September 2011

Life Outside the City Limits

Collage of Sept Images

Food Preservation Tips for Home Gardeners
Alice Henneman, UNL Extension Educator

Canning might be considered an art as well as a science. As such, we often want to let our creative side take over! We create our own recipes, improvise regarding equipment and supplies, and may make decisions based on half-truths.If you're a beginning canner or even an advanced canner, see how up-to-date you are on canning before you get out that boiling water canner or pressure canner. Or, if freezing is your choice ... before you start searching for freezer containers.  Home Food Preservation- Canning, Freezing & Drying


Canning & Freezing Safely & Successfully: A Quiz from Alice Henneman on Vimeo.



Trees for Nebraska Towns Grant Deadline October 1st
By Kendall Weyers, Nebraska Forest Service

Trees for Nebraska Towns (TNT) makes funding and technical assistance available to improve species diversity and to foster better planting and maintenance practices for trees and associated landscapes. Projects must include the planting of large-maturing trees and must demonstrate high-quality and sustainable tree planting and care practices. Projects should also help conserve water and improve stormwater. The TNT program is not available to fund trees on individual homeowner's property or street tree. If you are interested in coordinating a neighborhood wide tree-planting project we suggest working through your neighborhood association or local government to apply for a TNT grant. Private properties that qualify for TNT funding include properties such as nature centers, non-profits, parochial schools etc. if they demonstrate clear public benefit.

  • Projects should emphasize the planting of large-maturing trees (those exceeding 40' in height or spread). Other landscape plantings that benefit trees can be included in the project.
  • Projects can be on public or private property, but all projects must provide clear public benefit.
  • Approximately $75,000 in grant funds is available. The maximum funding request is $10,000.
  • A minimum 50% match is required for all projects (grant funds will not pay for more than 50% of the total project value). Any other funding source is eligible for matching funds. Donated and in-kind goods and services ARE allowed toward the required match.
  • TNT is funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET), a beneficiary of the Nebraska Lottery.
  • Application deadline: October 1, 2011.

Contact Kendall Weyers at (402) 472-6693;

Download the grant application and instructions at




The nights are gettting cooler and the constellation Orion the Hunter, is visible. Start thinking about autumn as you watch our features on garden clean up, prairie grasses, preventing mold in your home, and attracting wildlife.

Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension, tells how to clean up your garden and prepare for next spring.


Prairie grasses are a delight. Kim Todd, UNL Extension, tells how to get the most out of them in a landscape.


Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension, tells how to prevent mold and mildew problems in your home.


Wildlife viewing can be even better, if you follow ideas given by Dennis Ferraro, UNL Extension.

Start Eating Breakfast More Often for a Healthier You!
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

Grapefruit ImageSeptember is National Breakfast Month and for many people breakfast is a low priority or not one at all. If you think you are saving time or cutting out calories to lose weight by skipping breakfast, think again. Making a healthy breakfast a part of your morning can help get you on track to make healthier choices throughout the day, increase your physical activity, and help curb overindulging on convenience foods and overeating at lunch. A healthy breakfast replenishes your body and can have a positive impact on your general health. Check out these tips on why a healthy breakfast is so important and how to make it happen in the morning.

Tips on How to Start Eating Breakfast more Often:

  • Skipping Breakfast and Weight Gain. Did you know skipping breakfast may increase your chances for weight gain? Eating breakfast can help reduce your hunger and help you to avoid overeating. Also, skipping breakfast may leave you feeling famished, which leaves the door open for temptations such as candy, chips, and other convenience foods that you might find in a vending machine. When you are at the grocery store try buying portable breakfast items such as fruit, low-fat yogurt, and whole grain breakfast or granola bars for when you are on the go.
  • Breakfast and Children's Academic Performance. Research shows that skipping out on breakfast can negatively impact children's academic performance. As children get older they are less and less likely to eat breakfast. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) states that children who eat a healthy breakfast are more apt to have better concentration, be more alert, creative and physically active, miss fewer days of school. and have better problem-solving skills.
  • The Health Benefits of Breakfast. Did you know eating a healthy breakfast may help you establish health benefits for life? Research shows that those who eat breakfast on a regular basis are more likely to have a healthier overall diet. Healthy breakfast options include whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain cereals, breads, muffins, or bagels), low-fat protein (hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, lean slices of poultry, meat, or fish), low-fat dairy (skim or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and cheeses), and fruits and vegetables (try fresh or frozen fruits or 100% juices that do not have added sugars).
  • Healthy Breakfast Ideas. Try a small whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and a glass of skim or low-fat milk. Another example would be oatmeal cooked with skim or low-fat milk topped with dried or fresh fruit and chopped nuts. You could also eat whole-grain cereal with skim or low-fat milk and some fresh fruit such as strawberries or blueberries. Another idea is a breakfast parfait made with low-fat yogurt, fruit, and low-fat granola. You could also try a breakfast sandwich made with a whole grain English muffin, turkey bacon, and low-fat cheese.

