Garden Word of the Day
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Most of us don’t notice moths in winter, which is what makes this species so unusual.
Winter moths (Operophtera brumata) can generate their own heat, so they are often seen much later in the season than other moth species. That being said, you will probably never see a female winter moth. More on that in a moment.
There are actually three different moth species called winter moths in the U.S. In addition to our invasive Operophtera, there are also the native Bruce spanworms (O. bruceata) and linden loopers (Erannis tilaria). These native species feed on deciduous hardwoods.
Invasive winter moths feed on those trees, too, but can also be found causing trouble in apple, cherry, chestnut, crabapple, hazelnut, pear, and quince trees, as well as in raspberry and blueberry patches.
Winter moth identification
Male winter moths can be light brown, grayish-yellow, or slightly reddish, depending on where they occur. They often have dark brown bands on their fringed wings. The wingspan can be up to one inch wide. Antennae are stubby and covered with fine hairs. Female winter moths are brownish-gray. Adult moths are less than one-half inch long. Smooth green inchworms grow from one-tenth to three-quarters of an inch in length over six weeks. These caterpillars have narrow white racing stripes on either side of their body and look similar to fall and spring cankerworms.
Damage caused by winter moths
It’s not adult winter moths that cause problems. It is their bad-mannered children who defoliate trees. These heavy feeders can remove as much as 90% of the leaf cover, reducing trunk growth by up to 47%. This translates into reduced crop size and trees prone to pest damage and disease damage.
Winter moths take homebound to a whole new level. In a lifeform known for its ability to flutter from plant to plant or maniacally swarm patio lights, female winter moths do not fly. Instead of flying, they emerge from their pupal stage, walk to a tree, and start climbing. Female winter moths release pheromones to attract males as they climb upward. Each fertilized female winter moth will lay approximately 100 eggs near tree buds, in bark crevices, under lichen, and on branches.
Those buds provide her babies with plenty of food, but that’s bad news for the tree. After burrowing into and feeding on new buds, winter moth caterpillars start feeding on leaves. When they get big enough, they spin silk strands in ‘balloons’ that carry them to neighboring trees. Caterpillars continue eating leaves until mid-spring when they abandon their tree and enter the soil where they will pupate. In late autumn and early winter, adult moths emerge, and the cycle continues.
Winter moth management
You can’t fight them if you don’t know they’re there. If you see significant leaf loss in any tree, take a closer look. If winter moths are identified, start handpicking the caterpillars and wrap your tree trunks with sticky barriers.
Imported parasitic flies (Cyzenis albicans) have proven effective at reducing winter moth populations in some studies conducted by several states, but I don’t think you can buy them online. I tried and couldn’t find any. These flies lay their eggs on leaves which are then eaten by winter moth caterpillars. The fly eggs hatch inside the caterpillars where they begin feeding. Dang. It’s a brutal world out there, isn’t it?
You can help protect your trees by making sure they have enough water. This will help them stay healthy and aid them in recovering from any defoliation. Winter sprays of dormant oils won’t cure the problem, but they may kill unhatched moth eggs. Also, foliar sprays of Bt kurtstaki (Bacillus thuringiensis kurtstaki) are somewhat effective at killing winter moth caterpillars. Unfortunately, they also kill the caterpillars of many native and beneficial butterflies and moths. And older caterpillars may develop a resistance to Bacillus.
Be sure to monitor your trees and shrubs regularly. Nipping problems in the proverbial bud can protect your buds and future crops
Until I started gardening, I never gave much thought to the shape of insects’ noses. I don’t think I thought about them at all. But the more you learn, the more you find out there is even more to learn about. Does that make sense?
Anyway, sharp-nosed leafhoppers (Scaphytopius magdalensis, also known as Platymetopius magdalensis) are invasive pests found throughout the U.S. They feed on cranberry, huckleberry, and other members of the heath family (Ericaceae), as well as soybeans, potatoes, willows, and grasses. This feeding doesn’t cause much in the way of damage besides stippling, but these pests are also vectors for blueberry stunt disease, soybean bud proliferation, and western X-disease.
