and can be a troublesome pest of turfgrass. The European crane fly leatherjackets consume the blades and roots of turfgrass plants and can cause significant damage in large numbers. Larvae only requiring control if found in very large numbers feeding on turf roots. Crane fly larvae are a favorite food of many different bird species, and populations are often kept in check by birds. In the majority of cases, no action is required by homeowners or farmers.

 

Bees vs. Yellowjackets

Each fall, as apples fall to the ground, barbeque grills are fired up, and pumpkins don front porches – one insect often gets blamed for another’s pesky behavior. This article intends to clear up the misconceptions about honey bees and their “look alike” meddling cousins the yellowjackets. Both are beneficial insects, but one is more bothersome to you and me.

Ohio is home to numerous species of bees – some are native (like bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, etc.) while others are not. The familiar honey bee is an example of an introduced species brought to America by European settlers nearly 400 years ago. One significant difference between native bees and honey bees is their lifestyle. Most native bees are solitary and live alone in a single nest while honey bees build large colonies made up of hundreds to thousands of bees.

You may commonly find honey bees and native bees on your flowers and vegetable plants. Bees are beneficial pollinators. They collect pollen and lap up nectar inside flowers then take these back to the bee hive where they will be stored as honey and bee bread. Pollen and nectar are their sole food sources providing carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals they need. Rarely will bees visit picnic tables to sample sweet or savory treats.

You might also find an occasional wasp in your garden. Wasps include hornets, yellowjackets, mud daubers, among others. They also visit flowers to drink the sweet, sugary nectar. Unlike bees, wasps are beneficial predators. They are carnivorous and have a diet made up of other insects, including caterpillars, spiders, flies, and bees. Yellowjackets will consume just about anything at your picnic table – from sugary sweets like soft drinks and fruit to savory steaks, hamburgers, and hotdogs. They are notorious for hanging around garbage bins and compost piles, sampling whatever is available.

Here are some key differences between bees and wasps to help you tell them apart. Bees are covered in hair, making them appear fuzzy or furry (see image). The hairs on a bee’s body collect pollen and help the bee to effectively pollinate flowers.  Wasps are smooth and shiny without noticeable hairs. Yellowjackets have yellow and black bands on their slender, shiny bodies. Their waists are also very thin compared to a bee.

Both honey bees and yellowjackets live in social colonies. Yellowjackets generally build a paper nest in the ground, but these can also be found above ground and inside cavities in walls and other areas. Honey bees nest in beehives made of beeswax, hollowed tree trunks, and in wall cavities, but never in the ground.

The honey bee is generally docile unless it is protecting it’s hive and growing brood of young bees. Once a honey bee stings someone or something, it dies. Wasps, on the other hand, are aggressive and search out their food. They can sting multiple times, making them a more formidable adversary.

Honey bees overwinter in their hives feeding on stored honey until the spring. Yellowjacket hives die out after several frosts, and only new queens survive the winter months. These queens will start new nests in the spring.

I am just finishing up a summer-long survey of native bee species here in Putnam County. All bee samples re being sent to Wooster next week for proper identification. I’m excited to learn about how many native bee species we found this year…and will report on that in the spring.  In the meantime, for more information on native bees, honey bees, and wasps, please visit OSU’s Bee Lab at beelab.osu.edu. There are so many wonderful resources for you there.

Tomato Troubles

The month of August always ushers in a bounty of zucchini, tomatoes, and other produce from home gardens – along with many questions on problems gardeners face.  Aside from fruit trees, the Extension office receives the most questions regarding tomato pests and problems. Within the last few weeks, reports of blossom end rot, leaf spots, cracking fruit, and hornworms have come in.

Blossom end rot is a disorder of tomato fruit (and peppers, zucchini, and summer squash) caused by a lack of calcium reaching the fruit as it develops. Blossom end rot tends to develop when plants are under moisture stress with high air temperature and humidity.

Calcium does not move easily or uniformly through plants – and often ends up in the leaves but not the fruit. Under high moisture stress, water containing calcium and other minerals moves rapidly to the leaves but not to the fruit.  This results in a lack of calcium needed by the fruit as it rapidly expands. When calcium is not available, a dark, blackened lesion forms on the bottom or “blossom end” of the fruit.

