It pays to have been around the block a few times. You have the advantage of having witnessed a lot of the problems that people bring up before you.
Some of them are major and demand detailed explanations. Others are little pebbles in your shoe that you could easily overlook, but they eventually become quite annoying. It’s that latter group I’ll address here today.
Ends of branches of live oaks, pecans and other trees dry and turn brown.
This is usually damage done by squirrels as they sharpen their teeth. Like our fingernails, their teeth are constantly growing, and if they don’t take action to sharpen and shorten them, they can become a serious problem.
The squirrels will riddle the bark of a branch the size of a broomstick, gnawing around and around. You’ll find shards of the bark on the ground down below, but everything will look fine up above. Then, a few weeks later, you’ll notice that the branches have turned brown. If you’re able to use binoculars to look up into the tree, you’ll be able to see the rings of missing bark.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do but put up with it. The tree will grow in around the voids. If you have certified arborists who clean up your trees each fall or winter, they can remove the dead branches, but that’s about your limit.
Little white-flowering weeds that suddenly appear in our yards.
You wonder, “Where did they come from? There weren’t any weeds there just a week ago.”
Truth is, they’ve been there all growing season. This is roadside aster. For spring and summer it’s a fine-textured plant that produces only foliage. We hardly see it until fall when it responds to cooler weather and fall rains and suddenly pops into flower.
I’ve always referred to roadside aster as a “weed of neglect.” You’ll not see it in healthy, vigorous parts of lawns. Frequently it’s in the “out back” (out back in the alley or out back, behind the fence). Sometimes it’s along the drive or front fence. Often, it’s alongside a curb or in the parkway (between the front walk and street). It grows where your lawn doesn’t get as much water and fertilizer.
You can kill roadside aster with a broadleafed weedkiller spray (containing 2,4-D), but the best long-term solution is to take better care of your lawngrass. It will crowd the weed out.
Yellowjackets, wasps, snakes and stinging caterpillars.
These are seemingly minor problems until they show up in your landscape. This is the time of year that they become more common. Let me offer a few simple suggestions.
First, the various wasps are beneficial insects for the most part. Most will leave you alone unless they’re provoked. I generally co-exist with most types unless they’re beside a doorway or patio or other place that people will congregate. Whenever I can I simply knock their nests down with a long stick and step out of harm’s way.
Yellowjackets, however, are especially aggressive. They will attack unprovoked, and they tend to build their nests close to people spaces. You probably don’t want them around if friends and family are going to be at risk. But beware in using the long-throw wasp and hornet sprays. Most types have quick knock-down propellants that will scorch foliage of shrubs and trees.
Snake encounters seem to be more common in fall. They’re more active in cooler weather, plus we’re outdoors more of the time. They can hide in fallen leaves, and they’re often searching for places to spend the winter. Just remember never to reach into dark corners without looking first. Use a leaf rake before you try to pick leaves up with your hands. Better yet, use a garden fork or special hand forks, or best of all, run the leaves through the mower and use the shredded remains as mulch in your shrub and perennial gardens.
Learn to identify the poisonous species and have a plan for what you will do with the others. They are beneficial, although there are many of us who prefer not to encounter them. Hopefully you won’t harm the non-venomous types. Try to escort them where they can lead their lives away from humans.
Stinging caterpillars come in several styles, all armed and ready for battle. Bristles on their backs are loaded with painful fluids that can send you away in agony rapidly. My short warning is that you never should pick up a caterpillar unless you know its species for certain. Several of the stinging types look harmless enough, but once you make the mistake, you won’t do so again. Read up on puss caterpillars (asps), Saddleback caterpillars, Hagg moth caterpillars and Io moth larvae.
Fall bulbs not blooming as well as usual this year.
This list would include spider lilies, oxblood lilies and fall crocus (lilies-of-the-field). It’s still early and maybe they’ll catch up, but it’s not uncommon for these to have “off years” where they bloom sporadically. I’m already seeing it in my oxblood lilies, and I’m just chalking it up to the effects of last February’s cold. I see leaves ready to sprout out, so I know the bulbs and plants are fine. Spider lilies are fairly well known for this shy-flowering behavior. Advice here: just sit tight.
You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.