Red Lily Beetle.

Although I don’t make a habit of revisiting old posts, this one bears repeating.  The red (or scarlet) lily beetle has taken over Alberta, it seems – and I know infestations have been occurring all over the world (in some places, for quite a number of years).  This is my post from last year about the dastardly red beast:

Red Lily Beetle (Flowery Prose)

Asiatic lily

This gorgeous Asiatic lily isn’t from my garden, although I wish it was – I took this photograph at the Calgary Zoo a couple of summers ago. 

Have you been faced with an infestation of red lily beetles in your garden?  (I sure hope not!).  If you have, what seems to work best to keep them under control?

Post updated: May 2018.

Flowery Prose gets a makeover.

In part because our spectacular sunny reprieve from winter is coming to an end (up to 10 centimetres of snow is predicted for tomorrow, which reminds me that I needed to buy new winter boots a few days ago…sigh) AND because I’ve been pondering it for some time, I’m announcing some additions to Flowery Prose.

As many of you know, I’m what I term a “microgardener” – I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment (with no balcony or deck) and although I have soil to dig in – I look after the perennial gardens on the property where I live, and I rent a community garden plot every year – I have space limitations like you wouldn’t believe.  Plus, there’s the not-to-be-overlooked-even-if-we-wanted-to fact that it is winter here in Alberta about six or seven months out of the year (if we’re lucky).  In truth, it’s not always possible (or desirable) to post about my gardens’ goings-on, which is why you’ll see me touring other gardens or writing about the plants I see on my hikes or delving into some tidbit of plant lore I find while I’m doing research.

I’m still going to do all of that.  My blog is first and foremost about plants and gardening…I aim to keep the “flowery” in Flowery Prose.

But I’m going to add some topics to the mix.  As a freelance writer, I’ve covered everything from vinegar to minor hockey, and while things won’t be quite that eclectic around here, I’m eager to explore a bit more in the way of local history, nature, cooking and baking, and photography.  I’ve already done a bit of that here in the past…only now I won’t necessarily add a plant or gardening connection.

Except for gardening titles, my book reviews (or whatever you want to call what it is that I do over there) will still be found on my blog The Door is Ajar.  I will still put up new content on my “Alberta snapshots” blog There is a Light, but for any of you who are subscribers to both Flowery Prose and There is a Light, there may be occasional overlaps.  (Flowery Prose will always get the new posts before TIAL).

My Facebook feed for Flowery Prose will remain the same:  all plant stuff, all the time.  (I love to scoop up links from online sources and share them).  My Twitter feed contains links to gardening information, as well as notifications about my writing projects and blogs and anything else I find interesting.

I really, REALLY hope you will enjoy the slightly more diverse content I’m planning…I truly appreciate the fact that I have such wonderful readers.  I always love to hear from you!

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!  I’m off to buy some boots….

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(Frontenac rose – Devonian Botanical Garden, Devon, AB – July 2013.  Oh, I miss summer already!)

Robin’s pincushion.

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At first glance, I thought it was some sort of strange fluffy pod, presumably left here by cute furry space aliens.

Of course, I have a very vivid imagination.

To my great disappointment, it’s a mossy rose gall.  And the funniest thing about it is that I didn’t even know a rose was growing there.  I’ve literally* walked by this particular spot on my way to work nearly every day for five years…surely you’d think I’d notice the five-and-a-half foot tall rose bush.  In my defense, it’s jammed in with a whole bunch of other grasses and shrubs, seeds randomly blown in years ago and taken hold in the midst of a dense planting of junipers that the landscapers put in nearly three decades earlier.  No one has ever pruned or removed any of the odd plantings because you can’t access them – the junipers have made an impenetrable thicket around them.   I certainly didn’t notice that the rose had bloomed this summer, but it’s chockfull of hips right now, flashes of brilliant red that catch my eye every time now that I know they’re there.   There’s a lesson here about being more observant, I can tell….

Anyway, because my knowledge is a little fuzzy (groan!) about mossy rose galls, I did some reading.  If there are any rosarians out there who can offer some more insight, please chime in – I’d love to hear from you!  Mossy rose galls are caused by a tiny wasp called Diplolepis rosae (or Diplolepis spinosa), which lay their eggs in the leaf buds of the rose in the spring.  The plant reacts to the invasion by producing a gall, which grows all summer and eventually ends up as winter protection for the wasp larvae (clever wasps, using their host like that).  The following year, up to 40 adult wasps can emerge from a single gall.  I found contradictory reports on how the galls affect the health of the rose – some say the rose is not harmed at all, while others say that the galls draw nutrients away from the rose and that if there are enough galls, the rose will die.  The only way to get rid of the galls is to prune them off in autumn, and this article points out that they can be placed in cut flower arrangements for extra interest.  (With the larvae still inside?  I’m not terribly keen on that.  Granted, the writer did make a mention that the larvae are often parasitized by other insects…but isn’t that just swapping one bug for another?  I’m not sure I want that particular kind of decoration in the house).   Mossy rose galls are most often found on wild roses (such as Rosa acicularis, which I believe is the specimen I found), and frequently rugosas.  The wasps that create them don’t go after plants other than roses.

