Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

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Barbecue, Popsicles & Nutsedge Control

Yellow Nutsedge in flower.

Ahhh… summer. The ‘official’ start to summer is June 21, but you can bet we have already felt those summer temperatures. The start of summer is more than just about barbecue and popsicles, its also an important date to keep in mind if you are controlling yellow nutsedge.

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Never say never…

I had never been a fan of Brussels sprouts. The only ones I had growing up were bitter, mushy, frozen balls of nasty (can you tell just how much I didn’t like them). I grew up in a house where you took as many bites of a vegetable for every year old you were, Brussels sprout days were really rough.

Enough about my childhood, fast forward to this spring. While shopping for transplants for our garden, there where the dreaded sprouts in the nursery. I let our 2 year old son help me pick out what veges we would grow in our garden and you guessed it, he picked the Brussels sprouts.

Not wanting to dash his dreams of growing the veges he picked out, we got the sprouts. I feel that it is important for my child to grow the vegetables we eat so he can make the connection between the garden and what is on his plate… SO we got the Brussels sprouts.

In terms of vegetables, they are one of the easiest ones I have grown. The only issue we had were the cabbage worms, which were fairly easy to control.

I was told the key to Brussels sprouts was to wait until after the first frost before picking the tiny cabbages. After our first frost, we picked a few sprouts.

The good news about these vegetables is that they can handle the cool temperature until it drops into the 20’s , extending the harvest.

With the impending polar vortex and drop in temperatures, the time had come to harvest the plants.

I removed the sprouts from the stalks, took off the outer leaves, then placed the sprouts in salted water. This is just in case I wasn’t as good at cabbage worm control as I thought.

I consider our Brussels sprout experiment a success. My son might not love them yet, but I have to say they are not as bad as I previously thought. I am having fun trying the sprouts in different recipes.

So never count any vegetables out, and never say never.



Bothersome Boxelder Bugs

Boxelder bugs gathered together on a home's foundation.

Boxelder bugs gathered together on a home’s foundation.

Daylight Savings time is ending and it is time to ‘fall back’ once again. Fall brings about cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and boxelder bugs by the millions. Find out what you can do to help keep these pests from invading your home.

Depending on where you grew up, the boxelder bug can have many names. Some of the more common ones include; maple bug, democrat bug, populist bug, and politician bug. Regardless of what you call them, they are annoying to say the least. The boxelder bug gets one of its common names from its primary host plant, the female boxelder tree. They can also be found on ash, and maple, and occasionally feeding on strawberries, grasses and other plants. The adults are ½ inch long red with black coloration under their wings. This time of the year they begin to cover the south and west sides of homes and try to make entry inside any way possible.

The cycle all begins in the spring. After emerging from overwintering sites, the adult females lay eggs onto the host plants. The bright red nymphs (see the photo), immature bugs, hatch from the eggs in about 2 weeks and begin to feed on plant sap until mid-summer when they mature into adults. The adults lay eggs for a second generation of boxelder bugs. After the second generation matures, the adults seek out warm overwinter sites, to start the cycle over the following spring.

Homeowners become more familiar with these insects in the fall. When looking for overwintering sites, boxelder bugs often find their way into buildings and homes through small cracks and crevices. Once inside the home they are more of a nuisance than anything else. They do not bite, damage food or any items in the home, or reproduce, but they can stain curtains or walls, especially when squished.

Trying to control these insects can feel like a losing battle. While it may be tempting to remove the boxelder trees from the premises, it won’t control all of your problems. The adults are good flyers and can still invade homes from considerable distances from the host plants. The plants are rarely injured seriously enough to justify insecticidal control, but using an insecticide spray on the nymphs can reduce the number that reaches maturity. The most commonly used control method is to use an integrated approach of sealing cracks and crevices and to use a perimeter spray around the exterior foundation and thresholds of the home.