If you are one of the many Americans that skip breakfast in the morning I encourage you to start eating breakfast this month and make it a daily routine. Try adding to or substituting your morning coffee with 100% juice or low-fat milk. Plan ahead to eat breakfast, this means deciding the night before so you will save time in the morning. Start a new routine this month where breakfast is a priority.



Nitrate in Drinking Water
By Sharon Skipton, UNL Extension Educator

Water quality monitoring shows that nitrate is present in groundwater throughout much of Nebraska and concentrations are increasing in some areas.

Nitrogen is the nutrient applied for lawn and garden care and crop production to increase productivity. Feedlots, animal yards, septic systems, and other waste treatment systems are additional sources of nitrogen that is carried in waste. Nitrogen occurs naturally in the soil in organic forms from decaying plant and animal residues.

Boiling Water ImageBacteria in the soil convert various forms of nitrogen to nitrate, a nitrogen/oxygen ion. This is desirable since the majority of the nitrogen used by plants is absorbed in the nitrate form. However, nitrate is highly soluble and readily moves with water through the soil profile. If there is excessive rainfall or over-irrigation, nitrate will drain below the plant's root zone and may eventually reach groundwater.

The health hazard associated with nitrate-contaminated drinking water occurs when bacteria in the human digestive system transform nitrate to nitrite. The nitrite reacts with iron in the hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen, to form methemoglobin. This creates the condition known as methemoglobinemia (sometimes referred to as "blue baby syndrome"), in which blood lacks the ability to carry sufficient oxygen to the individual body cells. Infants under one year of age have the highest risk of developing methemoglobinemia. An older person who has a gastrointestinal system disorder resulting in increased bacteria growth may be at greater risk than the general population. In addition, an individual who has a genetically impaired enzyme system for metabolizing methemoglobin may be at greater risk. The general population has a low risk of developing methemoglobinemia, even when ingesting relatively high levels of nitrate/nitrite.

Testing public water supplies for nitrate is required under the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for public water supplies is measured and reported as nitrate-nitrogen, (NO3-N), which is the amount of nitrogen in the nitrate form. The MCL for nitrate-nitrogen in a public water supply is 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) which also can be expressed as 10 parts per million (ppm).

Testing of a private water supply is not required under federal or state law. If you want to know the concentration of nitrate in your private water supply, have the water tested by a certified lab. Do-it-yourself test kits are available, as well. These might be used for preliminary "screening" for nitrate-nitrogen in your well. However, analysis by an approved laboratory is recommended for an accurate, reliable, and precise measurement.

An initial test of a new water supply by a testing laboratory is recommended to determine the baseline nitrate concentration in the water source. In addition, a water test is recommended for households with infants, pregnant women, nursing mothers, or elderly people. These groups are believed to be the most susceptible to nitrate health effects.

Activities near a well potentially can contaminate the water supply, changing the nitrate concentration over time. Private drinking water wells should be tested annually to monitor changes in nitrate concentration.

If nitrate-nitrogen exceeds 10 ppm, you might voluntarily consider an alternative drinking water source or water treatment. Decisions should be based on a nitrate analysis by a reputable laboratory, and after consulting with a physician to help evaluate the level of risk.

It may be possible to obtain a satisfactory alternate water supply by drilling a new well in a different location or a deeper well in a different aquifer. As an alternative, drinking water can be treated to remove or reduce nitrate-nitrogen by three treatment methods: distillation, reverse osmosis, and ion exchange.

Carbon filters and standard water softeners do not remove or reduce nitrate-nitrogen. Merely boiling water does not remove or reduce nitrate-nitrogen. In fact, when water is boiled, water volume is lost through evaporation; nitrate is not lost through evaporation. This results in an increased nitrate-nitrogen concentration in the water that remains after prolonged boiling.



It's September, Time to Prepare for Mice
By Stephen M. Vantassel, UNL Project Coordinator for
Wildlife Damage Management

September is the perfect time to prepare for the mice that want to enter your home when the weather turns cold. A few simple steps can go a long way to stop the influx of rodents and in some situations stop them completely.

Impossible you say? Not all. Here is what you need to do.

