This is a collection about horticulture.

Don’t Eat That! Holiday Plant Edition December 16, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 8:55 pm

The holiday season is upon us. The cookies are baked, the decorations are up, and the holiday plants are blooming with all of their glory. Some of our favorite holiday plants have a potentially dangerous side and can do more than just add color to our homes.


Mistletoe photo courtesy

According to the Nebraska Regional Poison Center, plants were one of the top ten non-drug substances for human exposure in 2013. Do you think you know which of your holiday plants are safe and which ones are dangerous?

Amaryllis is near the top of the list for forgotten poisonous holiday plants. These plants are one of the more poisonous plants that are brought in during the holiday season. Amaryllis are often sold during the holiday season as a large bulb. Once these bulbs are watered, they produce long strap like leaves and a flower stalk containing brightly-colored, trumpet shaped flowers. The toxic chemical that these plants contain is called Lycorine. The most toxic part of these plants is the bulb. The other parts of the plants can also be toxic if they are eaten in large quantities.

Kissing under the mistletoe sounds like an innocent- enough holiday ritual. Try researching the many meanings of this holiday tradition just for fun. Real mistletoe is a common holiday plants that is sold dried in small packages to be hung in homes. The plant has green leaves and white berries and is a parasite-like plant that feeds off of other trees. With some species, eating a few of the berries would produce mild gastroenteritis, acute diarrhea and vomiting. Want to rethink kissing under a poisonous, parasitic plant?



Another holiday plant gets a bad reputation for being extremely poisonous, the poinsettia. According to research, they are not considered poisonous. According to the POISINDEX, the primary resource used by most poison control centers, a 50 pound child would have to eat more than 1.25 pounds of colored poinsettia bracts, about 500 to 600, to exceed the experimental dose. That is not to say that there wouldn’t be some stomach upset or vomiting if some were eaten.

Looking for some completely safe holiday plants? The Christmas cactus and kalanchoe are two plants that are deemed non-poisonous by the Nebraska Regional Poison Center. The Christmas cactus has flat, fleshy stems that resemble leaf-like pads which are joined to one another in a chain-like pattern. The flowers are usually held at the tips of the stems or in the ‘leaf’ axils and are usually pink to red. The kalanchoe has semi-fleshy leaves and flowers that are held in umbels above the leaves. The flowers come in a wide range of colors including yellow, orange, red, and pink to name a few.

Regardless of the plant, resist the urge to eat them and just admire the perfect holiday plant this season.

Upcoming Programs:

Extension Master Gardener- Two training sessions will be held at the Nebraska Extension in Hall County meeting rooms in Grand Island. Session 1: Tuesday evenings, February 3 through March 10, 6:00 to 9:00 PM. Session 2: March 16, 18, 20, 23, 25, and 27 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Please contact Elizabeth Killinger, 308-385-5088, prior to January 9 with which Extension Master Gardener training session you are interested in attended. More information, updated schedules, and a brochure can be found at

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Fall Turf Care November 17, 2014

Filed under: Turf — Elizabeth Killinger @ 5:21 pm

Please follow my other blog post :D

**This post was written before a majority of the state received snow.

Fall is good for more than just raking leaves and cooler nights. Fall is actually one of the better times of the year to improve your turf. Take advantage of these cooler temperatures and prepare your lawn for the coming spring.

The first question to ask yourself this fall is; can you see your turfgrass in the lawn? Heavy layers of leaves can do a few things to your lawn. If they are thick enough, leaves can smother the lawn and also create conditions that can be favorable to snow mold. Raking or mowing the leaves on a regular basis can help to prevent this heavy layer of leaves from forming and matting down on the turf before winter. If the leaves aren’t utilized in the compost pile or worked into the garden soil, they can simply be mowed over. Using the mulching blade on the lawn mower will chop up the leaves into smaller pieces that are able to filter down between the grass blades. This helps keep you from having to haul the leaves away and it also helps to add organic matter back into the soil. By removing or mulching the leaves on the lawn, you can ensure that your high quality winterizer fertilizer will be able to filter down to the soil where it can be used by the turfgrass, rather than sitting up on top of the leaf litter.

