Gardeners face many of the same challenges as farmers — only on a smaller scale.They have to contend with whatever Mother Nature throws at them, from drought to flood, scathing heat or frigid cold, but to top it off, there are insects, diseases and animals to contend with. Now that the garden season is at its peak, the problems are also rising. Gardeners should walk their gardens if not daily, then at least once a week. Finding a problem before it becomes a big problem, can go a long way in controlling issues. Properly identifying a problem is also important.

There are insects and diseases that can have similar symptoms. If problems are occurring over a vast group of different types of plants, chances are it is not an insect or a disease, since most insects and diseases tend to have more specific host plants, or at least start on one, and then move on to others. Deer, and other animals may not be as particular, or an improper application of a chemical will also damage across plant species. Insects are the most diverse group of organisms on Earth. There are over a million described species of insects. There is not a place on earth that doesn’t have some type of insect that lives there. Not all insects are bad. Where would be without the pollinators who provide us with crops, or butterflies which beautify the environment. Ladybugs in both their adult and larval stage eat aphids, and praying mantis eats both good and bad bugs. But there are bad bugs out there, and if not controlled, they can kill or ruin your plants. Insects can multiply rapidly in warm climates. Some years some insects are worse than others. Many yards have been plagued by the variable oak leaf caterpillar this year —in larger numbers than we can ever remember. Some years we have more tent caterpillars in the spring or fall webworms in the fall. With insects that feed on large shade trees, normally the damage is not life threatening. Repeated defoliation on young trees can be a different story, but since they are smaller they could be sprayed if warranted. Some insects feed on weakened or stressed plants, while others like tender new growth more. If you see problems on your plants, you need to start to investigate what the culprit is and then take action.  Insects feed in various ways, so identification should start with the physical damage. Some have chewing mouthparts—like caterpillars and grasshoppers which eat holes in the leaves or large sections of the foliage. Others have sucking mouthparts like aphids and lacebug insects. Think of it as inserting a straw into the leaf and then sucking out the plant juices. Instead of holes in the leaves, the foliage is marred with little specks. When enough feeding has been going on, the entire leaf surface is silvery or whitish where the chlorophyll has been taken out of the leaves. Rasping mouthparts are when an insect scrapes off the top surface of the leaf and then sucks out the sap. Mites and thrips are the culprits here. They are small insects, so the damage is silvery in appearance, but there are no holes in the leaves. Then there are tiny larvae of insects that actually feed between the surfaces of the leaves, leaving a trail of tunnels or squiggly lines in the foliage. These insects are called leaf miners, because they are basically mining out the sap in between the two surfaces of the leaves. Thankfully, they usually look worse than they are, and you can cut off the damaged leaves and be done with it.

And lastly there are boring insects —those that can bore holes in trees or in the stems of your squash plants. For wood boring insects, they usually go after weakened trees, but not always. Once inside, they are difficult to kill, since they construct a series of tunnels inside so contact sprays are not effective.

Squash Vine Borer
Squash Vine Borer

Squash vine borer adults are a clear winged moth that resembles a wasp. The adult female lays eggs near the base of the squash plant. When the larvae hatch, they bore into the stem of the squash plant and tunnel through,killing the plants fairly quickly.If you have holes or missing chunks of foliage in your leaves, try to find what is feeding. Sometimes you can easily spot the culprit, and sometimes you have to investigate. Many insects use camouflage to mask themselves or help them blend in. There are some common insects that we see annually on certain plants. If you are growing hardy hibiscus, the mallow sawfly may turn the leaves into lace. Cabbage worms can do the same to members of the cabbage family, and the tomato hornworm can feed on a tomato plant and destroy it quickly. Corn left unprotected is usually attacked by the corn earworm. Flea beetles are common on eggplants, and slugs love hostas.  So start by looking for the most common complaint. When grasshoppers hit, it seems like the plague of locusts—they feed on many different plants and the Japanese beetle is the bane of many a gardener in the northern tier of the state. Bagworms attack junipers and cedars first, and construct their protective sack out of the plant they are feeding on. If you can’t find what is out there, try using traps or baits to spot them, so you know how to control them. Know which are good caterpillars and which are bad. Many gardeners grow parsley and fennel to attract caterpillars and butterflies, so don’t kill them. Learn to recognize the larvae of the good and the bad bugs. Aphids are the rabbits of the insect world. These small insects give birth to living young, and when conditions are right, those newborns begin propagating as well. They can be green, yellow or black in color and often congregate along the stems or tips of tender new growth. They suck sap out and give off a sticky substance called honeydew. Where honeydew lands — car windows, patio furniture or plants, a black sooty mold can form on the leaves. Aphids attach flowers, vegetables, shrubs and even trees. Think about parking your car under a large shade tree. That sticky residue is probably the droppings of aphids feeding on the tree foliage.