Sharp-nosed leafhopper identification
Sharp-nosed leafhoppers are small, brown, and quick. They are narrow and less than one-quarter of an inch long. Like other leafhoppers, they tend to hide until disturbed, then they leap to safety. Very often, leaf stippling and this sudden leaping are the only clues that leafhoppers have arrived. If you catch one on a yellow sticky sheet, you can see that they are brown with white markings on both body and wings. And they have pointy, anvil-shaped heads. Nymphs are off-white with dark, hourglass-shaped wingpads.
Sharp-nosed leafhopper lifecycle
Eggs are laid in leaf tissue, where they overwinter. A second generation is started in mid-summer. Wingless nymphs tend to emerge just as blueberry buds are beginning to open. Sharp-nosed leafhopper nymphs go through five instars before reaching adulthood.
Sharp-nosed leafhopper management
Sharp-nosed leafhopper feeding isn’t particularly damaging. The leaf stippling they cause can slow photosynthesis, but leaf stippling can also be caused by aphids, spider mites, thrips, and other pests, so it’s important to look closely and try to catch a specimen if you can. The real problem is the diseases these pests can spread as they feed. Yellow sticky sheets are the best way to monitor for sharp-nosed leafhoppers. If they become a problem, you may have to apply insecticidal soap.
Blueberry Shoestring Virus
The leaves of a healthy blueberry plant are green. The same cannot be said of bushes infected with the blueberry shoestring virus (BBSSV). This disease is common to the upper and northeastern Midwest, but it is also found in Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, and New Brunswick, Canada, and is expected to spread.
Both lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium) and highbush blueberries (V. corymbosum) are susceptible to the blueberry shoestring virus.
Blueberry shoestring virus symptoms
The leaves and stems of a plant infected with the blueberry shoestring virus are red and deformed. Young stems may show red streaking and leaves become significantly thinner than normal, hence the name. Ultimately, leaves become crescent-shaped and fruit production is all but eliminated.
Other symptoms of blueberry shoestring virus include an oak-leaf pattern of red surrounding leaf veins, flowers of infected plants tend to be pinkish-purple, rather than white, and discolored berries do not turn blue.
Blueberry shoestring virus lifecycle
The blueberry shoestring virus may take up to 4 years to start expressing itself. This allows the disease to spread silently as aphid vectors move from plant to plant, feeding and infecting. Since this disease is spread by aphids, monitoring for and controlling these pests is the best way to keep your blueberry plants healthy.
Infected aphids spread the disease as they feed. They also lay eggs at the base of blueberry buds where they overwinter. As spring temperatures begin to rise, the eggs hatch, and a new generation of infected aphids continues the problem. These eggs tend to hatch when temperatures reach 38°F, so that’s when you need to start treating blueberry plants for aphids.
Blueberry shoestring virus management
Natural predators, such as ladybugs, especially seven-spotted lady beetles, and parasitic wasps provide significant protection against aphid-borne diseases, so avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides. Also, starting with certified pest- and disease-free plants is always a good idea. Infected plants should be bagged and removed immediately. There is no cure for the blueberry shoestring virus.
To protect your plants against the blueberry shoestring virus, do your best to keep aphids under control.
Blueberry Tip Borers
If the tips of your blueberry stems suddenly start wilting, it’s probably blueberry tip borers. Blueberry tip borers (Hendecaneura shawiana) are the larvae of moths. These are not the same thing as blueberry stem borers (Oberea myops), which are a type of beetle.
Blueberry tip borer description
I couldn’t find photos that I could use, but these mottled brown moths look like they have a white saddle and their antennae tend to be long and thin. If you get your hands on one, you may be able to see that they have orange marks near the tips of their wings and a one-half-inch wingspan. The larvae are somewhat yellowish and the eggs are translucent.
