March of the Millipedes
Helpline questions become very interesting and sometimes challenging this time of the year. I spent a day at the OSUE Brown County Office this past week and studied a variety of plants, leaves and bugs.
A small plastic container revealed a very familiar sight to me – curled up Millipedes! Every few years we witness what we call the “March of the Millipedes to Nowhere” in our basement.
Millipedes are common occasional pests that sometimes invade buildings, particularly when the weather turns hot and dry. While millipedes sometimes enter in large numbers, they do not bite, sting, or transmit diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing or dry, structurally sound wood. Millipedes vary in both color and size. The most common species that invades buildings is the “garden millipede”, which is brownish-black in color and about one inch long. Although millipedes are often called “thousand leggers”, they actually have far fewer legs, but each body segment has two pairs of very short legs. When disturbed, millipedes often curl up into a “C” shape and remain motionless. They crawl slowly and protect themselves by secreting a cyanide-like compound that has an unpleasant odor. Even my cat has learned to leave these “stinky” critters alone.
In a recent OSUE Buckeye Yard and Garden Line, Joe Boggs shares that no one entirely understands why this mass “migration” takes place. It has been speculated that millipede stampedes may be in association with mating behavior, or in response to drought or flooding. Fortunately, such mass migrations are short-lived and those that wander into homes will dry out and quickly die becoming easy fodder for vacuum cleaners.
OSUE Fact Sheet HYG-2067A-10, (available on ohioline.edu.osu), states that total control of millipedes during migration periods is difficult, but several insecticides are registered for “perimeter” treatments. The concept is to apply a barrier of insecticide that will either repel or kill the millipedes that try to cross the barriers. Both liquid sprays and granular formulations are available at most garden centers. These products should list millipedes on the label as not all insecticides are able to control these non-insect arthropods. Please be sure to read and follow all label directions carefully!
Other gardening questions for the Helpline? Why is my cucumber vine wilting? Why are the leaves on my Burning Bush turning white and falling off? What is eating the leaves on my Knock-Out Roses? What is this weed that I found growing in my flower bed? Many of these questions will not have one simple answer. Research will often reveal several options for an answer. It is important to share all the facts about your gardening problem.
For example, what happen to the leaves of the Burning Bush? Did they simply turn white, or were there brown spots first? Sharing all the facts will help when we are researching for a possible answer.
What about the mystery weed? The Helpline client pulled the weed and placed it in a plastic cup filled with water. Instead of handling a wilted specimen, this healthy weed made our ID process much simpler. This weed had appeared in a flower bed close to a bird feeder. This prickly weed was a Buffalo bur, sometimes called Kansas thistle and prickly nightshade. This tap rooted annual weed bears long, yellow spines on stems, leaves and flower heads and can grow up to 2 feet high. Drought resistant, its highest occurrence is in dry, exposed soil. The oblong leaves are 2–3 inches long with deep rounded lobes and are covered with very dense, stiff, and sharp spines. Bright yellow flowers can be seen in summer. In the fall, berries up to 3/8 inch in diameter are enclosed in the dried flower parts and are filled with black, wrinkled, flat pitted seeds. Control of this plant is important as it is a host for the Colorado potato beetle. Buffalo bur can be pulled when the soil is moist, but be sure to wear gloves to avoid injury from the spines!
Don’t forget about e-mailing your gardening questions to Mike Hannah at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your phone number when you send your e-mail. Master Gardeners will then contact you with suggestions and important information.
How is your garden faring through this hot weather? I head to the garden every other day now to give all the tomatoes a good drink of water. Tomatoes are starting to ripen, but somehow haven’t made it to the house yet.
There’s nothing quite like the taste of a sun-warmed tomato — especially when it is eaten in the garden!
Faye Mahaffey is an OSUE Brown County Master Gardener volunteer.