Good news. There is still time to control pesky perennial weeds. The ideal season to control perennial weeds like ground ivy, also known as Creeping Charlie, was between September 15th and the first frost, but there is still time. Research out of Purdue shows that herbicides that contain triclopyr, like Turflon, were effective on ground ivy and retained their effectiveness when applied later in the season regardless of the first frost. The study showed that broadleaf applications should be effective when made into the first week or two of November, but control might be not be seen until spring.

It may be time to rethink what you knew about winterizer fertilizer applications. Previously, recommendations were to apply nitrogen during early to mid-September and then make a heavy application of nitrogen fertilization at the end of the growing season (early to mid-November). Research has shown that nitrogen fertilizer uptake is not as efficiently used later into the fall. Fertilizer that isn’t taken up by the plant sits in the soil until the following spring or is leached out of the soil profile during winter. Avoid applying fertilizer too late into the fall. September fertilization is best to maximize recovery from summer stress and prepare for winter. For the last application of the season, apply it no later than the first week of November and aim to apply not more than 0.75 lb. of a fast release nitrogen source.

With a little time and effort now, your lawn can still look green and lush next spring and hopefully with a few less weeds too.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Bothersome Boxelder Bugs November 3, 2014

Filed under: Insects — Elizabeth Killinger @ 4:25 pm
Tags: , , ,
Boxelder bugs gathered together on a home's foundation.

Boxelder bugs gathered together on a home’s foundation.

Daylight Savings time is ending and it is time to ‘fall back’ once again. Fall brings about cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and boxelder bugs by the millions. Find out what you can do to help keep these pests from invading your home.

Depending on where you grew up, the boxelder bug can have many names. Some of the more common ones include; maple bug, democrat bug, populist bug, and politician bug. Regardless of what you call them, they are annoying to say the least. The boxelder bug gets one of its common names from its primary host plant, the female boxelder tree. They can also be found on ash, and maple, and occasionally feeding on strawberries, grasses and other plants. The adults are ½ inch long red with black coloration under their wings. This time of the year they begin to cover the south and west sides of homes and try to make entry inside any way possible.

The cycle all begins in the spring. After emerging from overwintering sites, the adult females lay eggs onto the host plants. The bright red nymphs (see the photo), immature bugs, hatch from the eggs in about 2 weeks and begin to feed on plant sap until mid-summer when they mature into adults. The adults lay eggs for a second generation of boxelder bugs. After the second generation matures, the adults seek out warm overwinter sites, to start the cycle over the following spring.

Homeowners become more familiar with these insects in the fall. When looking for overwintering sites, boxelder bugs often find their way into buildings and homes through small cracks and crevices. Once inside the home they are more of a nuisance than anything else. They do not bite, damage food or any items in the home, or reproduce, but they can stain curtains or walls, especially when squished.

Trying to control these insects can feel like a losing battle. While it may be tempting to remove the boxelder trees from the premises, it won’t control all of your problems. The adults are good flyers and can still invade homes from considerable distances from the host plants. The plants are rarely injured seriously enough to justify insecticidal control, but using an insecticide spray on the nymphs can reduce the number that reaches maturity. The most commonly used control method is to use an integrated approach of sealing cracks and crevices and to use a perimeter spray around the exterior foundation and thresholds of the home.

Once they are inside the home, the vacuum cleaner will be the best technique for control. To keep from having to dump or change the vacuum cleaner bag after every use, place a knee high panty hose or trouser sock over the end of the hose before you put on the attachment end. This ‘trap’ collects the insects so they don’t have to go all the way through the vacuum and helps to keep your machine from smelling like boxelder bugs and multi-colored Asian lady beetles every time you turn it on.

Just like the boxelder bugs it’s time to start preparing for winter and get ready to emerge in the spring to start all over again.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Don’t Forget the Fruit October 21, 2014

Apple tree.  Photo courtesy

Apple tree. Photo courtesy

You know the saying; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even though apple and other fall fruit harvest is nearing its end, that doesn’t mean that the work is over. Fall sanitation is a key part of fruit management. A little extra work now could ensure a successful growing season next year.

Make sure your fruit trees are ready for the winter to come. Start by making sure that your tree goes into winter with an adequate amount of moisture. The recommendation for trees is to have about 1” of supplemental water per week. This is about enough water to get the top 8” of the soil moist. Fruit trees do not require much fertilization, especially in the fall. As long as the fruit tree is planted in a healthy soil, it will not require fertilization. In the fall we want trees to go dormant, not produce more growth, which is why we avoid fertilizing trees in the fall.

