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Westminster releases 100,000 insects ... on purpose

Westminster releases 100,000 insects ... on purpose
Westminster City Arborist Eric Schlitzer releases ladybugs from the sack they came in outside Westminster City Hall on Emerald Hill Lane Thursday, July 18, 2019. The ladybugs will combat, among other things, hemlock wooly adelgid on the eastern hemlocks outside City Hall. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

On Thursday afternoon, Westminster welcomed guests at city hall. Only on this day, there were 100,000 of them and they were all insects.

The city, the Westminster Tree Commission, and Bartlett Tree Experts partnered for a beneficial insect release of ladybugs, green lacewings and predatory mites onto the foliage around the city hall.

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The hemlocks have been struggling with scale, said Paul Mullins, an arborist representative from Bartlett Tree Experts.

Scale are insects that build up on the needles of the tree, giving them a waxy white appearance and and blocking them from doing their job. If the condition persists, the tree can die.

So it was ladybugs and green lacewings to the rescue. The tiny lacewings come packaged in a honeycomb of cardboard. Mullins took the lead placing them into a bush, carefully, because they can be known to bite humans.

The ladybugs came in a box, which immediately released their unique smell when Mullins and Westminster City Arborist Eric Schlitzer opened it. They set to work plunging their hands into the box of bugs and pulling out sections of filler to place on the bushes and toss into the trees.

“They come out hungry and mad,” Mullins said. Luckily, they do not bite humans, but they will go after the scale on the hemlocks and the aphids on the crepe myrtle.

Originally, the plan was to include children from the City’s Recreation and Parks camp in the release, said Samantha Schlitzer, executive assistant with the office of the city administrator. But because of the high heat and humidity, the camp decided to take the children to the city pool this afternoon.

“That’s any outside event. You’re fighting weather,” she said. “But it’s beneficial regardless of anybody shows up ... it’s all good for the bugs.”

Mullins dumped out predatory mites onto the boxwoods near city hall hoping they would prey on other mites who feed on the bushes’ leaves and make them appear pin pricked. They came in a shaker and Schlitzer compared it to shaking pepper on deviled eggs.

Beneficial insect releases can be done during any season, Mullins said.

And beneficial insects aren’t just for large-scale releases like the one in Westminster. A home gardener who wanted to deal with scale or other damaging insects could order ladybugs of their own, he said. Another good option is horticultural oil, but that can be toxic to fish, so beneficial insect releases are often the way to go in areas with fish.

Prices vary, but as of July 18, a few hundred ladybugs seem to run less than $10 online.

The beneficial insect release was part of the Tree Commission’s continued effort to enhance sustainability, according to a news release from the city.

They have been an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA for 29 years and recognized for 23 years through the Tree City USA Growth Award program. They are recognized at the highest level of certification by the Maryland People Loving and Nurturing Trees (PLANT) Program.

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