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April 24
Enjoy Our Spring “Symphony”

Although perhaps a bit late, spring has seemingly sprung upon us. One of the best signals of spring is the symphony of calling frogs and toads in and around wetlands, ponds and lakes throughout Indiana. Amphibians native to Indiana are an important component of healthy ecosystems. They play important roles as both predator and prey in food webs. We can also consider many amphibians as “bio-indicators” of environmental health. Unfortunately, many species of amphibians and reptiles are thought to be in the decline. While the causes for declines are species-specific, the actions that people take can be a contributing factor.

Unlike other vertebrates, most amphibians and reptiles can be observed up close or evenCalling American Toad. captured by hand – some more easily than others. Exploring natural habitats while searching for, catching and photographing reptiles and amphibians are great ways to gain hands-on experience with nature. However, be mindful that some activities, or the manner in which they are conducted, can harm the very creatures we value. Reptiles and amphibians represent numerous examples where interactions between wildlife and people can have negative consequences despite the best of intentions.

When you go outdoors to enjoy our amphibians and other wildlife, follow some of these simple tips:

Stay on designated roads and trail systems - Human foot traffic can affect plants and animals in some habitats (e.g., you may have noticed the compressed soil and lack of vegetation on even lightly used foot trails). Focusing foot traffic on trails can minimize human impacts on sensitive plants and animals. It is also required on some public properties.

Be a responsible pet owner - Dogs make good companions when hiking outdoors. However, research has demonstrated dogs can disturb, harass, or even kill wildlife. While impacts on reptiles and amphibians are unclear, it is good practice to keep your dog leashed while exploring natural areas. Many parks and properties require dogs to be leashed.

Be a good steward of the land - Carelessly turning over logs and coarse woody debris in search of reptiles and amphibians can destroy microhabitat features that took decades to create. It is also prohibited on many public properties. If you do find an animal under a log or rock, return the object to its original location then place the animal next to it rather than rolling the object directly over the animal.

Minimize or avoid handling animals - If you must handle a wild amphibian or reptile, Emphemeral wetland in Brown County, Indiana.there are safe ways to hold and restrain them. Avoid handling amphibians for long periods of time. Amphibians are prone to desiccation (drying out). There are no formal guidelines on the length of time to handle an amphibian, and it is not clear how handling impacts an animal’s health and wellbeing. Common sense dictates that handling time should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. If a frog or salamander feels “dry,” you have handled it too long and it should be returned to its location of capture immediately. Keep your hands moist and free of chemicals (e.g., bug spray or sunscreen).

Use good hygiene - The transmission of many diseases among animals can be facilitated by people. There are a number of safeguards that can be implemented to not only protect you, but also the animal populations as well. To prevent spreading diseases and pathogens from one site to another, regularly wash clothing, and especially boots, that you use in the field. All equipment that contacts an animal or the water the animal was in should be decontaminated using a 1-3 percent bleach solution, or air dried for at least three hours before traveling to another water body. You also should use hand sanitizer before and after handling animals in nature. Before eating or handling food, thoroughly wash hands in hot, soapy water if possible; hand sanitizer is an acceptable substitute for remote locations.

For more information about responsibly enjoying wildlife and nature, see Appreciating Reptiles and Amphibians in Nature.

Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University​

April 23
Scouting for invasive plant species
Garlic mustardEarly spring leaves of garlic mustard.

Early spring brings the emergence of new life in the forest. Unfortunately, not all that life actually belongs there. Several invasvie plants are encroaching on woodlands and crowding out the desirable native plants that we enjoy and wildlife depend upon for food and shelter. One of the characterisitics of some invasive plants is early leaf emergence and growth, which allows us to scout for their presence more easiy, while native species are still waking up from winter. Two species that start grwong very early in the spring are garlic mustard and Asian bush honeysuckles. Both plants are rapidly greening up and growing as I speak. Look for the kidney to heart shaped leaves of garlic mustard on the forest floor. This biennial will soon be sending up flower stalks from the second season plants that will have white four-petaled flowers. The flower stalks can be up to 3 feet tall or more depending on the health of the plant and the quality of the growing site.

Asian bush honeysucle is a medium to large bush that also inhabits the forest understory and edge or disturbed areas. Leaves and twigs area arranged opposite each other. If you slice the stems open, they are hollow inside with fuzzy brown or tan lining​. Flowers are yellow, white or even pinkish and tube-shaped. The fine twigs and stems have a light tan or gray-tan color. Leaves are rapidly expanding now, so they will be  easily detected until our native plants catch up with leaf cover.

