Final Score: Thrips 7, Gardener 0

It’s the start of American football season, so please forgive the metaphor. As far as the Viburnum tinus is concerned, the score is not in my favor. It’s time to take one for the team. Though I feel personally defeated, it’s not all bleak. I don’t have a brain concussion from brutal tackles and I’m not benched for bad behavior.

It’s time to throw in the towel. Yet who wants to admit they’ve been bamboozled by a bug, tricked by a thrip, or outmaneuvered by aphids? Certainly not me.

I garden organically which means no pesticides or poisons. This limits my options, but I’m okay with that.

For the past seven years (yes years) I’ve been doing battle with thrips. Until last week, Viburnum Tinus filled the space between our home office window and the walkway to our deck. When healthy, it’s quite lovely. You can see the plants looking their best here. Shiny, dense green leaves give way to flowers and dark purple berries. It provided cover for the lizards and made a nice green hedge under the window.

row of viburnum titus

June, 2010

Yet year after year, the thrips return and the problem seems to get worse. This year they invited aphids to the party and things looked grim.


August, 2016


Leaves coated in sooty mold, a product of the “leavings” of insects. Also, possibly scale (dark red area)


Please…invite your friends: scale and white fly


Damage spreading to the plant below.

By mid-summer, sticky, odoriferous goo covered the plants. Some years I give the plants a hard prune, but honestly, how much can you remove before the plant is bare? We ordered lacewing eggs one year, expecting them to hatch and eat the larvae of these pests. The smell goes away in the winter so we initially thought we had solved the problem.

I don’t know if the drought plays a role in this, but this past summer the smell was akin to…how do I say this nicely…vomit. It kept us from spending time on the deck and forced us to close the window at night. When the days cooled down and we wanted to let in the breeze, the pests tickled our nostrils with that nauseating smell.


Planthopper, another garden pest. Several of them jumped out of the bushes while I pruned away the damaged leaves.

They had to go.

While I was away one day, my husband removed one of the five shrubs, leaving a gaping hole next to the deck. We “filled in the space” with our garden cart (how pretty) and the remaining shrubs sat there smelling up the place. Then we were in for another heat wave, and then I traveled, and you know how it goes.

But that smell.

Knowing I didn’t have the strength to remove the shrubs by myself, I did the next best thing: I pruned them down to the thickest branches, using the tools I have.

I’m reluctant to plant something new right away, but the space looks barren. I raked, swept, hand-picked and hopefully removed every last offensive, pest-covered leaf. While working away, I encountered a hopping green bug, sticky aphids, and other unidentified bugs.


Unknown: White fly or possibly the carcass of another insect

When I reached the last of the five shrubs, I  spotted a praying mantis. They’re fascinating creatures with rotating heads and stick like bodies.  They’re also good for the garden, munching on non-beneficial bugs. Clearly these shrubs were no match for a single bug, no matter how hungry.

After running inside for my camera and attempting some video, I removed his branch and carried him to another part of the garden. They will also eat small hummingbirds, and I didn’t want to take any chances.

Three hours later I had cleared the last of the shrubs, and I had the sore back to prove it. I was also racing the clock for the yard waste pick up. Once a week, on trash day, the garbage collector takes away yard waste. I certainly didn’t want any of those leaves living in my compost pile so off they went.

Short term, I hung a string of lights between a pair of gardening trellises. I don’t want anyone inadvertently stepping off the walkway ramp.

The final score is thrips, seven years and this gardener zero. Going forward, I plan to significantly improve the odds.

22 thoughts on “Final Score: Thrips 7, Gardener 0

  1. I feel your pain. Aphids, tick. Sooty mould, tick. Giant brown hand-length grasshoppers that can devastate an entire bed of seedlings overnight, tick. Enormous lawn bugs (the size of your index finger, fat white monsters) tick. Sometimes organic = frustration. I’ve stopped growing vegies that are appealing to insects. Instead, I grow waxy-leafed plants that are resistant to salt air and wind. They seem to resist the bugs OK. Oh, and my Murraya paniculata seems to be left alone – could you try that?


  2. That is such a shame about your shrubs Alys. I also never use chemicals, but if faced with an attack like this I don’t know what I would do. Your yard waste pickup service is cool! We have bins which are collected every two weeks here (in towns it is weekly).


  3. What a mess! That all sounds completely icky–I don’t think I’d’ve lasted as long as you did, given the smell you describe. On the other hand, I absolutely hate pulling up shrubs or plants–I feel like an executioner. In this case, though, you were putting those poor shrubs out of their misery. Are there similar shrubs you can plant that are resistant to those pests?


  4. Such a shame to lose the battle after seven long years – organic gardening can be frustrating at times like this, I imagine. We don’t use pesticides either, because of the hens. But then, we quite like dandelions and other weeds and don’t have a smart garden like yours.


