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Archive for the ‘Summer Gardening’ Category

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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Tomato harvest

Well, it’s that time of the year! The tomato questions are pouring in on our discussion board, Andre’s radio show, and over the phone and e-mails. At this point, the questions are mostly concerning problems with the foliage and just a few about the fruit.

One of the most recent discussion board posts brought up an issue that many gardeners may not be aware of …

“I have six different varieties of tomato plants planted in my raised bed. I noticed last week that the leaves had curled upwards. This week I noticed now that the leaves appear to be a little wilted as well as the blooms. The growth also seems somewhat stunted …

There are several things that can cause tomato leaves to curl but this combination of symptoms seemed consistent with herbicide injury.

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D

Tomato injury caused by 2,4-D exposure

Herbicide drift can be a major problem for tomatoes because they are very sensitive to broadleaf herbicides. Even light exposures can result in injury to the plants. If an herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup) or a product containing 2,4-D or dicamba is applied in the vicinity of a vegetable garden, it can easily drift onto the plants. Herbicides can drift quite far when caught by the wind!

If they are exposed to only small amounts, the plants will usually survive and eventually outgrow the damage. Heavier exposures can be lethal.

Drift is not the only way that tomatoes can be exposed to herbicides.

  • If you spray your tomatoes with a fungicide or insecticide using a sprayer that has also been used to spray an herbicide, there may be herbicide residue left in the tank.
  • Herbicide damage can also occur if tomatoes are mulched with grass clippings from a lawn that has been treated with a weed and feed product or a broad leaf weed killer.
  • Lately, there have even been problems with plant damage resulting from mulches and compost that have been made from hay or manure taken from fields that had been sprayed with the herbicide Grazon.
Characteristic symptoms of glyphosate injury - yellowing at base of leaflets

Telltale symptoms of glyphosate injury –
yellowing at base of leaflets

In this case, as I learned from a later post, it turns out that a neighbor had been spraying herbicides in his yard and the drift had hit the tomato patch. Hopefully over time the plants will recover but flowering and fruit production may be delayed.

The bottom line:

  • Never spray herbicides in windy or breezy conditions
  • Use separate sprayers for herbicides and pesticides
  • Don’t mulch your vegetable garden with grass clippings if you have treated your lawn with a broadleaf herbicide

What else can cause tomato leaves to curl?

Physiological leaf roll is due to environmental stress factors

Physiological leaf roll is due to
environmental stress factors

Curled or rolled leaves can also be a physiological response by the plant to adverse weather conditions; too hot, too dry, too wet, too windy. The overall growth of the plant is usually not affected and the symptoms normally disappear when conditions improve.

Be careful not to over-water tomatoes. Overly wet soil conditions are often to blame for leaf roll.

Mulching your tomatoes will help maintain more even moisture content in the soil and also helps to maintain a more constant soil temperature.

There are several viral diseases such as curly top, yellow leaf curl, and mosaic virus that can cause curling of leaves, as well as stunted growth and pale leaves. There is no cure for these diseases and the plants cannot be saved.

Tomatoes with yellowing foliage and brown patches

Fungal disease is responsible for the majority of the tomato problems we face.

Fungal disease is responsible for the
majority of the tomato problems we face.

Some of the most common tomato problems are caused by fungal diseases. The tomato blights (early blight and late blight), as well as some of the wilt diseases and leaf spot diseases can be devastating to tomato crops. The first symptom is normally the yellowing of the older, lower leaves and branches.

Fungal spores that cause these diseases are found in the soil and on plant debris left in the garden. It is very important to rake up and remove old plants, fallen leaves, and rotting fruit from the garden at the end of the season. This important “housekeeping” task will help to reduce the incidence of fungal disease in the following season.

Mulching around your vegetable plants is another great way to reduce disease. This keeps soil (which may be filled with fungal spores) from splashing up onto the stems and leaves of your vegetable plants. Mulching the vegetable garden has so many benefits that it is worth doing every year!

If your tomatoes are showing signs of disease, prune off the diseased branches and throw them in the trash (do not compost them).

To prevent the disease from spreading to healthy foliage, spray the plants with a fungicide that is listed for use on edibles (Bonide Copper Fungicide, Mancozeb, or Fung-onil). Sometimes it’s good to alternate different fungicides.

Always read and follow the label directions!

