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Hubbard Trap Crop Can Keep Squash Bugs Away!


Squash producers and gardeners are bugged by three major insect pests. Cucumber beetles are early season pests that can severely damage transplants and delay plant maturity. Squash bugs are often the next wave of mid-season insects that lay a number of eggs on the leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits. Squash bug nymphs and adults can form large aggregates on fruits and cause direct plant damage. Both cucumber beetles and squash bugs transmit diseases. The last major insect pest of squash is the vine borer that can infest gardens as well as commercial plantings. Heat or water stress can hasten the devastation caused by vine borer larvae that live inside the stem. In all cases, most common organic insecticides appear to provide low to poor control of the pests. So, we have to think out of the box for managing insects like the squash bugs and here is an alternate IPM strategy.

One of the most recent studies completed in Alabama for squash bug control focused on the use of Hubbard squash as a trap crop. Hubbard squash establishes quickly after planting and grows vines like crazy, just like kudzu! In all our studies, we planted two rows of Hubbard squash trap crop around 3-4 rows of yellow squash (main crop). Once you have figured out where the squash bugs are migrating from, you can actually plant more rows of yellow squash and less of Hubbard to maximize your profits. Remember to plant the trap crop at least two weeks ahead of the main crop and on good ground for maximum effectiveness. Don’t ignore the trap crop and don’t forget to scout!

In the recently completed large scale study at Cullman, we observed over 4,500 squash bug eggs on the Hubbard squash trap crop and only 285 eggs on the main crop (Fig. 1). This is about a 15 times reduction in pest numbers!! We did see squash bug adults land on the yellow squash but they quickly move on to the Hubbard where they will hide and lay the majority of eggs. This study also provided evidence regarding an area-wide effect of trap crop on insects with limited amount of trap crop. For example, yellow squash planted about 400 feet away from the Hubbard had nearly 10 times lower number of squash bug eggs. It is evident that trap crop placement is very important along with the attention provided to the planting time. In all our studies, we first established an excellent stand of Hubbard squash and delayed the planting of yellow squash; the latter seems to catch up and do fine in terms of yield and the quality of produce. We eliminated all insecticide treatments in the large study and still got a wonderful crop (Fig. 2). Even the big round fruits of Hubbard squash are marketable and tasty to eat. Finally we have a trap crop that can pay for itself!

One of the major disadvantages of trap crop system is that it takes up space due to its prolific growth habit. Hubbard is also susceptible to a number of diseases – so planting should be done during optimum time. Dead seedlings can be replanted to maintain a good stand of the trap crop. If you are interested in more results, then please visit the Alabama Vegetable IPM project website and look at the ‘squash pest’ training module for videos and factsheets. Also join us on the vegetable IPM page on Facebook.

Alabama Beginning Farms Update: Are you a producer or market gardener with less than 10 years of experience?  Then the Alabama Beginning Farms website is a useful starting point for you. Visit www.aces.edu/beginningfarms and explore resources about on-farm services, microloan programs, and educational events all at one place! Bookmark the website today and watch the monthly webinars on the last Monday of each month at 9 a.m. Recordings of past webinars are also available.

Annual Fruit and Vegetable Conference: The Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Annual Conference will be in Clanton on November 17 and 18, 2016. Keep checking www.afvga.org for more information about registration details and agenda.

Enjoy Fresh Fruit During the Hot Summer Months

Fruit & Yogurt Breakfast Shake.7.13.2016


During the hot summer months, be sure to enjoy some fresh fruit.   Eating fruit provides health benefits.  Fruits contain nutrients, such as potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C and folate (folic acid).  Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories.  Fruits do not have cholesterol.    Some of the fresh fruits you may find available at our local farmers’ markets right now include blueberries, cantaloupes, figs, peaches and watermelons.

Here are a few tips from ChooseMyPlate.gov to help your family eat more fruit:

-Keep fruit visible. It could be on the counter or in the refrigerator.  Over the weekend, I had several fresh fruits so I cut them up and it has been very easy to grab them from the refrigerator and put them in lunches or have as a snack.

