Upcoming Events

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.

Integrated Pest Management

Japanese beetle

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is the practice of using a variety of methods to manage pests. When used correctly, pesticides can be a great tool for managing pests, but they should not be the first action to manage pest problems. My last article discussed several topics of Integrated Pest Management including healthy soils, organic matter, soil testing, variety selection, and crop rotation. This article will discuss a few other topics including irrigation, mulching and weed control.

What does irrigation have to do with IPM? Remember that poor growing plants are more susceptible to insects and disease. Our vegetable crops will need about an inch to an inch and a half of rain per week during the growing season. We may average that each year, but in reality we may not get rain every week. You will need a rain gauge to determine how much rain you are getting as well as the ability to irrigate when we do not get the inch or more of rain per week. I had rather use drip irrigation than overhead as drip puts the water where it is needed and does not wet the leaves. The longer the foliage stays wet, the faster diseases will develop. In addition, drip irrigation is economical, easy to install, work can be done in the field while irrigating, and fertilizer can even be applied through the drip line. I like the use of drip irrigation on bare ground production systems, but it is a must when using plastic mulch. We have a very good vegetable crop irrigation publication on our web site.

pest Mulching conserves moisture which helps the crops that cannot be irrigated and conserves water on the irrigated crops. Organic mulches break down and add to the organic matter in the soil. Organic mulches such as pine straw or pine bark are common, but other mulches can be used. Organic mulches help keep the soil cool which helps in the summer, but might not be beneficial in early season.  If possible, it may be best to wait until the soil warms up before adding mulch. In contrast, black plastic is used by many farms to aid in early planting and growth. The soil warms up faster and should produce a crop earlier than bare ground production systems. In contrast, white plastic mulch can be laid during warmer temperatures when heat can be an issue. Silver or reflective mulches can be used to help manage insects.

Weed management is also very important. Weeds in the field will take up the water and fertilizer provided for other crops, shade crops, and make harvest difficult. Make sure you manage the weeds in the field, but also around the field. Weeds surrounding the field may harbor insects and disease. Those areas around the field may be a good place to try trap crops.

Trap cropping has great potential and is done on commercial farms and home gardens in Alabama. This is a practice of planting a crop more desirable to certain insects than the cash crop. The insect is attracted to the trap crop and leaves the tomatoes (cash crop) alone. I have witnessed a trap crop with more leaf footed plant bugs in it than can be counted, and the tomato crop right beside it with very few, if any, leaf footed plant bugs found. The trap crop is planted a couple of weeks before the main crop and does take up space in the field or garden, but can be very beneficial. More information on trap crops can be found on our web site by typing “trap crops” in the search box.

My co-workers and I hang many insect traps around the state. We trap in order to know how the insects are spreading and let farmers know when to be scouting for them. The insects I commonly monitor with traps include squash vine borers, fall army worms, beet army worms, corn ear worms, and others. These traps are checked and the insect counts can be found online. To receive these updates from our publication called the Alabama IPM Communicator, send an e-mail to bugdoctor@auburn.edu.

Other IPM practices can include hand removal of insects such as caterpillars from tomatoes, or using barriers to keep cutworm from plants. Netting and row covers have been used to help manage pests in many locations.

Your eyes are an important management tool. Do not forget to scout the field often and identify the pest correctly. We have a lot of insect and vegetable disease pictures on our web site at www.aces.edu or simply take a few pictures and send to your local Extension office. You can also send diseased plant and insect samples to our pathology lab at Auburn or Birmingham for an analysis. There is a small fee for sending samples, but it may save the crop. If a crop is too far gone to save, I would still want to know the cause of the problem. There may be something that could be done in future plantings to avoid having the problem again. If you need information on the IPM practices mentioned in this article simply contact the Autauga County Extension Office or call 334.361.7273.


Contributed by Chip East, Regional Extension Agent, Commercial Horticulture

Printable PDF of this article: PDF Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management


Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is the practice of using a variety of methods to manage pests. When used correctly, pesticides can be a great tool for managing pests, but they should not be the first action to manage pest problems.

The questions I answer during the growing season are usually related to insects, disease, weeds, and nutrition. Many of these problems can be managed without the use of pesticides. What does nutrition have to do with pesticides? Poor growing plants are more susceptible to insects and disease. In contrast, plants growing in healthy soils are more resistant to insects and disease.
How do we make our soil healthy? Improving the soil by adding organic matter helps greatly. You can buy organic matter or compost your own. Growing cover crops when the vegetable crop is finished is also a good idea. Growing crops such as cereal rye or crimson clover during the fall and winter season will keep the organic matter from washing away from the field or garden and adds additional organic matter as well. If you have room, summer cover crops such as sorghum-sudangrass or iron clay cowpea can be planted in the spring in areas of the field or garden that is not in production. Lots of information can be found on our web site in a publication called “Cover Crops for Alabama”.

Adding animal manures can be a good idea, but I do not like to use it within 120 days of harvest. The reason for the 120 day wait is the potential for pathogen contamination into the crop. Animal manure is a great source of nutrients and organic matter and is recommended in many cases. However, you should be aware that some herbicides that are used in forage/livestock production can remain active in the manure. If you do not know what herbicides have been used on the pastures or hay fields, you may want to reconsider the use of animal manures.

Remember to do a soil test of your field or garden. Lots of time and money goes into producing a crop, and many problems are related to nutritional deficiencies. I would suggest a commercial farmer soil test every year, and I would highly recommend a home gardener soil test every two or three years. All the information for soil testing can be found at your local Extension office. You should get your results back in a week, and the Extension office will be glad explain the soil test results if needed. The soil lab can also do a nutrient analysis on plant material (leaves) if needed. This costs a little more money than a soil test, but can be very valuable information for the grower.

When choosing which varieties or cultivars to grow, try to plant ones with disease resistance when possible. Many diseases can be avoided just by planting disease resistant seeds. These seeds may cost a little more and can sometimes be hard to find, but may be beneficial if diseases can be avoided. Watermelon seeds can be purchased that are resistant or tolerant to anthracnose, fusarium wilt, and powdery mildew. Tomato cultivars are available that are resistant to many diseases including fusarium wilt and tomato spotted wilt virus. You can even grow heat set tomatoes that produce better in the higher temperatures of summer. The Extension office will be glad to provide you with information on disease resistant seeds, but the first step may be identifying the disease, and we can help with that too.

Do not forget about crop rotation. This means you need to be rotating vegetable families. For example, tomato, pepper, and eggplant are in the same family and should be planted together. Next season plant another vegetable family in that place. Many farmers have several sites for crops and keep a record of where things were planted from year to year. The longer you go without planting a crop from the same vegetable family in the same location, the better. My first thought as I think of crop rotation is disease management, but crop rotation helps with insect and nutrient management as well. The crop rotation information can be found on our web site by typing “crop rotation” in the search box.

Other aspects of IPM will be discussed in my next article. If you have any questions on IPM, give us a call at your local Extension office.

Contributed by: Chip East, Regional Extension Agent