Thursday, August 6, 2009

" ... if I wanted to have a happy garden,

I must ally myself with my soil;

study and help it to the utmost, untiringly.

.... Always, the soil must come first."

- Marion Cran, If I Where Beginning Again

RI DEM Warning: Late Blight Threatening All Local Tomato and Potato Crops

This blight needs to be taken seriously. It is the same blight that caused infamous potato famine in Ireland. Please follow the link to learn more about Late Blight. DEM is asking gardeners, as well as commercial growers, to check their plants DAILY for brown lesions. Of course, the blame for this outbreak is the damp and humid weather we are experiencing.

The news release provides all the information you need. They are concerned that the spores, which spread easily, will reach commercial growers. "DEM views the disease as a serious threat to agriculture."

" Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet

and the winds long to play with your hair."

- Kahlil Gibran

August Pest of the Month: Japanese Beetles

This June, do you recall seeing the first shiny, flashy metallic copper and green Japanese beetles of the year? When I found one in my garden, it triggered a hazy, unpleasant memory of last year.

Japanese beetles are one of my least favorite signs that summer has arrived. When checking on the green beans a few weeks ago, I discovered DOZENS of them. Next morning,
they were floating in the bird bath and the kiddie pool...and yes, still dozens more dining on our delectable plants.

A while later, as their population increased (and obviously their appetites, too!) they ate
the flesh of the leaves on our green bean plants, reducing each leaf to a delicate, lacy scaffold. When I close my eyes, I can still see images of them piled upon my poor plants.

We often talk about the benefits of planting native species instead invasives. Well, the Japanese beetle is an example of an invasive insect. These pests were accidentally brought to the United States in 1916 (prior to our current agricultural laws). Japanese beetles spread swiftly in our beetle-friendly climate, with an ample food supply, and without their natural predators. Although Japanese beetle populations are only a problem in half of our United States, they are the most widespread turf-grass pest in the United States. At a yearly cost of $460 million.


Once you see adult Japanese beetles, remember that every day each one eats a little more, they mate (piggy back rides on your precious plants...ugh!), then the female burrows down about four inches to lay eggs in your garden or lawn. During an adult lifespan of just two months, females intermittently burrow a few inches into the ground (whether garden or lawn) and lays a few
eggs. She does this until she has "planted" about fifty eggs.

In just two weeks, the eggs hatch into young grubs who begin to feed. Then the larvae (dark brown head, an inch long, grayish-white) wriggle their way up to the roots and other organic matter just under the surface of your garden or lawn. The grubs can kill an area of your lawn, making it able for you to lift a small portion where the roots completely were severed.

In fall, grubs burrow deeper into the ground to overwinter. The inch-long grubs lie cu
rled up in the soil. As the soil warms in spring they push their way upward. In the early spring, grubs return to the surface and continue to feed on roots until they eventually emerge as adult beetles.
Yes, it is the time of year when our yards, and possibly our neighbors' yards, have become havens for Japanese beetles. As gardeners, we have provided them with a delicious variety of new greens to dine on.


These pests are pervasive, so it
's nearly impossible to completely eradicate them from your yard. Since they can fly up to five miles a day, there are always more troops on their way to replace the ones you've trapped or killed. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a fancy way to say "hit them from all sides"...combining forces is your best bet
  • Clean Them Up: If you only have a few Japanese beetles, you can try spraying them with a mixture of soap and water.

  • Hand pick them from your plants, pull them off and kill them. As far as Japanese beetles are concerned, the more the merrier; the more you already have, the more you'll get. Pluck the Japanese beetles from your plants and drop them in a container of soapy water, unless you are the type who enjoys squishing them.

    When you remove them from your plants (kill them), you are sending a message to the other beetles that this isn't a safe harbor for them. So, fewer beetles will be attracted to that plant. If you allow the
    m to congregate on your plants, more will join the party. The best times to hand pick them are early morning or late evening when they are less active in the cool morning air.

    For easier handpicking : In the morning spread out a sheet of paper under the infested plant. Shake the plants and the beetles will fall onto the sheet. Slide them into a bucket of soapy water.

