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Archive for the ‘Insect Pests in the Garden’ Category

Gray treefrog

Our Tree Frog Friends are Back!

Recently we’ve been seeing a lot of our friendly gray treefrogs on the deck and around the front porch!  We’re happy to have them hang around to eat beetles, ants, and other insect pests that may plague our gardens!

Here is a post I wrote in May of 2014 when we first noticed these little insect predators!

Enjoy …

Well, spring is finally here to stay – I hope!

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper
Photo taken by Eric Jones

In fact, lately it seems that we have skipped spring and gone right into summer! It’s been downright hot out there the last few days!

It sure has been a roller coaster ride of high and low temps this season! Spring was very late this year and, with the exception of the redbuds, the flower show of blooming trees seemed to be less than spectacular. Eric is currently teaching his Field Botany May Term course for Mary Baldwin College and he comes in most days disappointed with the slow progression of spring and the lack of blooming wildflowers. They finally saw some Pink Lady’s Slippers on Friday.

Oak catkins

Oak catkins

Just two weeks ago, tiny oak leaves began to pop out and now they have expanded to nearly full size. The pollen-filled catkins are hanging down from the branches and every outdoor surface is beginning to be covered with oak pollen. The pine pollen won’t be far behind – I have just noticed that the male cones are beginning to develop on our big pines. Pollen season is upon us!

For several weeks, we have been hearing the trill of the treefrogs in the evening. This is always a sign that spring is near.

Male spring peeper calling; photo credit Jack Ray

Male spring peeper calling; photo credit Jack Ray

The spring peepers are one of the first treefrog species to emerge and begin singing. You can often hear them in early March. They were late this year and I just heard from my family in Vermont that they are now singing in earnest up there. The sound of their trilling can be deafening on a still night!

“Spring is here,” they seem to say!

Male gray treefrog with throat pouch expanded.

Male gray treefrog with throat pouch expanded. Very pale against the pole.

One warm morning last week as Eric and I were having coffee on the deck, Eric noticed a pale gray blob wedged beside the pole that holds our wind speed indicator. When I went closer to investigate, I discovered it was a treefrog which Eric later identified as a gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor). He was a cute little guy and was doing his best to blend in with the pole. Eric was able to get some good pics.

Gray treefrogs are common throughout the eastern US. They are large treefrogs with grayish skin that is surprisingly dry and warty for a frog. They aren’t quite as warty as a toad but more so than the typical frog.

Gray treefrogs are able to change their skin color to some degree in order to blend in with their background; sort of like a chameleon only the change isn’t quite as dramatic. He was very pale when he was up against the white pole but when he moved away from that light background, he slowly became a bit darker. It was very interesting.

Notice how his color darkened a bit when he moved away from the white pole.

Notice how his color darkened a bit
when he moved away from the white pole.

One of the distinguishing traits of treefrogs is the large discs at the tips of their toes. These toepads allow them to climb up vertical surfaces like our deck post. Apparently, gray treefrogs have particularly large toepads but we couldn’t see his toes very well – he kept them curled up under his body most of the time.

Treefrogs typically vocalize/sing at night but this guy started singing a little bit while he was on the deck – perhaps he was just confused! It was interesting to see his throat pouch balloon out each time he called. The males are the only ones that sing. They sing to attract the female frogs.

Gray treefrog calling. They usually call at night to attract females

Gray treefrog calling. They usually sing at night to attract females.

Frogs and toads are wonderful “friends” to have in the garden because they prey on many of the pests that are destructive to both our ornamental and vegetable plants. They eat insect pests like beetles (including cucumber beetles), crickets and grasshoppers, ants, earwigs, and cutworms.

Gray treefrogs have a distinctive light patch below their eye.

Gray treefrogs have a distinctive
light patch below their eye.

Like I said – great friends to have in your garden!

Toads are especially nice to have around because they LOVE slugs and even snails. Many gardeners put “toad houses” in their gardens just to encourage these warty friends to live amongst their plants. And contrary to popular belief – you can’t get warts from handling toads!

We were happy to find this little visitor on our deck. I hope he sticks around to feast on some of the bugs that get in our deck lettuce every year. I bet those nasty green aphids would be easy (and tasty) pickings for a treefrog!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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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Today is Arbor Day!

Celebrate! Plant a tree!

Show someone close to your heart that you really care about them by planting a tree in their honor or in memory of a loved one. One day it will grow to be a majestic tribute to that very special person!

A majestic oak silhouetted against the winter sky

Here are a few tips for planting trees.

