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Fall Webworms

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While driving around Fort Bend County, it doesn’t take long to notice the masses of white webbing in the canopy of many species of trees.

These unsightly webs are built by the Fall Webworm, Hyphantria cunea. The small hairy white caterpillars feed in clusters within and close to their protective webbing.

These, as are many regional pests, are cyclical in their populations. It indeed has been a rough year for them. Most likely because of our mild winter and overwintering populations flourishing. This, combined with a wet spring, caused populations to explode.

Controlling these pests with chemicals is generally not effective, as the webbing safeguards the caterpillars from direct contact with chemical products. Further, the higher the nests are in trees, the harder it is to make good contact with the nests.

Many resources suggest simply to let them be. As noted in the below publication.


If you must, what I tend to recommend is simple. If you have a telescoping pole tree trimmer use it to rake open the webbing. If you don’t have this tool, purchase 3 or 4 lengths of 1/2 inch PVC and use couplings to mount them together. Either way, use these to tear open webbing clusters.

Soon, predators such as wasps, lizards, and birds will begin to snack on the caterpillars and quickly their numbers will diminish. Avoid blanket applications of broad spectrum pesticides, as these will impact populations of your beneficial predators more than it will the pest itself.

Hope this helps.

Boone Holladay
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Fort Bend County Extension Agent – Horticulture
(281) 342-3034, ext. 7034

Landscape Pest Alert – Aphids

Aphids - Underside of Oak Leaf using scope showing population of yellow aphid

The weather this year has brought on a range of atypical landscape pest outbreaks. Most recently, a Mexican White Oak branch was brought in to our office covered with small white dots. After a quick scope inspection of the lower side of the leaves, we spotted hundreds of very small yellow aphids.

Aphids in the home landscape can vary in appearance and in the food they prefer. To view the many species of native aphids, review Bug Guide at https://bugguide.net/node/view/147. Aphid populations rise and fall throughout the year, based off environmental conditions and the presence of natural predators, mostly going unnoticed.

In some cases, environmental conditions and the lack of natural predator populations can cause outbreaks in populations that may warrant temporary efforts on your part to minimize these populations and their impacts on your landscape plants.

It is advised to regularly scout your landscape for early detection of plant pests such as aphids. Symptoms would include yellow or spotted leaves, curled new growth, and the presence of glaze-like honeydew or black sooty mold on the upper surface of leaves. The earlier you can catch outbreaks, the easier it is to respond to: considering the environment, your time and energy, and your pocketbook!

The publication below lays out some good game rules on controlling aphids. The most important part is to not unintentionally harm local beneficial pest predator populations in your control response. This is done by: 1. Simply spraying the underside of the leaves to dislodge the pests, 2. Spraying populations directly with a mild soap or oil solution to impact numbers, and to 3. Introduce beneficial insects such as ladybeetles or lacewings into the area.


Avoid resulting to the use of chemical insecticides until you’ve exhausted the strategies above and there is economic loss on your part, such as the desired plant declining or dying. These are the fundamentals behind Integrated Pest Management, commonly referred to as IPM.

We’d love to help you identify your landscape pest or disease issues. Reach out to the Fort Bend County Master Gardener hotline for garden advice based on proven research-based strategies. Hotline volunteers are in the office Monday through Friday from 9 to 11 am and can be reached in-person, phone, or by email. Visit https://fbmg.org/contact/ for more information.

Aphids - Oak Leaves showing small white yellow dots on upper surface

Oak leaves showing small white/yellow dots on upper surface. Photo credit: JB Holladay

Aphids - Underside of Oak Leaf using scope showing population of yellow aphid

Underside of oak leaf using scope showing population of yellow aphid. Photo credit: JB Holladay

Authored by James Boone Holladay
County Extension Agent – Horticulture
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Fort Bend County

Citrus Canker Disease Update

  • What’s going on?
    Currently the Texas Department of Agriculture, working with the USDA, has issued a quarantine
    area in northeast Richmond, Texas to isolate a localized outbreak of Citrus Canker Disease. This
    factsheet is designed to answer common questions and provide action steps for those in need.
  • What is it?
    Citrus Canker Disease is caused by a bacterial pathogen. It is a serious disease of all citrus cultivars and some citrus relatives. For more information, visit the link below. http://tinyurl.com/jb4degq
  • Where is it?
    The current quarantine area is located in Richmond, and parts of Sugar Land, along Highway 6 surrounding a stretch of FM 1464 at West Airport Blvd. For more information, visit the link below. http://tinyurl.com/hu535ay
  • What should I do?
    If you live close to this area and have citrus or citrus relatives planted in your landscape, there are several maintenance and prevention strategies we recommend.

