Woolly Bear

I couldn’t help re-posting this!

The fuzzy little travelers are all over the road these days! I’m sad that most of the ones I have seen are more brown than black. I hope they are wrong! I’d love to see some big snowstorms this winter! Read on and enjoy!

Happy Fall everyone!


Why does the woolly bear cross the road?

The woolly bears seem to be on a mission! So many are crossing the road these days – and they’re not dilly-dallying either! They’re moving along at a pretty good clip – for a caterpillar that is! I find it very curious.

Woolly bears curl up in a tight ball when disturbed.

Woolly bears curl up in a tight ball
when they are disturbed.

Driving to work in the morning, I’ll see four or five at a time crawling across the highway. Then I’ll go a little further and find several more booking it across the road. I try to avoid them but there is only so much you can do. They seem to be everywhere.

So, why DO woolly bears cross the road? Good question! Most of what I’ve read says that they are just looking for a place to overwinter and the road just happens to cross their path. I suppose that is as good an explanation as any but if I walked through the woods or through a field, would I come across as many as I see on the road? I wonder …

A solid black leopard moth caterpillar. The bright red bands become obvious when they curl up.

A solid black leopard moth caterpillar.
The bright red bands become obvious
when they curl up.

I did see several in one of my gardens this weekend when I was doing some weeding and mulching. I picked one up and he immediately curled up in a tight little ball so characteristic of these caterpillars. I even found a large solid black “woolly bear”. This guy was a different species from the banded woolly bears that I was used to seeing. It turns out that he was the larval form of the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribionia), a really pretty white tiger moth with a beautiful pattern of black circles and rings covering its wings. You can definitely tell where its name comes from! The caterpillar is solid black with narrow bands of red between the segments.

The characteristic red bands are difficult to see when the caterpillar isn't curled up in its defensive posture.

The characteristic red bands of the giant leopard moth caterpillar
are difficult to see when it isn’t curled up in its defensive posture.

Banded woolly bears are the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella). The adult moth of this species isn’t nearly as colorful as the beautiful giant leopard moth but its caterpillars are pretty adorable! There are usually at least two generations of these moths during the season. The last generation normally hatches out around August and these will overwinter in the larval caterpillar stage – the familiar, loveable woolly bears. Fortunately, these guys are not considered to be major pests in the garden.

A woolly bear crosses the gravel driveway at the nursery.

A woolly bear crosses the gravel
driveway at the nursery.

In the fall, the woolly bears become very active and quite visible as they begin to move from their summer feeding grounds in meadows and fields to woodland areas where they will hibernate during the winter months. This is when they are seen crossing roads, sidewalks, woodland trails, your driveway …

I guess we notice them in these places because that’s where WE are and they just happen to be on the move! Most of these caterpillars will spend the winter curled up under leaf litter on the forest floor, under stones or rotting logs, or nestled down in piles of wood.

During the winter, woolly bears are able to survive freezing temperatures by producing a type of “antifreeze” or cryoprotectant in their circulatory system that protects their cells and vital organs from the damage which would occur if ice crystals formed. So they survive in a frozen state all winter long – at least in the colder parts of their range. These guys are found as far north as the arctic!
That’s pretty neat!

In the spring, the frosty caterpillars thaw out and wander around eating a little before settling down to spin a cocoon. The adult moths emerge about a month later, mate, lay eggs, and a new generation begins.

So now you know why the woolly bear crosses the road – maybe!

Oh, and their notorious ability to forecast the winter? That’s another story and was the subject of a post I wrote a while ago. Check it out …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Funky Peppers

Cyclamen mite damage on sweet peppers

We sure didn’t have much luck with our vegetable garden this year. The tomatoes produced half-heartedly, the summer squash succumbed to disease and vine borers before providing very many squash, and the corn was torn down and destroyed by some critter before the ears had completely filled out!

Rattlesnake pole beans - my favorite!

Rattlesnake pole beans – my favorite!

