Large hairy spiders might not be what you want to see in your garden, but tarantulas are actually gentle, beneficial creatures.
Tarantulas are the largest spiders on Earth and they have been around for 150 million years. There are approximately 1,000 species of tarantula around the world.
Before you run away in a panic, you might be surprised to learn some of the more unique characteristics of tarantulas. For example, did you know that tarantulas use special hairs on their legs and feet that are used to taste things? Or that their sense of smell is in their feet? Read on!
We have all seen images of these large, hairy spiders, but there is far more to tarantulas than their appearance. Like other Arachnids, tarantulas have eight eyes and eight legs. Each of these legs has 7 segments and 2 or 3 retractable claws used for climbing and hunting. Tarantulas have 2 large eyes and 3 smaller eyes on either side. Tarantulas have hollow fangs used to inject their prey with venom. These fangs are unique in that they are articulated, which means they can be pointed forwards to attack or folded backwards for storage. [Imagine doing that with your teeth!]
Depending on the species, tarantulas range in body size from 1” to 4” long with leg spans of 3” to 12” wide. The Goliath birdeater, from Brazil and Venezuela, is the largest tarantula. While most North American tarantulas are brown, other species can be black with white stripes, iridescent purple, cobalt blue, yellow-legged, and one species, the Venezuelan greenbottle blue, has an orange back and metallic blue legs!
Speaking of legs, a tarantula can regrow a lost leg. A tarantula may pull off an injured leg and eat it, making room (and providing nutrients) to grow a new one.
Did you know that all tarantulas can produce silk? Or that some Old World species can hiss? I didn’t either.
Female tarantulas take 3 to 5 years to mature, depending on the species, and they can live for 15 to 30 years. Male tarantulas are smaller than females and they only live for 3 to 6 years. Like most other spiders, most female tarantulas often eat the males after mating. [Sorry, guys.] This provides her with the nutrients she needs to raise her young. Even if they are not eaten, male tarantulas normally die soon after mating.
Eggs are laid once a year in clusters of 50 to 2,000, depending on the species. Females are rather protective of their egg sacs, turning them frequently, the same way a broody hen will roll her eggs around in the nest. In both cases, this action prevents the offspring from becoming deformed.
Tarantulas are nocturnal predators. They used touch to find and ambush their prey. They mostly eat large insects, centipedes, millipedes, and other spiders. The larger species also capture and eat small bats, birds, lizards, mice, snakes, and tree frogs.
Tarantulas that hunt on the ground tend to live in silk-lined burrows in the ground. Tarantulas that hunt in trees tend to build silken nests for themselves, up in a favored tree.
As a tarantula grows, it must shed its protective exoskeleton. These molts are dangerous times for a tarantula because they cannot move while they are molting. Baby tarantulas, or spiderlings, molt every couple of weeks. Mature tarantulas molt once a year.
Tarantulas as prey
Tarantulas may look fierce and intimidating, but they look like lunch to a variety of other predators, including scorpions, giant centipedes, opossum, honey badgers, mongooses, kinkajou, and coati, depending on your continent. Even other tarantulas will feed on tarantulas. One of the biggest threats to tarantulas is a type of wasp, called a tarantula hawk. Tarantula hawks must sting the underside of a tarantula to subdue and paralyze it. The wasp then drags the tarantula to its den where it lays an egg on the tarantula’s belly before sealing it inside the tunnel. When the egg hatches, it will consume the tarantula.
Tarantulas as pets
Many people keep tarantulas as pets, swearing that they are affectionate, gentle beings. That may be so, but you do need to know that New World species of tarantula have special stinging, barbed hairs, called urticating hairs, that can become embedded in your skin, eyes and lungs. These hairs are very similar to the stinging hairs found in nettles and are used to mark territory and protect nesting areas.
Sadly, as a result of pet trade, some tarantula species are threatened with extinction. This is especially true for the Mexican red-knee tarantula. If you must have a tarantula as a pet, make sure you get it from a reputable dealer. Better yet, if you happen to see a tarantula in your garden, simply leave it alone and let it take care of some of those pesky millipedes!
Are tarantulas dangerous?
Tarantulas would much rather run away and hide than attack a person. Contrary to popular belief, North American tarantula bites are not particularly dangerous, though they are said to feel like bee stings. Tarantula bites can be very dangerous to people who are allergic. Tarantula species found in other parts of the world, particularly the Indian ornamental tarantula, can be particularly deadly to humans.
Did you know that some people also eat tarantulas? Apparently, in Cambodia and Venezuela, tarantulas are roasted over an open fire to burn off the hairs before being eaten. They can also be deep fried. And the fangs are used as toothpicks.
Now we know.
When installing new bare root trees or doing some dormant season pruning, be on the lookout for orange bulges on stems or branches. It might be burr knot.
Once considered a disease, burr knots start out as smooth orange bulges on stems or branches that develop into adventitious roots. These tumor-like bulges are actually masses of tiny roots that somehow ended up growing in the aboveground portion of a tree. This condition can be mistaken for crown gall.
Remember, most fruit and nut trees purchased these days are actually two trees that have been grafted together. The upper portion is selected for fruit or nut production and pest and disease resistance, while the rootstock is chosen for its ability to establish itself quickly and make the best use of soil resources.
Trees susceptible to burr knots
This condition is most common on apple trees. It occurs on scion cultivars, particularly Gala and Empire, and on dwarf and semi-dwarf tree rootstocks. Specifically, semi-dwarf trees grown from M.7, M.26, MM106, or MM.111 and dwarf trees with M.9 rootstock are likely to develop burr knots. Scion cultivars develop burr knots on the underside of limbs, while grafted trees tend to develop burr knots at nodes. Nodes are where leaves and stems normally emerge. Instead of developing normally, primordial roots cells begin to develop, creating a tumor-like bulge.