Gardeners can prevent blossom end rot by mulching around the base of their tomato plants and by providing consistent watering during June and July as the tomato fruit develop. Adequate supplies of calcium should also be provided as needed with fertilizer.

Mulching and consistent watering of tomato plants prevent another issue from occurring – fruit cracking. When dry soils are heavily watered or a rain event occurs, the tomato plant will quickly take up water. Too much water moving to the fruit in a short period of time causes it to crack. Keeping soil consistently moist will reduce fruit cracking.

Many tomato plants develop leaf spotting caused by the fungus Septoria. Septoria leaf spot develops on tomato plants when the foliage remains wet – either from frequent rains or overhead watering. Septoria spores survive the winter in plant material or the soil to infect new plants the following year. This is why it is important to water tomatoes at the base of the plant or with drip hoses, remove and destroy infected foliage, and rotate your tomato plantings every three years.

The fungus begins on the lower leaves forming tiny tan spots with a darkened border. These spots can merge to form larger lesions on the leaves. If not treated, Septoria will kill the tomato plant before the fruit have a chance to fully ripen.

Fungicides with the active ingredient chlorothalonil, maneb, mancozeb, or copper fungicides are labeled for control of Septoria on tomato. When applied early and often as directed, plants will

recover and grow through the end of the season. Make sure to read fungicides labels and follow all label directions.

Hort Lunch and Learn and Hort Happy Hour

Are you a Master Gardener or someone who wants to learn more about hort topics?

Tough times call for changing things up a little and since we can’t meet you face to face and teach, we are doing like everyone else across the country – taking to the internet for communication and learning.  For the next few months, and into August if necessary, we are planning Hort Lunch and Learn and Hort Happy Hour for you.  These webinars will be recorded and stored on VMS so that if you can’t make the scheduled webinar, you will get a link for future viewing.

Hort Lunch and Learn will be held on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, March 26, 2020 through August 31, 2020 at noon – 1:00 p.m.

Hort Happy Hour will be held on Wednesdays, April 1 through August 31, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Join in for an hour of horticulture programming.  Bring your lunch and enjoy the time learning a horticulture topic.  Teachers will be OSU State Specialists, Educators, and staff as well as national Extension Master Gardener experts.  Each webinar will be a different topic.  Registration will be required for each webinar.  Information on how to join the Zoom (webinar) platform will be sent to you in the registration confirmation.  This walks you through the necessary steps to download zoom on your computer, laptop, cell phone, tablet, etc. and gives you the link to join in on the program.  Hope to see you Thursday!

Go here to register! https://mastergardener.osu.edu/news/mgvs-horticulture-lunch-and-learn-and-happy-hour-information-and-registration

 

Summer Pond and Pool Safety

Nothing sounds better when it is 90 plus degrees outside than a quick dip in the backyard pond. Ponds (and pools) are common on farms and residential properties throughout Putnam County. In our excitement to enjoy the water, we can often forget some basic safety rules that apply to both. It is best to be prepared for a possible emergency situation, as time is of the essence in water rescue. The following safety tips are intended to minimize accidents and keep everyone safe in and around the water this summer.

If a pond is used for swimming, you will want to collect a water sample each spring to determine water quality. A certified lab will look for the presence of E. coli bacteria that could potentially cause human illness. Call the extension office for a list of water testing labs.

It is a good idea to restrict entrance to your property and the pond by posting signs that say No Trespassing and/or Keep Out. Young children will not be able to read these signs, so fencing and gates might need to be installed (when feasible), especially if the presence of young children is a concern. Check local codes for any fencing and/or depth restrictions.

While not all ponds are intended for swimming and recreation, every pond and pool should have a safety or rescue post near the edge of the water. A rescue post should be maintained year-round and contain the following items:

  • A life ring or buoy that is secured to a nylon rope. The rope should span the width of the pond or pool. Hang the buoy and rope on the post.
  • A 10 to 14’ aluminum or PVC pole mounted to the rescue post. This lightweight pole can be used to reach someone who is floundering in the water.
  • An air horn or similar device to alert others of an emergency.
  • A sign with emergency contact information and pond rules.
  • Other items, such as life preservers, as needed.