Controlling these plants help native plants continue to thrive and provide habitat for our wildlife. Garlic mustard can be pulled from moist soil. If seed pods are present, remove the plants from the area and burn or bury them. Foliar herbicides like glyphosate products may be used to spray garlic mustard. If the plants have already set seed pods, the seed may become viable even if the plant has been sprayed, so removal may be the only effective treatment at that time.

Asian bush honeysuckleEarly growth of Asian bush honeysuckle.

Asian bush honeysuckle can be controled in several ways, depending on the size of the plants. Small plants can be pulled from moist soil. Foliar sprays with herbicides like glyphosate can be effective. Large bushes may be cut and the stumps treated with a brush-killing herbicide. For any herbicide application, read and follow label directions.

 

 

Purdue University has invasive species information resources at FNR Extension and Indiana's 'Most Unwanted' Invasive Plant Pests/Indiana Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) Program.

 

 

Lenny Farlee, Sustaining Hardwood Extension Specialist
Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC)
Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue University

April 23
Question: An increase of snakes around the house this Spring, anything I can do?

I seem to be finding Kirtland snakes as I am cleaning my gardens. There seems to be an increase of grubs, beeetles and worms but have not seen the small lizards yet. We have an abundance of chipmunks. Is there something I can do to discourage the snakes from taking up residencey in my yard?

Many people have questions about snakes and this post addresses the two most common – what is it and what can I do?  The answer to the latter is, in part, related to the first so I’ll address that one first.  Indiana is home to a diversity of snake species.  Identifying snakes to species can be tricky.  First, geographic location often can easily differentiate among similar species or subspecies. Check the distribution map of the species in question and that of similar species. This may not resolve all issues since the distribution of similar species often overlap, distribution maps are not 100 percent accurate (i.e., they are a “best guess”), and some species and subspecies share similar characteristics where their ranges overlap. Second, scale configuration and appearance differs among some groups of species. For snakes, the texture of the body scales (keeled or smooth) or the presence/absence of a divided anal plate (the large scale that covers the cloacal opening) are key. Finally, physical characteristics including size, color, and pattern can be used. For some species, conclusive identification is easier with the specimen in hand although handling venomous species (which are rare in Indiana) is not recommended. With practice, one can become quite adept at identifying all of them.DeKay's Brownsnake - This species is a small chestnut to dark brown snake averaging 25-30 centimeters in length. The belly is cream to pink. It has two rows of dark spots along the back that fade toward the tail. Dark bars may connect the dorsal spots, giving the impression of a ladder-like pattern. The area within this pattern is usually lighter in color than the sides, often giving the impression of a central stripe.

Kirtland’s Snakes referenced in the homeowner’s question are endangered in Indiana.  They are generally found near or along the margins of water bodies, but they can also on occasion be found in some urban areas.  Due to these facts and since Kirtland’s Snakes are generally quite secretive in behavior, this homeowner’s garden visitors are likely another species. Common garden visitors in Indiana include DeKay’s Brownsnake (pictured right) or Eastern Gartersnake. Red-bellied Snakes (pictured below) have a pinkish-red belly similar to Kirtland’s Snake.  They are more of a woodland species, but it could be a possibility. All of these snakes can eat slugs and other garden pests.

Is there something homeowners can do to discourage snakes from taking up residency in their yards and around their homes?  There really is no fool proof method to discourage snakes from utilizing a property. Reducing mulch layer thickness; removing brush piles, rock piles, or other refuse; and keeping vegetation low are all steps that may help.  Keep in mind that this may also reduce use of your property by wildlife you desire.  There have been some repellents developed for snakes, but research results on their effectiveness have been mixed at best.  In general, you should be wary of repellents that promise to keep animals out of an area.  Lastly, there is plastic mesh fencing that you can purchase.  Fencing can be used to exclude animals from small areas – it is generally cost-prohibitive for larger areas and I am not aware of studies that test the effectiveness of fencing for snakes.  Snake fencing is generally designed to exclude larger venomous snakes opposed to the typical garden species that can be quite small.  Snakes can also get stuck and die in mesh fences when their head fits through but the body gets stuck.  The scales “catch” the mesh when the snake attempts to back out. Mesh fencing is also susceptible to damage from trimmers, falling limbs, and rabbits and rodents that can chew holes in it.  Thus, regular inspection and maintenance is required to maintain its function.  Red-bellied Snake - The Red-bellied Snake (18-25 cm) has both a brown and gray color phase. The two black lines along the length of its back may appear similar to the dark spots along the back of the DeKay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi), but lack the crossbars. The belly has a distinctive bright pink or red coloration for which the species was named. Three light blotches may be visible behind the head on the neck.