Conditions that encourage burr knots
In addition to being a grafted apple tree, other conditions, such as shade, increase the likelihood of burr knots occurring. High humidity and temperatures ranging from 68°F to 95°F during a tree’s first year encourage the development of tiny growths, called root initials, during its second year. These root initials can break through the bark of a tree, making room for more roots to form, increasing the bulge.
Problems associated with burr knots
As roots push their way through the bark, they create entry points for pests, such as plum borers, apple clearwing moths, and wooly apple aphids, and diseases. These diseases include fireblight and wood-rotting fungi. Limbs can become structurally weak and more likely to break. Several burr knots on the same tree can also interfere with nutrient movement through the phloem, causing stunting. These weakened areas are more prone to frost damage in winter.
Preventing burr knots
First, be sure to select tree varieties that are suitable for your microclimate. Next, be sure to install your tree at the proper depth. Improper planting leads to several problems and can ultimately kill your tree. Keep weeds away from your young tree and make sure that tree supports are used properly and only for as long as they are needed. If burr knots are seen, they can be cut out with a knife or filed out with a rasp.
When gooseberry and currant growers find hollowed out, discolored berries that fall off early, it is time to look closely for other signs of invasive gooseberry fruitworms.
Gooseberry fruitworms are the larval stage of the gooseberry moth (Zophodia convolutella). This insignificant looking moth can cause significant damage.
Gooseberry moth description
Adult gooseberry moths are grey with a 1” wingspan. You may be able to see a white fringe on the back of the rear wings, and white horizontal stripes on the forewings, as well as a brown spot. More often, all you will see is a small, narrow-bodied greyish-brown moth.
Larvae are 3/4” long. At first, they are a pale green. As they mature, the head turns brown and dark stripes can be seed down the sides of the body. Sadly, I was unable to track down a photo. Please share one in the Comments if your berries have been so afflicted.
Gooseberry moth lifecycle
Adult moths lay eggs on currants and gooseberries. When the eggs hatch, larvae burrow into the fruit and begin feeding on the pulp. This discolors the fruit and causes it to drop prematurely. A single larva will feed on several berries. Berries may be held together by a silken thread. There is usually only one generation each year but, being invasive insects, the lack of natural predators may cause that to change.
Gooseberry moth controls
Handpick and destroy any larvae you see, or feed them to your chickens. Bacillus thuringiensis and spinosad can also be used against these pests. Treatments should be applied when fruit is first developing and again 10 days later.
Gymnosperms are plants that produce naked seeds. We say they are naked because the seeds are not surrounded by an ovary. When seeds are enclosed by an ovary, which we generally refer to as fruit, the plant is classified as an angiosperm.
Angio- or gymno-?
There are several differences between angiosperm and gymnosperm:
Another difference between angiosperm and gymnosperm is the idea of softwood versus hardwood. Those terms don’t exclusively refer to the density of the wood. It actually points out that they are two entirely different types of plants. Hardwoods are angiosperms, while softwoods are gymnosperms.
Types of gymnosperm
Gymnosperm seeds, unlike angiosperm, develop on top of leaves or scales. Those scales often turn into cones. There are four existing types of gymnosperm:
You may have heard of pine nuts and gingko nuts, but neither one is actually a nut. True nuts are hard-shelled, inedible pods that hold both the fruit and the seed of a plant. The pod, or shell, of a nut is made from the ovary wall, which hardens over time. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, and acorns are true nuts. So are kola nuts.
A nut is not a nut when it is a fruit seed. Pine nuts and ginkgo nuts are not true nuts.
While most of the plants in your garden are probably angiosperms, you just might have a gymnosperm or two in the mix!
Caraway seeds taste similar to anise or licorice and caraway plants are easy to grow. Did you know that the entire caraway plant is edible? Read on!
Frequently used in rye bread, goulash, havarti cheese, and Irish soda bread, this cousin to carrots and dill has lovely umbrella-shaped flowers that attract many beneficial insects, such as hoverflies and parasitic wasps.
The caraway seed is actually a type of dried fruit, called an achene. Feathery leaves, strong stems, and small pink or white flowers make caraway (Carum carvi) both attractive and useful. Plants can reach 24-30” in height, though they only reach 8” or so their first year.
As a member of the carrot family, caraway plants can look similar to poison hemlock, so make sure you know how to tell them apart.
How caraway grows
Caraway, like parsley and many other umbellifers, is a biennial plant. This means it uses its first year to develop a root system and become established. In its second year, flower production takes place and seeds are produced. Some varieties are grown as annuals, and one type of caraway is a perennial plant.
Caraway plants prefer warm, sunny locations, good drainage, and nutrient-rich soil. Commonly grown in Europe and Western Asia, caraway plants prefer cool temperate zones and a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0, and can be grown in Hardiness Zones 3-11. While they prefer full sun, caraway plants can handle partial shade.
How to grow caraway
Caraway seeds should be planted 1/4” to 1/2” deep in spring or fall, directly in the soil. As is common with plants that feature a taproot, caraway does not transplant well. Plants should be thinned so they are 8-12” apart. Caraway is a slow grower, so you may want to intercrop with something faster to reduce weeds and to act as a nurse crop for your caraway. Water plants well during their first year, but avoid getting the leaves wet. Soaker hoses are an excellent tool for irrigating caraway.
