Q: I like the style of more natural gardens, letting leaf litter be my mulch, etc. I’m concerned about this encouraging ticks, though. Do I have to change how I garden?
A: It’s a legitimate concern given the diseases ticks can harbor and transmit, but ticks can appear even in more manicured and minimally-vegetated landscapes, so I would rather reap the rewards of having a biodiverse and “wilder” garden than restrict myself and still windup with hitchhikers when I go outside. Besides, some of that wildlife attracted by having a medley of native plants and leaf litter habitat may very well be killing some of those ticks. (Or doing the next-best thing, eating their small-animal hosts that carry the pathogens we worry about.)
We at HGIC are often asked about yard perimeter sprays and treatments for ticks, but pesticide use is not our suggested solution. Even when reasonably effective, these products are temporary measures and probably not substantially different in terms of efficacy than simply treating your own clothes or exposed skin with a tick repellent and/or doing a thorough body check once you’re back indoors.
Chemicals used to suppress tick populations (like for lawn applications) are nonselective and don’t impact only ticks. Their close relatives, spiders and any mites that aren’t plant pests (fun fact: some are predatory on those pest mites) are definitely worth having in our landscapes. They’re valued partners in natural pest management, but can be equally vulnerable to the effects of sprays marketed for tick control. Some pesticide ingredients are even more broad-spectrum than this, potentially affecting ground-dwelling insects and other organisms. As with mosquito management, it’s more sustainable to use personal protection to avoid bites and to landscape in an eco-conscious way to make full use of any existing natural checks and balances that keep tick populations down.
Q: When will spotted lanternfly eggs hatch? We’ve had many warm spells this season that I worry it’ll be early.
A: Spotted lanternfly (SLF) egg hatch, like the activity of many insects, is greatly dependent on temperature. Predictions for egg hatch in an average year begin around mid-April but can continue into May, so while it may not be early per se at this point, it will be soon. As such, this is your last opportunity to be vigilant for egg masses to squish before the active, hopping, hard-to-catch juveniles appear.
Don’t panic — juveniles cause little plant damage to gardens when young — but eliminate any egg masses within reach, if possible, because this is a serious agricultural pest (vineyards, mainly) and it might help you avoid an inundation of nuisance lanternflies later. To be fair, many eggs are laid high in tree canopies, making them inaccessible, but others can be laid on piles of stone, fencing, car hubcaps, grills, outdoor furniture, honey bee hive boxes, and so on.
Be advised that the quarantine zones in Maryland have recently been expanded, and records indicate that the abundance of this pest has grown in our central counties. Check our webpage and information updated on the Maryland Department of Agriculture website for more details. You can find a webinar about the spotted lanternfly on the UMDHGIC YouTube channel as “Spotted Lanternfly Update from MDA.”
If you haven’t seen lanternfly in your neighborhoods yet, be prepared to see them in the next year or two as the population expands. I don’t want to cause alarm but rather make you aware this will probably be something you’ll experience sooner or later, and I definitely discourage the use of any pesticide to combat this insect. Pesticides used to kill spotted lanternflies have impacts on other insects and organisms and we don’t want to contribute to ecosystem damage by using them when the SLF damage done to most garden plants will be minimal.
University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.