  1. Carefully seal all cracks and crevices large enough to allow mice to enter your home. This means you must close every opening ¼-inch or larger. Crevices less than ½ inch can be caulked with the appropriate sealant. Larger openings should be filled with copper or stainless steel mesh and then made air-tight with appropriate sealant. Your hardware store can help you choose the right caulk or sealant for the particular surfaces and areas you are planning to secure. Your inspection should concentrate in and around doors, vents, foundation sill, and areas where you have seen mice in the past. Don't forget that mice climb too. Sometimes they enter homes through roof vents and soffits. Be careful when climbing ladders. Don't feel overwhelmed. Any effort you take will help no matter how small you think it is.
  2. Make your property less attractive to rodents. Remove or modify bird feeders, trash cans, and other sources of food. Mice need only a 1/10 of an ounce of food each day. So what looks like a little to us is a feast to them. The more food you make unavailable the less mice can live your area.
  3. Remove places where mice can hide. Wood piles, tall grass, debris and clutter provide excellent alternative homes for mice. Remove those and you will make your property less attractive for them. The more your property is manicured the more risk a mouse takes to enter the area. Mice need places to hide as being out in the open makes them vulnerable to predators.

Mouse ImageAfter those three steps are accomplished, prepare to handle any mice you encounter in your home. Have a dozen snap traps and/or some bait stations on hand for immediate use if mice arrive in your home or garage. Mice can reproduce rapidly so quick action can go a long way to resolving the problem before it gets out of hand.
Implement these steps and you will not only reduce the presence of mice but also lower the damage they have on wires, insulation, and food sources.

We have several NebGuides that provide additional information on various aspects of mouse control.
Controlling House Mice, University of Nebraska
Rodent Bait Stations, University of Nebraska
Rodent Exclusion in Structures, University of Nebraska
Rodent Exclusion in Drains, University of Nebraska



Horse Insect Pests- Part II
By David Boxler and Sara Ellicott, UNL Extension Educators

Back in July, we did a fairly extensive web show on the flies that can pester horses during the summer months. However, flies are not the only nuisance that can be an issue for horse owners. There are many others, and in this article, we will take a few minutes to address what these other pesky insects are and how to go about controlling them. The insects that will be addressed in this article are biting gnats, mosquitoes, eye gnats, horse lice, ticks, horse bots and blister beetles.

Gnat Image Biting Gnats
"No-see-ums," "punkies" or biting midges can be a serious pest of horses. Blood loss and irritation associated with the feeding of these very small (usually less than 0.04 inches), blood feeding flies can be significant. The immature stages of these flies complete their development in water in a variety of locations from tree holes to man-made containers to lakes and streams. Adults of these flies often are unnoticed because of their small size and because they are active at night, late evening or early morning. Direct treatment of horses with wipes or sprays containing insecticides or repellents can provide relief for the horses.
There are an estimated 50 species of mosquitoes that are known to occur in Nebraska. Mosquito larvae require a moist or wet environment to develop. They breed in wetlands, stagnant pools of water, tree holes, and a variety of other receptacles that can retain water. Damage caused by mosquitoes include pain from bites, unthriftiness, weight loss, poor reproduction and suffer from heavy blood loss. Mosquitoes can vector such diseases as Western equine encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Only the female mosquito requires a blood meal, the male mosquito feeds on plant nectar. Adult mosquitoes are strong flies and can travel long distances from their breeding sites to find a blood meal. The most effective control method available is source reduction by removing or draining mosquito breeding sites. Daily fogging for adult mosquitoes may provide relief, but is only a temporary control measure. Horses can be treated using wipe-on or sprays of insecticides with repellents to reduce mosquito numbers, but this control method must be repeated frequently.
Mosquito Image
Eye Gnat Image Eye Gnat
Eye gnats are very common small flies seen around the faces of horses throughout the summer months. The larvae develop in organic matter in the soil. No effective control methods are available for this pest
Horse Lice
Both biting (right picture) and sucking lice (left picture) parasitize horses. Both types are host specific to horses, mules, and donkeys. Horses infested with lice usually look poorly groomed. The hair coat looks poor and the animals rub and scratch to alleviate the itching caused by feeding activity of the lice. The initial locations of infestation are generally on the head, neck, mane or tail; however, as numbers of lice increase, other areas of the body become infested. Heavy louse populations may predispose the horse to other disease conditions and reduce the vigor of the animal. Grooming provides an excellent opportunity to inspect the horse for lice. Effective louse control will require two treatments, several weeks apart. Retreatment is required since many of the control products will not kill the eggs. Always consult the product label before using an insecticide on a horse.
Horse Lice Image Horse Lice Image
HorseBot Image

Horse Bots
Three species of bot flies damage horses. The common bot, Gasterophilus intestinalis (De Geer), the throat bot, G. nasalis (Linnaeus), and the nose bot, G. haemorrhoidalis (Linnaeus). Adults of these three species are nearly the same size as bees and are hairy bodied; however, they do not bite and do not feed at all. Bot flies lay their eggs on the hair of horses from July to September. They glue the eggs to the hair on the part of the body indicated by the common name of the different species. The common bot fly attaches eggs to the hair on the forelegs, mane, shoulders, belly, neck, and flanks. The throat bot fly attaches eggs to the hairs under the jaw of a horse. The nose bot fly lays eggs on hairs close to the lips of horses.

