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Landscape Message: Dec 4, 2015

Dec 4, 2015

UMass Extension's Landscape Message is an educational newsletter intended to inform and guide Green Industry professionals in the management of our collective landscape. Scouts compile and record environmental and phenological data for locations throughout Massachusetts to aid in the monitoring of plant and pest development, the planning of management strategies, and the creation of site-specific records for future reference.  Detailed reports from Extension specialists on growing conditions, pest activity, and cultural practices for the management of woody ornamentals, trees, and turf are regular features. UMass Extension has updated the following issue to provide timely management information and the latest regional news and environmental data.

Happy Holidays and welcome to the final Landscape Message for 2015, thanks for a great season!  The message will be on winter hiatus in January and February.  New messages for the 2016 growing season will resume in March.  To receive immediate notification when the next Landscape Message update is posted, be sure to join our e-mail list.

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Scouting Information by Region

Regional Notes

Cape Cod Region (Barnstable)

General Conditions: Overall, November has seen both above average temperatures and a lot of rain! Since November 4, 5.77 inches have been recorded in the rain gauge in Marstons Mills. Temperatures have ranged from a high of 69º F on November 6 to a low of 23º F overnight on November 23. There have been some chilly and dismal days but also many sunny days with above average temperatures for this time of year. Most tender vegetation has been blackened and killed for this growing season, although in some sheltered locations, there are still some plants in bloom. Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ was observed still in bloom in Hyannis on December 2! The weather has been good for fall clean-ups and lawns are still growing.

Pests/Problems: Winter moths were first observed on the evening of November 16, with increasing numbers emerging continuing up to the present. It appears to be a heavy year for the winter moth flight, which doesn’t bode well for spring.

Southeast Region (Hanson)

General Conditions: Hanson received 3.8 inches of much needed rain and there is still a deficit for the year. Remind clients to water newly planted trees and shrubs, in the absence of rain, until the ground freezes. Early November daytime temperatures were warm, 60’s and a few 70’s, dropping to the 50’s and 40’s toward the mid and latter part of the month. Fall foliage color and flowering plants like Aconitum, Corydalis, landscape roses, Lamium, and Chrysanthemums remained well into November until a deep freeze of 22 degrees. Now most of the leaves have fallen, including the oaks. According to weather reports, November was one of the warmest on record and it was also very dry. Boston is 9 inches below normal for rainfall and other areas have similar deficits. Fall cleanups and plantings continue and lawns remain green.

Pests/Problems: Winter moths slowly began to emerge around November 4th and really became noticeable around November 10-12 with the rain and warm weather (50’s daytime; 40’s nighttime). Staff, from Dr. Joe Elkinton’s UMass lab, band trees for egg collecting in West Bridgewater, MA, Hanson, MA and Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, MA. At these sites, the bands are placed on one tree and as the bands fill with winter moths, they are collected and replaced with new bands. The winter moth numbers this year are high at these three sites: banding of one tree in West Bridgewater MA has trapped 886 female winter moths; 874 female moths on the tree in Hanson and 1,475 at Wompatuck State Park! Each female can lay approximately 300-350 eggs. So, that would be over 400,000+ winter moth eggs on that the one tree in Wompatuck, so far! The moths usually continue to emerge for several more weeks, so the egg count will go higher. Dr. Elkinton’s staff bands trees in other parts of the state as well, and more information will be available as the “winter moth” season progresses. Deer ticks remain active, especially on warmer days and may be active and attach, any time the temperatures are above freezing and they are not covered by snow. The “fall invaders”, spiders, Western conifer seed bugs, boxelder bugs, and ladybugs continue to seek shelter indoors. Turkeys have been seen wandering around the land, as well as deer, which have started to browse.

North Shore Region (Beverly)

General Conditions: The month of November was warmer than normal for this time of the year. Day temperatures were in the 50s with a few days in the 60s. Temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded on three days in the first week in November. Night temperatures were in the 40s and high 30s. Temperatures below the freezing point were recorded for 9 days during this month. A total of 88 growing degree days were accumulated, and November was also unusually dry with only a total of 1.5 inches of rain recorded for the whole month at Long Hill. Most of the rain (1.02 inches) occurred on November 22nd. The few plants observed in bloom include: American Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), hardy fall blooming cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium), and Daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii). Asian witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica) was observed in bloom earlier in the month. Because of the warm fall, sporadic blooming of spring rhododendrons was observed at Long Hill. Most of the deciduous trees have shed their leaves except for some oak trees that still have some brown leaves on them. November was a busy month for many landscapers raking leaves and doing other activities for fall clean up.

Pests/Problems: Moths were observed flying at night under street and house lights. Squirrels were observed at Long Hill gathering piles of cedar berries at the base of the trees, hopefully for winter storage.