This safety equipment can also be used to rescue someone who has fallen through thin ice on the pond in the winter months.

Provide swimming instruction for all children and never allow anyone to swim alone. Adults and anyone supervising swimmers should have CPR and water rescue training.

Identify the depth of the water at various locations in the pond and indicate dangerous areas. Ropes and float lines can be used to mark the transition from shallow to deep areas in both ponds and pools.

 

Ponds can also pose significant hazards from field runoff of pesticides and fertilizers as well as physical debris. Evaluate pond edges for rough surfaces and remove any physical hazards that could injure someone, such as broken glass, ragged rocks, etc. In some cases, entrance areas and steep edges may need to be gently sloped to allow easier exit from the water. Ponds with significant vegetation, sediment or debris may need to be dredged to restore its quality.

Landowners should also ensure that their pond is covered with liability insurance. While Ohio law provides significant liability protection for farm ponds, artificial conditions that are not normally expected in a pond (such as a diving board or floating dock) can create liability issues. Contact your insurance agent for coverage related to your pond.

For additional information, please contact the Putnam County Extension office at 419-523-6294, by email at scheckelhoff.11@osu.edu, or stop in at 1206 East Second Street in Ottawa. We will also have a display next week at the Putnam County Fair in the Merchant’s building, so plan to stop and see us! You can also find us on Facebook by searching for OSU Extension Putnam County.

 

 

Bringing Home Bed Bugs

June often marks the beginning of travel to and from summer camps, sporting events, dormitories and apartments, hotel rooms, and numerous other destinations both near and far. With increased travel comes an increased risk of encountering and inadvertently introducing bed bugs in your home.

Bed bugs are a problem throughout Ohio, the US, and worldwide – a problem we all may encounter at some time in our lives. Bed bugs are small insects that hitchhike on clothing, luggage, and other items that have come into contact with an infested location. These unwanted “house guests” can enter our homes on travel gear, luggage, clothing, shoes or other personal items. Acquiring or purchasing used bedding, mattresses, and upholstered furniture can also introduce bed bugs into the home.

Bed bugs are commonly found in areas where people sleep or rest such as beds, couches, or recliners. Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 3/16 to 1/5” long. They move very quickly but do not have wings and cannot fly.

Bed bugs are nocturnal insects that feed mostly at night while their host sleeps. Their bite is painless but may result in small, swollen welts that may itch. Rows of three or more welts on exposed skin are characteristic signs of bed bug feeding.  Fortunately, bed bugs do not carry nor transmit disease, but some people may have an allergic reaction to the bites.

When staying away from home, check beds, mattresses, box springs, and baseboards for dark, rusty spots that are bed bug feces, eggs, or shed skins. Adult bed bugs often hide in crevices any may be difficult to find. If you spot any of these, request another room or move locations if possible. Remember to keep clothing, suitcases and other items off beds and on luggage stands, even if a room appears to be clean.

Here are some tips for preventing bed bugs from entering your home:

  • Carefully inspect all items that will be brought into your home after traveling.
  • Clothing should be removed from luggage and washed in hot water (hot water kills bed bugs). Similar precautions should be taken when family members move back home from an apartment, dormitory, hospital stay, or summer camp.
  • Use caution when placing backpacks, bags, purses, and coats on floors or upholstered items.

If you suspect that your home has been infested with bed bugs, confirm their identification by bringing insects to the the local OSU Extension office. Please make sure insects are in a sealed container.

Prevention and good sanitation in the home are the best defenses for all types of insect concerns including bed bugs. Bed bugs are difficult to eliminate once established in a dwelling. Over the counter baits, insect fogs, insect bombs, and do-it-yourself remedies do not work. Eradication often requires a professional exterminator, several insecticide applications, extensive cleaning and sanitation, along with a healthy dose of perseverance and patience.

For additional information on bed bugs, visit the Ohio State University bed bug website maintained by Dr. Susan Jones, OSU bed bug entomologist, at http://u.osu.edu/bedbugs/. Household pest id cards (image) can be obtained from the Putnam County Extension office at 419-523-6294, by email at scheckelhoff.11@osu.edu, or stop in at 1206 East Second Street in Ottawa. You can also find us on Facebook by searching for OSU Extension Putnam County.