Egg laying activity causes indirect damage to horses by making them unruly and difficult to manage. Irritated and frightened horse may damage themselves, equipment and fences. Direct damage results from the larval infestations in the horse. Newly hatched larvae produce irritation as they tunnel into the gum line, tongue or lips. Horses may show signs of this irritation by rubbing their lips and noses on the ground and against fences, stock tanks or other equipment. Bot infestations in the digestive tract of the horse impair digestion and sometimes larvae are numerous enough to block the passage of material from the stomach and cause colic. Internal treatments should be administered ca. one month after the first killing frost has destroyed the adult flies. There are several internal treatment products available for controlling bots, consult a veterinarian.
Ticks are arthropods related to insects that may become numerous and troublesome for horse in some years. There are several species of ticks in Nebraska that can become pests. The effects of ticks upon the host include inflammation, itching and swelling at the bite site, blood loss. Ticks can also transmit diseases, including anaplasmosis, equine piroplasmosis and tularemia. Tick control may be attempted through area or premise sprays. Premise sprays kills ticks which are either engorged or on foliage waiting to contact a host. On animals, control may also be successful with sprays or wipe-ons.
Tick Image
Blister Beetle Image

Blister Beetles
Blister beetles have a toxic secretion, cantharidin, in their blood. Cantharidin is a defensive chemical produced by blister beetles that causes severe irritation to the skin and mucous membrane of warm blooded animals. Horses are most susceptible to this toxin. Only a few beetles, eaten with hay, can cause severe illness or even death to a horse. Affected horses exhibit signs of colic, frequently void small amount of blood tinged urine, and at times have muscle tremors.

Blister beetles commonly feed on alfalfa and the flowers of a number of plants that frequently grow in hay fields. The problem occurs when hay harvesting process crushes or grinds up blister beetles and toxic parts remain in the hay that is fed to horses. Some steps can be taken to reduce the possibility of incorporating blister beetles in hay. First cutting hay seldom has blister beetles present, since it is cut in early to mid-June. That is before adult blister beetles are present in alfalfa. Blister beetle poisonings have increased since the advent of swather-conditioning equipment which runs hay between rollers and crimpers. Separate cutting followed by windrowing allows beetles to find their way out of windrows while the hay is drying and prior to baling. Hay conditioning equipment will kill many beetles as they pass through the rollers, contaminating several feet of windrow with crushed beetle parts.



Common Autumn Questions
Kelly Feehan, UNL Extension Educator

Once autumn arrives, some questions are asked about what can and cannot be done with landscape plants at this time of year. Following are some of the more common questions and the answers.

Can trees be pruned now? Pruning of woody plants (trees, shrubs and roses) is best avoided from mid August up until leaf drop. Pruning at this time can interfere with plants hardening off for winter. There is also more decay organisms present during fall. Wait until spring to prune evergreens.

How soon can the tops of perennials be cut back? This question refers to herbaceous plants (peony, Hosta, daylily, asparagus and ornamental grasses) whose stems and foliage die each fall. As long as leaves are healthy, wait until frost kills the foliage before removing it. With shorter days and cooler temperatures, plants move carbohydrates from leaves into roots for storage. Cutting plants back too soon interferes with this and can lower plant vigor.

With woody and herbaceous plants, there are situations when pruning may need to be done. If a branch is dead, breaks in the wind or is rubbing against a house, go ahead and remove it otherwise wait until woody plants are dormant to prune. If the tops of perennials have been killed by disease or another stress, it is okay to cut the tops for sanitation. And it is fine to trim out dead leaves to tidy a plants appearance.

Can plants be transplanted in fall? Fall is a good time to plant or transplant many plants. Herbaceous perennials and evergreens are best planted or transplanted in September to allow roots to establish before the soil freezes. Woody plants grown in containers can be planted from now until soil freeze. If a deciduous tree or shrub is to be transplanted, wait until after leaf drop. If a plant is on the borderline of cold hardiness, such as a Hybrid Tea rose, it is best to wait until spring.