Other sucking insects that give off honeydew include white flies and scale. Whiteflies commonly attack gardenias. It looks like specks of white dandruff flying off the plant. Then the foliage can be covered in the black sooty mold.  Whiteflies are also an issue on some flowering tropical’s and can get on vegetables and other ornamentals. Scale insects and mealy bugs are also common on a wide variety of plants. Camellias commonly get tea scale, while mealy bugs are soft bodied scales that attack on the underside of the foliage and in the joints where leaves are attached to the stems. Golden euonymus is frequently attacked by the euonymus scale. Scale insects are not going to kill a plant overnight, but left unchecked, they will multiply and gradually weaken a plant. Scale insects come in all sizes and shapes from tiny white and black tea and euonymus scale to the hard armored scales and the white oyster scales. The hard outer coating protects the insect inside, so typically some type of systemic approach is needed.

Whether your garden has insect or disease problems, practice good integrated pest management practices. Give your plants what they need to grow — proper plant selection for your site,then the right cultural practices including water, fertilizer and pruning. Monitor your garden regularly.  Decide how much damage you are willing to live with. When those thresholds are met, take action. Look at what is available to control the pest — physical barriers, sprays of water, pruning out damaged plants, or organic or non-organic sprays. Spraying is usually the last resort. But if you do spray, make sure that what you are using is labeled to control your pest and that you are applying it at the recommended rate. Many home gardeners think that if a little bit is good, a lot will do better, and that isn’t the case. Gardening can be challenging, but the end results outweigh the challenges. If you have problems in your garden and you don’t know the cause, take a good sample to your local county extension agent. Good photos are also beneficial. Once you can identify the problem, you are on the road to solving it.

There’s a Buzz in the Air

For most of us, spring and early summer bring about images of gobbling turkeys, crappie fishing, baseball games, colorful landscapes, barbecues, and emerging crops.  But, very bee-swarm[1]few of us relate this time of year to honeybee swarm season.  I would even bet that most of us have never witnessed a honeybee swarm in flight or clumped up dangling from a branch.  For this very reason, it is a fascinating and mysterious phenomenon.

The sight of swarming bees can certainly cause nightmares for some people.  However, it is a very natural behavior that honeybees exhibit during late spring and early summer.  Swarming is nature’s way of propagating the species.  With the recent decline in commercial colonies, scientist and beekeepers alike, suggest allowing a beekeeper to capture swarms that you encounter.

A honey bee colony declines in numbers throughout the winter as its food stores are depleted.  Now, there are far fewer bees in the colony than there were in the summer.  The colony will likely have a queen, 15-20 thousand worker bees, and no drones (they get the boot in the fall to conserve food resources).  At this point in late winter the bees will be huddled around remaining food stores to keep warm.

As the days get longer and the temperatures warm, the colony expands.  The queen is busy laying eggs to produce more workers and eventually drones.  The colony is extremely efficient and may have 50-80 thousand workers foraging, building comb, regulating hive temperature, guarding the colony, tending to brood or feeding the queen.  This entire process is communicated through pheromones and this is very important to remember when understanding the swarming process.

The queen honey bee produces a pheromone that attracts the workers to her.  This pheromone also directs the workers to build comb, forage, and tend the brood.  The queen communicates to the colony by dancing too.  The colony is very aware that it needs a viable queen for its continued survival and that her role in the colony is important.

So, the colony is working hard and the queen is busy laying to produce more workers.  Now there are thousands upon thousands of workers and the colony is becoming crowed.  So crowded in fact, that many of the workers cannot sense the presence of the queen.  This triggers the swarming tendency and the workers begin raising a new queen.

Like in most households, there is no room for more than one queen!  So, prior to the new queens emergence, the old queen swarms – taking with her between one-third and one-half of the colony.  Before leaving to establish a new hive, the bees gorge themselves on nectar.  You might witness this as a whirling swarm of bees flying across the landscape or as a swarm settled on a bush or branch.  I personally have seen them settle on swing sets, fence posts, propane tanks, patio furniture, and corn stalks.

