Garden Word of the Day
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Peas have received a bad reputation from those forced to eat the canned spheres of mush that claim to be peas. As any gardener knows, plucking a fresh pea from the vine and eating it whole offers a crisp, sweet flavor that shares nothing with its canned (or even frozen) cousins.
Peas (Pisum sativum) are legumes, which means they have a tidy little business arrangement with certain soil bacteria, called rhizobia, which allow them to use atmospheric nitrogen. Pea seeds develop in pods, making them a pod fruit. Peas are either green or yellow and pods can be green, brown, or purple.
Peas are annual plants that can be low-growing bush varieties, but vining cultivars are the most commonly grown. Pea plants are self-pollinating, but the more plants you have, the better the pollination rates will be and the bigger your harvests will be.
Modern peas are generally described as either edible pod or shelling varieties, but the story behind pea evolution may surprise you. Wild peas have been around for thousands of years. They were being cultivated back in the 3rd century BC. These early cultivated peas were shelling peas, or field peas. Field peas have a tough, dehiscent pod that is not eaten. Dehiscent means the pods unzip themselves when the peas are ripe and dry. Of course, dried peas are pretty tough eating, unless you cook them. As a rule, shelling peas are grown to be dried for later use in pea soup and pease porridge. [Pease porridge is a thicker version of pea soup, more of a pudding, often made with a ham hock or bacon.] These were dietary staples in medieval times.
Sometime around the 15th century, somebody figured out that immature pea pods could be eaten whole. These “garden peas” or “sugar peas” were a decadent luxury back then. Over time, cultivars were developed that retained that tenderness. These sugar peas, or “English peas”, gained in popularity, especially after canning was developed.
Edible pod peas are indehiscent, which means the pods do not open themselves. Rounded edible pod varieties ultimately became known as sugar peas while the flat-podded varieties were named snow peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum)
In 1952, sugar peas were crossed with a mutant shelling pea in an effort to counteract some pod distortions that were occurring at that time. The offspring of that cross turned out to be a delicious new class of snow pea, and it was named snap pea (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon). Snap peas, also known as sugar snap peas, are now the pea workhorse of modern gardens.
How to grow peas
Peas are very easy to grow. They prefer cooler weather, making them excellent winter crops. While peas grow best in full sun, they can also work well for shade gardening and container gardening. Many birds love pea seeds, so you may have to protect your crop with netting until the seeds germinate.
Seeds should be planted 5” apart and 1" deep in rich, loose, moist soil. As they grow, vining pea plants will use tendrils to grasp and climb, so you will want to provide stock panels, tuteurs, or trellising for them to climb. As tempting as it may be to let your peas climb up netting, don’t do it. You’ll have a mess on your hands at the end of the growing season. Take my word for it. If peas are being grown in a container, a tomato cage works well.
Water regularly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings, and be sure to harvest pods as soon as they are ready. This will keep the plant producing. Peas left of the vine will become too tough and starchy to eat, but they can be saved for planting or cooking. Succession planting can provide many months of harvestable peas.
Pests and diseases of peas
Fungal diseases, such as Ascochyta blight, basal stem rots, damping off, downy mildews, Fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, and root rot cause lesions and blackened areas on stems, roots, and leaves. Viral diseases include pea enation mosaic and pea streak, both transmitted by aphids. These diseases cause distorted pods and leaves. Pests include aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, leaf miners, nematodes, pea leaf weevils, pea moths, spider mites and thrips.
Forget the mushy peas of your childhood. Grow your own peas for a delicious treat!
Squash Vine Borers
Squash plants can have huge, healthy leaves, ripening fruit, and, suddenly, everything wilts. If you live east of the Rockies, it may be squash vine borers. Unless the culprits are found and removed, your squash plant can be dead within a few days. (And if you happen to live west of the Rockies, reading this will prepare you for when squash vine borers expand their range!)
Squash vine borers frequently attack Hubbard squash, pumpkins, gourds, and zucchini. Butternut squash, cucumbers, and melons are usually safe.
Squash vine borer identification
Squash vine borers go through complete metamorphosis. The adult moths look like black and red wasps. They are approximately 1/2” long with transparent hindwing and metallic green front wings. Larva look like a fat, wrinkled, white caterpillar with a dark head. Eggs are tiny, flat, brown and oval.