Is there anything to be done now to prevent diseases next year? Sanitation (removing dead leaves and stems from gardens) and making notes about which plants had severe disease is about all that can be done now. Fungicides applied at this time of year will not kill a fungus and eliminate it from a plant or site. Noting which plants have unacceptable damage, especially the variety name, helps gardeners avoid planting the same variety next year. Be sure to note which varieties were most resistant to plant again next year.

When should houseplants summered outdoors be brought indoors? Most houseplants are tropical and some can be damaged or stunted by temperatures just below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. With night temperatures already reaching into the 50s, it is time to gradually reintroduce houseplants back indoors. Be sure to check plants closely for insects to avoid bringing unwanted guests indoors.

How soon should tender bulbs (Dahlia, cannas and Gladioli) be dug for winter? These bulbs are referred to as summer bulbs as opposed to spring flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils and crocus). They are not hardy and must be stored indoors to survive winter. In most cases, it is okay to wait until a light frost to dig, dry and store summer bulbs, but do dig them before a hard freeze. Tuberous begonias are best dug before frost. Caladiums must be dug before frost.



Divide your Perennials
By John Fech, UNL Extension Educator

Famous generals of the battlefield agree that a very effective strategy for victory is Divide and Conquer. Many gardeners feel that their landscape is a battlefield, too. For the homeowner, now is the time to divide and conquer!

Of course, in the landscape, the dividing pertains to perennial flowers. Over time, many perennials get overgrown and crowded. This is undesirable because the plant is less vigorous, and certainly unsightly. In many cases, the center of the clump or the crown area begins to die back, leaving only the periphery to grow.

So, get out a pitch fork, and pop the perennial out of the ground. Then, take a straight spade and slice it into several smaller pieces. Reset the pieces at the same level as they were growing previously. Work some compost into the soil as you reset the divisions.

Generally you have a few leftover after division, so make a friend by taking one to that new neighbor you've been wanting to meet. A hunk of daylily, lily of the valley, iris, cranesbill, Rudbeckia, gaillardia, penstemon or ajuga would be a great housewarming gift. Maybe they would reciprocate with a piece of pie.....




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New Resources for Rain Garden Design and Planting in Nebraska
Steve Rodie, UNL Landscape Specialist

Rain Water Simulation ImageHarvesting rain water on rural properties has been going on as long as there have been cisterns, rain barrels and downspouts directing water to areas of the garden that would benefit from extra irrigation. Directing stormwater runoff in urban areas into rain gardens and other landscape areas designed to capture and infiltrate water can reap significant benefits to water quality and help manage flooding in lakes, streams and rivers.

Using landscapes for rain water harvesting on acreages can have similar benefits, as well as provide additional opportunities to expand the diversity of plants and habitat found on the property. Two new extension resources are now available that can help homeowners and designers properly design, install and maintain rain gardens and other runoff management practices.

  • An animation entitled Rain Gardens: Helping Nature in your own Front Yard, fully illustrates the design, function and maintenance requirements of a typical rain garden in an interactive animation format. A link to the animation is found on the UNL Water website- Property Design and Management.
  • A publication entitled Nebraska Rain Garden and Bioretention Plants Guide - EC1261 contains over 60 pages of in-depth information, photos and selection/use tables for a wide variety of plants best suited for planting in and around rain gardens in the Northern Great Plains. Write-ups describe plant characteristics as well as comments and cautions for plant use based on many years of garden experience in Nebraska. The usage tables summarize the best garden locations and growing conditions and indicate bloom colors and flower/foliage seasons for each plant. The guide is formatted to help designers and gardeners at all levels successfully select plants that are well-suited for their garden location as well as effectively combine with other garden plants to enhance year-round color, texture and interest.

The publication price is $15, and it will be available in the near future through either your local county extension office or through the online University of Nebraska-Lincoln IANR E-store.



Fall Is for Planting
By John Fech, UNL Extension Educator

The Nursery Council says, "Fall is for Planting" - Trees, Shrubs, Bulbs, Lawns and Flowers. You bet. Fall is actually one of the best times to plant. Why? Many reasons.

First, the soils are warm in fall. Warm soil temps are necessary to encourage new root formation into the planting hole to help the plant become established.

Secondly, air temperatures have begun to drop off from the 90's and 100's of August and encourage new growth for the shoots. In fall, a more regular watering pattern is the norm, unlike the spring. 

Fall offers the opportunity to replace plants that have been damaged from summer heat and drought. Look around your landscape. You probably have "holes" that need to be filled. Take the opportunity to add a shrub or two to a grouping, or to create one. If you have a nice, healthy dogwood or viburnum by itself, add two more to make a mass of 3. The impact of the spring flowers will be much more impressive when viewed in mass.