Blueberry tip borer lifecycle
Eggs are laid on the underside of leaves. Once they hatch, larvae burrow into canes, usually within half an inch from the tip of the shoot. These larvae feed all summer while inside the plant and then overwinter in their protected space, before pupating in spring.
Managing blueberry tip borers
If new shoots suddenly start wilting, take a closer look. You may be able to see tiny pinhole entries. Tunneling and feeding by blueberry tip borers result in stem wilting and leaf browning, especially around leaf edges.
If you suspect blueberry tip borers, remove an affected shoot and cut it open lengthwise. If you see borer larvae, it’s a good idea to prune out any infested shoots. If you can catch the larvae between hatching and boring, you can apply Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Once inside a plant, these pests are pretty safe from whatever you might want to spray.
Like most other blueberry pests and diseases, this one is still mostly found on the East Coast. As more people around the world start growing blueberry varieties that need fewer chill hours, those problems will also spread, so be forewarned.
Blueberry Stunt Disease
Blueberry stunt disease comes to your garden through sharp-nosed leafhoppers infected with a phytoplasma. Phytoplasmas are cell parasites.
Symptoms of blueberry stunt
It should come as no surprise that stunting is the most common symptom of this disease. Closer inspection shows infected stems have much smaller internodes [spaces between nodes] than healthy stems, making infected plants look smaller than their healthy neighbors. Leaves may cup slightly downward, and chlorotic leaf margins may be present.
Blueberry stunt disease cycle
As carrier sharp-nosed leafhoppers feed on blueberry plants, they allow stunt phytoplasmas to move from their host’s gut to your plants. Once inside a plant, these tiny beasties move to the sapwood, where they feed on sap, live, and reproduce.
Blueberry stunt control
Starting with certified disease-free rootstock is one way to reduce the odds of bringing blueberry stunt disease into your garden. Also, use yellow sticky sheets to monitor for signs of sharp-nosed leafhoppers. Start treatments as soon as these pests appear. Once infected with blueberry stunt disease, the plant must be removed and destroyed.
So far, blueberry stunt disease only occurs on the East Coast. For now, anyway.
Blueberry Leaf Mottle
Blueberry leaf mottle, affectionately known as BLMV, is a Nepovirus. Nepoviruses are transmitted by nematodes most of the time. Not this one. [I couldn't find a usable photo of blueberry leaf mottle, but this image is close.]
Unfortunately, this disease is spread by honey bees as they collect pollen. It can also be seed-borne, though this is rare. As far as I could learn, blueberry leaf mottle is currently only found in Michigan, Canada, and South Korea. Of course, things can change in a single day. Case in point, this virus has decided that blueberries are no longer their only host. Grapes are now on the menu.
Blueberry leaf mottle symptoms
True to its name, leaf mottling is the primary symptom of blueberry leaf mottle. Infected leaves are often lighter in color and smaller than healthy leaves and might be puckered or otherwise deformed. Stunting and dieback may also occur. Infected grapevines exhibit delayed budbreak, elongated fruits, and sparse fruit clusters.
How to manage blueberry leaf mottle
The kicker about this disease is that symptoms don’t appear until three or four years after the plant is infected. And there are no known treatments. So prevention is your only option. To prevent blueberry leaf mottle in your garden, buy certified disease-free rootstock. Infected plants must be removed and thrown in the garbage.
I hope your blueberry bushes stay healthy and productive.
Blueberry Bud Mites
You may not be able to see blueberry bud mites, but they can be devastating to your blueberry and huckleberry plants.
Blueberry bushes start producing next year’s fruiting buds as soon as the harvest is over. This is when blueberry bud mites (Acalitus vaccinii) begin causing problems in some blueberry varieties. Bushes that ripen early in the season are the most likely to develop blueberry bud mite infestations.
Blueberry bud mite damage
Poor growth and low fruit set are the first signs of a blueberry bud mite infestation. This damage is first seen around the tops of plants. If you look closely, you may be able to see blistering on bud scales. This blistering is caused by mite feeding. Later in the growing season, deformed flowers, smaller leaves and fruit, and fewer berries per cluster may also be seen. Berries may also be deformed or appear roughened.