  • Turn vacant soil to expose the grubs for the birds (or your chickens) to eat the grubs.

  • Natural repellents include plants (such as Catnip, chives, garlic, tansy and rue) as well as the remains of dead beetles (yuck).

  • We recommend and carry Neem organic insecticide/fungicide as a control for adult beetles and grubs.

  • Plant "trap" crops (evening primrose, soybeans, wild grapes, African marigolds, borage and knotweed) to draw the beetles away from the rest of your garden. Better yet, plant a diversion garden far away and place a trap in it.

  • Beetle Traps are both easy and relatively inexpensive, but they have one major drawback: they attract more beetles than they actually catch (just 75 percent caught). So, should you decide to use traps, place them away from infested plants so you won't attract new beetles. Since Japanese beetles can fly up to five miles, you may be attracting them to your plants from your neighbors' yard.
    ~ Spread traps out as much as you can. Encourage your neighbors to use them, too.
    ~ The lure will get stale over time, replace traps each year.
    ~ The earlier you place the traps, the fewer eggs the females will have laid.
    ~ Place bait traps at least 1 inch off the ground
    ~ Make simple, homemade bait traps in plastic jugs with an entrance hole cut at the top.
    - Choose a sunny spot away from your prized petunias (and other precious plants).
    - The "yuck" factor comes in when you have to strain the bodies out of the traps each night, since the smell of dead beetles is a deterrent.
    - Recipe for Japanese Beetle Trap and Bait: Dissolve ¼ cup sugar and yeast pack in 1 cup of water. Mix a well-mashed banana into the sugar water. Pour this mix into a gallon milk jug. Place the jug (with the top off) in an area where Japanese Beetles gather. The fermentation and odor of the bait attracts the beetles which get in but not out.

  • Place plants that are poisonous to Japanese beetles near your most vulnerable plants (see list of plants desirable to Japanese beetles in the USDA Managing the Japanese Beetle: The Homeowners' Handbook: such as:
    ~ four o'clocks (Mirabilis)
    ~ larkspur
    ~ white geraniums,
    ~ red (and dwarf) buckeyes
    The leaves of the castor bean plant also poison them.
    These plants are poisonous to people to so be careful using them around children or pets.

  • Effective long-term, organic Milky spore (Bacillus popilliae) can be spread over turf to suppress grubs. The larger the area that can be treated, the more effective it is. Enlist your neighbors to follow your lead. Complete control may take a few years. Once it takes effect, one application can last over ten years. The grubs eat the bacterium, and the spores germinate and multiply inside the grub, killing it. As the dead grub disintegrates, the spores re-enter the soil to be eaten by and kill more grubs.

  • Bug "Juice": If you can handle it, this supposedly works well. Harvest about 1 cup of beetles, put them in an old blender and liquefy them. Thin this with enough water to make it pass through a sprayer. Spray it on any plants they victimize.

    Helpful NOTE: If you make this out of beetles infected with the milky spore disease you will actually infect more grubs. So...if you can handle it give it a try!

  • Remember: Pesticides are poisonous! If you use them, always make sure that you follow the instructions carefully. hey also get into the food chain and can pollute water systems. Sprays for adult beetles are often most effective if applied just before or at the start of an infestation. Grub control is best applied in July and early August when small, young grubs are coming to the surface to feed on lawn roots.
Make your yard a less attractive habitat:
  • Remove overripe, rotting, and diseased fruit which attracts Japanese beetles.

  • Diseased trees and plants also attract beetles, then they stay to feed on healthy plants too. Prune and remove diseased plants.

  • Plant species immune to or seldom attacked by Japanese beetles: magnolias, redbuds, red maples, holly or boxwood. Japanese beetles do not like ageratum, arborvitae, begonias, carnations, coreopsis, daisies, dusty-miller, euonymus, hydrangeas, lilies or snapdragons, box elder. Common lilac, Firs, Hemlocks, Hollies, Pines, Rhododendrons, Spruces, Scarlet oak, Tulip tree, White ash, White poplar and Yews.

