Week 31 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

August 15 is right around the corner.  Why do I mention that?  Well, it is the first planting date for the fall garden.  We are truly lucky to be able to garden in the fall.  If you have never had a fall garden I highly recommend it.  Fall temperatures make it much more comfortable to be outside.  Bug and weed problems are greatly reduced and you can grow a wide variety of vegetables (some that will continue producing until you remove them to make room for the Spring garden).  It is also the best time of the year to plant (or move) trees and shrubs.

Texas_Sunset

Our friend Amy Hime captured this beautiful Texas sunset. Right now it is so hot I wait until about this time each evening to go into the garden!

Vegetables

  • Begin planning the fall garden– My friend and co-blogger Patty Leander creates the planting guides for the Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service. If you are wondering what to plant for the fall garden, check out her guide.  Not only will it tell you what and when to plant, it will give you some ideas of different vegetables that do well in our area that you may not have tried before.  Check out the guide here:    Travis County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Planting Guide
  • Solarize nematodes-Nematodes plague many of the plants we grow in Texas. Patty has a great post coming out this weekend about controlling them.  One of her tips is to turn up the soil in your infected areas and let the July and August sun rid you of some future problems.
  • Mulch and water – Lots of veggies like melons, southern peas and okra are still producing. Producing vegetables need lots of water. Mulch them heavily now then water early in the morning or late in the evening to reduce water lost to evaporation.
red_birdhouse

Love this shot of our red bird house on our redbud in front of our red garage door. Photo by Amy Hime

Ornamentals

  • Remove “buggy” plants – My marigolds have been good this year and so have my gomphrena. However, they are now beginning to succumb to spider mites.  Remove these plants and throw them away.  Do not put them on the compost pile.
  • Weed beds thoroghly and re-mulch – The heat is slowing down the growth of many of our invasive weeds. Pull them now and mulch heavily to prepare for your fall plantings
  • It is not too late to replant zinnias, cockscomb, sunflowers and gomphrena from seeds.
Lovely mixed annual border at FDR's grave site in Hyde park, New York

Lovely mixed annual border at FDR’s grave site in Hyde park, New York

Trees and Lawns

  • Do not fertilize lawns until the temperatures come down a bit.
  • Let grass grow as high as you can stand it. A thick carpet keeps roots cool and actually helps to conserves water

 

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Week 27 Tips for the Zone 9 Garden

AmericanFlowersWeek This week has been declared “American Flowers Week”.  The week is designed to promote and celebrate American flower growers, marketers and florists. Did you know that 80 to 90% of the cut flowers sold in the US come from overseas?  Many find this fact shocking when I share it with them.  If you would prefer to buy flowers that are fresher, grown in a more ecologically responsible manner and produced right here in the USA then be sure to check out the Slow Flowers website.  Slow Flowers is a cooperative effort between American growers and florists that allow you to find local growers and the florists that use their flowers to fill your flower buying needs.

In honor of “American Flowers Week” this week’s tips focus on growing, harvesting and arranging your own beautiful “local” flowers.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Flowers grown at the proper spacing are healthier and produce more blooms that plants that are grown too close together.

Growing Tips

  • Plant at the recommended spacing on the package– Over planting is the biggest mistake most home gardeners make. Plants that are grown too close together do not get as large or produce as many flowers and they are much more susceptible to pests.
  • Weed and feed regularly – Most flowers are annuals. Because of this they need to get as much nutrition as possible during their one growing season.  Feed monthly and weed regularly.  The weeds will rob your soil of the moisture and nutrients that your flowers need.
  • Control most pests with a strong blast of water to the underside of their leaves – Most flowers are plagued by a variety of pests. Most are tiny little rascals (like mites and aphids) that hide under the leaves of plants.  Because of this they are very difficult to control with your typical spray applications of pesticides.  I use a tool called the Mitey Fine Mister.  This wand attaches to my water hose and is designed to spray water with enough pressure to kill the pests without harming the plant.