Blueberry bud mite identification
If you have a microscope, you can see that these tiny mites are white. Unlike most other arthropods, which tend to have four pairs of front legs, blueberry mud mites have only two. Eggs are clear and spherical. Since these pests are so small, you are probably better off bringing shoot samples to your local Master Gardeners or County Extension Office for identification.
Blueberry bud mite control
Because these pests are so small and tend to stay hidden, they can be difficult to manage. Eggs are laid within the buds, and the nymphs feed on their host buds once they hatch. As buds open, those nymphs crawl up stems where they feed on young shoots.
Commercial growers apply miticides directly after harvesting when blueberry bud mites are detected. Once buds have formed completely, the mites are safe from chemical treatments. Many of the miticides used against blueberry bud mites are not available to home growers. Those that are available require careful timing. Other options include pruning infested shoots and tossing those shoots in the garbage. Predatory mites and predatory thrips provide a little protection, so avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides and plant a few insectaries near your blueberries.
Blueberry bud mites are currently only found east of the Rocky Mountains, but that can always change as more people grow blueberries and huckleberries on the West Coast.
This post is not about watering those weeds, though pot irrigation could be used to do just that. Pot irrigation, also known as pitcher irrigation, is an old method of watering plants regaining popularity, especially in arid regions. It is a convenient way to conserve water while keeping your plants happy and healthy.
plant-food.htmlUnlike gravity watering systems that use inverted bottles that drain into the soil, pot irrigation uses moisture tension to irrigate plants.
What is an irrigation pot?
Irrigation pots are unglazed clay jugs that have been buried in the soil with only the upper edges above the soil line and covered with a ceramic lid or plugged with a cork. Water can seep through these unglazed pots. If the soil is already wet, the water stays in the pot. If the soil is dry, plant roots and the soil pull water from the jug, providing a steady source of water. Over time, plant roots will grow toward and wrap around the irrigation pot.
History of irrigation pots
Irrigation pots or “ollas” have been used for thousands of years. Archeologists have found them around the world, from South America to China. I can imagine that carrying water every day was quite a chore. Being able to fill irrigation pots every few days instead of watering daily would be a big attraction. In fact, I wish I had heard about pot irrigation while I still had my raised beds! I would’ve put one pot right in the middle of each 4x6 bed and saved myself a lot of time and water.
How to use ollas
Inexpensive unglazed ceramic jugs and pots are often available at yard sales and thrift stores. They can be a bit pricey in retail stores, but you have to ask yourself what your time and water are worth. You can also use standard ceramic planter pots. Simply plug the drainage hole with a cork and use the saucer as a lid. If you want to, you could create a system of connected ollas. But that’s beyond this post.
Ollas can be filled every few days, depending on the weather and the size of your irrigation pot. Put simply, bigger pots need to be filled less often, will water larger areas, and take up more space. Generally speaking, a 3-gallon pot will water a three-foot diameter area for 3 to 7 days. In 2013, Ecology Action used five 5-gallon ollas for a 100-square-foot garden plot. Their ollas had caps that reduce evaporation and collect rain.
The important thing to keep in mind when using ollas is that they water the subsoil. Seeds and new transplants will need extra water at the surface to get established. Also, plants should be installed at least one foot away from the olla to keep young roots out of the heavily saturated soil.
Benefits of pot irrigation
Pot irrigation is said to conserve 50% to 70% of your irrigation water. That’s a lot of water! Watering from the soil also significantly reduces fungal diseases and you don’t have to mess with the garden hose as often. You can also add fertilizer to your olla, allowing plant roots to absorb those nutrients at a gentle pace while preventing up to 66% nutrient loss due to evaporation and inaccessibility. Finally, clay pots are earth-friendly. There are no plastics or chemicals to leach into your soil or food supply. You may have to monitor for slugs, however.
