The War on Pests: How to Protect Properties from Insects
Expect insect populations to boom after unusual fall and winter weather.
Milder fall and winter temperatures in many parts of the country are expected to drive an insect population boom in 2016. The absences of prolonged hard freezes and wetter weather are resulting in early arrivals of pests, some in greater numbers which are already affecting landscapes, and others that are sure to bring out fly swatters during the summer.
Aphids have been making the rounds in Texas and Nebraska, and cooperative extension officials as far as New Jersey are expecting higher populations because of above-normal temperatures in the Northeast. While some of the 4,400 known species target vegetable plants and crops, others are an annual nemesis to residential landscapes.
The small, sap-sucking insects can quickly destroy apartment landscape mainstays like ornamental plants and bushes. Aphids suck the juices out of the plant and leave a slick, shiny substance − honey dew – on the leaves that spreads fungi and damages plants. Symptoms include decreased and stunted growth and discoloration and wilting of leaves.
Tod Russell, an insect specialist at Earthworks, says he’s seen early signs of aphids, and that their appetites are shifting from Photinias and Crape Myrtles.
“The aphids seem to be out in full force,” he said. “I saw them on Indian Hawthorne bushes this spring, and I’ve never seen them on those before.”
Expect Aphids, Bermuda Mites and Spider Mites to be busy
Aphids’ early arrival is just one indication that insects survived a mild fall and winter across much of the country. Others are at work, too. Russell says that Bermuda Mites, which typically emerge during hot and dry temperatures, are already doing damage.
Bermuda Mites are microscopic but damage can be big if left undetected. With a life cycle of 4-7 days, the tiny critters can multiple in great numbers and destroy grass quickly. Typically, turf will turn brown and thin. A major sign is that stems will take the shape of a broom, with a lot of little blades of grass clumped together at one end and spaced out at the other.
“It can be difficult to control,” Russell said. “(Bermuda Mites) usually like hot and dry, and it’s kind of strange we’ve already seen it early this year. I’m guessing the winter probably didn’t affect Bermuda Mites that much. It’s usually not a huge problem.”
Spider Mites, which damage vegetable plants, are also expected to be out in numbers.
Other pests, including mosquitoes, are expected to be active
Landscapes likely aren’t the only targets of pests because of unseasonable fall and winter weather.
In March, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) forecasted that ticks, mosquitoes, termites, ants and other pests could be especially active this spring and summer.
Mosquitoes are expected to thrive after a rainier and warmer winter in the Southeast, and termite swarms should be stronger as hotter weather approaches. In the Midwest, a record-breaking warm December along with wetter-than-average weather is expected to jump-start ant and tick activity. A cooler, rainier spring in the Southwest may drive up mosquito populations and lead ants indoors. Larger mosquito populations are expected in the Northwest and West after heavier rainfall and flooding during the winter.
“Knowing what to expect for the season is especially important as some springtime pests, such as ticks and mosquitoes can have a direct impact on our health, especially with the threat of Lyme disease and Zika virus becoming a heightened concern in recent months,” said Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the NPMA. “And other pests, including ants and termites can cause damage to our homes.”
A licensed pest control professional should be the best defense
It’s unlikely that pests that attack landscapes will manifest into epidemic scale, Russell says, but apartments shouldn’t let their guard down. While do-it-yourself chemical treatments are much safer than they were 25-30 years ago, he recommends consulting with a licensed pest control specialist at the first warning signs that shrubs, plants, trees and grass are damaged.
“There are quite a few different kinds of chemicals for control that are available on the market,” he said. “Apartments should be sure to hire someone who is licensed to apply chemicals. They should have the common knowledge to use what’s appropriate for the time of year.”
Just be ready to battle insects in larger numbers.
“I don’t think this year is going to be more difficult, other than there might be more insects with the mild winter,” Russell added. “The populations will probably be higher.”