 

teddy_bear_sunflowers

Cut flowers early in the morning and keep them cool to extend their vase life

Harvest Tips

  • Cut flowers when buds are just beginning to open – If you cut most flowers when their buds are just beginning to open they will open in the vase.  This will allow you to enjoy them much longer
  • Cut flowers in the morning- Flowers cut in the morning have the highest moisture content (this is called turgidity in the horticultural world) and look their best.   
  • Strip leaves and immediately drop blooms into a plastic container that is full of clean, cool water
  • Get flowers inside as soon as possible-Your flowers begin to die as soon as they are cut. Heat speeds up their ultimate demise.  Get them inside and into the air conditioning as soon as possible
Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Nothing says summer in the country like sunflowers in a homemade arrangement!

Arrangement Tips

  • Use more flowers! – My youngest daughter is an incredibly talented floral designer. I asked her why my arrangements do not look half as good as hers.  She said it is because I do not use enough flowers.  According to Whitney, when making floral arrangements, more is almost always better
  • Use more than flowers in your floral arrangements – While it is pretty easy to make a very pretty and presentable arrangement by grouping together lots of beautiful flowers, the really outstanding arrangements use other things to add interest. Lovely branches with interesting leaves are great fillers as are twisting garlic scapes, iris leaves, lemon grass and onion flowers.  Fresh vegetables, wasp nests, bird nests, dried sunflower heads and dried poppy heads all add a bit of whimsy and surprise to your arrangements
  • Throw away the floral foam – As useful as it is, floral foam is not biodegradable. There are tons of “green” alternatives that you can choose to support your flowers.  Sally and I have a small collection of antique floral frogs.  You can also make a wire ball out of chicken wire that fits in the top of your vase.  My daughter loves to use fresh fruit.  She cuts a hole into a melon or squash and then wires wooden stakes to her stems.  She then inserts the stakes and stems into the firm flesh and rinds of the fruit.

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I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 26 in the Zone 9 Garden

Can you believe half of the year is already gone?  I can’t.  I saw an article yesterday that said we have reached the point in the year where our days will become 1 minute shorter each day from now until winter.  That means that preparations for the fall garden are just around the corner.  Until then, here are a few things you can do to start winding down your spring garden season.

bee-on-sunflower

Sunflowers are some of my favorite flowers. Mine are beginning to bloom. Photo by Sally White

Pest Control

  • Use flour and wood ash for insect control– OK, I am not sure this works because I have never tried it. However I recently visited with a man that has been growing organically for a lot longer than I have and he swears by it.  He said he mixes a grocery bag with five pounds of flour and a shovel full of wood ash.  He then throws it on everything to control caterpillars and squash bugs.  I would love to hear from any of you who have tried this or other organic bug control remedies.
  • Smother weeds when possible – Plants need air, light and water to grow. Remove any of these from the equation and the plant will die.  If you have fallow ground cover it with heavy cloth, mulch or building material to deprive weeds of the light they need to germinate
  • Solarize future planting areas – If you are going to till and plant a new area in the fall, mow it shortwater heavily and cover with 6 to 8 mil poly. Secure the edges with soil or lumber.  The hot Texas sun will raise temperatures under the poly to over 140 degrees.  This is hot enough to kill almost every plant and weed seed that is trapped under the cover
roma-tomatoe

All of the rains of the past couple of months have delayed my tomatoes. I am pleased to say I am finally beginning to bring in a few each day.

Vegetables

  • Plant fall transplants now- If you want to save a few bucks you can grow your own fall transplants. Start broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, chard, Brussel sprouts and cabbage now 
  • Place spent plants in the compost bin – As you pull up your spent plants throw them on the compost pile. Keep it moist and turn it regularly for best results
  • Pick tomatoes when they begin to show color-Nothing brings big pests like birds, bunnies, raccoons and possums into the garden faster than red, ripe tomatoes.
shasta-daisy

Marigolds and daisies are beginning to be plagued by spider mites. Dispose of infected plants in the trash.