    • Sanitation Practices – Rake up fallen leaves, branches, twigs, and fruit. Double bag these materials and send to landfill, do not compost. Keep the understory mulched well.
    • Avoiding Wounds – Avoid unnecessary pruning or other physical damage done by landscape equipment. Further, use strategies to minimize bird, rodent, or insect damage to trees and fruit.
    • Tree Health – Encouraging overall tree health is always a good practice. For an overview of recommended citrus care visit: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/citrus/
    • Chemical Prevention – Use approved insecticides to minimize common insect damage. Preventive bactericides common for citrus are copper products. Look for neutralized copper sulfate or copper hydroxide products. Each must be labeled for use on citrus.
  • Who should I contact?
    If you suspect your trees to be infected or if you have initial questions about this disease, contact your Fort Bend County Extension Office. Either your local county agent or a certified master gardener hotline representative will eagerly assist you. Please DO NOT transport plant samples (to our office, local nurseries, garden centers, etc.). Instead, we ask that you take representative photos and email those to us for review. If we deem it necessary, we will recommend further steps for you to take.

Click here to download a printable version!!!

The Zika Virus

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by Lisa Rogers
Fort Bend Master Gardener

By now you have heard of the Zika virus that could potentially be a problem in the United States by the end of summer. A mosquito-transmitted virus identified in the Zika Forest of Uganda in 1947, it was known as a relatively harmless virus causing rashes, inflammation of the eyes and flu-like symptoms. In 2007 during an outbreak in the Pacific Islands, the Zika virus was associated with an increased incidence of Guillain-Barre syndrome—a neurological disease that can cause varying degrees of severe disability for unpredictable amounts of time. In the summer of 2015, it spread to Brazil and was associated with an increased incidence of microcephaly (smaller than expected head size with underdeveloped brains) in babies born to mothers infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. There have also been rare cases confirmed of infected men transmitting the virus sexually.
Health officials in the US are very concerned about this virus because it is transmitted by a bite from an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito. Both species are considered urban mosquitoes and both are abundant in Fort Bend County . They are usually considered daytime biting mosquitoes but may be active day and night. The legs of both of these mosquitoes appear black and white striped upon close observation. The thorax of the A. aegypti, also known as the Yellow Fever mosquito, has lyre shaped markings whereas the thorax of the A. albopictus, also known as the Asian Tiger mosquito, has a white line down the middle of the thorax.
Because of the risk of a Zika outbreak in the continental US, it is important to protect against these mosquitoes. Eliminating the habitat of the mosquito is the first line of defense. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus typically breed in small debris and water filled containers–as small as a bottle cap. Remove or empty water weekly from anything that can hold water including, bird baths, flowerpots, buckets, tires, etc. Tightly close containers that hold water. If mesh is used on water containers make sure the mesh is small enough to keep adult mosquitoes out. Repair gaps and cracks in septic tanks and cover vent pipes with mesh. Mosquito dunks or pellets can be used in standing water that cannot be eliminated. These dunks/pellets contain a natural bacterial larvicide, BTI bacillus thuringiensis israelensis. The BTI kill the larvae before they grow into adult mosquitoes. Fill holes in trees with expanding foam. Keep doors, windows and screens in good repair. Use air conditioning when possible.
Prevent mosquito bites by not being outside when mosquitoes are most actively biting at dusk and dawn. When outside, wear loose fitting long pants and long sleeved shirts. For extended periods of time outside, consider treating clothing with permethrin to make it insect repellent or purchase clothing that is pretreated. Mosquitoes are attracted to smells and dark colors. Avoid smelly lotions, perfumes, colognes and dark colored clothing. When outside wear insect repel-lent on exposed skin. Insect repellents should be EPA approved to insure safety and effectiveness. Approved active in-gredients are DEET, Picaridin, Oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. Refer to http://www.epa.gov/ for more information on concentrations and effectiveness of approved repellents, including product names. When using both sunscreen and repellent, apply sunscreen first. Allow it to dry then apply insect repellent. And, always follow directions listed on the repellent that you use!
Fort Bend County has had two cases of Zika virus confirmed to date. Both cases were acquired while traveling internationally. It is possible for that number to rise as the mosquito season progresses this year. By taking precautions, you’re less likely to be a part of the number. You’ll also be better protected against other mosquito borne diseases that have already been documented in our area!

