The hot, dry spell means gardens are in bloom - with bugs

August 7, 2011 

When local gardeners get together mid-summer, the conversation is going to get around to this summer's lengthy hot, dry spell and its results in the garden.

Isn't there more insect plant damage then is usual? This is surprising. It was thought that the colder-than-usual winter would reduce their population. Could it be that the insects are chewing on plant foliage to get at the juice in lieu of standing water or wet soil?

While meditating on this, the rains came. Now it's never mind about plant damage; we now have people damage. The mosquitoes and their relatives, the midges, had gardeners thinking less about insect sprays and more about people protection. This summer I'm ready for them. I've a bottle of "No Natz" that repels gnats, mosquitoes and biting flies like those stinging deer flies. Best of all you'll actually welcome it on your skin. Ingredients are coconut oil, rosemary oil, lemon grass oil, lavender oil and alcohol. It smells and feels great. To order, call Nonatz at 478-676-3459

INSECT IDENTIFICATION

  • Chompers: Insects that chew through the entire leaf. Damage appears as jagged edges or holes in the leaves. Examples: caterpillars, weevils, grasshoppers

  • Stipplers: Insects with sucking mouthparts that remove plant juices and leave a dot, fleck or speckle on the leaf surface. Examples: lace bugs, spider mites

  • Distortioners: Insects with rasping or sucking mouthparts. Damage causes plant parts to twist, curl or become distorted. Example: psyllids, thrips

  • Miners: Insects that feed inside the leaves between the upper and lower surfaces. Wormlike larvae cause the damage. Example: leafminers

  • Squirters: Insects with sucking mouthparts that pull large amounts of fluid from the plant and excrete honeydew. Black sooty mold may grow on leaves covered with honeydew. Example: aphids, scale

  • Protectors: Some of these insects protect themselves in a silk covering or roll/curl leaves around their bodies and others may produce a spit-like substance in which to live. Examples: webworms, leaf rollers, spittle bugs

  • Leafhoppers: These, I think are the bad guys who come around when I'm sleeping. I picture them hopping from plant to plant singing to themselves, "She's asleep and can't stop us." They suck juices from stems and undersides of leaves of vegetable crops, some flowers and weeds.

  • Hornworms: These caterpillars with white diagonal stripes and a black horn projecting from their backs have been feeding on my tomato plants. I hand pick, step on them and place smashed bodies back on the plant to discourage other tomato worms.

  • Not being a fan of synthesized insecticides or those created artificially with chemicals, I hit the books looking for those homemade insecticides that could be created using seeds and oils from herbal plants grown in my garden. For the past two years I've relied on Garlic Barrier that is manufactured by Garlic Research Labs in Glendale, Calif. The solution is 100 percent garlic and water. To kick it up, I'll mix with more water and add hot chili peppers, lemon grass, peppermint, rose geranium and a cinnamon stick. I'll bring the mix to a boil, steep and strain when cool. This spray also works as a deer deterrent.

    Gardeners who spend weeks or months away from their yards still can beat the insect problem in the easiest and most economical way -- plant a buffet for beneficial insects. These "good guys" not only devour and destroy many of the pests that ravage garden plants, they offer a world of beauty and wonder. I find myself standing still so that I may watch a dragonfly perch and groom before he swoops away to get another mosquito. Red lady beetles, delicate green lacewings and the soldier bug with plates for wings and a sharp beak it uses to impale its victims, can live and work for you in your garden when you plant coneflowers, ornamental grasses, sunflowers, and culinary herbs of cilantro, parsley, dill, fennel and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginian).

    PROLIFIC AND TERRIFIC

    Except for those pesky leaf miners and an infestation of spider mites that always moves in when the weather is hot and dry, use a hard spray of the garden hose to rid. I've not had much insect damage. And I owe it to native wildflowers, sometimes called the champions at attracting beneficial insects.

    My golden rod, tickseed and Melanthiaceae plants are full of holes and I don't care. I call Melanthiaceae prolific and terrific, as it spreads like a native plant should all over sunny and shady garden spots, grows a foot a month, and produces beautiful, white, fluffy flowers in late summer. I wish it had a short name, but I can tell you that it's of the large (3,600 species) Liliaceae family. Tickseeds are of the Coreopsis species; they're flowering now. Where did I get these useful and ornamental natives? They began to show themselves many years ago, emerging wherever the ground had been turned over. I think I've the birds to thank.

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