Squash vine borer lifecycle
Adult borers overwinter underground in pupal cocoons. In early to midsummer, adult clearwing moths emerge and lay eggs near the stem of favorite foods. One or two weeks later, eggs hatch and the larval forms burrow into the crown and stems and begin feeding. Feeding will continue for 2 - 4 weeks. The fruit may also be eaten. One sign of squash vine borers is the appearance of piles of frass that look like wet sawdust.
How to control squash vine borers
If a borer can be seen, it can be cut out of the stem, or a wire can be inserted into the burrow to kill the larva. If the stem must be cut into, use a very sharp knife and make a vertical cut
According to companion planting research, squash vine borers can be repelled by planting radishes nearby. Also, planting squash together with corn is said to disorient squash vine borers because of the different leaf shapes and stalk heights of the corn.
These tips can also help reduce the chances of squash vine borer infestations:
If you live west of the Rockies and see a squash vine borer, please contact your local County Extension Office right away.
Squirrels can inspire peanut generosity or thoughts of genocide.
These frisky little rodents can devastate a fruit tree crop, devour bulbs before they ever see daylight, and spread dangerous diseases. They are thieving, lying pests. And they are too cute for words.
Everyone knows that squirrels commonly eat nuts and acorns, but these pests have a far more extensive diet. A normal squirrel diet includes many garden favorites, such as citrus, pears, apples, avocados, and other tree fruit, mushrooms, crocus and other flower bulbs, and green vegetation. They also eat small birds, young snakes, insects, eggs, and smaller rodents.
In addition to damaging crops, squirrels also chew irrigation lines, electrical lines, PVC pipes, window frames, door frames, decks, and attic insulation. As squirrels move through an area, they mark their territory by urinating. (That’s the twitchy tail maneuver often seen on fences, trees, power poles and your roof.) Rodent urine can carry Leptospirosis and Tularemia, which can, in turn, lead to encephalitis, meningitis, kidney failure, or liver damage. The fleas and ticks that live on squirrels can also carry diseases, such as Bubonic plague and Lyme disease. Squirrels can carry leprosy and rabies.
Unless you live in an area where shooting squirrels is legal, you are going to have a difficult time controlling these pests. If poison baits are used, June is the most effective month to use them, but poisoning is cruel and it runs the risk of poisoning non-target wildlife and pets. Personally, I encourage my dogs to chase the squirrels away and I built tree cages around my fruit and nut trees. I also use a liquid squirrel repellant that seems relatively effective. Mostly, I resign myself to some crop loss. Some people use live traps and then relocate trapped squirrels. The problem with this method is that, as long as there is a food supply, squirrels will continue to find your garden.
Some gardeners have resigned themselves to providing the local squirrel population with a steady supply of peanuts to protect their crops. To me, this simply increases the squirrel population even more,
How do you protect your home and garden against squirrels?
Wilting is a common symptom of too much heat and not enough water, but there are other causes of wilting that gardeners should understand.
In healthy plants, water is used to hold them upright. Plants conserve water by closing their stoma. If there isn’t enough water, the plants will start to fall over. Surprisingly, too much water can cause the same symptoms. This type of water stress causes the plant to drown and fall over.
Understanding the root cause of wilting can help you correct the situation and provide the proper treatment. Here are some other common causes of wilting.
Obviously, the cause of wilting has to be figured out before a treatment or solution can be found.
What's the weirdest cause of wilting in your garden?
Water sprouts are similar to suckers, but they emerge from tree trunks and older branches, rather than from underground.
Water sprouts grow vigorously and often seem to appear overnight. They use large amounts of water and nutrients and provide no benefit. Like suckers, water sprouts are structurally unsound and highly prone to pests and disease.
Water sprouts may still produce fruit, but that fruit is generally of poor quality and reduced quantity. Water sprouts often emerge after pruning or other damage and they should be removed as soon as they are seen.
Vascular bundles are similar to the human circulatory system. They are the visible veins seen on the back of leaves, but vascular bundles also make up the majority of a plant’s structure.