Finally, fall planting offers the advantage of bargains at the garden center. In every year that I've been involved in the green industry, fall specials have been commonplace. The prospect of obtaining that tree you've been wanting becomes a little easier at 25% off the regular price.  Or make plans to attend the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum's Fall Plant Sale, September 24 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"Plants are less stressed by the heat, more likely to develop a strong root system and gardeners will be way ahead of the game next spring," said Bob Henrickson, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum horticulture program coordinator.  Bob and other horticulturists will be available during the plant sale to answer questions on landscape design, plant selection, native plants, rain gardens, pests, diseases and other challenges.

Pawpaw trees will be available-a fast-growing, colonizing tree with large tropical-looking leaves. Native to Nebraska, it grows 20-25' high and 15' wide. Edible fruits look and taste like bananas and ripen in early fall.

According to Bob, one of the best trees for fall color is black gum. It grows to about 30' high and has waxy leaves that turn lustrous red in fall. It tends to have a very horizontal branching pattern and, important after this summer's weather, is resistant to both drought and short term flooding. For a much larger, shade-providing tree, try a London planetree, a tough street tree that grows to 100' high.

Other good additions to the landscape include an "old-fashioned" small shrub, mockorange, with fragrant flowers in early spring; native dwarf leadplant or pale purple coneflower. For shady areas, Culver's root has delicate white flowers in mid-summer and the bright-blossomed turtlehead blooms in late summer.

Plant buyers can follow the signs from the north entrance to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus on 38th and Huntington/Leighton. A complete plant list is on the web at

Proceeds from the Fall Plant Sale sustain the Arboretum's mission and fund critical programs and services.  For more information about the NSA Plant Sale, contact Karma Larsen, Nebraska Forest Service, (402) 472-7923,



Squash Bugs & Squash Vine Borer
By Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension Educator

Squash bugs and squash vine borer are typically a problem throughout the growing season, most often the problem is seen in June and July. However, we still need to keep our eyes open for these pesky insects because their damage can still be seen, especially on our fall garden plants.

Squash bugs and squash vine borers are both voracious pests of the cucurbit, or cucumber, family. This family of plants includes squash, zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, and all types of melons. If you grow more than one type of these plants in your garden and you find either of these insects on one, you will need to treat all the plants because it is very likely that you will find them on all the related plants. You may think that we are getting past the point of seeing these insects this year, but they are still alive and well, especially if you are growing pumpkins or gourds for the fall and for Halloween.

Squash Bugs
Squash bugs are a type of true bug, a close relative of lace bugs, boxelder bugs, aphids, and cicadas. These insect pests can completely destroy your garden in a matter of days. Squash bugs look like stink bugs when fully grown, but as they develop; they look like tiny, gray, elongated bugs with black legs. You will typically find a group of them at different stages of development in large groups on your plants. Before you find the bugs you may see a small grouping of bright red eggs on the undersides of your plant leaves. Squash bugs cause damage by sucking the sap from plant stems and leaves. Leaves start to look yellowish or even stippled, or spotted, yellow and then eventually the whole leaf or group of leaves will turn brown. They also may feed on your vegetables causing damage to the fruit such as holes or spots. 

Immature squash bug image
Immature squash bugs.
Image by Nicole Haxton, UNL Extension
Adults squash bug image
Adult squash bug.
Images from "
Squash Bugs in the Home Garden", University of Minnesota Extension

The problem with these pests is that the only type of chemical control that we can use is contact insecticides. This means we have to find these bugs before we can treat for them or we have to use insecticides before we know that the pest is there. You can treat the entirety of your plants in the cucurbit family with a pesticide containing carbaryl, bifenthrin, or permethrin. This pesticide must be applied every 7-10 days throughout the growing season to control all the new generations of the squash bug before they cause problems again.

Squash vine borer damage imageSquash Vine Borer
Squash vine borer is an  immature form of a moth. These insects are not seen before their damage occurs. The adult moths will lay their eggs on the base of the stem of a zucchini, cucumber, melon, etc and when the eggs hatch the larvae will burrow into the stem of the plant. The damage is a suddenly wilted vine or plant that looks like it is in need of a good watering. If you pull the plant out of the ground, it will break off at soil level and it will have holes with sawdust in them. If you slice open the stem, you will find a white caterpillar burrowing through the stem or vine. Squash vine borer activity through the stem reduces or completely cuts off the flow of water and nutrients throughout the plant.