Fruit trees can benefit from good fall sanitation. Healthy fallen fruits or leaves can be collected and placed in the compost pile. Removal of rotting dropped fruit as well as diseased fruit and leaves will help decrease the potential for pathogens to infect next year’s crop. Fruit mummies, dried fruits that remained on the branch, and diseased fruits and leaves should be picked up and thrown away, not put into the compost pile or worked into the soil. Branches that were infected with fire blight and other bacterial or fungal cankers should be removed and disposed of as well.

Protect your fruit trees now for pesky critters. Mow the grass under the tree and as close to the trunk as you can get without causing damage. This will remove good overwintering sites for rodents. Also, be on the lookout for rodent paths or holes where they burrow and use the desired form of control. Before the ground freezes, consider protecting the tree as well. A well-constructed rabbit fence will help to protect smaller trees from becoming a bunny’s next meal. Be sure that the fence is not only 15-18” tall, just in case we get snow, but it also should be buried in the ground 6” to keep the rascals from trying to dig under.

Strawberries could also benefit from a little care before winter. Thinning plants, providing adequate moisture throughout the fall, and mulching in late fall are all important fall care practices. Thin strawberry plants in mid-October and aim for a spacing of five to seven plants per square foot to help allow optimum fruit production the following year. Remove small and weak plants as well as any new runners or daughter plants that have not rooted down yet.

Mulching strawberry plants is another good practice to use. Winter mulch will help prevent or reduce winter damage to the crowns and flower buds of the plants. Wait to mulch strawberries until late November or early December, after the soil has frozen at a depth of ½ an inch or the airtime temperatures have dropped into the 20’s. Mulch applied too early in the fall can delay hardening off, which can lead to the plants being more susceptible to winter injury and possibly crown rot. Mulches that work well for strawberries can include wood chips, pine straw, newspapers, coarse sawdust, clean straw or hay, or any loose mulch that will not compact heavily. Leave the mulch on the plants until the new growth begins, usually in mid-April.

There are a few steps you can take to decrease the spread of pathogens. Machinery and tools should be disinfected on a regular basis and when they come into contact with infected plant material. Steam, hot water under pressure, or a 10% bleach solution can be used to disinfect. Before and after pruning out diseased branches, disinfect pruners and loppers to keep from spreading diseases.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Yellow Pine Needles October 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 3:06 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Yellow inner needles

IMG_0600Cooler nights and falling leaves signal that fall is here. Pines in the area are starting to change colors too. Knowing the cause of the discolored needles will help to know if it is nature taking its course or if it is a disease infecting your trees.

Across the area, yellow inner needles in pine and spruce have just started to appear. Evergreen needles change color in the fall too, just like deciduous trees. It is a normal occurrence called natural needle drop. The older interior needles of pine and spruce are turning yellow and drop from the tree. The older needles that are lost are usually located closer to the inside of the tree or trunk. Factors that increase the stress on an evergreen can intensify the autumn needle drop. These stress factors can include drought, herbicide injury, root damage, or insect or disease damage.

White pine with natural needle drop

White pine with natural needle drop

Like many living things, evergreen needles also have a lifespan. Pine trees hold their needles for 2-3 or more years. Spruce trees hold their needles longer than pines, usually around 5-7 years. After the needles have lived their lifespan, they fall from the tree. Some trees, like the white pine, make it easy to see the needle drop.

The location of the discolored needles can determine if it is natural needle drop or if something else has infected the tree. If the tip of the branch was the only part affected this spring, fungus could be to blame. Cool, wet springs are ideal conditions for fungus, this spring was no exception. The Sphaeropsis tip blight fungus will infect the new growth as it emerges causing it to turn brown and hang on. If fungicides are applied, the best time to spray preventative treatments for Sphaeropsis tip blight fungus is April.

Sphaeropsis tip blight

Sphaeropsis tip blight

One of the most common pine diseases is also caused by a fungus and can also cause brown needles. Dothistroma needle blight causes reddish lesions found on individual needles. It causes the needle to appear to be half green and half brown on last years’ growth and mainly affects the lower half of the tree. Preventative fungicide applications can be made in mid-May and again in mid to late-June.