Ornamentals

  • Pull up plants that are invested with spider mites-Marigolds are notorious for spider mite infestations. If your plants are looking bad remove them and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag
  • Fertilize blooming plants – I use a finished compost to fertilize my flower beds. Along with feeding them it acts like mulch which suppress weeds and conserves moisture. I also make compost tea on occasion and apply as a drench.  Feed blooming plants monthly through August

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 25 in the Zone 9 Garden

This past weekend I harvested my first crop of elephant garlic.  This was a new plant for me and I thoroughly enjoyed growing it.  While it is not technically garlic (it is more closely related to leeks) it was a beautiful plant that can be used ornamentally or for its fist sized, mild, garlic tasting bulbs.  My elephant garlic was given to me by a man who has grown it in his garden for 47 years.  He got it from his parents who grew it for years before sharing with him. I absolutely love plants like this.  Whether they are called heirloom plants or pass a long plants, they are a living link to our horticultural past.  I love finding, growing and preserving these living links to our southern heritage.  If you have an heirloom plant that you love, leave me a comment.  I would love to hear about it.

elephant-garlic-scapes-2

With it long curvy scapes and big flower heads, Elephant Garlic is a useful as as ornamental as it is as a food source.

Pest Control

  • Invest in a few select organic insecticides– Bt for caterpillars, insecticidal soap for soft-bodied aphids, neem oil for beetles and squash bugs, spinosad for caterpillars and stink bugs. Follow label instructions, and spray only as needed. Mark the purchase date on the product container and store in a protected location, preferably indoors.
  • When using any insecticide, mix up only what will be needed for the plants you are treating – I rarely mix up a gallon of anything, and often get by using a one pint or one quart squirt bottle, depending on the product and number of plants needing treatment. Once I determine how much a particular product is needed per pint, I write it directly on the pesticide container so I don’t have to scour the label and recalculate every time.
  • Protect bees by applying pesticides in the late afternoon or evening, when bees are less active.
  • Control Spurge and Puslane-These two plants are some of the most difficult to control. Both grow rapidly and produce thousands of seeds.  Chemical control has little effect on mature purslane.  Pull these weeds and place in a plastic trash bag.  Do not compost!  Apply heavy mulch or solarize if possible after you remove the plants.
acetic-acid-weed-control

When mixing herbicides or pesticides mix only what you need and clearly mark each container

Vegetables

  • Plant okra, sweet potatoes, winter squash and peppers-Realize this is the absolute end of the spring planting season. It may be too late to plant even these in southern parts of the state.
  • Water correctly- It is better for your plants, and your water bill, if you apply one inch of water every five days. Water slowly in the morning to reduce evaporation loss. 
  • Remove spent plants like green beans to avoid attracting pests.
  • Top dress empty rows with compost and cover with a heavy layer of mulch to prepare them for fall planting in late July
water-sprinkler

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth and conserve water

Ornamentals

  • Cut fresh flowers for the house-Cut your zinnia’s, sunflowers, gomphrena, celosia and other fresh cuts early in the morning. Cut stems on 45 degree angles, strip foliage and drop immediately into cool, clean water
  • Plant sweet potato vine from transplant-Sweet potato vine is a great way to add lots of low maintenance color to your pots and beds.  With its bright chartreuse or purple-black foliage this drought and heat tolerant plant will add LOTS of color to your summer landscape.  Sweet potato vine will provide you lots of color right up to the first freeze 

Fruit Trees

  • Pick remaining plums-Plums will continue to ripen after they are picked. Pull when they have half color and allow them to ripen inside;  especially if making jelly.  Over ripe fruit left on the trees, or on the ground, invites in raccoons, possums and mocking birds
  • Pick Peaches-Pick peaches when they are slightly soft to the touch

ripe-plums

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I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Tips for Week 24 in the Zone 9 Garden

Patty Leander reminded me of an old adage about Texas weather.  It goes something like this “Texas weather is a series of droughts broken up by an occasional flood”.  These past few weeks have been a great reinforcer of that old saying.  Once it stopped raining the sun came out in a big way.  After the rainiest May in history I found myself watering Sunday night.  Oh the joys of gardening in Texas!  If it is not raining again this week end (as is predicted) here are a few things you can do in your yard or garden.

ripe-plum

Our plum tree is loaded and ready to harvest. This morning Sally and I picked 10 gallons of plums! Photo by Sally White

