The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Bark Beetles ©2003 Rudi Klimpert

Bark beetle update

Paul Stamm

The bark beetles that have so devastated large stands of drought-stressed piñon trees here and throughout the Southwest are still alive and well. These beetles are living—in exponentially greater numbers than last year—under the bark of the piñons they killed last summer. Go find a recently dead piñon tree and carefully cut and peel off a piece of bark from the trunk. Underneath the bark you’ll find the brown adult beetles, about the size of a rice grain, overwintering in their tunnels. Expose these critters to the sun for awhile and they’ll start to crawl around.

In the spring, when temperatures reach into the sixties, the adult beetles bore out of the bark of the dead piñons and fly to live piñons. The male beetles then bore a hole into the trunk of the tree. The male must keep that hole open in order to send out pheromones (scents) to attract a female. If the tree is healthy and adequately watered it will quickly exude sap to plug the hole. A water-stressed tree cannot produce this mending sap; thus a female beetle enters the hole, mates with the male, and lays eggs in the tunnel provided by him. The beetle larvae hatch out and proceed to eat out their own tunnels underneath the bark—effectively girdling, and killing, the tree. The whole tree then turns brown. The beetles continue to feed within the tree until they’re ready to fly out and repeat the cycle later in the summer.

There are two species of beetles attacking the pinons; both are often present on the same tree. The smaller twig beetle mines the tips of the piñon branches, sometimes damaging just a portion of the tree, sometimes infesting the entire tree and killing it. The larger bark beetle previously described is considered the more serious pest, as it mines the trunk and larger branches of the tree. This species often carries into the tree a blue toxic staining fungus that grows in the beetles’ tunnels.

Natural population control for these insects is a cold, wet winter that freezes the beetles and provides immunizing moisture to threatened trees. The Sandias and Placitas area has been left high and dry again this year, with only two months left until spring. If El Niño doesn’t deliver winter soon, the worst case is that these beetles will swarm this spring to what’s left of our piñons, kill those, and then seek alternate pine species.

Damage control is definitely in order for the Placitas area. Experts agree the best thing to do is to reduce the population of these beetles by disposing of dead, infested trees. These trees should be cut close to ground level. The beetles seem to gravitate low on the trunk, so saturate the stump with a 2 percent Sevin (carbaryl) solution or peel back the bark to expose the beetles. The branches of the cut tree should be burned or buried. The larger pieces, if used for firewood, should be stacked and solarized under six-mil clear plastic until the bugs are cooked.

Removing dead, infested pinon trees from your property and encouraging your neighbors to do the same should better the chances of survival for the piñons still alive in your immediate area. The problem, of course, is what to do about all the infested trees on public and uninhabited land. How far these beetles fly, I don’t know.

If you have piñons that you don’t want to risk losing to bark beetles, there are two things you can do. The first is to give the trees a good soaking every other week or so, weather depending. If you have a drip system servicing your landscape piñons, use it. Set your system to come on late in the afternoon to minimize ice in the lines. To water native piñons on your property, circle a soaker hose below the drip line of the tree and let it run for an hour every other week. The other thing to do, according to experts, is to spray the trunk and larger branches of the trees you want to save with a 2% Sevin solution using a pressure tank sprayer. Sevin sprayed in this manner will bind with the piñon bark and, barring heavy rains, will persist for a couple of months. Spray again towards the end of April and again in mid-summer.

If you have questions, need further information about these beetles, or if would like an assessment of the piñon situation on and around your property, you may call me at 867-9747.


Master-gardener classes begin this month

The Cooperative Extension Service of Sandoval County begins its annual master-gardener Southwest Homeowner Gardening classes in February. The following lectures will be offered:

  • February 6: Soil, Climate, and Composting—Knowledge for Success in New Mexico Gardening
  • February 13: Vegetable Gardening and Herbs—Techniques for Coping with Our Soil, Climate & Drought
  • February 20: Appropriate Trees, Shrubs, Vines—Planting the High Desert Garden
  • February 27: Landscape Design—The WOW Garden: How to Create Luscious Landscape in a Xeric World
  • March 6: Flower Gardening—A Chart of Monthly Color in Your Xeriscape
  • March 13: Lawns and Ground Covers—Best Choices for Your Needs–Keeping It Healthy

Each class will be held in two locations on the day it is scheduled. Classes will be offered from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. at Bernalillo City Hall, 829 Camino Del Pueblo, Bernalillo, in the council chambers. The classes also will be offered in the evening from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the City of Rio Rancho's South Conference Room. The cost for the entire series is $15 person or $25 per couple. Checks made payable to Sandoval County Master Gardener may be sent in advance to Sandoval County Master Gardener, P.O. Box 400, Bernalillo NM 87004. The cost for a single class is $5 and payable at the door. For more information, call 867-2582.


Organic expo coming to Glorieta

The New Mexico Organic Farming and Gardening Expo 2003 will be held February 7 and 8 in Glorieta, New Mexico. The conference is open to the public. Featured speakers are Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute and author of New Roots for Agriculture and Meeting the Expectations of the Land, edited with Wendell Berry and Bruce Coleman; and Deborah Madison, noted chef, author, and slow-food advocate.

Workshops at the conference will include:

  • Whole Farm Planning for Organic Livestock Production
  • Gardening in the High Desert
  • The Navajo Sheep Project
  • Soil Fertility Management for Weeds, Insects, and Diseases
  • Food and Nutrition from Farm to Table
  • Native and Adapted Trees and Shrubs to Create Habitat, Screening, and Windbreaks
  • Drip Irrigation for Home Gardens and Small Farms
  • Intermediate Organic Beekeeping and Honey Production.

A large vendor hall and delicious vegetarian food will round out the conference activities. For more information, call 505-266-9849 or e-mail






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