GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Spray yourself, not grass, for chiggers

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dear Neil: Whenever I mow my yard, by the next morning I itch like crazy. I have red bites all over my body. I have a lot of dallisgrass in my lawn, if that helps any. What might be causing this, and how can I prevent it? I never see anything until the next morning.

It surely sounds like chiggers. They’re microscopic pests that climb up your feet and ankles, then to your legs and waistline. In severe cases, you’ll even get them onto your chest.

They are much more common in bermudagrass and pasture land than they are in St. Augustine turf, and their prime season is May through July. Usually, by the time it turns really hot and really dry, they are done for their season.

Rather than trying to spray all of the areas where I might encounter them, I spray my bare feet and calves with DEET, then put my socks on and spray my shoes and pants cuffs. It’s been years since I’ve had any.

And, to be complete in my reply, I guess you could have allergies to something you are cutting. Bermuda grass commonly causes allergic reactions in people, especially because of the fungal spores that it harbors.

Dear Neil: Grasshoppers are eating all of our plants. They’ve eaten container plants. They’ve eaten flowers and also our roses. What can we put on them that won’t hurt hummingbirds at our feeders?

It’s difficult enough to control grasshoppers in the first place. You probably ought to spray for them in the evening, when you can take your feeders down, rinse them and then spray with a labeled insecticide. Your nurseryman will have several options.

Once the spray has dried, you’ll be safe in bringing the feeders back out. Spray in a downward, sweeping motion to coat them as they try to fly away.

Remove all tall vegetation that could serve as hiding places for the insects. They are highly mobile, so you’ll probably need to treat more than one time. However, they will run their course in a few weeks.

Dear Neil: I have a 12-year-old live oak that has an open area of the trunk with fibers beneath. Otherwise, the tree looks healthy. Should I be applying something?

This may be Hypoxylon canker. You ought to have a certified arborist look at the tree as soon as you can. If that diagnosis is correct, you need to ramp up the water and nutrition you give your tree in the hopes that it can rebound.

Dear Neil: Last year I lost a 16-inch western soapberry tree, and when I cut it down, I found that it was riddled with borers. Now I am seeing beetles, and I’m wondering if they might be the source of the problem. What treatment can I use? They do not appear to be bothering other trees.

I have lost soapberries on my own property as well. The damage is being done by the Mexican soapberry borer. You can learn more and see photos of both the adults and the larvae in a publication of the Texas Forest Service: tfsweb.tamu.edu/main/popup.aspx?id=5316.

Dear Neil: I had new St. Augustine planted two years ago. I also had a sprinkler system installed at the same time. This year the grass began browning out from the front of the yard inward, and now I’m afraid I’m going to lose all of the grass. The company that planted the grass for me said that it was just getting too dry, but I don’t think so. Who would come out to look at it and offer guidance?

At this time of year I would be most concerned with chinch bugs and gray leaf spot affecting large parts of a St. Augustine lawn. Chinch bugs would be only in the hot, sunny parts of the yard. You would be able to see the b-b-sized black insects moving about freely in the transitional areas between the dead and healthy grass. Mid-afternoon is the best time to look for them. They will have white diamonds on their wings. Control them with a labeled insecticide.

Gray leaf spot, by comparison, causes small diamond-shaped gray-brown lesions on the leaf blades, often at the midribs. Apply an approved and labeled turf fungicide. Discontinue all applications of nitrogen from mid-June until early September. Those are the months when gray leaf spot is most likely to crop up. It causes any outbreak to become much more severe very quickly.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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