-Think about taste. Fresh fruits in season may be less expensive and at their flavor peak.

-Remember the fiber. Make most of your choices whole or cut-up fruit, rather than juice for the benefits of dietary fiber.

-Be a good role model. Set a good example for children by eating fruit every day with meals or as snacks.

-Include fruit at breakfast. At breakfast, top your cereal with sliced peaches, bananas or strawberries, add blueberries to pancakes; drink 100% orange or grapefruit juice.  Add fruit with fat-free or low-fat yogurt.

-Try fruit at lunch. At lunch, pack a nectarine or grapes to eat or choose fruits from a salad bar.

-Experiment with fruit at dinner, too. At dinner, add crushed pineapple to coleslaw or include orange sections, dried cranberries or grapes in a tossed salad.

-Keep fruits safe. Rinse fruits before preparing or eating them.  Rub fruits briskly under clean, running water to remove dirt and surface microorganisms.  After rinsing, dry with a clean towel.

Here are two recipes from the Extension-Today’s Mom – Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program that your family may want to try:

Banana Wrap

1 flour tortilla

2 tablespoons peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese

1 tablespoon slivered almonds (optional)

1 medium banana

Spread peanut butter or cream cheese on one side of the tortilla and sprinkle with almonds if desired. Peel banana, and place on top of peanut butter.  Roll up tortilla tightly.  Eat and enjoy!

Makes one serving.

Fruit and Yogurt Breakfast Shake

1 banana (medium, very ripe, peeled)

6 ounces pineapple juice

½ cup vanilla yogurt, low fat

½ cup strawberries (remove stems and rinse)

Put banana, pineapple juice, yogurt, and strawberries in a blender. Blend until smooth.  Pour into two glasses.  Serve immediately.

Makes two servings.

Creating a Cut Flower Garden


Many gardeners grow flowers for the pleasure of having fresh bouquets to decorate their homes or to give away to friends. But they also enjoy the display of color flowers provide in the landscape, and therein lies the dilemma–to cut or not to cut.

There is a simple solution. Plant a separate flower garden just for cutting. Then you can have your flowers, and pick them, too!

Because this is a production garden, you won’t have to worry about design correctness. You can fill this area with flowers and foliage that you like and not be concerned with whether the colors complement each other or the plants look good together. Use this as a place to experiment with new plants and colors.

Establish your cutting garden just like you would any other flower garden. Pick a sunny, well-drained site, working in plenty of compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves before you plant. You can make this garden part of your vegetable garden, or tuck it away in a sunny corner of your yard.

Because a cutting garden is not intended for display, think in terms of easy maintenance when planning your space. Generally, cutting gardens are set up like traditional vegetable plots, with widely spaced rows providing plenty of room to move about to plant, thin, fertilize, water, deadhead (remove spent blooms), and harvest.

ACES Photo Library

Group species of plants for efficient use of space and easy harvest. For maximum production, plant annuals in succession, with early season, mid-season, and late season bloomers each grouped together. Plant flowers with similar requirements for sun, water, and drainage together for easier maintenance. Tall plants should be placed where they won’t shade out shorter varieties.

Before you plant, soil test to determine the nutrients needed to grow a successful cut flower garden. Soil testing information is available from the Auburn Soil Testing Lab at: http://www.aces.edu/anr/soillab/ .

Proper amounts of nutrients in the soil will give plants a consistent boost of nutrition throughout their growing season. Applying periodic doses of diluted liquid fertilizer during the peak production time will also help insure quality flowers for cutting.

When plants are a few inches tall, spread a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around the plants to keep down weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Plants need about an inch of water a week, whether through watering or natural rainfall.

To encourage production, and keep plants blooming throughout the summer, pick blossoms regularly. Remove faded blossoms (deadheading) as this prevents them from forming seeds, which slows down flower production. This also is a good time to check for insects, such as aphids, that may infest plants.