East Region (Boston)

General Conditions: November was a much warmer month than usual as temperatures averaged a couple degrees above normal. High temperatures during the first week (Nov 1st to 7th) ranged from 62º F to 75º F with the highs on the 5th and 6th reaching 73º F and 75º F respectively, almost 20º F above typical November weather. The average high was 55.9º F and the average low was 37.9º F. The last week of November, temperatures dropped and on the 30th, we reached a high of only 37º F – April 9th was the last time we saw high temperatures in the 30’s. Precipitation was again below average and totaled 2.04 inches for the month. Most deciduous trees and shrubs have dropped their leaves, however colourful fruit remains abundant in the landscape. The dry weather has made leaf clean up easier this fall. Nut trees (hickories, oak, walnuts) have had a mast year as the ground is covered with nuts, creating quite a mess. The large husks of hickories make simple walking a challenge due the accumulation of fruit on the ground.

Pests/Problems: Winter moth adults are highly active as the males are everywhere and females can easily be spotted on the trunks of trees due to their high numbers. Soils remain abnormally dry as the extended lack of precipitation remains a concern; supplemental irrigation continues. Warm temperatures interspersed with a few cold snaps has encouraged many winter annuals to germinate and flourish.

Metro West Region (Acton)

General Conditions: Landscaping crews have been out in full force completing final leaf and lawn clean ups for the season. The days are getting shorter as we approach the December solstice, taking place this year on the 22nd. The Acton area gained a total of 27 GDD during this four-week reporting period and gained a total of 35.5 GDD for the entire month of November. A high temperature of 72º was recorded on the 3rd and a low temp of 19º was recorded on the 25th. Total rainfall recorded for the month was 1.65”, which falls far short of the 30-year monthly average of 4.43".

Pests/Problems: Moths have been seen in flight in the evening hours under street, head, and house lights, significantly more this year, than in any previous years.

Central Region (Boylston)

No report available this month.

Pioneer Valley Region (Amherst)

General Conditions: Deviating from the norm, November was quite pleasant this year. Temperatures were 3–5º F above-normal throughout the valley but it was abnormally dry with less than 2″ of precipitation recorded at many reporting stations ( A soaking rain of just over 1″ took place on 11/19, but aside from this rain event, precipitation was mostly light and scattered. A large storm system lumbered through the northeast from 12/1 through 12/2 with rainfall totals between 0.7–0.9”. The warm weather during the first week of November (mid-70s with full sun) forced some spring bulbs into growth. Additionally, the dry autumn season resulted in several brush fires throughout western Mass with the largest occurring on the southern side of Mount Tom in Holyoke on 11/9. Over 25 acres burned on the site of the former Mount Tom ski area. Since that time, we’ve mostly settled into a pattern of high 40s to high 50s with low temperatures varying from well below freezing (17º F on 11/24) to near 40º F. Oaks and beech are some of the few deciduous hardwoods still holding their leaves. Larches, an underutilized and seldom appreciated tree in the landscape, are still providing fall color with their golden needles. Looking ahead, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a >40% chance for above-average temperatures for the the northeast this winter season and a slight chance of above-average precipitation ( A strong El Niño has developed in the Pacific Ocean which has a significant influence on the jet stream and overall weather patterns in North America.

Pests/Problems: Dry soils and warm weather in early November extended the watering season for some recently transplanted trees and shrubs. Young and recently transplanted woody plants without a supplemental watering regimen on excessively drained soils are like suffering from drought stress considering the lack of precipitation in September and October. This reduces their ability to properly harden off for the winter and they may experience heightened levels of cold injury. Rabbits have been observed eating buds on spring-flowering witch hazels and clipping current season’s shoots off various hardwoods and conifers (arborvitae and true fir) that are within reach. Tree wraps can help prevent damage from bark-chewing meadow voles on young hardwoods (especially apple and crabapple) and small-diameter shrubs.

Berkshire Region (Great Barrington)

General Conditions: Warmer than normal temperatures have been the norm for this fall. Based on the latest forecast (12/2) this trend will continue at least through the next 10 days. Rainfall in November was below normal but enough occurred to keep soils moist. Soil temperature taken today (12/2) was 42º F but only last week, a frozen crust of one-inch depth was observed in open fields. Except for shaded sites, warm daytime temperatures thawed those frozen soils.

Pests/Problems: Though aphids and cabbage worms were found on certain cold hardy vegetables, no insect pests were observed on ornamental plants. However, meadow vole and pine vole activity remains high. These rodents continue to cause damage to perennial plants by feeding on plant roots. They also are gnawing on the thin bark of young and mature trees and shrubs. Placing hardware cloth or plastic tree guards around the trunks of susceptible woody plants will help prevent damage. Cutting or removing grass around the base of tree trunks may help reduce such damage as well as gnawing by rabbits. Another concern with regard to voles is their nest building habit in outbuildings and under the cowlings of power equipment, such as lawn mowers, which are stored in sheds or garages. Often, the voles will chew on the insulation surrounding wiring in power equipment, resulting in expensive repairs. Such cases have already been observed this fall. Trapping is the best way to get rid of voles in outbuildings.

Environmental Data

The following growing-degree-day (GDD) and precipitation data was collected for an approximately four week period, November 5 through December 2. Soil temperature and phenological indicators were observed on or about December 2 as of the dates/times specified below. Total accumulated GDDs represent the heating units above a 50° F baseline temperature collected via our instruments for the 2015 calendar year. This information is intended for use as a guide for monitoring the developmental stages of pests in your location and planning management strategies accordingly.