Parts of the vascular bundle
Vascular bundles are made up of the xylem and the phloem. The xylem carries water and dissolved minerals up from the soil, through the roots, to stems and leaves. The phloem carries dissolved food, especially sugars, down, from the leaves, to storage tissues in the stems and roots.
There are various arrangements of vascular bundles, depending upon the type of plant.
Diseases of the vascular system
The flow of water and nutrients is critical to a plant’s health. Many pests and diseases take advantage of this fact. Damage to the vascular bundle can cause wilting, chlorosis, or even death. Common pests and diseases of vascular bundles include:
Fun with the vascular system
You're never too old to enjoy this one and your kids are sure to enjoy it - put some celery stalks in a cup of water with food coloring and watch the dye move through the stalk's vascular system. Try it with other plants and show us pictures!
Tomato Spotted Wilt
Tomato spotted wilt is a viral disease spread by thrips.
Besides tomatoes, this virus can be found on chili peppers, eggplant, lettuces, radicchio, and fava beans, along with many ornamentals and weeds. Cheeseweed, sowthistle, bindweed, and prickly lettuce are the most common weed hosts.
Tomato spotted wilt symptoms
When the tomato spotted wilt virus infects a plant, it blocks the flow of water and nutrients in the xylem, causing it to wilt. This viral disease also causes spotting, stunted growth, a crumpled leaf appearance, leaf cupping, dead spots (necrosis) on leaves and stems, and overall discoloration.
Symptoms can vary, depending on the plant’s overall health, the cultivar, environmental factors, and life stage at the time of infection:
This disease is easily mistaken for curly top and alfalfa mosaic virus. You can take samples to your County Extension Office, though the control measures are rather similar for all three diseases.
How tomato spotted wilt spreads
Tomato spotted wilt is spread by thrips. Most commonly, in California, it is citrus thrips and western flower thrips. These sap-sucking pests carry the virus with them. As they feed, they insert the virus.
Tomato spotted wilt control
It is far easier to prevent tomato spotted wilt than break this particular disease triangle. These tips can help reduce the chance of it occurring in your foodscape:
May you never find tomato spotted wilt in your garden!
Sunny days and cool nights make the best strawberries.
Like many other edible plants, strawberries grown and harvested at home tend to have much better flavor than store-bought varieties. While strawberries are grown commercially as annuals, they are actually a perennial plant.
Technically, they are not berries at all! Strawberries are actually aggregate fruits, along with raspberries and blackberries. And those tiny seeds are a special variety of seed known as an achene, which is actually a dried fruit!
How to grow strawberries
Strawberries make excellent container plants. They grow very well in towers, raised beds, narrow planter boxes, and even rain gutters can be used. Ideally, containers should be 6 - 8” deep and at least 18” long. Potting soil mixed with aged compost or organic fertilizer should be used to provide plenty of nutrients. Use these steps to successfully grow strawberries in the ground:
Strawberries are classified as either “day-neutral” or “short-day” varieties. Day-neutral strawberries, also known as “everbearing", flower and produce fruit year round, peaking April through October. Aptos and Fern are popular everbearing strawberry plants. Short-day varieties, such as Pajaro, Seascape, Tioga and Chandler, produce more as days become shorter, in fall, through early spring.
Strawberry pests & diseases
Slugs and snails, earwigs and sowbugs will eat fruit that is lying on the ground, which is why a barrier of straw is used to cover strawberry beds. Keeping fruit off of the ground will also reduce berry rot. Powdery mildew, Botrytis fruit rot (gray mold), Verticillium wilt, and leaf spot diseases are common on strawberries.
Strawberries occasionally undergo a process called vivipary, in which each tiny seed sprouts a leaf.
Stolons are specialized stems, often called runners, that grow at or just below the soil line.
Stolons are one way a plant can regenerate. Stolons send new roots down at the nodes and new stems up at the buds. Strawberries and potatoes grow from stolons.
New plants produced by stolons are clones of the parent plant, or genet. Some turf grasses, such as St. Augustine grass and various bent grass species, grow from stolons. Other grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass and red fescue, grow from rhizomes. In either case, this growth habit makes it possible to grow new plants from plugs. It is also why some weeds are so difficult to eliminate.
Leaf stippling describes the damage done by sap-sucking insects that give leaves a spotted appearance.
