Cankerworms (“Inchworms”) are here!

2021 will go down in history for some interesting events like the historic freeze.  I admit I did not expect a plague of cankerworms to be the next hot topic, but in our current times, anything seems plausible.

My phone has been ringing off the hook this week with calls about worms all over the trees and hanging from long silk threads.  The weather is beautiful, and we are all enjoying time outside, but it’s not much fun to have a cankerworm drop down your collar or land in your drink.

Spring cankerworms are caterpillars that feed on a wide range of trees in Texas in early spring.  We usually do not notice them because the numbers are low, but periodically we get a widespread outbreak.

Cankerworms are in the moth family Geometridae and range in color from light green to brown.  These cankerworms are cool to watch for a couple of reasons.  Spring cankerworms have fewer abdominal feet than normal caterpillars, only two feet instead of three to five.  This makes them have a looping walk like an inchworm.  They also produce silk from their mouths and can swing from tree to tree or drop down to the ground.  Pretty fun way to travel by foot or by air! (more…)

Lady Beetles (“Lady Bugs”)

This week the Master Gardeners found a whole herd of lady beetles in the demonstration garden.  Beetles or other insects are not always a fun find in the garden, but lady beetles are a good friend to have.

Did you know there are more than 450 different species of lady beetles in North America, and more than 5,000 worldwide?  They come in all sizes and color patterns.  The twice-stabbed lady beetle is black except for two red spots, and the spotted lady beetle is dark pink with large black spots.  The multicolored Asian lady beetle is a bright yellow color with black spots.  They look so cheerful and happy!

Lady beetles are very beneficial in the garden because they eat aphids, scale insects, mites, caterpillar eggs, and other soft-bodied insects.  Some vegetable growers purchase lady beetles and release them on a particularly bad infestation of aphids.  This works well until the lady beetles decide the aphids look tastier on the other side of the fence.

Lady beetles are true beetles in the Order Coleoptera because they have chewing mouth parts, go through a complete metamorphosis, and have the first pair of wings hardened to protect the body and hind wings.  Bugs, on the other hand, are in the Order Hemiptera and have sucking mouth parts, a gradual metamorphosis, and have the first pair of wings partly hard and partly transparent.

Female lady beetles lay yellow oval-shaped eggs in clusters near infestations of aphids or other pests.  Sometimes you can spot the eggs sitting on a leaf in a little cluster. Larvae hatch and go through several molts until they pupate.  The process from egg to adult takes two to three weeks.  I have to admit, lady beetles do not have cute larvae, but the adult “ladybugs” make up for it!

Enjoy the spring weather by doing a little scouting for lady beetles this spring.  It’s always fun to find a beneficial friend in the garden.  For more information about garden and landscape questions, contact Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, at 512-943-3300.

New Planting After the Storm

Spring is in the air, and it is hard to believe that we were in a winter storm just one month ago!  I have been preaching patience this spring as our plants recover from the freeze, but I think we are safe to get to work in the landscape now.

Many of our plants seem to be recovering from the freeze as temperatures warm up with some exceptions.  Viburnum, wax myrtle, and pittosporum did not fair very well in many landscapes around Williamson County and continue to droop with brown leaves.  You might do one final scratch test on the bark to see if you can find living tissue, then pull out dead shrubs.  Sago palm is another plant that did not survive.  Check the growth point in the center to see if you can find living tissue; perhaps the microclimate of your lawn helped protect your sago palm.

As you begin to remove dead plants and plan for replacements, I have a few tips that might help in your plant selection.  If you are anything like me, spring fever takes over when I am at the plant store, and I need either a detailed list or a strong-willed friend who ensures I do not buy too many plants!  Hopefully, these tips will help you make a plan before you start shopping.

Consider the USDA cold-hardiness zone of the plant.  Williamson County is in Zone 8b, which means the average annual minimum temperature is 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  As we just experienced, it can get colder, but that gives us a good idea of where to start.  You might not want to purchase plants that are labeled for Zone 9 or higher because they will be damaged by cold weather at some point.

Try to choose plants that are native or adapted to our area.  Native or adapted plants are always a good idea because they can usually handle our high and low temperature swings, have fewer pest problems, and are accustomed to our average rainfall amounts.  You can find a copy of the Grow Green: Native and Adapted Plant Guide for Central Texas online or at local nurseries.