Remember, while many folks are afraid of snakes or don’t want them around.  The vast majority of species are harmless and can actually help homeowners by preying upon animals that actually are a nuisance and cause damage.  Before taking any action, consider their benefits to you and how your actions affect other wildlife that call your yard home.

Resources:
Snakes and Lizards of Indiana
The Education Store, Purdue Extension publications, cds and videos.

Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources​, Purdue University

April 15
Return of the American Chestnut?

In the late 1800s, 25% of hardwood trees in North America’s eastern forest were American chestnuts. 40 meters high and 2 meters across, they provided abundant resources for both people and wildlife in the form of food, shelter, and building materials. Lightweight, rot-resistant, straight-grained and easy to work with, chestnut wood was used to build houses, barns, telegraph poles, railroad ties, furniture and even musical instruments. The rapid decline of the chestnut due to the pathogenic fungus Cryphonectria parasitica has been a subject of much debate and despair over the years: but now, chestnuts engineered to battle the fungus might give the iconic trees a chance to reclaim the North American stage.

By taking genes from wheat, Asian chestnuts, grapes, peppers and other plants and inserting them into American chestnut trees, William Powell of S.U.N.Y.–ESF and scores of collaborators have created hundreds of transgenic trees that are almost 100 percent genetically identical wild American chestnut yet immune to C. parasitica. The scientists hope to get federal approval to begin planting these trees in the forest within the next five years.

National Association of State Foresters blog

Other resources:
Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC)
HTIRC Publications including forest restoration of American chestnut.
Indiana Chapter-The American Chestnut Foundation (IN-TACF)

April 14
Protecting Spring Plants from Wildlife Damage Using Repellents

While the weather may tell you otherwise, spring is upon us. With the changing weather comes greening grass, breaking buds, and sprouting plants. This plethora of fresh growth can help cure the winter blues, but it also provides wildlife with a desirable food source. Recently you may have noticed deer and other wildlife increase utilization of winter wheat fields and other green areas like lawns – early spring is the time you see deer in Indiana feed extensively on grass.

For homeowners, this is the time you need to scout around your home for emerging plants in your landscaping beds. Plants that are frequently browsed by deer such as tulips or hostas need special attention, but the limited amount of green plant material can leave any plant as a potential target. Most homeowners choose a type of taste repellent to protect plants.  There are several tips on how to increase the efficacy of this approach.Emerging tulips in a landscaping bed.

  1. Timing: It helps to have some foresight into when damage is likely to occur and/or the plant developmental stage(s). Unfortunately, this is usually based on past experience. Ideally, you want to time applications during these periods.  With tulips, for example, applying repellents early during sprouting, later during sprouting, and during flower bud develop will prevent damage during most years.
  2. Type of repellent: There are many types of taste repellents labeled for deer and other wildlife species. Most have a combination of capsaicin, putrefied egg solids, and/or fatty acids of ammonium soaps. There are of course others with different ingredients.  So which do you choose? There have been many studies that have investigated the efficacy of repellents. The bottom line – they work, but control is not 100%.
  3. Label: Failures can often result in not following the directions on the label. The label also provides safety information and what you can/can’t spray. Read and follow the label – it’s the law.
  4. Expectations: You aren’t going to solve all of your wildlife problems by spraying a few plants or even everything. If you use repellents, reapply according to label directions (every 3-4 weeks is usually a good rule of thumb).  To increase success, you may use them as part of an integrated approach that includes exclusion, cultural practices, and other approaches.

Resources:
Diagnosing and Controlling Wildlife Damage
Preventing Wildlife Damage - Do You Need a Permit?
Corn and Soybean Crop Depredation by Wildlife
Wildlife Conflicts

Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources​

April 10
Dead fish in northern Indiana lakes common

Although thousands of gizzard shad died this winter in northern Indiana lakes, DNR biologists say the loss of the unwanted fish is a good thing.

Shad are not targeted by anglers because of their foul flavor, and they compete for habitat and food with popular sport fish. Where shad are abundant, corrective steps are often needed to control their population.

“Controlling gizzard shad numbers is one of our biggest fish management challenges,” said Jeremy Price, DNR regional fisheries supervisor.

More . . .

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR), April 7, 2014
Shad die-offs in northern Indiana lakes common

April 04
Question: What do we do about winter burn of Evergreens?

Winter burn is a common occurrence to boxwood, holly, rhododendron, and most conifers. Winter burn symptoms often develop when temperatures warm up in late winter and early spring. This type of winter damage is often misdiagnosed as an infectious disease or damage from excessively cold temperatures.