Every year, around July and August, gardeners begin seeing the effects of aphids, leafhoppers, spider mites, thrips, and other pests. In most cases, these insects have piercing mouthparts with a built-in straw. Pretty convenient, if you’re an insect. Sucks if you’re a leaf.
Leaf stippling won’t seriously harm an otherwise healthy plant, but it can interfere with photosynthesis and may compound water-stress.
If leaf stippling is visible, be sure to inspect plants for the cause. By knowing what you and your plants are up against, you can select the most effective treatment.
Hint: most sap-sucking bugs can be dislodged with a powerful stream of water from the hose.
One of the easiest ways to reduce mosquitoes in your yard and garden is to use mosquito dunks.
Dragonflies love to eat mosquitos, but they only fly during daylight hours and they do nothing against mosquito larva. You may also be able to contact your local Vector Control office for free mosquitofish. Of course, eliminating standing water around the home and garden is important. Mosquitoes can lay eggs in as little as a tablespoon of water, tucked away in an old tarp, flower pot, or clogged window sill drain or rain gutter. If you have standing water that you want to keep, mosquito dunks can solve the problem.
How do mosquito dunks work?
Mosquito dunks are made out of a dried bacterium that mosquito larva love to eat. The bacteria kills the mosquito larva, but it is safe for people, pets, livestock, wildlife and plants. This bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. israelensis, also called Bti, is also toxic to some moths, flies and beetles. Mosquito dunks can be added to rain barrels, ponds, and other water elements.
Mosquito dunks are approved for organic use. A single mosquito dunk lasts for 30 days and can treat 100 square feet of water. Each donut-shaped dunk can be broken into smaller pieces, depending on the area being treated.
Sap is the lifeblood of your landscape and garden plants.
Sap is carried up the trunk or stem of a plant in the xylem and down through the phloem. Sap has different components, depending upon where it is found. Xylem sap carries water, hormones, and minerals from the roots to the leaves. Phloem sap conducts sugars, hormones, and minerals from leaves, where carbohydrates are produced through photosynthesis, to where they will be used or stored. Within the tiny cavities (vacuoles) of each plant cell, cell sap can be found. Cell sap contains sugars, waste, and minerals.
Who and what eats sap?
Well, we do, for one. Sap from sugar maple trees is boiled down to make maple syrup for our pancakes. Most living things, however, have a hard time eating sap. This is because of its high sugar content and the lack of certain gut microorganisms that aid digestion. That being said, members of the Hemiptera order, or true bugs, have no such problem.
Aphids, leafhoppers, sap beetles, spider mites, scale, and mealybugs all enjoy feeding on the sweet, nutrient-rich sap of your garden plants. In addition to these pests, there are many living things that feed on sap indirectly, by eating the honeydew excreted by the sap eaters, including ants and whiteflies. [You may be surprised to learn that honeybees also collect honeydew and use it to make a unique, darker honey that is prized in Europe.] Sap from the aloe vera plant is widely used to help heal burns and other skin conditions.
What sap is not
Plants produce other liquids besides sap. These include latex, resin, and gums. When you pluck a ripe fig from your tree, or tug a dandelion from the lawn, the white milky ooze you see is not sap. It is latex and many people have skin sensitivities to it. Ten percent of all flowering plants (angiosperms) produce latex in response to injury or invasion. Latex is made up of sugars, oils, starches, alkaloids, resins, proteins, and gums. Gums are made from decomposed cellulose, while resins are made from essential oils. Fossilized resin is the gemstone amber. [Our word for electricity comes from the Greek word for amber because the stones create static electricity when rubbed.]
Redhumped caterpillars are pests of ornamental and fruit trees.
Redhumped caterpillars (Schizura concinna) most often attack sweet gum (liquid amber), plum, and walnut trees, but they can also be found on pear, apricot, cherry, almond, apple, birch, prune, and willow.
