Apple Trees & Codling Moths

If caterpillars are eating your apples, they are almost certainly the larvae of the codling moth (Cydia pomonella). This is North America’s most important insect pest of apples, both in commercial orchards and home garden trees, which can be maintain with the use of a tree removal service to get rid of the rotten trees . My garden includes four dwarf apple trees, so I have codling moth concerns.

Damage to apples by Codling Moth larvae

This pest can be difficult to eliminate completely in the home orchard, but it can be controlled to the point that the gardener will have plenty of fruit while sharing a small percentage with these vexatious invaders.

A recent recommendation in “Things to Do This Week” was to spray apple trees with carbaryl (sold as Sevin) a broad-spectrum insecticide. Correct use of this product requires careful timing, using a maximum-minimum thermometer and a degree-day chart, as noted by the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program (

This product is quite effective by over-stimulating the nervous systems of insects, resulting in the inability to contract breathing muscles and ultimately causing death.  

Carbaryl is also effective in killing honeybees and other beneficial insects and quite toxic for people. The National Pesticide Information Center ( reports that brief exposure while spraying can cause weakness, dizziness, and sweating. Additional reports have included pinpoint pupils, lack of coordination, muscle twitching, and slurred speech. People could also experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, or drooling.

Greater exposure can cause high blood pressure, decreased muscle tone, and seizures. Other serious signs include difficulty breathing, constriction of the airways, mucous production, fluid buildup in the lungs, and reduced heart and lung function.

Given these problems, I looked into non-chemical management of codling moths. As one might expect, this involves knowing the pest’s life cycle. The adult moth emerges right around now, mid-march to early April, is active for only a few hours before and after sunset, and mates when sunset temperatures exceed 62 degrees F.

The female deposits eggs on apple leaves or fruit. When the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the fruit, causing the damage we don’t like to see.

After the larvae mature, they drop from the tree, sometimes still in apples.  They continue their life cycle by pupating in the soil or debris under the tree, or in bark crevices until they emerge as adult moths.

The first step in non-chemical management of this pest is sanitation, which involves removing and destroying any fruit that the larvae have entered. Thinning the infested fruit in this way also helps the remaining fruit to develop.

Sanitation continues during May and June by removing any dropped fruit from the ground.

The next good management action is to bag the fruit when it is one-half to one-inch in diameter, using No. 2 lunch bags. The bagging method can be very effective, even when limited to the number of apples the gardener wishes to protect. The bags can be opened a week or two before harvest to allow color development, at some risk of late arriving larvae.

A relatively new insecticide called CYD-X has been found to be both effective and safe to use in the garden. This product is a naturally occurring granulosis virus that infects and kills the larvae of the codling moth. It is highly specific to the codling moth and is non-infectious toward beneficial insects, fish, wildlife, livestock or humans. The National Organic Program has listed CYD-X for use in organic orchards.

Spray application of this product must occur during the day or two after the codling moth larvae have hatched and before they penetrate fruit. This time period occurs from late May to mid-June. Precise timing requires the use of a degree-day model, which regretfully requires more explanation than this column can accommodate. For the home gardener, weekly applications during egg hatch throughout the season will be quite effective. Adding 1% horticultural oil to the application can improve effectiveness.

The larva must ingest the product to become infected with the virus. The product is extremely virulent, so it is effective at very low use rates.

Another safe and effective insecticide is Spinosad, a biological product made from a naturally occurring bacterium. It is a lower-toxicity material that is safe for most beneficial insects as well as for people, pets, and the environment although it is more toxic to beneficial insects than granulosis virus. Repeated applications during egg hatch for each generation are necessary for acceptable control.

The availability of non-chemical controls of codling moths enables gardeners to keep highly toxic chemicals out of their gardens and still enjoy pest-free apples.

Organic gardening is its own reward.

Protecting Against Garden Pests

Gardening friends have commented on this season’s unusual uptick in pesky four-legged vertebrates, inspiring this column’s exploration of ways to protect our gardens from these pests.

Our reference to “four-legged vertebrates” narrows the discussion, leaving out the “two-legged” varieties: unauthorized snippers of cuttings, midnight diggers of special plants, clumsy browsers of garden beds, and rambunctious kids.