Here are a few more tips to help you avoid (or deal with) tomato problems this season. Here’s to a great harvest!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Asparagus beetle damage

Asparagus beetles cause mostly cosmetic damage

Asparagus beetles

The other day I had a call from a gardener who was having trouble with asparagus beetles chewing on his asparagus. These beetles don’t usually do a lot of damage but they can make the spears look a bit ragged especially at the tip. If not controlled, however, a heavy infestation of beetles and their larvae can cause defoliation of the asparagus ferns during the summer. This can weaken the plants and reduce spear production the following spring.

Asparagus beetle eggs and stem damage

Asparagus beetle eggs and stem damage

One of the worst parts about having asparagus beetles is that they lay their eggs all over the asparagus stems. These black cigar-shaped eggs are very prominent, sticking out at a right angle up and down the stalk like little prickers. Not very appetizing to say the least! If you have asparagus beetles, you will have the eggs and lots of them! There are two types of asparagus beetles in our area; the common asparagus beetle (Crioceris asparagi) and the spotted asparagus beetle (Crioceris duodecimpunctata).

Common asparagus beetle

Common asparagus beetle

Spotted asparagus beetle

Spotted asparagus beetle

Asparagus beetle eggs stick out from the stem. Damage to the stem from feeding is also evident.

Damage to the stem from feeding

The common asparagus beetle is the most prevalent and unfortunately is the one that does the most damage to the plant. Most of the time, unless there is a heavy infestation, the damage is purely cosmetic. The beetles feed on the stem leaving shallow grooves and scars on the surface. In some cases, the spears can become disfigured, ragged, and bent over like a shepherd’s crook. However, it’s the presence of those little black eggs sticking out all over the spears that is often the most objectionable part of an asparagus beetle invasion! Luckily, they are fairly easy to rub or scrape off when you are preparing the spears for consumption.

Control of Asparagus Beetles

Our asparagus patch is relatively small so I normally just hand pick the beetles and squish them when I find them. If you have a larger bed, this can become an overwhelming job. If you cut the spears when they are still pretty short (about 8″ or so), they normally don’t have much damage and early harvesting has the added benefit of removing any eggs before they have a chance to hatch.

Lady beetle adult

Lady beetle adult

Natural predators in your garden can reduce asparagus beetle eggs and the caterpillar-like larvae. A small parasitic wasp will attack and destroy the eggs. Lady beetles, which are similar in coloration to the spotted asparagus beetle but are round rather than oval in shape, will consume both eggs and larvae of the asparagus beetle. Another trick is to leave a few of the asparagus unharvested. Asparagus beetles are attracted to mature plants with a lot of foliage so these plants can become “trap” plants and the emerging spears are more likely to be left alone. In large plantings or when there are more severe infestations, pesticide applications may be warranted.

Bonide Neem Oil and Pyrethrin are good organic controls for asparagus beetles. These can be used pre-harvest or post-harvest according to the label directions.

For organic control post-harvest only, Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew which contains spinosad is a good option.

Chemical insecticides to control asparagus beetles include Bonide Eight (permethrin) and Sevin (carbaryl). Be sure to apply according to the label instructions and ALWAYS follow the pre-harvest interval recommendations.

NEVER spray an insecticide (organic OR chemical) when the bees are active. Just because a pesticide is listed as organic doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic to bees and other pollinators. The best time to spray is in the early morning or in the evening when they are less likely to be collecting nectar. Once the foliage begins to yellow in the fall, cut the plants to the ground and throw the foliage in the trash rather than into the compost pile. Weed and rake up all plant debris around the asparagus bed. This will reduce overwintering sites and help lower populations of these beetles the following spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Hydrangea macrophylla is blue when grown in acidic soil

Recently, several questions related to pruning different trees and shrubs have come to my inbox or have been posted to our Discussion Board. One of these questions was regarding Endless Summer hydrangea.

I have 7 Endless Summer Hydrangeas that did not bloom at all this year. In previous years, I had tons of blooms, so I did something wrong when I pruned them. I can’t remember what time of year it was the last time I pruned them, but I have not touched them at all this year. They are lush and green and growing, but no flowers. When should I prune them to ensure flowers next spring and summer? I live in Southern NH, about 50 miles north of Boston.”

Lacecaps are beautiful in summer as long as the flower buds survive the winter.

Lacecaps are beautiful as long as
the flower buds survive the winter.

Hydrangea macrophylla, which includes the mophead and lacecap hydrangeas, normally blooms on “old wood”; that is, growth that was produced in the previous season. At the northern edge of their hardiness range, the flower buds of these hydrangeas, which are formed in August and September, are sometimes damaged or killed during severe winters. This means few or no blooms the following season. This happened to my lacecaps this year. In addition, if these shrubs are pruned at the wrong time (in the fall or spring), all those flower buds will be removed and oops – again, no flowers!