Redhumped caterpillar lifecycle & identification
Redhumped caterpillars are 1" to 1-1/2" long and yellowish, with an orange or brick red head. The fourth segment is also red, with a distinct hump and two black spines (tubercles). Other segments have their own tubercles, but they are less visible. You may be able to see longitudinal stripes of white, brown, brick, or black along the body. In autumn, these caterpillars fall to the ground and spin themselves into a cocoon. The pupa is often found when working the soil. It is 1/2 inch long and reddish brown. In April and May, the moths emerge. Adult moths have a wingspan of 1 to 1-3/8 inches. The forewings are gray to reddish brown and the hind wings are pale white, gray or brown. A dark line may be visible along the back of the forewings. After mating, female moths lay clusters of 25 to 100 spherical, white eggs on the underside of young leaves. There can be 4 or 5 generations each year.
Redhumped caterpillar damage
Like most caterpillars, they are voracious feeders. Feeding in groups, they can quickly skeletonize leaves, making trees susceptible to sunburn damage. Heavy infestations can completely defoliate a tree, but the trees will normally recover, assuming they are otherwise healthy.
Redhumped caterpillar control
These pests have many natural predators, including spiders, damsel bugs, lacewings, and several parasitic wasps, so avoid using broad spectrum pesticides. If natural predators are not able to do the job, you can cut off twigs that contain caterpillars and either burn them or squash the bugs. If insecticides must be used, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is effective against redhumped caterpillars. Just be sure to read the directions and follow them exactly. Timing is critical.
Did you know that caterpillars rest with their rear ends up in the air?
Rutabagas look funny, their name sounds funny, and, let’s face it, they have a rather odd family history.
Imagine deciding to cross a cabbage with a turnip. What would you get? A rutabaga! The name comes from the Swedish words for stumpy root and it was first noted as growing wild in the early 1600s. Rutabagas are also known as swedes, yellow turnips, and Russian, Canadian, and Swedish turnips. The scientific name, Brassica napobrassica, tells us that it is a member of the cabbage family, which includes broccoli.
Rutabagas are biennial plants, which means they take two years to go through their complete lifecycle. The first year is dedicated to vegetative growth and the second year is used for seed production. The root we eat is actually made up of the base of the leafy stem (think cabbage) and the hypocotyls, which is part that grows between the true root and the first seedling leaves (cotyledons). You can tell the difference between a turnip and a rutabaga by the ribbed neck seen on rutabagas. Rutabaga flowers are small and pale yellow.
How to grow rutabagas
Rutabagas grow and ripen best in cool weather, making August and September the best time to start seeds. Rutabaga seeds should be planted 1/2” deep in rich soil. They transplant well, so starting them in small containers is a good way to give them a head start. Seedlings should be placed 12-18” apart. Rutabagas grow a little larger than turnips and need a few extra weeks to reach maturity. They are normally ready to harvest within 80-100 days. Rutabagas can grow pretty much anywhere, but their flavor and texture improve significantly when they are grown in soil treated with compost and watered regularly. Insufficient watering can cause a woody texture and splitting can occur with irregular watering. Soaker hoses are an excellent idea for rutabagas. Rutabagas prefer a pH of 5.5 to 7.0 and a rock-free environment. Like other brassicas, rutabagas should not be grown in the same spot for more than 2 years at a time.
Rutabaga pests and diseases
Rutabagas actually provide good weed suppression with their thick, broad, blue-ish colored leaves. Rutabaga leaves are frequently eaten by cutworms, caterpillars, root maggots, wireworms, flea beetles, aphids, and slugs, but I've never noticed any damage to the roots themselves. Using row covers while the plants are small can protect them from many of these pests as long as the covers are in place before the pests arrive. Planting mint, garlic, nasturtium, fennel, or marigold nearby can either repel or act as a trap crop. Clubroot is a fungal disease found in poorly drained, acidic soils. This fungus can remain viable in the soil for up to 20 years, so keep your rutabagas away from any areas that have ever been infected.
How to harvest and store rutabagas
One of the reasons rutabagas are an important fallback food in times of starvation is that they store well. Rutabagas should be harvested when they are about the size of a grapefruit. When rutabagas are small, they are more tender. As they mature, they become sweeter. To harvest rutabagas, simply pull or dig them from the ground. You can leave them in the ground for longer periods of time by trimming the leaves and heavily mulching the area with straw. Harvested rutabagas can be stored for months by trimming all but the top inch or two of greenery and storing in a cool, moist location, as close to 32-degrees F as possible, without freezing. Commercially, rutabagas are dipped in paraffin wax to prolong storage.
