Thursday, September 19, 2013

Photo(s) of the Month - September

It's now the tail end of Hosta flowering season. There's something so simple yet stunning about these flowers when you take the time and examine them up close.

Trivia: Did you know you can eat Hosta flowers? -- Yep, great in salads or for cake decorating!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Common House Plant Pests - Part 4: Mealybugs - Planococcus citri

I was asked to rescue this Jade plant (Crassula ovata) for a friend. They were wondering what the white stuff was covering the base of each leaf.

This Jade plant has seen better days. Leaves are distorted, the growth is weak; becoming susceptible to attack. Every leaf axil was invested with Mealybug. Their typical white, powdery coating is a dead giveaway. Female adults are hidden beneath, sucking sap from the host plant.

A close up, showing white fuzzy cotton insects at each leaf node (joint).

I hate using chemicals. High pressure water is by far my favourite control for Mealybug. Don't worry about damaging leaves. The spray from a garden hose is not that harsh. Don't use a pressure washer, just a hose attachment for the garden.

* Note: Be sure to spray on a driveway or area where the Mealybugs cannot transfer to another plant. In the summer months, Mealybugs can easily survive and find other hosts in your garden.  Treat your plant in this manner on a hot summer day. The Mealybugs will fall to the pavement and because their food source is gone, they will die in the hot sun.

Use either the Jet or the...

Flat setting on your hose end sprayer.

Liberally spray the plant in all directions. Under the foliage, on the top of the foliage - reaching all the nooks and crannies. This pressure will help dislodge leaves that need to come off anyway. Not to worry.

After you've sprayed the plant thoroughly with water, make sure any dislodged Mealybugs that have fallen on the top of the soil in the pot is also sprayed out.

Soil is generally compacted enough in pots. Spraying this hard won't wash all the soil away. Spray on an angle and tip the pot if necessary.

Spray the saucer on both sides thoroughly. The more thorough you are, the less likely the Mealybugs will return.

Spray the pot, under the rim, beneath....EVERYWHERE. Mealybugs are persistent and they hide in any corner, nook or crack.

Remove any damaged, old, wrinkly leaves. Be sure to spray with water at the leaf axil after leaves have been removed. Eggs or small, in-star Mealybugs may still be there.

Use rubbing alcohol as an additional control after you've thoroughly sprayed the plant. Apply with a cotton swab and paint the leaf axils, buds, bases of the leaves/stems.

Be sure to get all the leaves, axils and any where you may have noticed Mealybugs before the treatment. It's an arduous task, but worth it. You can actually kill off the Mealybug by painting alcohol over its body. It kills them on contact. The alcohol removes their outer white coating and makes their exterior skin dry out.

After painting all the leaf axils and other areas you may think the Mealybugs have been, wipe the pot down with a cloth drenched in rubbing alcohol or a bath of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 3 parts water and 1 tsp dish soap. This will prevent eggs or crawler bugs from surviving.

An alternative is to repot with a sterilized/clean flower pot. If you do so, be sure to clean the former pot and store in an area where if any Mealybugs were to survive, they would soon die off from lack of any food source.

Once you've treated your plant, resituate in a bright area, away from other house plants until you know the infested plant is clear. Add a layer of fresh potting soil and use houseplant fertilizer every two weeks when watering. Monitor your plant every other day for re-infestations. Retreat until no more Mealybugs are to be found.

In the winter, Mealybugs don't like the cold. If you can't spray as I did on the driveway but you want to kill off the Mealybugs; bring the infested plant towards a cold window sill. The Mealybugs will move away from the coldest side of the plant to the warmer leaves. Once they congregate, remove with a cotton swab doused with rubbing alcohol.

Hope this helps.

Check out my updated post on the results!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

DIY - Bug Hotel

Staying in town for the Labour Day weekend, I decided to do a DIY project once I saw this:
I think every garage has a container like this - filled with bits and pieces of wood.
The DIY Bug Hotel
I was rather weary when I first heard about Bug Hotels. Thinking, 'ya - right, all I'll attract is earwigs'. Then I noticed in a friend's outdoor wood pile. There, tiny beetles and ladybugs were crawling between the piled firewood. I thought, hmmm - this would be a better, more permanent home for such creatures. An area where such bugs would benefit the garden, rather than hiding far away from the plants.
These insect hotels are noted to help attract beneficial insects, such as: Lady Bugs, Lacewings and Solitary Bees. So much of their habitat has been eliminated within urban areas. I hope this brings helpful insects back to the garden, to aid in combating the pesky ones.


First thing, was to decide on what wood was useful and see if I could find enough pieces to create a box.
With the help of a handy dandy fella - the wood was cut to size and laid out before assembling. Thanks, Renzo!
These are the tools you'll need to complete this project. It's your choice on using nails, screws and or glue.

I glued and nailed the wood together. You could easily use screws which would make a stronger built box.
I used 1 1/2 inch nails.

I made sure the frame fit the backing before gluing and nailing it down.

This was the easiest part.
The backing is important, it helps protect the insects from harsh winds and rain.

I compartmentalized some sections, so that you can use varied materials. But this is not necessary. It does however make it easier to assemble the woody bits for insects to creep into. Each segment allows you to cram in material tighter.
Glue each divider to the backing. Mark on the frame where they meet and then make a line on the backing and that way you can secure them easily with nails or screws.
Now, I used 1 to 1 1/2 inch branches of birch, cut down to two inches. Each piece should be as high as the frame depth.  I used a drill bit and drilled holes that went through the entire birch dowel. This is a great overwintering spot for solitary bees and beetles. Cut enough birch dowels to fill an entire compartment. I used about 25 pieces to cover a 10 x 6 inch spot. Make sure they are packed in tight. I also used some cut down pieces of bamboo and branches to wedge in a tighter fit. Whatever material you have, as long as it's natural.
I saved 5cm caliber branches from garden work and cut them down to fit the compartment on the bottom shelf of the hotel. The length should be precise. Once you lay cut stems over each other, they fit snugly when pressed firmly down. Pack them in tightly to overfilling.

I also saved and found peeling bark off of dead wood. This bark is ideal for beetles and Lady Bugs to overwinter in. A firewood pile is great for this. You'll find plenty of hardwood bark that is ideal. **PLEASE DO NOT PEEL BARK OFF LIVING TREES.**

This is not necessary; if the bark, stems and birch dowels are firmly wedged in the hotel. Yet, squirrels and racoons can wreak havoc and destroy your work, so it's best to cover with some chicken or rodent wire. Cut a piece larger than the frame, fold over excess tightly and fasten with staples. Watch for sharp metal ends and tuck under.

Lastly - use eye hooks, as I've used here to fasten it do a fence or to hang from a tree or wall.

Here, it is firmly hanging from a cedar fence, right near a pond and garden. Tucked away from too much exposure and sheltered from heavy rains. An ideal spot for our guests to overwinter.

Would make a great Christmas gift for the avid gardener. It also looks like a piece of art-work - doesn't it? You could jazz it up by adding a little roof, or decorative frame. For now, I am happy with this project and can't wait to see what insects will make it their home!  

 I'd love to see your version of Bug Hotel! What materials did you use?

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