The Endless Summer Series is a unique group of Hydrangea macrophylla that blooms on both old wood and new wood. How cool is that? They are also hardier than lacecaps and other mopheads, surviving and blooming even as far north as Zone 4!

Endless Summer flowers are pink in less acidic soils

Endless Summer flowers are pink
in soils that have a higher pH.

If the flower buds that are produced in the fall are killed during a severe winter, no problem! These Endless Summer hydrangeas will still bloom later in the summer, since they readily produce flower buds on the current season’s growth. Because of this trait, they normally flower reliably every year regardless of winter severity.

Then what is happening with these seven Endless Summer hydrangeas?
Why didn’t they bloom?

That’s a good question but I suspect that it is not an issue of improper pruning. Regardless of how you prune these shrubs (unless you keep whacking back the new growth all summer), you should still get at least some summer blooms as long as they are healthy, get enough sun, and are fed and watered properly.

Beautiful, healthy green growth but no flowers.

Beautiful, healthy green growth
but no flowers.

The problem here is more likely to be related to nutrition. Since these shrubs have lush leafy growth, it seems that they are healthy and growing well – perhaps too well. If a flowering plant receives too much nitrogen, it will grow like gangbusters and “forget about” producing flowers. This is what you want for your grass – not your flowering plants.

In fact, this is sometimes what happens when flowering trees and shrubs are planted in the lawn rather than in designated flowerbeds. Your lawn is fertilized with a high nitrogen fertilizer so it grows lush and green but guess what? If your flowering plants are growing in the lawn, they are getting the same high nitrogen food. What’s their response? Grow lots of foliage and no flowers! The nutrient responsible for flower bud production is phosphorus, an element that has recently been removed from most lawn fertilizers.

I have no idea if this is the situation for these particular Endless Summer hydrangeas, but regardless of where they are growing, these shrubs may just need a shot of phosphorus in order to initiate flower bud production. A bloom booster fertilizer or Espoma Triple Super Phosphate (0-45-0) might do the trick. I suggested that she feed them with a good quality organic fertilizer such as Espoma Holly-tone plus an application of Super Phosphate according to the label directions. Hopefully, this will help and her Endless Summer hydrangeas will bloom next season.

So what about pruning?

How and when DO you prune Endless Summer hydrangeas?
The best time to do any structural pruning is just after they finish their initial bloom in early summer.

Dead stems should be cut back to live wood with healthy buds.

Dead stems should be cut back to
live green wood with healthy buds.

In the spring once the new leaves have fully expanded, any branch tips that were killed over the winter should be pruned back to live wood. In more northern areas, this may mean more extensive pruning and the loss of the early bloom.

When the first blooms fade, do any necessary pruning to reshape or reduce their size or just deadhead the flowers. This pruning will stimulate new growth and the formation of flower buds for the summer rebloom. Deadhead the flowers throughout the summer to encourage the production of additional blooms. You can even cut flowering stems for indoor arrangements and this will stimulate the production of more flowers!

All pruning of Hydrangea macrophylla, including the Endless Summer varieties,  should be completed by the end of July because after that, in August and September, the flower buds for the next season’s early bloom will be forming.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Blue-winged wasp feeds on a clover flower

I had two different inquiries about this particular wasp last week.

Our nursery field manager, “Bo” asked me about them because he had noticed small groups of black wasps flying low over his lawn when he was mowing.

Just the day before, someone happened to e-mail us a photo of one of the wasps that had been hovering over his lawn. When I showed the picture to Bo, he said, “Yes! That’s exactly what they look like!”

Who are they?

Bo said these particular wasps weren’t aggressive at all. They were just flying low over the grass like they were looking for something. Well, that’s exactly what they were doing – looking for beetle grubs.

A blue-winged wasp feeds on the nectar of a clover flower.

A blue-winged wasp feeds on the nectar
of a clover flower. Photo sent in by Ralph.

These are one of the scoliid wasps; a group of fairly large solitary wasps that lay their eggs on the beetle larvae that feed on and damage the roots of your grass.

This particular wasp is the blue-winged wasp, Scolia dubia. It is fairly common throughout the United States. Finding these guys hovering over your lawn is both a good thing and a bad thing. The bad news is that if you see a lot of them, it means that you probably have a healthy population of white grubs in your lawn. The good news is that these wasps are out to parasitize the grubs and can actually help control them in you lawn.