The most interesting part of all of this is that another name for mossy rose gall is “Robin’s pincushion.”  Isn’t that an absolutely lovely term to describe a winter housing complex for tiny slimy wasp-babies?

*You may have read that the word “literally” has been officially granted an additional definition, which contradicts the old one but supposedly has validity because of the rampant abuse – I mean, informal usage – of the true meaning over the years.   I’d like to say that I’m literally giddy about how the English language is evolving, but I know I’ve literally misused the word a million times over the years.   😉

Have your roses ever literally (I can’t help myself) been plagued with mossy rose galls or crown galls?

UPDATE (as of September 19, 2013) – There is a great article on Wikipedia about mossy rose galls – it’s well worth checking it out to find out more information about the wasps that cause them.  There are also some very interesting medicinal uses (a cure for baldness, anyone?) and historical tidbits listed…plus, some excellent photos.  Please link here.

Slugs and shallots.

I spent the morning out at my plots in the community garden, harvesting the rest of the Asian greens that were on the verge of bolting. Seems the slugs had gotten to some of them before me – my mibuna was full of the little slimers. Not impressed. Surprisingly, this is my very first time dealing with slugs in the garden – although I do have experience with them from my garden centre days, when potted roses brought in from the west coast often had stowaways in the form of baseball-sized banana slugs. (I quickly learned Lesson #1: Never, ever unload live plants without wearing gloves!). I’ll never forget the time a co-worker thought she’d be cheeky and put a giant slug next to our boss’s coffee cup on the desk in the greenhouse…let’s just say, it’s a good thing our boss was in a pleasant mood that morning and was already on his second cup of java, because he hated slugs as much as I do.

I’m not certain if these three jokers had any advice about the slugs, but they were sure trying to tell me something:

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I’ll bet they’re the little rascals that have pulled every last shallot out of my plot, pecked holes in them, and then left them to rot. I cannot figure out why magpies would want to eat shallots when there are (slugs) strawberries just a few plots away, but I do know I won’t be eating shallots that I’ve grown myself anytime soon. Oh well, shallots are…overrated. Or something. Right? 😉

What pesky critters are currently bothering your plants?

Pest to watch (out for): Artillery fungus.

Hopefully no one out there is currently plagued with this pest – if you are, you’re in for some additional spring cleaning duties.  It’s a messy one!

Also called shotgun fungus, these members of the genus Sphaerobolus are usually spotted (yes, I’m making bad puns again) covering the sidings of houses or the exteriors of vehicles.  Artillery fungus colonizes wood, so if you’re laying down wood mulch, you may be encouraging its growth.  The peridioles (spore packets) of Sphaerobolus are interesting:  they rest above cup-shaped cells that gradually fill with water.  Eventually, the cells invert, which causes the peridioles to burst, exploding outward in a distance up to 6 metres (almost 20 feet).  The spores immediately adhere to any surface situated in the blast zone…which most often happens to be cars and houses.

Just to make things more delightful, artillery fungus is really, REALLY difficult to remove.  Part of the problem is that you don’t want to use harsh chemicals or scrapers on the surfaces that the fungus sticks to.  This website has a few potentially workable suggestions, the most notable of which is employing a combination of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and a bit of mouthwash.  Bleach and hot water and plenty of elbow grease apparently works as well.  Definitely test a small area of before you start your cleaning project, as you don’t want to ruin any painted surfaces.

As for prevention of further attacks, it should be noted that there isn’t really an effective fungicide on the market to deal with artillery fungus.  (I’m not particularly fond of chemicals, so I probably wouldn’t recommend one even if such a thing was available). The best option is to consider whether or not you really need wood mulch, especially near the foundation of the house or alongside the driveway.  Replacing the wood mulch with gravel or another desireable product may be a simple solution to a labour-intensive problem.  As well, bear in mind that the wood chunks found in potting soil might also be a haven for the fungus.  (Don’t get me started on the LOGS I keep finding in commercial brands of potting soil mixes – it’s a pet peeve of mine.  I’m currently on a seemingly unending quest to find a good quality brand of potting soil – I thought it would be a matter of “you get what you’ve paid for,” but I’m actually still searching.  It really builds a strong case for creating your own potting mixes).