Once they are inside the home, the vacuum cleaner will be the best technique for control. To keep from having to dump or change the vacuum cleaner bag after every use, place a knee high panty hose or trouser sock over the end of the hose before you put on the attachment end. This ‘trap’ collects the insects so they don’t have to go all the way through the vacuum and helps to keep your machine from smelling like boxelder bugs and multi-colored Asian lady beetles every time you turn it on.

Just like the boxelder bugs it’s time to start preparing for winter and get ready to emerge in the spring to start all over again.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Don’t Forget the Fruit

Apple tree.  Photo courtesy

Apple tree. Photo courtesy

You know the saying; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even though apple and other fall fruit harvest is nearing its end, that doesn’t mean that the work is over. Fall sanitation is a key part of fruit management. A little extra work now could ensure a successful growing season next year.

Make sure your fruit trees are ready for the winter to come. Start by making sure that your tree goes into winter with an adequate amount of moisture. The recommendation for trees is to have about 1” of supplemental water per week. This is about enough water to get the top 8” of the soil moist. Fruit trees do not require much fertilization, especially in the fall. As long as the fruit tree is planted in a healthy soil, it will not require fertilization. In the fall we want trees to go dormant, not produce more growth, which is why we avoid fertilizing trees in the fall.

Fruit trees can benefit from good fall sanitation. Healthy fallen fruits or leaves can be collected and placed in the compost pile. Removal of rotting dropped fruit as well as diseased fruit and leaves will help decrease the potential for pathogens to infect next year’s crop. Fruit mummies, dried fruits that remained on the branch, and diseased fruits and leaves should be picked up and thrown away, not put into the compost pile or worked into the soil. Branches that were infected with fire blight and other bacterial or fungal cankers should be removed and disposed of as well.

Protect your fruit trees now for pesky critters. Mow the grass under the tree and as close to the trunk as you can get without causing damage. This will remove good overwintering sites for rodents. Also, be on the lookout for rodent paths or holes where they burrow and use the desired form of control. Before the ground freezes, consider protecting the tree as well. A well-constructed rabbit fence will help to protect smaller trees from becoming a bunny’s next meal. Be sure that the fence is not only 15-18” tall, just in case we get snow, but it also should be buried in the ground 6” to keep the rascals from trying to dig under.

Strawberries could also benefit from a little care before winter. Thinning plants, providing adequate moisture throughout the fall, and mulching in late fall are all important fall care practices. Thin strawberry plants in mid-October and aim for a spacing of five to seven plants per square foot to help allow optimum fruit production the following year. Remove small and weak plants as well as any new runners or daughter plants that have not rooted down yet.

Mulching strawberry plants is another good practice to use. Winter mulch will help prevent or reduce winter damage to the crowns and flower buds of the plants. Wait to mulch strawberries until late November or early December, after the soil has frozen at a depth of ½ an inch or the airtime temperatures have dropped into the 20’s. Mulch applied too early in the fall can delay hardening off, which can lead to the plants being more susceptible to winter injury and possibly crown rot. Mulches that work well for strawberries can include wood chips, pine straw, newspapers, coarse sawdust, clean straw or hay, or any loose mulch that will not compact heavily. Leave the mulch on the plants until the new growth begins, usually in mid-April.

There are a few steps you can take to decrease the spread of pathogens. Machinery and tools should be disinfected on a regular basis and when they come into contact with infected plant material. Steam, hot water under pressure, or a 10% bleach solution can be used to disinfect. Before and after pruning out diseased branches, disinfect pruners and loppers to keep from spreading diseases.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Weeds In the Garden: A Blessing or a Curse?



All things considered, it’s been a good year for the home gardener. No doubt some of you with gardens are being buried by the amount of produce. Before too long the zucchini fairy will start leaving ‘gifts’ on the door steps of neighbors and friends. The weeds are thriving just like the rest of the garden and we still have a long garden season ahead of us. Find out what you can do to keep your garden weed-free up until frost.