The clumping occurs from the workers gathering around the queen (remember they are attracted to her pheromone).  For one, they are protecting her because she is vital to their survival.  And two, they are feeding her with the nectar they gorged on before swarming.  Because the queen is not the strongest of flyers, they must stop at some point and rest.  While they are resting, scout bees are sent out to look for a suitable location for the colony to live.  Swarms will not usually rest in a location for very long.  I have seen them rest in a clump for just a few minutes up to a couple of days.  They generally move on once they have located a new dwelling to occupy.

Swarms are not dangerous.  While swarming, bees are focused on finding a new home and surviving, not attacking.  They are vulnerable and do not have a home or brood to protect.  But keep in mind, it is important to keep your distance from swarming bees, because if they feel threatened it is possible they will sting.

So, if you happen to come across a bee swarm:

  • Keep your distance and please do not attempt to move or destroy them.
  • Leave them alone and allow them to move on.
  • Contact your local county Extension Agent. (He can help you find someone to come and remove them)
  • Contact your local beekeeper’s association
  • Go to:  Mississippi Beekeepers – Bees-On-The-Net  or use the link to find local beekeepers near you.

UAS in Agriculture

UAS in AgricultureUnmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have been utilized in many ways for years but for the most part the term drones have been associated with the military. However, until recent years no one has thought about using it for commercial agriculture. The general public and aviation industry are widely skeptical of this type of technology and for good reason.  But like any new technology, if used correctly the benefits will prove its worthiness.

North FarmWhat will they do? These UAS systems will allow producers to monitor larger portions of their farms in detail and be able to identify weak spots in planting and high stress areas including disease and insect pressure and irrigation faults.  By using a series of available cameras/sensors (NIR, LIDAR, multispectral, hyperspectral, etc.) a producer can generate precision maps based on a multitude of data sets that the UAS is set to produce. Even some platforms are equipped with thermal imaging for livestock monitoring. Most importantly this technology can gather areas of interest (GPS coordinates) so that you have a precise location to walk to and see it in person without having to set foot in the field and find problem areas yourself.Sensor Technology

Before purchasing a UAS system you will need to ask yourself some questions. What do I plan to do with this? What kind of data am I looking for? How large of an area to I plan to gather data on? Asking these questions will begin to steer you towards what you will need. There are two different types of airframes used for UAS systems. For small acreages there are multirotors (up to 100 acres) and fixed wing (100 acres +). Multirotors have a much smaller load capacity and a shorter run time on battery but are very useful in “stop and stare” situations. Fixed winged airframes have longer run times and are able to carry larger loads allowing users to equip these with more tools. Unlike the multirotors, the fixed wings are not able to drop into a location and hover.UAS system range

Other considerations include the governance of UAS by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. There are numerous airports that carry out commercial, general and agricultural aviation duties in Mississippi as well as across the country. This is one reason that the aviation industry is vocal on this technology. For this reason, the FAA has set regulations on UAS operations including the three classes of operators:

  • Hobbyist
  • Public Agency
  • Commercial/Civil


As of December 21, 2015 all small unmanned aircraft (0.55 lbs or 25 g – 55 lbs or 250 g) must register an with the FAA UAS registry ($5 cost) prior to flying outdoors. Anything over 55 lbs must register through the aircraft registry process. If the UAS system is used for flying recreationally or as a hobby you will only need to register your airframe. If you plan to charge for a service or even use the UAS to aid your service or farm without charging you must file for a CoA and a Section 333. The CoA (Certificate of Waiver or Authorization) is an application that explains what type of system you have, where it will be flown, who will fly it, and various emergency procedures. The section 333 is what allows the UAS to be flown for profit such as flying your fields to make production decisions for better yields.