The way ants walk around has always struck me as pretty random. Until there’s a chemical trail to follow, of course. But now there’s a new type of ant that walks around frantically, like some sort of manic crackhead.
These ants are tiny, less than one-eighth of an inch long, but they can do damage. While these ants do not have stingers, they do bite. And they carry venom that they deposit into bites. Crazy ant aphid-farming has led to the devastation of grasslands. They commonly torment larger livestock by attacking around the eyes and nose and have been known to suffocate chickens. They will also attack your computer.
For some bizarre reason, crazy ants are attracted to electronic equipment where they are often electrocuted. When electrocuted, they release a pheromone. This pheromone tells their fellow crazy ants they are under attack. Other ants come to the rescue and are also electrocuted. This releases more pheromones. Before you know it, the electrical system shorts out because of all the dead ants.
There are several types of crazy ants. We will take a look at the black, tawny, and yellow crazy ants.
Black crazy ants
Southeast Asian black crazy ants (Paratrechina longicornis) are also known as longhorn crazy ants because of their long, segmented antennae. They are dark brown to black and may have a bluish tint. These ants have very long legs.
Tawny crazy ants
Tawny crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva) are also known as rasberry ants. That isn’t a typo. An exterminator from Texas, Tom Rasberry, identified these South American invasive pests in 2002. Tawny crazy ants are reddish-brown and have a few long, coarse hairs. Males and females both have wings, but females shed their wings after mating.
Yellow crazy ants
Believed to be from Africa, yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) have the dubious distinction of being listed as one of the world’s 100 worst invaders by the ISSG. These pests kill and pester a wide range of mammals, birds, reptiles, and beneficial insects. These slightly larger crazy ants are 4-5 mm long. Like tawny crazy ants, they have long, jointed antennae and long legs, but they are yellowish-brown to reddish-brown with big eyes.
Crazy ant lifecycle
Crazy ants are not as well-organized as other ant species. Instead of building nests, they live in piles of plant debris, tree cavities, under rocks, and in electrical equipment. Very often, as temperatures drop, these pests move indoors and into your stereo. Instead of a single queen lording over her countless minions, crazy ant colonies tend to be small with several queens. As many as 20 queens may be hiding under a rock. And these single colonies network with neighbors. A single collection of a few hundred crazy ants can quickly become a “supercolony” of hundreds of millions of ants.
These crazy ants search far and wide for food. They do it quickly, and they eat pretty much anything: living or dead insects, nectar, honeydew, seeds, plants, grease, and sugar are just a few of the snacks these pests will bring home for the colony.
Crazy ant control
First found only in southern states, these pests have moved northward to Massachusetts and west to California and Hawaii. Controlling crazy ants is difficult because of their networked colonies. Standard ant baits and over-the-counter pesticides do not work against crazy ants.
If your house, garden, or vehicle are infested with crazy ants, call a professional exterminator. In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency authorized the use of fipronil against these pests. Unfortunately, fipronil is considered one of the worst causes of colony collapse disorder in honey bees. It’s best to leave those treatments to the pros.
Stump stabbers may look dangerous but these beneficial insects lay their eggs in pests.
Like other ichneumon wasps, stump stabbers (Megarhyssa macrurus) help in the fight against garden and landscape pests. Also known as giant ichneumon wasps, their giant stingers are egg-laying organs called ovipositors.
Stump stabber description
Females can be 2” long, reddish-brown with black and orange or white stripes, with an ovipositor that can be 4” long. What looks like a single strand is actually three parts. Two interlocking strands have cutting tips, and a third strand is a tube that transports the eggs to where they need to go. Males are only one-quarter that size and they do not have an ovipositor or a stinger.
Stump stabber behavior
Instead of threatening your picnic lunch, female stump stabbers fly from tree trunk to tree trunk, waving their antennae and running around on the bark. They are listening closely for the sound of pigeon horntail and other wood wasp larvae. Wood wasp larvae chew their way through any decaying wood that may be present in your deciduous trees. Mother stump stabbers use their impressive ovipositors to pierce tree bark and lay their eggs on the pesky larvae. When the eggs hatch, they eat their host and then pupate for the winter.
