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?



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?


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!





What’s Wrong With This Picture?


Lovely leaf, not so lovely result, right?

When I first saw this, I thought I knew immediately what was happening.  Several years ago, when I was in North Carolina, I heard about a beetle that was ravaging canna lilies there. I thought that this beetle had somehow made its way north (as all noxious things somehow eventually do) and gotten to Connecticut.


It turns out that there is a simpler explanation for all of this.

Yes, it still has to do with a noxious invader. But this time the “invader” is quite well known to us here in Connecticut and has been for some time.

What’s turning these Canna leaves into lace (and it really is pretty, unless these are your plants, in which case, you probably want to scream! I think I might do a little judicious trimming if they were mine) is the all too common Japanese beetle.

As a doctor once told me, sometimes even if you have an unusual presentation, we still look for a common explanation, and not for something rare.  That’s probably good advice in gardening too.

Space Invaders


No, this is not some weird, pixilated version of fall foliage. It’s actually a great shot of a window screen with, of all things, one of those pesky fall invaders that are just looking to make a nice home inside your home.

This is the Western Conifer Seed Bug, a leaf footed bug (see how its back two feet have what look to be sort of protuberances on them? They are designed to mimic leaves).

This bug is an invasive species in my part of the world but other than finding its way into homes, it doesn’t seem to do a lot of damage where I live–it’s not like the Emerald Ash Borer or the Asian Longhorned Beetle both of which actually kill trees.

And once they’re inside, they seem to be fairly dumb and slow for a bug. This is one of the ones I always catch and throw outside for the birds. Then again, I’ve never stopped to ask what bugs think of us?

Drought Stressed Evergreens

It’s been a tough few years here in the northeast. I won’t re-hash. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But as tough as it’s been on the people who call this region home, it’s been even tougher on our plants. And the plants are finally showing us that they may have had enough.

I started to notice trouble with Eastern white pines (a native plant, incidentally) in early May, after a very dry winter. What’s interesting is that I wasn’t just seeing signs of distress on these plants near streets–as some of the experiment stations were reporting–but I was seeing it all over the place and often several hundred feet back from the road where “winter salt injury” couldn’t possibly be a factor.


These two trees are in a neighbor’s yard. They are several hundred feet from the road and in a mixed planting of other evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs. So clearly this is not “salt injury. ”

Here is a “fact sheet” from the University of Massachusetts on the Eastern white pine situation. Even they can’t quite figure out what’s happening, although they have some speculation.


More recently I am seeing injury to spruces. They’re either dying from the top down or from the bottom up–it scarcely matters really.


And then of course there are the ground cover junipers. These are often susceptible to blights like juniper twig blight caused by a couple of different fungal diseases (hard to think of fungi in droughts but actually several of them flourish in the heat). This is my juniper horizontalis with twig blight. It’s going to have to be removed.

The Spoiler is in denial.  He thinks the dead parts can just be cut out. If he would like to try, more power to him. This juniper covers about 100 square feet.  It will leave a huge hole in this garden.

So what is going on? Is it just drought? Is it drought, made worse by warmer winters? Does it matter?

Any time a plant is stressed, it is susceptible to disease and pests. Drought is certainly a stressor, and prolonged drought would be an extreme stressor to evergreens, because they can’t shed their leaves the way deciduous trees can.

I have already cut back many of my “drought stressed” (and therefore either browned or diseased) perennials for this season. That will allow them to conserve whatever strength they have left and put it into coming back next year and other years. No point in watering (either supplementally or if we happen to get any rain) diseased or browned plants. Let the water go to the “good” plants that remain.

But with evergreens, they can’t shed their leaves protectively. So what we may be witnessing after several summers of less than ideal moisture is the evergreens that simply can’t cope. This past warmer winter may also have been a stressor for the trees as well.

Time will tell about whether these trees can recover. If not, New England backyards and forests may never be the same.


Bug Magnets

If you go to the tab at the top of the blog header that says introduction, you can read a little bit about me. The second paragraph says that my first paying job in horticulture began at 11 years old when I was paid $1.00 a week to deadhead my neighbor’s yard full of petunias.

Mind you, this was in the days of the old-fashioned petunias–the kind that still had a scent, got you covered in sappy goo when you deadheaded–and in fact, still had to be deadheaded or they wouldn’t re-bloom.

Now, with all the fast growing new varieties like supertunia™ and of course the one everyone knows, the Wave™ petunia, deadheading is a thing of the past–unless of course, you are a sucker like me and still buy the old-fashioned,  scented petunias.


But every year I swear that “this year will be my last!” Because as much as I love them, for me, these lovely, scented petunias are bug magnets!

I mentioned this at a lecture this spring and I got a lot of blank stares. So I think this is a bit of a regional–or perhaps even local thing–at least here in Connecticut. Yet whenever I post about it, I get a lot of hits on the post. So I know a lot of you out there share my pain.


This year, I hadn’t even owned my pot for 2 weeks when it began to look like this! What are these things? At this point, they’re a little small to see, but there are caterpillars, pretty much the same color as the foliage of the plant, eating into the buds and pretty much ruining all the future flowers.

They go by the name petunia bud worm. And lest you think that’s all they affect, they also like geraniums (at which point, they become called geranium bud worms).

They are the larva of a nondescript moth, the tobacco moth. Apparently they also affect caibrachoa (million bells) which explains why my million bells are starting to show tiny holes and of course nicotiana (the flowering or ornamental tobacco) plants.

To get a better look at a more mature version of these critters, you can see my post from a few years ago here. But apparently, they are becoming pesticide resistant and once they are in the bud even Bt is not terribly effective.

My answer–rather than to load up annuals with a bunch of pesticides–is to just compost the plant. However, perhaps I should trash it instead. Maybe I am unwittingly maintaining the problem on my own property.

But, I think the answer is simpler than that: no more petunias or million bells for me. No plants means no bugs!


Got Bugs?

Technically, the period of July 3 through August 11 is known as the “Dog Days” of summer (at least in the Northern hemisphere). These days, where I come from, it should be known as the “bug” days of summer.

I have been remarking on the Northeast drought for awhile. But what has been bad for the plants has been extraordinarily good for the bugs! I don’t ever recall a summer that’s been so good for aphids! Usually, they are an early spring/late fall thing for me and then I don’t see them.

This year, I am seeing them everywhere and in colors that I didn’t know existed! On my milkweed, they came in a festive orange that made me look so closely that I was practically breathing in aphids! But I had to be sure they were bugs and not eggs (not that I am certain that would have been any better–but I would have wanted know “eggs of what?”)

And of course I have the traditionally dark ones and the lovely lime green ones–you want aphids; I have aphids! My ladybugs can’t keep up.

With a drought advisory on, I feel a little bad about using the hose to wash these things off all the time. But of course,  the container plants need water more than they should anyway. I am trying to be frugal about it.

At least now I have a place to report my unusual aphid infestation–or anything else I might see.  There’s a web site (an app is coming) called The Big Bug Hunt. It gives gardeners a place to report bugs, to identify some common bugs, and to keep updated via email on bugs and other news.

It is designed to be a “citizen science” project, much the way Project FeederWatch  and eBird are for birds. If you see a bug infestation in your garden, you are encouraged to report it. That way, gardeners help other gardeners.

And what’s not to like about that?