While caraway has very few pest or disease problems, it is a good idea to leave some distance between them and other members of the carrot family.
If grown as a biennial, cut plants back in the fall. They will regrow, bigger than ever, in spring. If grown as an annual, be sure to start a new crop in succession, for a continuous harvest.
Since all parts of the caraway plant are edible, you can use young leaves and stems in salads, soups, and stews. When seeds have turned brown, remove the flower head and hang it upside-down in a pillowcase until dry. Then you can simply rub the head between your hands to dislodge the caraway achenes. After seeds are produced and harvested, you can dig up the root and treat it the same way you would any other root vegetable.
Try adding some caraway to your foodscape this fall!
Small black spots on tomatoes and tomato leaves often indicate bacterial spot.
Those black spots might not look like anything important, but this bacterial disease can also affect peppers, eggplant, groundcherries, and tomatillos, along with your tomatoes. Close cousin to the bacterial spot of almonds and practically impossible to differentiate from bacterial speck without a microscope, bacterial spot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria ) is perfectly capable of killing your tomato plants.
Bacterial spot symptoms
Symptoms of bacterial spot can appear on all life stages, from seedlings to mature plants, and on all aboveground plant parts. Bacteria enter through wounds and stoma. Infected younger plants can be completed defoliated by bacterial spot. Older plants exhibit insignificant looking water-soaked areas on mature leaves, usually near the bottom of the plant. making it easier to dismiss this disease. This would be a mistake.
Closer inspection of these lesions shows that they start out yellow or light green, turning dark brown or black. Older spots may be raised areas that average 1/3” across. Larger damaged areas may be seen at the margins (leaf edges).
Immature fruit can also be affected by bacterial spot. Bacteria enter through tiny hairs, called trichomes. Infected areas start out looking like tiny raised black dots which then become sunken or dimpled, and surrounded by a white halo, similar to bacterial canker. The halos eventually disappear as the spots get larger and become scabby. These fruits, if they are able to mature at all without rotting on the vine, are still edible. Simply cut out the diseased areas. Just be sure to dispose of the infected parts in the trash. Do not add them to your compost pile.
Controlling bacterial spot
Because these bacteria overwinter in infected plant debris, you can protect next year’s crops by clearing infected plant tissue out of your garden completely each fall. The disease can also appear on volunteer tomato plants, so watch rogue tomato plants closely for signs of infection. Splashing rain, irrigation water, and contaminated tools can also spread the disease, so avoid overhead watering and be sure to sanitize your garden tools regularly.
Since these bacteria need humidity and water droplets to survive, pruning for good air flow can go a long way toward preventing this disease.
If you are like me and save seeds from each year’s crops, be sure you don’t use seeds from an infected plant, as you will be perpetuating the disease. As always, only buy certified disease-free plants and seeds and always quarantine new plants. Fixed copper sprays can be used in areas where bacterial spot has been a significant problem, although there have been some cases of copper-resistant bacteria. Crop rotation can also be used to break this disease triangle.
Protect next year’s crops by tossing plants infected with bacterial spot into the trash and providing good air flow around future plants.
Chayote is an edible gourd. These lumpy, green cousins to squash and pumpkins grow on perennial vines.
Also known as Buddha’s palm, chocho, mirliton, or sayote, chayote (Sechium edule) is a relatively bland, highly productive plant.
While chayote has been cultivated in Mexico and Central America since pre-Columbian times, archeologists have not been able to find any evidence of its existence back in those times. Apparently, chayote was not a food that lent itself to preservation.
Chayote fruit, roots, tubers, seeds, young leaves and stems are all edible. That being said, many people find raw chayote to be rather tough. In cooking, chayote is handled much like summer squashes, such as zucchini. Cooked chayote sprouts are very popular in many Asian dishes.
Chayote plants have thick roots and slender vining stems. Those vines can reach 30 feet in length. Fruits are oval and green, similar to pears, with deep wrinkles or ridges. When you slice a chayote open, you will find a large, flattened pit, similar to a mango seed.
Leaves are heart-shaped with three tips, and petioles (leaf stems) are grooved (sulcate) and 3” to 6” long. Tendrils occur along the stems. There are both male and female chayote flowers. Male flowers occur in clusters, while female chayote flowers are solitary.
How to grow chayote
You can start growing chayote with seeds or a chayote fruit. If using a fruit, allow it to sprout first, then lay it on its side and cover it with soil, leaving the sprout exposed. Personally, I like to get chayote seedlings from my local Master Gardeners’ fall plant sale.
Chayote is known as a short day plant. This means that flowering is not triggered until each day has less than 12 hours of daylight. In San Jose, California, that means chayote can be planted April through October.
These are sprawling plants that need a significant amount of room to grow, unless you train them up a trellis. Tendrils will grab hold of fencing, trees, a pergola, or cattle panels, lifting the fruit up off the ground. Similar to hops, chayote vines will grow as far upwards as they can, reaching 30’ to 36’ when a supporting wire or structure is available. While the vines can get quite long, your harvest will be better if vines are pruned back to a more manageable length. Plants should be spaced 7 to 11 feet apart.
Chayote can grow in full sun or partial shade. Fruits exposed to full sun will tend to be a light yellow color, while shaded fruits are a darker green. Before feeding your chayote plants, get a soil test to see what is already available. Chayote plants do not need a lot of nitrogen. In fact, too much nitrogen can cause flower drop (abscission).
After flowers have been pollinated, fruit will reach harvestable size in 1 - 2 months. Harvestable fruits are 4" to 6” in diameter.
