Garden Word of the Day
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Asian Gypsy Moths
Asian gypsy moths have just been spotted in Sunnyvale, California and officials are worried.
You should be, too, if you live anywhere these pests have been found. A single Asian gypsy moth caterpillar can eat one square foot of foliage in a single day. Every day. For weeks.
And they love fruit and nut trees, along with oak, elm, sweetgum and more that 500 other plant species. If the leaf loss doesn’t kill your tree or shrub, it certainly becomes more susceptible to other pests and disease. Adding insult to injury, these caterpillars have hairs that can irritate your skin and may cause allergic reactions that can last two weeks.
Spreading invasive pests
A single female Asian gypsy moth can lay 500 to 1,500 eggs and mature moths can fly 20 to 25 miles from where they started. This means they can spread rapidly. They also hitch rides on shipping containers, RVs, firewood, patio furniture, and your shoes.
These pests were first seen in the U.S. earlier this year (May 2020), in Snohomish County, Washington. One month later, these moths were found in Oregon, Georgia, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Now they are in California. Did I mention that these pests travel quickly?
Asian gypsy moths have the potential to wipe out entire forest ecosystems, not to mention your garden and landscaping. Once pests like these become established in an area, widespread quarantines of produce, flowers, plants, and lumber are often necessary.
Different types of gypsy moths
Also known as Hokkaido gypsy moths, these pests are not the same thing as European gypsy moths. European gypsy moths are bad news, too. In 2017, European gypsy moths defoliated one-third of the state of Massachusetts, resulting in the loss of one-fourth of its oak trees the following year. Invasive pests have the potential to cause devastating damage because many of them have no natural pests and indigenous trees and other plants have not evolved their own protections.
There are several subspecies of Asian gypsy moth which all look very similar: Lymantria dispar asiatica, L. d. japonica, L. albescens, L. umbrosa, and L. post-alba. You don’t need to learn how to tell them apart (unless you’re into that sort of thing). What is important is learning how to recognize them and reporting them right away.
Asian gypsy moth description
Easily mistaken for tent caterpillars or webworms, Asian gypsy moth caterpillars start out less than 1/8” long and tan. As they feed and grow, they may reach 3-1/2” in length, with two rows of blue and red spots along their backs. Fully mature caterpillars may have a mottled gray color that can range from yellow to black.
Adult female moths are white and somewhat larger than most of our native moths, with a 3-1/2” wingspan. Males are grayish brown and smaller, with a wingspan of only 1-1/2”.
Fuzzy buff or yellowish egg masses may be seen on tree trunks and branches, as well as fences, walls, and patio furniture. Each egg mass averages 1-1/2” wide by 3/4”, though they may be as small as a dime.
Asian gypsy moth control
The first step in controlling these pests is prevention. Always inspect imported products carefully for signs of pests and place new plants in quarantine.
Once they appear, it takes a concerted effort to control them. Washington state pest agencies are spraying Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki or Btk. Btk is a soil bacteria that kills the Asian gypsy moth but is not harmful to pets, people, fish, or bees.
Before you can spray Asian gypsy moths, you have to know where they are. The California Department of Food and Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture are currently placing 2,300 traps over 81 square miles of the Sunnyvale area. If you see one of these traps, please leave them alone. If an agency asks permission to place a trap on your property, please say yes.
If Asian gypsy moths arrive in your garden, it is critical that you report sightings to State or Federal officials right away. If you live in California, you can use the Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899. Otherwise, contact your local County Extension Office.
By reporting sightings to officials right away, they are coordinate their efforts more effectively.
Why on Earth would you want to wash off a plant’s roots? Don’t roots prefer being covered with soil?
Very often, mass-produced trees, shrubs, and other woody plants are root bound by the time they reach market. Roots can often be seen circling around the inside of the container, looking for a way out. Left uncorrected, these roots can girdle and kill the plants. Washing the roots allows you to identify the primary roots and to correct any problems.
Soil interface refers the what happens to roots when they come into contact with a different type of soil. Very often, the soil used in mass-produced plants is a soilless mixture that contains a lot of pumice and organic material. You might expect that plants would simply move into the new soil in search of food and water, but they often don’t. When this happens, the plant usually dies. The same thing can happen when you transplant summer annuals from high quality potting soil into more compacted, residential soil. [Believe me, I speak from experience!] Washing off the roots and installing the plant in new or resident soil eliminates this problem. You can do the same thing when planting vegetable and flower seedlings, just be very, very gentle.
Root washing helps you to replant the newest member of your garden or landscape at the proper depth. Bagged and packaged plants are often surrounded with extra soil. This soil is often assumed, incorrectly, to mark the proper planting depth. Planting trees at the incorrect depth is one of the most common causes of tree death. You want to be able to see the outward flare of the trunk above the soil line. Slightly too high is far better than too low.
Very often, planting holes are dug too deeply and not widely enough. Trees and their roots are best pictured like a goblet on a plate. The goblet represents the aboveground portion of the tree, while the plate represents the root system, spreading out laterally. The crown and any grafting union should always be above soil level and soil amendments are not recommended. If you suspect deficiencies in your soil, get it tested before adding anything, because too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
How to wash roots
Now that you understand why root washing is a good idea, how do you do it?
That’s it. Now you can inspect, prune, and replant.
