For superior pest control, look to the “web”

Often spotted in late summer, a fully grown orb weaver can be a startling discovery. They seem to appear overnight, spinning expansive webs across paths and between plants. Despite their sometimes-intimidating appearance, spiders deserve a place in your garden if you can get past the “creepy” factor. 

99.9% of all spiders are no threat to you 

Unlike the giant arachnids you may have seen in B-grade horror films, it’s humans who are large enough to be a spider’s worst nightmare. Like with snakes, almost all spiders are benign and a small few are venomous. Learn how to recognize those two species in Texas; the other 900 are worthy of welcoming to your garden.  

Your best friend against pests 

Spiders consume a massive quantity of garden pests, including aphids, mites, leafhoppers, stink bugs, earwigs, armyworms, leaf miners, spider mites, flies and mosquitoes. Their insect feasting removes more pests than even our feathered friends.  

While orb weavers are rather stationary, trapping prey in webs, many others chase down their meals instead. Known as cursorial species, jumping spiders, wolf spiders, and crab spiders are especially important to gardeners because they move around the garden in search of prey. A healthy spider presence is an excellent way to keep insect pests at bay without the need for traps or pesticides. 

Give spiders a space 

Orb weavers like tall plants – sunflowers, cornstalks, tall grasses, shrubs, even tomato cages on which to attach their webs. Seeing webs in your garden beds means that these natural predators will be ready to munch on pests trying to munch on your plants. Running spiders prefer mulch, ground covers, and other damp places to hide.  

Sheltered areas of undisturbed leaves and small twigs are also important overwintering sites. Spiders live only one to two seasons. Most die in fall leaving papery, brown egg cases nestled in protected nooks until spring, when teeny tiny spiderlings emerge. They often spin a silken thread that carries them on the wind like a balloon to a new garden home. 

Spiders are more friend than foe. If you see a web, leave it be if possible – or use the long stabilizing silks to move it to a better location. If you’re raking mulch and a spider scurries out, resist the urge to squash it. They are an essential part of controlling insects that would happily feed on your plants.  

Keeping spiders outside

Spiders inside the house can be easily transported outside. If you care to keep them out…

  1. Seal cracks around doors and windows where insects may get in.
  2. Trim back any shrubs and trees that touch the house; ideally leave a 2-foot gap between plants and your siding.
  3. Give everything a good vacuum – get above door frames, in corners, and behind furniture. A good spring cleaning will eliminate spider egg sacs and all the insects that spiders love to eat.

Keep in mind that, inside or out, most pesticides aren’t effective on spiders. These products rely on the insect crawling over the chemical to penetrate their outer shell while spiders keep their bodies aloft while they walk.

Discover More 

If you want to learn more about the importance of spiders and other beneficial insects, check out these resources: 

ONLINE 

BOOKS 

  • Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy 
  • Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control by Jessica Walliser 
  • Insects and Gardens: In Pursuit of a Garden Ecology by Eric Grissell 
  • Good Bug Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically, by Jessica Walliser 

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Friend or Foe? Managing Garden Insects

Nature provides a free workforce that keeps pests under control. Beneficial insects include predators and parasitoids that prey on insect pests such as aphids, scale, mealybugs and caterpillars. Many chemical insecticides used to control pests will kill these garden friends as well. Learning to recognize beneficial insects in all their life stages helps you know when sprays should be avoided, and pest control left to these voracious predators.

Beneficial Insects – Here’s your workforce! 

Turn over a new leaf and identify some of the natural enemies worth conserving in your yard with this video from the University of Georgia. Learn the signs and symptoms of insect damage and get up close with the praying mantids, tiger beetles, syrphid flies, and parasitoid wasps hunting them. We can all pick out lady beetles, but do you know what their larvae look like? These black and orange alligator-like juveniles are aphid-eating machines, each one consuming upwards of 300 as it develops. 

In a nutshell 

  • Insects are the most diverse creatures in the world – you may have over 1,000 different ones in your yard this very moment! 
  • Even if it were possible, it certainly wouldn’t be desirable to eliminate all insects – they’re a critical link in the food chain, essential for most birds, amphibians, and garden “friends.” 
  • Predatory insects tend to be larger and quicker than plant-eating pests, with strong piercing or biting mouthparts.  
  • Predators are generally found singly or in small numbers (<10) on a plant, whereas pests group in much larger numbers. 
  • Many insects are useful partners, some are minor players, and fewer than 3% pose a potential problem; knowing which are which and how they live is the key to effectively managing them. 
  • Conserving insect predators by reducing or eliminating pesticides lets nature’s pest control do the work for you. 

