Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lady Bug (beetle, bird) Larvae

Everyone knows what our beloved Lady-Bugs (Birds, Beetles) look like - we immortalize them in art, stickers, in jewelry or toys. Yet many can't say they recognize their "teenage", "youthful" appearance before they become the well known adult beetles.

Larvae of Lady Bug

Yellow jelly bean like eggs hatch little larvae that are quite unlike their adult beetle stage. I've seen folks immediately want to kill and destroy them, thinking they are an unwanted insect. Quite contrary. The larvae are also fierce predatory insects. Female adult beetles lay their eggs near a "food" source for a reason. They feast on aphids, other insect eggs and other unwanted pests that plague our gardens.

Larvae turning into Pupae
Please take a good look at both the larvae stage and the pupae stage of the Lady-bugs we have here in the GTA. Please help to protect their nesting areas. They love laying eggs on foliage near ground level. We gardeners need all the help we can get!  If you see large numbers of aphids, you're sure to find some lady bugs hidden within their territory.

Full Pupae

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Favourite Tools

I was asked which gardening tools I use, or better yet, which garden tools I couldn't part with.

I've inherited several of my tools from my parents. They invested in good quality and I've been very happy with their longevity and durability.

Let me go through the list:

In no particular order...

1) Tree Spade: this is ideal for transplanting shrubs and trees. Having a smaller blade, it easily allows you to get into dense root systems without damaging them too much.

2) Hard Rake: Ideal for leveling soil, raking soil through turf, or it's back-edge is great for scraping sidewalks and paved areas.

3) Spade: The sharper the better. I use this most often.

4) Hoe: This was my father's and I have not seen its equal in stores. It eases the combat against annual weeds and is easy on the back.

5) Garden Fork: Ideal for weeding perennial borders to rid deeply rooted perennial weeds. Great for aerating too.

6) Lawn or border edger:  Ideal for large bed construction.

7) Soft rosette spray watering can: sometimes a can of water is the only way to gently water in newly establishing plants.

8) Fertilizer siphon: ideal for water soluble fertilizers.

9) Knee Pad: I plan on keeping the knees I've got.

10) Felco's: enough said.

11) Loppers:  must be sharp and have sturdy handles. Takes care of any branch too thick for my felcos.

12) Sheers:  I rather use these than any gas powered version. The sharper the better.

13) Broom: Leaving the site in better condition that when we arrive is the key!

14) Steel toed boots: great ankle, toe and foot protection. Reduces foot fatigue.

15) Hand Saw:  Cuts anything the loppers or felcos can't.

16) Dandelion flicker: After a good rain/soak - this works like a charm. This was Dad's best tool.

17) Atlas Rubber Lined Gloves:  Saved my fingers endless times.

18) Garden Tub: Several functions -- acts as a refuse bin, great transplanting transporter, water jug, soil schlepper....

19) Shallow Garden Tub:  Ideal for potting up plants. 34" diameter.You fill with potting compound and then place your plants/pots inside without getting your work area messy.

20) Hand Trowel: This one has a sturdy shaft and rubber gripped handle. Planting tons of annuals goes fast and easy with this tool.

and lastly...

21) Spray bottle: great for making your own homemade pest/disease remedies.

There are more, and I am sure I will procure more over time. However, the above is generally what I could not function without.

Hope that helps.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Annabelle Hydrangea - Leaftier Moth

I'm a huge fan of Annabelle Hydrangeas. They perform with little effort and bring so much spark to a dark corner.

However, each year I've noticed greater populations of the Hydrangea Leaftier (Olethreutes ferriferana) fusing terminal leaves together. Today, I counted nearly all of the tips of the Annabelle Hydrangeas in our planting bed having these worms cocooning themselves between the terminal sets of leaves.
When you find these strange leafy pockets mixed in with the lovely snow-ball flowers, you can help but be curious.

Some leaves are just fused together like the ones above. At this stage, only a smaller caterpillar is inside.

Sometimes, they are so small - you only notice their poop. But look closely.

Tiny little worms/caterpillars with black heads.

The good thing: they won't kill off the plant. It can stunt the plant from flowering. What is a Hydrangea without its Mop-head blooms?

Soon after the Leaftier worm hatches from its egg in early May, it travels to the terminal shoots of the hydrangea. It excretes a silken thread that binds the two unfurling leaves together. Making a dandy shelter for it to feast and pupate. As the plant grows, the fused leaves become even more distorted as the caterpillar ages (shown above and below).

Depending on when you open these "pockets", inside you should see a black headed worm and its castings (frass pellets). It eats the flower and any newer leaves developing inside until it pupates. Quite ingenious method of survival.

Generally, one wouldn't even notice these leafy pockets, unless you notice less blooms from the year before. Sometimes the pocket begins to become brown and at this point, the worm has begun its pupating journey to become an adult moth.

No topical pesticide is useful, since they make these elaborate shelters. The way to get rid of them is to pinch off these pockets and or open them up and squish the worm inside. Many times, the worm has just sealed off the leaves and has not eaten the flower within. BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) is also a useful to spray as a preventative, when new growth emerges in mid-may.

I've sprayed newly emerging foliage with water to dislodge any young worms from getting to the terminal shoots in early-May, to mid-June. Although, it's quite an arduous task and it may damage new leaves. Just keep your eye on the tips of the new growth. Generally when Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei) is in full bloom, is when young worms begin to bind the terminal leaves together. Times can vary though, depending on the weather.

Here is a picture of an adult moth: 

Photo: Mississippi State University_ Moth Photographers Group

Ridding the plant of as many cocooned nests as you can, will eventually rid you of the moth ever returning to lay more eggs. You may lose some flowers this year, but next there will be less moths.

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