When production slows and plants stop flowering, pull them, cultivate the bed, and replant with new seedlings. For example, while pansies provide early summer color, they won’t bloom once summer days get too hot. Replace them then with marigolds or zinnias.

Your choice of what to plant is almost limitless. Personal preference will play a large part, but as a rule, long-stemmed annuals and perennials make the best cut flowers. Include some foliage plants for texture and color in arrangements and floral bouquets.

Here are some suggestions:

ANNUALS: Ageratum, Bells of Ireland, calendula, campanula, celosia (cockscomb), cleome, cosmos, dianthus, lisianthis, geranium, gypsophila (baby’s breath), helichrysum (strawflower), nicotiana, pansy, petunia, phlox, scabiosa, snapdragon, statice, sunflower, sweet pea, zinnia.

PERENNIALS: Achillea (yarrow), aster, campanula, carnation, coreopsis. delphinium, dianthus, digitalis (foxglove), echinacea (purple coneflower), heuchera (coral bells), lupine, phlox, Icelandic poppy, rudbeckia (black-eyed susan), sage, shasta daisy, veronica.

FOLIAGE PLANTS: Artemisia (silver-leafed varieties), coleus, dusty miller, ferns, lamb’s ears.

For more gardening information, call the Master Gardener Helpline at 1-877-252- GROW (4769) or check us out on the web www.aces.edu . Dr. Leonard Perry was used as a resource for this article.

Herbicide Applications in Hot, Dry Conditions

corn.herbicide damage.6.22.2016

Joyce Tredaway Ducar, Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, Auburn University

Herbicides will work best when a plant is actively growing, vigorously growing plants. Herbicide labels caution against spraying when plants are stressed or under extreme environmental conditions. However, unfortunately, weeds continue to grow in drought conditions, while our crops continue to suffer. How are herbicides affected in these hot, dry conditions? How does it affect the activity of the herbicides? We know that for a residual to work that moisture is needed to activate them. Always refer to your product labels but residuals in general need 0.25 inch of rain or irrigation to be properly activated. If you don’t have irrigation, that doesn’t help very much right now unless you blessed to be in one of the few areas that is getting some rain.

Weeds adapt to hot, dry conditions. They develop a waxy surface in order to hold more water. This also prevents the absorption of herbicides into the plant. Many weeds don’t develop deep roots in dry weather, but shallow roots. Others develop deeper roots searching for water. They also slow down their metabolism which causes translocation of herbicides to be slower. This can cause reduced herbicide activity however, adjuvants such as crop oil concentrates and non-ionic surfactants help to aid in absorption issues. In addition, the weed adapting to hotter, drier weather, whether it is a contact or systemic herbicide can also make a difference in how it performs. Dust is another issue. Dry conditions make field conditions dusty and dust causes herbicides not to work effectively. It can inactivate herbicides which is why poor control can be found behind tractor tires and along gravel roads.

A contact herbicide would be like Gramoxone (paraquat) that only kills the plant in the area where the spray touches. This is why spray coverage is so essential to contact herbicides. Most contact herbicides become more active as temperatures increase. This also means that they can cause more crop injury. The best control with contact herbicides is when weeds are small so it is important to apply them in a timely fashion.

Immediately following an application of a contact herbicide is the most critical time for crop injury. If applications of a contact herbicide are made in the afternoon, then cooler temperatures will follow, often limiting the injury. However, if applications are made in the morning, hot temperatures will follow, which can increase crop injury. Systemic herbicides are more of a problem in hotter, dry weather. The optimum time to apply these herbicides is when you have the most moisture which is in the early morning. There is often a heavy dew on the ground. This means that the weeds are taking in water and translocation is occurring. This also means that the weeds will take in herbicides rapidly and translocate them to all areas of the plant. The weeds are not as stressed as they are later in the day when the sun is hot and their stomates close to conserve water.

