Garden Word of the Day
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Palestriped Flea Beetles
Are you seeing small holes in the leaves of your garden plants? It may be palestriped flea beetles.
Palestriped flea beetles (Systena blanda) feed on artichokes, cabbages, and radishes. Beans, carrots, sunflowers, and other edibles are also at risk. Likely, you won’t even see these culprits unless you look closely.
Like other flea beetles, palestriped flea beetles are small insects with large legs for jumping. And they can fly. But they feed on the underside of leaves, so it’s easy to miss them until you start seeing those holes.
Palestriped flea beetle description
Unlike their close cousin, the striped flea beetle (Phyllotreta striolata), and somewhat contrary to their name, palestriped flea beetles have a distinct white band down each wing. Striped flea beetles have wavy gold markings. Both species are only 1/8 of an inch long and tend to be brown with relatively long antennae.
Eggs are elliptical and pale yellow, larvae are white with dark heads, and pupae are small and cream-colored.
Palestriped flea beetle lifecycle
Mated females lay eggs in the soil near the base of food plants each spring. When they hatch, larvae move into the soil where they feed on roots for 2 or 3 weeks before pupating. Pupae match hatch mid-summer through early autumn. There can be up to three generations each year.
After pupating, adults emerge and begin feeding on the underside of leaves. As temperatures drop, adults look for sheltering dirt clods, plant debris, and weeds to protect them through winter.
Palestriped flea beetle damage
While the larvae chew on the roots, adult beetles are the ones that cause the most damage. Palestriped flea beetle feeding looks a lot like shot hole disease. It can also be mistaken for cavity spot. As beetles gnaw on the underside of leaves, the damaged areas die off and create small irregular holes. When this feeding occurs on seedlings and young plants, the damage can significantly reduce yield over the life of the plant or kill them outright.
How to control palestriped flea beetles
Pesticides generally don’t work against flea beetles. You can reduce the likelihood of them setting up shop in your garden by keeping attractive weeds away from your plot. By attractive, I mean members of the same plant families the beetles prefer. You can use that same logic turned around by employing trap crops to lure palestriped flea beetles away from garden plants you’d rather they left alone.
Monitor seedlings twice a week for signs of palestriped flea beetle feeding. Knock any beetles you find into a container of soapy water. Once plants are established, a little damage won’t cause significant problems.
When it’s time to put the kettle on, few of us consider the source of those tea leaves unless we’re drinking herbal tea. And that's only because we use the names of the herbs when we buy them.
Herbal teas, such as peppermint or chamomile, are fragrant and earthy. I enjoy them regularly. But, in preparation for my first trip to London, I decided to drink the black tea of my earlier years. The tea bags look the same. [Did you know that many tea bags contain plastic? I didn’t either until recently. Yuck.] The way one makes tea is the same. But black tea is one of those things that somehow feels out of reach and unproducible at home, like paprika. Of course, that feeling led me to learn more about tea plants.
The tea plant family
If you read The Daily Garden regularly, you know that I like to learn about plant families. Much like human families, plant families have traits in common. Knowing about those traits can help in the fight against pests and diseases. It reduces your gardening workload, too. The tea plant family is no exception.
The tea family (Theaceae) is primarily native to China and East Asia, though there are a handful of North American residents. Members of the tea plant family are now grown globally in warm regions. This family of flowering shrubs and trees includes tea and ornamental camellias.
I wouldn’t have thought my bright pink camellias were related to what was in my teacup, but they end up having a lot in common. Both plants have simple, glossy leaves that alternate along the stem and end with what’s called a Theoid leaf tooth. You’ve probably seen these before. When the medial vein expands and becomes slightly opaque and congested at the end of the leaf, with no other veins involved, you have a Theoid leaf tooth.
Tea plants and camellias are both evergreens. They both have showy pink or white flowers. And those flowers are protected at the base with a calyx made with five or more sepals. Both plants can have lots of stems. While you wouldn’t see it without a microscope, both plants produce pseudopollen. Pseudopollen looks like the real thing, and it attracts and provides food for pollinators, but it doesn’t contain any genetic information.