Rutabagas as food
Rutabagas are grown for the their roots and leaves. The roots are a starchy equivalent to potatoes in soups, stews, and casseroles. In Scotland, potatoes and rutabagas are boiled and mashed separately to create ‘tatties and neeps’ - now’s there’s a fun menu item! An interesting note, thanks to genetic research: some people find rutabagas, as well as watercress, horseradish, and broccoli, extremely bitter-tasting, compared to the rest of us. This is due to a specific gene that affects the bitter taste receptor. So, if someone says they really can’t eat members of this group, they may be telling you the truth! In our family, we have discovered that roasted rutabagas are surprisingly delicious!
A serving of rutabaga roots contain 42% of the RDA for vitamin C. The tender new greens can also be eaten, just be sure to only remove a few leaves per plant. They can add a zesty bite to salads.
Their tiny leaf-shaped feet may looking charming, but these cousins to stinkbugs can cause almonds, tomatoes, pistachios and pomegranate fruit to be aborted.
Leaf-footed bug description
Leaf-footed (or leaffooted) bugs are medium-sized insects with long, sucking mouthparts. Adults are normally 3/4” to 1” long, with a narrow brown body. Leaf-footed bugs (Leptoglossus) are easy to identify because of the leaf-shaped bits sticking out of their hind legs. There are three species of leaf-footed bugs native to the western United States:
The three species look very similar, except that zonatus has two yellow spots behind the head and clypealis has a thorn-shaped plate on the front of its head called a clypeus. All species of leaf-footed bugs have white zig-zags on their wings.
Leaf-footed bug lifecycle
Leaf-footed bugs overwinter in wood piles, citrus or juniper trees, or buildings. They can also be found under tree bark. In spring, adults fly in search of winter weed seeds, young fruit, and a place to lay eggs. Leaf-footed bugs that have survived the winter can carry 200 eggs. These brown, cylindrical eggs are laid in a line, end-to-end, usually on a stem or leaf midrib. Nymphs emerge from the eggs and can be identified by the dark head and legs, and orange to reddish-brown body color. Leaf-footed bug nymphs are often confused with nymphs of the beneficial assassin bug (Zelus renardii), which have lighter colored legs and antenna. Also, assassin bug eggs are barrel-shaped and laid together in groups that are protected with a white cone covering.
Leaf-footed bug damage
Leaf-footed bugs generally do not do a lot of damage. This changes when populations are especially high, due to mild winters. Adult L. zonatus feed on tomatoes, pomegranates, almonds, pistachios, and watermelon. L. clypealis prefers palm trees and yucca, while L. occidentalis feeds primarily on conifer trees. All three species feed on many ornamental trees and shrubs. Leaf-footed bugs have mouthparts that pierce fruit, shoots, and leaves, to suck out plant juices. Leaf-footed adults are able to probe deeply enough to reach fruit seeds. When a seed is found, digestive enzymes that liquify the seed are excreted. Damage to the seed often causes the parent plant to abort that particular nut or piece of fruit. Leaf-footed bug mouthparts are also known to carry a fungal yeast (Eremothecium coryli). As the bugs feed, this yeast is introduced into the fruit or nut, causing depressions or discoloration, but no other damage. Of course, like most bugs, they do poop on your fruit.
Generally, control measures are not needed. If leaf-footed bugs have become a problem, these sanitation measures will help:
When it comes to perennial herbs, rosemary, oregano and thyme are the stuff of Italy’s finest. Rosemary is a fragrant woody herb that takes little to no care to provide decades of lovely color, fragrance and landscape structure.
Rosemary is a member of the mint family. This fragrant evergreen can produce purple, pink, blue or white flowers that are favorites of honey bees.
Rosemary as companion plant
According to companion planting research, the astringent characteristics of rosemary have been found to repel cabbageworms, carrot flies, Mexican bean beetles, slugs and snails.
How to grow rosemary
Rosemary thrives in California’s hot, dry weather, providing pollen and nectar for honeybees and other pollinators, without consuming a lot of water. This drought-tolerant perennial can be sheared into decorative shapes, used as a fragrant hedge, or allowed to fill an area naturally. Rosemary is easily grown in containers, indoors or out. Rosemary prefers a slightly alkaline pH (7.0 - 7.8) and well-drained soil. Rosemary can be propagated by taking 6" of new growth and planting it.