Pest Control

  • Control squash bugs-The bugs that a lot of us call “squash bugs” or “stink bugs” are actually called leaf footed bugs. While these pests are most often seen on our tomatoes and squash, they will eat just about anything.  In fact I even found them in my plum tree today.  This hard bodied bug is really prolific and hard to kill.  Pick adults and drop into a bucket of soapy water or suck up with a dust buster or shop vac.  You can also leave boards or shingles under your plants.  The bugs will go under them at night.  In the morning step on the board or shingle!
  • Control broad leaf weeds with concentrated acetic acid-Household vinegar is around 6% acetic acid. While it will kill weeds real killing power is found in concentrated acetic acid found at your local garden center.  You can find acetic acid concentrated to about 20%.  This is the “Round up” of the organic world.  It will kill just about every type of weed (or desirable plant) in your garden so use with caution.
Squash bugs are hard to control.  Use a dust vac or shop vac to suck them off of your plants.  Photo by Sally White

Leaf footed bugs are hard to control. Use a dust vac or shop vac to suck them off of your plants. Photo by Sally White

Vegetables

  • Re-mulch tomatoes-Remove old mulch and destroy it. It harbors bugs, bug eggs, blown in weed seeds and fungus.  A fresh new layer of mulch will help you keep an even soil moisture level.  This will prevent both cracking and blossom end rot
  • Continue removing suckers from tomato plants
  • Trim tomato bushes branches that have outgrown their supports
  • Pick cucumbers and okra daily
  • Side dress all plants with hign nitrogen composts like mushroom or cotton bur
Now is a good time to plant fall blooming bulbs like spider lilies and oxbloods.

Now is a good time to plant fall blooming bulbs like spider lilies and oxbloods.

Ornamentals

  • Trim shrubs so they are slightly fuller at the bottom than the top. This will allow sunlight to reach the entire plant and prevent “leggy” shrubs
  • Plant more zinnias and sunflowers
  • Clip back any remaining foliage of daffodils, jonquils or narcissus
  • Plant fall blooming bulbs like oxbloods and spider lilies

Lawns

  • It is now time to apply nitrogen to your St. Augustine
  • Fertilize trees by applying your fertilizer at the drip line of the canopy

Tips for Week 23 in the Zone 9 Garden

Harlequin bugs are a common pest in our area.

Harlequin bugs are a common pest in our area.

As I write this post, sun is pouring in through my window!  Now that sun is back it is time for some serious gardening.  June is always the busiest and most difficult month of the year for me.  Everything thing needs constant attention.  Each June vegetables need to be harvested almost daily and full grown weeds seem to pop up overnight.   While those jobs are normal this time of year all of our recent rains are going to cause some pretty serious, and unusual pest problems.  Patty Leander sent me several tips on how to organically control some of the more common pests in our June gardens.  This is such a big topic this time of year I am going to add a series of pest control tips each week in June.

Pest Control

  • Control mosquitos-All of this rain is going to mean swarms of mosquitoes. Drain all standing water.  Mosquitos can mature in as little as a half inch of water.  If not possible to drain the water treat it with a product that contains the israelensis strain of Bt (also known as Bti) to kill mosquito larvae.
  • Control nutgrass (Nut Sedge) with horticultural molasses-I have not tried this but I found it on Howard Garrett’s website (http://www.dirtdoctor.com/Nutgrass-Control-with-Molasses_vq3266.htm). Since I trust “The Dirt Doctor” and I have a problem with nutgrass I will be trying this in my gardens this week
  • Control slugs, snails, pillbugs and earwigs with a product containing iron phosphate and spinosad- The efficacy of many pesticides can be wiped out by heavy rain so always check the forecast before application and reapply when needed.
Small tomatoes are already for harvest.  All of our rain is going to cause cracking in many of our larger varieties.  Don't worry though.  Just cut out the bad spots and enjoy what's left!

Small tomatoes are already for harvest. All of our rain is going to cause cracking in many of our larger varieties. Don’t worry though. Just cut out the bad spots and enjoy what’s left!