Chayote pests and diseases
While these plants grow best in the rainy season, they do like soggy soil. Chayote needs good drainage to stay healthy. To offset the risk of root rot, plants are often installed in mounds or raised hills.
Being a member of the cucurbit family, chayote is subject to many of the same pests and diseases. Chayote diseases include downy mildews and certain tropical fungal diseases, most of which are not yet seen in North America.
Nematodes can be troublesome, as can chayote stem borers (Adetus fuscoapicalis), cucumber beetles, squash ladybugs, and squash vine borers.
While chayote is a perennial vine that can remain productive for up to 8 years, many pest and disease problems can be reduced or eliminated by replacing individual plants every 3 years.
Give these lovely vines a try in your garden this fall and let us know what it was like in the Comments!
The red juicy bits found inside a pomegranate are called arils. Arils are a type of accessory fruit, or false fruit.
True fruits and false fruits
Fruit is the tissue that surrounds the seeds of angiosperms (flowering plants). Fruit is made from a plant’s ovary. Except when it isn’t. In some cases, a fruit develops from both the ovary and nearby tissue. These tissues can be either the perianth (flower whorls) or the hypanthium (the flower base). When this occurs, the part we eat is called an accessory fruit, or false fruit. Common accessory fruits include figs, mulberries, pineapples, and strawberries. Arils are specialized versions of these false fruits.
Arils are outgrowths that cover seeds partially or fully, which may or may not turn in to an edible fruit. This outgrowth originates where the seed attaches to the ovary, at the hilum. Along with pomegranates, the spice known as mace is an aril. Mace is a striking red aril that surrounds a nutmeg.
A slightly different version, called an arillode or false aril, emerges from a different location on the seed coat. Lychee, for example, grows partly from the hilum and partly from the integument or coating of the seed. The same is true for soapnuts. And yew creates a cup-shaped aril fruit, rather than a traditional cone.
Like other fruits, the aril serves as an attractant to herbivores. As birds, animals, and people eat these fruits, the seeds are spread farther and wides, improving the odds of continuing that particular line of genetic information.
Now you know.
As you prepare for a change of seasons, it is common to want to clean things up, to make the garden look a little more tidy, and to create less work for yourself in the future.
Very often, landscape fabric is part of those plans for an easier, weed-free future. Landscape fabric is easy to use and it works. For a while. And at a price that might surprise you.
How landscape fabric is used
Landscape fabric is a semi-porous material that is used to create a weed-free area in a landscape. Advertisements claim that water, air, and fertilizer can still reach the soil while preventing weeds from taking hold. Photos make the end result look lovely and trouble-free. To use landscape fabric, the following steps are used:
It’s that simple. Unless there is a slope. Or if you care about pollution. Or if soil or plant health matter.
Air flow is important
Plant roots and soil dwelling critters need to absorb and release gases to survive. In a healthy environment, oxygen and carbon dioxide move freely between the soil and the atmosphere, allowing for moisture and temperature regulation and other important processes. Without air flow, important soil microorganisms, worms, and plant roots die.
Mulch material matters
Landscape fabric and mulch allow gases to disperse at different rates. Mulching is an excellent way to stabilize soil temperatures, retain moisture, and block weeds, but the material used makes a big difference in gas exchanges. Recent research has shown that, if you cover the soil with landscape fabric, you will slow those gas exchanges by more than 1,000 times than if you had used wood chips. If you were to use plastic sheeting, the gas exchange rates would be slowed by yet another thousand times.
Finally, as plant material, soil, and water collect on top of landscape fabric, weeds will grow anyway. Also, landscape fabric, which is actually plastic, tends to deteriorate over time, being exposed to moisture, microorganisms, and foot traffic. These plastic particles end up in creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceans, as well as in our own air supply. As the mulch shifts, areas are exposed, torn, and the whole thing looks messy as weeds, being weeds, take hold once again.
The next time you see an area covered with landscape fabric, take a closer look at the crowns of nearby trees. Are they dying? Are they putting out suckers? These things are happening because the trees are suffocating.
Instead of using newspaper, cardboard, or landscape fabric to block weeds, simply contact your local arborist and ask for a load of clean wood chips. A nice 4” thick layer of mixed wood chips does an amazing job at blocking weeds and protecting your soil. For free.
Rabbits, hares, and pikas may look adorable, but they can wreak havoc in a garden.
Before we get started learning more about how to protect your plants from these garden mammals, let’s make one thing clear: rabbits are not rodents. Either are hares or pikas.
A different sort of critter
Rats, mice, and voles are rodents. Rabbits, hares, and pikas are lagomorphs. Lagomorphs differ from rodents in two basic ways: teeth and diet. Both rodents and lagomorphs feature incisors that grow continuously. That is why they are always chewing on things. They have to. But rodents have only two incisors, while lagomorphs have four. Also, all lagomorphs are herbivores, while some rodents eat meat. [We learned that one the hard way when I combined our Zebra finches’ habitat with our hamsters’. It was awful.]
Types of lagomorphs
In the world of lagomorphs, there are, you guessed it, rabbits, hares, and pikas. So, what’s the difference?
Unless you live above the tree line, you will probably never see a pika. Pikas are small, sturdy, compact animals that scamper around rocks and boulders as they look for food and avoid predators.
When looking at rabbits and hares, also known as jackrabbits, size matters. Hares have longer legs and ears, and are larger than rabbits. Also, hares change color with the seasons, while rabbits do not. If you were to find a litter of newborns, infant rabbits are blind and hairless, while new hares are born ready to run.