The biggest problems for most vegetable gardeners include bugs, diseases, weather, and most commonly, weeds. A weed by definition is a plant out of place. In the vegetable garden, that can mean any plant that isn’t eaten eventually. Proper identification of the plant ensures that you are removing the ‘weed’ and not pulling up the garden crop you worked so hard to get to grow. The best time to control weeds is when they are seedlings, but that doesn’t always happen. It is important not to let the weeds go to seed, which can make future weed problems worst in the long run. One shepherd’s purse plant can produce 38,500 seeds in a single growing season and one redroot pigweed can produce 117,400 tiny seeds in a year.

There are several methods that can be used in the war on weeds. Mechanical control, chemical control, and mulching are three common methods used to combat weeds in the vegetable garden. Mechanical control can mean a wide variety of methods, all of which manually disrupt the growth of the weed. Rotary hoes, wheel hoes, powered garden tillers can work in those areas between wide rows and those areas where weeds are winning the war. Hand pulling or using hand tools may be needed closer to the crop. Pulling early and pulling often is the motto for most vegetable gardeners when it comes to weeds. If the weeds have gotten away from you and they are starting to set seeds, more drastic measures may need to be taken…the lawn mower. Mow off the weeds before their seeds fully mature. Mowing short on a hot summer day is enough to set the weeds back enough to buy some time for you to try to regain control, or even kill them in some instances.

Carefully selected herbicides are another option for weed control in the vegetable garden. An early season choice for the vegetable garden would include preemergence products that contain trifluralin, like Preen Garden Weed Preventer, or corn gluten meal, like in Preen Vegetable Garden Organic Weed Preventer. These products keep the weed seeds from germinating, or sprouting. Use caution in areas where you want to direct seed garden crops as they can also keep your garden seeds from germinating as well.

Herbicide control on already emerged weeds can get be a little more risky. Some post emergence herbicides like those that contain 2,4-D can volatilize into the air and cause damage to sensitive crops like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. If you do select a post emergent herbicide for the vegetable garden, be sure that the labeled for use in the garden and follow the label’s instructions.

Monitoring weeds before they get out of control is easier said than done. Watch for weeds, apply preemergence herbicides early in the season, scout throughout the season, and pull weeds often. If all else fails, just remember some weeds are edible making them a tasty addition to the garden.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


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Enjoy Roses: flowers, thorns, bugs and all

No doubts about it, roses were hit hard this winter. Whether you had hybrid tea roses or the tough-as-nails shrub roses, they all took a beating. Don’t let your roses suffer any more damage this summer, be on the lookout now and catch these common rose problems.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles are a common pest of roses. They will feed on most anything, but they have a love for roses. These insects are related to the May/June beetle and can be a major pest of roses. The immature form of the beetle is a grub that can do some damage to turfgrass. The adults hungrily devour roses and cause the most feeding damage. The front of this beetle is a dark metallic green and the wing covers are a dark tan or coppery color. The main identifying characteristics for these beetles are five small tufts of white hair along each side of the insect. They feed in clusters during the day on leaves or on the blooms. Adult Japanese beetles can cause the leaves to have a skeletonized appearance, ragged holes, or in some instances, the leaves are completely eaten.

Rose Chafers

Rose Chafers

Rose chafers are another beetle pest of roses. The adult beetles are slender, 1/2 inch long, and are light tan colored. They lack the tufts of hair that the Japanese beetles have. The long burnt-orange legs are the distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart, as they clumsily walk around. The adults feed on the foliage and flowers of roses, while the larvae feed on roots of grasses and alfalfa. Adults may feed together and can cause skeletonized leaves or ragged holes in the flowers.        

There are a few ways that you can control Japanese beetles and rose chafers on roses. If the infestation is light, hand picking is an option. Pick the beetles off in the early morning and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. There are also some deterrents that can be used like neem oil. Several insecticides are labeled for control of these pests with active ingredients like carbaryl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos. Keep in mind that these beetles are mobile and often new beetles take the place of those killed by insecticides. Try to avoid applying the products to the flowers or during times when bees are present because they can harm honeybees.