I tracked down a video that gives you an idea of how artillery fungus grows and disperses, and the mess it can make:

I’m so glad that artillery fungus hasn’t been an issue (so far) in my garden!  I hope you haven’t been pestered by it- but if you have, what did you do to get rid of it?

Plot plotting: mini hoop tunnels.

BCGG Plot Winter FP

Well, I swung by the ol’ plot at the community garden this morning, and hung over the fence for a moment. (The gate is frozen solid into the ground, or I would have let myself in).

Yep, it’s still there. Yep, everything is still encrusted with a layer of snow – which, admittedly, has greatly receded with all the sunshine we’ve been having lately and is nothing like what everyone on the east coast of North America is currently experiencing. (I feel for you all! I hope things don’t get too horrible – stay safe and warm indoors if you can).

Even though spring seems tantalizingly within reach, our community garden group won’t do its annual spring clean up until the second week of May…really, the weather here isn’t usually co-operative before then. Indeed, in years past, the first spring work bee has been postponed a couple of times due to heavy snowfall. Last year, however, one of my garden plot neighbours was harvesting baby spinach and some lettuce at the end of May and the first week of June (right around the time many of us were still SOWING our first seeds). While we all stood around drooling and shielding our eyes from the awe-inspiring green-ness of the mouth-watering leaves, she let us in on her not-so-secret secret: she had seeded some of her crops while there was still snow on the ground.  Of course, we started muttering with jealousy (“why didn’t I do that?”), but my neighbour has been growing this way in Calgary for years and she’s not the only one.  As Niki Jabbour has been showing readers in her book, Year Round Vegetable Gardener, cold weather doesn’t have to matter. And while I can’t accomplish many of the feats she writes about (living in an apartment means constructing a cold frame is decidedly out of the question, wanhhhh), I am serious about charging forward on a few ideas this year. We can garden on the seasonal periphery!

I  definitely want to direct-sow a bit earlier this year than I’ve done previously (not in March or April, though! There’s something about planting seeds while wearing a winter coat and a toque that disturbs me).  But I’m also not going to wait until just the right “planting weather” comes around (whenever/whatever THAT is).   I’m planning to build a small hoop tunnel in a similar style as my plot neighbour. You can see a bit of his design in the foreground of the photo. It’s a tried-and-true system and many of you have probably set up something of the sort in your own gardens. Some plastic sheeting will give the plants a leg up early in the season, and then I can switch over to a row cover, which should deter the inevitable flea beetle problem. My neighbour actually further employed his row cover as a hail guard last year, and it worked surprisingly well – I expected the hailstones to punch through the fabric but his set-up withstood all of our wicked storms last summer. While I was scooping up the shredded slaw-bits out of my plot, I’m sure he was (politely and sympathetically) tickled pink that he had built his tunnel.

I’m all for salad greens that are not pre-mulched!

Any tips or words of advice for me as I get ready to build my hoop tunnel? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to this type of system that I’m not thinking of?

What do you do to extend the gardening season and/or keep the pests away?

Book review: What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden?

What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? 100% Organic Solutions for All Your Vegetables, from Artichokes to Zucchini by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth (2011, Timber Press, Portland)

Want to know why your tomatoes have weird pink spores on them?  Or what is causing the veins on the underside of the leaves of your potatoes to suddenly turn purple?  This book can tell you those things – as well as how to troubleshoot them using organic controls.

Categorized by soil-, light-, temperature- and water-related problems, What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? is a catalogue of pestilence and disease, with precise lists of symptoms to aid in quick diagnosis.  Excellent, full-colour photos accompany assist in the I.D. (if you’re squeamish about bugs or bacteria, don’t look at this book while you’re eating!). Every veggie family has its own problem solving guide, which includes organic solutions to get your garden back up and producing again.  Detailed sowing and cultural practices are also given for each plant family, using the principles of Integrated Pest (Plant) Management.  The focus is on providing the optimal “leg up” for your vegetable garden so that the chance of infection from garden pests is reduced…but should problems arise despite your efforts, you’ll be armed with the proper information to take action.

The layout of this book really shines:  the plant charts are a breeze to search and understand, and – should you require it – there is also a quick-glance index in the back.  The whole package looks great, too (clean lines, highly readable fonts, white space in all the right places), which lends to the ease of access.  I daresay a book like this could completely eliminate those panicked Google searches, you know the ones with the keywords “holes bean plants sticky brown bug” or “my peas have spots.”

What’s Wrong With My Vegetable Garden? really should be in every veggie grower’s library – while it’s not likely a book you will read cover to cover, the storehouse of information it holds might just save your crops one day!

What resources do you use to troubleshoot your garden when you see signs of pests or diseases?  Do you use computer search engines or reach for a book, or do you solicit the advice of someone in person?

