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Posts Tagged ‘Mite’

With perennials waking and buds swelling, we feel the call to get outside and reconnect with the earth. Each warm weekend we linger longer in the yard, reveling in the emergence of bulbs and blossoms. Yet, just as we feel the season’s change, so do others in the landscape. They’re out there now, getting busy and quietly enacting plans to take over more territory in your yard.

March is the mitiest month, not because it comes in like a lion, but because it heralds the climax of the smallest nuisances in the yard: Grass mites. And between feeding on the lawn and entering our homes, they’ve launched a campaign of annoyance.

Perhaps the most startling natural phenomenon that happens to many of us in the Front Range is the annual migration of clover mites into our homes. Moving by the hundreds, the tiny, bright orange arachnids clamber walls and slide in around windows.

The first appearance doesn’t raise more than an eyebrow, as one or two crawl across the desk. But then two becomes 10 and slowly that number creeps upward, until the warm day dawns when the mass moves indoors, teeming along the windowsill and streaming to the floor.

Normally, I’m not given to fear-mongering, especially about bugs and arachnids. Clover mites won’t cart off the cat for a luau on the deck. But they leave a red-orange smear once squished, and like a chalk outline around the carcass, reminds me of the crawler each time I see it on paper, book, or curtain. Creepy.

Outside, clover mites feed on turf grass or other plants. They’re unremarkable in the landscape; they don’t damage a lot of the lawn. But when lawns are nestled up against the house, the trouble starts, so plan your landscape to leave a barrier between plants and walls.

Within, controlling these mites is fairly simple. Simply place a quarter inch wide line of powder along the window-sill from side to side, being certain that the powder touches the side walls. This barrier, according to Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, state entomologist and professor at Colorado State University, is enough to stop them in their tracks. Any powder works, such as baby powder, corn starch, or baking powder. As the mites crawl into it, they’re rapidly incapacitated and dry out.

When the powder has gotten filled with mites it will turn a light orange color, a sure sign that it’s time to vacuum it up and apply a fresh barrier. Continue this until May, after the mites are actively entering homes.

As you’re battling mites in the home, keep an eye on the lawn, since more damaging mites are at the peak of feeding for the winter. During warm winters, such as what we’ve had, mite populations explode.

Hatched in October, mite numbers increase into winter. As they feed, rasping off the leaf surface and sucking up tender, interior cells, the damage appears as small yellow speckles on the grass blades. As feeding intensifies, the grass becomes straw colored and eventually dies, leaving large patches that don’t green up in spring. Balmy winter temperatures sets mite metabolisms into overdrive, and by this time of year, populations can reach several thousand per square foot.

This damage is often mis-diagnosed as winterkill or desiccation. If you’ve had mite damaged lawn, take a quick look to see if they’ve returned. Check the base of the plant for congregations of them during the day.

If you see them, irrigate the lawn to raise humidity or check with a local lawn care company for stronger treatments. Snow cover doesn’t put a stop to their feeding, since it provides protection, but as it melts, the moisture helps drive off the mites.

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With apologies to Frank Loesser, his song, Baby It’s Cold Outside, has been running through my head with a few changes:

We really can’t sleigh (baby it’s dry outside)

The warmth’s got to go away  (baby it’s dry outside)

This winter we’ve been (hoping that snow’d drop in)

Not very nice (I’ll warm up the hose, it’s stopped up with ice)

Trees aren’t the only thing that need water in a dry winter – and boy, is it dry.  The federal Climate Prediction Center has said most of the Front Range and all of eastern Colorado is in a moderate drought.  We’ve gotten just a whisper of water since July, so monthly watering of your landscape is a must. 

In a previous post, how to water your trees was described, but lawns, too, need a drink.  “Established lawns will benefit from watering, but the critical ones that need moisture are the ones that are new,” says Dr. Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist with Colorado State University Extension.  If you put down sod after September 15, you should water it. 

Even if you don’t have a new lawn, watering the grass is important, and if you’ve been plagued by lawn mite problems in the past, water that yard soon, he said.  “This is when mite populations start to rise, especially on warm days when they get a little active and frisky.  They’re frisking around, the population starts to rise, and though mites haven’t started to damage the lawn, their potential to do so increases with their numbers.”  Mites prefer bone-dry grass, so hold them at bay with moisture. 

To water a lawn in winter, warm days with temperatures above 45-degrees is a must.  Fortunately we have plenty to choose from, since we’re in the 50’s and 60’s several days per week.

Drag out your hose with a sprinkler, or set the water to a slow trickle.  “The problem is that everything is frozen, but you don’t want water puddling on the lawn.  And the worst thing is forming a layer of ice on it; that really harms the turf.  So it probably won’t take more than a quarter to half-inch of water before you get standing water and puddles.”

Set your timers to tell you when to move the hose or shut off the water.  Most importantly, disconnect the hose from the house before evening so you don’t run the risk of frozen pipes.

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