Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wet December ‘Good’ for the Home and Garden?

New Zealand’s North Island and Upper South Island suffered one the wettest Decembers on record in 2011. January has begun in a similar fashion and the weather pattern is set to continue for the first two of weeks of 2012 at least. The wet weather has influenced the levels of many pests and diseases in homes and gardens.
Common insect pests such as cockroaches thrive in moist humid conditions. They normally have to hide in cracks and crevices to keep from drying out during hot dry summers, but with the recent wet conditions they are able to travel from building to building more easily. It is likely that people will encounter many new cockroach infestations this summer.

Flies breed in decaying animal and vegetable matter and as decay is accelerated and flies survive longer in warm moist conditions, fly numbers are consequently well above normal.  It is a good time to ‘top up’ your fly proofing or applying the insecticide now if you have not already. See my previous blog How to Fly Proof Your Home.
In the garden the biggest threats are from weeds, diseases and aphids.
Weed seeds continue to germinate and grow rapidly in soil with high moisture levels. They quickly spread and strangle garden plants. At a time of year when the weed threat is usually diminishing weeds are giving gardeners an on-going battle to keep them under control.
Fungal diseases such as rusts, blackspot, brown rot, sooty mould and mildew are more prevalent in damp warm conditions. The wet leaves encourage fungal growth and many fungal spores are spread by water splashing from leaf to leaf.
Greenfly and other aphids usually reduce in numbers after the holiday when drier weather reduces numbers and more mature plants are better able to resist the sap sucking insect pests. The continued growth of plants and weeds with plenty of sap is meaning that sap suckers are surviving longer and damaging more garden plants. It may also be the case that the rain is discouraging to gardeners, so they don’t to get into the garden to get rid of weeds and protect garden plants from insect pests and disease.
However, the wet weather is not all bad news. Some pest numbers are reduced in these conditions. Ants in places where heavy rain has caused flooding are drowned out of nests and when the water recedes the ants must put their energy into rebuilding the nest before beginning breeding again. Wasp numbers are likely to be reduced this year compared to the high levels of last year. Wasp nests can be affected by flooding and a proportion of their food comes from the honeydew produced by sap sucking scale insects. The honey dew gets washed away in wet weather and so wasps will have had less food so far this year, keeping the population lower.
NIWA and the Met Service are still predicting that warmer weather in February and if this happens it may still change the range of pests and diseases we will be fighting around our homes and gardens for the second half of summer.
A man walks into an Auckland bar. The barman asks “Have you had a good summer?”
The man replies “Yes. We had a barbecue that afternoon.”

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