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Avoiding the Garden Itch

Contributed by: Mallory Kelley, Regional Extension Agent

Beware of those poisonous vines while working in the yard this summer.  Each year many Alabamians come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac while in the outdoors, but it is not only summer when you have to be careful so always be on the lookout.  Even in the winter when the vines look brown and dead they still contain oils that will cause allergic reactions.  These plants can cause a great deal of discomfort, itching and pain from contact on the skin and even greater if the oils get in your lungs or eyes so never burn these vines as the oils can get in the air and be inhaled.

All three of these poisonous plants are easily found throughout the Southeast, but they look very similar in appearance and are often confused with each other and other plants such as virginia creeper, box elder or fragrant sumac, all of which are nonpoisonous.

Poison ivy is often found climbing high on trees, walls or fences or trailing on the ground. This woody vine has hairy looking aerial roots and can grow to more than 10 feet tall, says John Everest, Extension Weed Scientist of Auburn University.  All parts of the plant are poisonous and poison ivy always has three leaflets. Flowers and fruit form in clusters on slender stems attached to the leaf limbs.  Poison ivy has toxic oil in the stems and leaves that many people are highly allergic to and develop a rash. The rash usually starts with itchiness and swelling, followed by a reddish inflammation of tiny pimples. The rash can vary in severity from person to person and can begin as early as an hour after contact or up to five days after contact. The oil can even be transmitted from a pet’s fur or from smoke of burning poison ivy.

Poison oak is very similar to poison ivy, but it does not climb. Its leaves are thicker, are a dull green and are hairy on both sides of the leaves. Poison oak is found in dry, sunny sites in woodlands, thickets and old fields.

Poison sumac is a shrub and can grow to 25 feet tall. Leaves are 7 to 15 inches long and have 7 to 15 leaflets to a central stem, with one leaflet at the end of the stem. It is found mostly in swamps or moist bottom lands. Poison sumac also has ivory or white berries that form in clusters.  Same as the poison ivy, never burn these plants and poison oak and poison sumac also have toxic oils that can cause an allergic rash on the skin.

All of these irritating plants range in appearance as leaf shapes will vary even on the same plant and they will also vary in form from rough, woody vines to erect woody shrubs or trailing shrubs that run on the ground.  Never base your identification on one or two leaves, but look at the overall plant and many leaves and compare size and shapes to determine the plants identify and if ever in doubt, leave it alone.

May and June are the best times to apply control measures to these poison plants, but it can be done any time of the year.  Spraying the foliage with products that are listed with the active ingredient: glyphosate is recommended. To kill poison ivy on trees, cut the vine right above the ground, then treat any leaves coming from the vine on the ground with glyphosate. More than one application may be necessary, but eventually this herbicide will kill the roots and prevent sprouting. Always follow directions on the label when using this herbicide. Glyphosate will kill almost any plant when it comes in contact with the green plant tissue and does not remain active in the soil.

To prevent these plants from poisoning your summer, become familiar with how the plants look and avoid them. If you come in contact with one of the plants, wash your skin with strong soap and hot water immediately, and remove and wash all clothes, including shoes and socks in a strong detergent and warm or hot water. Also, keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth and face.

If you develop a rash, don’t scratch it. You can apply calamine lotion, zinc oxide ointment or a paste made with baking soda and water to the rash. If these measures don’t work, call your doctor.

Some people have severe allergic reactions to these plants and can have swelling in the throat, breathing problems, weakness, dizziness and bluish lips. Some people even fall into unconsciousness. If any of these reactions occur, seek emergency medical care.

SOURCE: Dr. John Everest, Extension Weed Scientist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System,

If you have gardening related questions, call the Master Gardener Helpline!

March through August the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers a Gardening Helpline for the general public each Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  This helpline is operated by Master Gardener Volunteers who use research based information to best answer all of your gardening questions.

If you’ve got home garden questions, we’ve got answers!

Call 1-877-252-GROW (4769)

Please join us for the FREE Master Gardener Lunch and Learn Program in your area EVERY MONTH from 12:00-1:00, Bring a Sack Lunch, Drinks Provided.

Montgomery (April 5th), Autauga (April 6th), and Elmore (April 11th) are all about Growing Tomatoes at their Lunch and Learn for April!  Please come learn how you can improve your tomato plant health and harvest this summer!


Controlling Weeds in Your Lawn

Contributed by: Mallory Kelley, Regional Extension Agent

A weed can have many definitions, but its true definition is “a plant out of place” and in the case of your lawn, those plants can be hard to control and definitely an eye sore.  Some even can be out right painful in the case of the lawn burweed. When looking for control, the product label is the best source of information as to which lawn grasses can be treated with a particular product. Read the label carefully before purchase and use the information to ensure safety to the applicator as well as the home lawn setting.

