UConn Extension

Natural Pesticide Issues

pink roses in a natural garden in West Hartford
Roses in a garden in West Hartford. Photo: Max Pixel

As the gardening season gets underway, lots of homemade weed-killer “recipes” are cropping up on social media, usually containing some combination of vinegar, Epsom salts, and Dawn dishwashing soap. These are often accompanied by a comment such as “no need for pesticides or herbicides!” It may feel good to use familiar household items to control pests and weeds in your garden, but it’s important to understand the science behind such mixes – and the potential risks.

First and foremost, these mixtures ARE pesticides or herbicides. They are intended to kill a pest, in this case weeds.

Now, let’s look at the science:

Vinegar is an acid. At the right concentration, it damages by burning any part of a plant it comes in contact with. If the plant is in the ground, it does NOT get the root; many plants will grow back. It is non-selective, meaning it will damage any plant it touches, including desired ones. Household vinegar is 5% acetic acid; to be effective on anything other than tiny seedlings the concentration needs to be at least 10%. Horticultural-grade vinegar is 20% and can carry a “Danger – caustic” signal word, which is stronger than many other herbicides on the market.

Salts work by desiccating plants – again, all parts of the plant it touches. Salts, however, build up in the soil and can harm desired plants nearby. Since most homemade recipes need repeated application to be effective, the salts will build up. Epsom salts are touted because they contain magnesium instead of sodium, but too much magnesium will interfere with phosphorus uptake.

Dawn detergent is not a naturally-occurring substance. It, like any soap, is used as a sticker agent, helping the other materials stay on the plant longer. It contains methylisothiazolinone, which has acute aquatic toxicity and 1,4-dioxane, which is a known groundwater contaminant with carcinogenic properties.

These may be do-it-yourself recipes, but they definitely are not natural.

An additional issue with home recipes is the variability of the mix. Many don’t even have specific measurements. Also, because home remedies are often perceived as “safer”, a person may choose to increase the concentrations, changing the potential environmental risk.

Many of these recipes do indeed kill – or at least reduce – weeds and unwanted vegetation. But they also have collateral impacts, some of which may be significant.

The garden center shelves have changed in the last several years. There are now many naturally-derived pesticides on the market, which have been tested for effectiveness, are labelled as to their environmental impact and deliver a consistent product every time. They generally are safer to use and pose less environmental risk than many of the older synthetic materials – the same goal of homemade mixes. Look for products that are OMRI certified. The Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides an independent review of products, such as fertilizers and pest controls that are intended for use in organic production.

For more information, please contact the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Find the location nearest you at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ or email Sarah.Bailey@uconn.edu.

Article by Sarah Bailey, State Coordinator, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Living Shoreline Planted in Stonington

group working on living shoreline students planting in Stonington group from living shoreline living shoreline planting

 

The tidal marsh migration buffer at Dodge Paddock Beal Preserve in Stonington was planted on Friday May 3, 2019. With a stalwart group of dedicated volunteers, over 100 native plants were put in. This area borders a coastal wetland and the plants need to be able to withstand occasional salt spray as well as possible inundation during extreme storm events. This part of the preserve, owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy, was formally a cultivated garden. Garden plants were removed and the area was covered in black plastic last summer to kill any remaining roots and seeds. The area was seeded with native grasses in the fall of 2018 with a planned spring planting. As sea level rises, areas within the preserve are getting wetter and wetter, so native plants were carefully chosen to withstand wetland migration.

By Juliana Barrett

Welcome Abby Beissinger to UConn Extension!

Abby BeissingerUConn Extension and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture are proud to announce our newest team member, Abby Beissinger. Abby has accepted the position of Plant Diagnostician in the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. Her first official day was May 28, 2019.

Abby attended the University of Wisconsin and received a B.A. in Anthropology in 2011. During her undergraduate studies, she focused on agriculture and sustainable development, and implemented development projects in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uganda. Abby spent two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching urban agriculture and gardening to youth in Massachusetts, and a summer with the Student Conservation Association leading trail crews in Chicago. From her work, she realized she was drawn to plant pathology and how plant diseases impact human livelihoods.

In 2016, Abby graduated from Washington State University with a M.S. in Plant Pathology. Her research focused on how management decisions of Potato virus Y impact the epidemiology and etiology of the virus. She then relocated to University of Connecticut to run the Conservation Ambassador Program in the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment. She fostered a statewide volunteer network of 90+ community partners including schools, non-profits, and government agencies to mentor high school students conducting long-term conservation projects. She enjoyed helping students make an environmental impact, and was drawn back to plant pathology to support growers and agricultural networks.

Abby is an example of the winding path people take to discover plant pathology, and is excited to serve as UConn’s Plant Diagnostician. In her spare time, Abby can be found in her garden growing food and flowers, painting, dancing, or exploring cities and their greens spaces.

Please join us in welcoming Abby to UConn Extension! Please visit our website for more information on the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

Authors: Karen Snover-Clift and Abby Beissinger

Join us for a Garden Party

Garden party invite graphic with logo

Please join the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program for an exclusive Garden Party, hosted by Master Gardener Susan Saint James.