Other members of the tea family have the same characteristics. A couple of North American natives are Georgia’s Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha), which is now extinct in the wild but still cultivated as an ornamental, and Loblolly-bay (Gordonia lasianthus), found throughout southeastern North America are both members of the tea family. But what about that cup of tea?
Tea plant basics
Tea plants (Camellia sinensis) are evergreen shrubs that can grow six feet tall. They have deep taproots and use a lot of water. This makes sense because their native regions get an average of 50” of water a year. Those regions are also a lot warmer than, say, Minnesota. Tea plants can be grown outdoors in Zones 7-12 or indoors year-round. Because tea plants have large taproots, they need large containers.
There are four unique tea plant varieties. Chinese small leaf tea (C. sinensis var. sinensis) and Chinese large leaf tea (C. s. var. assamica) are the most commonly grown tea varieties. There are thousands of cultivars.
Tea plants grow more slowly and produce the best flavor at higher elevations. They prefer moist, nutrient-rich, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and full sun. It may take 4 or 5 years of growth before you start harvesting leaves from your tea plant, but it will grow and produce for another 40-100 years.
Harvesting tea leaves
Harvesting tea leaves can be a labor-intensive process. Young tea plant leaves and terminal buds (flushes) are harvested by hand to make high-quality tea. Lesser teas are harvested by machine. Depending on the local climate, harvesting may occur twice a year or as often as every week or two.
After being picked, leaves are allowed to wilt for a while. Then they are bruised or torn. Among professional tea producers, they are disrupting or macerating the leaves. Damaging the leaves this way allows enzymes to start oxidizing or breaking the leaves down. Next, leaves are rolled between human hands or crushed by machinery. Then the leaves are heated to halt oxidation. This process is called the green kill. The leaves are then dried completely, packaged, and sent to grocery stores, restaurants, and tea shops.
Tea plant problems
Tea plants are susceptible to bacterial diseases, including crown gall and bacterial canker. Nematodes and caterpillars commonly attack tea plants. But the biggest threat to tea plants comes from fungi. Anthracnose, armillaria root rot, black rot, and damping-off are a few fungal diseases that strike tea plants.
Like camellias, tea plants make lovely additions to tea gardens, patios, and sunny rooms, depending on where you live.
If you grow milkweed for monarch butterflies, you need to know about milkweed weevils.
Like many other gardeners, I have researched and planted native milkweed species for my region to help offset the habitat loss of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Unfortunately, milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca) are the food of choice for more than just butterflies.
Milkweed weevils are tiny black specks that damage milkweed plants, making them distasteful or even inedible to monarch larvae.
There are tens of thousands of weevil species around the world. They all cause trouble. Boll weevils are estimated to have cost the cotton industry more than $100 billion over the past century, with inflation taken into account. On the other hand, some weevils are being employed to eradicate invasive plant species, so maybe they’re not all bad. And maybe the weevils consider monarchs to be pests.
Milkweed weevil species
There are two milkweed weevils: regular milkweed weevils (Rhyssomatus lineaticollis), which prefer the leaves of common milkweed, and stem milkweed weevils (R. annectans), prefer milkweed stems food and egg-laying.
Milkweed weevil description
All weevils are small gray or black beetles. When I say small, I mean less than one-quarter of an inch. They may look like nothing more than specks. Get closer to see that they have long snouts called rostrums. Within those snouts are chewing mouthparts that take a significant bite out of buds, seeds, and stems.
Like many other weevils, these evil twins have elbowed antennae with knobs on the ends, hard-scale bodies, and those snouts. Milkweed weevil larvae have tiny antennae, some scales, and no legs.
Milkweed weevil behavior
Milkweed weevils are nocturnal. They start eating tender new leaves and then move towards the buds and stems, where they lay eggs. They may also sever small petioles as they feed. When threatened, these pests play dead. Don’t be fooled. As soon as you turn your back, they’ll return to feeding and damaging your milkweed.