We did get quite a few cucumbers before disease claimed the vines and I was able to can 42 pints of pickles. The rattlesnake and purple pole beans have also done very well. We were, however, disappointed in the ‘Lazy Housewife’ pole beans that we tried this year. They were very slow to develop and when they did, the beans were tough and leathery. We are just letting them dry on the vines and will use them for dried beans.

Last weekend we harvested all our butternut squash. There weren’t as many as last year but I hope they are as good. The other winter squash we grew was Buttercup. This variety was new to us but it is absolutely delicious! The flesh is a beautiful bright orange and couldn’t be sweeter! This one is definitely a keeper – we will be planting it again next year.

Close up of the rough, scaly skin of one of the affected peppers

Close up of the rough, scaly skin of
one of the affected peppers

Our bell peppers provided some of the strangest looking fruits in the garden. From the top (at the stem end), they looked fairly normal but at the blossom end, the skin was light brown, rough, and hard. In many cases, the whole bottom half of the pepper was like this. I knew it wasn’t blossom end rot because the flesh wasn’t really damaged – it was quite superficial. I had never seen anything like it before.

I thought perhaps it was environmental or maybe a mosaic virus but nothing really fit. Then I wondered if it had something to do with the herbicide drift that injured our tomato plants back in the early summer but the descriptions of herbicide damage to peppers didn’t really match what was going on with our peppers.

Finally, after reviewing photos of pests and diseases of sweet peppers, I found the answer – cyclamen mites! I never would have thought that this was an insect problem. Well, actually, mites aren’t insects but you know what I mean.

Russeted skin covers the whole bottom half of this pepper.

Tough, russeted skin covers the
bottom half of this pepper.

Cyclamen mites (Phytonemus pallidus) are tiny mites that attack many different plants including peppers and tomatoes. As these little pests feed, they inject chemicals into the plant tissue. These chemicals act as growth regulators and cause abnormalities in the foliage and fruit.

Feeding in the foliage causes crinkling and twisting of the leaves and sometimes leads to the formation of larger than normal leaves. I wish I had taken a picture of the foliage because that was another thing I noticed about these pepper plants; their leaves were huge and puckered.

The damage is only skin deep!

The damage is only skin deep!

When cyclamen mites feed on the developing fruit, their salivary secretions cause the skin of the fruit to become tough and russeted. This tan, rough skin was very obvious and fairly extensive on many of our peppers. It mostly occurred at the blossom end and seemed to restrict the normal growth/expansion of the fruit – almost like the pepper was constricted by tight netting.

Though the russeting is superficial, it essentially ruins the part of the fruit that it covers. I did peel some of the tough skin off one of my peppers and tasted it to see if the flavor was affected. I thought it tasted a bit weird but that could have been all in my head. Still, I ended up tossing the majority of the defective portions in the compost.

Some of the peppers had less of the russeting over the skin.

Some of the peppers had less of
the russeting over the skin.

University of Maryland Extension says that cyclamen mites can be a “minor pest of pepper and tomato”. When we lost so many peppers this year, it didn’t seem like a minor problem to me!

I’m sure what they meant is that they aren’t common pests of peppers in the vegetable garden. Apparently, these pests are more common in greenhouse situations. We did purchase a few of our pepper plants from a greenhouse so perhaps we introduced them to the garden that way.

Despite the russeted skin, the walls of the peppers were thick and healthy looking.

Despite the damaged skin,
the walls of the peppers were
thick and healthy looking.

If you notice the damage early on (and recognize it as mite damage), you can control cyclamen mites with a miticide such as Bonide Mite-X and still have a good harvest later in the season.

Even though these mites did a lot of damage to our pepper crop, I must say it was pretty interesting to learn about them. It’s amazing to me that such a tiny critter could cause such dramatic abnormalities in the peppers and their foliage!

I’m just trying to look on the positive side!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Who’s eating my azaleas?

