Friday, July 27, 2007

Why are bed bugs returning?

Bed bugs are small (~1/4"), reddish-brown, oval, and wingless insects that bite to get a meal of blood much like a female mosquito. Unlike mosquitoes, all stages of bed bug, except the egg, feed on blood. Immature and adult bed bugs are similar in appearance, except of course for size. We humans are the bed bug's favorite host.

Bed bugs bite their sleeping hosts at night. Bed bug bites are painless at first but soon a red, swollen area develops that resembles a really bad mosquito bite. Unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs don't transmit any diseases but the bites can result in both itchy lesions and secondary skin infections.

In recent years bed bugs have started popping up in places where they had not been seen in decades. People staying at otherwise clean, well-managed hotels and motels are reporting bed bug bites. What's going on here?

A little bed bug history

Bed bugs and people have been together for a long time. A closely related species called the bat bug feeds on bats in caves and it is possible the bed bug adapted to our early ancestors when we used caves as shelter. Bed bugs have been our nearly constant bedtime companion ever since. After all, the admonishment to children on their way to bed of "don't let the bed bugs bite!" speaks to just how common bed bugs were at one time.

All this cavorting with bed bugs changed following World War II with the widespread use of synthetic pesticides like DDT and chlorpyrifos. These compounds were so effective and long lasting that many household pests, including bed bugs, virtually disappeared. Motel/hotel rooms were routinely sprayed or fumigated for cockroaches, bed bugs and other pests that might disturb guests.

Unfortunately these same chlorinated pesticides are also toxic to us, and environmentally damaging as well. They can be especially hazardous to children. Because of this, many of the most effective and long-lasting pesticides have now been banned or severely restricted and can no longer be used.

This is good news for our old friend the bed bug. Since rooms are no longer treated with highly persistent pesticides the door is open for bed bugs to move back in. All motel and hotel managers need to be vigilant and be prepared to act quickly when bed bugs are reported. Bed bugs are manageable with the lower toxicity materials available today but too often the problem is ignored because of the potential for bad publicity.

Can I check my room for bed bugs?

Bed bugs leave two distinctive "calling cards" that you can learn to detect. Bed bugs hide during the day in the folds of mattresses, around the bed in furnishings (bedside tables, picture frames, etc.), in loose wall coverings, etc. Check these areas as best you can for bed bugs and bed bug droppings when you first move into the room. Droppings are dark specks of fecal material that accumulate wherever bed bugs hide. Any evidence of bed bugs should be reported immediately to the front desk and you should ask for a new room. Don't get carried away with this inspection. Most rooms don't harbor bed bugs but a quick look around won't hurt.

The second calling card left by bed bugs is a distinctive room odor produced by the bugs themselves. The odor is sometimes described as "sickly sweet" or even that of fresh raspberry. The odor will probably only be detectable in a heavily infested room. Any sweet odor should be investigated.

Are there alternatives to toxic pesticides for bed bug control?

Rooms and bedding can be safely treated for bed bugs. It requires regular inspection and cleaning of mattresses, and furnishings around the bed, plus treatment of these areas with appropriate insecticides when necessary. New, low toxicity plant oil insecticides and inert dusts have replaced chlorinated pesticides for these applications. See this article for more details about bed bugs and their control.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What's eating my rose bush?

Roses are one of the most popular cultivated plants for both gardeners and plant pests alike! Pests as different as aphids, black spot fungi and Japanese beetles conspire to steal this beauty from our landscapes.

You may decide to just let nature take its course in which case your roses will suffer some damage and may be weaker next year. Some gardeners, however, will decide to help nature along with a little gentle intervention. Here are suggestions for limiting pest damage while not resorting to harsh chemicals.

What you'll need:

  • 1 gallon garden sprayer; a smaller capacity sprayer will do if you have only a few rose bushes

  • fresh insecticidal soap concentrate; not household liquid soap!

  • neem oil or EcoPCO WPX botanical insecticide

  • Milky Spore microbial insecticide for soil dwelling white grubs

  • a fungicide that contains copper or sulfur, which may or may not be combined with soap

Use the garden sprayer to apply all of the garden chemicals. Insecticidal soap is a highly refined liquid soap that when used properly won't harm your plants. It is very effective against aphids, spider mites and other soft-bodied insect and mite pests. Don't use other household soaps, as some suggest, as these may actually damage or even kill plants.

Neem oil and EcoPCO WPX are both derived from natural plant oils and are effective against pests that chew on leaves like Japanese beetles. Both garden chemicals must be reapplied frequently (see label instructions), however, because they have limited residual activity (the time that an insecticide remains effective after application).

Fungicides inhibit growth of the fungi, or molds, that cause disease in plants. Black spot fungus is a common disease of roses and should be managed with copper or sulfur sprays.

Aphids are small insects that literally suck the life out of plants. They live in colonies on stems and leaves often covered by a sticky liquid "honeydew". Honeydew attracts ants and yellowjacket wasps. Aphids can be dark in color or light, greenish or yellow; "greenfly" is one common name, "plantlice" is another. Because aphid colonies grow so quickly they are often the rose grower's most important insect pest year after year.

Aphids are easy to control but most gardeners simply don't notice them until colonies are large and significant aesthetic damage has already been done. If damage is allowed to continue your rose bushes will become weak and won't be able to produce quality flowers.

Easy Aphid Control on Rose Bushes

As soon as you notice aphid colonies or honeydew do the following: wet entire plant with water from a garden hose; mix up a 2 percent solution of insecticidal soap (2 oz. / gallon); thoroughly spray entire plant with soap solution being careful to make contact with the undersides of leaves; wait 30 minutes then rinse plant with water from the garden hose. Repeat this procedure whenever you notice aphid colonies. The sooner you stop the infestation the better! A bonus - this treatment will also control spider mites just as well!

[more about aphids and aphid control]

Japanese beetles [picture of Japanese beetle] feed on the foliage of rose and many other landscape plants. Japanese beetle larvae, a type of white grub, also feed on roots causing twice the injury. While Japanese beetle does not occur everywhere, where it does occur it is a serious garden pest.

Protect Roots and Foliage from Beetle Damage!

Japanese beetles can be hand-picked off plants and dropped into a container of soapy water. Beetles can also be prevented from damaging foliage with timely applications of either neem oil or EcoPCO WPX botanical oil insecticide. Either insecticide will effectively stop feeding adult beetles from damaging your bushes.

Japanese beetle and other white grub larvae can be safely eliminated from the soil with a microbial (bacterial) insecticide called Milky Spore that targets only certain soil dwelling insect pests. Milky Spore bacteria may take several years to become completely effective so be diligent about adult beetle control as outlined above until then.

[more about rose pests]