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Time for a Shower

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What? I know some people who shower with pets to give them baths. But showering with plants?

Actually I have been known to take my air plants into the shower with me for a quick watering but that clearly is not what’s happening here.  And although it may be TMI, I didn’t shower with these plants.  They didn’t even shower together.  I brought them up and showered them off one at a time.  This photo just shows them drying.

So what’s going on? Well, this.

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I first saw this–spider mites, I suspect–about a month ago. This is a pair of leaves from the plant that is the much larger of the two.

At that time, I just wiped all the leaves off and vowed to take a look again in a few weeks. Sure enough, they’re back.  And while they don’t look much like–or behave like–traditional spider mites, meaning that there are no telltale webs, this is very clearly an insect infestation.

So, once I decided that, I grabbed the other plant that had been near this plant when it was outside.  Sure enough,  same sort of little critter. That’s when I decided they both needed a shower to wash all these pests away.

Clearly I will need to watch these 2 plants–and all those around them–for reinfestation. But so long as I don’t mind giving the plants a shower, I think everything’s under control.

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Solve Issues With Indoor Herbs Organically

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Rut-roh. What’s the point of growing your own herbs indoors if they’re going to do this?

And lots of herbs grown indoors are prone to this, not just the sage in my photo. Rosemary is notorious for powdery mildew-_- and this is just about the time when all those cute little rosemary trees and wreaths start appearing everywhere.

Well, they’re no longer cute when they’re covered in this!  And rosemary is definitely finicky about being grown indoors.

So what do you do?  If you want some of this sage for stuffing,  you certainly don’t want to spray it with fungicide–or even dish soap, necessarily.

Never fear, I have just the solution ( literally,  and no pun intended). It does require milk, so if you are not a milk drinker, get yourself one of those small cartons like the kids drink at school.

Mix up a small amount–no more than you need for one treatment  because you can’t save it. You are mixing 50% milk and 50% water.

Spray the plant, then discard whatever solution is left. Don’t try to save it over in the fridge. I have tried.  Your sprayer will be clogged by the time you go to use it again–hence my instructions to try to mix only what you’re going to need.

It’s just that simple.  Milk and water. No poisons, no fungicides,  nothing toxic to you or your family–unless of course you can’t drink milk!

Ticks and Barberry

If you live in Connecticut, you live in the home of Lyme disease. There’s a town called Lyme where the disease was first identified. Lucky us.

But since that first happened some 30 or so years ago, much of the thinking has changed about the causes of the disease.

Don’t mistake the matter: ticks still cause the disease (and no, since so many of you out there have been afflicted, I won’t post photos of the nasty little arachnid that causes it!)

But for awhile it was thought that deer were the primary host of this tick (hence the name “deer tick.”) You might notice that isn’t the popular name for this tick any more. You will most likely hear it referred to as the black-legged tick (as if any of us examine it that closely!)

Now it is thought that white footed mice are the primary host of these nasty little critters. But it’s even more complicated than that. Now we also have to look at habitat as well.

For it seems that in habitat that has an abundance of barberry plants (berberis sp), the tick population is much higher than in places with few or no barberry plants. Here’s a story our local NBC affiliate did on the habitat issue about a month ago.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters for two reasons. First, barberry is an invasive shrub. It spreads by seed. It is not banned here in Connecticut but many places have banned it.

Many of you know barberry as that low mounding shrub, often with reddish leaves (occasionally yellow) and very thorny stems. It has small red fruits in late summer or early fall here in Connecticut that wildlife love–hence the spreading problem.

But when it spreads to our forests and woodlots, you won’t see it coming up as red or yellow. You’ll just see a low green undergrowth. So you won’t necessarily know that it’s the same barberry that came from the garden center.

I have the stuff coming up all over my yard–presumably spread by birds–even though I haven’t planted any and I have no idea where the nearest plant might be. I try to yank it whenever I see it for three reasons: it’s much easier; it’s relatively thornless; and I don’t want it getting out of control to the point where it might produce its own fruit and create this nightmare all over again. Besides, like so many of these invasive plants, once it’s bigger than about 8″, the roots seem to reach middle earth!

I almost hesitate to suggest that our barberry free environment is why I have so far been blessed with no Lyme disease (I was tested again this fall for yet another mystery ailment. They still haven’t figured out the problem–but at least it’s not Lyme disease).

But given the number of hours that I spend in the yard, I do think habitat makes a difference, particularly since we are wooded, on a deer trail and are over-run with mice (and voles).

If ticks are a problem in your yard, take a look at your plantings. Are any of them barberry?

House Plant Advice

I am a little bit shocked, I must say, by the fact that house plants are “in” again.

Of course, for me, they never went “out.” I’ve been growing house plants since I was a teenager–which means at least 4 decades. That’s okay. I’m glad that something that I like is suddenly “cool” again.

But of course now everyone is online giving “expert” advice about everything to do with house plants. One of the most amusing ones–to me anyway–is how to bring house plants–or tropicals if we’re being exotic–in for the winter.

First of all, if you’re in the northeastern united states and you haven’t done this yet, be prepared for a major mess on your hands. It’s surely not too late to try to save some of your plants–but the later you wait, the more they have trouble with the transition. I generally bring mine in around Labor Day just to avoid that.