Azalea caterpillar feeding on azalea foliage

Azalea caterpillars have consumed much of the young leaves of this azalea

Azalea caterpillars have consumed most
of the young leaves on this azalea

A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from a fellow gardener in Richmond, VA who had noticed that caterpillars were devouring the current season’s growth on his azalea bushes. After some research, he determined that they were azalea caterpillars (Datana major). He had neither seen nor heard of these caterpillars before and was wondering if they were native to Virginia or an introduced species.

I have never seen these colorful (but destructive) caterpillars either but apparently they can be a major pest of azaleas, especially in the southeast. They are native to the continental US and Canada, but are most common in the southeastern US and the Mid-Atlantic States.

The azalea caterpillar (aka the red-headed azalea caterpillar) prefers to feed on azalea foliage but will also attack blueberries, apple trees, and red oak trees. They tend to feed in large groups and can quickly defoliate their target plants if they are not controlled.

The older azalea caterpillars are very colorful

The older azalea caterpillars
are very colorful

The adult stage is a rather nondescript brown moth but the larval caterpillars are quite colorful. They have a black body with several broken yellow stripes along its length. The head and legs are red. The mature caterpillars are about 2 inches long.

Adult female moths lay up to 100 eggs on the underside of the host plant leaves. The eggs hatch later in the season and the tiny caterpillars begin to feed on the foliage.

The caterpillars go through several instars, growing larger during each stage, and usually continue to feed together in large masses. Because of this tendency to group together while they feed, they can strip a plant of most of its leaves in a short period of time.

Young azalea caterpillars feeding en masse.

Young azalea caterpillars
feeding en masse.

Major damage from these caterpillars is usually observed in August and September when they are larger and eating voraciously. Though the damage from their feeding does not kill the shrub, it is certainly not aesthetically pleasing!

Controlling azalea caterpillars can be as simple as picking them off the shrubs. These are not stinging caterpillars despite the sparse hairs that cover their bodies, however, the problem is that there can be LOTS of them.

If you have a large infestation, you may need to resort to another form of control.

Azalea caterpillars feeding on azaleaWhen the caterpillars are young and small, a liquid formulation of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (such as Bonide Thuricide) applied to the foliage will kill them when they eat the leaves. Bt is less likely to harm beneficial insects.

Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew, another naturally derived organic insecticide, is effective in controlling the larger caterpillars when it is sprayed on the foliage. The trick is to cover the foliage that the caterpillars will be eating. Always read and follow the label directions when spraying any pesticide.

Special thanks to Walter Forkey for bringing this caterpillar pest to my attention and sending me some photos. He was able to successfully get rid of them with an approved pesticide and hopefully his azaleas will recover nicely in the spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Common dodder covers some host plants

On a walk in the Smoky Mountains last summer, we came across a patch of plants that were covered with what looked like yellow Silly String. It was crazy looking! Strands and strands of fine golden strings were draped over and twining around these poor plants.

Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) covers some host plants

Common dodder (Cuscuta gronovii)
covers some host plants

Eric knew what it was right away – dodder; a parasitic vining plant also known as scaldweed, strangleweed, devil’s hair, devil’s guts, love vine, and many other equally descriptive common names.

Dodder (Cuscuta spp.) is an annual plant that is effectively leafless and has contact with the soil only as a young seedling. These plants do not manufacture chlorophyll so they are unable to produce their own food through photosynthesis like green plants can. With the exception of the first few days after germination, dodder is entirely dependent on a host plant for the water and nutrients needed to complete its life cycle – an obligate parasite!

Flowers of common dodder

Flower clusters of common dodder

Despite its lack of chlorophyll, dodder IS a flowering plant and produces many clusters of tiny flowers from June through the fall. If pollinated, the flowers will form seeds just like other like flowering plants. In fact over the course of a season, a single dodder plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds!