Vegetables

  • Expect to see cracking in tomatoes, especially if rainy weather continues-This is caused by fluctuations in moisture and temperature during periods of rapid fruit growth. Salvage fruit by cutting around the affected areas.
  • Watch tomatoes for signs of early blight-Early Blight is a fungal disease that spreads by air, insects, wind and splashing water. Extension sponsored research from Ohio State University has shown that garlic oil, neem oil and seaweed extract can help reduce the severity of early blight on tomatoes; other organic options for control include potassium bicarbonate and the fungicide Serenade.
  • Start seeds for fall tomatoes in late June so you will have transplants ready to set out in early August.
Spider mites love marigolds.  Control them with strong blasts of water to the undersides of leaves every few days.  I use the Mitey Fine Mister

Spider mites love marigolds. Control them with strong blasts of water to the undersides of leaves every few days. I use the Mitey Fine Mister

Ornamentals

  • Pull or hoe weeds before they set seed.  If you get them before seed set they can go right into the compost
  • Aphids and spider mites are becoming a problem on annual flowers and crepe myrtles.  Control with strong blasts of water to the underside of leaves or spray with horticultural oils
  • Deadhead annual flowers like marigolds to encourage blooming
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch!  Mulch controls soil temperatures, suppresses weeds and conserves moisture.  Mulch often and deeply
  • Don’t forget to feed your potted plants regularly-I use compost tea.  If you use chemical fertilizers like Miracle Grow apply weekly at half the recommended rate.
coleus

Don’t forget to fertilize your potted plants. I use compost tea. If using chemical products like Miracle Grow apply weekly at half the recommend rate

Lawns

  • To avoid fungal disease, do not apply nitrogen to St. Augustine until the soil dries out
  • When soil dries apply 3 to 4 lbs of nitrogen to 1000 square feet of St. Augustine
  • Apply 4 to 5 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of Bermuda
  • Apply 2 to 3 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 sqaure feet of Zoysia

Tip of the Week – Week 21 in the Zone 9 Garden

It finally finished raining long enough for Sally and I to harvest the rest of the potatoes.  While we were out there we also pulled our first cucumbers and picked a small mess of green beans.  We just finished an amazing dinner of cucumbers and onions, green beans and an okra/tomato/sausage/smoked poblano concoction.  Everything but the sausage came straight from the garden or the freezer.  And that my friends is why I garden!

On another note, I recently read an article that said internet readers want their information quick and easy.  With that in mind I am going to structure my weekly tips in a different format for a while.  If you like it, or even if you don’t, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Potato-harvest

Vegetables

  • Pick Green Beans
  • Harvest and cure onions
  • Control aphids, thrips and scale insects with a strong blast of water. If this is not working spray entire plant with neem oil or a water/dish soap mixture
  • Harvest Potatoes-It has rained so much lately that it has washed much of the soil away from my potato plants. I literally have potatoes on top of the ground.  This will cause two problems.  First, the harvest is going to be a muddy mess.  No way around this.  I will have to dig them and then go directly to the hose for a good wash.  I do not normally recommend washing your potatoes.  When potatoes come out of the ground their skins are soft and can be damaged by washing.  Damaged skins let in fungus that will cause the potatoes to rot during storage.  That is why we cure them before we store them.  To cure potatoes we need to let them dry in the hot sun for a few hours.  All of this rain is causing an unusual lack of sunshine.  Because of this I will have to figure out a way to move the potatoes into the garage for curing.  This is a big problem for me because my garage is already covered with the onions that I had to cure inside because of the rain.

marigolds-1

Ornamentals 

  • Pull weeds while the ground is soft.  Throw them in the compost pile if they have not set seed
  • Dead head zinnias and marigolds
  • Plant zinnias (Benary’s Giant are my favorites) and marigolds from seed
  • Plant Sunflowers-There are about a million different varieties of sunflowers and I grow several of them (my favorite is a double called “Teddy Bear” that grows on three to four foot tall stalks and produces gorgeous flowers). For the next couple of months I will plant more seeds every other week.  This “two week planting schedule” will ensure that Sally and I have an ample supply of fresh cuts for our home right up to the first frost.
  • Plant Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons) – I have two places in my yard where I grow gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons). Gomphrena is a great plant for our area because it can really take the heat and it will keep flowers until the first frost.  Even though it is an annual it is a great self-seeder and will come back on its own year after year.  That is, it will come back year after year as long as you don’t have free ranging chickens that scratch up all of the seedlings in your beds.  That is what has happened at my house.  Thanks to my chickens I currently have no gomphrena.  So this weekend I will be replanting.  Many of our reseeders (like gomphrena, zinnia, poppies and marigolds) can be planted by running a rake over and area and then putting the seeds out in a broadcast manner.  Once the seeds are down, run the rake across the soil to lightly cover the seeds.  Finally, gently water the area.  Keep the soil moist until the little plants develop their first set of real leaves.