Quickly, let’s review a few terms that will help you when trying to control weeds in your turfgrass: Preemergence herbicide: A herbicide that is applied to the lawn grass surface before problem weed seeds germinate and emerge from the ground. These herbicides must be applied before a weed problem is even noticed. Postemergence herbicide: A herbicide that is applied after weeds have emerged, but while they are small and actively growing. This type of herbicide is applied to the leaf and stem tissue of the problem weeds. Generally, postemergence herbicides will not control weeds that germinate and emerge after the application.  Non-selective herbicide: A herbicide that kills all vegetation treated. Typically, these products are applied to the foliage of the weeds. This type herbicide will also severely injure or kill desirable plants. “Green-up” period (transition period): A short period of time in the spring when desirable lawn grass is emerging from its dormant state. It is dur

ing this time that grasses are most sensitive to herbicides and, in many cases, the herbicide labels prohibit their use.

This year is going to be tricky when it comes to weed control in the lawn due to the crazy fluctuations of temperatures and the fact that we have barely experienced winter.  Our turf grasses went dormant, but many of them have been trying to come out of dormancy or “green-up” for weeks now.  Generally, I would say February is the time to put out your pre-emergence products to control your spring weeds, but with the February we had, that would not have been a good idea and now March is upon us.

So this year I say skip your winter pre-emergence application, and if you currently have weeds popping up you could spot spray with a non-selective herbicide if your extremely careful or use a labeled post-emergence product so you do not damage your turf.  Then once your grass has fully emerged from dormancy apply a pre-emergence that will then help control your summer weed seeds that are sitting there waiting for the right temperatures to germinate.

Knowing what type of turfgrass you have is especially important when it comes to weed control.  If you are not sure, you can always contact your local county extension office.  Below is a link to the Homeowner Lawn Weed Control Manual that will be extremely helpful in choosing what product is right for you.


When using Herbicides-Always read and follow label directions.

If you have questions on a garden related topic, the Master Gardener Helpline is open!

Call 1-877-ALA(252)-GROW(4769)

March through August the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers a Gardening Helpline for the general public each Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  This helpline is operated by Master Gardener Volunteers who use research based information to best answer all of your gardening questions.

Join us for a Gardening Lunch and Learn!

Interested in learning more about seasonal gardening topics?  Please join us for the FREE Master Gardener Lunch and Learn Program in your area EVERY MONTH from 12:00-1:00, Bring a Sack Lunch, Drinks Provided.  Call your local county office for topics, dates and locations for Elmore, Autauga and Montgomery Counties.

Arbor Day Celebration Was A Success!

Over 3 thousand  saplings enjoying new homes this month.  In February, the Autauga Forestry & Wildlife Stewardship Council, Autauga County Master Gardeners and the City of Prattville handed out hundreds of free trees to residents as part of Arbor Day celebrations.


The sapling giveaways were held in Prattville  at the Doster Center on February 18, 2017 and in Autaugaville at the Autaugaville Volunteer Fire Department on February 23, 2017. Varieties including fruit trees, crepe myrtles, oak, river birch, and hickory trees are now being cared for by thousands of Autauga County residents.

Also, the Autauga County Master Gardeners and the Prattville Parks and Recreation Department held a free class on pruning trees, shrubs, and roses at the Prattville Parks and Recreation Office.  The February 19th class focused focus on the proper pruning of the Crape Myrtle tree. The Autauga County Extension office is a member of the Autauga Forestry & Wildlife Stewardship Council and supports the Autauga County Master Gardeners program.


2017 Lunch and Learn Schedule

Join the Autauga County Master Gardeners on the first Thursday of every month in 2017 for their free Lunch & Learn sessions.  Bring a sack lunch, and enjoy an hour of learning about a wide variety of gardening topics impacting River Region gardening.

side view of gardening activity, unrecognizable woman hands wearing gloves, with her work tool planting seeds.

The Autauga County Master Gardener Lunch & Learn meetings are held at:

Christ Lutheran Church
2175 Cobbs Ford Road
Prattville Alabama 36066
12 Noon – 1:00 p.m.

See the schedule below for this free event that is open to all who are interested!

