When I left New Jersey for my new home and new garden, I was ecstatic to discover that I could grow roses without spending endless hours picking Japanese beetles off the rose's leaves, flowers and stems.
The years have gone by; the rose shrubs remain bug free, as have the other shrubs and flowers, native or not. Until last week. The daily walk-around garden inspection was a shocker. There were plants, many plants, with leaves chewed, or with the sort of holes that made the leaves look like a piece of green netting. A lot of "what in the world is going on" was in my head. When I calmed down, I began to take notice of the plants most damaged, and that was a puzzle too. Morning glory leaves, sorrel and salvia were the worst hit. Sorrel, may be understandable -- it is a very tasty plant, its edible leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked in soup or salads -- but salvia? This amazing plant with its infinite varieties can likely be found in most Lowcountry gardens. Perennial, heat and water forgivable, and with myriad showy flowers, you can count on salvia to be trouble free. Or so I thought as I proceeded to explore. And another surprise in the shade garden: Many wild flowers showed insect damage, with tiny holes throughout their leaves.
Did I reach for the spray can of pesticide? No. This has always been a natural yard filled with birds, bees, wasps, spiders, snails, lizards skinks, frogs, snakes and, yes, moles. Every summer day I discover more good bugs; the dragon and damsel flies are putting up a brave fight against a record population of mosquitoes; the ground beetle, a general predator, will hopefully help with the green leafhoppers whom I suspect are visiting my garden. I venture, too, this guess: Due to the past, mild winter, the leafhopper did not die out, and was joined in the spring by the usual migration from the Gulf Coast.
WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?
Garden friends are for perfect for sharing your garden problems and tell you about theirs. One of our favorite, heat-loving summer shrubs, the tropical hibiscus is giving local gardeners problems.
Question. My hibiscus plants set buds but never reach flowering; the buds fall off. Do you know what is the cause? Dennis Nelson
The leaves of my newly purchased hibiscus are turning yellow and falling off. Any idea what's going on? M. Stuart
Answer. There's an Ambrosia beetle that is attacking tropical hibiscus plants in the area. Consult the nursery where you purchased the plant; they will suggest what to look for, and recommend a treatment.
Q. I've asked prominent area gardeners, Mary Anne Gebler, Annemarie Kinsky, and Sandy, the Rose Queen, Lundberg: Do you find an increase in the insect population?
Mary Anne: I have damage this summer from green flies and an unknown predator that is damaging all 13 of my "Little Gem" gardenias. I've tried various insect sprays but with all the rain we've been having, it gets washed off.
Annemarie: I've little green worms all over my perennial hibiscus (H. moscheutos). I don't use chemicals in the garden. With a gloved hand I pick them off, or use a hard spray from the garden hose. When I took the Master Garden Course in New Jersey, the teacher said to use a hard hose spray to knock the worms off; they're too stupid to climb back up. I use a granular systemic on my roses to kill their predators. It's suppose to be organic.
Sandy: We are now taking care of 350 modern roses; they are fenced in with an electric fence to keep deer and armadillos out. Husband Bob sprays the roses with an insecticide every five or six weeks. We have wasps eating holes and wanting to build nests. Every evening Bob and I pick off little tiny earworms and black beetles. We don't have those rose loving Japanese beetles here as they can't lay eggs in our sandy soil.
Thanks gardeners. Generally they agreed, the past mild winter did likely increase our insect population.
A RECIPE TO REPEL PESTS
Mix one small onion, one garlic bulb, one teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder in a blender with one quart of water. Steep for about an hour, then strain. Add one teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Pour into a bottle and label clearly. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Good for controlling beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars and other leaf-eating insects.
Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.