Lawns

  • Do not fertilize until things dry out. Nitrogen, moisture and cool temps encourage brown spot

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I share my posts on the HomeAcre Hop.  Be sure to stop by the hop.  It has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

teddy-bear-sunflowers

Organic Aphid Control

If you have spent much time in the garden, you are familiar with aphids.  These tiny little pests are quite common and quite annoying.  In fact, they are so annoying; lots of people call them plant lice.  Aphids do more damage to agricultural and horticultural plants than any other species of insect.  In fact, one species of aphid almost entirely destroyed the French wine industry in the 1870’s.  They also contributed to the spread of the “Late Blight” fungus that caused the Irish potato famine.

Aphids-1

Aphids do more damage to agricultural and horticultural crops than any other insect. Photo by Bruce Leander

Aphids have modified mouth parts that allow them to drill directly into the phloem and extract all of the rich carbohydrates and sugars that it needs from your plants.  Aphid damage on plants can lead to decreased growth rates, curled leaves, brown spots, low yields and even death.  To make matters worse, aphids are known to spread many different plant viruses.  For example, the green peach aphid is known to spread 110 different viruses.

aphid-rose-2

This rose bud is covered with aphids in all stages of their development. The white things in the pictures are the skins they shed as they go from one phase to another. Photo by Sally White

Aphid also excrete a substance called “honeydew” that is also harmful to plants.  Aphids feed on plants the same way a mosquito feeds on you.  Once they “tap a vein” there is so much food available, and it us under so much pressure, that the unused sap passes through their bodies and onto the plant’s foliage.  This forms a sticky, sweet covering on stems and leaves that is a perfect host for mold and fungus.

Aphids-3

Close up of aphids in various stages of development. Photo by Bruce Leander.

While there are lots of insecticides that you can spray to control aphids, organic control is usually just as effective.  Believe it or not, the most effective tool you can use against the aphid is water.  Aphids are soft bodied pests.  A good hard blast of water can actually cause the aphid to burst open.  Even if it doesn’t burst the aphid, it will knock them to the ground.  The ground is a very bad place for an aphid.  There are lots of things down there that will eat it.  Also, since most cannot fly or crawl very fast, they will often die from exposure before they make it back to your plant.

Effective control with water in not a “one and done” job.  If you want to keep aphids in check you are going to need to spray every three or four days.  Also, since aphids hide under leaves at night and during the hot part of the day, you need to spray upwards from the bottom of the plant.  This is very difficult to accomplish with a water hose.   Luckily there are tools out there that can make this job easier and more effective.

aphid-rose-3

As you can see, my roses are infested with aphids again this year. Photo by Sally White.

The best tool I have found is made right here in Texas.  It is called the MiteyFine sprayer.  The MiteyFine sprayer is essentially a metal tube with a special nozzle that is designed to apply the right amount of pressure (and use the least amount of water) needed to kill aphids.  MiteyFine comes in 46” and 58” lengths.  The light weight shaft makes it easy to handle and the design ensures that the water finds the aphids that hide in those really hard to get to places.

MiteyFine-Sprayer

The MiteyFine sprayer is the most effective tool I have found for organic control of aphids. Photo by Bruce Leander.

I have met several people that are skeptical that water alone can control aphids.  In fact, just yesterday I was telling a friend that runs a landscape business about the MiteyFine sprayer.  He asked “How do you mix the orange oil in with the water?”  No matter how much I swore that water alone was enough, he just didn’t believe me.  If you are like my friend, and you feel like you have to spray something on bugs, then you are in luck.  Orange oil, neem oil and lantana oil are organic insecticides that can all be sprayed on active infestations with great result.  These natural oils kill by clogging the pores that the insects use to breath.  However, just like water, you need to spray every few days and you need to spray under the leaves.  Be aware that there are some predatory bugs that eat aphids that will also be killed by any oil application.

