We are Colorado Master Gardeners volunteering at the Jefferson County CSU Extension Office. We hope you will enjoy our writings and learn something about gardening along the Front Range in Colorado. If you have questions, email us at email@example.com
It’s the time of year when certain creatures are looking for a winter home. And your house, dear gardener is probably a nice snug choice for many of them. Everything from field mice to spiders, crickets, and lady bugs are hunting for a spot to over winter.
If you are like me, you can share your home with a few spiders; a cricket might be welcomed if they wouldn’t sing, but no to mice, and definitely no to box elder bugs. The box elder bug is arguably the biggest insect nuisance we get complaints about. They will cover the outside of homes, patios, concrete walls, sheds, on the south and west sides where the sun shines all through fall and winter. If you have a box elder bug problem, you have thousands of them. Their goal is to get inside your house and spend the winter. They come in cracks, through vents, crevices, gaps in windows and doors. Once inside, they crawl and fly about your home; accumulating around light fixtures and making an extreme nuisance of themselves. While they don’t bite or damage anything, they can spot your curtains and walls, and can leave a stain and stink if you smash ‘em!
Once spring comes, these critters leave your house and find the nearest female box elder tree and lay eggs in the cracks in the bark; and it starts all over again. The young insect loves to eat the leaves of the box elder tree.
If you have a box elder bug problem, you have a female box elder tree nearby. To completely get rid of the problem, tree removal may be an option, depending on the extent of the invasions.
Control is not simple but here are a few tips:
• Insect proof your home by caulking, screening, sealing cracks, etc.
• Check all screens and storm doors and see that they fit snuggly.
• Clean up yard clutter as the bugs will use stored firewood, stacks of lumber, as shelter
• Pour boiling water on small masses of bugs. Do not scald yourself!
• Spray the bugs with a mild liquid soap solution; be careful as may cause vegetation damage.
• Suck them up with a vacuum cleaner, throw bag away as they will stink.
• Spray with household insecticide.
The bad news is, all these measures will only provide temporary relief. They will continue to try to come in on warm days in the fall and winter and could hang around until May.
If you are one of "those" gardeners who could not bear to throw away your poinsettia or Christmas cactus last year; and you are entertaining the notion of these plants flowering in time for the holiday season, you need to take certain steps now. My assumption is that you took proper care of the plant during the spring and summer and it is looking pretty fine right now.
To force the poinsettia into bloom*, give it 14 hours of complete, uninterrupted darkness every night for six weeks, beginning in early October. Your poinsettia must be kept completely, completely dark from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. Put a bag or a box over it and put it in a closet that you will not open. Start this treatment right now and plan on continuing until about December 15. Once the color starts to show, continue darkness until the bracts are almost fully opened. Temperatures should be no less than 55°F at night, but not more than 70°F. During the day give the poinsettia as much sunlight as possible. Of course, you will continue to water regularly and very lightly fertilize the plant. Don’t forget to bring the plant back into the light every morning.
Do the exact same thing with Christmas cactus except they need to be cool at night; 50 degrees is ideal; perhaps a dark garage and again no light at all.
Good luck, dear gardener, I hope you have blooms galore. As for me, I am not one of "those" gardeners. I love the feeling of purging that comes from throwing the dusty old plants away. I am always ready for the holidays to end and having these plants sitting around depresses me. I will purchase a new lush plant at the garden center in December, enjoy it through the holidays and take great pleasure in heaving it into the compost heap on January 1!
*The red, yellow, or pink on the poinsettia plant is not really a bloom as such. It is a bract or leaf that changes color with the introduction of darkness. The flower is the little bitty yellow in the center of the bract.