The question may be asked if you should delay a herbicide application until a rain or to spray drought-stressed weeds. Generally, weeds that are stressed generally won’t be controlled as well. However, as discussed above, there are a few strategies that you can use to obtain better control. Delaying an application will only allow the weeds to get bigger and harder to control. If rain is in the immediate forecast, it would be wise to wait to make a post-emergence application so that the weeds won’t be drought-stressed. Always try to apply when weeds are small. If rains do start to fall, new flushes of weeds are likely to come.

The Very Hungry Caterpillars in Alabama!

hungry caterpillars1.6.15.2016

This article is based on a number of phone calls and emails from producers and gardeners. We have also shared some research findings from the recently completed organic insecticide study on cabbages to remind readers about some general insecticide use tactics. Integrated pest management (IPM) is a useful way to incorporate multiple pest control tactics for reducing pests below the economic threshold; you can develop your own ‘site-specific’ IPM strategy if you keep good records of insect pest occurrences and control measures that worked.

Caterpillar alert: Watch out for caterpillar pests (see picture) because they are becoming very active with hot, dry weather with moths actively mating and laying eggs on crops. Based on our insect pheromone traps, beet army worms and corn ear worms are on the rise along the Gulf Coast. The number of other caterpillars are also increasing in numbers slowly, for example, fall, yellow striped and southern army worms. Over the past week, we have had a number of calls about southern army worms in row crops and vegetables – so this is definitely an insect to look for. Southern army worms are grayish brown caterpillars with a yellow head capsule, many white stripes and dark triangular areas on top. Fall army worms typically feed on grassy areas first and then later generations move to horticultural crops. You can tell the fall army worm by looking for the Y-shaped mark on its head and four spots near the end. Beet army worms are plump green caterpillars with a pair of dots on the thorax, behind the head. Yellow striped army worms have really become more active in Alabama and we see them regularly at many research locations, occurring in mixed populations. Most army worms will feed on leaves if they arrive early on your crop and then feed on green fruits or tomatoes or whatever else they can find.

Corn ear worm or tomato fruit worm is another nasty caterpillar pest that is always there when you don’t need them! You can tell this caterpillar from its characteristic hairy top (hairs coming off many black spots called tubercles) and a brown head capsule. It often clings tight on tomato fruits and feeds with just its head inside to cause shallow circular holes near the top. There can be many circular holes on each fruit and the caterpillars can move fast between plants. This feeding is different from the dreaded tomato horn worms that chomp down entire plants or eats big chunks of the fruits. Occasionally, the cabbage looper will also feed on vegetables but their attack is in August or later, mainly due to overlapping generations. For more pictures and interesting scouting videos, subscribe to the Alabama Vegetable IPM channel on Facebook – this even works on your smartphone using an app.

For home gardeners, we encourage you to refer to the Alabama Vegetable IPM website (www.aces.edu/vegetableipm) to check out pest scouting fact sheets for major crops, webinars, and IPM training videos. Many of the moths and butterfly pests can be stopped using insect netting or fabric for short season. This same technique can reduce caterpillars long term, especially during the early season when pollinators are not needed. Check out the pest exclusion basics and the high tunnel pest exclusion videos for getting new ideas. Organic and conventional insecticides are also available as the last resort in high pest pressure conditions and must be used according to the label. Always start with crop scouting and correct insect identification followed by a multi-level pest management plan. Use the camera on your phone to send us images for identification unless you are close enough to send a real sample. Scout without a doubt!

Alabama Beginning Farms Update:

Are you a producer less than 10 years of experience? Then the Alabama Beginning Farms website is a useful starting point for you. Just visit Alabama Beginning Farms and explore resources about on-farm services, microloan programs, and educational events all at one place! Bookmark the website today.

Annual Fruit and Vegetable Conference:

The Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Annual Conference will be in Clanton this year on November 17 and 18. Keep checking www.afvga.aces.edu for more information about registrations, agenda, and exhibition.

Alabama Smart Yards

gravel path through a flowering garden

As spring slowly merges into summer, much of our time and attention will begin to focus on improving our lawns and gardens. Whether you have a balcony view or a backyard vista, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s (ACES) online publications and its regional horticultural agents can assist you in the proper selection of shrubs and trees, flowers, vegetables as well as the type of turf grass best suited for your needs and location.