Dodder seeds typically germinate in the spring and the seedlings, which have thin, vine-like stems, grow upwards and twine around the first solid object they encounter. Since the dodder seeds generally drop to the ground under the mother plant, the seedlings normally germinate among suitable host plants. For the first few days of growth, the dodder seedlings survive on nutrients stored in the seed. If they do not contact a host plant within 5-10 days, they will run out of food and die.

Dodder stem produces haustoria which penetrate the host stem

Dodder stems produce haustoria
which penetrate the host stem

Once dodder contacts a host plant, it quickly twines around the stem of the plant and small structures called haustoria are produced along the dodder stem. The haustoria penetrate the vascular system of the host and begin to extract carbohydrates and water from its stem. At this point, the dodder plant is completely supported nutritionally by the host. The original (seedling) stem of the dodder eventually withers and this parasitic plant loses contact with the soil.

Once attached to a host plant, dodder continues to grow and reattach in multiple places along the host stem. Individual plants will often spread to nearby host plants creating a mass of stringy orange stems which can cover large areas. This is what we came across on our hike in the Smokies.

A tangle of dodder stems intertwine to form a stringy mat.

Many dodder plants intertwine to
form a tangle of stringy stems.

Parasitic organisms rarely kill their hosts since they rely on them for sustenance. Dodder is no exception and, though they may weaken and stunt the growth of the host plants, they generally do not kill established plants. However, if they attach to seedling plants, they can seriously weaken them and may end up killing these young plants.

If it becomes established in agricultural fields, dodder can cause a significant reduction in crop yield. Alfalfa and sugarbeets are common host plants for some species of this parasitic plant. It can also infest ornamental plants including many perennials and annuals. Japanese dodder (Cuscuta japonica) often parasitizes trees and shrubs, including many types of fruit trees.

Seed capsules of common dodder contain up to 4 seeds each.

Seed capsules of common dodder
contain up to 4 seeds each.

This is one unusual plant!

It can become a serious garden pest and unfortunately it is usually difficult to control. If you pull the stems off the host plant, any haustoria that remain embedded in the host stem will resprout and continue to parasitize the plant. If it is allowed to set seed, thousands of seeds can drop to the ground!

A pre-emergence herbicide can prevent the germination of dodder seeds but these seeds have a hard seed coat and have been found to remain viable in the ground for more that 20 years! Yikes!

One recommendation for control of dodder in the garden is to completely remove all the host plants and replace them with a non-host species. Thus any dodder seedlings that germinate will not find a suitable host and will die off.

If you find this crazy parasite in your gardens, I hope you are able to win the battle against it!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

These days everyone is concerned about proper nutrition and what we put into our bodies; but what about our turfgrass and the plants we grow? How do we take care of their nutritional needs?

Good rich soil provides the perfect growing environment for your plants

Good rich soil provides the perfect
growing environment for plants

Soil is obviously very important to plant growth. It not only provides a physical medium in which your plants grow, it is also a reservoir of nutrients, air, and water – three requirements for plant growth.

Most of the nutrients needed for the growth and development of plants are absorbed from the soil by the roots. Over the seasons, these soil nutrients become depleted and must be replenished or plant health will decline.

Because the makeup of the soil is so important to the health and well-being of your plants, it should become very important to you as a gardener.

Awareness of the properties of your garden soil will allow you to adapt your cultural practices so your soil environment will be most conducive to healthy plant growth, whether it be a flower garden, vegetable garden, or your lawn. The nutrients that will give you a thick, lush, and green lawn are very different than the nutrients required to have a thriving and productive vegetable garden.

Understanding Plant Nutrients

There are 17 chemical elements known to be essential for plant growth, flowering, and fruiting.

Primary macronutrients

Maintaining a lush green lawn requires more nitrogen and correct pH.

Maintaining a lush green lawn
requires more nitrogen
and correct pH

The primary macronutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), are used in the largest amounts by plants and are thus prone to deficiency in soils. These nutrients are the primary ingredients in most garden fertilizers and the percentages of each are prominently displayed on the bag as the N-P-K numbers. These percentages are always presented in the same order – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium.