Very few pests or diseases bother rosemary. Spittlebugs may be found on rosemary but they are easily displaced with a spray of water from the hose.
11/26/19 UPDATE Recent research has surprised rosemary growers with the news that rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has been found to be a type of salvia, closely related to common sage, instead of being its own group of plants. This new information has resulted in a name change for our beloved plant. Henceforth, rosemary’s Latin name shall be Salvia rosmarinus.
To be perennial means to endure. Unlike annual plants, which complete their lifecycle in a single year, perennial plants continue, year after year.
The most obvious perennial plants are trees, some of which live for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. You won’t get that kind of longevity from shrubs, bulbs, or other perennial plants, but you will get the other benefits of growing perennial plants.
Advantages of perennial plants
The single biggest benefit of perennial plants is that they do not have to be planted each year. Perennials are able to develop more extensive root systems, making them less susceptible to drought and able to reach more nutrient resources. This makes them more resilient to water stress and more resistant to pests and disease than more tender annuals.
Flowers add more than color to a landscape. Nectar and pollen attract beneficial insects that attack pests and increase yields through improved pollination. Perennial flowers, such as lavender, hydrangea, daisies, echinacea, hollyhocks, phlox, crocus, and tulip can either add year round structure or seasonal splashes of color to the garden.
Most herbs are tenacious perennials. Planting rosemary, thyme, bay laurel, chives, fennel, lemon balm, oregano, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, ginger, parsley, sage, and tarragon can provide many years of culinary delight with very little effort on your part. The only exception is parsley, which is technically a biennial. Biennials take two years to complete their lifecycle, although I have had parsley plants last 3 - 4 years.
Perennial shrubs & trees
By definition, all shrubs and trees are perennial, but a few varieties provide the added benefit of being edible. Edible shrubs include blueberries, currants, gooseberry, hazelnut, pineapple guava, and dwarf pomegranate. Trees can provide a wealth of fruits and nuts in practically any landscape.
Perennial vines & cane fruits
While grape vines are most productive during their first 20 years of life, they can continue for over 120 years, making them one of the longer-lived perennials. While they may not look neat and tidy in a landscape without a fair bit of effort on your part, blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, loganberries, and boysenberries also deserve consideration for the delicious fruit they provide year after year.
Aside from herbs, trees, and shrubs, there is another perennial that deserves mention: stonecrops. Stonecrops are a family of succulents that come in a wide range of amazing shapes and colors. Succulents can survive even the worst neglect and still plump right back up after a light rain or watering.
Of course, the same strengths that make perennial flowers, trees, and shrubs so durable also makes some weeds harder to get rid of in the garden. Annual dandelions may require some effort to dig out, but perennial bindweed roots can go 14 feet deep or more!
Adding perennials to a landscape creates a stronger sense of continuity between the seasons and the passing years. Unlike the fleeting acquaintances of annuals, perennials establish themselves as durable members of the landscape.
No, we are not talking about growing rocks. Instead, stonecrops are a family of plants that perform especially well in hot, dry, rocky areas.
The stonecrop, or orpine, family is a group of herbaceous succulent dicotyledons that can sometimes appear as shrubs. They are commonly referred to as sedums. There is debate over just how many members of the stonecrop (Crassulaceae) family exist, but there are well over 1300 species. Nearly all varieties of stonecrop can be propagated from a single leaf, simply by laying it on some moist soil and watering regularly until roots are established.
Stonecrops have been around for nearly 100 million years. Some varieties are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in winter, while others are evergreen. Most are low-growing, perennial ground covers that require little or no care.
Stonecrops in the garden
Areas facing drought are perfect for stonecrop plants. They need very little soil and can store water in their fleshy leaves to carry them through difficult times. The only weather that threatens stonecrops is freezing temperatures after a rain. The plants will absorb all that water and, as temperatures drop below freezing, the expanding water will rupture the plant cells and turn the leaves into black mush. Stonecrops exposed to freezing weather should be given some sort of cover as protection. For the rest of us, our stonecrop plants can thrive just about any time of year. If water becomes particularly scarce, a stonecrop’s leaves will wither and turn leathery, but they will swell back to normal as soon as water becomes available. Stonecrops make excellent border, container, xeriscape, rock, and windowsill garden plants. The flowers provide lovely accents that are appreciated by pollinators and nectar drinkers. Many stonecrop plants are edible, but be sure to properly identify and research any plants before taking a bite.
