Posts

What do you do when you see damaging insects such as aphids sucking on your plants?


Do you reach for the nearest bottle of insecticide? Pluck them off or spray them with a hose?  


Believe it or not, sometimes the best thing is to do nothing.  I learned this lesson long ago before I went to school to become a horticulturist.


I remembered this important lesson when I passed by a severely pruned oleander shrub on my way to our weekly bagel lunch after church.  


The oleanders were growing back nicely.  However, there was some yellow aphids on the young leaves.

Years ago, my oleander shrubs had an infestation of yellow aphids like this, and I was anxious to get rid of them.

I had several methods at my disposal – insecticidal soap, a strong jet of water or my fingers – all of which, would help get rid of most of the aphids.  But, life got in the way, and I didn’t have a chance to get out to treat my shrubs until about ten days later.  

Can you guess what I found?  Not a single aphid.  I didn’t have to do a thing, and the aphids were gone, and my shrubs look great.

So, what happened to the aphids?

When harmful insect pests first appear, it can take a week or two before their natural predators follow.  In the case of aphids, lacewing and ladybugs showed up and ate the aphids.  

Plants are tougher than we give them credit for and can handle a certain amount of insect pests without any adverse effects to the plant itself.  

So, when I come back in a couple of weeks to the same bagel shop, I expect to see no aphids in sight and a healthy oleander shrub.

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from one of my long-time clients.  She was frantic about her Hibiscus plant. 

I’m not kidding….

Why was she so upset?  Well, she had received this potted Hibiscus from her friend who had grown it for years.  She was having a problem with white flies attacking her beloved Hibiscus and it was losing its leaves.

Now, I had seen the Hibiscus last fall, when she had first received it and she proudly showed me where she had put it in her dining room.  It had always been grown as an indoor plant.


(All the photos below are of healthy Hibiscus.  I didn’t have any photos of unhealthy ones to show you).

 It was a lovely specimen of Hibiscus and she was determined to take very good care of her friend’s Hibiscus.
However, when I arrived last week to look at it, it wasn’t looking too happy.
Some of the leaves were yellowing, while some were still green.  The Hibiscus had lost many of its leaves.  There was also ‘honeydew’ on the leaves, which are shiny, slightly sticky drops.  The ‘honeydew’ is actually the ‘poop’ from the white flies.
When I gently brushed the leaves, a cloud of white flies flew upward.
 
My client had used insecticidal soap and had even carefully brushed each leaf with a soft toothbrush to get “the blasted insects” off.
But, they would always return a few days later.  She was at her wit’s end.  She said that she couldn’t sleep at night because she kept envisioning ways to “kill those blasted insects”.

So if you have Hibiscus (inside or outside) and have problems with white flies, I will share with you what I told her including one unusual prescription:
1. Spray the leaves (top and bottom), stems and soil surface with insecticidal soap.  Do this every 4 days to kill newly emerged white flies before they can lay eggs.
The key to killing white flies with insecticidal soap is that you have to do it 3 – 4 separate times to kill the emerging white flies before they can lay eggs.  Insecticidal soap does not kill the eggs, which are usually laid on the soil surface.
2. In conjunction with the insecticidal soap, put out ‘yellow sticky traps’ around your Hibiscus.  White flies are attracted to the color yellow and will become ‘stuck’ on the sticky trap.  You can buy them at your local nursery, or you can make your own by coloring an index card yellow, attach a popsicle stick on the pack and smear with Vaseline.
3. Neem oil has been shown to be effective as well.  But, its effects aren’t obvious at first.  It interferes with the life cycle of harmful insects and keeps them from eating, mating and laying eggs.  However, Neem oil can be a bit strong for some plants and can damage leaves.  So, before using on your entire plant, be sure to apply it to one leaf first and wait 24 hours to see if your plant handles it without damage.
4. Okay, this is my favorite solution.  Some people have shown great results in repelling white flies when they incorporate ‘earthworm casings’ into the soil.  What are ‘earthworm casings’ you may ask?  Well, it is earthworm ‘poop’.  Plants just love it and it makes a great soil amendment and many people state that it has kept white flies away from their Hibiscus plants.
**I don’t believe that there are any scientific studies to support this and I haven’t tried it personally.  But, earthworm casings will benefit your Hibiscus even if it doesn’t repel white flies, so there is no danger in using it.  You can buy earthworm casings online.
Now I generally do not make house calls for a single, indoor plant.  But, these clients are a very dear couple and I have had quite a history with them.  First, it was attempting to save their old, Magnolia tree.  The client had grown up in Louisiana and had loved having a tree that reminded her of her girlhood home.  

Sadly, the Magnolia tree died due to an underground leak of the irrigation system.  But, the good news is, is that they have a new Magnolia tree that although small, should do very well in its new location.
How about you? 
Do you have a tree or plant that is especially important to you?

I would love to hear about it 🙂

Do I have your attention?  What kind of embarrassing thing do I have to admit too?  Well, I could think of countless things:

I am a bit clumsy
I am a very picky eater
I like to grow vegetables more then I like to eat them 😉
AND
I am not a perfect gardener
There, I said it.  I am not a perfect gardener, or a horticulturist, for that matter.  In fact, I make lots of mistakes.
But you know what?  Most gardeners do.  That is how we learn.
Now, I am not a perfectionist by nature.  But, I do have some pride when it comes to my garden.  So, I was mortified when I noticed that my vegetable garden had a severe case of spider mites.
Admittedly, I missed the early signs…..
The speckled leaves of my cucumbers and the webbing along the edges of the leaves.

Actually, my corn stalks and tomato leaves had a similar appearance.

But, what really caught my attention, was my basil.
I warn you, it isn’t a pretty sight…
You can see my basil peeking out from my cucumber leaves.  See the tips of the leaves?  I had a very bad infestation.

My first reaction, was one of embarrassment.  I mean, how could I have let things get so bad?

Well, I could think of a million things that tend to occupy my thoughts….
my husband
my 5 kids
my father-in-law’s health
planning our 25th wedding anniversary trip
massive car-repair bill led to new car purchase
landscape consults
gardening articles to be written
last day of school for the kids
painting our kitchen & hallways 
My second reaction was to rush out to the store as fast as I could to purchase insecticidal soap, which was listed as safe to use for vegetables.
I sprayed my little heart out as soon as I returned from the store.  I made sure to not only spray the upper leaf, but the undersides as well.

I will have to reapply in 5 days to make sure that all newly hatched spider mites are killed as well.

So, how did I get spider mites in the first place?  Well, they love warm, dry weather AND I do live in the desert.  Spider mites ride wind currents like aphids do.  They create webs which protect the mites themselves and their eggs.  They puncture the leaves with their mouths as they feed on your plants.

If you have speckled leaves or see bits of webbing, hold a piece of white paper underneath a leaf of the affected plant and shake the leaf.  Spider mites will fall to the paper and look like small brown dots that are moving about.

If your problem is not too severe, you can introduce predatory insects to the garden, such as lady bugs, which will feed upon them.  Also, a periodic spraying of the foliage with your hose will help as well, since it will remove some of the mites and will also increase the humidity, which spider mites dislike.

But, if you are like me and you have a severe infestation, then more serious intervention is needed.  I decided to use insecticidal soap since it was safe for my vegetables.  There are other products such as horticultural oil, which is safe for vegetables and some miticides are said to be safe as well – but be sure to read the label of whatever product you use to make sure that it is safe for use with vegetables.
Thankfully, my vegetables should be okay.

*******************************
I must admit, that when I first saw how bad my spider mite infestation was, I was actually glad that you all could not see it.  I was afraid that if you could see my mistake that you wouldn’t take my gardening advice seriously anymore.
But then I realized that there is no ‘perfect’ gardener or even horticulturist.  I have made quite a few mistakes throughout my career and learned quite a lot because of them.  So, I hope that you can be helped by telling you about my mistake(s) in the garden 😉
Contrary to what some may believe – 

“There are no ‘perfect’ gardeners, just those who aren’t afraid to make mistakes in the garden and learn from them.” 

Unfortunately, there are times when unwelcome visitors make a visit to any garden.

Even mine….

Can you see my unwelcome visitors on my Lantana leaves?
Well, if you guessed that I have whiteflies, you would be right.
Whiteflies absolutely love Lantana.  Now, I also love Lantana and have quite a bit of it growing and every year, I get whiteflies.
Whiteflies are soft-bodied insects that are related to aphids and scale.  They suck the juices from the plant’s leaves, which can lead to yellowing leaves, stunted growth and even dead leaves.
Whiteflies are not particular.  They enjoy many different types of plants and vegetables. 
So, how can you tell if you have whiteflies?  Just lightly brush your plants and if you see tiny, white flying insects, then it is a good guess that you have whiteflies.

So, what can you do if you have them?

1. You can a ‘sticky trap’ by smearing petroleum jelly over bright, yellow colored cardboard or  poster board (you can always color the board yellow  yourself).  Attach the yellow sticky trap to short garden stakes throughout the area in your garden, affected by whiteflies.  They are attracted to the color yellow and will become stuck in the petroleum jelly.  One yellow board per two plants is recommended.
2. Using insecticidal soap can often help.  There are other insecticides that can are effective such as neem oil, pyrethins and more.  Read the label before you purchase a product to see if they help to control whiteflies.  Be sure to spray both the top and bottom of leaves, since whiteflies lay their eggs on the underside of leaves.
3. You can use plants that repel whiteflies such as Marigolds, Nasturtiums or Calendula.
What do I do?  Well that would be number 4…..
4. I do nothing.  
Why?  Because my Lantana flourish despite having whiteflies.  They suffer no visible ill-effects.  So, I ignore the whiteflies.
Now, if had whitefly problems with my vegetables, I would use a combination of methods #1 – #3 in my vegetable garden.  I would have yellow, sticky traps scattered throughout my vegetable garden along with judicious spraying of insecticidal soap.  I would also plant Marigolds and Nasturtiums throughout my vegetable garden as well, (I already do that).
 ***********************************
I wish that whiteflies were the only unwelcome visitors in my garden, but sadly, that is not true.  The other day, I discovered a severe infestation of……..?
Stay tuned 😉