Beneficial Mexican honey wasp nest
In San Antonio, Mark Harris spotted this beach-ball sized, papery-looking nest near the top of a tree, home to hundreds of flying insects. Should he be concerned about them?
Entomologist Wizzie Brown from Travis County Extension tells us that these Mexican honey wasps are not very aggressive and often ignore human activity. They’re also beneficial pollinators and can feed on harmful insects. You’ll most often notice the nests when deciduous trees lose their leaves.
Writer and Texas Master Naturalist Sheryl Smith-Rodgers documented the relocation of one beneficial colony to her Texas Wildscape habitat garden. Read all about it and learn more about Mexican honey wasps.
If you’re looking to add more native plants this year, it’s the perfect time to plant American beautyberry, a native understory small shrub for part shade. Deciduous in winter, its late spring flowers attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. And in fall, American beautyberry provides a plethora of purple or white berries to feed birds and small mammals.
As we prepare our planting beds for a new season, should we do a soil test? Soil tests determine nutrient levels, so you only need one if you’re trying to decide how to fertilize. If you have natives or well adapted plants, you may never need to fertilize them, in which case, a soil test isn’t necessary. One important note: it’s not just soil fertility but soil type that determines what will grow successfully for you. Some plants prefer well-drained, even rocky locations, while others need deeper or heavier soil, for more water-holding capacity. Be sure you know what type of soil you have in your landscape before you plant.
Another question we often get: What’s the difference between compost and mulch? And the answer is, mostly: time. Mulch is relatively large aggregate organic matter, used to protect the soil from evaporation. Compost is much smaller aggregate organic matter that has broken down over time, due to the activity of microbes. Compost can be used as mulch, but those smaller particles break down even further rather quickly, while mulch will break down more slowly. It’s best to incorporate compost to the soil when planting, where it assists with water and nutrient-holding capacity. Or, you can add a thin layer on top of soil each season, underneath any new mulch that you apply.
Many people often wonder about just exactly what I do, as an Extension horticulturist. The Extension Service exists to help educate community residents on various topics, encouraging the adoption of best management practices. As a horticulturist, my focus is to help people with issues surrounding landscape practices and gardening.
Get Travis County Extension planting lists, workshops and events, and Master Gardener information right here!