If you get squash vine borer in your cucurbits, there is no way to save that particular plant that the borer is in. The only thing to do at this point is to try to save the plants that have not yet been attacked by the squash vine borer. You should treat the base of your plants with a chemical containing carbaryl, bifenthrin, or permethrin every 7-10 days throughout the growing season.

The control for both squash bug and squash vine borer is the same, however you need to make sure that you are spraying or dusting the entire plant, paying special attention to the main stem right at the soil level to ensure good control for the borer. Both are treated with the same chemical and it should be done every 7-10 days, it would be a good idea to switch between the three chemicals listed each time that you make an application to reduce the incidence of resistance. Another thing to remember is that once you get either squash bug or squash vine borer, you will probably always have a problem with them in the future at that location. A good tip is that if you had one or both of these pests in past years, you should just start applying the chemical controls in the spring as the plants are becoming established in June as a proactive measure to control these pests.

If you want to avoid using pesticides for these two insect pests, there are other alternatives. Obviously, one good way to control these pests is to reduce the population that overwinters in your garden. Be sure to use good fall management practices to ensure they don't have a nice overwintering location in your garden, by removing all plant debris every fall and tilling up the soil to expose the pupae to cold air and predators during the winter. You can also utilize row covers to physically separate the squash vine borer from the stem of your plants to keep them from laying eggs on the cucurbits you have planted. If you choose to use row covers you may want to use plants that are gynecious, meaning that they do not require pollination for the fruits to be produced.

Squash vine borers typically prefer winter squash and are less harmful to zucchini and summer squash, so choose not to plant winter squash varieties to try to avoid the problems. Another way to block the squash vine borer females from laying eggs on your cucurbits is to put old nylon stockings or a used toilet paper or paper towel tube around the vines at the soil level. The females will not lay eggs through the nylon because it doesn't feel right and they cannot penetrate the cardboard tube of the toilet paper roll to lay their eggs on the plants.

Finally, if all else fails and you don't want to use chemicals, you can always pick the insects off of the plant and pick off any leaves that have eggs on them and throw them into a bucket of soapy water to get rid of the insects. However, the method of hand picking each insect off the plant is going to take a lot of work and scouting will need to be done daily.



Growing Garlic- Get Ready to Plant in Early to Mid October
By Laurie Hodges, UNL Extension Vegetable Specialist

Garlic is a very popular vegetable, and is very easy to grow in Nebraska. Without garlic, many of our popular dishes would lack the flavor and character that make them favorites. Fortunately, garlic is relatively easy to grow in the home garden. The most difficult decision may be deciding what kind of garlic to plant since there are over 100 cultivars available from specialty suppliers!

According to University of Minnesota Extension, in their publication "Growing Garlic in Minnesota", garlic can be a profitable crop for vegetable growers with average yields of 8,000-10,000 pounds per acre, and prices ranging from $5.00 to $10.00 per pound at farmer's markets.

Garlic produces well in Nebraska when planted in October or very early spring, using individual cloves or the small bulbils found on topsetting types. Fall or very early spring planting is required because dormant cloves and young garlic plants must be exposed to cold temperatures of 32 to 50 degrees F. for one to two months to induce bulb formation.

Garlic ImageSoftneck vs. Hardneck Garlic
Choosing which type of garlic to grow many be your most difficult decision! But the most important thing to keep in mind, is not to plant garlic you purchased at the grocery store.

There are two main types of garlic-soft neck and hardneck. Each has several distinct groups and cultivars. Hardneck garlic, Allium sativum subsp. ophioscorodon, produces a woody flower stalk and also is known as "top-setting" garlic because it produces clusters of bulbils after the mostly sterile flowers bloom. Many hardneck types tend to produce large underground bulbs made up of a few large cloves and yield best when planted in the fall. Research has shown that yields will increase if the flower heads are removed before the bulbils form. When removed, the young, tender flowerstems can be harvested and used for stir-frying or other dishes. If left to grow, the bulbils, which are about the size of a popcorn kernel, can be eaten or planted. If bulbils are used for propagation, it will take 2 to 3 years to produce a full-sized bulb. Bulbils can also be planted for garlic greens.

Softneck garlic, A. s. subsp. sativum, does not form a woody stalk but has flexible leaves that can be braided. Bulbs of softneck types usually have more individual cloves and yield higher than hardneck types. Softneck types also are generally better adapted to a wide range of climates. They can be spring- planted with more success than spring-planted hardneck cultivars. However, garlic connoisseurs say that softneck cultivars lack the subtle flavor differences found in hardneck cultivars.

Elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum, is not a true garlic, but is actually a bulbing leek.