I’m taking part in November’s Garden Book Reviews!  Click on over to Roses and Other Gardening Joys to check out the wonderful reviews by all the participating bloggers!

Pest to watch (out for): Red lily beetle.

Yesterday, one of my library co-workers came to me and in appropriately hushed, but slightly panicked tones, told me about some beetle-esque critters that appeared to be munching on her tiger lilies, which are just emerging from their winter slumber.  “They look like ladybugs,” she said, “until you get up close.  They don’t have any spots on them.”   Uh oh, I thought.

(Click here for photo).

This is the dreaded red (scarlet) lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii – isn’t that the best scientific name ever???  Well, next to Bison bison, that is).  A little longer and a little boxier than the cute, rounded lady beetle, red lily beetles are not spotted like the beneficial bugs.  We never used to have them in Alberta, but apparently they hitched a ride on some lily bulbs brought in from other regions and now we’re beset by the things.  Grrrrrr.  Unfortunately, according to Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner’s excellent resource, Gardening, Naturally:  A Chemical-Free Handbook for the Prairies (essential reading for Prairie gardeners), these nasty eating machines have no natural predators in North America, so they’re pretty much free to run rampant over our gardens, taking out our lilies and Fritillaria at will, as well as threatening wild lily species.   (They will also attack Solomon’s seal and lily of the valley, but don’t fret about your daylilies…Hemerocallis are safe from the marauding red horde.  Not from jackrabbits, mind you, but that’s a story for another day…).  Apparently certain parasitic wasps are used as controls in Europe and we are starting to see some of them here in Canada, which offers hope.

So, what can we do to prevent an infestation?  First off, if you get any lily bulbs, inspect both the bulbs and the soil they are potted up in for signs of red lily beetle – either the bright red adults, larvae or eggs.  The larvae is yellow-orange in colour and is usually covered in goopy black frass (bug poop.  Hope you’re not eating anything right now), while the orange eggs are small and round.   Hand-pick adult beetles and larvae and destroy them by dumping them in a bucket of soapy water.  (Make sure you have a lid for the bucket to trap escapees!). Williams and Skinner recommend that you don’t buy lilies that are potted in soil to begin with, but they say that if you take the bulbs out and soak them in bleach (the exact amounts and procedure are in the book), you can probably get rid of the beetles.

Throughout the spring and summer, make sure you stay on top of things!  Sadly, it may become a full-time job if you have a lot of lilies!  The City of Calgary also suggests using diatomaceous earth as a means of successfully desiccating the critters.  Bear in mind that red lily beetles are excellent fliers – after they’re done eating your neighbour’s lilies, they may latch onto yours (even mature plantings that were safe when you put them in years ago).  Be vigilant…and good luck!!!!

Have you had any trouble with red lily beetles in your garden?  What did you do to combat them?

Post updated: May 2018.

Uglynest caterpillars.

Uglynest caterpillar nests

On a recent stroll down a pathway in my neighbourhood, I was startled with an unexpected – and, for me, completely unfamiliar – sight:  the incredibly ambitious nests of Archips cerasivorana (uglynest caterpillars).   An elaborate network of silk netting covered every single branch of the critters’ leafy hotels and spread from plant to plant in dense cobwebs, like  Hallowe’en decorations set out at the wrong time.  Completely sheltered in their cosy nests, the caterpillars were settled down to a grand old feast.

Having absolutely no experience with uglynest caterpillars, I initially feared that this was evidence of either western tent caterpillars (Malacosoma californicum) or forest tent caterpillars (Malacosoma disstria) but I knew that my guess was inaccurate as soon as I saw the creatures themselves.   Uglynest caterpillars are yellow-green in colour, with a dark head –  not the types I’m used to.   As well, tent caterpillars are so named because when they infest an area, they create many, many tent-shaped webs, and they don’t tend to do things on a localized level like uglynest caterpillars do.  Tent caterpillars are more of a “widespread outbreak” pest, if you know what I mean!

Apparently, uglynest caterpillars don’t usually kill their host plants – although if the plant is already weak, defoliation may just do it in completely.   The nests can be hosed down with a high pressure water system; there is no need to apply an insecticide.  The caterpillars will feed and move on through their growth stages, eventually reaching adulthood as small, pale brown moths.  For me, this was a real insight into the sheer industriousness of insects!

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If you’re looking for an easy-to-use “bug I.D.” book for the Prairies, look no further than Nora Bryan and Ruth Staal’s The Prairie Gardener’s Book of Bugs:  A Guide to Living with Common Garden Insects (2003, Fifth House Ltd.).  It is compact and well-written, and the illustrations by Grace Buzik are amazing.