2 March Fire Ants & Other Home Invaders Dr. Fudd Graham, Entomologist, AU
6 April There’s a Fungus On Our Tomatoes Dani Carroll, Horticulturist, ACES
4 May Fire Ants and Other Home Invaders Dr. Fudd Graham, Entomologist, AU
1 June Blueberries in the Home Garden Dr. Chip East, Horticulturist, ACES
6 July Color in All Seasons-Shrub and Perennial Beds Jason Powell, Petals From the Past
3 August Tough Native Wildflowers Dr. Sue Webb, Petals From the Past
7 September Container Gardening Sondra Henley, Master Gardener
5 October Keep Hummingbirds ALL Year Round Fred Bassett
2 November Recycling Yard and Kitchen Waste Karin Carmichael, Master Gardener
7 December Christmas Arrangements from Yard Plants Sharon Williams

For more information, please contact the Autauga County Extension Office (334) 361-7273

Herb Workshop Is Well Attended

Herb Workshop Presenters
Presenters (left to right): Janice Hall, Jane Mobley, Mallory Kelley

Tri-county residents had a great learning experience at the August 17th workshop titled “Herbs: Growing, Cooking & Preserving”.

Herb Workshop at Autauga County Extension
Herb Workshop at Autauga County Extension

Master Gardener Jane Mobely started the workshop with an in depth presentation on growing and using herbs. She offered cautions  about making sure that an expert has identified any herbs growers intend to eat or use for medical purposes.  Regional Extension Agent Mallory Kelley, who specializes in Home Grounds, Gardens, and Home Pests, recognized Autauga County Master Gardeners and their volunteer efforts.  Regional Extension Agent Janice Hall, Food Safety & Quality, provided information on ways to preserve and cook with herbs,safely prepare herbal oils and pesto.

Participants received Extension publications on growing and drying herbs and recipes for cooking with herbs. Workshop participants also sampled lemonade and food that were all prepared with fresh,locally grown herbs.

For more information about this exciting topic, please call the Autauga County Extension office at 334.361.7273.

Tomato Problems


Fresh tomatoes on wood background

We get a lot of calls every year from people with gardening questions, and if you have questions I encourage you to continue to contact your local Extension office. Tomatoes are one crop that we get many calls about each year. This article will discuss a few of the more common tomato problems, but keep in mind that many tomato problems are hard to identify in the field and need to be sent to our pathology lab at Auburn or Birmingham. Information on collecting and mailing plant samples can be found on our website or by contacting your local Extension office.

Keep in mind that many tomato problems can be identified from sending pictures to your local Extension office or describing the problem over the phone.  We have many publications with pictures and descriptions of tomato diseases that are available on our web site or at the Extension office.

Blossom-end rot is a very common tomato disorder, but can affect many other crops including pepper, watermelon, squash, etc. It is decay usually on the blossom end of fruit caused by a lack of calcium in the plant. The lack of calcium in the plant could be a result of deficient calcium in the soil, but it could also be the result of the roots being too wet or too dry (stress). The best thing to do for blossom-end rot would be to soil test and add the proper nutrients including calcium and maintain the soil pH at 6.0 to 6.5. Mulch the plants and irrigate when needed. I usually do not like the idea of spraying calcium products on the leaves because it is easy to burn the leaves and the plant can not take in the recommended amount of calcium through the leaves. Calcium fertilizers are available and will increase the calcium in the plant by providing it to the roots.

Blossom drop is not a disease but another very common tomato disorder.  It is the result on some tomato varieties when daytime temperatures exceed 85oF and nighttime temperatures stay above 72oF. Often times it is the high nighttime temperatures that reduce flowering the most. Plants should start producing again as temperatures become more favorable. Many heat set tomato varieties are available that continue to set fruit in higher temperatures.

Tomato plants can get several viruses, but tomato spotted wilt is usually the most common virus that I see. The plants’ growth rate will become stunted, they will turn a lighter green color, and the leaf veins may have a purplish tint. If fruit develop they will have ringspots and quality will suffer. The disease is commonly spread by a tiny insect called a thrips. Thrips feed on many plants including weeds around the garden/field. Managing thrips by destroying weeds adjacent to the field may help but may not stop the problem. Planting tomato spotted wilt resistant varieties is the best method for managing the disease and many tomato spotted wilt resistant varieties are available.

Fusarium wilt, southern blight, and bacterial wilt are three common wilt diseases of tomatoes. Fusarium wilt enters the plant through the roots and can cause the plant to wilt. It may start with one stem before spreading to the rest of the plant. Cutting into the stem at the base will show a brown discoloration in the vascular system. This fungus may persist in the soil for many years so crop rotations may not help with this disease, but many fusarium wilt resistant tomato varieties are available. Southern blight symptoms include wilting and yellowing of the plant along with a white fungal growth at the plant base. Best management practice includes destroying infected plants and crop rotation. It is advisable not to plant tomatoes or susceptible crops in the tomato family more than once every four years. Bacterial wilt causes plants to wilt and die rapidly without any other symptoms. To check for bacterial wilt a grower can place a cut section of stem in water.  If bacterial wilt disease is present, a white milky substance will seep from the stem. A management option is the same four year rotation as for southern blight.