Discover more beneficial insects, spiders, and other mini-creatures in your garden with this picture-heavy resource. We cover some plants that will draw them into the yard – check out how to mix up your blooms in Pest Prevention by Design.

There’s an app for that! 

Join us Friday, June 4, 2021, as Texas Nature Tracker Biologist Craig Hensley walks us through how easy it is to click a pic and get a suggestion with the iNaturalist app. Register here to receive the link.  

 

Kids Corner 

Share these 10 Interesting Insects with your budding entomologists. Watch a monarch emerge from a chrysalis, follow worker bees in their quest for pollen, and learn how a cricket chirps and grasshoppers sing. 

These Good Bug/Bad Bug Activity pages from AgriLife Extension help children learn about the benefits of insects and gain an appreciation for what insects do for the world in which we live. View the picture gallery here


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Woodlands Landscaping Solutions Online Learning: Day 3

Build a Successful Landscape from Ground Up 

Today’s online programming will help you find easier, more effective and more sustainable ways to enhance your landscape. Learn about plant selection, improving soil health and pest control best practices (many common plant problems, like insects and disease, can be easily resolved once the cause is identified).  

Set-up for Success: The 3 S’s 

 Right Plant Right Place, UMN Extension Part 1  

While set in Minnesota, Extension Educator Julie Weisenhorn gives a great overview of how to choose the perfect plant for that empty spot in your yard or garden – whether it’s for your entryway or anywhere else. Putting the right plant in the right place is the foundation of any successful garden. Learn how to assess soil, sun, space and other factors in this handy how-to video on one of the fundamental aspects of garden design.  

Bottom line: Avoid most plant problems with this one concept (8:44)

Extra credit: The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder allows you to plug all your requirements into their database to find the perfect match for you from their list of Pineywood natives (which they call the South Central Plains).


Feed the Soil Microbiome 

Building Microbe-Rich Living Compost Part 1 

Making and applying microbe-rich compost is one of the most valuable things you can do for your soil. Understand principles and practices of home-scale composting to insure a rodent-free and biologically active compost pile. A great resource whether you’re just beginning to compost or are experienced and looking to make your compost even better.  

Cultivating Connections: Soil Redemption Song 

Michael Phillips takes you on a deep dive into the microscopic communities beneath our feet and our crops. He talks about the fungal network as a pathway to bringing resilience to gardens and landscapes.  Michael Phillip, who’s latest book, “Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together to Create Dynamic Soils,” explores the science of symbiotic fungi and sets the stage for practical applications across the landscape. 


Encourage Nature’s Pest Control 

Managing Garden Insects Begins with a Question: Friend or Foe? 

Learning “what is it?” is the first step in determining if an insect is a useful garden partner, a minor player, or potentially a bigger problem. Your garden may have over 1000 different insects! Most are actually harmless or provide beneficial functions like pollination and predation. Learn to recognize and protect nature’s pest control at various stages in their lifecycle, along with pests associated with chewing, discoloration, distortion, and die back.  

Bottom line: Every. Single. Gardener. Needs to know this info! (18:04) 

Farmscaping for Pollinators & Predatory Insects 

Learn about the dynamic interactions between plants, pollinator and predator insects that will help you create a buzz of biodiversity and balance in your niche of the local ecosystem. Discover key plants that add biodiversity and beauty to your garden through a conversation with Pat Battle from Living Web Farms. Watch the first 31 mins for a new approach to farming that works for the home garden too, then follow Pat and his class on a delightful tour through the farmscape.  

Bottom line: Good for gardeners who want to “level-up” on biodiversity (1:24:04) 

Building A Host Environment for Beneficial Insects  

Build it and they will come! Bring it all together with elements you can add to any garden that encourage self-sustaining populations of nature’s natural pest control featuring the story of momma hoverfly, and why its OK to have aphids!

Bonus: If you are considering purchasing and releasing lady beetles, check out Lady Beetles for Aphid Control by Oklahoma Gardening host Kim Toscano. 

Pesticide Safety 

Backyard Farmer – Pesticide Safety 

Sometimes a problem requires a chemical solution – whether its naturally derived like neem or a broad-spectrum pyrethroid. University of Nebraska Extension Pesticide Education Coordinator Larry Schulze gives us tips on active ingredients, reading and following pesticide labels and using these chemicals safely around our homes. 

