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Bees vs Wasps: What You Need to Know

You hear something buzzing by and catch a black and yellow streak out of the corner of your eye. Quick! Was it a bee or a wasp? And what’s the difference anyway?

While you certainly wouldn’t mistake an inch long bumble bee or a carpenter bee for a common wasp, wasps and honeybees can sometimes look very similar. Honeybees come in black and yellow—like yellow jackets—but also solid brown or solid black. Honeybees are rotund and fuzzy. They can only sting once, and then they die. This makes them more hesitant to sting people than wasps, which have narrow waists and are smooth and shiny. Wasps come in a variety of colors and patterns and can sting multiple times and come back for more. 

Like honeybees, many species of wasps are social wasps. They make large, paper-like wasp nests out of wood pulp and saliva where they lay eggs and raise their young. These are known collectively as “paper wasps”.

If you’re wondering about hornets, the main difference between wasps and hornets is the size. Wasps tend to be smaller and have black and yellow stripes, whereas hornets are larger and have black and white stripes. This is with the exception of the mud dauber; the mud dauber is a solitary type of wasp that prefers not to sting humans or animals. 

Bees are also social animals, building a bees nest to raise their young. The queen sends out worker bees to collect pollen and protect the nest, so most any honey bee you encounter will be a worker bee. 

Both bees and wasps serve an important role in our ecosystem. Bees pollinate our plants and wasps consume pest insects.

No matter what type of stinging insect you encounter you’ll want to be careful. Wasp and bee stings can sometimes be life-threatening if the person has a bee or wasp venom allergy. So be careful around them. If you find a nest too close to where you live or play contact a pest control company. They can verify whether you’re dealing with honey bees (in which case, they’ll likely relocate the nest) or wasps or hornets (in which case they’ll dispose of the insects as pests).

So the next time you hear that buzz, take a closer look (if you’re not allergic!) and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp.

How to Attract Butterflies

One of the most welcome sights in the garden is when a butterfly comes to visit. When a whole swarm of them comes, it’s like magic. So how can you be sure to get more of these lovely visitors? By planting a butterfly garden! A butterfly garden, or pollinator garden, is planted specifically to lure beneficial insects who pollinate your flowering plants.

Here on Long Island, we have many butterfly species that you might see in your garden. Monarch butterflies, black swallowtail, and the painted lady just to name a few. To lure adult butterflies you not only need nectar plants for them to eat, but you also need to plant native plants that are food for butterfly caterpillars.

In early spring butterflies arrive and begin to lay their eggs on native plants that will feed their young. These eggs hatch into caterpillars. Once the caterpillars eat their fill they will build a cocoon. They’ll stay inside the cocoon until they emerge sometime later as an adult butterfly. Your garden should provide for every stage of the lifecycle. Plants like butterfly bushes (which are considered an invasive plant in some states), coneflower, sage, and lantanas are great at feeding adult butterflies, while milkweed, aster, parsley, and violets are the favorite foods of caterpillars.

Most plants that attract butterflies grow in full sun, so plan ahead before planting your butterfly garden. While some birds and butterflies can get along, most birds love butterflies for a snack. When laying out your garden place bird feeders well away from your butterfly garden, as well as any birdhouses.

In addition to knowing what plants to grow, you need to provide water, shelter, and sun. A birdbath or water feature is the perfect way to ensure that your winged friends have access to water to drink. Trees and shrubs make for the best butterfly houses. They provide branches to roost on at night and a place to hide from predators. Many trees and shrubs are also excellent caterpillar food.

Finally, the sun. Butterflies are cold-blooded insects and they need the sun to warm themselves up each morning. Make sure that some sun reaches either open ground, stones, or even pavement early in the morning so that it warms up and will be attractive to butterflies.

If you do a little bit of advanced planning and make sure to offer everything butterflies need to thrive you’ll lure them into your garden year after year.

Dealing With Squash Borers

If you’ve grown squash plants in your home gardens, be they pumpkins, zucchini, or butternut squash, you may have dealt with squash borers and not even known it. Have your plants ever wilted seemingly overnight? Have you seen big, mushy holes in the plant stems? That’s a sure sign that you have squash borers. Here are a few tips on how to avoid these highly destructive pests so you can produce a bountiful harvest from your summer squashes and winter squash plants. 