You see, the female wasps search out these grubs and lay their eggs on them – one egg per grub. They dig into the ground under the grass or follow the tunnels made by the grubs. When they locate a grub, they sting it to paralyze it and then lay a single egg on its body. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva feeds on the grub, eventually killing it. Good wasp!

Female scoliid wasps will lay up to two eggs per day over about a two month period. That translates to a lot of dead grubs. The adults are active from June to October but the peak of their breeding activity seems to be in the mid to late summer, which, not coincidentally, corresponds to the hatch of their preferred hosts; green June beetle and Japanese beetle grubs.

Adult wasp visits a Rudbeckia flower

An adult wasp visits a Rudbeckia flower.
Felix Francis, University of Delaware,
Bugwood.org

As an added benefit, the adult wasps feed on the nectar of many different flowers and so aid in pollination. They aren’t the most important pollinators around but in these days of dwindling bee populations, every little bit helps.

All-in-all, these are pretty useful wasps to have around. They usually won’t sting you unless you happen to be a grub and they can help you by killing some of those damaging white grubs in your lawn. Good biological control without chemicals! In fact, these beneficial wasps have sometimes been brought in and released in areas that have severe grub infestations.

Another beneficial solitary “bee”! Who knew there were so many!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Deep crack on the bottom of a large tomato. Black mold is beginning to grow in the crack.

It’s been a tough year for tomatoes.

The weather, at least in our area of the Shenandoah Valley, has been cooler than normal and fairly dry. The rain we’ve had has mostly come as heavy downpours – “frog stranglers” as my old boss used to say. We haven’t had many nice steady, soaking rains. Heavy rains, which are often associated with thunderstorms, are usually more destructive than helpful because most of the water runs off without soaking in and takes a lot of topsoil with it.

I saw on the news the other night that so far this summer, we’ve only had 15 days over 90° – the normal is 25 days by this point. Many days in July and August were in the 70’s and nights were often cool – in the 50’s and even several nights when the temperatures dipped into the mid to upper 40’s. Crazy! Nice for us but it has caused some issues in the vegetable garden.

Tomatoes don’t do well in cool weather – especially when the nights are cool. Temperature extremes (daytime temps above 90° or nighttime temps below 55°) cause poor fruit set.

First tomato harvest - 'Pruden's Purple' on July 6th and a nice big pepper, too.

First tomato harvest – ‘Pruden’s Purple’
on July 6th and a nice big pepper, too.

Our tomatoes started the season growing well; producing loads of flowers and setting lots of fruit. We have noticed that after this initial burst in June, everything slowed way down in July and August. We noticed fewer flowers and didn’t see many young tomatoes forming. The tomatoes that formed in June continued to grow and eventually ripened but production has certainly tapered off. I have heard the same complaint from other gardeners. This summer just hasn’t been favorable for growing tomatoes.

I have noticed several different problems on our tomato fruit this year but most of these are issues that I have seen in other years as well. They are fairly common tomato problems.

Growth cracks

These shallow growth cracks have healed over

Shallow growth cracks can heal.

Growth cracks develop in tomatoes when they undergo a spurt of rapid growth during ripening. This often occurs when extended dry conditions are followed by sudden heavy rain or irrigation. This isn’t an unusual situation and has occurred several times in our garden this season. As a result, many of our ripe tomatoes are showing varying degrees of cracking. Growth cracks frequently appear on the top of the tomato near the stem but sometimes when a tomato is fully ripe or overripe, cracks will develop on the bottom of the fruit. Shallow cracks will normally heal over but deeper cracks that develop can become easy pathways for disease and insects to enter and cause secondary problems.

Try to keep your garden soil evenly moist. Mulching definitely helps with this.

Anthracnose

Anthracnose lesion showing concentric rings of fungal fruiting bodies

Anthracnose lesion showing concentric
rings of fungal fruiting bodies

Anthracnose of tomatoes is a disease caused by the fungus Colletotrichum coccodes. It appears as sunken, circular lesions on ripe tomatoes. Often these lesions have concentric rings of black fruiting bodies in the center. Green tomatoes can become infected with anthracnose but the symptoms do not appear until the tomato ripens.

The fungal spores are found in the soil and on plant debris left in the garden. Tomatoes are infected when soil containing spores is splashed up onto the fruit and foliage.