Finally, rather than watering your trees and shrubs (and other plants) on a calendar schedule, invest in an inexpensive moisture meter. Containerized plants should be allowed to dry out to the point that soil pulls away from the edges of the container slightly, then water thoroughly. The water-stress symptoms of overwatering look very much like the symptoms of not enough water. Don’t guess.
Help your plants thrive with root washing and proper planting depth.
Raccoons are garden bandits and they can be a real problem.
The iconic bandit masked face of a raccoon should be fair warning to gardeners and homeowners. Raccoons are smart, strong, and tenacious. They will devour zucchinis and tomatoes, harvest prized koi, steal eggs, and kill chickens.
Raccoon, the animal
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) can reach 3 feet in length and weigh up to 55 pounds. They are mostly nocturnal and they hole up in brush piles, ground burrows, hollow trees, under decks, and in attics and garages. Raccoon litters, of 3 to 6 kits, are usually born in late spring and early summer. Raccoons are very quiet, and they are often intelligent enough to not be seen, so detecting them can be difficult. Until they start to eat.
Raccoon, the thief
Raccoons eat just about anything. They will scrounge your garbage cans and compost piles, wreak havoc on outdoor worm bins, and eat pretty much everything you grow in your garden. Corn is their favorite garden vegetable, but berries, tree fruit, nuts, and your other crops are all fair game to a raccoon. Like squirrels, raccoons are problem solvers. Research has shown that raccoons can recall the solution to a task for at least three years.
Raccoon, the destroyer
As mother raccoons feel the urge to create a den, they often look to buildings and uncapped chimneys as nesting sites. As she decorates the nursery, mother raccoon will often damage fascia boards, rip off shingles, shred attic insulation, dislodge heating and air-conditioning ducts, and dismantle rooftop ventilators. She will also designate one area as a personal port-o-potty, creating a nasty stench and staining the building materials. Even if the den is under a deck, the damage and smell can get bad.
Many parasites catch a ride on raccoons. This act of phoresy can bring fleas, ticks, and other pests closer to your home. Raccoons can also carry roundworm, distemper, tetanus, rabies, and nearly a dozen other pathogens. Roundworm can be spread by inhaling infected feces and cases are on the rise. Raccoons infected with rabies may not show any symptoms at all, but they are responsible for over 1/3 of all human rabies cases in the U.S.
In order of importance and/or effectiveness, raccoon controls include:
In California, raccoons are classified as furbearers that can be harvested at certain times of the year. Nuisance raccoons can be taken by legal means at any time. It is illegal to relocate trapped raccoons without written permission from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Uneducated relocating of wildlife causes far more problems than many people understand. Check with your local Department of Fish and Wildlife for the rules in your area.
Research has not shown that chemical raccoon repellents work, so save your money. The same is true for home remedies. The bottom line in raccoon control is to reduce the food and shelter appeal of your yard.
Raccoons are strong and can be vicious if cornered. If trapping is necessary, it is better to hire a professional.
Most of us think of spring when it comes to actually putting seeds into the soil.
Summers are dedicated to weeding and watering. Planter pots have all been washed and stored away for next spring, along with any leftover potting soil and maybe a bag of vermiculite. But planting season isn’t necessarily over, just because it’s summer.
How much time is left to grow?
The first thing you have to ask yourself before planting in summer is how long of a growing season you have left. If snow falls where you are by mid-October, you will have to pick some pretty fast growing plants before tucking your garden away for the winter.
Here, in San Jose, California, we can plant crops year-round, but the list of plants is very different from one season to the next. Check your Hardiness Zone for first and last frost dates and then check seed packets for days-to-maturity or days-to-harvest information. There’s no sense watering and weeding a plant, only to have it killed by frost or snow before it can produce a harvest.
Cool season crops
In mild regions, summer is the best time to start thinking about cool season crops. Many winter crops take significantly longer than tomatoes and peppers to mature. Giving them a head start in summer means bigger harvests later in the year.
Look at your garden and try to imagine what it will look like in one month, in two months, in mid-winter. As spring crops peak and then fade, you can introduce winter crops under the protective care of your summer garden. In some cases, summer plantings can even give your spring garden a boost.
Most gardeners know that beans and other legumes are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen in nodules on their roots, with the help of certain soil bacteria. Once these plants start flowering, that nitrogen is no longer available. Up to that point, any neighboring plants will benefit from the extra nitrogen, giving them extra nutrients as they near the end of their productive lives.
If you live in Zone 9b, or tend to have mild winters, July is your last chance to plant beans for the year. Find space for one more planting. These beans will be ready to harvest long after any spring planted beans will have worn themselves out. They will also provide nitrogen to whatever is growing nearby.
Late summer is a good time to plant fava beans, another legume. These hardy legumes grow quickly, adding nitrogen to the soil and helping break up our heavy, compacted soil with their sturdy roots. The pods are pretty delicious, too.
Zone 9b summer plantings
While mid-summer is too late to start any more tomatoes, peppers, or squashes, there are many plants that can be planted twice in the same year in areas with gentle winters. Carrots, cauliflower, chard, cilantro, fennel, kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips are all popular spring plantings that can be sown again in late summer.
Collards, dill, endive, and lettuces will produce an excellent crop if planted in September and October. And Brussels sprouts should be started in summer so that they can be transplanted into the garden by August, September at the latest. The same is true for cabbages, Napa cabbage, leeks, and okra. Chayote fruit can be planted any time during the summer.
By planting year-round, you are providing for the soil microorganisms that help your plants grow. You will also be providing your family with fresh, healthful food without ever leaving your yard.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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