Pest to watch (out for): Spittlebug.

I haven’t whined about it for a little while now (and I’m sure you’re grateful!), but up until this morning, when that unfamiliar yellow ball in the sky finally graced us with its presence, the rains have fallen on Calgary pretty much non-stop since the end of May.  According to the Government of Canada’s National Climate Data, we’ve actually only had four days this month without precipitation, and we’ve gotten a whopping 138.6 mm of rain so far (we usually average about 75 mm or so in June, our wettest month).  All this humidity has brought some pretty interesting plant pests to the garden, and one of them is the spittlebug.

I’ve seen this creature’s work before, but only once in my garden, last June in a mat of ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus.   Usually, I’ve come across it on wildflowers while I’ve been out hiking.   This year, the evidence is everywhere, however:  gobs of white frothy stuff wedged in the stems of various perennials in my garden.

I’ve never bothered to identify the source of the yucky substance until now, but a quick glance inside the book Garden Bugs of Alberta (by Ken Fry, Doug Macaulay and Don Williamson – 2008, Lone Pine Publishing) tells me that my garden flowers have a case of Philaenus spumarius (meadow spittlebug).  Spittlebugs like to make Slurpees out of plant fluids, which they do by piercing holes in the stems of the victims.  (Apparently they really go after strawberries and peas; I do grow alpine strawberries but I haven’t seen any signs of the bugs on them so far).  The goopy white froth is made by the pests while they are in nymphal stage:  it’s an appetizing combo of plant fluid, air bubbles, and bug mucus (is it breakfast-time as you read this?  If so, I apologize).  The froth is used as a protective blanket over the nymph so they can eat in comfort.

To combat my spittlebug issues, I went outside and spritzed the froth with a diluted mixture of dishsoap and H2O.  You don’t really need to go the whole insecticidal route with them, as the goal is to remove the spittle and the eggs that the creatures may have laid, and blasting them with a jet of plain water will do the trick nicely.  The adult spittlebugs will feed on your plants after emerging and their eggs are capable of withstanding our cold winters, so eliminating the eggs is very important.

Have you ever had spittlebugs in your garden?  What did you do to combat them? 

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.