Black Spot on Roses- photo courtesy IANR Pubs

Black Spot on Roses- photo courtesy IANR Pubs

Some disease names lack imagination. Black spot of roses is one of those. This fungal disease causes the rose leaves to turn yellow then develop black spots, hence the name black spot of roses. The leaves that are affected might fall off, which can affect the appearance of the shrub. It can also reduce plant vigor, cause stunted growth, and increase the chance of winter kill. The fungal spores overwinter on fallen leaves and diseased canes. Rain splash or sprinkler impact easily spreads the spores onto healthy new plant material.    

Prevention is the best method for dealing with black spot. Following good sanitation practices like cleaning up rose beds in the fall will make sure to get rid of any old plant debris that could overwinter spores. Replacing old mulch with new, if black spot was a problem in the past in that location, as well as looking for and selecting rose varieties that are resistant to black spot will help to reduce or eliminate the need for a spray program.

Fungicides are another option for black spot control. For best results, most fungicide applications should be applied preventatively to healthy foliage to keep the leaves from becoming infected. Throughout the growing season, infected leaves should be removed as soon as symptoms begin to appear. On plants with a history of black spot, fungicides can begin to be applied as soon as the foliage begins to emerge in the spring and continued throughout the summer. Read and follow label instructions for application and reapplication recommendations. For best results, a fungicide should be used in combination with good cultural and sanitation practices.

With a keen eye, you can catch these issues before they become a pest in your rose bed.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Tomatoes vs. Herbicide

Tomato with herbicide damage

Tomato with herbicide damage

You say tomato, I say tomato…regardless of your pronunciation, tomatoes are a seasonal favorite in the backyard vegetable garden. Tomatoes have their fair share of seasonal issues and problems. Being observant can help you decide what route is best to take.

Weeds are nothing more than a plant out of place. Other people may have more choice words for these pests, but we all try to control them the best that we can. In the vegetable garden weeds seem to grow twice as fast as in the neighbor’s yard. There are several methods that you can use to help control the pesky weeds before they become a major problem. The simplest method that requires the least amount of equipment is hand pulling. This works best on the weeds before they reach full maturity. To make it easier on you, water the area before you try to pull up the weeds. The mud makes pulling easier and allows you to get a bigger portion of the root with each tug. Solarization of the garden is another non-chemical method you can try. Place clear plastic over the area where the weeds are an issue and secure the edges. Allow the weeds to ‘bake’ under the plastic for 45 days in the peak of the summer season, which means you miss out on this years’ gardening season.

Herbicides are another option for controlling weeds. Preemergence herbicides work best to help control pesky annual weeds. These herbicides will also keep garden seeds from sprouting and shouldn’t be used in areas where plants are direct seeded in the garden. Preemergence herbicides are best if they are used in areas that will be transplanted into, the plants have already sprouted and the herbicide won’t affect the transplants. If grasses in the garden are an issue, a product specifically designed to control grass, like Over-The-Top, or glyphosate product, like Round-Up, can help. Apply the products only to the weeds themselves, not the garden plants. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide and will damage whatever plant material it is applied to. Be sure to read and follow all label instructions prior to applying the herbicides. Make sure they are labeled for use on the weeds that you have and that they are labeled for use in the garden.

photo 4Use caution when using certain types of herbicides around the garden. Some broadleaf weed herbicides such as 2,4-D are volatile, especially during hot weather, and may drift across the yard or even from adjacent yards in concentrations sufficient to cause injury. If possible, avoid applying this herbicide for weed control during summer months to escape injury to non-target plants. Tomatoes are one of the more sensitive plants to 2,4-D injury. Herbicide drift on tomatoes appears as leaves that are cupped, thickened, distorted or leathery, and which develop an uncharacteristic fan shape. The youngest foliage is often the most sensitive to the drift and will show the symptoms before the older foliage. If herbicide is suspected, inspect other plants in the area. Herbicide injury will typically be found on more than one type of plant. Other herbicide-sensitive plants include potato, pepper, grape and redbud and they will also show twisting or distortion. Whether or not long term injury will occur is difficult to evaluate. There is no way to know how much herbicide the plant received. We cannot recommend that affected produce from vegetables is safe to eat if it was exposed to herbicide drift. This is especially true for those vegetables that were on the plant at the time of the exposure.