Squash borers are the larvae form of a certain type of orange and black moth about an inch long that is active by day. Many people may recognize these adult moths as wasps because they have a similar look; but they’re not wasps, in fact, the adult squash vine borer is a moth. 

In early July adult moths begin looking for host plants on which to lay squash bug eggs. They lay shiny copper eggs on squash stems at the base of the plant, or sometimes on the leaves themselves. Once the eggs hatch borer larva emerge and eat their way into the stems of squash and pumpkin plants. They reside inside the plants, eating away at the stems until the next phase in their life cycle happens and they become moths, starting the whole thing over again. 

There are a few tricks you can try to prevent squash borers. When the plants are young you can wrap the stems in aluminum foil to inhibit the moth’s ability to access the base of the plant. As the plants age, you should loosen these wraps so as not to strangle the plants. 

Floating row covers that cover the entire plant will keep squash borer moths off your plants and interrupt the life cycle. 

Some people place yellow bowls filled with water and a drop or two of detergent near the plants to lure the moths and drown them. 

Another tactic is to mulch the stems; this will help support the plant and prevent the moth from reaching the stems. 

The best way to prevent squash borers is to spray BT (beneficial bacteria spray) on the base and stems of the plant once a week. BT is a naturally occurring bacteria that ONLY kills caterpillars and eggs. It does not harm beneficial insects like bees. By using BT, any borers will quickly be killed before they can munch on your squash garden. BT is considered organic and many organic farmers use BT spray.

Whichever method you choose (or even if you do several) remember to keep your squash well-watered. They’re big drinkers and if they’re weak from dehydration they’re more easily susceptible to being infested with pests. Follow these tips and you’re sure to have a bountiful season’s harvest!

When to Harvest Vegetables

We’re just about in the middle of summer and that means that some of your vegetables are ready to harvest while others still have a while to go. But how do you know exactly when harvest time is?

First: the time of day. Early in the morning is the best time to harvest vegetables. Vegetables harvested in the morning tend to be sweeter and crispier, with more taste than vegetables harvested in the evening; this is because the moisture that has been lost during the day is replenished overnight. 

Next: the time of the season. For many vegetables, you should harvest throughout the season to ensure the plant’s productivity. Plants like zucchini and cucumbers should be harvested throughout the summer months when the vegetables feel full. Summer squash like zucchini should be 6–12 inches long whereas cucumbers should be 7–9 inches long to ensure that they don’t turn bitter. The vegetables are done when they feel full and firm.

Winter squash should be harvested when the color of the fruit is deep and solid (except for speckled varieties) and the rind of the fruit is hard. It should thump when knocked on. Once harvested, store them in a cool, dry area and you’ll be able to keep them for months. 

Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when the little sprouts are round and firm and at least an inch in diameter. Twist off the individual sprouts from the bottom up. You may also remove yellowing leaves at that time; the plant will continue to grow upward, growing more leaves and sprouts. 

Leaf lettuce is harvested by snipping off the outer leaves and leaving the inner leaves intact. While head lettuce is harvested when the lettuce head reaches full size and is cut off at the base, leaf lettuce can keep producing as long as there isn’t too much hot weather, and the main body is left in the ground. 

Green beans, snap beans, and bush beans will be ready for harvest from 50–90 days after planting. Beans will reach full size at about 3 inches long. Pick just before the seeds begin to grow plump and bulge.

Finally: flower seeds. When flower buds turn brown and dry out you should be able to harvest the seeds easily. This should be done on a dry, sunny day. Then, when the seed pods turn brown, you can easily harvest the seeds.

Hot Weather Lawn Watering Tips

We’re officially into the summer heat and the dog days are on their way. So what can you do to keep your lawn as green as possible? These lawn care tips will tell you how to water your lawn to keep it healthy and happy all the way through into the fall. 