Managing milkweed weevils
The first step in any pest control problem is identifying the culprit. And milkweed plants are not without defenses of their own. As a milkweed weevil chews on a leaf, the plant starts oozing sticky, caustic latex. In some cases (pictured below), the plant can kill the pest without any help from gardeners.
Remember those boll weevils we mentioned above? Well, not too long ago, some researchers were trying to develop a pheromone trap for them when they discovered that milkweed weevils were more attracted to the traps than the intended victims. So, there are pheromone traps for milkweed weevils. You can also knock them into a container of soapy water.
Some people say you can inject certain nematodes into the stems of plants infested with milkweed stem weevils if you’re into that sort of thing, but I couldn’t find any science to back up the claim, and they never mention which nematode. [There are more than 25,000 species.]
Check your milkweed plants regularly for those tiny black specks. And remember, if you are planting milkweed for monarch butterflies, be sure to plant native varieties, not tropical varieties. It matters a lot if you’re a monarch.
Large Yellow Underwing Moths
These moths may be larger than many others, but they are not yellow. They are brown. And their larvae can be devastating to your garden.
There are several types of yellow underwing. Whichever species you come across, these are airborne adult cutworms. Cutworms are destructive caterpillars that cut prized garden plants down at the soil level during the night. Native to Eurasia and North Africa, this invasive pest is now firmly established throughout North America.
Large yellow underwings (Noctua pronuba) are rarely seen. I surprised the one pictured above out of my flowering beets with a spray from the garden hose. I was able to capture it and add it to my collection.
Large yellow underwing description
As far as moths go, large yellow underwings are sturdy. They have some heft to them. While my specimen was very brown, other members of this family can range from light brown to nearly black. Like other moths, they rest with their wings held flat, in tabletop fashion, over the body. [Butterflies tend to hold their wings upright when at rest.] Large yellow underwings have a wingspan of 2” to 2-1/2” across.
The larvae start as tiny gray caterpillars but grow to 2” long. They can be green or gray-brown, with darkened heads. Brown cutworms have bands of gray or brown that run the length of the caterpillar. When disturbed, they curl up into a C-shape.
Large yellow underwing lifecycle
Adult moths generally fly from July to September, but those flight patterns have expanded in recent years. Females lay clusters of tiny, pearl-like eggs in the soil or on host plants. If you were to look closely, you would see that these eggs look ribbed or have a netting pattern.
Eggs start white but soon turn grayish-pink. After they hatch, these tiny caterpillars may feed a little bit, but the real damage occurs as temperatures rise. Just when your tomato, spinach, and strawberry plants are coming to life, cutworms emerge at night, devouring young leaves and severing new stems. After eating their fill, they return to the soil. There, they surround themselves with hard, rust-colored oblong cases where they pupate. Adult moths emerge 2-3 weeks later, and the cycle begins again.
Adult large yellow underwings are attracted to butterfly bush, ragwort, and red valerian. But it is larval feeding that causes all the damage. Larvae feed on the stems and leaves of young plants. The following plants (and other members of the same families) are commonly used as food by large yellow underwing larvae:
• Beets (Beta)
• Broccoli and cabbage (Brassica)
• Carrots (Daucus)
• Grapes (Vitis)
• Lettuce (Lactuca)
• Strawberries (Freesia)
• Tomatoes and potatoes (Nightshade family)
Carnations, chrysanthemums, dahlias, dandelions, freesia, gladiolas, sweet violet, and grasses are also vulnerable to cutworm feeding. But planting calendula in your garden will help to deter these pests.
Controlling large yellow underwing moths
These flying pests are attracted to lights at night. If you feel so inclined, you can sit on the porch with a butterfly net and put an end to their destructive ways with a container of soapy water or a garden shoe. Or, you can go out at night with a flashlight and handpick the buggers before too much damage is done. You might also use a garden claw to gently disturb the soil around affected plants. The larvae tend to stay near the surface, so you may be able to find and remove those pests that way. Drench tests can also flush cutworms out of the soil.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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