Bottom line: Important information for all who use pesticides – the label is the law (5:58)

Additional Resources:  

Join us tomorrow for more online programming as we explore How To Attract Wildlife To Your Yard. 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Air BeeNBee

Are you looking to purchase new property with a small footprint but a big return on investment? Nervous that you might not find the right renters or worried about the upkeep on another home?

What if you could build the house for pennies, be guaranteed several long-term renters and get your return on investment almost immediately?

Then it’s time to build a bee house!

Meet The Renters

Native Solitary Bees, also known as pollen bees, account for approximately 90% of bee species native to Texas. Because these bees are not honey producers and don’t have the ‘job’ of protecting and providing for a hive, they are not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees will only sting when provoked (i.e. smashed or squished) and are safe to observe in the garden.

The most common bees to take up residency are mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees. A couple hundred of these friendly neighbors can pollinate as many flowers as a thousand honeybees!

In Spring and Summer, females will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house and fill it with food, lay eggs, seal the room shut and then move on to her next nest. She won’t revisit or defend the nest. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the stored food, winter inside the nest and then emerge in the spring to start the cycle all over again, providing you an endless stream of renters and pollinators!

Hard Hats Required: Construction Zone

Bee houses can be any shape or size, though the size of a birdhouse, roughly 8” x 12” is common for most urban landscapes.  Make sure the depth of the bee house is at least 6 to 8 inches to allow plenty of room for bees to nest.

When building a frame, make sure that the back is closed and the front is open.  A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2 inches over the front of the house. 

When choosing wood, be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood as the chemicals used will deter bees.  If you want to up the curb appeal of your bee house and add a coat of paint, be aware that the paint and sealant will deter bees for a few weeks until the smell wears away.

For the “rooms” of the house, provide a variety of sizes for bees to choose from.  There are many materials that can provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting:  bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches.  Whatever material you choose, make sure they are all cut to fit the depth of your bee house.  If drilling holes, be sure to provide a range of sizes from 1/8” to ½” in diameter and use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges caused by the drill.

Several companies now offer premanufactured nesting tubes or blocks to insert into your frame.  These tubes allow for pieces to be removed if any damage, rot or disease occurs.  If interested in harvesting and storing bee cocoons, these removable options are great.  To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built below.

After collecting your materials, fill the frame with the various sized rooms and add in some bits of nature (pine cones, branches, foliage) to make the bees feel at home.  If concerned about birds or other predators, cover the front of the house with chicken wire

Room With A View

Find an area in your yard that is near where the bees will forage for food. A radius of 300 feet is ideal. Place the house on the South side of a building, fence post or tree that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.   The higher the better: place the house a minimum of 3 feet from the ground. 

Avoid hanging your house from a pole or hook; it will swing too much to be considered a safe home by bees.  Best to have the back of the house flush with a sturdy object. Once your house has residents, DO NOT MOVE!   If you must relocate, wait until November when most of the tubes will be filled with eggs waiting to hatch and emerge in the spring.

Upkeep

Bee houses require  little maintenance; however check periodically that the house remains dry and no mold or mildew is occurring.   Look for signs of pollen mites, chalkbrood, and parasitic wasps.  All are threats to your bee house. 

Harvesting cocoons each winter will decrease the chance for larvae to become a victim to pests or disease.  If not harvesting, consider replacing tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.

To provide a long term housing option, remember to NOT spray insecticides on or around the bee house.

The best way to keep up with your bee house is to become familiar with who your neighbors are.  Identifying the types of bees and addressing their needs and common concerns will be very helpful in providing the best home for these pollinators.  Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.

Once your bee house is buzzing with renters, sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!

All A-Buzz – its Pollinator Week!

pwgraphic-for-cover-photo[By Ann Hall, Environmental Education Specialist, enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov]

Celebrate the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles during National Pollinator Week , June 18-24, 2018.

When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower of another of the same species, it leads to fertilization, a vital step to reproduce flowers, fruit and plants.  The vast majority of all flowering plants depend on insects and animals to move pollen from plant to plant.  More than 99% of pollinators are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths and bees.

Pollinators are in decline.  Populations of honeybees, native bees and many butterflies have become much smaller in recent years.  Research has shown that this decline is partially due to the increased use of pesticides and the reduction of many native flowering plants.  The work of pollinators is crucial to maintaining full harvests of crops and the general health of plants everywhere.

What You Can Do For Pollinators

For information on what to plant in your own yard or garden and how to get involved with The Woodlands Township’s goal to become a National Wildlife Federation Monarch Champion City access the PolliNatives Project Page

 

Pollintator-Poster-2018-low-res