The amount of water a healthy lawn should receive is about 1-2 inches a week. It is recommended to do a few ‘deep waterings’ because they help promote a deep grass root system instead of ‘short watering’ that creates a shallow grass root system. Set your sprinkler system to do this and you’ll be largely set. 

The best time of day to water your lawn is in the very early morning because that the water has time to be used up by the lawn before it gets burned off by the heat. It also helps to prevent fungal diseases which can develop when your lawn is wet all night. Set your watering system to go off at about 4 am and your lawn will thank you. 

Remember, an established lawn is better able to withstand a hot day than new turf or a freshly seeded lawn that naturally has more shallow grass roots; so you may want to water a new lawn a bit more often so that it doesn’t suffer from drought stress. If your lawn shows signs of drought stress water it right away, the time of day doesn’t matter. 

Sandy soil will need more watering than clay soil so adjust your sprinklers accordingly whether you use a sprinkler system or manual pulsating sprinklers. 

Finally, don’t forget that cool-season grass like bluegrass can go dormant in summer. This can cause it to turn brown and look dead. It is a survival mechanism for the plant to make it through severe heat. If this happens don’t worry too much, your grass should come back once it cools a bit. Continue watering your grass as normal and come fall you’ll see your beautiful lawn again.

If you have any other questions about your lawn and how to improve and care for it you can always contact Organically Green Horticultural Services for more information.

Avoiding Mosquito Bites

Summer is here and that means spending a lot more time outside. Unfortunately, part of that time outside often includes bug bites, particularly mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control list mosquitoes as spreading a number of diseases from EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis), and Yellow fever to Zika virus and even—in other parts of the world—malaria. 

Mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide that we exhale when we breathe. 

So, unless you’re willing to hold your breath while outside the next best thing is to avoid getting bitten by using an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registered insect repellent containing one of the following ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone

All of these have been proven to be both safe and effective to repel mosquitoes when used properly and will help you to prevent mosquito bites.

The CDC also recommends preventative maintenance for mosquito control. This includes getting rid of or treating the breeding grounds that mosquitoes love. Any source of standing water from a plant saucer to a birdbath can become a place for mosquitoes to breed. If the water is necessary, such as a birdbath, treat it with a mosquito dunk. These are safe for birds and other wildlife but will kill any mosquito larvae and prevent eggs from hatching. All other sources of standing, untreated water should be dumped out. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggest avoiding the outdoors at dawn and dusk. These times of day are the most active for mosquitoes. If you must be outdoors at these times use mosquito nets around your seating areas, or wear long-sleeved shirts to help reduce the number of bites you receive. 

Finally, if you know you’ll be having an event in advance, it’s a good idea to have your yard treated for mosquitoes so that you and your guests can be worry-free. If you’d like to have your yard treated call Organically Green Horticultural Service and they’ll treat your yard so that your party can be as bite-free as possible.

Native Long Island Plants

There are a lot of reasons to plant native species when doing your outdoor plantings for both you and the wildlife around you. A native plant requires fewer fertilizers and pesticides than a non-native plant, which is great for the environment and for our local pollinators. Native plants are also already suitable for our fluctuating weather and can survive both our cold winters and hot steamy summers. Native trees are also uniquely suited to feed local herbivores and can handle the abuse better than non-native plants. In addition to all that, you’ll be more likely to attract butterflies to your yard.

When it comes to Long Island natives there are a lot of choices for native species to plant, so no matter what your landscaping needs you’re sure to find something to fit with your vision. From vines and perennials to ferns, trees, and shrubs, a naturalized yard uses less water and requires far less maintenance than those with exotic additions. Remember, these native plants have developed specifically to grow here over thousands of years so they need very little help from you to thrive. Some favorite perennials you may not realize are native are:

  • Trumpet vine
  • Columbine
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Blanket flowers
  • Creeping Phlox

Trees and shrubs include:

  • Arborvitae
  • Blue Spruce
  • Sweetbay Magnolia
  • Tulip Tree
  • Sweet Gum
  • A variety of oaks and maples

By choosing native plants for your landscape you’re helping to secure our ecological legacy, support local wildlife, and contribute to an improved environment. You’ll save water and use fewer chemicals to see your garden thrive. So the next time you’re out at a garden center looking for plants ask for plants that are native to Long Island. Give it a shot this season: go native!

