Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Oyster Scale - Lepidosaphes ulmi

I don't see Oyster Scale very often, but on this young lilac, it was hard to notice. Deep brown and shiny bark was what I hoped to see. Instead, these grey, matted blotches point to something else.

It's a thick coating that won't come off easily.

Even with my nail scraping them off, it's a tough go.

You can clearly see why they are called Oyster Scale with this close up.

Like my post on Euonymus Scale, this pesky insect is hard to control.  Given this lilac was newly planted and situated with others, I will have to remove it - preventing its neighbours from getting infested. This one is really bad. By late summer, the scales excreted poop will turn into sooty mold, which will further change the bark colour to a brown black.

Treat with dormant oil before bud break in spring and again just after the leaves have fallen in the autumn.  For a more natural control method: spray with a hard water spray - during this time of year when the leaves have yet to emerge. You can repeat the hard water spray throughout the summer months, just be sure not to damage leaves. This dislodges many of the adult scale and their nymphs. You have to REPEAT this method, over and over - to dislodge them. But it works.

Pruning the worst of the branches out helps too. Reducing their numbers is key. By all means, you can scrape the scales off with your finger nails (eeew) or a soft brush after they have been moistened (by rain or your water spray). This will drastically reduce numbers, but be careful not to damage tender bark in the process.

Feed and nurture infested shrubs like this. It'll help them bounce back.

HINT:  given this plant is young and newly establishing... It was probably infested at the nursery. Folks, look carefully at your shrubs and plants coming from garden centres. This Oyster Scale feeds off of several shrubs, including: Willows, Cotoneaster, Dogwood and young Ash and Maple trees. You don't want to bring a shrub home with this insect problem.  It will travel, infesting other plants.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Easy To Brew Compost Tea

One of the benefits to having this dual batch, rolling compost off the ground, is the ability to catch rain water that has flowed through the compost bin.
Here I have great compost tea, ready to use with no water coming from the garden hose.

Don't leave the vat with compost tea too long, especially during mosquito season. I transfer the tea into watering cans and cover the openings.
Having left my plastic bin/basin beneath the dual batch, rolling composter, it collected the water beneath. During a storm, I left the doors open and let the rain water simply seeped through the contents.

 Dark brewed look.

My evergreens and containers love it!

A vat filled with garden refuse will also give you compost tea results. But be aware that it gets quite smelly if left too long.

A great liquid feed for spring containers, or parched areas of the garden that didn't get adequate rain.

I also will use this tea to moisten the compost when it begins to dry out.

Great byproduct.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cupped Boxwood Leaves - Boxwood psyllids

Have you ever seen boxwood leaves cupped and curled like this?

These leaves have curled because of a sap sucking insect called, psyllids. Boxwood pysllids (Psylla buxi) sort of resemble aphids as nymphs - with size and colour. There's usually one generation a year and control is best with an insecticidal soap application in late spring (May in Ontario). Treat when the new growth of leaves fully open. Psyllids don't kill boxwood, but will distort and affect the foliage - aesthetically ruining the glossy look to this broadleaf evergreen. 

In these photos, you can see remnants of their past presence. Their feeding has cupped the foliage right over the bud tips. Causing the tip of the stems to wither and dry up.
You can also see remnants of their excrement - a white residue.

When psyllids nymphs are high in number, you may see their white, waxy excretion before the leaves curl. Usually at the tip of the branch stem. As they feed, the boxwood leaves respond by cupping - sheltering them, where you don't see the nymphs at all. Psyllids usually feed on young, new growth that is tender. Hence the reason the leaves curl so easily.
Their white frass (poop) is quite fluffy and insulates them as they feed toward the bud union of the leaf.
Psyllids have flat bodies, with large eyes. I wish my camera could take a better photo, but you get the idea on how small they are compared to my fingers.

Psyllids lay orange eggs between the bud scales. As the leaves emerge from the buds, the eggs mature and hatch into nymphs - then the feeding begins. Nymphs become a flying winged adults (which look like miniature cicadas) in June and reproduce, laying the eggs near the terminal buds for next years cycle.

I've found you can reduce psyllid numbers drastically with just water. A high pressure spray dislodges many of them and reduces the adult population. Just be aware, adults may be blown off and fly back. So the spray of water needs to be repeated and quite high in pressure.

Not a huge problem, but easily treated.

Above are photos of other notable boxwood characteristics that have confused folks often. These are boxwood flowers (left) and last years seed husks. I've had folks ask me if the right photo is a disease. ;)  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Red Wigglers - Compost Acceleration

Now that spring is here, it's time to turn over the compost heap out back. After this long, cold winter - all the kitchen waste and leafy matter has added up.

Patience is key with achieving great compost results. Yet some want to use ways to quicken the process. Compost acceleration methods have always made me think that we tamper too much with natures own, natural methods. One definite accelerator that is completely natural: worms. Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) to be precise. These self sustaining, perpetually reproducing, munching machines, break down compost like nothing else. Their worm castings create vermicompost; a richer, porous, mixture that will add more nutrients and microorganisms to your compost.

Here, kitchen waste takes only a few weeks to become fertile compost during the spring and summer months.

Red Wigglers can withstand freezing temperatures, but they do need a warm core to keep active to break down your refuse. A good pile of kitchen waste needs to be present over-winter, to keep these "munchers" going.

Once compost is ready to be used in the garden, don't fear taking some red wigglers with the compost. They will be happy in your garden as well. They reproduce rapidly during the warmer months, as long as they have more organic matter added, plenty of moisture and a good turn over every few weeks.

Don't forget to add a brown layer every once in a while, to help enhance the final product.

After mixing the compost, add about 1/3rd layer of brown organic matter (leaves, twigs..etc) to the top and firm down, especially in the cooler months of spring. This helps the worms to crawl back towards the centre (warmest part) of the compost pile. Continue to add your kitchen compostable waste and let the process continue.

 If you want to purchase Red Wigglers for your compost heap, you can order them from:
Worm Composting Canada

Monday, April 08, 2013

Controlled Burn - Perennial Grasses

This past weekend, I enjoyed learning other gardening techniques - when it comes to handling perennial grasses.
The garden I visited, had grasses growing out of a bed of river stones. With the amount of snow we had this winter, the grass thatch had all fallen over. I wondered how long it would take to cut back all the dried foliage, when lo'and behold, the gardener told me all we needed was a match.

Actually, it was more than just a match. We required a bucket of water, an old corn-broom, matches and a bundle of newspaper.
Thick amount of grass thatch that would of taken ages to cut back.
To begin, we lit a match and ignited a rolled up newspaper. We started at the edge of the patch of perennial grasses and with the corn broom (soaked in water prior to) we tamped down any flames that crept beyond the intended bed.

NOTE: Control burns should be done with the utmost care.  Do not attempt without making sure you have the proper dousing tools to prevent fires from getting out of control.

We made sure the weather co-operated with us. We had no wind; rain was expected overnight and had access to water and a tamping device.

Here we had to tamp down some of the tree leaves that were closer to the lawn. The wet corn broom was perfect for this job.

It took about 5 minutes to complete the burn. We had 2 hot spots that needed dousing, but the burn really did the trick. Not only did it clean up the job quickly, the burn added nutrients to the soil's surface from the ash that remained.

I highly recommend doing this if you have a controllable area and the need to clear up old thatch left behind from last years growth.

After a bit of a sweep up (brushing off the burnt ash), here is the result:
I was glad to participate and learn this technique.
If you are worried the flames would burn the new growth, here you can see the flames just burned the brown bits. The new spring growth is left to flourish.

5 minutes to clear this up, or an hour.  Makes sense, eh?

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