AL Smart Yards.5.18.2016

The Alabama Smart Yards manual is a great reference for many of your questions and concerns.  This 100 page ACES publication  includes 10 chapters covering topics ranging from:

  1. GETTING STARTED: Taking the necessary steps to design a successful landscape will help avoid some of the common mistakes often made by landowners. Before planting, careful consideration should be given to the future size and growth of plants or trees and their specific sunlight requirements.
  2. LANDSCAPE INSTALLATION: Choosing the right plant and/or type of turf grass for the right location, including tips on how to plant shrubs and trees will improve the chances for successful growth. When possible, drought tolerant and native plants should be included in your landscape.
  3. WATERING EFFICIENTLY/IRRIGATION PRACTICES: Knowing the appropriate time, amount, and proper method of watering recommended for your garden or lawn can help reduce the chance of insects, diseases, and the cost of watering.
  4. CARE AND MAINTENANCE: Once established, areas in your lawn or garden may need periodic regular maintenance such as pruning to remove unwanted dead growth, mowing at the recommended height and a periodic soil test to identify nutrient deficiencies that may be affecting the health of your turf, shrubs, trees, or garden areas.
  5. MULCHING: The benefits of using mulch around gardens, plants, and trees are numerous. Consisting of organic materials, such as leaves, grass clippings, pine needles and bark, mulch increases the moisture retention of plants, enriches the soil while helping to maintain an even temperature and can be used in shady or bare areas to prevent soil erosion.Wheel Barrow of dirt.5.18.2016
  6. RECYCLING YARD WASTE: Reducing the amount of yard waste that ends up in the local landfills makes sense (and cents) not only for environmental reasons but for the homeowner as well. No need to bag your grass clippings, raked leaves, small twigs or branches as these can be composted following a few easy steps. The resulting organic material rich in nutrients can be added back into the soil to enhance plant growth.
  7. ATTRACTING WILDLIFE: As urban areas in Alabama continue to expand, many of its natural wildlife habitats are being destroyed. Creating landscape areas that include a variety of plants that provide food, water, and shelter will help encourage wildlife back into our neighborhoods.   Most affected have been the pollinators due to the excessive use of pesticides and the clear cutting of natural vegetation.
  8. MANAGING YARD PESTS RESPONSIBLY: The overuse of pesticides has created a multitude of environmental problems including health concerns, reduction of beneficial insects including pollinators and the development of pesticide resistance. Using the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, pests are controlled using a combination of non-chemical methods that reduce the potential harm to humans and the environment.
  9. REDUCING STORMWATER RUNOFF: Storm water runoff often carries with it pollutants from a variety of sources such as excessive fertilizers, automotive fluids, soaps/detergents and animal waste. These examples of nonpoint source pollution often reach our waterways, lakes, rivers, and ground water aquifers and can affect the safety of our drinking water.  Installation of rain barrels, rain gardens and other efforts to reduce storm water runoff are outlined.
  10. PROTECTING THE WATERFRONT: Whether a waterfront property encounters fresh, brackish, or saltwater, landowners are faced with important environmental responsibilities to ensure the quality of Alabama’s water resources. This chapter highlights careful planning to avoid potential environmental impacts when designing and maintaining areas that encompass the region between the land and water known as the littoral zone.

Download The Alabama Smart Yards publication. Other related ACES gardening publications are available at www.aces.edu. If you would like more information on Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s gardening programs please contact Denise Heubach, Urban Regional Extension Agent.

* Photos from The Alabama Smart Yards ACES publication #1359

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn University) is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Everyone is welcome!

A Spring to Summer Beef Cattle Checklist

As we transition from spring to summer, there are a number of management practices that cattle producers should give attention to as part of an overall cattle production system. Below is a checklist that Auburn Extension Specialists put together as a guide to helping cattle producers plan for summer.

