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December 2017
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Raccoons dig grubs

A high population of Japanese beetles resulted in lots of white grubs in lawns and gardens, soon followed by hungry raccoons. Photo courtesy Karen J. Kennedy

Three readers sent me photos of their lawns with gouged soil and I observed this condition in several landscapes when on my walks this fall. Blame raccoons. They dig up the turf looking for grubs.

“If you can imagine groups of raccoons foraging for patches of grubs hidden in clumps under the turf, you can understand why they tear up turf when they find their prey. It’s kind if like a cat and mouse game,” said Cliff Sadof, an entomology professor and extension educator at Purdue University.

Raccoons searched for grubs in an irrigated lawn with a lawn service on Indianapolis’ northwest side. Submitted photo

This past summer was really good for Japanese beetles, whose numbers were higher than they had been for several years, he said.

Japanese beetles lay their eggs in lawns and sometimes in garden beds in mid summer. The eggs hatch and by August and September, grubs are wriggling through the soil, munching on roots. Areas that are irrigated regularly are ideal for this task because the soil is soft and easier to wriggle through.

“The raccoons just took advantage of the situation,” Sadof said. “I would recommend inspecting the turf in early to mid August for grubs in the same area that was torn up this year.” Besides a lawn dug up by raccoons, another symptom of a grub infestation is grass that is brown and easily pulled from the ground.

White grubs look a lot alike. From left to right: Japanese beetle, European chafer and June bug. (C) David Cappaert/Bugwood.org

Next August, lift a 12-inch square of turf in areas where you suspect a grub infestation. If you count 10 grubs or more, Sadof recommends treatment. Another way to evaluation is to pull up a plug of grass that you cut with a one-pound coffee can. If there is more than one grub in each plug, treatment may be warranted.

Purdue does not recommend preventative grub treatment, but rather treatment only if grubs are present and only to the infested area. One biological control is beneficial nematodes, which sort of look like skinny worms. These products are approved for use organic gardeners and farmers. Arbico-Organics.com, PlanetNatural.com and GardensAlive.com are three sources. Treatment is done in August and September when the grubs are moving through the soil.

Another biologic, milky spore disease (Bacillus popilliae), was considered a good option for controlling Japanese beetle grubs, but recent research has cast doubt on that. It only is effective on Japanese beetle grubs. And, a lot of grubs look alike, so if your problem is a masked chafer, another root-munching white grub, using milky spore disease is a waste of money.

For more information, download Purdue’s pamphlet Managing White Grubs in Turfgrass.

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No space or time? Natural alternatives for holiday cheer

Red-blooming kalanchoe and green and white polka dot plant in red planters will look good on a table or as a spot-color holiday decoration . (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Sometimes, there’s no space for a Christmas tree, or no time to put one up and take one down. Or, maybe you’ll be away during the holidays and you just don’t want the bother.

What alternatives do you have to get some of those festive, traditional red and green colors in the home?

Plant marketers offer the perfect solutions: Natural holiday cheer that nearly eliminates any care requirements. Think plants for short-term decoration, just like a fresh-cut Christmas tree would be. When these plants start to look past their prime, toss them. I absolve you of any notion you have to try and keep them alive. Look for these living decorations in area garden centers and other retailers.

Frosty Fern decked out with red birds. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A personal favorite is Frosty Fern (Selaginella kraussiana), which hails from the Azores and Africa, so let’s just say it’s not all that frost tolerant. The tips of its green leaves have a natural frosty look, which gives it its holiday name.

Although marketed as Frosty Fern, it’s commonly referred to as a moss, which better describes its look and texture. Sometimes this houseplant is sold with a red bird nested at the top. Place in indirect light and try to keep the soil slightly moist.

Tack some tiny holiday-theme ribbons or balls ‘Goldcrest’ lemon cypress gives you a contemporary holiday tree. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

‘Goldcrest’ lemon cypress (Cypressus macrocarpa) is the perfect chartreuse, conical shape to serve as a contemporary homage to a traditional green tree. This dwarf evergreen with a slight lemony fragrance is not winter hardy here, but should serve its purpose through the holidays. Give it direct light and water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Don’t over water.

For a lot of whimsy and fun, look for a small specimen of Lawson false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwoodii’) fashioned into a Grinch hat, complete with a red ball ornament. Unlike these other plants, this evergreen is hardy to USDA Zone 5, so it should survive anywhere in the state. I make no promises that it will make the transition from holiday decoration to landscape shrub. You also may find dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) potted up in tabletop arrangements. This plant also is winter hardy throughout Indiana, but the same cautions apply.

Red-blooming kalanchoe in sparkly holiday-themed planters. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

For a tasteful and easy decoration, pick up a few ornament-like planters or cute pots stuffed with red-blooming kalanchoe, a succulent that just about takes care of itself. Kalanchoe also may be planted with green and white polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya), ferns or other companion plants.

Even Grinch will love these options.

 

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December garden checklist

 

Holidayshuge christmas tree

  • When shopping for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, check for green, flexible, firmly held needles and a sticky trunk base — both indicators of freshness. Make a fresh cut and keep the cut end under water at all times.
  • Evergreens can be trimmed gently for indoor holiday decorations.

Indoorshouseplants-by-window-fotolia_3111469

  • Houseplants usually require less water and fertilizer during the winter, but they need more light. Move plants closer to windows (but not touching glass) when days are gray.
  • Store lawn and garden products in a cool, dry place, protected from moisture and freezing, but away from heat.

General Landscape

  • Prevent the bark from splitting on young, thin-barked trees, such as fruit and maple, by wrapping them with tree wrap, or paint them with white latex paint, especially the south and south-west sides.
  • Protect broadleaves, evergreens or other tender landscape plants from excessive drying (desiccation) by winter sun and wind with canvas, burlap or polyethylene plastic screens on the south and west sides. Shields also may be used to protect plants from salt spray.
  • Protect weak-stemmed shrubs from extensive snow loads by tying their stems together with twine. Carefully remove heavy snow loads with a broom so limbs don’t break.
Plants have been protected with burlap. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Plants have been protected with burlap. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

  • If needed, protect young plants, broadleaves and needle-bearing evergreens and other tender landscape plants from excessive drying from sun and wind by spraying with an antidesiccant when temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Always read and follow the label direction.
  • Mulch tender plants with organic material when they become dormant.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Harvest root crops. Store in a cold location with high humidity.