Damage caused by lagomorphs
Being herbivores, rabbits, hares, and pikas will nibble their way through your lettuces, beets, peas, beans, and kale, shear off seedlings with a clean, angled bite, and may even girdle young fruit and nut trees. You can confirm your suspicions by looking around for 1/4" to 1/2” fecal pellets.
Preventing damage by rabbits and hares
Before you put up a fence, you need to know that most advertised ‘rabbit fencing’ is completely ineffective. Rabbits and hares are able to squeeze through incredibly small holes. Use heavy gauge chicken wire instead.
Generally speaking, rabbits will not jump a 2’ fence, while hares may need a 3’ barrier. Since most rabbits and hares can burrow, fencing alone is not enough. Raised beds with an exclusionary hardware cloth base may be your only real solution if these pests insist on eating your garden plants. Young shrubs and trees can be protected with wire or sheet metal wraps. Electric fencing can be used to protect especially valuable plantings.
How to discourage rabbits and hares
You can also reduce the likelihood of rabbits and hares feeling safe enough to feed in your garden by eliminating hiding places. Brush, stone, and wood piles, weedy patches, and hidden corners are all valuable nesting and hiding places for these herbivores. Eliminate enough places to hide and they will be more likely to go elsewhere. Leaving your dogs outside can also discourage unwanted garden feeding.
Commercial repellants can also be used to make plants less desirable to rabbits and hares. I have had some success with Bobbex-R, used against squirrels, but none of these repellants work perfectly. They only last for a while and often need to be reapplied after rain or sprinklers wash it off. Do not use mothballs in the garden, no matter how many people tell you they work. Mothballs are toxic to all of us and have no place in a healthy environment.
Before trapping or discharging these garden visitors, be sure to check your local laws and ordinances. It is not worth a legal battle to protect a row of Romaine.
If you grow raspberries, you should be on the lookout for spur blight. For some reason, blackberries and other bramble fruit are not affected by the Didymella applanata fungi. Red raspberries are more likely to become infected by this fungal disease than other raspberry species, but all raspberries can get spur blight.
Currently found most often in Scotland, Oregon, and Washington, spur blight can significantly reduce your raspberry crop. Knowing what to look for can help you nip this disease in the proverbial bud.
Spur blight symptoms
Spur blight first appears in mid to late summer on new growth, on leaves and around buds. Initial symptoms of spur blight look a lot like anthracnose, fireblight, and cane blight, with brown and purple lesions on leaves, around buds, and on the lower area of stems. These lesions cause buds to shrivel up. By spring, those lesions will look ashy grey and the buds will be weak or dead. Stems that grow from these infected buds will be wilted and weak.
Infected leaflets have triangular-shaped brown areas and they may fall off, leaving the petiole (leaf stem) in place. You might also see dead spots on the canes near petioles. This infection causes premature leaf drop, which weakens the plant overall. As the blight progresses, splits and cracks may form in the bark.
If you look closely, you might see tiny black dots emerging from those cracks. Those dots are fungal fruiting bodies, called pycnidia. If you look at pycnidia with a microscope, they are flask-shaped. Pycnidia formation is followed by a different type of fruiting body, called perithecia. Perithecia are also black, but they are medium-sized and, if you watch, erupting with spores.
Spur blight lifecycle
Spur blight is spread by spores on wind, rain, and irrigation water. These spores are released each time wet weather occurs, even if that wet weather is your garden hose. If that infected water falls on or near young canes, newly forming buds, leaves, wounds, or stoma, infection can occur. Once inside, this disease spreads throughout the plant, overwintering in the lesions.
How to manage spur blight
Proper sanitation and pruning methods will go a long way toward preventing spur blight on your beloved raspberries. In late winter or early spring, before new canes emerge, remove all dead, diseased, or weak canes and put them in the trash, rather than the compost pile. Be sure to keep canes properly spaced for good air flow, and train them up trellising that allows canes to dry quickly and to make it easier for you to water your raspberry plants at ground level. You should also keep weeds away, as they complete for water and nutrients and reduce air flow around the canes. Unless a soil test has indicated a genuine need for fertilizer, avoid feeding your raspberries. The presence of too many nutrients causes plants to produce an abundance of vulnerable tissue.
As always, only buy certified, disease-free plants and place new plants in quarantine. In the case if severe infection, fixed copper or lime sulfur treatments may reduce lesion size and control internal infection if applied when new shoots are 8-10” long.
Believe me when I tell you that it is far easier to prevent spur blight than to treat it. And raspberries are worth the effort.
Strawberry vein banding is a viral disease spread by strawberry aphids, but you will never know it has infected your plants until another virus comes along.
As soon as another virus infects your plants, usually strawberry crinkle, suddenly the leaf veins of your strawberry plants start to turn yellow. And if the strawberry mottle virus comes along, well, those yellowing veins won’t be visible. This mess is called strawberry decline, a topic for another day.
Symptoms of strawberry vein banding
Leaves of infected plants tend to be significantly smaller than the leaves of healthy plants. The yellowing of veins, when visible, first appear in new growth. This yellowing appears erratically; sometimes only part of a vein has turned yellow. The two halves of each leaf may be held closer together than is normal and the margins, or leaf edges, are wavier than normal. Some crinkling of the leaf surface may also occur. As the leaf opens, the bands of yellow become somewhat more obvious.
Symptoms appear more strongly in the second and third leaves, but are not likely in later growth. [Weird, right?] Unfortunately, the other symptoms include stunting and reduced fruit and runner production. Your strawberry crop can be reduced by nearly 20% because of vein banding. As soon as another virus takes hold, you can lose your crop entirely.
