For five years now I’ve fussed over bare-root sprigs and cuttings of Virginia creeper, nursing them into the lush vines that now cover three arbors and a couple of fences at my house. This week, I started ripping all those vines out because, sadly, Japanese beetles just love Virginia creeper. For a while, my husband and I thought we could live with the damage the beetles do —all those green leaves reduced to lacy brown ghosts of their former selves. But when scads of beetles and showers of the dust-like poo they leave behind started raining down from the arbor into our hair every time we shut the back gate, well, goodbye vines.
For those who aren’t familiar with Japanese beetles, they are actually quite fetching little bugs. Dime-sized with shiny purple-green bodies, they almost look like something a wacked-out artificial intelligence researcher would create in a sci-fi film. First spotted in 1968 in Minnesota, as well as on the East Coast, Japanese beetles have since plagued eastern states, primarily, while slowly making their way westward. Larvae, or grubs as they’re usually called, feed on the roots of turf grass and adult beetles feed on a wide variety of ornamental plants.Read More»
As I type this I can almost hear the four-lined plant bugs out in my garden chomping away on many of my perennials — even my wee basil plants that are just trying to get a start for the summer. My basil! I have no qualms about squishing these yellow bugs with the fat, black stripes on their backs or flicking them into a pail of water to drown. But I don’t spray them with chemicals anymore. Sevin, insecticidal soup, homemade soap sprays, I’ve tried all kinds of concoctions to try to get rid of four-lined plant bugs and other pests over the years. None of them worked very well.
I don’t use chemicals on bugs anymore. It’s not that I think all chemicals are bad; I don’t. Though I do think chemicals should be used judiciously. Don’t worry. I’m not going to be all preachy in this column about what you should do when trying to deal with pests in your own garden. I’d just like to share what I’ve learned about pesticides over the last few years so you can make your own, informed choices about pest control whether that be through chemical or natural means.Read More»
If you haven’t yet heard of basil downy mildew, you will. New to U.S. gardens in 2007, the disease has already been confirmed in more than a dozen states. The first sign of trouble is grayish spores on the underside of leaves. But these usually go unnoticed until the disease progresses and yellow splotches appear on the tops of leaves.Read More»
Are you busy ordering up this year’s plants for the garden? If so, consider some of these long-blooming perennials that look great long past summer’s dog days.
- Hollyhock mallow ‘Mystic Merlin’ (Malva sylvestris ‘Mystic Merlin) offers up 2-inch blooms in shades of purple, mauve, and blue from early July until frost. Unlike traditional hollyhocks that bloom on a stalk, ‘Mystic Merlin’ produces flowers atop bushy foliage that can grow 4 feet tall. Zones 4 to 8.
- Blanket flower ‘Fanfare’ (Gaillardia ‘Fanfare’) is no ordinary blanket flower. Each flower petal on this compact plant flares out like a miniature trumpet in hues of red, orange, and yellow. Blooms last from late spring through fall. Grows 18 to 24 inches tall. Zones 3 to 9.
- Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea) really pulls its weight in shade gardens. Lacy foliage is topped by dainty golden flowers. Blooms from late spring through fall. Grows about 15 inches tall. Zones 5 to 7.
- Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (Geranium ‘Rozanne’) was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2008. Violet-blue blooms top masses of finely textured foliage and last from early summer to frost. Grows 16 inches tall. Shear back in mid summer to increase bloom. Zones 4 to 8.
Q: Is it true that I should cut the roots of plants before I plant them, especially if they’re rootbound?
A: Good question. This one gets debated a lot. You know you’ve got a rootbound plant when you tip it out of its container and matted roots are more prevalent than soil. Wrapped in a tight ball, the roots usually circle the bottom of the plant because they’ve had no place else to go and the soil around them has broken down. It is best to separate the roots as best you can before planting, and that probably means cutting out some of the most matted parts.
Being rootbound puts a lot of stress on growing plants because they lack the nutrients they need to thrive. If you don’t try to correct the situation at planting time, those plants are likely to be stunted. They may even fail to grow much at all or even die. The debate comes in over whether to slice the roots on the sides of container-grown plants whether they are rootbound or not. Studies have indicated that the practice doesn’t help but many gardeners think it does. So you might want to try experimenting with that yourself.