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Going Buggy
by Tom Mugridge

Q: Due to the strange winter and spring, are the bugs going to be a big problem this summer? I am noticing a lot of ants and anthills and bees. Any advice for protecting the shrubs and trees from pests?

A:Good question! We never really know for sure whether the weather will have an impact on the number of insect problems we see in a given year or not. Logically, we think that if there's a mild winter we'll see more insect problems because more survive. This may be true, but the predaceous insects that feed on these pests also probably survived in greater numbers, so it's a wash.

Fact is, insects have been around longer than we have, and have found ways to survive that we're only beginning to understand more fully. Cold winters don't necessarily kill more insects than mild winters -- they've learned how to cope with weather extremes quite well.

My prediction for this year - probably not much in the way of pest problems beyond what we normally experience.

As for the ants and bees you're seeing, you're not alone. They make their annual debut about this time every year, so you'll probably see ants in greater numbers as time goes on.

Bees, especially the digger bees that nest in the ground and the carpenter bees that just LOVE to burrow in cedar siding, have been particularly numerous. If you see lots of carpenter bees, keep an eye out. They're could be after something you own!

The digger bees won't bother you if you don't bother them. They're usually quite docile because they're, well, busy as bees.

To control an ant problem, try boiling water. We normally get scads of little anthills in our patio, so I just boil water and pour it on. It's cheaper than spray chemicals, plus there's no way the ants can build up a resistance to boiling water like they can to a chemical. It's more environmentally-friendly, too.

Just be sure that when you pour the boiling water on you don't get it on any desirable plant material nearby (I learned this the hard way). Boiling water harms plants as easily as it harms ants.

As for protecting trees and shrubs from insect pests, good cultural practices like watering during dry spells, fertilizing when called for, and proper pruning helps to keep the plants healthy and vigorous, and more tolerant of pest problems.

A horticultural oil application in the spring will provide general control of many insect pests, including scales, aphids and mites. Depending on the type(s) of plant(s) you have will determine what follow-up applications may be helpful.

Most insects have preferred host plants, so you should tailor your applications to your specific needs.

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Tom Mugridge

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