While all stonecrops have fleshy leaves with a thick, waxy cuticle, the variety of shapes and colors make these plants excellent low-maintenance additions to practically any landscape. Their geometric patterns can be quite lovely. While Jade plants are one of the most common stonecrops, many sedum plants are recognized for their beauty and ease of care. The shapes of these amazing plants is so striking that potted collections can often be sold for well over $100. As easy as these plants are to
propagate, however, there is no need to spend that kind of money. Find a friend who already has a few specimens, trade some of your own, and get creative with a container or garden location!
Unlike most insects, scale insects are relatively immobile as adults.
Scale insects suck sap from many perennial plants using piercing, straw-like mouthparts. The majority of scale insects are classified as either ‘soft’ or ‘armored’.
Scale insect identification
There are dozens of scale insect species. They can be found in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Generally, however, females and nymphs live under a circular shell, or scale. They have no discernible head or appendages. Adult males are almost never seen, being tiny winged insects. Some scale species have only females that can reproduce without mating. Most armored scale insects (Diaspididae) feature a 1/8” flattened cover with concentric rings and a slight nipple-shaped center. If the cover is removed, the animal will remain on the plant. Euonymus, oystershell, cycad, and San Jose are common armored scale species. Soft scale (Coccidae) insects can grow to 1/4” and they have a humped, waxy surface that cannot be removed. Soft scales feed on phloem sap. Common species include Kuna, Lecanium, Tuliptree, black and brown soft scale.
Identifying scale damage
Scale insects often go unnoticed until the damage is extensive. In some cases, scale insects can practically cover a plant without causing ill effects. Normally, plants infested with scale appear water-stressed because the pests are draining the plants of their bodily fluids. Chlorosis (yellowing) may also occur. Some varieties of scale produce honeydew that attract ants and provide habitat for sooty mold. Armored scale species do not secrete honeydew.
How to control scale infestations
Control measures depend on the type of scale insect, as well as environmental conditions and the overall health of the plant. In some cases, no treatment is needed. Sago palm and other cycads, however, can be infested with the cycad scale, which can kill mature plants. Applying fixed copper combined with horticultural oil when the plants are dormant or when these pests are in the crawler stage (late winter to early summer) can help control scale insects. There are many natural enemies that help control scale, as long as broad-spectrum pesticides are not used. Inspect infested areas to see if the scales are being parasitized. If a small hole can be seen in the shell of a dead scale, it has been killed by a parasitic wasp and treatment is probably not needed. Applying sticky barriers around the trunks of heavily infested trees and shrubs can stop ants from protecting soft scale insects from their predators.
Sap beetles may be small, but they can be a serious threat to ripening fruit.
Sap beetle description
Sap beetles are tiny (0.1" to 0.2" long), flat, and usually brown or black. They are active and move quickly. There may be spots on short wings and the antenna are clubbed. Larvae are white with a tan head, 3 pairs of legs and 2 horn-shaped structures on their back end. There are several varieties of sap beetle, also known as dried fruit beetles. These most common varieties are:
Less common varieties include:
Sap beetle damage
Sap beetles damage fruit by feeding, transmitting disease, and making fruit more appealing to other pests. Sap beetles create a hole near the stem of ripening fruit, where they enter and begin feeding. They begin by attacking fruit that has fallen on the ground, but ripe and overripe fruit left on trees can draw these pests upward. Sap beetles can act as disease vectors, spreading brown rot, Fusarium wilt and other fungal diseases. As damaged fruit begins to rot, other pests, such as navel orangeworm and vinegar flies, are attracted to the tree.
How to control sap beetles
Sanitation offers the best control of sap beetles. This means removing all fruit as soon as possible, including fruit that has fallen or mummified on the tree. Before fruit starts ripening, containers of fruit, water and yeast may be used to attract and drown sap beetles.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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