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning

Summer pruning of fruit trees is done both to increase next year’s crop and improve this year’s harvest. Most of the time pruning is done in winter when a tree is dormant, so pruning during the growing season may seem counterintuitive, but there are a few reasons to prune during this time of year.

Apples, pears, peaches, apricots, and cherries benefit the most from summer pruning.

Pruning fruit trees in summer controls undesirable growth and water sprouts. By trimming these off and pruning your tree you allow the fruit tree to put more energy into producing fruit than it does into producing branches.

Some stone fruits (apricots, peaches, and cherries) grow quickly, so after harvest, you should cut back about 50% of their new growth.

If you have young fruit trees, be careful to only prune a little bit at a time. The leaves you’re cutting off are your tree’s energy factory and they need them to grow strong. When you do prune, use that opportunity to shape the tree so that you can reach the fruit for eventual harvest. Dwarf fruit trees (which are most of the trees you’ll find in your local garden center) can be trained to grow into a number of shapes.

Finally, pruning your fruit trees allows more light to reach the fruits and will give them more air circulation. This can help deter pests and disease and make larger, sweeter fruit that is easy to reach.

Lawn Weed Control

As you look outside at your dormant lawn it’s hard to believe that in just a few weeks the pesky weeds will arrive. When the weather warms and plants wake up the weeds in your lawn wake up too. What most people don’t realize is that one of the best times for weed control is before they even start.

Weed seeds wait for the weather to warm before germinating. The best weed control product to handle this issue is called a pre-emergent herbicide. This type of weed preventer addresses weeds only, leaving lawn grass safely behind to grow. It is one of the best ways to get rid of perennial weeds. Crabgrass preventer is another type of pre-emergent herbicide; however, it can also be applied after weeds are visible. Pre-emergent herbicides are often mixed with lawn fertilizer, making spring lawn care even easier. This allows you to kill weeds at the same time as you feed your lawn.

Other types of weed control are called post-emergence herbicides. These get rid of weeds after they have appeared. This kind of weed control also handles all types of weeds including broadleaf weed species and grassy weed species. These fertilizers can be applied through the entire growing season to kill weeds; both annual weeds and perennial weeds are susceptible to this kind of treatment.

The long and the short of it is that staying on top of weeds with early treatment is easier than tackling a serious problem later in the season. If your lawn has only a few weeds here and there you might consider hand pulling, but once the problem gets too large a weed control product may be your only option. Remember that hand-pulled weeds can grow back and in some cases actually spread the seeds of the very weeds you’re trying to eliminate.

How to Remove Tick Bites

If you look online, you’ll find a lot of tips about how to remove a tick. Unfortunately, many of them, like painting the tick with petroleum jelly or nail polish, or holding a hot match to the tick is untrue, and can even be dangerous. This post will discuss the proper way to remove a tick and the best methods for caring for tick bites according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The types of ticks you’ll find in our area most often are the Deer Tick (or the Black-legged Tick), the Dog Tick, or the Lone Star Tick. The former and the latter are known for spreading tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease.

In the spring, summer, and fall months tick bites are common. The best way to handle a tick bite is with prevention—through the use of an effective insect repellent. However, if you do find a tick attached to you, the key—according to the Centers for Disease Control—is not to panic.

Even though ticks transmit disease, it does not necessarily mean that every bite will infect you. Once you notice a tick on you the most important thing is to remove the tick quickly and cleanly. Using fine-tipped tweezers grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Then, pull cleanly and carefully up and out, making sure not to break off the head and mouthparts. Remember, while ticks transmit disease through bites, leaving these parts behind can lead to infection in the skin.

After removing the tick carefully wash the bite site with soap and water and dispose of the tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Afterward, just keep an eye on the area. While having a small red bump from the bite is normal, if the redness extends out, becomes a bulls-eye rash, or if you have any other symptoms such as lethargy, headache, etc., you may want to seek out medical advice. A doctor can run blood tests to check if the tick has transmitted any diseases to you.