You may see male stump stabbers running around and flying around in a similar way, but they are looking for mates, not food.
Of course, if you happen to see anything burrowing into your trees, you need to take a closer look. It may be that your tree needs a helping hand.
Asian Giant Hornets
Asian giant hornets are huge bee murderers with powerful stings, and they have reached North America.
Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia) are the biggest hornets in the world. Native to Asia, these pests have been identified in Washington State since 2019 and several other potential sightings have prompted quarantines and requests to the public to be on the lookout.
These hornets have stingers that are twice as long as honey bee stingers and they contain a lot of venom. They can also spray venom into your eyes. Being stung by several of these monsters at the same time can kill you.
Asian giant hornet identification
Asian giant hornets have a 3” wingspan. The queen averages just under 2” in length while the workers and drones are slightly smaller. Their heads and forelegs are pale orange with a brown base. The body has alternating brown or black and orange bands.
Asian giant hornets are commonly misidentified as European hornets (V. crabro) and Eastern cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) in the U.S., and Oriental hornets (V. orientalis) and Asian hornets (V. velutina) in Europe.
Asian giant hornet lifecycle
Asian giant hornets are most commonly found in forests and hilly areas. They feed on large insects, tree sap, and honey bees. Mostly honey bees. A group of Asian giant hornets can kill an entire colony of honey bees in just a few hours. Your average honey bee colony contains tens of thousands of bees.
Asian giant hornets use vision, sound, and chemicals to communicate. They are the only hornets that use scent markers to guide the colony to food sources. Sadly, honey bees are their most common food source. But a single hornet cannot attack a honey bee hive. The bees will surround the hornet and use their wings to generate so much heat and carbon dioxide that it kills the hornet. In most cases, however, these hornets attack hives in concert.
They build their nests in tree cavities, around rotting tree roots, and in rodent and snake holes. These holes can be 6” to 24” deep. The comb is formed into towers that can be 18” tall and wide. Old towers are abandoned and left to rot, and new towers are built alongside the old ones.
Reproduction and castes are similar to honey bees, except that Asian giant hornet hives may contain dozens or even hundreds of queens. The highest-ranked queen gets first dibs on any available sap, followed in ranking order by other queens. Drones provide semen and workers collect food. They also fiercely protect whatever they consider theirs.
Mated queens go in search of new nesting sites in mid-spring. Once a site is found, she creates a small hive where she will lay 40 or so worker eggs. These workers emerge in mid-summer. By this time, the hive is likely to have 500 cells and 100 workers. This is when unmated queens disappear. By the end of summer, cells are filled with eggs. When the eggs hatch, Asian giant hornet larvae tells their caregivers it’s dinner time by scraping their mandible against cell walls. When they have eaten their fill, they spin cocoons around themselves.
Reporting Asian giant hornets
If you live in Washington State and see an Asian giant hornet, please report it to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) immediately. Otherwise, contact your local Extension Office. And you may want to invest in one of Dennis Jaffré’s new Asian giant hornet traps.
Once you have grown your own food, groceries take on a whole new category of appreciation.
Everyone talks about how homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than store-bought, which they do, but it’s more than that. Moving to an apartment and still living under the threat of Covid, a recent grocery delivery showed me just how much my perspective on food has changed, being a gardener.
So many people and steps were involved with something that used to grow freely in my yard. This is true of every food we eat that we do not grow at home. And I am grateful to all those people.
Have I planted cilantro seeds in a pot on my balcony? I have. But that isn’t always an option.
I cut open the last Valencia orange from my California home to use while cooking some black beans a couple of nights ago. I had to take a bite. It was so sweet and delicious! It made me a little sad to have left so much behind. Will a store-bought orange ever taste so good? It will certainly never be as fresh.
Can I grow oranges in my Seattle apartment? I don’t know yet. But I will find out. And I will love being closer to my children and grandchildren as I learn.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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