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Weekly Gardening Guide: Our friends the creepy crawlers!

September 18, 2015

Our friends, the creepy crawlies!

Hey folks, I’m back! Thanks to Bonnie for contributing a couple of great blogs and giving you all a break from my essays!

For those of you interested my recovery is continuing, albeit slowly. I have shed my splints (except my therapy devices) and am now supposed to be including my finger in my daily life as much as possible – though my subconscious mind still tries to protect it - as I type this my index finger is pointing to the sky like the Queen’s pinky when she drinks tea. However, thanks to my wonderful occupational therapist who puts me through torture with the big picture in mind, I am making progress. It is amazing how that little woman can almost bring this 185lb man to tears – but it’s all for the best! While a 100% recovery is unlikely, we hope to one day reach a point where my index finger is a functioning member of Team Hand and can contribute some strength and dexterity! Here’s hoping!

Okay, let’s get down to gardening business!

Lets talk Nematodes!

Now I know what you’re thinking…. “Nematodes? Not another LAWN post!” But bear with me, you will soon realize how these microscopic good guys can help reduce pests in your entire landscape, and why now is the perfect time to apply them!

For our very loyal readers of our online material, we have certainly covered this topic before, but I hope to give you a little refresher here and provide new info for those who have never learned about or applied these helpful worms!

So lets start with the basics; what is a nematode? Well nematode a broad term which refers to any organism in the phylum Nematoda. They are literally everywhere! From the bottom of the ocean, to the top of the highest mountains, you will find nematodes. They are so abundant in fact that if you were to remove all matter from the earth, (except for nematodes) you would be left with an exact replica of the earth made out of nematodes! There have been over 25,000 species of nematode identified, but it is assumed there are countless more yet to be discovered!

Nematodes are a crucial part of any ecosystem, especially in the water and soil. Each species of nematode has its own diet, prey and predators on a microscopic level. Of the thousands of species of nematode, only a few dozen are important to us in the world of gardening and agriculture. For example, Soybean Cyst Nematode is a very important and harmful pest to soybean farmers, Pine Wilt Nematode is responsible for the loss of millions of pine trees in Japan. Of course others – Thousands of others – are beneficial to plants and help maintain a balanced soil.

We will be discussing how 2 species in particular can help reduce pests in your lawn and garden.

As most of you are aware White grubs are major pests in lawns. They actively feed on the roots of the lawn, and they eventually turn into adult beetles such as May/June Beetles (June bug), European Chafer, and the dreaded Japanese Beetle! In many cases, the secondary damage caused by skunks and birds digging them up can worse than the damage from the grubs themselves. The same can be true for European Crane Flies which you may recognize as those “Giant mosquitoes” that cling to walls and screen doors around this time of year. Just to put your mind at ease, they will NOT bite or sting you and are completely harmless as adults. However, their larvae can be very destructive to your lawns and can also attract skunks and birds to your property to dig them up.

Fortunately, of those 25,000+ species there is one – only one -  that is parasitic to white grubs. And one – yes one – that is parasitic to the larvae of Crane fly (AKA Leatherjackets). And whats even more remarkable is that they feed on the target larvae and only  the target larvae! In that way, this 100% natural, 100% organic, 100% safe to humans and pets, biological control is FAR better than its synthetic insecticidal counterparts! But the key with this miracle lawn-nematode symbiosis is proper application timing!

Like with most biological pest control products, since they are living organisms themselves, proper environmental and ecological conditions are crucial for their success.

So, in order to know the best time to apply them to kill grubs and leatherjackets, we must first understand a little more about the lifecycle of the grub or leatherjacket;

Grubs and leatherjackets have a similar lifecycle. They both emerge from their eggs as larvae in the fall, feed and get healthy and strong on the roots of turf until the soil temperatures begin drop to the point of freezing. At that point the grubs and leatherjackets move deep in the soil below the frost line to overwinter. In the spring the process is reversed and they begin to move closer to the soil surface where they feed on the roots of turf and other fibrous root systems again. Eventually they pupate (create a shell around themselves), and morph into their adult form where they emerge as beetles or flies and fly around finding food (perhaps in your garden?). They eventually lay eggs (usually beetles in mid summer and crane fly in early fall) and the cycle begins again. The adults die off when they run out of food (when the snow flies) and their species is continued by their offspring.

So, if we’re going to kill these little larvae with nematodes, when is the best time to do it? Well that’s simple - the younger and weaker they are, the more susceptible they are to attack by any predator, including the parasitic nematodes. In other words – early to late fall. In other words – NOW!

I would like to offer a disclaimer at this point: If you have come in to our store in the early spring, you have likely seen that we are offering or selling nematodes for application at that time. If you talked to me and told me you had a grub problem I might’ve recommended it to you at that time – so what I’ve just told you might seem hypocritical or dishonest, but I assure you it is not. While nematodes are also effective in the spring, they are most effective in the fall, and thus why to maximize your bang for your your buck nematodes should be applied in the fall but can and should also be applied in spring too! In the spring the grubs are larger and more resistant to attack, and your window is smaller since they will soon pupate and be impenetrable by the nematodes, so the efficacy suffers as a result.

I guess at this point some of you might be wondering exactly how nematodes work! The simple explanation is that they wiggle their way into the grub’s/leatherjacket’s body through either its mouth or its rear end then proceed to multiply in their guts by the THOUSANDS. Soon they take up so much space that the larvae has no room for food and starves to death. The nematodes continue to multiply until the dead larvae’s body literally bursts and releases more nematodes into the surrounding soil to continue their hunt!

Its all really gross but really cool! I was fortunate enough to watch the whole process happen under a microscope back in school.

Nematodes come in a sponge which we keep in the fridge to keep them viable. You will then take them home, release them into a bucket of water and spray the water out evenly over your entire lawn (the more water the better – use a hose end sprayer for best results). We can give you better directions in store.

So…. To conclude – WE HAVE NEMATODES and you should apply them now…..

Should I have just said that at the beginning and saved my sore finger from all this typing? Nah, this was fun!

Thanks for reading, and as always, don’t be shy about questions or comments by email, facebook or phone!

Happy gardening!



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