 

Below is a post that I wrote on Arbor Day in 2012.

I thought I would share it today in honor of Arbor Day 2016!

 

Today is National Arbor Day!

Our new woodland garden replaces our front lawn!

Our new woodland garden replaces our front lawn! We planted a little pink dogwood, hosta, and several azaleas. Now it just needs some mulch.

It’s always the last Friday in April although some states recognize a different State Arbor Day that corresponds better with planting times in their state. Since Arbor Day was founded in 1872, it has been customary to plant a tree in observance of the holiday and on that first Arbor Day, it is estimated that about one million trees were planted.

As you celebrate Arbor Day this year, keep in mind that as important as it is to plant new trees, it is equally important to care for and protect the trees that are already growing in your landscape.

Damage to mature trees due to insects and diseases (many introduced from other countries) can be devastating to your landscape as well as the surrounding areas and adjoining forests. Diseases such as the Chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease and exotic insects like the emerald ash borer and the Asian long-horned beetle have killed tens of millions of trees across the U.S.

Chestnut blight canker on the stems of a young American Chestnut. Photo by Eric Jones

Chestnut blight canker on the stem of a young American Chestnut.
Photo by Eric Jones

The chestnut blight, caused by a fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), was introduced to North America from Asia in the early 1900’s either on infected lumber or through diseased trees. Within 40 years of its introduction, virtually all the chestnut trees in North America were wiped out. Although mature American chestnut trees have disappeared from our forests, small trees often grow from stump sprouts since the blight doesn’t kill the roots. Unfortunately, these small trees rarely grow to reproductive age before they are attacked and killed by the fungus. Such a sad ending for these once majestic trees which often reached 200 feet tall and 14 feet across! There is no cure for this disease but much work has been done to genetically engineer a disease resistant American chestnut using genetic material from a few stump sprouts that managed to produce seeds and a bit of DNA (as little as 3%) from Asian species that show resistance to the blight. The American Chestnut Foundation is at the forefront of this research with a mission …

…to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society. The American Chestnut Foundation is restoring a species – and in the process, creating a template for restoration of other tree and plant species.”

How’s that for a great Arbor Day message!

Woolly adelgids on the branch of a young hemlock.

Woolly adelgids on the branch of a young hemlock. Photo by Eric Jones

Another pest that is doing its best to wipe out whole a species of trees is the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). This past Sunday on a wonderful but rainy walk in the George Washington National Forest, Eric and I saw evidence of this destructive pest on a young hemlock. The hemlock woolly adelgid was also an accidental introduction from Asia and is devastating populations of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) throughout eastern North America. The insect damages the trees by feeding at the base of the needles causing them to desiccate and eventually drop off. Heavy infestations have been known to kill trees in as little as four years but healthy trees can sometimes survive an attack for a longer period of time. Luckily, there are products that the homeowner can use to help control hemlock woolly adelgids but sadly in our hemlock forests, these pests are causing the destruction of large numbers of these beautiful trees. Read more about the woolly adelgid.

As they have with the American chestnut, researchers have developed an adelgid-resistant hybrid by crossing the Carolina hemlock with an Asian hemlock which is resistant. While this is great progress – it does nothing to save the trees that are already infected!

Seen these hanging around?

Seen these hanging around? These purple structures are Emerald Ash Borer traps used to evaluate populations of the pest.

Another group of insects that causes widespread damage to established trees is the wood-boring insects including the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle (both introduced from Asia), and a wide variety of the bark beetles.

The emerald ash borer, first reported in Michigan in 2002, has already killed millions of ash trees and is a potential threat to all the ash trees in North America.

The Asian long-horned beetle is one of the most destructive of the wood borers because it is not selective and attacks a wide variety of hardwood trees.

Bark beetles, like the spruce beetle, the mountain pine beetle, and the southern pine beetle, have killed millions of conifers in North American forests especially during severe outbreaks.

Bark beetles attacked this weakened pine and contributed to its death.

Bark beetles attacked this weakened pine and contributed to its death.

I remember when we were in Alaska several years ago seeing where the spruce beetle had killed entire forests of Sitka Spruce. Although bark beetles generally attack trees that are weak, dying, or already dead, the species listed above are particularly destructive because they will attack live, seemingly healthy trees.

For the homeowner, there are products that can be used to help control some of these pests. Horticultural oils can help control the woolly adelgid if they are sprayed at the correct times.

Some systemic insecticides may help control adelgids, emerald ash borers, Asian long-horned beetles, and pine borers. Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed II and Bonide Annual Tree & Shrub Insect Control are products that can be mixed and poured at the base of the tree according to the label directions. These products are not available in all states. Always read and follow the label directions when using any pesticides. Read more about borers.