Nitrogen is required for healthy vegetative growth (leaves and stems) and is especially important in young plants. High levels promote dark green leafy growth but not fruits and flowers. Thus a fertilizer higher in nitrogen is great for lawns and leafy vegetables but disastrous when you are trying to grow tomatoes!

Phosphorus is important in all functions of plant growth but especially for root development and growth, and in the production of flowers, fruits, and seeds. Starter fertilizers, which can be used when transplanting trees, shrubs, and perennials, are much higher in phosphorus than nitrogen and potassium. They stimulate root growth and help avoid transplant shock. “Bloom booster” fertilizers with 20%-30% phosphorus help promote flower bud formation.

Potassium is important for the overall vigor of plants. It promotes disease resistance, root formation, and cold hardiness. Plants deficient in potassium will have weak roots and stems.

Secondary macronutrients

The secondary macronutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). These nutrients are very important to plants but are used in smaller amounts than the three primary macronutrients.


Micronutrients, also known as trace elements, are not nutrients of lesser importance to plant health but those that are required in minute quantities. With the exception of iron and manganese, micronutrients are seldom deficient in our garden soil, however, some can become unavailable to plants when the soil pH is either too high (alkaline) or too low (acidic). Maintaining your soil pH between 6.0-6.5 will keep these nutrients available to the plants. Some fertilizers are fortified with micronutrients.

What’s in YOUR soil?

A bountiful harvest depends on building and maintaining proper soil nutrients.

A bountiful harvest depends on
providing proper soil nutrients.

So your lawn is thin and patchy or your vegetable garden is not producing like it used to or your plants just aren’t blooming? It may well be your soil. You probably need to add fertilizer, but what kind and how much? Is your soil deficient in nitrogen? Maybe phosphorus? Perhaps the pH is not optimal. How would you know?

The easiest way is to get your soil tested. Sound hard? Not really and the analysis from these tests will allow you to make informed decisions on how to improve the soil environment for your lawn and garden plants. If you choose to have your soil tested professionally, you will not only be provided with a detailed analysis of the soil but you’ll also receive specific recommendations for amendments to improve the pH and also nutrient content if necessary.

Easy Online Soil Testing …

ThinkSoilThe lawn care professionals at MyTurfandGarden.com have developed a unique, on-line and very straightforward way to test your soil. It’s called Think Soil™.

A soil analysis from Think-Soil™ will provide essential information on relative levels of organic matter, pH, lime requirement, cation exchange capacity (CEC), and levels of plant-available nutrients contained in your soil.

Simply go to MyTurfandGarden.com, and click on Soil Testing in the top menu. There you can read all about it and see how easy it is.

Follow the instructions or watch the YouTube video demonstrating how to take a soil sample from your garden or lawn. Within days of placing your order, you’ll receive a pre-addressed envelope, a leak proof zip-lock baggie, and detailed instructions. After you collect your soil sample, just place the baggie with the sample into the pre-paid envelope and give it to your postal carrier. There is no cost for shipping.

Once your soil sample arrives at the lab, the test results will be ready for you to review within 36 hours. You will be notified by e-mail as soon as the test results are available.

Beautiful lawns and gardens require proper nutrition and soil properties

Beautiful lawns and gardens require
good soil with proper nutrients
and amendments

In addition, Think-Soil™ consultants are available toll free to help with any questions about your test results and to offer advice on what’s needed to remediate your soil. For the first time you’ll have the information needed regarding how much product is needed, how best to apply it, and when to do it.

For the month of August, Think-Soil™ has an introductory offer of 50% off all soil tests plus no cost to send your soil sample.

Doing a soil test is one of the best ways to insure that you amend your soil to provide just what your lawn, vegetables, and/or your flowers need to thrive.

Remember next month is Lawn Care Month. September marks the beginning of the best season for most lawn projects. Be ready!

“Don’t Guess – Do the Test!”