On the other hand, you could take some of the so-called expert advice and slowly transition them inside over a period of two weeks, spraying them no less than three times with some sort of organic insecticide.

I’ve never heard of such nonsense in my life. Clearly these folks don’t realize that the insects are going to go dormant in the winter (for the most part) and won’t wake up again (if at all) until spring.

They also don’t realize that some of these insects have eggs that can live up to 2 years in the soil–so you can spray your durned fool heads off as many times as you like and you’re not going to solve that little problem!

So rather than weakening your plants by thrusting them into the dark and spraying them with insecticide (even organic insecticide!), why not just hose the plants down with a good hard spray of water to try to dislodge anything that you can and then bring the plants in?

I am also no fan of the advice I have seen that suggests that you take the entire plant and submerge it wholesale in a bucket of soapy water. Again, why? This is like killing a flea–or an imagined flea–with a sledgehammer. You are weakening the entire plant and damaging its natural leaf coatings and you don’t even know if there’s a problem. Just. Dont’. Do. It.

Once the plants are inside, do watch them carefully to assure that you didn’t bring in any insects. You have another good month or so before really cold weather sets in. If you need to take a plant or two outside to spot treat with an organic insecticide, that’s certainly do-able. But no need to treat everything willy-nilly if you see no problems.

And continue to monitor. That’s what a good house plant owner does. The sooner you catch any problems, the sooner you can solve them. Both you and your plants will be happier that way!

What Garden Clean-up?

This time of year,  I start lecturing on “Putting the Garden to Bed.” There’s only one problem with this: I don’t practice what I talk about,  something that I freely admit in my lectures.

Or, to put it another way, I discuss the two different methods of garden clean up,  the traditional way and the sustainable way. There’s no “correct ” way for everyone–in other words,  what I am calling “sustainable ” won’t work in lots of neighborhoods. I am just fortunate that it works for me and in my neighborhood.

And then of course there is the ” oh, you have cancer and we’re doing the biopsy today” way, which is what happened to me last year. It wasn’t quite that blatant, but that sure as heck is what happened,  and then after the surgery to remove the rest of the cancer, the whole dang thing got infected so there was NO cleanup at all.

And then this spring, sure enough,  more cancerous cells, so again,  no cleanup. You will be surprised at how well the garden survives without you.

So for those who insist that every leaf must be mown, blown or shredded, I assure you that you are completely wrong. Leave the leaves. They make a wonderful mulch.

More on Monday.

 

 

Don’t Ignore the House Plants

It’s summer.  Even when there isn’t a drought,  there’s enough to do outside  (weeding, deadheading, trying to figure out how to outsmart the pesky chipmunks so that I finally get a tomato from them [or not, after the poisoning incident]–you get the idea) that generally all I do with the few house plants that have stayed indoors is water.

So this year, even though more house plants than usual remained indoors (meaning that I have more watering than usual), I am still not thinking much about the indoor plants.

When a couple of my big philodendron started to get yellow leaves, I shrugged and figured that I was keeping the light in the room too dark.

When I adjusted that and then they started to sunburn,  now I looked closer.

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Ick! So this is not a light problem at all! This is why I always say in my house plant lectures “be ever vigitant, I  beseech you!” (It’s a malapropism from Shakespeare).

Luckily,  I caught this before they became worse although they are pretty bad as it is. These are aphid nymphs. In a few more days, they probably would have begun sprouting wings and moving among my other plants. Ugh.

I took the two affected plants outdoors,  removed the most badly infested leaves and hosed the plants down. I also washed the trays the plants had under them.

I will continue to hose the plants down for the next couple of weeks.  And once they come in,  I will watch them closely for repeat infestations.

And I guess I have learned not to presume that insect infestations only strike in spring and fall (generally, in my house, anyway). I will need to follow my own advice.

Is There Something Wrong With My Hosta?

 

20170806_131212Hostas are wonderful shade and even occasionally sun plants–bone hardy in the cold, increasing in size every year so that you can divide them and either spread them around your garden, share them with friends, or have plants to sell at your garden club’s plant sale (but do be aware of those patented varieties!)

But what happens if you notice a hosta that’s not behaving like that?

 

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Well, first thing first, take a closer look. Might you have a pesky underground rodent like a vole nibbling on the roots?

Are deer or rabbits nibbling at it from above? Is a woodchuck eating it from both sides?

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If none of those things seems to be occurring, take an even closer look at the leaves. Do they exhibit anything out of the ordinary? If so, you may have a hosta infected with hosta mosaic virus, otherwise known as hosta virus X (HSX).

How does this  virus manifest itself? It can appear any number of ways. The leaves can appear puckered or stippled or stunted. The color can appear broken–in fact, when the virus first appeared, many breeders thought they had new unique variations among hostas on their hands before the virus was recognized.

This fact sheet from the University of Wisconsin not only has some great information about the virus, but has some great photos of infected leaves.

HSX has been around since 1996 but I know when I was working in retail gardening (from 2001-2008) it was only beginning to be recognized as an issue so that tells you how long it took to catch on, even in the trade.

Thee is no cure for HSX. Infected plants need to be removed–carefully–from your garden and destroyed. Do not compost them! And now, after re-acquainting myself with these photos for this post, I need to go out to take a hard look at a couple of my own hostas!