  • Make your yard and garden less desirable by avoiding growing their favorite plants, such as strawberries and eggplants. (Find a complete list: USDA Managing the Japanese Beetle: The Homeowners' Handbook)

  • Since grubs are not found as often in shaded lawns, plant shade trees and select shade-tolerant grasses for long-term suppression (see URI's Sustainable Tree and Shrub List).
Since the Japanese beetle is such a pervasive problem, it is important for gardeners to use a variety of tools to keep them under control. Whether you hand-pick them, use traps or another method, by reducing your beetle population, you are also preventing more eggs from being laid. If you try a few of these techniques, you are on your way to having your own Integrated Pest Management program.

University of Rhode Island's Fact Sheets on J
apanese Beetles, and White Grubs
USDA Managing the Japanese Beetle: The Homeowners' Handbook

Article by Renee C. Brannigan
"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy
is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet,
alone with the heavens, nature and God.
Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be
and that God wishes to see people happy,
amidst the simple beauty of nature.
As long as this exists, and it certainly always will,
I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow,
whatever the circumstances may be.
And I firmly believe that
nature brings solace in all troubles."
- Anne Frank

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Butterflies and the Plants they Love ...right in your garden!

Butterflies are widely known to delight and amaze children of all ages, myself included. My breath catches whenever a butterfly graces our yard. Whether it is resting, flitting from flower to flower or just passing by, I have to stop what I am doing to watch - if even for just a moment. With some simple changes to ours gardens, we can attract more butterflies and entice them to linger.

But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.
~Robert Frost, "Blue-Butterfly Day"

Before researching this article, I believed the only consideration to attracting butterflies was to simply add a few plants that produce the sweet nectar they so enjoy. As an informed gardener, by adding just a few more amenities to the simple basics of food, shelter and water, you can create a bona-fide butterfly sanctuary. Your butterflies will stay even longer with even just a host plant to provide a place for her to lay her egg(s), ensuring more butterflies in the future.

Butterfly Garden Basics, FOOD:

Butterflies get their nutrition from a variety of sources, primarily flower nectar, but also water, and liquids produced by over-ripe fruit. Fruit trees will also attract butterflies. Each species of butterflies may be attracted to different plants, so if you wish to attract a specific butterfly, you'll need to learn a bit about it.

The roses, lilies and peonies in my garden don't attract many butterflies because they don't produce much nectar. However, the lavender, lilacs, bee balm, sunflowers, seedum, and butterfly bush are frequently visited by butterflies. Butterflies will visit your garden from May to October as long as there are flowers blooming for them. At the end of this article (thanks to the website I have listed butterflies found in Rhode Island and some of the plants they love.
  • Since green lawns don't attract many butterflies, let clover grow somewhere in your yard, it attracts a variety of species.

  • You can make or purchase a butterfly feeder with butterfly nectar to attract and feed numerous types of butterflies. Simply hang a plate from an old macrame plant hanger and keep a small supply of over-ripe fruit on it in the shade.

    Caution: Since fruit often attracts wasps, place it away from the reach of little ones and far from places where family and guests hangout.

  • Many butterflies prefer pink, red, purple, yellow or orange flowers.

  • Butterflies are attracted to plants of a single color, rather than a garden that has a variety of colors; so, plant your butterfly plants in large masses (rather than sprinkled around the garden in small clumps).

  • Butterfly bush, violets, lavender, shasta daisies, and black-eyed susans (aka Rudbeckia) are all perennials that will keep butterflies coming back year after year.

  • Flowering herbs such as lavender, dill, oregano and even rosemary all attract butterflies when they are in flower.

  • Warning: Some caterpillars in your garden may have hairs or forked spines. Some of these may sting if you touch them.

  • Please do not use insecticides which can kill your butterflies and caterpillars. It's much better to release ladybugs, lacewings and preying mantids in your garden. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps (used in moderation) will take care of aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and whiteflies. Be careful...even organic sprays can be harmful.

Butterflies will seek shelter when they need to rest and to be protected from bad weather. Any large bushes and trees on your property will also provide protection from the elements. At night they will perch on a leaf.