With a little bit of caution now you really can have it all. You can control weeds in the garden, have your tomatoes and eat them too.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Ants or Termites?

Spring is officially here. Trees are blooming, grass is greening up, and the insects are beginning to swarm. Ants will begin swarming…or wait are they termites? Knowing the difference between these insects can make a difference in whether you let them be or if you should be concerned.

Positive identification of the pest is crucial in knowing if control measures need to be taken. Both ants and termites can swarm outdoors in the spring; don’t automatically think when you see a swarm of insects that you have termites on your hands. There are a few distinguishing characteristics to help you quickly identify a swarm of ants from a swarm of termites. Ants have two pairs of wings. The front wing is slightly longer than the rear wing. When you look closely at the antenna, they will have ‘elbows’. Another characteristic to look for is the waist. Ants have a pinched waist between their second and third body segments. . Swarming ants can have wings to help them move the colony from place to place. Once they get to a location that they find suitable, they clip their wings off and look like ‘normal’ ants again.

Termites have a slightly different appearance. Termites also have two sets of wings, but both wings in the set are the same length and of equal size. The antenna of the termite is also slightly different than that of an ant. The antenna of a termite is straight, as opposed to elbowed like that of an ant. The waist of the termite is also different. Termites have a broad waist between their second and third body segments.

After properly identifying the pest, you can then select the control method. There are about a dozen ant species associated with homes in Nebraska. In the spring, ants often find their way into homes before food is available outdoors. Once an ant finds a suitable food source, it alerts all of its friends. It might make you feel good to kill the one scout ant, but there will be others. To get a good control of the ant population, you have to control the colony. There are three methods that you can use to control the colony. You can find the colony yourself and treat it. This approach may not be as easy as it sounds, especially if the colony is in the wall or under a concrete slab. Baits are another approach to treating for ants. Most of the ready-to-use baits work well on the sweet-loving ants, but some prefer protein. If the sweet-baits aren’t being eaten or don’t seem to be working, try a protein based bait. The last approach is to contact a licensed pest control company. They are able to apply a perimeter spray to help control the ants.

Termite control is a different story. A swarm of termites on the ground near the house doesn’t automatically mean you have a termite infestation, but it doesn’t hurt to have the home checked by a professional. The products that are on the market for termites should be applied by a licensed pest control operator.

I am sure you never thought you would have to look at the waist of an insect for proper identification, but you will be glad you did in the long run.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:


Variety, cultivar, hybrid, heirloom… what terms mean

Decisions, decisions. Red or yellow? Determinate or indeterminate tomatoes? Hybrids, varieties, or heirloom plants? The answer you get depends on what you want to do with the plant.

There are many choices when it comes to what you put into your garden. The vegetables you select for the garden are there because you or someone in the family likes them, but they should have specific characteristics that make it valuable to have them there in the first place. You should look beyond the bottom dollar price and make your decisions based upon several characteristics.

Variety, cultivar, hybrid, heirloom… what do all of these terms mean? The terms variety and cultivar are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Variety is a naturally occurring variation of individual plants within a species. The distinguishing characteristics are reproducible in offspring. One common example is the thornless honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermus. It is a naturally occurring thornless honeylocust. Cultivar comes from the term ‘cultivated variety.’ These plants are selected through specific hybridization, plant selection, or mutation, to achieve specific characteristics or traits. An example of a cultivar is Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ or Husker Red penstemon. ‘Husker Red’ was a particular selection of penstemon that was picked for its red foliage and white blooms. Hybrids are crosses between two species or distinct parent lines and can be developed from a series of crosses between parents. Seeds saved from hybrids usually don’t ‘come true from seed’ meaning seeds saved and planted from hybrids won’t yield the exact same fruit as the year before. One of my favorite tomatoes, ‘Sungold,’ is an example of a hybrid. These plants were specifically bred for their size, color, crack and disease resistance. Lastly there are the heirlooms. These plants are varieties that are the result of natural selection that has been in cultivation for 50 years or more.   Seeds saved from heirloom varieties will ‘come true from seed’ and you will have the same plant as the previous year. One of the more popular heirloom tomatoes is the Brandywine. Often these plants may have the best flavor, but they often lack the disease resistance that the hybrids offer.