Until Next Time – Happy Gardening!

Sad looking tomato plants

I'm pretty sure these Rutgers tomatoes are supposed to be bigger than 2" in diameter!

I’m pretty sure these Rutgers
tomatoes are supposed to be
larger than 2″ in diameter!

My tomatoes are a disaster this year!

Their growth is slow and they are not producing many flowers or fruit. Plus, the fruit that has formed is way smaller than it should be. It’s very disappointing!

I planted about 40 plants which included 9 different varieties, most of which are heirlooms because they are so delicious. Normally by this time of the season, the plants would be lush and full and looming over the top of our 6 foot trellises. There would also be lots of beautiful full-sized tomatoes with many more coming on. Not so this year!

The season started out on a downside when, within a few days of planting out my transplants, we noticed some severe cupping and curling of the foliage especially on the youngest leaves. When I saw it I immediately thought – classic 2,4-D herbicide injury! I wish I had taken some pictures of the damage.

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D

It affected all of the tomato plants. I also noticed 2,4-D injury on our grape vines which are growing on the hill above the vegetable garden. Tomatoes and grapes are especially sensitive to broadleaf herbicides. Even light exposures can result in injury to the plants. If an herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup) or one that contains 2,4-D or dicamba is applied in the vicinity of a vegetable garden, it can easily drift onto the plants. Herbicides can drift pretty far if caught by the wind! We hadn’t sprayed anything but we found out later that a neighbor had been spraying a product containing 2,4-D to control thistle in the field right beside our vegetable garden. The spray must have drifted onto our newly planted tomatoes.

Strike One!


The spindly vines have a lot of diseased foliage.

The spindly vines have a lot
of diseased foliage.

We planted our tomatoes and most of the rest of the garden on the 21st of May. June had higher than normal rainfall, often in the form of heavy thunderstorms. This wet weather led to disease problems, especially in our heirloom varieties which make up about 80 percent of what we grow. We always have some disease in our tomatoes that wipes out their lower branches but it never seems to affect their production much. This year it was much worse. I am pretty convinced that the herbicide injury weakened and stressed the plants and left them more susceptible to fungal diseases.

Strike Two!


Hornworm damage on the Better Boy tomatoes

Hornworm damage on these
small ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes

Though we never seem to have much insect damage on our tomatoes, we have had an occasional hornworm on the plants. So far this year, Eric has discovered two hornworms on the tomatoes but only after they had almost completely defoliated a couple of the plants and chewed a few of the tomatoes as well! They are well camouflaged and it took a bit of hunting before he found and squashed the two culprits. Hopefully there aren’t more lurking among the foliage.

Strike Three!


With all these strikes against them, the plants have suffered tremendously. The foliage is sparse and the stems are elongated and spindly. I think this is mainly due to the herbicide injury early in the season.

The 'Pruden's Purple' tomato on the right is deformed and cat faced but at least it is larger.

The ‘Pruden’s Purple’ tomatoes
are small and some are deformed.

Though the plants have slowly outgrown the damage and the new growth is fairly normal, the plants are stunted and few flowers are being formed. The fruit that has formed is mostly remaining very small. I harvested a few medium-sized ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes but most were deformed with severe cat facing (another symptom of 2,4-D injury).

Some of the problem may be environmental, too. I have heard that other people are having similar issues with their tomatoes; slow growth and the production of very few tomatoes that are all small in size. It may just be a bad year for growing tomatoes!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will be harvesting very many tomatoes this year. We should have enough to enjoy fresh but I’m pretty sure we won’t get enough to can.

The pole beans are doing very well!

The pole beans are doing very well!

On the bright side, the pole beans are doing very well except for 2 or 3 poles where some critter has nipped off the lower leaves. The vines are still strong and producing lots of beans at the top. We planted Rattlesnake beans, a purple pole bean, and a new one for us – Lazy Housewife Pole Beans. Yum!