The Walnut Caterpillar, Round 4

By Boone Holladay
County Extension Agent-Horticulture

As of early July, we are seeing the hatch of the second generation of Walnut Caterpillars feeding on pecan foliage. It is critical for tree health that we address these leaf feeders the best way we can. With the spring floods and now hot and dry conditions, trees are very prone to stress. Leaf loss right now would be devastating to the ongoing health of the trees. For quality control of these pests, you may have to turn to an insecticide product, though many specialized and safe options are on the table.
For commercial orchards, products such as Intrepid and Confirm have minimal to no impact on non-target insects such as beneficials or bees. These are insect growth regulators and would need to be sprayed into the canopy for them to work effectively. What we have recently observed is that orchards that were treated for Pecan Nut Casebearer in spring are not showing significant populations of Walnut Caterpillar now. That’s a good thing!
The safest products for homeowner situations is Bt (Dipel, Thuricide, Caterpillar Killer) and products with Spinosad (such as Green Light Lawn and Garden with Spinosad). These products need to be applied to the leaves where caterpillars are actively feeding. One of the safest contact insecticides is wetable Sevin (Carbaryl). Apply with soap or a surfactant to get better pest contact.
If you cannot reach the top of the tree where the caterpillars are feeding, you may be able to catch them when they move down the tree and cluster to molt. This is usually about 6 to 15 feet up the tree and easy to spot with a little inspection. If you can catch them then, you can spray the cluster with dish soap and water (10 drops to 24 oz. of water), insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or approved contact insecticides.
Be aware of the potential for acute poisoning to pets and wildlife if you use some chemical pesticides on these in-sects. With the large populations of these, ingestion of treated insects by birds and other beneficial organisms may prove harmful.
We ask that if you scout any young populations of the Walnut Caterpillar in your area, that you contact our office at http://fortbend.agrilife.org. We will then visit the area to confirm the outbreak and if confirmed, will add it to our mapping. Thanks in advance for your help.

Coral Drift Roses Survive Memorial Day Flood

By Peggy d’Hemecourt
President & Earth-Kind Specialist, Fort Bend Master Gardeners

As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Unless you’re talking about a plant, in which case you might say “…, the tough keep growing”. That’s what we gardeners hope for when we landscape with tough plants. We expect them to be heat and drought tolerant and resistant to insects and disease. But seldom do we expect tough plants to be flood survivors. That’s exactly what happened though, to many of the Coral Drift Roses growing around the gazebo at Richmond’s Wessendorff Park, planted and cared for by city staff and members of Keep Richmond Beautiful.
On May 28th, as the Brazos River was rising and creeping ever closer to Wessendorff Park, the roses were putting on quite a show and their caregivers wondered how they would fare, and even if a preemptive rescue might be in order. But with more important matters to be addressed, nature was allowed to take its course. And nature didn’t waste any time. The next day, on May 29th, at 11:00 am, the river at Richmond was at moderate flood stage and flood waters began lapping up around the gazebo and encroaching on the rose beds. By 5:00 that afternoon, only the tops of the plants could be seen above the flood waters.
The Brazos kept rising, and on June 2nd, it crested at over 54 feet. Flood water was three to four feet deep under the gazebo. Needless to say, the casual ob-server would never know that roses had been blooming around the gazebo only days earlier.
The roses remained submerged for ten days. When they emerged from the flood waters they were covered in mud, their leaves brown and hanging on to stems that, surprisingly, were showing some green. A week and a day later, green, leafless stems were observed on most of the plants and one of the roses had sprouted new leaves. By June 22nd, new growth was observed on many of the roses.
While it may still be too soon to say with certainty, many of the Coral Drift Roses that adorned the gazebo at Wessendorff Park in Richmond before the flood may return to their former beauty. Tough, as pertains to plants, has taken on a whole new significance. Nature can be resilient. We gardeners may need to be patient following natural disasters and let her take her course.