Pine wilt can also cause needles to change color. If the entire branch, or tree, turns brown and the needles hang on, it could be pine wilt. The cause of pine wilt is smaller than we can see with the naked eye. The pinewood nematode is a very small worm-like organism that attacks the tissues that move water and nutrients throughout the tree. The nematode doesn’t travel very far by itself, so it uses a ‘friend’ to help it move around. Nematodes hitch a ride on pine sawyer beetles and fall off when they reach a new tree to infest. The first symptom is the tree or a major branch will have a grayish green tint to it. As the nematodes progress and multiply the tree turns tan and then eventually brown. One important thing to remember is that the dead brown needles will remain on the tree for a year or more

Pine Wilt in Scotch Pine

Pine Wilt in Scotch Pine

One way to prevent needles from changing color next spring is through irrigating now. Moisture helps to promote root growth and reduces winter desiccation injury. Supplemental fall irrigation should be continued, when there isn’t precipitation, until close to soil freeze. When air temperatures in winter are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit apply water early enough in the day so it can soak into the ground before temperatures drop below freezing. This will help to avoid the water from freezing on the surface at night when the temperatures drop down. Apply enough water to moisten the soil eight inches deep under the drip line of the tree. Be sure to check the soil moisture before irrigating to avoid irrigating a saturated soil.

Proper identification of the culprit behind the color changing needles can help you determine if this is nature taking its course or if you have some action to take in the future.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Its ReTree Nebraska Week 2014! September 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elizabeth Killinger @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , , ,
Plant it forward.

Plant it forward.

Every good Nebraskan knows we are the home of Arbor Day. Did you know we also have another opportunity to celebrate trees? ReTree Nebraska week is dedicated to trees. Find out why we should re-tree Nebraska and how you can take part in this week long celebration from September 22st – 27th.

ReTree Nebraska is a cooperative initiative of the Nebraska Forest Service, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, University of Nebraska Rural Initiative, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, and Nebraska Community Forestry Council. It is a 10-year cooperative initiative which will raise public awareness of the value of trees, reverse the decline of Nebraska’s community tree resources, and improve the diversity and sustainability of trees in communities across the state that will last for generations to come.

Severe weather, drought, poor planting practices or species selection, insects, disease and an aging tree population all have contributed to the decline in the number of community trees across the state. Planting new trees is an essential part of maintaining Nebraska’s community forest, and fall planting offers important benefits.

Just because we are a ‘Prairie State’ doesn’t mean that we don’t have or need trees. Across Nebraska, there are about 470,000 acres of community forests. These trees were planted by previous generations who understood the long-term benefits they would provide, such as cleaner air, healthier soil and wildlife habitats. Planting a tree provides much-needed shade during hot Nebraska summers, which helps reduce energy costs for homeowners, schools and businesses. Every dollar invested in the community forest returns an average of $2.70 in net annual benefits. Nearly $9.7 billion in environmental, social and economic benefits are provided by 13.3 million trees in Nebraska communities, but that’s half the number of trees that were present 30 years ago.

Fall is an optimal time for tree planting. “Fall is a great time to plant trees in Nebraska because there are fewer demands on the roots, allowing trees to establish their root systems and get a jump start on spring growth,” according to Jessica Kelling, ReTree Nebraska coordinator.

When selecting a tree species, Kelling recommends considering a couple of key factors. Plant a different species than what is already growing in adjacent areas. “Enjoy the two weeks of fall color your neighbor’s red maple provides, but select a tree for your yard that provides some variety in leaf texture, form and fall color to create a diverse landscape year round.” Kelling also urges homeowners to take a tree’s mature height and width into consideration when selecting a species for planting. “Go to the planting site and look up, down and around for conflicts with buildings, utility lines and even other trees.”