Anthracnose has destroyed half of this tomato

Anthracnose has damaged half
of this tomato

Anthracnose does little damage to the leaves but can cause major damage to mature, ripe tomatoes. This disease is more common during warm, wet weather but spores can also be transmitted to the plants from splashing during overhead irrigation.

Mulching around your tomato plants and trellising or staking them to keep them off the ground will help to prevent this fungal disease. Avoid working among the plants when they are wet and harvest the tomatoes as they ripen and use them promptly.

Infected fruit should be removed to prevent the spread of the disease. Crop rotation and careful clean up of all plant debris in the fall is important for controlling anthracnose.

Cat facing

Cat facing on a large heirloom tomato

Cat facing on a large heirloom tomato

Ever find tomatoes that have funky-shaped, puckered bottoms? This is called cat facing and it is thought to result from the abnormal development of the flower bud or flower – before the fruit is even formed! The factors that lead to cat facing in tomatoes are normally environmental, including cool temperatures before and during flower formation. Hmmmm, that sounds familiar!

Other causes of cat facing in tomatoes are any type of physical damage to the flowers, herbicide damage (such as drift from nearby 2,4-D spraying), and sometimes excessive pruning of tomato plants.

Mild cat facing

Sometimes it isn’t too bad

.

Varieties that produce large tomatoes, such as beefsteaks and the large-fruited heirloom tomatoes, are more prone to cat facing than small-fruited varieties.

Normally, tomatoes that are disfigured from cat facing are still edible however they may ripen unevenly and they can be difficult to slice – I just chunk them up instead! Still delicious!

Black mold

Black mold started growing in the growth cracks of this tomato.

Black mold started growing in
growth cracks of this tomato.

Black mold is caused by various fungi (including Alternaria alternata) that attack tomato tissue that has been injured in some way. It is rarely found on healthy, unblemished tomatoes. The fungal spores usually enter the tomato where the skin has cracked or where insects have caused injury to the fruit. As the fungus grows, it creates brown or black sunken lesions which expand and eventually cause the whole tomato to rot.

If you catch it early, you can just cut out the bad patches but it’s important to remove all the soft tissue or the tomato will taste bad.

All of these problems have developed on at least some of my tomatoes this season. Fungicide sprays listed for use in vegetable gardens can help but I normally don’t bother with them. None of these diseases have caused any major damage to my tomato crop. We just harvest the blemished fruit, cut out the diseased parts, and eat them. You should NEVER can or freeze tomatoes that show signs of disease.

Even though our tomato crop hasn’t been a bust this year, the yield from our 36 tomato plants should have been much higher. I’m normally swimming in tomatoes at this point in the season. Well – at least the tomatoes we’ve harvested have been very tasty. I’ve been able to can a few batches so far and they are still coming along. Hopefully this hot spell we are in now will give them a late season boost!

Lynne's cherry tomatoes are beautiful but her other tomatoes are small.

Lynne’s cherry tomatoes are beautiful
but her other tomatoes are very small.

How did your garden do this year?

My sister Lynne in Vermont told me yesterday that her tomatoes are all really small this season compared to other years. It’s been unusually cool up there this summer, too!

She sent this photo of her recent harvest. Nice rattlesnake beans and cukes Lynne!

Until next time –

     Happy Gardening!

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One whole hosta clump totally defoliated by deer

This yew was decimated by hungry deer over the winter.

This yew was decimated by
hungry deer over the winter.

The other day I was flipping through some pictures that I had taken of my sister’s gardens in Vermont and came across some photos of damage that had been done by deer in her gardens.

Most of the damage was more recent, from summer munching on her hosta but, over the winter, the deer had also browsed many of her shrubs including her yews (Taxus). The poor yews looked pitiful with just a few tufts of new growth coming out at the tips and along the branches. Luckily they have dormant buds in the bare wood so they are able to recover from this damage. They can be cut back hard, similar to the way you can prune boxwood and holly. I find it interesting that deer eat yews because these shrubs are highly toxic to cattle!

Last winter was definitely a tough one for deer because it was so cold and many areas had quite a bit of snow. This resulted in more damage than normal because they resorted to eating things that they might normally have left alone.

One gardener wrote,

Due to the extremely cold winter here in Annapolis, MD, I’ve noticed this spring that the tips of my azaleas, the bottom of my camellias, and evergreen shrubs appear to have been bitten off by deer (I have many in the wooded area I live in). The deer have never attacked these shrubs since I moved here years ago, so this damage has come as quite a surprise.

