Warm winter may present home and garden challenges
by Matt Shinall
Jan 13, 2013 | 1963 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As winter temperatures reached the low 70s Saturday, the unseasonably warm weather provided not only an opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts, but it may well provide a foothold for weeds and insects.

A mild winter last year is believed to have led to increased insects over the summer, including an outbreak of West Nile Virus spread by mosquitos. Other consequences of warm winter weather may simply lead to home and garden nuisances, for which Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese offered advice.

“There’s always a chance that you can see a resurgence of certain insects, but a lot of people don’t think about weeds in your lawn and pastures. Weeds can sometimes come out and be a problem in early winter,” Pugliese said. “They’re going to grow out more quickly and compete, whether it be with your lawn grass or the forage you’re growing for livestock and they’re much more likely to flower and go to seed earlier too.”

Given just a few days of warm weather, weeds can get the head start they need to propagate themselves in the spring and summer. Now may be the time to spray if rain holds off, which is not in the forecast. While mild weather will continue with highs in the 50s, the National Weather Service is calling for rain through Wednesday.

“The timing on when you’re trying to control these weeds may also be an issue, because once a lot of these weeds go to flower, you’ve already missed the window of opportunity because they’ve already set seeds and they’re going to come back next year with a vengeance,” Pugliese said. “The problem with spraying herbicides in the winter is that sometimes it’s too cold. Herbicides need some warm days to work on those weeds and kill them. If we’re 65-70 degrees you can spray and it’ll definitely work. So that’s very unusual to be able to do that this time of year, but of course the catch there is that some of these warm days are associated with rain, which is counterproductive for your herbicides.”

Outside of weeds and insects, Pugliese warns against pruning too early, which is a temptation faced after a warm spell comes along before winter is over.

“A lot of plants may start budding out or leafing out early if we continue to have warm weather,” Pugliese said. “People always want to prune their trees and shrubs in the winter, but I tell people to wait until late February or early March, right before bud break or spring really pushes out those new leaves, because occasionally we do get these warm spells in the wintertime and if plants start budding out prematurely you’ll actually get some winter kill on things that may typically be cold hearty.

“If you prune them too early, you’re taking off a lot of those buds that may be able to come back a second time and you wind up having to take off more later because of damage from the cold.”

For homeowners facing pest control problems, Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators released a statement with the five pests expected to cause problems this year:

Ants: Ants continue to be one of the most common pests that invade homes. With over 700 species in the U.S. alone and all requiring different methods of treatment, ants are also one of the most difficult for homeowners to control without professional assistance.

Stink Bugs and Kudzu Bugs: Originally only a problem in a few states, both of these pests have now moved into many states across the country. From the same family of insects, Stink Bugs and Kudzu Bugs make their biggest appearances in the spring and fall. While they don’t transmit diseases, bite or sting, these “stinky” pests do emit a strong odor when frightened, disturbed or squashed and they can damage clothing, furniture and other fabrics with their droppings. Homeowners should always check themselves and their personal belongings before entering the home and make sure all screens on doors and windows are in good repair and all exterior cracks and crevices are sealed.

Termites: Termites continue to be one of the most significant threats to property across the U.S. They cause nearly $5 billion in property damage, more than fires and storms combined, and the damage is rarely covered by homeowners insurance.

Rodents: Mild temperatures also have provided an abundant food source and the perfect breeding conditions for many types of rodents across our area. These common intruders can transmit diseases, cause real damage inside a home and often bring with them other pests like fleas, ticks and mites. They also reproduce very quickly making them nearly impossible to control without the help of a professional.

Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are a constant battle in our area for most of the year. While they are most known for the red, itchy welts they leave behind on their victims, they can also transmit diseases such as West Nile Virus and Encephalitis. They only need very small amounts of stagnant water to breed and take just seven to 10 days to develop from egg to adult.