“Oh Honey, We’ve Got Bees!!” Swarm Season is Upon Us

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – Fort Bend County

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service – Fort Bend County will again offer honeybee swarm traps to the community. For many years, the Extension Service has referred calls to beekeepers for help in dealing with honey bee problems. In cooperation with the Fort Bend Beekeepers Association, the Rosenberg Extension office can now provide a specially constructed trap to lure swarms of honey bees away from homes and structures. Honey bees are cavity nesters and the trap offers a desirable home as an alternative to moving into a location that would be in conflict with people. Luring the bees into a trap avoids the costly help of a bee removal service or exterminator after they have established themselves in the wall or soffit of someone’s house. According to County Extension Agent Boone Holladay, “Trapping may avoid a new infes-tation but, unfortunately, it cannot lure bees out of an existing nest. Preventing an existing colo-ny from becoming a source of new problems is our plan.”

“Reproductive swarms usually happen in the springtime when forage is plentiful, so ‘swarm sea-son’ is just around the corner”, Holladay says. (“Absconding” is the term beekeepers use for en-tire colonies that “swarm”, abandoning their nest, usually due to an unsuitable site, pests or disease. Absconding can happen at any time of the year.) A football-sized cluster of bees hanging from a tree limb or on a wooden fence are awaiting the return of scouts that will guide them to a new nest site. The worst advise anyone can receive is “don’t worry, they’ll leave” since the rest of the sentence may well be “and move into your attic.” The clustered swarm may wait a day or two for the scouts to locate a suitable cavity for the colony to occupy. At this point, timely advice from a beekeeper can make a huge difference. Perhaps a beekeeper can capture the swarm and introduce them into a hive as their new home. If not a man-aged hive, hopefully the bees will move into a hollow tree or maybe an abandoned birdhouse. Bees have a heightened sense of smell, so they easily find where bees have lived before.

If honey bees have been a recurring problem or an existing colony might result in more problems, the swarm trap program may be of significant help. Contact the Extension office during business hours at 281- 633-7029 and make arrangements to pick up a honey bee trap. Hang the trap securely about four or five feet above the ground (a tree or wooden fence makes a good trap site). Check the trap frequently and when you notice bees occupying it, call the Extension office immediately. They will have an area beekeeper contact you to remove the trap and move the bees into a managed hive. It is best to move the trap after dark so that all the bees are inside (you don’t want foraging bees to return to find their home is gone). The swarm trap is for a swarm on the move. If you have had bees in structures for some length of time, traps aren’t your answer. Contact the Extension office and we can offer a list of bee removal service providers.

If You haven’t Already Heard It Through the Grapevine…

By Boone Holladay, Fort Bend County Extension Agent—Horticulture

There are a couple standards that Texans live by. First, everything is bigger in Texas. Second, if someone says that it can’t be done in Texas, well, we’ll not only prove them wrong, but we’ll do it bigger, better, bolder, and with a little Texas flare added for good measure. Now with that the stage has been set, let’s talk wine grapes!

The viticulture industry in Texas has grown from a tiny niche in the 1980’s up to a big player in the US wine market. This is due to a group of pioneer-minded individuals and a bunch of research and consulting from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Beyond state specialists, Extension has allocated regional viticulture specialists throughout the State. These individuals are knowledgeable on the climate, growing conditions, and varietals that do best in each region. In Fort Bend County, our region is entitled the Gulf Coast region. Yes, this region goes all the way from Orange down the complete Gulf coastline down to Brownsville. That’s quite a bit of diversity.

All this said, I’d like to spend a minute to introduce our new Gulf Coast regional specialist, Ms. Fran Pontasch. Fran has extensive viticulture experience in Texas. Beyond serving in several roles with Extension, she managed vineyards at Messina Hof winery in Bryan. In her recent newsletter Fran quoted “What a privilege it is to visit your vineyards during wildflower season. Every vineyard that I’ve visited so far, has Blanc Du Bois planted. Blanc Du Bois, this region’s first variety to bud, bloom, and ripen is a week or two from blooming in the northern parts of the region and have already set fruit in the Valley.” We are lucky and proud to have Fran on board.