The deer browsed branches of an apple tree in our orchard

The deer browsed branches of
an apple tree in our orchard

Deer damage is especially devastating when it occurs on the spring flowering trees and shrubs that bloom on old wood (wood produced in the previous season). Often as they browse, the deer strip off many of the tender, dormant flower buds and thus wipe out much of the spring bloom.

Unfortunately, they really like rhododendron, azalea, and hydrangea! Some hydrangea, such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and the ‘Endless Summer’ series will normally still bloom even if they are heavily browsed because they bloom on new wood.

In the spring or whenever you notice deer damage, it’s a good idea to make clean cuts on the stems or branches that were chewed. Prune them back to live, undamaged wood. This will prevent insects and disease from entering through the ragged wounds left by the deer and help keep your trees and shrubs healthy. Be sure to fertilize them with a good organic fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone, Tree-tone, or Holly-tone.

Munched daylily buds. At least there were some flowers that bloomed!

Munched daylily buds. At least
some flowers bloomed!

As most gardeners know, deer damage isn’t limited to the winter months. There are plenty of trees, shrubs, annuals, and herbaceous perennials that they just love to eat during the spring and summer.

This summer, I have spoken with so many customers that would love to grow daylilies but can’t because the deer chew off all the flower buds right when they are about to bloom. How sad! They always ask me why we don’t have the same problem here with all the daylilies we grow. It’s true that we don’t normally have an issue with deer and I’m not sure why except that there is probably plenty of other food available in the surrounding fields. That being said, I have noticed that this year we HAVE had some deer browse on our daylilies. I’ve only seen it on the edge of some of the display beds but I definitely found some gnawed off daylily buds this summer. It is not widespread so perhaps we’ve always had SOME damage and I just never noticed it before.

A beautiful hosta totally destroyed!

A beautiful hosta totally destroyed!

Hosta are another one of their favorite snacks. They can devastate a beautiful hosta garden in no time at all. In one of Leslie’s beds, there were just leaf stems remaining after the deer went through – not very pretty to look at. They seem to pick and choose the ones they eat. Many of the hosta cultivars with thick, puckered leaves seem to be less desirable than the ones with thinner, more tender leaves. Interesting that slugs and snails have the same preferences.

These large-leaved hosta were not touched.

These large-leaved hosta with
heavy texture were not touched.

So what can you do short of resorting to a 30-06 rifle?

Plant “deer resistant” plants

Echinacea (coneflower) are colorful, long-blooming, and deer resistant!

Echinacea (coneflower) are colorful,
long-blooming, and deer resistant!

Deer are a persistent and once they find plants they like, they will continue to feed on them. You can often dissuade them from munching in your garden by placing plants that they don’t like to eat throughout your beds. While no plant is entirely “deer proof”, there are many perennials and shrubs that are deer resistant and most of them are beautiful plants that you will love having in your landscape.

Typically, deer steer away from plants that have thorns, fuzzy leaves or stems, coarse or tough leaves, plants with milky sap, and plants with aromatic foliage. Be aware, however, that the resistance of plants to deer damage is often related to the availability of other food and when times get tough, deer are often forced to eat normally “resistant” plants – as evidenced by last winter!

Use deer repellents

When it's cold out, the dormant flower buds of rhododendron become irresistible to deer.

Large leaf rhododendron are
usually irresistible to deer.

Certain plants, like hosta, daylilies, tulips, and rhododendron, are “candy” to deer and are frequently severely damaged by these garden marauders. If these are planted in areas where deer are common, they should be protected by fencing or by some type of deer repellent.

There are many repellents on the market now that claim to keep deer out of your gardens. Plus – don’t forget the Irish Spring soap in the nylon stocking trick!

Regardless of the repellents you choose, our most important recommendation is to alternate repellents through the season! Deer will eventually become accustomed to most repellents and then they will no longer be effective. Switch to a different repellent every 4 weeks or so.

Sometimes you just need a fence!

Why or why don't they eat the coltsfoot and leave the hosta!

Why oh why don’t they eat the coltsfoot and leave the hosta!

Deer fencing can protect the landscaping and gardens around your home. There are many different types of fencing available and the choice depends on how large, permanent, and strong you want your fence to be. A few years ago, we had deer in our vegetable garden for the first time. I guess they finally discovered that they could jump right over the 4 foot fence we had surrounding the garden. Now we have extended the fence up to about 10 feet high using stout bamboo poles and plastic wildlife netting. So far it seems to be working well on the deer but we are still having a problem with that stupid woodchuck …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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