To understand winter injury, it is important to understand that while a plant is creating its food by photosynthesis, it is releasing large amounts of water through the process of transpiration (the evaporation of water from the plant). Over the course of a day, a large tree can lose hundreds of gallons of water. When plants are unable to obtain the water they need (due to drought or frozen soil), the water lost through transpiration cannot be replenished, resulting in dehydration, foliar damage, and even death.

More . . .

Contacts:
Michael Mickelbart, Clinical Engagement Assistant Professor
Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Janna Beckerman, Associate Professor
Botany and Plant Pathology

March 31
Question: Tree has large icicle from where it is dripping sap, is this a concern?

Tree owners who have broken limbs in their trees or just taking advantage of early pruning opportunities may notice that large amounts of “water” which seem to be pouring out of the branch. This is actually “sap” seeping out of the damaged area. This is sap that would have been going into the limb or branch that was removed. However, since the limb is no longer there, the sap has nowhere to go but out of the freshly cut limb or wound.

Spring weather signals trees to come out of dormancy and all trees start pumping water, minerals, and carbohydrates upwards into the tree, to allow growth of buds, leaves and shoots and will continue throughout the growing season. Certain tree species, such as maple, birch, dogwood, and elms, have an exceptionally heavy sap flow in the early spring. When pruned or wounded, these trees will "bleed" and is quite noticeable. Under normal circumstances, it is best to delay pruning these trees until later in the growing season, when the flow of sap is slower.

There is no need for alarm if this sap flow occurs and the overall health of the tree is not going to be affected. The "bleeding" may be objectionable from a cosmetic standpoint, especially if the sap is dripping directly onto people, cars, or other targets beneath the wounded area. As the affected area on the tree develops callus material and naturally seals off the wound, it will slow the flow to a stop.

It is not recommended to use any type of wound dressing or covering as this will impede the ability of the tree to seal off the damaged area. Be patient and allow natural healing of the wound to occur. Always use good pruning practices and minimize the size of cut branches to reduce wound size on the tree.

Refer to the following Purdue Extension publication Trees Need a Proper Start: Prune Them Right for more information.

Other resources can be found at the Purdue Extension, The Education Store:
Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University

March 27
Deer population causing invasive plants to take over our forests?

A recent article in ScienceDaily titled "Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity" shares how an over population of deer is hurting native plant growth. Landowners seek best management practices as these challenges arise.

For article view University of Miami. "Excessive deer populations hurt native plant biodiversity." ScienceDaily, 20 March 2014.

Resources:
Coping with wildlife damage​, Purdue EVERYTHING Wildlife
How to Build a Plastic Mesh Deer Exclusion Fence, Purdue Extension Publication

Purdue Forestry & Natural Resources Extension

March 19
If you think emerald ash borer was killed by the cold, you are dead wrong

Don't be fooled by the cold weather; EAB has plenty of life left.

Headlines have been circulating suggesting that EAB may "have met its match." Although the Midwest experienced abnormally cold temperatures this winter, it is unlikely EAB populations felt these effects as significantly as your heating bill. EAB, as well as most insects in colder climates, are effective at surviving cold temperatures. One way they survive the cold is by producing an antifreeze-like substance that prevents water in their cells from crystallizing and causing damage. Also, the extra insulation provided by the tree bark helps larvae withstand such cold temperatures. For EAB larvae overwintering within ash trees, death occurs when temperatures reach -28oF.

A model produced by US Forest Service scientists predicts areas in North America where temperatures were cold enough to kill EAB larvae. This model suggests that in the US, only northern parts of Minnesota and North Dakota have reached frigid enough temperatures to affect EAB populations.

Although some parts of the United States may have fewer adults emerging in the spring as a result of the cold temperatures, they probably won't notice. Due to a high reproductive rate, it will likely be only a matter of time before populations rebound to previous levels.

Despite the cold weather, experts are still advising to continue with EAB management plans. One effective means of saving ash trees and reducing management costs is to partner with interested neighbors to hire a company to treat trees in your neighborhood. This collaborative approach will likely reduce transportation and consultation costs for the company and the savings will be passed down to homeowners.

For more information on EAB, treatment options, and NABB (Neighbors Against Bad Bugs) visit Emerald Ash Borer in Indiana, Purdue Extension, web site.

Contacts:
Adam Witte, Exotic Forest Pest Educator
Department of Entomology

Matthew Ginzel, Associate Professor
Departments of Entomology
Forestry & Natural Resources

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For publications:
The Education Store

Purdue Nature of Teaching
HelptheHellbender.org
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Master Gardener, Purdue University
Tree Doctor App, Purdue University
Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory
Purdue Six Legs News Column
Purdue Yard and Garden