Several weeks ago, I got to spend the day with Fran touring local vineyards; two of the notable vineyards in Fort Bend County and a research grower in Wharton. The primarily message I received that day, was that we have plenty of room to step up grape production in our region. About half of Fort Bend County soils are suitable for commercial wine grape production. This includes loam and sandy loam soils with excellent drainage, mostly found across the north and northwest parts of the county, but found in pockets throughout. The main key is drainage. If you are in are-as that don’t drain off for a day or two after big storms….well, this might not be for you, at least at a commercial scale.

So, if you are interested in growing wine grapes, commercially or for home use, here are a couple options to get you started. First off is the 2016 Black Spanish/Lenoir Symposium held on Friday, May 20, 2016 at the Cat Spring Agricultural Society Hall in Austin, County. Taming the Beast in the Vineyard & Winery: Lenoir or Black Spanish, regardless of what name we give it – this grape grows perfectly in the Gulf Coast region. Across the state, winemakers are making robust red wines. Join us for a day of learning, tasting, and sharing your thoughts. Fee – $75. Pay at the door, includes lunch, materials, and tastings. Beyond this upcoming event, Fran schedules a range of events throughout the calendar. If you are ready to take the plunge, reach out to Fran at fmpontasch@tamu.edu and get signed up for announcement of future events. Next, visit http://winegrapes.tamu.edu for a range of online resources for commercial viticulture producers. Last, but not least, we have a small demonstration vineyard planting here at our offices in Rosenberg. Our disclaimer is that it isn’t currently in great shape, but it will offer clues of what and what not to do. Give us a call at (281) 342-3034 to schedule a guided visit.

To growing wine grapes in Fort Bend County, Cheers!

Recent Outbreak of Biting Flies

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By John Gordy, Fort Bend County Extension Agent-AG-NR

For the last couple of weeks there have been many local reports of and questions about biting “gnats”. Many of the reports indicate that the gnats are biting people during the day – particularly around the neck and head, and leaving persistently itchy swollen areas at the site of the bites. The actual culprits have been one or more species of black fly. Black fly species are small (5 mm or less) and have a characteristic “hump-back”, which is why they are also commonly called buffalo gnats. The flies are active during the day, and unlike mosquitoes, they are fast, strong fliers that can continue to be problematic even on very breezy days. Female flies have mouth parts modified to bite and feed on blood. They attack people as well as domestic animals, poultry and wildlife.

Most species of black fly larvae develop while attached to sub-merged rocks or logs in shallow moving waters of streams and rivers. However, there are some species that do well in sandy-bottomed streams and slow, muddy bodies of water. After the female lays eggs in the water, larval development can take any-where from two weeks to more than two months. Adult black flies, particularly females, can disperse great distances from their breeding habitats to feed. Along with the relatively warm winter we have experienced, rains farther north have provided ample freshwater coming down both the Brazos and San Bernard rivers, helping provide good conditions for large black fly populations. And while the black fly populations may soon decrease, it is possible that there will be another generation later in the year.

During periods of adult activity biting flies can become very annoying. Staying indoors is one option, but working outdoors may require dressing in long pants and long-sleeved shirt and wearing a cap and possibly a mesh veil. Insect repellents can be applied, particularly to the neck and head, but may not be very effective against these strong, fast flies. Additionally, you may have to try different repellents to find the one that works on the species near-est you. There is some research showing good efficacy of the active ingredient IR-3535 against some species of blackfly, deer flies and stable flies. Also, mixtures of DEET with other repellents like MGK 111, MGK 264, and MGK 326 appear to be better against blackflies than DEET alone. Some products that contain the above repellents include Avon Skin-so-soft Bug Guard, Coleman Skin Smart, Deep Woods Off, Sawyer picaridin repellent, and Cutter Backwoods. Additionally, some local re-ports indicate that herbal and essential oil based repellents work well, although there is no re-search to support it. Bites can be treated with over the counter insect bite remedies to help deaden the itching, but some people are very sensitive to the bites and may need to visit with their medical doctor.

For horses and livestock, individual animals may be stabled during the day when populations are abundant, but this practice is not possible for large herds. Fly repellents applied to the chest, belly and ears are somewhat effective but require daily application. Muslin or cotton bags fitted over horses’ ears may be used to prevent fly entry of those species attacking these areas, or white petroleum jelly inside the ears of horse will reduce bites. Additional options include dense smoke, repellents with permethrin, and ivermectin ear tags or pour-on and spray formulations.