“To every thing, there is a season” goes the Bible verse. Looking out my back door, I can see that the height of the fall pest season has arrived. Yellow jackets cluster around my hummingbird feeder, violets lie thick in my fescue. The rains we enjoyed a couple of weeks ago released the pent up energy of fire ants which have hunkered down underground for most of the summer. To add insult to injury, my ankle itches unceasingly where an unseen blade of poison ivy touched me recently.
Though the summer season was dry and hot, plant and insect pests have managed to survive. I have written about each of the following problems in times past but perhaps a summary of control measures will make your autumn more pleasurable and less pestiferous.
WASPS, HORNETS, YELLOW JACKETS The gradual change in day length signals these insects that winter is not far away. Wouldn’t you be foul-tempered if you knew your demise was fast approaching? Hornet nests the size of basketballs are already being reported. Many are the weekend lawn mowers who have been seen trying to simultaneously slap their ankles and run for the house.
The easiest way to deal with stinging insects is to note their nest location by day and perform an assault by night. Aerosol “Wasp and Hornet” sprays are quite effective. Only a small amount of spray – not the whole can – is needed to poison a nest. One caution: the insecticide is dissolved in petroleum distillate, which will scorch the leaves of any plant it touches. If the insect nest is in a shrub or turf area you’d rather not harm, mix a garden insecticide with water in a pump-up sprayer and use it instead. None of these insects will re-use their nests next year. After a hard freeze, you can safely knock the nest from its hanging point.
VIOLETS, WILD STRAWBERRY If you have a fescue or zoysia lawn, you’re in luck. Triclopyr (Ortho Chickweed, Clover and Oxalis Killer) brings these hard-to-control weeds to their knees. Even if your lawn is Bermuda or centipede grass, one of the “three-way” weed killers (Weed Stop, Weed-B-Gon, Wipe-Out, etc) will go a long way toward controlling them at this time of year. Atrazine (Purge) is also labeled for broad-leaf weed control in centipede and St. Augustine lawns.
FIRE ANTS One has to admire the industriousness of these interlopers. They can rebuild a mown-over mound overnight and still have enough energy to boil out by the thousands if you poke it with a stick. Several insecticides are good for poisoning single mounds but Dr. Beverly Sparks, University of Georgia entomologist, says the combination of a fire ant bait followed a day later by individual mound treatments can give you ninety percent control for six months. According to Dr. Sparks, since ants are storing food for the winter now, fall is the absolute best time to perform the Fire Ant Two Step.
KUDZU, POISON IVY Insects are not alone in storing food in anticipation of cold weather. Kudzu accumulates energy-storing starch in its roots during the fall. As with fire ants, a poison applied to the surface now is more likely to be transported underground. A foliage spray of Brush-B-Gon or Enforcer Brush Killer now can stop invading kudzu in its tracks. Likewise, poison ivy, brambles and thorny smilax can be sprayed now to accomplish good control.
Weeds and insects have their place in the natural world. Given the right circumstances you or I could allow any of the pests I’ve mentioned to live long and prosper. When they become unruly though, it’s good to know that this is the season in which our control efforts will have the most effect.