Some other general guidelines:

  • Operating ceiling is 400 ft
  • Fly during daylight hours
  • Maintain line of sight at all times and try to use an observer
  • Do not fly within 5 miles of an active airport or contact the airport prior to flying
  • Do not directly fly over persons and property
  • Maintain a 25 ft buffer from persons and property
  • Do not video or photograph people or property where there is an expectation of privacy


There are mass amounts of rules and regulations that are being put in place to integrate these systems into one of the world’s busiest airspace. As long as the rules are followed then the technology will be very beneficial to all. These systems will allow producers to better utilize inputs and identify problem areas sooner, by using data sets generated as a proactive approach to solving agronomic issues. For more information regarding the regulations that are in place visit


Pine Beetles in Home Landscapes

This summer and early fall has left many areas without essential rainfall for field crops and plants in home landscapes. However, many home gardeners do not look much above eye level when maintaining a landscape and with this approach our trees are easily looked over or ‘under’. Just like your raised beds and your lawns, the oldest trees in the landscape need water and nutrients. When there is a lack of essential elements the plants become stressed and less likely to fight off diseases and insect attacks.

Even though the MS Delta is not known for Pine (Pinus spp) as the rest of the state, there are numerous pines in the home landscapes across the region. The drought has opened many of them up to pine beetle attacks. While there are many different beetles that can attack, we generally on focus on southern pine beetle (SPB), Ips species beetle, and black turpentine beetle (BTB). It is not common for the SPB to infest urban areas like the Ips and black turpentine beetle, however, the SPB has taken the wrap for the largest economic impact on the commercial industry where the stands of trees are dense and movement away from the original tree can occur easily.SBP IPS and Black Turpentine Beetles

Ips beetle is about the same size as the SPB (1/6 to 1/8 Inch long) but will have spines located at the end of their abdomen and have light brown to red to a darker color as it matures.. Black turpentine beetle is much larger (3/8 inch) but has the same dark brown to black appearance as the SPB. These beetles bore into the trees and will excavate galleries girdling the stems to lay eggs just beneath the bark and the larvae will feed until maturity and exit through the bark give a “shot-hole” appearance.

'Shot-hole' emergence made by mature beetles exit.
“Shot-hole” emergence made by mature beetles exit.

These steps will be repeated throughout generations can overwinter in lower portions of stems, stumps, and felled trees. Ips beetle carry spores of a fungus that disrupts the vascular system not allowing water to reach the top causing death. BTB and SPB will release pheromones calling others to the tree and when populations get high the girdling of the stem does the same as the fungus.

Since it is rare to see some of these beetles it is best to know some of the signs and symptoms that an infestation will exhibit.

First you will see portions of the crown die back.

First stages of branch decline shown
First stages of branch decline shown

Upon closer inspection you will find pitch tubes if the tree is still able to form resin.

Entry point made by beetles forming pitch tubes
Entry point made by beetles forming pitch tubes.

Other observations would be boring dust around the tree or just outside the bark, increased woodpecker activity, sloughing bark, shedding limbs, and galleries beneath the bark.

Boring dust (frass) caught in resin
Boring dust (frass) caught in resin.

Generally homeowners will not notice the problem until the pine has exhibited red topped or severe decline in the crown. At this point it is very unlikely that it will live.

Pine that has been severely damaged.
Pine that has been severely damaged.

The best management for these beetles in an urban setting is to keep them in an optimal growing environment.  Make sure the most established trees as well as newly placed trees receive at least 1 inch of water per week. Maintain proper fertility  and reduce acts of compaction or disruption of roots. Routine pruning should be done correctly and during winter.  If trees on the property have been attacked be sure to cut and remove/destroy all portions of the tree.

According to an article written by Dr. Blake Layton, Extension Entomologist, there are a few chemical options available to homeowners to control BTB and SPB but since Ips beetles stay in the crown sprays are ineffective. Formulations of permethrin can be sprayed multiple times of year by a homeowner to get a longer span of control while a licensed professional can use a products called Onyx that will last much longer each time it is sprayed. Always read and follow label directions. Most of the time chemical control is not economical due to cost and the way it is applied. In order to have an effective trunk spray you must wet the bark until the point of drip and also spray 10-12 ft for BTB and at least up to the bottom live branches or middle of the crown for SPB. Since Ips beetles live in the crown sprays are very ineffective.

For the most part pine beetles need a weak tree to attack so tree health is the best defense. Remember that the trees need just as much care as the flowers planted next to the mailbox. Preventative maintenance such as providing adequate fertilization and water will provide the trees and other plant materials with the health to help fight off insect and disease pressure. Remove and destroy all infected material and correctly prune injured trees to reduce the likelihood of decline. Contact your local extension office and also visit P2369 Insect Pests of ornamental plants in the home landscapes