(4-Week Gain)

(Total 2015 Accumulation)

Soil Temp
(°F at 4" depth)

(4-Week Gain in inches)

Date/Time of Readings

Cape Cod





4:00 PM 12/2






4:00 PM 12/2

North Shore





9:00 AM 11/30






5:00 PM 11/30

Metro West





5:00 AM 12/2







Pioneer Valley





9:00 AM 12/3






6:00 AM 12/2







n/a = information not available

  • CAPE COD REGION - Roberta Clark, UMass Extension Horticulturist for Barnstable County - Retired, reporting from Barnstable.
  • SOUTHEAST REGION - Deborah Swanson, UMass Extension Horticulturist for Plymouth County - Retired, reporting from Hanson.
  • NORTH SHORE REGION - Geoffrey Njue, Green Industry Specialist, UMass Extension, reporting from the Long Hill Reservation, Beverly.
  • EAST REGION - Kit Ganshaw & Sue Pfeiffer, Horticulturists, reporting from the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain.
  • METRO WEST REGION – Julie Coop, Forester, Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, reporting from Acton.
  • CENTRAL REGION  -  Joann Vieira, Superintendent of Horticulture, reporting from the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston.
  • PIONEER VALLEY REGION - Nick Brazee, Plant Pathologist, UMass Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab, reporting from UMass Amherst.
  • BERKSHIRE REGION - Ron Kujawski, Horticultural Consultant, reporting from Great Barrington.

Woody Ornamentals

Diseases & Insects

Arborvitae needle blight caused by Phyllosticta thujae and needle and shoot blight caused by Pestalotiopsis on emerald green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smargd’). Trees are 24-years-old and have been present for 19 years. In a row of 12 trees, three have significant dieback in the upper canopy. More specifically, the top 6–10’ of these trees have lost the majority of their needles or are completely dead. Needles turned brown to purple in color and were prematurely shed. Lower sections of the canopy appear green and healthy.

Arborvitae needle blight caused by Phyllosticta thujae on emerald green arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smargd’). Approximately 20 trees are 10-years-old and were planted only one year ago. Premature needle shedding and needle tip blight has developed throughout the canopies and was first observed in August. The trees were planted above a brick retaining wall that is adjacent to a pool area. Radiant heating of the soil by the retaining wall coupled with transplant shock is likely contributing to the symptoms. Supplemental water has been provided and the trees were not pruned since planting.

Severe infestation of the elongate hemlock scale (Fiorinia externa) on balsam fir (Abies balsamea). Tree is 15-years-old and was planted two years ago. In September of this year, symptoms of the infestation were first observed, which included mottled yellowing and browning of infested needles. Horticultural oil had been applied in April but the infestation was likely too severe to slow or stop the onset of symptoms.

Blue spruce (Picea pungens) decline caused by: (i) stem cankering from Phomopsis; (ii) needle cast caused by Rhizosphaera; (iii) spruce spider mite (Oligonychus ununguis) infestation; and (iv) spruce needle rust (Chrysomyxa weirii). Several trees, approximately 20-years-old and present at the site for 15 years, planted in a row along a driveway. This year, needle browning and lower canopy branch dieback was observed. Lower branches were predisposed to infection by fungal pathogens due to lack of light. Blue spruce requires full sun to thrive.

For more detailed management information for woody plant diseases in the landscape, refer to UMass Extension's Professional Management Guide for Diseases of Trees and Shrubs.

Report by Nick Brazee, Plant Pathologist, UMass Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab, UMass Amherst.

Additional Resources

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For a complete listing of upcoming events, see our Upcoming Educational Events page.

For commercial growers of greenhouse crops and flowers - Check out the New England Greenhouse Update website

For professional turf managers - Check out Turf Management Updates

For home gardeners and garden retailers - Check out home lawn and garden resources. UMass Extension also has a Twitter feed that provides timely, daily gardening tips, sunrise and sunset times to home gardeners, see

Diagnostic Services

A UMass Laboratory Diagnoses Landscape and Turf Problems - The UMass Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab is available to serve commercial landscape contractors, turf managers, arborists, nurseries and other green industry professionals. It provides woody plant and turf disease analysis, woody plant and turf insect identification, turfgrass identification, weed identification, and offers a report of pest management strategies that are research based, economically sound and environmentally appropriate for the situation. Accurate diagnosis for a turf or landscape problem can often eliminate or reduce the need for pesticide use. For sampling procedures, detailed submission instructions and a list of fees, see Plant Diagnostics Laboratory

Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing - The University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory is located on the campus of The University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Testing services are available to all. The function of the Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory is to provide test results and recommendations that lead to the wise and economical use of soils and soil amendments. For complete information, visit the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory web site.   Alternatively, call the lab at (413) 545-2311.

Ticks are active whenever temperatures are above freezing! Remember to take appropriate precautions when working and playing outdoors, and conduct daily tick checks. UMass tests ticks for the presence of Lyme disease and other disease pathogens. Learn more