The bugs of autumn

The sounds of summer and early fall will soon be history. The nighttime temperatures will dip below freezing, ending the life cycle of many plants and insects. One of the night time sounds that soon will be quieted are the mating sounds of crickets. The males are doing their hardest to attract a female with their winged serenades.

The most commonly seen crickets are the black field cricket. Normally nocturnal creatures, they use the safety of night to forage for food, which can be a combination of vegetation or other insects. As the season progresses and their 90-day life spans fast approach an end, the males are seriously looking to attract a mate. The females will lay their eggs in the soil in the fall with the eggs hatching in the spring to begin the life cycle for another season. During the mating season you can tell the temperature by listening to the chirps of the male. Count the chirps for 15 seconds and add 40 to that number.

I love to listen to the sounds of the evening while sitting on the back porch. What I do not like is that single solitary cricket that has found its way into the house and starts his serenading. Ever try to find a cricket in the house, at nighttime? It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, utterly impossible and a tad bit annoying.

One last note on crickets, they are edible. You may want to try dried crickets in place of crotons with your salad. Notice, I said “you.”

TOXIC TREE

There is one tree that I do not want growing in my yard, the black walnut. Unfortunately I do not always get what I want. When we bought our property, there were and still are a number of established black walnut trees.

We know that the tree produces a chemical called juglone that either inhibits the growth of certain plants or is downright toxic.

Even worse are the nuts that the tree produces. In order to mow, they must be picked up. If left alone, the outer shell becomes a messy black that stains. Even worse than that are the squirrels. I have cut off or pulled out enough walnuts that I could start my own forest, all thanks to the squirrel.

Now that I have ranted and raved, the black walnut does have some good qualities. The tree is host to a native caterpillar called walnut caterpillar. Their damage does little harm to well established trees and are kept under control by parasitoids which lay eggs on the caterpillar which will hatch and eat the caterpillar from the inside out. Better yet, they are a food source for birds.

The interesting characteristic of the walnut caterpillar is that it is a social pest. The young can be seen eating as a group. As with all caterpillars, they will go through certain growing stages and must shed their outer skin. These caterpillars will group together and molt, leaving behind a large mass of skin that can be seen hanging on branches or on the tree trunk.

BUY NATIVE

Earlier this year I wrote about the non-native plant called heavenly bamboo whose berries have killed cedar waxwing birds and possibly other birds and that the plant is currently available at a local box store. There is another non-native plant commonly grown in our landscape, one responsible for the death of elk, moose, bear and other foraging animals.

The English yew’s berries are toxic, as are the needles. The male yew provides sufferers of hay fever with enough pollen to make life miserable.

These plants have been sold with the idea that they are deer resistant. But, it is a big but. When food becomes scarce due to human encroachment, the animals are forced to eat plants that they normally wouldn’t touch. In this fall season with warmer weather lasting much longer, the normal food source is deleted, forcing animals to seek other food.

Always, if at all possible, buy native. Your local Master Gardeners will always try to help you in researching what to consider.

Not all non-native plants need to be avoided.

My poor Cupheas, commonly called cigar or firecracker plant, are lonely. This tender perennial, a native of Mexico and Central America, with its red tubular flowers, has been abandoned. The ruby-throated hummingbirds have flown south for the winter, leaving behind their favorite food source found in my gardens.

The adult males left first, starting the journey to the much-warmer climates of Mexico and further south, sometime in July or August. The mature females wait until September, followed later in the season by the departure of the juveniles. Their departure is similar to that of the monarch butterflies. They head south and feed on the way.

STINK BUG TRAP

Last month I lamented about the invasion of the brown marmorated stink bug and that there wasn’t much you could do. Well, there is something that can help to attract them to one location. Several years ago I mentioned that you could use a combination of three items to capture and kill the stinky nuisance.

Soapy water, a 9×13-inch aluminum pan, and light are the three items needed. If you have a room that is highly populated, place the three items on a secure table or other piece of furniture. A student lamp is ideal with a regular low watt bulb, not an LED bulb. Place it over the pan filled with the soapy water, and that hopefully should do the job. The light attracts the stink bugs, which in turn will fall into the water to do their impression of Moby Dick.

A NICE CHOICE

Hoya! No, this not another way to ask, how are you? The hoya is a tropical plant native to India and Southeast Asia. This is an excellent plant for homeowners who find it easy to kill plants through neglect. It will require some care, definitely in the form of watering. But if you forget, the plant can tolerate very dry conditions.

The leaves are thick with a waxy appearance. The plant will want to wrap itself around anything that it can reach, but as a hanging plant, the stems will allow gravity to keep them in check.

The hoya does prefer a bright location with a southern exposure the best, especially to induce flowering. The flowers can come in various colors, depending on the species. The flowers have a sweet pleasant smell and are waxy in appearance. They appear in an umbel shape, hanging downward. The one bad thing about the plant is that once the flowers are done blooming, the blooms will drop to the floor.

The hoya can be found in most nurseries and is relatively pest- and disease-free.

Did you get your spring bulbs in the ground? You still have time, but don’t wait too long, as colder weather is coming. Also remember, shredded leaves make excellent mulch or a good addition to the compost pile.

Questions? Email me at qbs5000@ag.psu.edu.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy gardening!

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Quentin Stocum, former Clinton County Master Gardener Coordinator, can be reached at 570-726-0022.

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