Early blight, late blight, septoria leaf spot, bacterial spot, and bacterial speck are common foliar tomato diseases. Management options include planting disease free seeds or transplants, crop rotation, mulching, and no overhead irrigation. A regular fungicide spray program will help as well. We have information for spraying vegetables at our office if you are interested.

Tomato plants can get many diseases other than the ones mentioned in this article. We have publications at our office and on our website that describe these diseases or disorders in more detail if you are interested. It is sometimes hard to identify diseases from pictures or descriptions and for a positive diagnosis a sample may need to be sent to our lab at Auburn or Birmingham. Information for sending samples can be found on our web site or by visiting your local Extension office. There is a small fee of $10 to $15 for sending samples, but losing a crop is much more expensive.

What can be done to reduce the number of gardening problems? Choose a location with well-drained soil or at least try to avoid low areas that stand in water for extended periods. An area that receives full sun and is close to a water source would also be beneficial. Having more than one garden spot will allow you to grow summer cover crops and aid in crop rotation as well.  Growers should soil test to determine the amount of elements that are in the soil in order to determine what elements need to be added. Plant nutrition is a very common problem and one that many overlook. Plant disease resistant seed/plants as much as possible, many problems can be avoided at planting. Amending the soil with organic matter, weed control, mulch, and drip irrigation helps reduce stress on the plants which in turn makes plants healthier. If you have any questions, just give us a call here at the Extension office at 334-361-7273.

Contributed by: Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent


Autauga County Master Gardeners Share Gardening Knowledge

The Autauga County Master Gardeners are accepting applications for their upcoming Fall Class.  Applications received prior to July 15,2016 will receive a $25.00 discount on the class.

Click here for your application Master Gardener Application

For more information about the Master Gardener Program, please contact Regional Extension Agent Mallory Kelley at 334.361.7273.

New Master Gardener Logo

Plant Galls Appearing Everywhere

Pink azalea bush blooming in a blue day of springtime

Contributed by: Regional Extension Agent, Mallory Kelley

This seems to be the season for galls, from camellia galls to azalea galls and even pecan galls, the question is what should you do if you have them?  Are they going to kill the plant, is it an insect or a disease?

Azaleas are a staple plant for the southern landscape with many different varieties and types.  They prefer a shady environment with morning sun and acid soil (pH 4.5-5.5).  If they get too much sun or the pH gets too high, they can develop some problems.  Azaleas are most commonly affected by lace bugs and spider mites, but from time to time you will see galls which can be pale green, pink, white, or brown fleshy growths, caused by the fungus Exobasidium vaccinii, that may develop on leaves, branch tips, flower parts, and even on seedpods. The fungus overwinters within the infected plant. In the late spring and early summer, a whitish coating appears on the swollen plant tissue. This coating is composed of many microscopic fungal structures which produce spores capable of infecting more plants during moist weather. This disease is not usually a serious problem unless wet conditions prevail for long periods of time. To control this problem, the galls should be hand-picked and destroyed before they turn white. If the gall is removed you greatly reduce the chances of it occurring next year.

Camellias are also a staple landscape plant in the south and much like the azalea prefer a shady environment with morning sun and an acid pH. They too can be plagued with a gall forming fungal disease (Exobasidium camelliae) which is very closely related to that on the azalea (Exobasidium vaccinia), but these galls only form on leaves and young shoots and range from a cream to light green to a pink or reddish color.

As these galls mature, several layers of the lower leaf surface will peel away revealing a white color, which is the spores of the fungus. These spores are spread by the wind and splashing rain to the bark or buds of other camellias where they’ll lie dormant until next year and cause infection next spring. This disease is most commonly seen in April and May. Later in the season these galls will harden and turn brown and may fall to the ground or remain attached to the plants. Again, pruning the infected part of the branch and throwing it away is the best remedy.

Pecan galls are also a prevalent problem right now in the home garden.  Unlike the azalea and camellia galls this one is caused by an insect, Phylloxera spp. The Pecan Phylloxera are aphid-like insects that emerge in spring and infest leaves and twigs. Big populations of this insect can cause loss of the pecan crop for the current year and also the following year and heavy infestations can cause the tree to defoliate.  Often times if this occurs early in the year the tree will leaf back out before fall.