Garlic Types & Cultivars

  • Rocambole- hardneck. Bulbs off white with purple stripes. Clove skins brown and easy to peal. Stores about 4 to 5 months. Cultivars include Kilarney Red, German Red, Spanish Roja, and Capathian.
  • Porcelian- hardneck. Smooth white skins. Cloves more difficult to peal than rocamboles. Stores about 5 to 7 months. Cultivars include German Extra Hardy, Georgian Crystal and Music.
  • Purple stripe- hardneck. Bulbs white with purple streaks. Clove skins brown and more difficult to peal than rocamboles. Stores 5 to 7 months. Cultivars include Persian Star and Metechi.
  • Silverskins- softneck. White bulbs and clove skins. Best adapted to warm climates with mild winters. Stores for up to one year. Cultivars include Silver White, Idaho Silverskin, and California Select.
  • Artichoke- usually a softneck, but may flower following a cold winter. Bulbs white or purple blushed. Named for their layers of overlapping cloves. Difficult to peel. Stores 6 to 9 months. Cultivars include Inchelium Red, Kettle River Giant, and Early Red Italian.

Garden Preparation
Garlic grows best in well-drained, friable loam soils that are fertile and high in organic matter. If your soil is high in clay, add organic matter to break up clay particles for better drainage. Organic matter also will help a sandy soil hold more water. Like onions, garlic needs a steady and fairly high level of nutrients in the soil while actively growing, but they have shallow, coarse roots that are not as efficient at nutrient uptake as other crops.

So when preparing the soil for planting, apply 3 to 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet (or follow soil test recommendations) and spread one to three inches of organic matter such as chopped leaves, dry grass clippings, compost or sphagnum peat over the soil surface. Use a spading fork to turn over and break up the soil and begin mixing in the organic matter. A rototiller also can be used to prepare the soil, but remember that over-tilling can destroy the soil structure.

When incorporating organic matter that must be decayed, such as dry leaves and grass clippings, it is best to do it a few weeks before planting so soil microbes will have a chance to start breaking it down.

Just before planting, separate bulbs into their individual cloves and sort by size. Do not divide the bulbs more than a few days before planting because early separation results in decreased yields. Reserve the largest cloves for planting and use the smaller cloves for cooking.

For best yields, garlic should be planted in early- to mid- October. Planting before mid-September is not recommended. Garlic cloves should begin growing and then go dormant when cold weather arrives.

Plant the cloves 3 to 5 inches apart in an upright position (pointed end up) to ensure good emergence
and straight necks. Cover cloves to a depth of about 2 to 3 inches. Allow 12 to 24 inches between rows. Garlic also lends itself well to wide-row planting; space cloves five inches apart in all directions in foot-wide rows or raised beds. This requires considerably less garden space for the same yield, but weeding must be done by hand.

Water thoroughly after planting to stimulate growth. The soil must be kept evenly moist during active growth. Garlic is quite drought-sensitive, so a weekly application of one inch of water will increase yields if rainfall is lacking. Dry soil will result in irregularly shaped bulbs.

A light application of mulch (1 to 2 inches) after the ground freezes will help prevent frost heaving throughout the winter.

Fall-planted garlic is ready to harvest from late June to mid-July so reduce watering and let plants dry down a week or so before harvest. The outer bulb covering disintegrates fairly quickly and the bulbs will shatter if they are not harvested at their peak, so carefully monitor their development. When the lower 1/3 of the leaves are yellow, dig or pull a few plants to check the development of the bulbs. If the bulbs have segmented into cloves that can be separated, it is time to harvest. If the bulbs haven't yet segmented, leave the remaining plants for a week or two and then check them again. When mature, each bulb should be fully segmented and covered by a tight outer skin.

After pulling, lay the bulbs on screens in the shade or in a well-ventilated room to cure, protecting them from moisture. Bulbs should be cured for 2 to 4 weeks at 75 to 90°F and low humidity. If you want to braid your softneck crop, allow the tops to wilt for 2 to 3 days and then braid them tightly and allow them to finish curing. Tight braids are necessary since the stems will continue to shrink as they dry.

If not braided, trim the tops to about 1/2" long and roots to 1/4" after the bulbs have cured. If there is moisture in the stem when you trim the tops, continue to cure the bulbs for a few more days, then check again. Softneck garlic usually takes longer to cure because there are more layers of cloves in each bulb. Leave the outer covering on to reduce moisture loss and mechanical damage. Store garlic in mesh bags so there is good air circulation around the bulbs.

Additional information on growing garlic:
Garlic Production in the Home Garden, University of Nebraska
Growing Garlic in Minnesota, University of Minnesota Extension