As our gardening season is winding down, questions to the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteers have been mixed, and they have been really good questions to share with others:
Q: My white pine is losing many needles on the inside, is that normal?
A: White pines, like all needled evergreens, naturally let go of one set of needles a year. It seems to be quite pronounced this year, though very normal.
Q: My lawn and yard have mushrooms all over the place. Should I be worried?
A: Mushrooms show up when we typically have a cool, wet spell that allows the fruiting structure to quickly emerge. It can be as fast as overnight. Mushrooms are decay organisms and can be in landscape mulch, thatch in the lawn, growing from decaying roots (remember that ash tree taken down?). You cannot prevent them though breaking up the landscape mulch will help a lot.
Q: Can I still plant grass seed/lay sod?
A: Good news/bad news on this one. Good for sod, bad for seed. It is too late to ensure any new seeding will be up and mowed 3 to 4 times before the weather shuts us off. It could easily have time to germinate yet, but will not have matured enough to survive the winter. There still should be time for sod.
Q: I am seeing random small holes in my lawn and wonder if I have grubs?
A: We did have an above normal population of Japanese beetles this summer, yet few calls about grubs. For grubs to cause damage there would need to be more than 10 to 12 grubs per square foot. We have not seen those numbers. That does not mean skunks and raccoons have not been digging anyway. Even if there were not enough grubs to damage turf, they are still there for at least a snack. Very recently, squirrels have been very active burying seeds and nuts everywhere and that includes the lawn.
Q: I have what look like ants with wings crawling up my patio door. Hoping for ants, not termites.
A: I have examined several baggies full of what are truly ants with wings. Ants swarm just like bees do, both being social insects. Ants would, of course, normally bring their winged young up and out of the ground outside to fly away to start another colony. On occasion, coming up and out ends up inside the home. They hope to climb up trees, flowers, etc., and let the wind carry them away. An easy identification difference between ants and termites is ants have a pinched waist and termites are "full bodied." Also, ant wings are clear with visible veins and termite wings look like silk, milky and opaque.
Q: Our family loves to use the fireplace, can I store the wood inside where it is easy to get?
A: You should not store more than what you are going use up in a week in a warm indoor location. Insects do not know the difference between the bark on a piece of firewood and that of a standing tree when they are looking for a place for the winter. It normally takes more than a week for an overwintering insect to "come alive" again.