If you only enjoy your tree for its foliage and not the nuts, nothing needs to be done. Phylloxera populations vary widely from year to year depending on weather and predators. Controlling this problem in the home garden can be very difficult due to lack of equipment needed to spray a mature tree.  If you want to harvest nuts, use a hose-end sprayer designed for trees to apply the active ingredient spinosad or carbaryl in early April and again two weeks later spraying as high as you can possibly reach, some control is better than no control.

Timing the pesticide application is critical. You won’t get ANY control if you wait until you see the galls. Spray your tree about the time the pecan buds show a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch of new growth, usually this is around the first week in April. Good control one year will often keep phylloxera damage low for several years unless infested trees are nearby.

Managing Fire Ants with Baits

Close up of red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) or simply RIFA

Article Contributed by: Regional Extension Agent, Chip East

Fire ants can be a major problem for anyone in the southeast and even in other parts of the country as well. Any outside area where someone may be walking, standing, sitting, or playing for any amount of time such as city parks where children play, athletic turf, camp sites, outdoor concerts, lawns, etc. are areas that probably need to be treated for fire ants. Even areas around vegetable gardens/fields and fruit orchards/plantings may need to be managed for fire ant control. Many growers who have “pick your own” farms, such as strawberry, blueberry, muscadine, blackberry, and some vegetables, may treat to keep their customers or employees picking.

Many products for broadcast and mound treatment can be used on some sites such as lawn areas, but only a few products are labeled for fruit and vegetable production areas. I like using broadcast baits because we can treat a large site without searching for individual mounds, and it is cheaper as well. Read the label of bait products to find out the different sites the products can be applied.

Extinguish Professional Fire Ant Bait (S-methoprene) is labeled for fruits and vegetables; Ferti-lome Come and Get It, Payback Fire Ant Bait, and various other trade names (Spinosad) is labeled for fruits and vegetables; Esteem Ant Bait (Pyriproxyfen) is labeled for select vegetables, and tree or vine fruits, refer to the label for specifics; Altrevin Fire Ant Bait Insecticide (metaflumizone) can be used on grape vineyards, citrus and nut trees, and non-bearing stone and pome fruit trees. Clinch (abamectin) is labeled for vegetables, citrus, nuts, apples, grapes, stone fruit, strawberry, and pear. Some of these products are only sold in 25 pound containers and would not be needed unless treating large acreage.

Contact your local Extension office, and we can help you decide on the treatment that is best for your site. Fire ants travel as far as they need to travel for food. It is possible to treat the lawn that is around but not in the garden or orchard site with a product labeled for lawns and still kill manage the ants in the adjacent site.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System Entomologist Dr. Kathy Flanders visited many retail stores, farm supply stores, and nurseries across the state and noted the fire ant management products available on shelves. The list of the products available can be found in our Extension publication ANR0175A and is titled “2016 Fire Ant Control Materials for Alabama Homeowners”.  It can be found by typing “fire ant control materials” into the search box on our web site at www.aces.edu or by clicking this link http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0175-A/ANR-0175-A.pdf This publication also lists the approximate cost per acre of the different baits, cost per acre of residual insecticides designed to be spread, and the cost per ten mounds for individual mound treatments.

When using a fire ant bait or any other pesticide, follow the directions on the label. These baits need to be kept in a cool dry place, and when they are opened, they need to be used quickly. Only purchase the amount needed, and do not try to keep the bait for use months later. The baits use an oil to attract the ants, and the oil goes bad if kept too long or not stored properly. The baits need to be applied when the ants are actively foraging. This means the baits need to be applied when temperatures are between 60 and 80oF. Do not apply the bait just before or after a rain or before or after disturbing the mound such as mowing grass. The baits are only good for a short period of time after the application, so conditions need to be right. All of this is explained on the label.

A trick to help you know when to apply the bait would be to put out some greasy potato chips around the site. Wait a few minutes and check the chips, if ants have covered them up then that would be a good time to apply the bait. If not, the application may need to be postponed to a later time. My favorite time to apply fire ant bait is spring and fall, but it depends on the site. Many of the baits should be applied at one pound to one and a half pounds per acre. On a small scale such as two acres or less, you can use a hand held spreader to apply the bait. On a larger scale, we have fire ant bait spreaders in many Extension offices around the state that hook up to ATV’s, tractors, and trucks that the client can borrow to spread bait.

As always, if you have any questions, give us a call at the Autauga County Extension Office at 334.361.7273.