Why do hybrids often cost more than varieties? The major reason for the price difference between hybrids and standard varieties all comes down to time. The higher price is related to the amount of time that it takes to produce new hybrids. The carefully selected parent plants must be cross-pollinated by hand to produce offspring with the desirable characteristics. Then the seeds from those crosses have to be grown out and the plants have to then be evaluated to ensure that the resulting plants have the right combination of characteristics. The breeder then has to produce enough seeds to sell to meet the demand. Open-pollinated varieties are planted in a field and then Mother Nature does the work moving the pollen around. The fruits are then harvested and the seeds are collected.

Your expectations of the plants can help you decide which type of plant to select. Gardeners who want to harvest seeds from this years’ garden to plant next year, might want to stick with open pollinated varieties or heirlooms. Hybrids offer improved disease resistance and are more adapted to environmental stresses. If you buy fresh seed every year and you want the most productive, least problem prone garden, hybrids are probably the way to go.

With a little background information, hopefully your decisions just got a little easier.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

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Raskly Rabbits and Lil’ Stinkers

This year’s temperatures so far have been a rollercoaster.  In a matter of a week we went from higher than average temperatures to subzero temperatures.  That type of temperature fluctuation is not only hard on us; it is also hard on our landscapes.  Take advantage of the warm weather while its here and be on the lookout for a few potential problems in the landscape.  Remember that gardeners aren’t the only ones that are ready for spring.

While the snow was on the ground, pesky critters were at work.  Rabbits have been hard at work munching on your landscape plants during the winter.  Rabbits will feed on pencil sized branches and will leave a clean 45 degree angle cut.  They can also strip the bark from around the base of trees and shrubs as high as 3 feet tall.  Cottontails may be cute, but if there is heavy enough feeding, they can cause some serious damage.  Fencing the plants that are the most commonly munched by rabbits will keep them from becoming lunch.  Be sure to bury the fence at least 1 foot in the ground and have it stand at least 2 feet tall.

Voles are a little harder to spot in the winter.  Voles are small creatures that look like a short-tailed mouse.  They make runways between the turf and the snow cover that are about 1-2 inches wide.  Once the snow is melted it looks like a tiny maze of runways zigzagging between plant material.  In the areas of the runways, the turf will be nipped off close to the crown of the plant.  Normally, the turf will repair itself in the spring and the damage isn’t permanent.  If the feeding is excessive, the turf can be over seeded in those areas.  Voles can also eat away at the green inner bark of trees and shrubs just like rabbits.  If the feeding damage is great enough, it can kill young trees and shrubs.  If severe damage is noticed, allow the wound to remain open to the elements and breathe.  Avoid covering the damaged areas with tree wraps or wound dressings and paints.  Voles also steal bulbs from the ground and eat them.  If your prized tulip doesn’t come up this spring, blame the voles.

What’s black with white stripes and is a stinker?  You guessed it, the skunk.  The well-known smell is enough to warn any passerby of its presence.  Skunks are active from dusk until dawn and feed on a wide range of insects.  Skunks can cause damage to turf while digging for their next meal.  Since they don’t feed on landscape plants, why do you need to know about skunks now?  We are in the prime mating season of the skunk.  Males will travel up to 5 miles in search of females, many times over our lovely highways.  Females will have a litter of 4-6 pups which are with mom until the fall.

Some critters have been busy this winter munching and snacking.  Check your landscape plants to see if there is any damage left behind from these critters and try to steer clear of our little smelly friends, the mating season will soon be over.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: