Twig Girdler

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Twig Girdler

One interesting aspect of my job as a horticultural extension agent is the bug questions and samples I get to see. Just last week, a client brought in a photo of a Tramea onusta, a red saddlebags dragonfly.  Another client sent a photo of a tomato hornworm.  Some of the photos have beautiful and interesting bugs, but usually the questions focus on insects that are causing problems.

Over the last few weeks, I have received several phone calls from homeowners who have small tree limbs that look like they’ve been cut off. The clients describe a blunt cut that might be made with pruning shears or a small saw on limbs the size of pencils or a finger.  This is not the work of pranksters!  The trees have been visited by the twig girdler beetle!

Twig girdler beetles in our area are the pecan twig girdler, Oncideres pustulatas LeConte, which attack citrus, elm, hackberry, hickory, huisache, mimosa, pecan, persimmon, red oak, retama, Texas ebony, walnut, and various fruit trees.  They are ½ to ¾ inch long, light to dark brown with a wide gray band across the wing covers, pink, orange, or yellow spots, and long antennae.

During the fall, usually September through November, the twig girdler reaches adulthood and mates. The female twig girdler will lay her eggs on a small branch, then she chews around the branch forming a notch, much like a beaver would.  The twig usually breaks free and falls to the ground or it might hang loosely.  The eggs hatch in about three weeks and feed on the cut branch.  Twig girdlers have one generation per year and the adults usually live six to ten weeks.

The twig girdler beetle does not do serious harm to the tree; they are mostly a nuisance. Chemical control is not recommended in a home lawn.  The branches that fall from a twig girdler’s work should be collected and destroyed because the eggs are living inside the branch.  The beetles are not commonly found on trees.

Fall Gardening

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Fall is in the air! You might not equate fall with gardening, but this is a great time of year to be a gardener.  I often get comments and questions from non-native Texans about how hard it is to garden in Texas.  They complain about our rocky soil, heat, lack of rain (or too much!), and many other things.  Those are all valid complaints, but where else can you garden through the fall and into winter?  This native Texan is proud of our long gardening season!

Fall gardening is all about plants in the brassica family, often called cole crops. These are cool season crops that can be grown successfully in home gardens all over Texas.  Cole crops include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards, mustards, kale, turnip, rutabaga, and radish.  During the fall, you can also plant lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, swiss chard, cilantro, garlic, and shallots.

Most fall crops can be planted from seed, but cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts do better from transplants. Plant your fall garden in full sunlight and find a location with good drainage.  Fall crops also do well in container gardens but be sure to find a container with good drainage.  You can incorporate compost or fertilizer into your soil as you prepare the garden bed or containers.  Apply more as the plants grow during the season.

Proper watering is an important part of gardening, even during the fall and winter. Most crops need one or two inches of water applied once a week.  Determine when to water by checking the soil.  If the soil surface is dry, scratch down to a depth of one inch to see if the soil is moist.  If it is dry at 1 inch, water thoroughly.  Drop irrigation is best because it waters directly into the soil at a slow rate so the water saturates the soil.

Lettuces, greens, spinach, cilantro are a lot of fun to harvest because you just cut off the greens and the plant continues to make more! Crops that form a head like broccoli and cauliflower are ready to harvest when the head gets firm and compact.

Last week, the Master Gardener volunteers and I planted a lettuce variety trial in our demonstration garden at the Extension Office. Be sure to watch for more information about the results from the trial.  We will let you know the best lettuces to plant in Williamson County!

This article was first published in the Williamson County Sun newspaper.

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