On this Arbor Day, The Nature Conservancy reminds us of some important tips to help protect our trees.

  • Keep your trees healthy and vigorous! Many destructive insect pests and diseases are attracted to trees that are stressed due to poor nutrition, drought conditions, and mechanical injury such as lawn mower or weed whacker nicks in the trunk.
  • When purchasing trees, purchase certified, pest-free nursery stock.
  • To avoid inadvertently spreading invasive pests or diseases, NEVER transport firewood when you travel, always obtain it locally!

So make a pledge this Arbor Day to pay attention to your existing trees and strive to keep them strong and healthy!

… and plant a tree!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Tortoise beetle and larvae

Containers of Coleus, geranium, and herbs along the railing.

Containers of Coleus and geranium,
with herbs in pots along the railing.

We share our deck with lots of containers filled with beautiful plants. They add color and make it a more interesting place to sit and relax! Some of the pots are planted with flowers and foliage plants including some very colorful Coleus and others are planted with herbs that we snip fresh for cooking.

Two of the larger containers are planted with Juliet tomatoes. These miniature “Roma-type” tomatoes are our new favorite small tomato to grow instead of the cherry tomatoes we used to plant. In addition to the two on the deck, we also have two Juliet tomato plants growing in our vegetable garden. A tasty treat to munch on while working in the garden!

Juliet tomato

Juliet tomato

These delicious tomatoes are larger than a typical cherry tomato but bear just as prolifically. Their shape is oblong like a Roma tomato but they are smaller; growing up to 2¼” long and about 1¼” wide. They are meaty little guys and delicious straight off the vine (my favorite way to eat them), in salads, or for use in cooking. Yum!

Juliet is very crack resistant and stays fresh and firm on the vine longer than most cherry tomatoes. They also keep very well once picked but they always produce way more than we can eat fresh.

Juliet tomatoes are deliciously prolific!

Juliet tomatoes are deliciously prolific!

Last year in order to preserve the excess, we simply put them straight into freezer bags and froze them. Just straight off the vine – no processing required. Easy!

Whenever Eric made chili or soup or vegetable stew, he just pulled out a bunch of the frozen Juliet tomatoes, chopped them in thirds, and dropped them right in the pot. The skins can be fished out afterwards (or not) or you can thaw them a bit and slip the skins off before you cut them up. Simple and delicious!

Anyway …

Tomato leaf damage from the tortoise beetle

Tomato leaf damage from
the tortoise beetle

The other day when I went to pick some tomatoes off the plants on the deck, I noticed that several of the leaves were riddled with pretty large, very round holes. I’d never seen damage like this before. I’ve seen holes in leaves but never holes that were quite so uniformly round.

On further inspection, I found a few round, hard-shelled insects on the leaves. At first I thought they were some type of scale insect but when I poked one, it flew a short distance away and landed on another leaf – definitely NOT scale! Then there were some funky stationary ones that I assumed were either larvae or pupae.

Clavate tortoise beetle adult

Clavate tortoise beetle adult

This was a critter I was not familiar with. They didn’t seem to be doing much damage to the plant, just chewing lots of holes in a few of the leaves.

As it turns out, these were clavate tortoise beetles, Plagiometriona clavata. They do look a little like a turtle with a hard shell that covers not only their wings but their head as well. This particular species has a distinctive “teddy bear” shape on the shell.

Apparently these beetles are commonly found on plants in the solenaceous family which includes jimsonweed, nightshade, and also vegetable crops like tomato, pepper, and eggplant. We have four eggplants in a large container on the deck and I also noticed that a few of those leaves had these characteristic, round holes chewed in them. Tortoise beetles are also fond of morning glories which we happen to have planted in containers right beside our pots of Juliet tomatoes. Not surprisingly, many of the morning glory leaves are riddled with little round holes!

Tortoise beetle larva with fecal mass "shield"

Tortoise beetle larva with
fecal mass “shield”

The larvae of this beetle are unusual, too. They have an oval shaped, segmented body that is fringed with white spiny projections. The last segment of their body is modified with a forked projection which collects fecal material. This forked segment with the attached dried fecal mass is held over the body of the larva like a shield. It is thought that this may provide the larvae with some form of protection from predators through either camouflage or possibly as a type of repellent.

All-in-all, this is a very interesting and unique visitor to our plants and definitely not one that I had encountered before.

Always something new to learn in the garden!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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