A butterfly house provides protection from predators, and shelter from cold and windy weather. Similar to a bat house, the slots are narrower preventing birds and bats from entering. Although called a house, it will mostly be used as a shelter for some butterfly species to overwinter. While some butterflies, such as the famous Monarch butterfly, migrate to warmer climates during the winter. The rest hibernate locally in a cozy nook in a log pile, under a piece of loose bark or inside a building. Some species overwinter as adults, others as pupa and some as caterpillars. Entomologists (aka "bug scientists") believe that most butterflies will find a natural place to hibernate.

If you decide to place a butterfly house in your garden, here are some tips for better success at attracting residents:
  • Place it near a host plant (more info further on).
  • Place it in the woodiest area you can.
  • Place it near late-blooming flowers such as asters, sedum, etc.
  • Decorate your box to blend into the surroundings.
    sample of butterfly house styles

If you have ever had a chance to look very closely at a butterfly (or even a photo of one), you may have noticed that its mouth-part looks like a spiraled coil. A butterfly can ingest liquids by forcing blood into the tube to straighten it out. This limits them to consuming nectar and standing water. When a butterfly lands on a flower or a wet surface, you may be able to watch it extend this coil.
To further "trick out" your butterfly garden, you can add a place for them to lay eggs, known as a host plant provides a place for a butterfly to lay her egg(s), and also provides food for the caterpillars once they hatch. Depending on the type of species, she may lay a single egg or a group of eggs. Interestingly, many types of butterflies can taste with their feet to determine if the leaf they are on will provide good food for her babies since caterpillars cannot travel very far to find their own food. If an egg is placed on the wrong type of plant, then the caterpillars won't survive. Luckily, many native trees and plants serve as great host plants.

Once spring temperatures reach sixty degrees, a butterfly begins its life cycle by hatching from an egg attached to a host plant. The very tiny caterpillars (larva) use their chewing mouthparts to first eat their eggshell, then to eat the leaves of their host plant. While adult butterflies feed on flower nectar, caterpillars eat plant leaves, and lots of them. As a gardener, be prepared for the caterpillars to eat your beloved plants. If this isn't palatable to you, place your host plants in a less visible area of the garden.

What is a chrysalis?
Before the final metamorphosis into a butterfly, a caterpillar changes into a chrysalis, caterpillars molt (crawl out of their skins) around five times. An adult butterfly emerges from the pupa to begin her daily search of food and host plants for laying eggs. According to Wikipedia: The pupae of different groups of insects have different names such as chrysalis in the butterfly family.... Pupae may further be enclosed in other structures such as cocoons.

Speaking of locations, keep in mind the real estate motto: Location, Location, Location!
  • Birds and bats EAT butterflies. Make sure your butterfly garden is not near any bird feeders, bird nests, etc.
  • Butterflies prefer a sunny garden over a shade garden.
Other Added Amenities:

A Resting Place: One really easy addition to your butterfly garden is a surface that a butterfly can lie on to open its wings for basking in the sun. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need to maintain a body temperature between 85-100o F to fly their best. In cooler weather (below 80o F), they open their wings in the sun on a flat rock to absorb the heat since their wings act as solar panels. Simple items that collect heat include a large wooden block or tree stump or a rock big enough to accommodate a few butterflies.

A Puddling Place: Sometimes you may see a few of butterflies near a puddle. Butterflies are attracted to the dissolved minerals in the puddle which supplement their diet. Fill a shallow birdbath or dish with sand or gravel, then keep it moist. You can even add some salt (½ cup per gallon of sand).

Rhode Island Butterflies
Gathered from the amazing butterfly site: I will be posting in a few days a list of butterflies found in different parts of Rhode Island. This will help you decide which Butterfly Nectar Plants and Butterfly Host Plants you may want in your garden.

There it it leaves my garden, another butterfly has left me delighted and amazed. Hmmm....maybe next spring we can learn how to raise and release butterflies of our own!

Article written by Renee C. Brannigan
for Woodbridge Greenhouses, Sctituate, R.I.

May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun

And find your shoulder to light on,

To bring you luck, happiness and riches

Today, tomorrow and beyond.

~Irish Blessing