Cows.black and brown.5.11.2016

  1. Start with soils. Now is the time to collect and submit soil samples for analysis from pastures and hayfields. A soil test analysis provides valuable information related to available nutrients in the soil and fertilizer recommendations for a given crop. A fertility recommendation is provided based on soil test levels, the forage species being used, and desired production level and management.
  2. Conduct a pasture assessment. As the seasons change, it is always a good practice to conduct a pasture/hayfield walk and evaluate available forage resources for the upcoming season. Visually evaluate the different species in the stand (grass, legumes, weeds) and the amount of bare ground present. Ask what percentage of the stand each component makes up. Based on this, consider what can be done to improve the stand. Is weed or pest control needed? Stand renovation? Or are there fertility issues?
  3. Hay “Readiness”. Readiness is the state of being fully prepared for something. If hay harvesting is part of your system, evaluate equipment and have any repairs conducted before harvest season begins. The worst feeling is going to harvest a crop that is ready only to break down and miss your window of opportunity. Aim to harvest hay at the optimum stage of maturity to get the best nutritional value for your cattle. Hay quality cannot be improved after this point, but can be maintained through proper storage until the time of feeding.
  4. Prepare for planting and establishment of warm-season grasses if needed.

Perennials Begin land preparation and locate planting material (seed or sprigs, species dependent). Schedule time for planting ASAP if commercially contracted.

Annuals Determine if there is a need for supplemental, more short-term summer forage crops such as pearl millet, sorghums, etc. Begin land preparation and plant as weather permits.

  1. Re-evaluate your mineral program.

Cattle usually require some form of mineral supplementation during all times of the year. A high-magnesium or ‘Hi-Mag’ mineral (> 12% magnesium) is often provided to help prevent grass tetany during the late winter and early spring. Once the outside temperature has consistently reached 60° F or greater, the mineral program can be adjusted to provide 1-4% magnesium in the supplement.

  1. Start watch for flies. The most common fly problems in Alabama are often associated with horn, stable, house, and face flies. Begin watching for fly problems, but do not control until threshold values are reached. For horn flies, consider control options when 100 flies per side of the cow are first observed. Rotating chemical classes yearly and providing control options on a timely basis helps provide effective control during fly season.
  2. Fencing/infrastructure. As we gear up for the summer grazing season, evaluate current fences and if repairs are needed. With higher cattle prices, consider if now is a good time to invest in/improve current fencing. Fencing technology has advanced rapidly in the last several years, and high-tensile electric fences may provide an economical option that is relatively easy to install and maintain. The use of temporary fencing such a polytape, polywire, etc. may help improve grazing management plans. However, there is no single best fencing option available, and the choice of fence used is operator dependent.
  3. General Cattle Management:
  4. Spring-calving system

Use best quality pasture available during breeding season.

Work calves (dehorn, castrate, implant, deworm) if not already completed. Deworm herd bulls and cows.

Identify calves (ear tags, tattoo), record birth dates and sex of calf during calving season.

Body condition score cows before breeding.

Perform a breeding soundness exam on herd bulls 60 days before breeding season.

  1. Fall-calving system

Consider creep-grazing calves on best pasture to enhance gains.

Wean, vaccinate and deworm calves. Deworm herd bulls and cows.

Obtain cow and calf weights at weaning. Body condition score cows at weaning.

Cull cows based on pregnancy status and performance. Evaluate cows for beef quality assurance (BQA) assessment of eyes, teeth structure, feet and leg soundness, udders, body condition and disposition and cull cows accordingly.

Consider pre-conditioning options for feeder calves after weaning

Select any heifers to be retained as replacements based on records and weaning data.

Begin to develop replacement heifers with forage and/or supplementation to gain 1.5 lbs./day from weaning to breeding.

