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.

row-of-vibernum-titus

August, 2016

damage-old-and-new-growth

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

vibernum-black-soot-damage

Please…invite your friends: scale and white fly

damage-spreading-to-nearby-plants

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

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.

white-bug-carcasses

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.

Contentment

curb garden purple flowers

Scabiosa ‘Vivid Violet‘

con·tent·ment
/kənˈtentmənt/
noun
a state of happiness and satisfaction
The gardener spent a lovely 45 minutes working in the curb garden today.”

Gardening brings about a unique contentment: The work is satisfying, the results are rewarding, and the time spent with my face towards the earth grounds me like nothing else.

We had a nice breeze today, keeping the temperatures manageable.  Once finished with my appointments for the day, I spent ‘drop-in’ garden time at the curb. I love working the curb  garden. I can take care of the entire box in about an hour, then continue to enjoy the fruits of my labor from my kitchen window.

curb garden snap dragons, freesia

Snapdragons, Freesia, Cilantro and a self-seeded yellow annual

curb garden love in the mist, gravel

Love in a mist volunteering around the edges. Wooly thyme slowly filling in over the gravel.

curb garden yellow pest

Can you spot the visitor on this yellow flower?

The last of the daffodil foliage looked tired and spent, so I trimmed the bunches down to a few inches and tidied up the rest of the bed.

I spotted one or two lady bugs visiting the aphids. The ‘ladies in red’ generally consume a lot of aphids in one sitting, but they are currently outnumbered. I snipped off a few of the heavily infested branches and hope the ladybugs will tell their friends to return at dusk and take care of the rest.

curb garden pests aphids

Aphids!

My son pointed out a small wasp’s nest inside the hollow ceramic bird perched in the center of the garden. The ‘bird’ used to be part of a ‘self watering’ system but it broke off at the base. I put it at the top of the small trellis over the winter for a bit of color. Since wasps eat garden pests too, I’m going to leave the nest undisturbed. I know many people have aggressive wasps that chase them around the garden, but the ones that nest near our house are fairly mellow. Case in point: I lifted the ceramic bird, spotted the nest and one adult who simply hovered nearby till I replaced her nest. I guess she’s content too.

curb garden yellow bird

Ceramic bird housing a wasp’s nest

Did you find contentment today?

curb garden mint and daffodils

Chocolate mint escaping the confines of the box

Plant Chatter: Can You Hear Me Now?

The headline “Plants Talk. Plants Listen” caught my eye this morning.  What followed was a fascinating article on a plant’s ability to ‘warn’ it’s neighbors of an aphid attack.  Taking it one step further, scientists believe that the chemicals released when the plant is under attack may also attract beneficial wasps.

According to the article:

These chemicals come from the injured parts of the plant and seem to be an alarm. Maybe not an intentional warning like, “Watch Out! Aphid Attack!” but more like a simple distress call like, “Aphids! Aphids! Aphids!” or, “Attack! Attack!” The chemicals the plants pump through the air are a blend of organic molecules — alcohols, aldehydes, ketones and esters — known as volatile organic compounds, VOCs for short.

Intriguing.  Further:

Not only do plants use airborne chemicals, they send signals underground, through their roots. Some make ultrasonic “clicking” sounds. What feels to us like a quiet day in the forest may in fact be a hurly-burly of wafting, pulsing, clicking plant-to-plant communication.

If you’re as intrigued as I am, I encourage you to read the entire article. The drawings are hilarious, too. NPR: Robert Krulwich on Science

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing my own communing with the garden and trying to pull myself out of  a slump.  Onward.

raspberry flowers

Flowering raspberries

Ladybugs vs. Aphids: Last One Standing

ladybug on Allium

Last bug standing?

I mentioned last week that I would be heading to the garden center for another batch of living ladybugs.  My lovely, onion-scented Allium is dripping in aphids and soot.  Ick, yuck and blech!

The first batch of ladybugs made some progress, but now all but one or two are gone.  They didn’t even leave a note to say why.

Where did they go?  The tasty aphid smorgasbord remains.   What’s an organic gardener to do?

Then I read this from OurWaterOurWorld.org:

Tolerate low to moderate numbers of aphids as long as they aren’t causing noticeable plant damage. There is a reason for this: aphids have many natural enemies such as spiders, ladybugs, lacewings and minute parasitoids (tiny non-stinging wasps) that often keep aphid numbers below damaging levels. These beneficial insects rarely appear on the scene until after aphids have begun attacking plants. This “lag-time” can be a day or two or as long as several weeks. As the season progresses, aphid control by these natural enemies improves because more natural enemies are attracted to your garden and more stay to breed.

So…I’m taking the wait and see approach as I keep a close eye on the plant.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to identify a different set of insects on my beloved pumpkins.  Stop by later this week for a look-see.  I bet you can hardly wait. 😉

It’s a Bug’s Life

Confession time.

Are you ready?

I’ve got some mad skills but they have little to do with gardening. I excel at raising insects and bugs.  Not to toot my own horn, but I think I might qualify for ‘Top Incubator of Garden Pests.’

Don’t believe me?  Come take a look:

After chatting you up about my gorgeous coleus, and my plans to take cuttings for next year, I found this:

Spider Mites or Whitefly?

Spider Mites or Whitefly?

I’m not sure if I have whiteflies or spider mites or both, but boy are they prolific. While watering the plant this evening, I removed a large, partially eaten leaf. When I turned it over, I could see that a small family had moved in. In just a week’s time, they spread to half of the plant’s leaves and part of the soil. Damn I’m good!

Next up, aphids.  Why settle for a hundred aphids when a gazillion will do?  The more the merrier, I always say.  I noticed a bit of ‘black soot’ on the stems of my soon to bloom Allium, but I just walked right on by.  Might as well let the aphids settle in first.

aphids

Aphids

By the time I made it to the garden center for a batch of ladybugs, the party was well under way.  The ladybugs arrive in a container saying pre-fed.  Huh? I guess all that good aphid food will just go to waste.

DSC_0017

Aphids, and the ladybugs that love them

Saving the best for last, will you take a look at that Scale?  I diligently removed all traces of scale earlier in the year while the tree was dormant.  I manually scraped the scale into a bucket, then went back over the young branches with warm soap and water.  I run a tight ship here. I cleaned those branches top to bottom to get the tree ready for the new residents.  They moved in early this summer, and show no signs of leaving.  In fact, it looks like they’ve invited a few guests.

scale on magnolia

Scale

In case you’re interested: