Strawberry mottle is an unassuming viral disease that can cut your strawberry crop by 30%.
Strawberry mottle is one of several viruses that can affect strawberries. Appearing on its own, the damage tends to be relatively isolated. All too often, however, more than one virus appears at the same time. Collectively, this condition is called virus decline and it can eliminate any chance at enjoying a sweet, juicy strawberry from your garden, no matter how well you care for your plants.
Vectors of strawberry mottle disease
Strawberry mottle is carried by insects, most commonly by strawberry, melon, and cotton aphids. This virus is also spread by vegetative propagation of infected plants. Unlike the strawberry mild yellow edge virus, which is retained in an aphid’s gut for its lifetime, the strawberry mottle virus can only be transmitted for 2 or 3 hours after an aphid or other insect has fed on an infected plant. This makes outbreaks remain relatively localized. [Ten feet away probably looks impossible to a flightless bug that is only 1/8” long.]
Symptoms of strawberry mottle
As insects pierce plant cells to suck out the sugary sap, viruses move from the insect’s saliva to the plant. As viruses tend to do, these pseudo-lifeforms start reprogramming a plant’s cells to produce more viruses, which then clog the works.
Strawberry mottle first appears on young leaves as smaller than normal leaves that may also show yellow distorted areas. Plants may be stunted and they certainly produce less fruit and runners than they might otherwise. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe, with older leaves turning red.
Strawberry mottle management
Strawberry mottle is more likely when plants are left in place over the winter, but that doesn’t mean you have to rip out your plants every year. [Note: don’t actually rip plants out of the ground. Instead, cut them off at soil level to leave valuable soil microbes in place.]
As always, to reduce the likelihood of strawberry mottle appearing in your garden, only buy certified disease-free plants and always place new plants in quarantine. As much as possible, try to control aphids around strawberry plants. If a plant becomes infected, remove it.
For some reason, strawberry plants tend to get infected with more than one virus at the same time. Strawberry mild yellow edge virus is one of those diseases
Strawberry mild yellow edge virus is a long name for a disease that can reduce your strawberry crop by as much as 30%. Strawberry mild yellow edge virus often appears at the same time as the mottle virus, both of which are transmitted by some aphid species. Nematodes may also add raspberry ringspot virus to the mix.
Strawberry mild yellow edge virus symptoms
As with most viral diseases, stunting is a common symptom of strawberry mild yellow edge virus. Older leaves may turn bright red, but leaves around the crown nearly always exhibit yellow margins or edges, hence the name. These yellowed areas eventually die and turn brown. Leaf cupping may also occur.
Since these symptoms look a lot like water-stress, fertilizer burn, overly acidic pH, boron toxicity, or bad weather, it is important to rule those things out before deciding on a plan. Once strawberry mild yellow edge virus has made an appearance in your garden, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage.
How to manage strawberry mild yellow edge virus
Even though the fruits of infected plants are still edible, plants infected with strawberry mild yellow edge virus should be removed to reduce the chance of spread. Aphids carrying the strawberry mild yellow edge virus are disease vectors for life. The only thing to do if the disease is present is to use insecticidal soap on each and every aphid that might be a carrier. Just be sure to do this at a time when honey bees and other pollinators will not be attending the flowers. Common lambsquarters and other Chenopods can also carry this disease, so keep these plants away from your strawberry plants.
This disease is most common when plants are grown using a matted-row method. The matted-row system allows parent plants to send out runners, or daughter plants, which will produce fruit the following spring. This is a very productive method that has been around for a long time. It gets its name because the runners end up intertwined, creating a mat. The only problem with the matted-row system is that it means plants are in place for a longer period of time. This makes infection more likely.
As always, place new plants into quarantine until you are sure that they are disease-free.
Strawberry crinkle might sound like a delicious new candy bar, but it is one of the most destructive viral diseases a strawberry plant can face.
Strawberry crinkle virus was first seen in Oregon and California in 1932 and is now found worldwide. Spread by aphids, this disease is commonly seen in tandem with other aphid-transmitted diseases, such as mottle, mild yellow edge, pallidosis, and strawberry vein banding. As aphids feed, their saliva transfers the virus to every plant they visit.
Strawberry crinkle virus symptoms
Wilting, reduced runner production, smaller fruit, deformed and/or streaked flower petals, and crinkled leaves are all symptoms of strawberry crinkle virus. Vein spotting may also be seen, as well as lesions on petioles (leaf stems) and stolons. Infected plants may appear top-heavy, exhibiting a form of epinasty. These symptoms can vary in intensity.
Strawberry crinkle virus management
Since bees are so important to strawberry formation, insecticides are generally not an option against the aphids that carry this disease. Use these tips to prevent strawberry crinkle virus from impacting your strawberry crop:
Hopefully, your strawberry plants will never become infected with the crinkle virus. Until we figure out a sustainable way to get rid of aphids, well, be on the lookout.
Root hairs are where water absorption occurs. Since that water contains nutrients found in the soil, root hairs are important. And fragile.
You might expect root hairs to grow along the entire length of a root system, but that’s not what happens. Root hairs only occur in specific areas, or zones, of a root system.
Roots start out as undifferentiated cells. The very tip of a root is called the root cap, which protects the growing root as it moves through the soil. The next zone is where cell division takes place. As more cells are produced, the root cap is pushed forward. This growth is a relatively continuous process throughout the life of a plant. As new cells are produced and the root moves forward, the older cells stretch and create storage pockets called vacuoles. This is called the zone of elongation. Finally, growth and elongation are complete and root hairs can begin to emerge. This is called the zone of maturation.
The reason root hairs do not appear right away in the growth process is because they are so delicate that they would be sheared off as the root moves through the soil. This is also what causes transplant shock. The act of transplanting can shear off a majority of the root hairs as the soil gets jostled about and uninformed gardeners tamp down the soil. Rather than crushing delicate root hairs, mudding in new transplants protects those important root hairs.
Did you know that the reason root hairs are so evenly spaced along a root is because each hair secretes a poison that prevents nearby cells from producing their root hair? I didn’t either.
How root hairs absorb water and nutrients
Nutrient-rich water is pulled into the cytoplasm of root hair cells by osmosis. Root hairs also secrete malic acid, which helps convert minerals into ionic forms that are easier to absorb. Organic molecules in the soil, called chelates, also help root hairs absorb nutrients.
Root hairs as defense mechanism
Because root hairs are so small, they make it very difficult for harmful bacteria to enter the plant through the xylem. When beneficial bacteria, such as those which help legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen, appear, root hairs curl around the welcome visitor. This allows an infection thread to connect the two for everyone’s benefit. Helpful soil microorganisms, called mycorrhizae, are small enough to enter a plant’s root system through the root hairs. Root maggot larvae feed on root hairs.
Plants use phosphorus to grow healthy roots. Before you add more phosphorus to your soil, be sure to send out a sample for a soil test. Too much phosphorus can be just as bad, or worse, than not enough.
Avocado lace bugs, also known as camphor lace bugs, can cause problems on avocado, red bay, and camphor trees, along with azaleas and rhododendrons.
Native to Florida, Texas, the Caribbean, French Guyana in South America, and eastern coastal Mexico, avocado lace bugs (Pseudacysta perseae) are not a serious problem when found in small numbers. Or where they have no natural predators.
Avocado lace bug description
Avocado lace bugs get their name because of the lacy venation of their wings, but the way they protect themselves with a lacy cover as they hide on the underside of leaves but be another good reason. That cover is actually the avocado lace bug’s thorax and forewings.
Avocado lace bugs are only 1/16” to 1/12” long, brown, orangish, or black and oval-shaped. They tend to cluster together, creating what looks more like a messy fungal growth than an insect colony. If you look closely, with a hand lens, you would see that avocado lace bugs have a black or brown head or thorax, with white, orange, or brown legs, wing covers, antennae, and abdomen.
Avocado lace bug nymphs are dark and spiky, with pale legs and antennae. Eggs look like sprinkled black pepper even though they are actually oblong and yellow. The black color comes from the fact that these tiny oblong eggs are smeared with what looks like poop.
Avocado lace bug lifecycle
Yes. That’s what I said. Poop. Female avocado lace bugs lay their eggs and then smear the area with a sticky, tar-like substance that looks like poop. Under that protective layer, nymphs molt 5 times as they grow before emerging as adults. Avocado lace bugs have several generations each year and all developmental stages can be present at any one time.
Avocado lace bug damage
Avocado lace bugs are sap suckers. As such, they pierce the underside of leaves and siphon away nutrient rich fluids. This feeding, while trivial in small numbers, can cause stippling. As feeding progresses, other symptoms appear, such as leaf tip burn that looks like salt damage, leaf discoloration, and early leaf drop. Large infestations can result in defoliation, sunburn damage, and reduced fruit production.
As in any case where plant cells are pierced, this feeding also provides points of entry for fungal diseases, such as anthracnose.
Avocado lace bug control
Natural predators should keep avocado lace bug populations in check. These beneficial insects include jumping spiders, lacewing larvae, lady beetles, and predatory mites and thrips, as well as parasitic wasps.
If avocado lace bug populations reach troublesome numbers, keep your trees healthy with a thick layer of mulch, good drainage, and regular irrigation. Insecticidal soaps are somewhat helpful against avocado lace bugs.
Be on the lookout for this pest. If you suspect your tree is hosting avocado lace bugs, contact your local County Extension Office right away. As always, place new plants and bare root trees in quarantine before adding them to your garden.
Like other stink bugs, Uhler’s stink bug has a shield-shaped body. Native to North and Central America, Uhler’s stink bugs will damage nectarines, pistachios, and tomatoes, along with seeds, grain, other fruits and vegetables, ornamental plants, legumes, and tree leaves.
Uhler’s stink bug identification
Uhler’s stink bug (Chlorochroa uhleri) looks a lot like green stink bugs (Acrosternum hilare), which may have a a red, orange, or yellow outer edge, and Say stink bugs (Chlorochroa sayi), which are green with a white border. Uhler's stink bugs tend to be slightly larger than other stink bug species. Uhler’s stink bugs may also turn a dustier green that almost looks tan and the outer band may pale to the point of looking nearly white. Quite honestly, unless you are looking at a beneficial rough stink bug (Brochymena sulcata), you are looking at a pest that should be hand-picked and destroyed.
Damage caused by Uhler’s stink bugs
Uhler’s stink bugs eat fruit by piercing the surface and sucking out the sugary sweet juice. At first, those feeding spots may look like tiny, translucent blue-green dimples. If you cut into the fruit, you will see the fruit has turned into grayish white pithy tissue that doesn’t look the least bit appetizing. These pests can also transmit tomato bacterial spot and create points of entry for other pests and diseases.
Uhler’s stink bug controls
Insecticides are ineffective against stink bugs, but that may be a good thing. Instead of spraying chemicals that kill off beneficial insects, a healthy, biodiverse garden will likely be home to assassin bugs, parasitic wasps and flies, such as the tachinid fly (Trichopoda pennipes) and the Trissolcus basalis wasp, which will parasitize stink bug eggs. Birds, spiders, toads, and other insect eating critters will also help keep stink bug populations down.
Your best stink bug management program simply involves walking around and looking for them, hand-picking them and depositing them in a container of soapy water or feeding them to your chickens. You may have to be quick, as stink bugs tend to scramble to the opposite side of a twig or branch if they sense someone is looking for them. You will need to monitor for stink bugs from the time buds emerge until the end of the harvest season.
These pests are often found overwintering in common mullein, curly dock, and Russian thistle. If stink bugs have been a serious pest in the past, pull mulch away from fruit trees before green fruit appear. After the harvest, simply push the mulch back into place.
The red noodle bean plant looks spectacular, grows rapidly, and provides a bountiful harvest.
A dear friend gifted me with a packet of red noodle bean seeds a while back. As they were a type of pole bean, I planted the seeds around things they could climb and watered them regularly. At first, nothing seemed to happen, as is normal in the world of gardening. Then I went away for a few weeks. When I returned, I was delighted to find my red noodle beans had completely lived up to their reputation. [Thank you, Carol!]
The red noodle bean story
Red noodle beans originated in Africa but are more commonly considered to be from China. Rather than being related to the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), such as kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans, red noodle beans are more closely related to cowpeas and yard long beans (Vigna unguiculata).
Red noodle bean description
These climbing beans start out looking much like other pole beans. Heart-shaped leaflets appear in groups of three as tendrils take hold wherever they can, pulling the vine upward. Lovely small white, pink, or lavender flowers appear along the way, but are easily overlooked. The real surprise comes when the pods appear. Pairs of striking scarlet pods can reach over a foot-and-a-half in length.
How to grow red noodle beans
Red noodle bean seeds should be planted 3/4-1” deep and 4” apart. Like other legumes, red noodle beans have delicate root systems that do not recover well from transplanting. These plants need heat to grow, so be sure to install them in a sunny location after the soil has warmed from its winter nap. In fact, where other legumes succumb to scorching summers and drought, red noodle beans thrive.
Vines need a sturdy support as they can reach 8’ in length or more. Trellises, cattle panels, fences, tuteurs, old ladders and pergolas can all be used as supports. Plants will need a thorough watering every 7-10 days to develop deep roots. Because red noodle beans are legumes, they do not need nitrogen fertilizer. In fact, they generally don’t need fertilizer at all, assuming your soil is healthy. You will need a soil test to know if that is the case in your garden.
Being native to tropical rainy areas, red noodle beans need a fair bit of irrigation, just be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings to avoid many of the diseases common to legumes.
Red noodle bean pests and diseases
Red noodle bean pests include birds, gophers, rabbits, rats and squirrels, along with ants, mites, and aphids. Those aphids may also bring mosaic viruses to your red noodle bean crop, so monitor closely for those insidious pests.
Harvesting red noodle beans
Plants start producing pods within 80 days. By harvesting pods as they appear, you will stimulate the vines to continue producing. In other words, the more you take, the more they make.
Pods can be harvested when pencil thin to be used whole in stir-fry, or you can allow them to reach full size to harvest what will dry into small, red beans. Keep in mind that allowing the beans to dry on the vine will slow or halt pod production. When harvesting, be sure to leave the buds above the pods in place. These buds can produce multiple sets of pods over time.
You can also succession plant red noodle beans to make full use of your local growing season.
Give red noodle beans a try! You are going to love how they look (and taste)!
Black beans are sweet, meaty beans that are native to the Americas and often used in South American, Cajun, and Creole recipes. Black beans are delicious, easy to grow, and dried beans can be stored for 2 years before they start losing their flavor.
Black bean plants
Black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are legumes. This means they have nodules on and in their roots that allow them to fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that they and neighboring plants can use. This nitrogen is only available until legumes begin flowering and producing pods. At that point, they keep the nitrogen for themselves.
The large, familiar seeds of black beans split in half, which tells us that they are eudicots. This means that the vascular bundle forms a ring within the stem, plants have a taproot, and flowers generally have petals that appear in multiples of four or five.
Black beans get their black color from flavonoids called anthocyanins. These are the same water-soluble pigments that give purple cauliflower and blueberries their color.
Black bean varieties
Black beans come in both bush and pole varieties. Pole varieties will climb trellises, cattle panels, and other vertical surfaces, and they tend to be indeterminate, which means they will continue producing pods. Bush varieties tend to be determinate and will produce all of their pods within a two-week time frame. Pole beans produce more pods than bush beans, but bush varieties are best if you are planning on doing any canning.
Whichever variety you should, beans should be harvested as soon as they have plumped up. Leaving them on the plant for too long makes them tough.
How to grow black beans
Beans are generally planted directly in the soil in spring and early summer. If planted too soon or too late in the season, the seeds will simply rot in the ground. You can start black bean seeds in smaller pots, but they have delicate roots and do not transplant well. You can also grow them in containers. Just keep in mind that bean root systems need 16-24” deep pots to thrive.
NOTE: As tempting as it may be to use an inexpensive bag of dried black beans from your local grocery store as your seeds, don't do it. Grocery store items are safe to eat. That does not means that they are safe to grow. Many grocery store plants can carry pests and diseases that may take years to be rid of. Instead, invest in certified disease-free seeds and transplants. Your garden is worth it.
Black beans prefer warm temperatures (above 70°F) and need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. They prefer loose soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0. Because they can fix atmospheric nitrogen, there is no need to feed bean plants with nitrogen. If a soil test indicates a nutrient deficiency, you can top dress around plants for the best yield.
Seeds should be planted 1-2” deep and 6-8” apart. Water enough to keep the soil moist (but not soggy) until germination occurs. This should take 8-14 days. After that, water deeply every few days, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. For a continuous harvest of black beans, you can start new seeds every week or two throughout the growing season. This is called succession planting.
Hand-weed around bean plants by cutting weeds off at soil level. This avoids disturbing bean roots while eliminating competition for water, nutrients, and sunlight. This practice also leaves valuable soil microorganisms in place, where they can benefit the bean plants.
Black beans take 80-140 days to mature, depending on environmental conditions and variety.
Black bean pests and diseases
Disease that tend to affect beans include bean rust, curly top, damping off, Fusarium root rot, mosaic viruses, powdery mildew, and white mold. Most of these diseases can be prevented by avoiding overhead watering and allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
The real battle, when growing any type of bean, is the army of pests that may go after your crop. These pests include aphids, armyworms, bean weevils, corn earworms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, earwigs, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, leaf miners, loopers, Lycaenid pod borers, Lygus bugs, nematodes, salt marsh caterpillars, seed corn maggots, slugs and snails, spider mites, stink bugs, thrips, whiteflies, and wireworms, but don’t let that stop you from trying your hand at these productive, delicious, easy to store beans. Three-year crop rotations can help prevent or break the disease triangle for many of these problems.
Beans are easy to work with, they improve your soil, and are a satisfying crop to harvest.
Cherry, apple, peach and plum trees are all susceptible to a fungal disease called Cytospora canker.
Cytospora canker is a collection of symptoms caused by several species of Cytospora fungi. This disease is also seen in ash, birch, cottonwood, elm, maple, willow, spruce and other conifers. Some Cytospora fungi are host-specific, while others can infect several different tree species. Sadly, Cytospora canker can be fatal.
Cytospora canker lifecycle
Cytospora canker fungi infect trees and shrubs that are stressed or weakened by injury, frost damage, drought, or pests. Spores are carried by wind and rain. Infection can occur at any time of year, but is more likely during dormant periods, when trees are less able to defend themselves. Fungal spores enter through tiny wounds in the roots or bark and begin growing in the xylem and phloem. Eventually, the branch is girdled, blocking the flow of water and nutrients, and the branch dies. If infection occurs in the trunk of the tree, the tree will die.
Cytospora canker symptoms
The first sign of Cytospora canker is often the random die off or flagging of tree or shrub branches. Closer inspection reveals cankers on stems and branches. These cankers tend to be long and narrow and may or may not be sunken or discolored. These fungi grow so rapidly that discoloration and sunken areas do not always have time to form, but the bark may split along the edge of the cankers as the tree tries to defend itself. These cracks allow for the formation of a callus that blocks the fungi from entering. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In some cases, girdling occurs without any visible cankers. Gumming may also occur. Gumming is when stems and fruit ooze out a sticky sap. This is another form of tree defense.
If you cut into a diseased stem, you may notice discoloration and a funky smell. If you see tiny black spots, you are looking at fruiting bodies of the fungi.
Cytospora canker prevention and control
The easiest way to prevent Cytospora canker is to keep your trees and shrubs healthy in the first place. Healthy plants are less likely to become stressed enough to be vulnerable to infection by fungal spores in the first place.
Since drought and flooding are the most common conditions that make trees susceptible to Cytospora canker, regular irrigation during summer and proper drainage in wetter months can prevent infection. These other tips can help prevent Cytospora canker:
Once infection occurs, remove any affected stems and branches by cutting close to, but not damaging, the branch collar. Be sure to disinfect your cutting tools with bathroom cleaner or ethyl alcohol between each cut. Then apply a fungicide to each cut. Do not use any other wound dressing, as these treatments can trap spores and moisture where you least want them.
There are no known chemical controls for Cytospora canker, so keeping those trees and shrubs healthy is your best bet.
Common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) may be edible, but you probably don’t want it anywhere near your garden.
California goosefoot (Blitum californicum) is also known as lambsquarters, but is a close cousin to spinach and the subject of another post, another day.
Lambsquarters grows pretty much everywhere without any help from any of us. Sadly, this tenacious weed also plays host to several diseases.
Diseases of lambsquarters
These weeds are susceptible to a large number of plant diseases. The list of diseases commonly found on lambsquarter, and the crops they infect, include:
The green peach aphid, a serious disease-carrier, seems to prefer lambsquarters, which gives us yet another reason for pulling these weeds out as soon as they are seen.
Lambsquarters start out with tiny dull bluish oblong leaves. You may see a reddish purple on the underside. As leaves mature, they take on more of a toothed, lance shape. Leaves are covered with a white, powdery coating, especially when new. Stems are sometimes tinged red or purple. Flower clusters form much like the seed heads of millet and quinoa.
Pull them out. Dig them out. Don’t let them go to seed.
While it is okra pods that we normally think of eating, okra leaves and flowers are also edible. Cousin to hollyhocks, cocoa, cotton, hibiscus, and mallow, okra is a simple addition to your garden.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is an attractive plant. Large flowers tend to be white or yellow with red or purple spots at the base. These are big, impressive plants, similar to artichokes. They can reach 5’ in height and 2 or 3 feet wide.
How to grow okra
Okra prefers hot, sunny weather and warm soil (at least 75°F). It will tolerate clay soil but grows best in soil with lots of organic material. Okra can be planted in large containers.
The roots of okra seedlings are very delicate and easy to damage. Seedlings can be difficult to find, depending on where you live. Okra can be started from seeds, but it is a slow growing plant. Seeds should be sowed 3/4” deep in mounds.
Okra is a heavy feeder, so top dressing with some aged compost when plants are 8” tall and again when pods set and when plants are 4’ tall. This will ensure they have all the nutrients they need. [Of course, it is always a good idea to get a soil test, so you know what your plants are growing in.] Over-fertilization of okra creates huge, beautiful leaves and zero pods.
Once pod-formation begins, be sure to harvest pods every other day, while they are less that 4” long. Larger pods are tough and inedible. If pods are allowed to ripen on the plant, pod production will stop.
Okra pests and diseases
Okra is frequently attacked by aphids, cutworms, earwigs, flea beetles, and whiteflies. You can protect young okra plants from earwigs and cutworms by using brassica collars.
Being susceptible to Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt, okra should not be planted where tomatoes or peppers have been grown recently.
Okra is a drought-tolerant plant, but it grows best with regular irrigation. Some people are sensitive to okra leaves, so you might want to wear gloves. Just in case.
Nurse cropping is a form of companion planting in that specific plants are installed to provide one type of protection or another for young crops as they become established.
Nurse crops protect young perennials
In commercial agriculture, nurse crops are fast-growing annuals that are planted along with perennials, such as alfalfa, to help those perennials become established. This gives the long term crop protection from pests as it is getting started.
Nurse crops as trap crops
Trap crops are installed around or near desirable crops because of the way they attract or repel specific pests. In some cases, trap crops interfere with a pest’s lifecycle or kill it outright. In other cases, the trap crop is “harvested” after pests have appeared to remove them from the garden.
Nurse crops are frequently used as traps crops. For example, wireworms are a big problem for strawberries. In one study, strawberries planted alone had a 43% mortality rate, while strawberries planted two weeks before wheat was added had a 27% mortality rate. When wheat was planted 8 days before the strawberries, that mortality rate dropped to 5%. That’s a significant savings in strawberry starts, just by broadcasting a handful of wheat berries a week ahead of time!
Pros and cons of nurse cropping
Like every other plan of action, nurse cropping has pros and cons. The benefits of nurse cropping include reduced weeds, wind and erosion. Also, perennial seedlings are protected from excessive sun in their first weeks of growth. Oats and other cereals are common nurse crops. As such, another benefit is that the nurse crop can be a harvestable edible in its own right.
The potential problems associated with nurse cropping is that the nurse crop does use up water and nutrients. It may also become a type of weed itself.
You can use nurse cropping in your garden by starting cereal grains in a bed a week or so before planting something else. If you don’t harvest it, the local birds and other wildlife will appreciate the buffet and more tender plants will benefit, as well.
Lily leaf beetles prefer lilies over everything else, but you may find them damaging your potatoes and hollyhocks, as well.
The lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii) earns its name by devouring lilies of every shape and size. Native to Europe, this pest made its way to Canada in 1945 and reached the U.S. in 1992. While they may not yet be in your neighborhood, they might. So it’s a good idea to know what they look like and how to control them - just in case.
Lily leaf beetle description
The bright reddish-orange wing cover of lily leaf beetles makes them easy to spot. Black legs, head, and antennae stand out in clear contrast against green leaves. Adults average 1/2” long.
Eggs are irregularly shaped and laid in rows. At first they are tan colored. Just before they hatch, they turn bright red. Larvae look like tiny brown, orange, yellow, or even greenish slugs with black heads.
Lily leaf beetle lifecycle
Eggs are laid on host plants, usually on the underside of leaves. After hatching, larvae feed for 2 - 3 weeks before dropping to the ground to pupate in the soil. Adults overwinter in sheltered areas that may not necessarily be near host plants. In spring, they emerge and mate. Each female might lay 250-450 eggs.
Damage caused by lily leaf beetles
Both adults and larvae feed on buds and leaves. Very often, nothing is left but stems. Lily leaf beetle larvae have a nasty habit of collecting their own excrement on their backs. This is believed to be a defense mechanism. I’ll bet it works, too!
Lily leaf beetle control
Hand-picking is the best control method. Severe infestations may warrant neem oil or spinosad application.
All parts of the kohlrabi plant are edible. Sweeter and more mild than either cabbage or turnips, kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea) is a highly nutritious vegetable, with plenty of fiber and vitamins.
The swollen bulb-shaped portion of kohlrabi is actually a modified stem. The outer skin can be pale green or purple, depending on the cultivar. The blue-green leaves look striking. This biennial plant makes an attractive addition to your garden, as well as your dinner table.
How to grow kohlrabi
Kohlrabi is generally a cool season crop. It needs full sun and good drainage. Kohlrabi plants prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8. If your soil is more alkaline than that, acidification may be a good idea.
Here in San Jose, California, kohlrabi plants can be started in February and March, and then again in September and October. These are heavy feeders, so top dressing with aged compost can ensure they have access to all the nutrients they need. Mulching around plants is also helpful. Regular irrigation will prevent your kohlrabi from becoming woody textured.
If you are starting with seedlings, put them in the ground so that the first set of leaves is just above the soil line. If growing seeds, cover seeds with 1/4” of soil and space plants 9-12” apart. It takes 45 to 60 days for kohlrabi to reach maturity.
Kohlrabi pests and diseases
Cabbage loopers, cutworms, and imported cabbageworms are the most common pests of kohlrabi. These plants are susceptible to cabbage yellows, clubroot, and downy mildews.
Give kohlrabi a try and see how productive these plants can be!
When I was a child, some kids would play with what looked like giant monster bugs, We called them potato bugs, but they were really Jerusalem crickets.
There is debate over how they got their name, being neither crickets nor from Jerusalem. Whatever you call them, Jerusalem crickets give me the creeps (unlike most insects), even though they are mostly beneficial.
You will generally only see them in the evening or after a heavy rain. Leaving the sprinklers on too long can also coax them out of hiding.
Jerusalem cricket description
Native the the western United States and Mexico, there are several different species of Jerusalem cricket. Most of them appear waxy, with brown and yellow bands. These nocturnal flightless insects are large. They average 2” long with a big head. While they cannot sting, Jerusalem crickets can inflict a painful bite, as well as discharge a nasty smell, but only if provoked.
During their mating season, most Jerusalem crickets create a drumming sound by rubbing their abdomen on the ground, while some create sound by rubbing their hind legs against the abdomen.
Jerusalem cricket diet
These insects generally feed on dead plant matter and other insects. Sometimes, but only rarely, they burrow into the soil and feed on your potatoes and other tubers.
For the most part, these benign opportunists pose no threat to your garden. Instead, they are more likely to feed on insect pests and help process dead plant material into nutrients that your growing plants can use.
They still give me the creeps.
One question that comes up when gardening is whether you should use organic fertilizer or inorganic fertilizer.
Whatever their source, certain nutrients are needed for plants to grow and thrive. In many cases, those nutrients are present in the soil. Some times they are not. Without a soil test, you simply cannot know for sure. If a soil test shows there are nutrient deficiencies, you will need to add fertilizer. Should you use organic or inorganic fertilizer?
“Better living through chemistry” has been the victory cry against countless diseases, inconveniences, and poor crop yields. There is no denying that the introduction of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides was a boon to farmers around the world. Of course, we now recognize that everything comes at a price and that it is important to weigh the pros and cons of every situation.
The downside of chemical pest killers is that the pests evolve faster than we do and the point is reached, sooner or later, where the pests can handle the poisons but we can't. Inorganic fertilizers, however, are a different story.
One advantage of inorganic gardening is that you know exactly which nutrients are present and at what concentration. The same cannot be said for composted chicken bedding. Also, inorganic fertilizer is generally in a form easiest to use by plants.
There are also synthetic fertilizers, such as ammonium sulfate, that start out as naturally occurring minerals, which are then processed. These modified minerals are considered acceptable for use in organic gardens.
Organic fertilizers come from manure, compost, bone meal, feather meal, and blood meal. Each of these amendments comes from a plant or animal source. Surprisingly, many of these nutrients must be acted upon by microorganisms to convert them into inorganic forms that plants can use. If it is too hot or too cold for microbes to be active, that organic fertilizer may not be as helpful as we might wish.
That being said, organic fertilizers tend to contain a wider variety of nutrients and microorganisms, which may or may not be advantageous for our plants. Believe it or not, there is still a lot we don’t know about plants.
A rose is a rose
As far as your plants are concerned, it doesn’t matter. To a plant, a molecule of nitrogen looks the same, whether it came from a factory or buffalo urine. It really doesn’t matter. The same is true of all plant nutrients. To a plant, the source of the molecule is meaningless. So why do we care one way or the other?
In both cases, too much fertilizer can burn plants, excessive application can lead to run-off and pollution, and their proper use can improve plant health and production. For me, I lean toward the organic side of the fence simply because it makes me feel good. I like the idea of it. Even though I know that, at the molecular level, it doesn’t really matter.
Did you know that the real difference between organic and inorganic is simply the presence (or lack thereof) of a carbon molecule? Nearly all inorganic compounds lack carbon.
Now you know.
The way veins are arranged on a plant leaf can tell you a lot about that plant. That pattern of arrangement is called venation or veination.
There are complex classification systems for leaf venation, but all you really need to know is that there are four basic patterns: pinnate, palmate, parallel, or dichotomous.
Pinnate venation looks like a feather, with the primary vein emerging from the center of the base of the leaf and smaller veins, called veinlets, occurring at intervals and pointed outward at an angle. Pinnate venation is seen on citrus, walnut, and pistachio.
Palmate venation looks more like a hand with three or more veins radiating from the base. Grape, pumpkin, rhubarb, and sunflower are all examples of the palmate venation seen in most dicots and eudicots.
Two or more equal veins start and end together at the leaf ends while running parallel to each other through the middle. Parallel venation is common to monocots, such as millet and other grasses.
Dichotomous venation is seen as repeated forking or Y-branching, as seen in Ginkgo biloba leaves.
Other venation patterns
You may also run into a few other leaf vein arrangements that don’t conveniently fall into one of those four groups. For example:
When you are trying to identify an unknown plant, venation can help solve the mystery!
Grape mealybug description
Grape mealybugs (Pseudococcus maritimus) are small, white, flat-bodied plant suckers that appear to have a fringed skirt.
Grape mealybug lifecycle
These pests have two generations each year. Eggs and crawlers overwinter under bark and in crevices. In spring, they emerge and begin converging on young shoots, where they start to feed. Those early risers then return to the safety of the bark, where they lay more eggs.
Damage caused by grape mealybugs
Clustered grape mealybugs can open Pandora’s box to fruit rot and other diseases.
How to manage grape mealybugs
Natural predators, such as the predaceous gall midge (Dicrodiplosis californica) and the little brown mealybug destroyer (Scymnobius sordidus) can keep these pests under control, so avoid broad spectrum pesticides. If chemical treatments are absolutely necessary, Applaud has been found effective.
Native to North America west of the Rocky Mountains, Western conifer seed bugs (Leptoglossus occidentalis) have recently expanded their range to the East Coast and are occasionally found in Europe.
Western conifer seed bug description
These narrow, shield-shaped insects are brown and average 3/4 to 1” in length. They have the classic tags seen on the rear legs of all leaf-footed bugs and their antennae tend to stick out on either side. Eggs are brown. Nymphs have light-colored legs and look much like assassin bigs, until they start filling out.
Conifer seed bug damage
These pests generally feed on the sap of developing conifer cones, causing the seeds within to distort and wither. Favored trees include lodgepole pine, white spruce, and Douglas-firs, though red pine, mountain pine, European black pine, Scots pine, and even pistachios are sometimes chosen. They can also vomit up digestive juices that soften hard seeds. I just hope they never find my stone pine!
Even worse, conifer seed bugs have been found to use their piercing mouthparts to damage PEX tubing. PEX tubing is similar to PVC and is used to insulate high voltage electrical wires, and to transport offshore oil and natural gas, sewage, and chemicals.
Conifer seed bug lifecycle
Adult female conifer seed bugs lay 200 eggs in rows, usually along needles, leaf midribs, or stems of host plants. In spring, the eggs hatch and nymphs go through five developmental stages, or instars, before reaching adulthood. In North America, there is only one generation a year, but two or more generations have been seen in Mexico and southern Europe.
Insecticides are not recommended, though they can be used as a last resort against heavy nymph infestations. It is better to avoid using broad spectrum insecticides. Provide pollen and water for natural predators. Some tachinid flies have been known to parasitize conifer seed bug eggs. Spiders, assassin bugs, and birds also feed on conifer seed bugs.
Ferns look lovely in a stumpery, but there is surprisingly more to ferns that you might expect
These plants have been around for over 350 million years, long before flowering plants, or angiosperms, made their appearance. Or dinosaurs, for that matter! Ferns are vascular plants that do not produce flowers or seeds. Instead, they reproduce using spores, similar to mushrooms and other fungi.
There are over 10,000 known fern species of fern [so far] and some species can live for 100 years. While some ferns are nearly microscopic, others can reach 80 feet in height.
There is a group of ferns (Azolla) found predominantly in water and they do not look like any ferns you might see on land. One in particular, the mosquito fern, is able to fix atmospheric nitrogen the same way land-dwelling legumes do before going to seed.
Ferns have three basic parts: rhizome, fronds, and sporangia. Fern rhizomes come in three forms: erect, lateral, and vertical. Erect rhizomes provide the solid base from which leafy fronds unfurl. Laterally growing, creeping rhizomes move above and below ground and may even climb trees. Vertical rhizomes often look more like the trunk of a tree.
Fronds are a fern’s leaves. The leaf stem, called a petiole when referring to other types of plants, is called a fern’s stipe. The flat blade of the frond is called a lamina. The lamina is often segmented into pinnae by short stems called rachides. When a frond first appears, it is tightly curled and called a fiddlehead or koru. Fronds perform photosynthesis and they provide support for a fern’s reproductive sporangia.
Black, brown, or orange sporangia are the reproductive structures of ferns. If there are no sporangia present, the fern is sterile. Normally found on the underside of the fronds, spores are formed in the sporangia. A cluster of sporangia is called a sorus. In some cases, a flap of tissue, called the indusium, may cover the sori until the spores are mature.
Ferns are unique in their method of reproduction and they are the only plants with two distinct living stages. As each spore matures, it becomes a sporophyte. Sporophytes that land in hospitable environments grow into very tiny, short-lived plants called gametophytes. Gametophytes have two sets of reproductive organs: a female archegonia and a male antheridia. Fertilization can take place within the same plant or between two neighboring plants. This fertilization produces a new sporophyte that grows into an adult fern.
While most ferns are not considered edible, they also tend to not be poisonous. There are some varieties of fern that are edible, such as:
As always, do not eat anything you are not sure to be safe.
Fern pests and diseases
Ferns are naturally resistant to most plant-eating insects. One edible fern in particular, Tectaria macrodonta, has a gene that was transferred to cotton plants, providing resistance against whiteflies! Foliar nematodes (Aphelenchoides fragariae) and soil borne nematodes (Pratylenchus) can sometimes be a problem.
Ferns are susceptible to diseases such as bacterial blight (Pseudomonas cichorii or P. gladioli), Pythium root rot, and Rhizoctonia blight. Infected plants should be discarded. Environmental problems, such as drought, which causes greying, and over-fertilization, which results in frond lobing and leaf tip burn, can be avoided with good cultural practices. This means investing in disease-free plants, using only as much fertilizer as recommended for each fern species, and avoiding overhead watering.
If you have a moist, shady crevice in your garden, ferns might be just what you've been looking for!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!