For anyone wanting to learn more about the cattle business, check out our new Beef Basics Online Course. The Beef Basics Online Course is divided into individual learning modules that guide you through management practices when getting started on a beef cattle operation.  More information about the course can be found on our website using the following link:




Colorful pictures and fancy names on the seed packets at your garden center and in seed catalogs entice you to buy.  But before you get carried away and select more varieties than you have space to plant, take a minute to read the packets and descriptions. There is much good cultural information in these, some of which may be unclear if you are new to gardening.

You may be surprised to learn that some of the flower and vegetable varieties for sale are not well suited to your particular location.  Some grow best in a certain type of soil or shade conditions, or need to be started indoors well in advance of planting. Start them too late, or just sown out in the garden, and you may get few if any flowers or fruit this season. So what do you look for on the packets and in catalog descriptions?

VARIETY— Most packets and descriptions list the name of the variety (technically most are cultivars or cultivated varieties), and tell you if it is a hybrid.   Hybrids come about from the crossing of other plant parents, and are often denoted as F1 or F2.  This often gives a trait such as bigger flowers or more vigor.  It is important to know if you want such traits, or if you want to collect seeds.  If you collect seeds from a hybrid, they won’t make the same plants.  For this you would need the parent plants (often a seed company trade secret).  To collect seeds that will come “true”, you should look for “open pollinated” varieties.      TYPE— Flowers also are identified as annuals, biennials, or perennials.  Annuals are plants that grow, bloom, and die in one growing season.  Biennials bloom the second year after planting and generally die after flowering.  Perennials are those plants which come up year after year (if they are hardy).  For perennials, many descriptions have or refer to a hardiness zone map so you can see if the plants will have a chance in your area.

DATE–For best results, buy only seed that is packed for the current year.  The date is generally stamped on the back flap.  Although you might be able to find seeds packaged for last year at a discounted price, these are probably not a good buy.  Poor storage conditions will reduce the viability of seeds.  If you do want to take a chance on these, sow 10 seeds in moist, rolled paper towel to see how many germinate.

GERMINATION–This percentage tells you how many seeds will produce plants under ideal conditions.  However, keep in mind that the age of the seeds, how they’ve been stored, as well as how and when you plant them also will affect germination.  Some seeds may need exposure to light to germinate.  Some perennials may need special seed treatments prior to sowing.   If you start seeds indoors in flats under ideal conditions, count on a slightly higher germination rate than if sowing directly outdoors. Descriptions often tell you which is best.

CULTURE— Most seed packets will contain information on how and when to plant, including the number of days to seed germination, and days to harvest for vegetables. Make sure if you see days listed that you know what they refer to—days from sowing to harvest, from planting out to harvest, or other. Packets also will note spacing requirements, height and spread at maturity, thinning instructions, growth habit, and special cultural considerations.

NUMBER OF SEEDS— Unless you are buying bulk seeds by weight, you can be misled by the size and shape of the packaging.  Be sure to check the weight, or more often number of seeds, to determine how much to buy.  This is particularly important with higher priced seeds like geraniums that may only have five to ten seeds per packet. Some descriptions provide information on the length of row the packet will plant.

DESCRIPTION— Parts of the plant description that may be important to you. If a vegetable, what are characteristics and shape and size and taste of the fruit?  Is this variety resistant to diseases?  This is especially important for some vegetables such as tomatoes, melons, and squash. Often specific diseases are listed with letters which can be found in a key or bottom of the page, such as “V” for verticillium disease resistance.

You may see logos with descriptions.  These should have a key if in a catalog, often for such as easy, organic, new, or an award winner.  The most common award you will see for some is the shield of All-America Selections winners.  These are varieties that have proven among the best in certain regions, or nationwide, and can be found online (www.all-americaselections.org/).

Also in descriptions, as in ads for other products, look for what “isn’t” said.  In other words, if you want a trait such as good freezing for beans and this isn’t mentioned, this variety likely won’t freeze as well as others.  Look for traits that are most important to you, such as size of fruit, color of fruit or flowers, height of plant, the need or not for staking, yield, or time of flowering or ripening.