Ladybug-dill

Lady bugs and their babies are voracious aphid predators. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Lady bugs are another organic aphid control measure that I hear a lot about.  While it is true that lady bugs eat a lot of aphids, you would need a whole lot more of them than you can afford to control a good infestation.  I have lots of lady bugs in my gardens.  However, I still have lots of aphids all over my plants.  I am not saying you should not buy and release lady bugs in your garden.  Just be aware that they are not the panacea they are made out to be.

ladybug-larvae

Ladybug larvae are often called “aphid lions” because they eat so many of the pests. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Even though aphids are a nuisance, there is no reason to let them ruin all of those beautiful plants that you have worked so hard to grow.  With a little observation and a little perseverance, you can control your aphid problems with some very effective organic tools.

Ladybugs lay their eggs close to an aphid infestation.  The larvae begin to feed on the slow moving aphids immediately.  Photo by Bruce Leander.

Ladybugs lay their eggs close to an aphid infestation. The larvae begin to feed on the slow moving aphids immediately. Photo by Bruce Leander.

Controlling Squash Vine Borers (Melittia cucurbitae)

A squash vine borer moth in Patty Leander's garden. Photo by Bruce Leander

In my mind, squash vine borers are kind of the nut sedge of the insect world. They reproduce like crazy and they are very difficult to control. Very few pests in the garden are as dreaded and damaging as the squash vine borer.  While aphids make your leaves look ugly, squash vine borers make your whole plant die!

A close up of the grub like larvae of the squash vine borer. Photo by Bruce Leander

Since we have had such an unusually mild winter, many people have planted early.  Because of this, their squash is now at a perfect state of maturity to be attacked by these  pests.  So, I thought I would take this opportunity to give a few tips on controlling them.  While there are both organic and commercial pesticides out there , the best way to control these pests (in my opinion) are your growing practices.

Squash Nine Borer eggs. Photo by Bruce Leander

First, if you want to stop the problem before it begins, grow your squash under floating row cover. If you put row cover around your plants when they start to vine, you can prevent the borer from laying its eggs on your vine.  Cut a fairly large piece of row cover so it can expand as the plant grows.  Anchor the edges in the soil with dirt, boards or bricks; anything that will create a seal and prevent the moth from getting to the base of your plant. Be aware that if you put row cover over your plants before they pollinate, you will have to pollinate by hand.

Squash being grown by under row cover in Patty Leander's garden. Photo by Bruce Leander

If row cover and hand pollination are more than you want to deal with, watch for the adult borers in your garden. You can hear them buzzing if you are close. However, if you can’t be outside, you can place yellow sticky traps around your plant. Since they are attracted to the yellow (like the squash flowers) the moths will get trapped and let you know they are in the area. Once you know they are there, look for their eggs on the stems and under the leaves that are close to the base of your plant. They are pretty small and reddish brown in color. Once you find them, pull or scrape them off with your fingernail or a sharp knife.

A healthy zucchini. Photo by Bruce Leander

If you see little bumps forming on the base of your vines, you have an infestation.  You can take a razor blade and cut into the infected area. If this doesn’t kill the larvae, remove it and then tape the cut with floral tape or pack with soil. If done soon enough, the plant will recover and produce as normal.

 

If your squash wilts and does not recover in the morning, there is a very good chance you have the squash vine borer. Photo by Bruce Leander

Because effective control of this pest is so hard to do, try planting squash varities that are not as affected by the borer. I grow tatume’ squash and it has no problems with the bugs. Also, do not plant in the same place year after year. They larva pupate in the soil under the plant they killed so every year move your squash as far as possible from where it was grown last year.

Some squash varieties like "Tatume" are not bothered by the squash vine borer.

If you are not of the organic mindset, there are a few chemicals out there that do a pretty good job of controlling borers.  The most common and readily available is Sevin Dust.  Sevin works pretty well against the moth.  However, it has a very short effective period so if using it, apply weekly.  Also, the chemical Methoxychlor (trade name include Marlate, Chemform and Methoxy-DDT) is very effective and relatively safe.  Methoxychlor is very popular in greenhouse applications because of its relatively low level of toxicity.

Nothing is more disappointing than seeing your beautiful squash reduced to a pile of shriveled of green stuff in two or three days.  Squash vine borers have broken more hearts than any other bug I know.  Because these pests are so destructive it is important to be alert and stay on top of them.   The best way to control an attack is to stop it before it starts.  So, go to garden regularly and watch for any sign of the pest.  With a little diligence you can keep this bug from depriving you of all of the wonderful summer squash.