Strawberry vein banding vectors
Strawberry vein banding is generally carried by strawberry aphids. It can also be transmitted by taking grafts from infected plants. Strangely enough, coming into contact with dodder can also spread the disease, but sap from an infected plant cannot. Stranger still, a clone of the vein banding virus can infect turnips, a completely unrelated species.
Strawberry vein banding control
In a word, you can’t. Strawberry vein banding can be prevented by only installing certified disease-free plants, placing those plants in quarantine when they first arrive, and removing any plants that you suspect are infected.
Since aphids can fly at certain points in their development, the threat of this and other viruses is constant. All you can do, besides the preventive measures listed above, is monitor your plants for signs of aphids and control them as well as you can. Insecticides and insecticidal soaps work against aphids, but your strawberry plants need honey bees and other pollinators to produce fruit. Those insecticidal controls will impact your helpers, too, so they should be avoided while plants are flowering.
Closely monitoring your strawberry plants and keeping other plants that might host aphids at a distance can go a long way toward preventing vein banding in your strawberry plants.
Strawberry pallidosis is one of several viruses that make up a condition called virus decline.
Infected with only one of these diseases, strawberry plants often remain symptomless. It isn’t until a second virus enters the game that symptoms begin to appear. These other viral diseases include strawberry vein banding, crinkle, mottle, mild yellow edge, and beet pseudo yellows.
Symptoms of strawberry pallidosis
Similar to other strawberry viral diseases, symptoms of strawberry pallidosis include stunting, significantly reduced fruit and runner production, and older leaves turning red or purple. An additional symptom of strawberry pallidosis is that roots are brittle and show fewer rootlets.
Managing strawberry pallidosis
Unlike many other strawberry viral diseases, pallidosis is spread by whiteflies. This makes controlling the disease more difficult. Management strategies are the same for all strawberry viral diseases: only install certified disease-free plants, quarantine new plants, remove infected plants, and control whiteflies as much as you can.
Strawberry mottle is an unassuming viral disease that can cut your strawberry crop by 30%.
Strawberry mottle is one of several viruses that can affect strawberries. Appearing on its own, the damage tends to be relatively isolated. All too often, however, more than one virus appears at the same time. Collectively, this condition is called virus decline and it can eliminate any chance at enjoying a sweet, juicy strawberry from your garden, no matter how well you care for your plants.
Vectors of strawberry mottle disease
Strawberry mottle is carried by insects, most commonly by strawberry, melon, and cotton aphids. This virus is also spread by vegetative propagation of infected plants. Unlike the strawberry mild yellow edge virus, which is retained in an aphid’s gut for its lifetime, the strawberry mottle virus can only be transmitted for 2 or 3 hours after an aphid or other insect has fed on an infected plant. This makes outbreaks remain relatively localized. [Ten feet away probably looks impossible to a flightless bug that is only 1/8” long.]
Symptoms of strawberry mottle
As insects pierce plant cells to suck out the sugary sap, viruses move from the insect’s saliva to the plant. As viruses tend to do, these pseudo-lifeforms start reprogramming a plant’s cells to produce more viruses, which then clog the works.
Strawberry mottle first appears on young leaves as smaller than normal leaves that may also show yellow distorted areas. Plants may be stunted and they certainly produce less fruit and runners than they might otherwise. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe, with older leaves turning red.
Strawberry mottle management
Strawberry mottle is more likely when plants are left in place over the winter, but that doesn’t mean you have to rip out your plants every year. [Note: don’t actually rip plants out of the ground. Instead, cut them off at soil level to leave valuable soil microbes in place.]
As always, to reduce the likelihood of strawberry mottle appearing in your garden, only buy certified disease-free plants and always place new plants in quarantine. As much as possible, try to control aphids around strawberry plants. If a plant becomes infected, remove it.
For some reason, strawberry plants tend to get infected with more than one virus at the same time. Strawberry mild yellow edge virus is one of those diseases
Strawberry mild yellow edge virus is a long name for a disease that can reduce your strawberry crop by as much as 30%. Strawberry mild yellow edge virus often appears at the same time as the mottle virus, both of which are transmitted by some aphid species. Nematodes may also add raspberry ringspot virus to the mix.
Strawberry mild yellow edge virus symptoms
As with most viral diseases, stunting is a common symptom of strawberry mild yellow edge virus. Older leaves may turn bright red, but leaves around the crown nearly always exhibit yellow margins or edges, hence the name. These yellowed areas eventually die and turn brown. Leaf cupping may also occur.
Since these symptoms look a lot like water-stress, fertilizer burn, overly acidic pH, boron toxicity, or bad weather, it is important to rule those things out before deciding on a plan. Once strawberry mild yellow edge virus has made an appearance in your garden, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage.
How to manage strawberry mild yellow edge virus
Even though the fruits of infected plants are still edible, plants infected with strawberry mild yellow edge virus should be removed to reduce the chance of spread. Aphids carrying the strawberry mild yellow edge virus are disease vectors for life. The only thing to do if the disease is present is to use insecticidal soap on each and every aphid that might be a carrier. Just be sure to do this at a time when honey bees and other pollinators will not be attending the flowers. Common lambsquarters and other Chenopods can also carry this disease, so keep these plants away from your strawberry plants.
This disease is most common when plants are grown using a matted-row method. The matted-row system allows parent plants to send out runners, or daughter plants, which will produce fruit the following spring. This is a very productive method that has been around for a long time. It gets its name because the runners end up intertwined, creating a mat. The only problem with the matted-row system is that it means plants are in place for a longer period of time. This makes infection more likely.