The cucumbers have also produced well this year. So far I’ve made 23 pints of my famous bread and butter pickles and still have plenty to slice up for my lunches and I’ve even given a bunch away! I’ll be making more pickles this weekend and freezing beans, too!

I’m just so sad about my tomatoes …

Until next time –
Here’s hoping your tomatoes are doing better than mine!

Thrips in Platycodon flower

I have noticed lots of these tiny insects deep within the flowers of many of the daylilies in the gardens. As a result of their feeding, these pesky critters have caused some disfiguring of daylily flowers and foliage.

Apparently, a few years ago they were also very abundant! Here’s some info that I put together at that time …

Thrips on a daylily petal

Thrips on a daylily petal

So… what are thrips?

Thrips are small cigar-shaped insects with long, narrow, fringed wings. They are tiny; just visible to the naked eye. There are many different species and most of them cause injury to plant tissue. A heavy infestation of thrips can cause severe damage to foliage and even flowers and fruit as their rasping/sucking mouth parts scrape the tissue and extract plant juices.

Thrips damage on daylily foliage

Thrips damage on daylily foliage

What does thrips damage look like?

On foliage, thrips damage appears as brown stippling on the leaf surface and when damage is more severe, the leaves may appear silvery or papery in appearance. Flower buds can become distorted and sometimes fail to open. On open flowers, thrips damage appears as dead spots, blotches, or the flowers may be discolored or deformed. I find this a lot in some of my daylilies; it’s especially noticeable on the darker colored flowers like the reds and the purples.

Thrips damage on a daylily petal

Thrips damage on a daylily petal

In addition to the damage caused by their feeding, thrips are also vectors for the spread of some destructive plant diseases and viruses like tomato spotted wilt virus.
A double whammy!

You can sometimes see thrips on the flowers or foliage but you have to look carefully because they are very small. You may also notice black specks of their fecal matter on the foliage or flowers. According to Andre, though, the easiest way to tell if you have thrips is to shake the foliage or a flower just above a pad of white paper and see if any little cigar-shaped insects fall onto the paper.

Thrips tapped out of a hosta flower onto white paper.

Thrips (and pollen) tapped out of a
hosta flower onto white paper.

Controlling Thrips

In the past, thrips were controlled with applications of DDT. Yikes! There are much “safer” ways to control them now.

Minor infestations may not warrant any control measures. Healthy, vigorous plants are able to outgrow thrips damage so it is important to keep your plants healthy through proper fertilization and watering practices.

If you have a heavier infestation of thrips, one way to reduce their numbers without spraying is to prune off damaged flowers, buds, foliage, or terminal growth and discard it in the trash. This is kind of drastic and it doesn’t always get rid of the problem.

Thrips on a daylily showing their small size. Notice the damage to the petal.

Thrips on a daylily showing their small
size. Notice the damage to the petal.

A better way to control them is to spray your plants with highly refined horticultural oil such as Bonide All Seasons Oil. Horticultural oils are often used by organic gardeners and are effective in controlling thrips in the nymph (immature) and adult stages. The oil basically coats the insects and smothers them. Although oil sprays are often effective in smothering the eggs of many insects, thrips eggs are usually unaffected because they are laid inside the plant tissue where they are protected.

The nice thing about oil sprays is that they have little effect on non-target, beneficial insects like lady beetles and honeybees.

Thrips crawl deep into the flowers, good spray coverage is necessary for control.

Thrips crawl deep into the flowers.

Thrips can also be controlled using Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew, a broad spectrum organic insect control that can be used on ornamentals and edibles. Always read and follow the label directions.

So if you have noticed small patches of color missing in your flower petals or stippling on the foliage, you may have thrips – but now you know what to do!


You should know!

Even natural or organic products can be deadly to pollinators like bees. Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew is toxic to bees for three hours following treatment. If possible DO NOT spray when plants are in bloom. If this is not possible, spray early in the morning or later in the evening when bees are less likely to be foraging on the plants and ALWAYS read the label!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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