Thirty Days in the Garden: Wisteria

I’ve admired Wisteria vines forever, but I never dreamed I could actually grow one. They need full sun and a sturdy trellis for support, and once established they can be tree-like in stature.i

A few years ago we had to remove one of our magnolia trees due to an unrelenting case of scale. I manually scraped off the scale after pruning away the inner branches. It was a tedious and unpleasant job, but I really wanted to save the tree. The scale returned the following year. According to the arborist the scale probably came with the tree. Without a toxic application that would harm all insects, the tree wouldn’t survive.

Nasty business: scale-infested magnolia

As sorry as I was to see the tree go, it made room for this love Wisteria.

We moved an under-utilized arched trellis from the back garden to support the vine. It took a couple of years to train the Wisteria but it’s now a lovely shape.

Wisteria growing in our front garden

It surprised me to learn from Wikipedia that Wisteria is a member of the legume family. Further, the article described Wisteria as a “woody climbing bine.” I puzzled over that for a while, having never heard the term bine before. I eventually realized it was a typo. No judgement as I make plenty of typos myself, but I had a good laugh nonetheless.

Wisteria vine along the ramp

Pictured below, left to right: rhododendrons, gardenias, freesias, a white camellia, native grasses, branches from a healthy magnolia, and my trusty garden cart near the fence.

I’m pleased that the flowering vine is doing well.

This walkway is a gently sloping ramp. The sign says Sharon’s Way. My sister has MS and could no longer visit our home, so we had a landscape architect design a ramp from the curb to the house. It’s subtle and beautiful.

A Little of This and That

Guess what?

I was out on the deck taking pictures when a bright yellow flower caught me eye. There aren’t any yellow flowers growing this time of year, so it really took me by surprise.  Then I realized little visitors stopped by the fairy garden.  What a nice surprise.

If you are reading this post and you know who the fairies are, please be sure to extend my thanks.  It was such a treat to find those flowers.  I spotted a tiny mum tucked in as well and a few greens.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!!!

Flower Surprise

Flower Surprise

Pumpkin Countdown

Last summer we grew several pumpkins.  Four of them were over 40 pounds.  My husband carved one, but they were really thick and not well-suited for ‘Jacks.  We lined the wall of our garden pathway with the remaining pumpkins, and they’ve weathered the months beautifully.  Twice in recent weeks, someone came to the door and asked if they could take one for cooking.  We happily obliged, with a warning to please lift carefully.  We now have one large pumpkin sitting on the wall, with a smaller, autographed one nearby.  That one is just now starting to soften and will probably be headed to the compost bin in another week.  We’ll be down to one ‘little’ pumpkin, sitting on a wall.  🙂

two little pumpkins

Two ‘little’ pumpkins, sitting on a wall

Avoiding the Scale

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s January and I can’t hide from the scale forever.  Time to put away the treats and face the music.  All true.

I’m avoiding the scale that remains on the now-dormant Magnolia.  Honestly, it creeps me out.  We had quite the infestation last summer.  We did a bit of research and got down to business. I ordered beneficial insect larvae. While waiting for them to arrive, I heavily pruned the tree. The inner crown was far worse, so I removed as many of those branches as I could. Left unchecked, scale can kill a tree.


Magnolia infested with scale

Now that the Magnolia is dormant, it’s easy to see what remains. I need to scrape the scale into a bucket, before it takes hold again.

To think I thought putting away the chocolate was hard.

Thrips: It’s What’s For Breakfast!

The garden thrips are on notice! Lacewings are on the scene.

A small packet of lacewing eggs arrived yesterday by mail. The packet contained an unimpressive looking plastic bag that, to the naked eye, looked like a bag of sawdust. My eyes aren’t what they used to be so I examined the bag closely with my nifty light-up magnifying glass, a gift from Bruce and Shirley. Still no sign of those eggs. The instructions reassured me that the eggs were in there and would be “hatching any minute” if they hadn’t done so already. Well then, no time to waste!

After dinner, my husband watered the affected plants and the Magnolia tree and we set out the eggs. Seriously, it felt like a practical joke because I couldn’t see anything but the sawdust.

The instructions suggest stapling a paper cup to a tree leaf and filling it with some of the eggs.  That was the hardest part.  I’m clumsy, so trying to staple the bottom of a paper cup to a thin leaf at the top of a tree was…challenging. We scattered the rest of the eggs at the base of the plants.

Guess what? As of this morning, a few already hatched. The packet contained “1,000 eggs” though how you could have counted is anyone’s guess.  I hope the emerging larva are hungry.

We ordered our beneficial insects via the Internet from Orcon (Organic Control, Inc.) based in Los Angeles. If you live outside the states, search under “beneficial garden insects” for a source near you. Introducing the appropriate beneficial insect to your garden is safe for plants, people and pets, reducing the need for dangerous and toxic pesticides.

Garden Fail: Scale

Our purple tulip Magnolia has scale, an infestation as repulsive as it sounds. It’s equally harmful and can ultimately kill the tree if left unchecked. We’ve been researching organic solutions, preferring beneficial insects if possible.

From the reading I’ve done, the scale may have been present months ago.  Beautiful blossoms covered the Magnolia last spring, with no signs of the scale.  In late June, however, I noticed some damage to of the leaves of the inner tree and only then did I discover the scale.  We have all the tell-tale signs, now that I know what to look for:

  • Crusty bumps along the branches
  • Sticky leaves caused by scale excretions
  • Ants on the leaves.  They eat the sweet excretions and are known to defend the scale since they provide a food source.

Here are a few more details from the College of Agriculture Sciences at Penn State:

Magnolia scales are usually massed on the undersides of 1 and 2-year-old twigs, with heavy infestations completely encrusting branches. Other indicators of a scale infestation include reduced foliage and flower production, undersized leaves and twigs, and a black sooty mold on the foliage. After digesting the plant fluid, the scale excretes a clear sticky liquid called honeydew, which provides an ideal substrate for the black sooty mold fungus to develop. Magnolia scale infestations often go unnoticed until the leaves and twigs of the host plant turn black with sooty mold. The honeydew also provides a food source, attracting ants, bees, wasps and flies.

Healthy Magnolia Branch

Healthy Magnolia Branch

Scale Infestation on Magnolia Branch

Scale Infestation on Magnolia Branch

Ants eat the excreted Honeydew

Ants Eating the Excreted Honeydew

The more I read, the more discouraged I become. Even the less organic solutions are often ineffective.  I read an extensive article saying that Predatory Beetles worked well, only to learn they are no longer commercially available.  Aphytis melinus is another possibility, and probably our next, best option. Pruning away the worst of the branches seems like a good idea, too.  I would hate to have this spread to our larger magnolia just a few feet away.

Suggestions welcome!