As always, place new plants into quarantine until you are sure that they are disease-free.
Strawberry crinkle might sound like a delicious new candy bar, but it is one of the most destructive viral diseases a strawberry plant can face.
Strawberry crinkle virus was first seen in Oregon and California in 1932 and is now found worldwide. Spread by aphids, this disease is commonly seen in tandem with other aphid-transmitted diseases, such as mottle, mild yellow edge, pallidosis, and strawberry vein banding. As aphids feed, their saliva transfers the virus to every plant they visit.
Strawberry crinkle virus symptoms
Wilting, reduced runner production, smaller fruit, deformed and/or streaked flower petals, and crinkled leaves are all symptoms of strawberry crinkle virus. Vein spotting may also be seen, as well as lesions on petioles (leaf stems) and stolons. Infected plants may appear top-heavy, exhibiting a form of epinasty. These symptoms can vary in intensity.
Strawberry crinkle virus management
Since bees are so important to strawberry formation, insecticides are generally not an option against the aphids that carry this disease. Use these tips to prevent strawberry crinkle virus from impacting your strawberry crop:
Hopefully, your strawberry plants will never become infected with the crinkle virus. Until we figure out a sustainable way to get rid of aphids, well, be on the lookout.
Root hairs are where water absorption occurs. Since that water contains nutrients found in the soil, root hairs are important. And fragile.
You might expect root hairs to grow along the entire length of a root system, but that’s not what happens. Root hairs only occur in specific areas, or zones, of a root system.
Roots start out as undifferentiated cells. The very tip of a root is called the root cap, which protects the growing root as it moves through the soil. The next zone is where cell division takes place. As more cells are produced, the root cap is pushed forward. This growth is a relatively continuous process throughout the life of a plant. As new cells are produced and the root moves forward, the older cells stretch and create storage pockets called vacuoles. This is called the zone of elongation. Finally, growth and elongation are complete and root hairs can begin to emerge. This is called the zone of maturation.
The reason root hairs do not appear right away in the growth process is because they are so delicate that they would be sheared off as the root moves through the soil. This is also what causes transplant shock. The act of transplanting can shear off a majority of the root hairs as the soil gets jostled about and uninformed gardeners tamp down the soil. Rather than crushing delicate root hairs, mudding in new transplants protects those important root hairs.
Did you know that the reason root hairs are so evenly spaced along a root is because each hair secretes a poison that prevents nearby cells from producing their root hair? I didn’t either.
How root hairs absorb water and nutrients
Nutrient-rich water is pulled into the cytoplasm of root hair cells by osmosis. Root hairs also secrete malic acid, which helps convert minerals into ionic forms that are easier to absorb. Organic molecules in the soil, called chelates, also help root hairs absorb nutrients.
Root hairs as defense mechanism
Because root hairs are so small, they make it very difficult for harmful bacteria to enter the plant through the xylem. When beneficial bacteria, such as those which help legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen, appear, root hairs curl around the welcome visitor. This allows an infection thread to connect the two for everyone’s benefit. Helpful soil microorganisms, called mycorrhizae, are small enough to enter a plant’s root system through the root hairs. Root maggot larvae feed on root hairs.
Plants use phosphorus to grow healthy roots. Before you add more phosphorus to your soil, be sure to send out a sample for a soil test. Too much phosphorus can be just as bad, or worse, than not enough.
Avocado lace bugs, also known as camphor lace bugs, can cause problems on avocado, red bay, and camphor trees, along with azaleas and rhododendrons.
Native to Florida, Texas, the Caribbean, French Guyana in South America, and eastern coastal Mexico, avocado lace bugs (Pseudacysta perseae) are not a serious problem when found in small numbers. Or where they have no natural predators.
Avocado lace bug description
Avocado lace bugs get their name because of the lacy venation of their wings, but the way they protect themselves with a lacy cover as they hide on the underside of leaves but be another good reason. That cover is actually the avocado lace bug’s thorax and forewings.
Avocado lace bugs are only 1/16” to 1/12” long, brown, orangish, or black and oval-shaped. They tend to cluster together, creating what looks more like a messy fungal growth than an insect colony. If you look closely, with a hand lens, you would see that avocado lace bugs have a black or brown head or thorax, with white, orange, or brown legs, wing covers, antennae, and abdomen.
Avocado lace bug nymphs are dark and spiky, with pale legs and antennae. Eggs look like sprinkled black pepper even though they are actually oblong and yellow. The black color comes from the fact that these tiny oblong eggs are smeared with what looks like poop.
Avocado lace bug lifecycle
Yes. That’s what I said. Poop. Female avocado lace bugs lay their eggs and then smear the area with a sticky, tar-like substance that looks like poop. Under that protective layer, nymphs molt 5 times as they grow before emerging as adults. Avocado lace bugs have several generations each year and all developmental stages can be present at any one time.
Avocado lace bug damage
Avocado lace bugs are sap suckers. As such, they pierce the underside of leaves and siphon away nutrient rich fluids. This feeding, while trivial in small numbers, can cause stippling. As feeding progresses, other symptoms appear, such as leaf tip burn that looks like salt damage, leaf discoloration, and early leaf drop. Large infestations can result in defoliation, sunburn damage, and reduced fruit production.
As in any case where plant cells are pierced, this feeding also provides points of entry for fungal diseases, such as anthracnose.