It bears repeating to have some sort of plan, or at least know how much space or how many pots you have, before buying seeds.  It is so easy (speaking from experience) to be enticed by all the different varieties with colorful photos and glowing descriptions, ending up with several times as many seeds as you have the time or space to plant.

For more gardening information, call the Master Gardener Helpline at 1-877-252- GROW (4769) or check us out on the web www.aces.edu . Dr. Leonard Perry was used as a resource for this article.

Grain Sorghum Hybrids

Grain sorghum hybrids differ in their resistance to attack by sugarcane aphid. Regardless of variety, it is important to scout each field and apply an insecticide immediately if aphids exceed economic thresholds.  Early planting and use of insecticide seed treatments are also recommended.  This is explained in publication by Dr. Calvin Trostle from Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension.  Here is one of the conclusions from this paper “Although planting a grain sorghum hybrid with proven SCA [sugarcane aphid]-tolerance/resistance is part of an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, until we have more information about SCA-tolerant/resistant hybrids, their regional adaptation, and their yield potential it is likely that your timely management of SCA may be more important than which hybrid you plant.”

This post provides some information from tests in Alabama, as well as links to information from other states.  Which particular hybrid looked best depended on location and on whether plots were irrigated or not.  Growers can use this information on aphid resistance but need to work closely with their seed dealer to pick hybrids that have good local yield potential.

The image below shows a test of sorghum hybrids in Fairhope, Alabama in 2015.  Some hybrids were nearly dead, while others were still green and headed out.

Sorghum Hybrids.4.6.2016

In Brewton, Alabama a small plot replicated variety trial was conducted under dryland conditions.  In this test aphids were allowed to reach levels far above threshold, and controlled only after their populations peaked. In this test only one hybrid, DeKalb DKS37-07, yielded relatively well under high aphid pressure (44 bu/A).  All other hybrids that were tested yielded less than 10 bushels per acre.  DeKalb DKS 37-07 also had the fewest aphids per plant at 42 days after planting.

In Headland, Alabama, another small plot replicated variety trial was conducted under irrigation. Again, aphids were not managed until their populations began to decline. Pioneer 83P17 and Mycogen 1G855 had significantly higher yields (>120 bu.A) than DeKalb S54-00, Mycogen 1G741, Pioneer 84P480, Chromatin KS585, Chromatin SP6929, and DeKalb 37-07 (all less than 60 Bu/A).  Mycogen 1G588 had intermediate yields (75 Bu/A).  Pioneer 83P17, Mycogen 1G855, and Mycogen 1G588 had the fewest aphids per leaf at 45 days after planting.

On-farm strip tests in central Alabama provided additional information on hybrid performance.  In these tests, recommended insecticides were applied when sugarcane aphids reached threshold. Thus aphid populations were actively managed in this test. In Talladega County, highest yields were from DeKalb DKS 44-20 (110 Bu/A) and DeKalb DKS 37-07 (97 Bu/A) followed by Pioneer 84P80 (92 Bu/A) and DeKalb S54-00 (90 Bu/A), then Pioneer 83P17 (86 Bu/A) and DeKalb DKS 53-53 (82 Bu/A).  In Tallapoosa County, Pioneer 83P17 had the highest yield (89.3 Bu/A), followed by DeKalb DKS 53-67 (82.9 Bu/A) and DeKalb DKS 37-07 (81.8 Bu/A), then by Pioneer 84P80 (73.4 Bu/A) and DeKalb Pulsar (71.2 Bu/A), then by Mycogen 1G741 (59.1 Bu/A), Mycogen 1G588 (59.05 Bu/A) and DeKalb S54-00 (55.6 Bu/A).

Louisiana researchers have summarized the grain sorghum hybrids which have some degree of resistance to sugarcane aphid.  The United Sorghum Checkoff Program also provides a list of hybrids that have been identified as having some degree of resistance to sugarcane aphid.  Remember, all varieties need to be scouted regularly and insecticides applied when aphid numbers exceed recommended thresholds.


More information on management of sugarcane aphid can be found at www.aces.edu.