  5. Oh Alys, I ma so sorry!! What a pest! I had a lot of trouble with mildew in my garden and I do not want to spray all kind of uglyness around and could not win the battle without…I removed all plants that were effected and buy only mildew resistant plants…it has become somewhat more boring in my garden! Sigh…I feel for you!! xo Johanna


  6. Isn’t that despond making! I once had a vine that kept getting infested and in the end the only thing to do was pull it out. It seems that once they get in nothing will clear them. [I’ve gone down with a mild case of flu so am having trouble putting words together, I wrote ‘invested’ instead of infested, can’t remember the name of the plant…..] 🙂 I used to make a potent spray of garlic water which handled the aphids and such like nicely – but was no use against the infestation that lived in my lovely vine.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Goodness! I’ve heard of thrips in our gardening courses but never seen them in action. Yikes. Bet they are as difficult to beat as squash bags….the critters I am currently losing to. Red spider is another monster who definitely comes along during drought. Yeesh. 😦


  8. I just walked up to get the mail and the air is filled with white flies again. You can’t breathe with your mouth open but so far we have been lucky enough not to get anything with an odor. I am so sorry!!! I remember our stink bugs last year. My neighbor took down a huge tree and now we don’t have hardly any. You have pruned those shrubs back so far that all the energy will go to the roots this winter and maybe they will come back strong enough to fight what’s been trying to feed off them. Maybe you will be reduced to metal yard art instead of plants if the drought doesn’t end. We are dry again too. 😦 I pray for rain ever day. I was probably the only person on our bus trip to the beach delighted to see rain for the trip out. Kept quiet so they wouldn’t throw me off. 🙂 I looked up the plant Kate mentioned. It looks nice.


  9. You could be right about the drought, Alys. Lack of water for a plant that needs some would weaken it and make it difficult to fight of an attack. It is a shame but you don’t need a nauseous smell by your window or the decking 😕.


  10. Oh, Alys! I gasped when I saw the damage the thrips had caused! (I had to follow the link to learn about these insects. What a hard job to control them, leaving some for their beneficial work in the garden!! Ugh!) Try as we might, there are times when plants must be removed. You were so smart to dig your bushes out and have everything carried away from your yard. The drought must have caused ‘interference’ with all of your methods to ‘intercept’ these tiny creatures. (It’s hard to add football references when you haven’t watched a football game since high school! :)) My gardening heart honors your gardening heart, dear Alys! Look ahead to new beginnings for this area of the garden. What fun it will be to dream new garden dreams! ♡


  11. Ugh. So sorry about this. I think some of it may be attributable to drought, but ugh. Did you try buying lady bugs (at least for the aphids; they will clear those out in a single morning)? Undoubtedly you tried most things. I hope next year is better…


  12. Such a shame to have to chop everything up and your back is worse for wear too. Good grief hon, that’s a drag. On the bright side, you can now choose something more durable and luckily in your zone, things grow pretty quick. I guess we don’t get many of these pests due to winter. So, hooray for sub arctic weather, LOL. I guess there’s that benefit.
    I remember seeing a shrub in Campbell Town that was filled with purple blossoms. It grew near a curb by Stacks but on the other side of the street. It probably gets zero attention and seemed to be gorgeous by my estimation. Maybe that’d work? Do you know which shrub I’m talking about? Did you ever see a photo on Sunshines blog where a friend of hers planted her front yard in vegetables…but in a super attractive way. They weren’t in the typical rows, but followed the curb of the walk. Very much like yours. Short stuff up front, taller in the back. That might look really cute there too. Whatever transpires, it’s going to be awesome because you always have lots of good ideas. I don’t generally spray the yard with anything for bugs, but I have use ant powders and this year, a Natural Slug bate and aphid spay. I will admit, my bug encounters don’t hold a candle to yours though. We didn’t even have too bad of mosquito’s which is amazing since it rained non-stop practically. Then again, I didn’t sit out after dark much or go walking through the lawn after dark. Those pesky things will knaw your ankles off. xoxoxo K/p/b


  13. You have the tenacity (and love for growing things) to keep trying year after year. I’m glad that you came to the conclusion that you’d done the right thing by removing those shrubs.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So sad to hear about your troubles with the Viburnum. One of my fave plants, and whats the Praying Mantis going to eat now… Did you try any biological control (other than hoping the Mantis bred like rabbits)?


    • We ordered lacewing eggs, hoping the population would be enough to stem the tied, but it was unsuccessful. We’ve had great success introducing ladybugs to plants covered with just aphids, but they’re not interested in the gooey mess on the this plant. The mantis will not go hungry in my garden, but I did relocate him away from the nearby hummingbird feeders, as they will also earth the birds.


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