Avocado lace bug control
Natural predators should keep avocado lace bug populations in check. These beneficial insects include jumping spiders, lacewing larvae, lady beetles, and predatory mites and thrips, as well as parasitic wasps.
If avocado lace bug populations reach troublesome numbers, keep your trees healthy with a thick layer of mulch, good drainage, and regular irrigation. Insecticidal soaps are somewhat helpful against avocado lace bugs.
Be on the lookout for this pest. If you suspect your tree is hosting avocado lace bugs, contact your local County Extension Office right away. As always, place new plants and bare root trees in quarantine before adding them to your garden.
Like other stink bugs, Uhler’s stink bug has a shield-shaped body. Native to North and Central America, Uhler’s stink bugs will damage nectarines, pistachios, and tomatoes, along with seeds, grain, other fruits and vegetables, ornamental plants, legumes, and tree leaves.
Uhler’s stink bug identification
Uhler’s stink bug (Chlorochroa uhleri) looks a lot like green stink bugs (Acrosternum hilare), which may have a a red, orange, or yellow outer edge, and Say stink bugs (Chlorochroa sayi), which are green with a white border. Uhler's stink bugs tend to be slightly larger than other stink bug species. Uhler’s stink bugs may also turn a dustier green that almost looks tan and the outer band may pale to the point of looking nearly white. Quite honestly, unless you are looking at a beneficial rough stink bug (Brochymena sulcata), you are looking at a pest that should be hand-picked and destroyed.
Damage caused by Uhler’s stink bugs
Uhler’s stink bugs eat fruit by piercing the surface and sucking out the sugary sweet juice. At first, those feeding spots may look like tiny, translucent blue-green dimples. If you cut into the fruit, you will see the fruit has turned into grayish white pithy tissue that doesn’t look the least bit appetizing. These pests can also transmit tomato bacterial spot and create points of entry for other pests and diseases.
Uhler’s stink bug controls
Insecticides are ineffective against stink bugs, but that may be a good thing. Instead of spraying chemicals that kill off beneficial insects, a healthy, biodiverse garden will likely be home to assassin bugs, parasitic wasps and flies, such as the tachinid fly (Trichopoda pennipes) and the Trissolcus basalis wasp, which will parasitize stink bug eggs. Birds, spiders, toads, and other insect eating critters will also help keep stink bug populations down.
Your best stink bug management program simply involves walking around and looking for them, hand-picking them and depositing them in a container of soapy water or feeding them to your chickens. You may have to be quick, as stink bugs tend to scramble to the opposite side of a twig or branch if they sense someone is looking for them. You will need to monitor for stink bugs from the time buds emerge until the end of the harvest season.
These pests are often found overwintering in common mullein, curly dock, and Russian thistle. If stink bugs have been a serious pest in the past, pull mulch away from fruit trees before green fruit appear. After the harvest, simply push the mulch back into place.
The red noodle bean plant looks spectacular, grows rapidly, and provides a bountiful harvest.
A dear friend gifted me with a packet of red noodle bean seeds a while back. As they were a type of pole bean, I planted the seeds around things they could climb and watered them regularly. At first, nothing seemed to happen, as is normal in the world of gardening. Then I went away for a few weeks. When I returned, I was delighted to find my red noodle beans had completely lived up to their reputation. [Thank you, Carol!]
The red noodle bean story
Red noodle beans originated in Africa but are more commonly considered to be from China. Rather than being related to the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), such as kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans, red noodle beans are more closely related to cowpeas and yard long beans (Vigna unguiculata).
Red noodle bean description
These climbing beans start out looking much like other pole beans. Heart-shaped leaflets appear in groups of three as tendrils take hold wherever they can, pulling the vine upward. Lovely small white, pink, or lavender flowers appear along the way, but are easily overlooked. The real surprise comes when the pods appear. Pairs of striking scarlet pods can reach over a foot-and-a-half in length.
How to grow red noodle beans
Red noodle bean seeds should be planted 3/4-1” deep and 4” apart. Like other legumes, red noodle beans have delicate root systems that do not recover well from transplanting. These plants need heat to grow, so be sure to install them in a sunny location after the soil has warmed from its winter nap. In fact, where other legumes succumb to scorching summers and drought, red noodle beans thrive.
Vines need a sturdy support as they can reach 8’ in length or more. Trellises, cattle panels, fences, tuteurs, old ladders and pergolas can all be used as supports. Plants will need a thorough watering every 7-10 days to develop deep roots. Because red noodle beans are legumes, they do not need nitrogen fertilizer. In fact, they generally don’t need fertilizer at all, assuming your soil is healthy. You will need a soil test to know if that is the case in your garden.
Being native to tropical rainy areas, red noodle beans need a fair bit of irrigation, just be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings to avoid many of the diseases common to legumes.
Red noodle bean pests and diseases
Red noodle bean pests include birds, gophers, rabbits, rats and squirrels, along with ants, mites, and aphids. Those aphids may also bring mosaic viruses to your red noodle bean crop, so monitor closely for those insidious pests.
Harvesting red noodle beans
Plants start producing pods within 80 days. By harvesting pods as they appear, you will stimulate the vines to continue producing. In other words, the more you take, the more they make.
Pods can be harvested when pencil thin to be used whole in stir-fry, or you can allow them to reach full size to harvest what will dry into small, red beans. Keep in mind that allowing the beans to dry on the vine will slow or halt pod production. When harvesting, be sure to leave the buds above the pods in place. These buds can produce multiple sets of pods over time.
You can also succession plant red noodle beans to make full use of your local growing season.
Give red noodle beans a try! You are going to love how they look (and taste)!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!