Pay attention to the spacing recommendations for plants.  Be sure you pick the right plant for the height and width of the space you have available.  A plant that outgrows your space will cause future headaches as you try to prune it back to size, whether it’s a tree underneath a powerline or a crape myrtle under your eaves.

The Williamson County Master Gardeners are hosting their annual Plant Sale Fund Raiser at the end of the month.  The sale opens online on March 23-26, and plant pick-up is scheduled for Friday, April 2, at the Georgetown Community Center.  This plant sale helps fund our educational events and demonstration garden throughout the year, so be sure to get your order in to support the Master Gardeners.  You can find more information on our website at

For more information about freeze damage or other lawn and garden topics, contact Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, at the Williamson County AgriLife Extension Office at 512-943-3300.


Freeze Recovery

The top question on everyone’s mind is, “What do I do about my plants?”  Winter Storm Uri has done damage to our lawns and landscapes, but it is too early to tell the full extent of the damage.  The most important thing to do now is give your plants time to recover.

Texas has not seen an extreme freeze like Winter Storm Uri since the 1980’s, and we experienced temperatures below freezing for several days.  That’s tough on plants!

I have been taking walks to check out plants in my neighborhood to see how things are looking so far.  Sidenote: if you see me creeping in your yard with camera in hand, please do not shoot.  I am only checking on your plants.  I put together a short list of observations and tips. (more…)

Recovering from the Winter Storm

What a winter storm!  The best word of advice I have for you as you work to clean up your landscape is patience.

The initial ice damage that we experienced at the beginning of the winter weather took out a lot of branches and limbs on trees and large shrubs.  Before you pull out the chainsaw, take some time to assess the damage to your trees.

Did you lose major branches or the main leader branch?  If many major branches are gone, the tree might not recover.  Generally, a tree that loses more than 50% of the canopy will have a hard time recovering because it cannot produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another season.  If the tree lost the leader branch, the main upward growing branch on most trees, it could survive but might be deformed or stunted.  Saving a tree that lost the leader branch is a personal judgement call. (more…)

Williamson County Wins Big at Pecan Show

 Have you picked up your fresh pecans yet?  Our Williamson County pecan growers harvested pecans from October through December, and the harvest was fantastic!  Be sure to stop by a local farmers market to get some pecans soon.

In case you don’t know, the pecan is a nutrition powerhouse loaded with vitamins and minerals that are good for heart health and disease prevention. With fiber, protein, and mostly unsaturated fats, pecans are a hearty, satisfying snack low in sugar and carbohydrates. (more…)

Pre-emergent Weed Control

Now is the time of year that it seems like everyone is talking about weeds!  The winter weeds are actively growing and being a nuisance, and we need to start thinking about preventing warm-season weeds. (more…)

Pruning Trees

I took the opportunity during the sunny weather last weekend to do some pruning on my trees.  Actually, I recruited my dad to help me do some pruning.  I pointed and he cut, and I certainly got the better end of the deal.

January is a great time to prune because many of our trees have lost their leaves, making it easy to see the limb structure.  Late winter is a good time to prune for the health of the tree because it is right before they put on new growth.  You do not want to prune late in the spring after the new growth comes out because a tree uses a lot of its stored energy to put on new growth.  Pruning off the new growth can stunt the tree. (more…)

Red Tip Photinias

This week, I received a question from a concerned home gardener about a disease on red tip photinia.  Before I saw the pictures included in the email, I had a good hunch about the culprit.

Red tip photinias became popular in the 1960’s as a privacy screen.  This large shrub has beautiful spring color and can be found lining many fencerows in older homes.  Unfortunately, red tip photinia faces a devastating disease issue called entomosporium leafspot. (more…)

Texas Onions

Nothing starts the new year off right like a good conversation about onions!  Onions are fun to grow and even more fun to harvest.  If you want to give them a try in your garden this year, now is the time to start preparing!

Did you know that Texas is well-known for its onion crop?  The Rio Grande Valley, Winter Garden area, High Plains, and far West Texas had 7,000 to 7,500 acres of onions in 2020.  Sweet yellow onions like the Granex and Texas 1015 are well known all over the world. (more…)