Saturday, June 15, 2019
11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Susan Saint James Home*
Litchfield, CT

Speaking program includes:

Susan Saint James
Dean Indrajeet Chaubey of UConn CAHNR
Amy Chesmer, CAHNR ‘94

Tickets:
Individual – $100 
($60 tax-deductible)

Table of 10 – $1,000 
($600 tax-deductible)

Register now: http://bit.ly/UConnGardenParty

Personal Safety on the Trail

Equestrians riding out onto the trail at Bluff Point State Park in Groton, Connecticut
Photo: Stacey Stearns

All trail users should follow basic tips for personal safety. These tips can also be adapted to other situations.

1. Be aware of your surroundings and other people on the trails and in parking lots. Do not wear head- phones or earbuds.

2. Park in well-lit areas and lock the doors of your vehicle, and trailer for equestrians.

3. If possible, don’t go alone. Walk or ride with a friend. If you think someone is following you, go towards public areas.

4. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Share your route with them.

5. Carry your cell phone, but be aware that you might not have cell phone service in all areas.

6. Carry a map. Know your route, and carry the map anyway.

7. Carry pepper spray for protection if it makes you feel more comfortable.

8. Wear blaze orange or reflective material during hunting season.

9. Carry water and sunscreen.
10.
Pay attention to trail markers so you can identify your location.

Download our brochure for more information on trail etiquette.

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.

Got Geese?

Canada goose by pond
Image: Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Got Geese? If you’re trying to keep Canada Geese away from your pond, Pamm Cooper from our UConn Home & Garden Education Center has some strategies for you:

 
“The best way to try and dissuade Canada geese from becoming residents of your property is to make sure water edges of ponds or shorelines are not mowed directly to the water’s edge or banks. Allowing higher vegetation on banks between the water and grazing grounds does not allow geese, and especially baby geese, quick access to the water if they feel threatened. They like a clear view of the water when on land, and a clear view of land when in the water in areas where they will feed on shore. Once they are residents, they are harder to get to move elsewhere.
 
One effective deterrent is to spray grasses that they feed on with a repellent, the best of which taste like grape. They do not like grape, so this may work. Applications may need repeating after rains, or according to label instructions. It is applied by spraying. For more information: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs1217/

The American Chestnut Tree: A GMO Story

American Chestnut Trees once dominated our landscape. Then, a blight wiped most of them out. Researchers are using science to try and discover a way to revive these majestic trees. Watch the video to learn more.

Funding for this animation is from the UConn Extension Bull Innovation Fund and Northeast AgEnhancement.

Extension Educators Recognized

Last week we recognized several of our educators for their contributions to Extension.

Tom Worthley and Mike O'Neill
Tom Worthley receives the Arland Meade Communications Award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Diane Wright Hirsch and Mike O'Neill
Diane Wright Hirsch receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Richard Meinert and Mike O'Neill
Richard Meinert receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Umekia Taylor and Mike O'Neill
Umekia Taylor receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Mike O'Neill and Pam Gray
Pamela Gray receives a longevity award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr
Sarah Bailey and Mike O'Neill
Sarah Bailey receives the Doris Lane Award from Associate Dean Mike O’Neill. Photo: Bonnie Burr

Sarah Bailey received the Doris Lane Award.

Tom Worthley received the Arland Meade Communications Award.

Longevity Awards: Diane Wright Hirsch, Richard Meinert, Umekia Taylor and Pamela Gray.

Thank you all for your service to Extension!

Trail Use: Leave No Trace

trail users on a trail in Connecticut, people walking way into the woods
Photo: Virginia Raff

Connecticut has a wealth of trails for us to enjoy, from state parks and forests to local land trusts. As you’re out there enjoying the trails, it’s key to practice the principles of Leave No Trace.

The seven principles of the Leave No Trace program are:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

For more information on these principles and other resources visit LNT.org.

For more information on trail etiquette, download our brochure.

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.

Beware of Volcano Mulch

volcano mulch around a tree in Storrs, Connecticut is damaging the bark and the tree
Volcano mulch on a tree. Photo: Stacey Stearns

In three short decades, volcano mulch has become one of the greatest threats to newly planted and young trees and shrubs. If unchecked, the significant monetary and human investment in greenscapes will result in more and more dead and dying trees.

Volcano mulch is the over-mulching of plant material, notably trees and shrubs. Mulch plays an important role in protecting plant material from irreversible lawnmower and weed whacker damage as well as providing for some control over weed competition and soil water retention. Seemingly, rings of mulch have also become landscape design features.

While deadly, the problem is simple; people are placing heaps and heaps of mulch around trees and shrubs and right next to the thin, vulnerable bark. The fact is you do not need more than 2-3 inches of mulch in depth for the desired purposes. Mulch should not come closer than 2-3 inches from the plant.  Yet people are piling mulch 6 inches or more, and right on the trunks of the trees, causing damage to life sustaining cambium (the live tissue just below the bark). Beware of volcano mulch in your yard.

Article by Robert Ricard, Ph.D.