There seems to be a day, a week or a month to celebrate everything, from pie to ice cream, and from friends to presidents. Now more visible than ever thanks to social media, different groups use these “national” days to bring awareness to their campaigns or products. Some are downright funny, but others can be serious. Here’s one I bet you didn’t even know about: National Invasive Species Week.
Next week (Feb. 22–27) is National Invasive Species Week. Far from a happy celebration, this is a means to make the public aware of existing invasive pests and to be on the lookout for new ones that are headed our way.
So why should home gardeners care about invasive pests? First, these pests do an amazing amount of damage to our gardens and natural areas. Several tree species are slated for extension in our area due to damaging insects. Invasive plants are taking over areas and making it hard for the native flora to survive. Second, many of these pests are also the ones that find their way into our homes or otherwise make themselves a nuisance.
As a gardener, you should be on the lookout for these pests on your own property so you can correctly identify and control the problem. If it is a pest that has already been established in an area, you’ll want to be able to control it if it comes after your plants. If it is an emerging pest that hasn’t made it to your area yet, early identification is key to keep it from becoming established.
The National Plant Diagnostic Network has a First Detector program for people who want to volunteer to be on the lookout for these emerging pests. If you are interested, visit firstdetector.org. Online training modules are available to those who wish to become a detector.
Problematic and emerging invasive pests
In the past, I’ve featured some invasive plants, such as Japanese knotweed, Japanese stiltgrass, Tree of Heaven and Empress Tree. Now let’s take a look at some insect pests that are causing problems or headed for West Virginia (and other places in the East).
- Hemlock Wooly Adelgid — It’s a weird name, but this insect is no joke. This insect
feeds on native hemlock trees, which are very common in the forests of West Virginia. They attach themselves at the base of the needles and look like little cotton balls. They feed on the sap and will eventually weaken and kill the tree. Efforts have been made to slow their spread, especially in our state parks where the loss of trees can devastate the landscape, but it appears that the disappearance of hemlocks from the forests may be inevitable. You can try to protect individual trees in your landscape with regular treatments with systemic insecticides, but large scale treatment of trees is not sustainable.
- Emerald Ash Borer — This is the bug that many state agencies have tried to limit
through banning the transport of firewood. If you visit a state park, you may have seen a sign about not bringing your own firewood, but buying it from the campground. Unfortunately, not enough people paid attention to those signs, probably thinking it was a money-making scheme. The Emerald Ash Borer has now found its way throughout most of the state and the county-by-county quarantine has been lifted. The larva of this insect enters the base of an ash tree and feeds underneath the bark. It creates channels in the outer layer of the tree and eventually kills the tree. There’s little hope for control of this insect and it is likely that ash trees will also go the route of regional extinction. Like with hemlocks, treatment of individual trees is possible, but would have to be repeated on an annual basis and is not sustainable in the long-term.
- Asian Longhorned Beetle — This is an emerging pest that has not yet been found in West Virginia. National and State agencies are trying to make people aware of this insect so that early detection can help lead to better control, and I don’t blame them. This insect is also a boring insect, but doesn’t just stick to one tree. It will feed on and kill a large number of trees, including ash, birch, elm, maple, poplar and willow. Insects and damage would be most notable in the late summer and fall. If you find it, you should report it to the National Plant Diagnostic Network, the WV Department of Agriculture or your local extension agent or agriculture service provider.