If you are looking for a good tree to plant this ReTree Week, ReTree Nebraska has “Fourteen for 2014,” a list of underutilized tree species. The trees are broken down by size and type and include:

Evergreen- Concolor fir—Abies concolor, Black Hills spruce– Picea glauca var densata, Ponderosa Pine—Pinus ponderosa

Small to Medium Deciduous Trees- Shantung maple—Acer truncatum, Miyabe maple—Acer miyabei, Gamble Oak- Quercus gambelii, Japanese or Pekin Tree lilac-Syringa reticulate (‘Ivory Silk’) or Syringa reticulate ssp. pekinensis (Copper Curls®)

Large Deciduous Trees- Kentucky coffeetree—Gymnocladus dioicus, Northern catalpa—Catalpa speciosa, Baldcypress—Taxodium distichum, Bur oak—Quercus macrocarpa, Chinkapin oak—Quercus muehlenbergii, English Oak—Quercus robur, Elm hybrids—Ulmus x (‘Accolade’, ‘Cathedral’, ‘Frontier’, ‘New Horizon’, ‘Pioneer’, ‘Triumph’, ‘Vanguard’), Black or Bigtooth Maple- Acer nigrum or Acer grandidentatum

We can work together to celebrate this week as well as support a grassroots, or rather tree roots, Nebraska initiative. To learn more about ReTree Nebraska, report a tree planting, or find out more about tree selection, planting and care, visit or email

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Impatiens Downy Mildew September 15, 2014

Impatiens with downy mildew

Did your once gorgeous flowering impatiens turn into bare looking sticks by the end of the summer? If so you are not alone. Impatiens downy mildew is a fungal-like infection that has been reported across the state this year. Find out more about this disease, how it spreads, and what you can do in the future to prevent another infection.

The symptoms of the infections aren’t as easy to spot as you might think. The first symptoms are leaves starting to appear light yellow or stippled yellow and green. The leaf edges begin to curl downward and appear to be wilted. The tell-tale sign is the fluffy white growth on the underside of the leaves. Often these symptoms are over-looked until the plant begins to lose its blooms and leaves, leaving bare stems. Eventually, the entire stems will begin to collapse and turn soft and mushy. All varieties and hybrids of Impatiens walleriana, common bedding plant impatiens, are susceptible to impatiens downy mildew. New Guinea impatiens, Impatiens hawkerii, are highly resistant as are other bedding plants in different genera that aren’t related to impatiens.

Underside of the leaf. Photo courtesy

The development of impatiens downy mildew is highly influenced by the weather. Wet foliage, cool night temperatures, and moist air all contribute to ideal conditions for this disease development. Plants in heavily shaded locations where the leaves stay wet for extended periods of time will tend to have higher incidence and severity of this disease because moisture promotes infection. Impatiens downy mildew tends to be worse in locations where leaves stay wet for extended periods of time, beds that are densely planted, or in beds that receive overhead sprinkler irrigation, due to the leaves not being able to dry quickly.

It takes perfect environmental conditions for this disease to take hold. The pathogen can be introduced into a garden on infected transplants that aren’t yet showing the symptoms. Additionally, impatiens that are planted into beds that were infected the previous year may also become infected. A close cousin to the pathogen that causes impatiens downy mildew has been found to survive for 8-10 years in the soil.

Impatiens downy mildew can spread throughout the landscape. The pathogen produces spore-like structures called sporangia on the lower surface of the leaves of infected plants. These structures can be splashed short distances or become airborne and travel long distances on moist air currents and spread the infection. It only takes about four hours of a wet leaf surface for sporangia to form. Under hot, dry conditions, infected plants may not show symptoms of disease and produce sporangia on the lower leaf surface.

There are several management approaches for the landscape beds. Avoid planting Impatiens walleriana in those beds that had plants infected this past year. Consider alternative plants in those areas like coleus, caladium, begonia, or New Guinea impatiens. In beds with no history of impatiens downy mildew, I. walleriana can be planted, but take care to inspect and select disease free plants. Once a plant is infected, there isn’t a cure and it should be removed from the landscape. Also pick up any fallen leaves or blooms and consider removing neighboring plants. At the end of the growing season, completely remove all plant material to prevent the pathogen from overwintering.

Changing cultural practices can also help prevent this disease. If possible, reduce the amount of moisture and humidity that the plants are getting. Aim to water the plants in the early morning and provide deep infrequent irrigation to reduce the amount of time the leaves are wet. Space plants out so that there is adequate air circulation between the plants.

Fungicide applications are another option. Most fungicides can help prevent infection, but there aren’t any that will cure the disease once the infection has occurred.

Don’t let impatiens downy mildew stop you from enjoying these shade-loving annuals. Take precautions to ensure this disease doesn’t take hold of your landscape. But if it does, be prepared to try other interesting annuals.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:



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