This exclusion extends to birds (which we might address in the future), bats, and also snakes, which have vertebrae but no legs, and some of which are not pests but assets in the garden.

We also exclude the non-vertebrates, an enormous number of wildlife creatures ranging from small to very, very small. That group is mostly beneficial, although with a good number of bad actors. That category is worth more attention than could fit into a newspaper column.

So, when considering four-legged vertebrate pests, we begin with habitat issues. We can proceed best when we acknowledge that our historically recent gardens are in places where they have lived during many generations. We are intruding into, or reducing, their habitats.

We can’t easily eliminate that interface, so we should try to live harmoniously.

Wild animals prefer to stay away from people, and smart people usually don’t want to interact with wildlife, so both parties are inclined toward peaceful co-existence. Gardeners can support that relationship in two ways without being hostile.

  • Animals are always looking for food, so this means we should not provide food deliberately, or accidentally, e.g., leaving pet food outdoors unattended, leaving kitchen waste in uncovered compost or trash containers, or not harvesting ripe fruit or vegetables. (I think animals are raiding the dropped apples in my garden!)
  • Animals also are always looking for safe spaces to sleep or raise their young. Attractive spaces might be under your house or deck, so close off such spaces with quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth or other materials if you are being invaded reach Critter Detective skunk removal.

At another level, limit wildlife access to edible plants in your garden. This can be accomplished with fencing that is appropriate for particular pests: high for deer, lower and underground for several smaller raiders, including gophers. Lining the bottom of garden beds with wire mesh or installing gopher baskets can be successful in discouraging gophers. These materials are available in garden centers or on the Internet (see, for example, the website for Gophers Limited.)

A more aggressive approach to limiting access to plants is trapping. Some traps are designed to kill, and others are designed to detain.

Many gardeners are ready and willing to dispatch certain rodent pests, including mice, rats and gophers. Gardeners often regard other rodent pests (squirrels, chipmunks, and porcupines and rodent-related rabbits) as cute and seem them as candidates for release to “somewhere else.” We also would prefer to relocate some other four-legged vertebrate pests, notably raccoons and opossums.

Some people think trapping and relocating a trapped animal pest into nature would be illegal. Our search of federal, state and local government codes revealed a humane requirement to free an animal from a trap within a day’s time, but did not discover a prohibition against relocation. A ban against relocation appears to be an urban myth.

Still, both the Audubon Society and the Humane Society argue that relocation is not a solution to problems with garden pests. Pointing to the territorial habits of wildlife, these groups advise that relocating an animal (a) simply invites another animal to move in its territory, (b) requires the relocated animal to fight the owner the new territory (this could be fatal for a juvenile, or a mother of young animals), or (c) possibly exports disease into the new territory.

These groups basically dislike trapping, and recommend either not attracting wildlife into gardens, or discouraging them with fencing, as suggested above.

Another strategy for dealing with these pests involves using organic fragrances or tastes that animals dislike. We invite interested readers to seek ideas along these lines on the Internet  (search for “animal repellents”).

Then, there are various non-lethal strategies that one might explore, including filling gopher tunnels with water or low levels of carbon dioxide, electrifying fences, making audible or inaudible noises, and other ideas. New ideas pop up often but can be expensive, time-consuming, and of questionable effectiveness.

The final animal control strategy we will mention is the use of poisons. Don’t use them! Poisons can harm pets and children, providing enough reason to avoid them.

Besides, we should treat humanely the animals that share our gardens, even when they eat our plants.

Protecting Roses from Weevils

If you have roses in your garden, right now would be a good time to examine your rosebuds. Look closely for small circular holes in the buds, and in blossoms that have already opened.

Rose Weevil photo by Ingrid Taylar

These holes were caused by the rose curculio, also called the rose weevil (Merhynchites bicolor), which is a kind of beetle, about one-quarter inch long.

The rose curculio’s damage ruins the blossoms and could ruin the entire plant if the gardener allows the insect to reproduce freely.

Fortunately, the rose curculio is fairly easy to control because its life cycle takes a full year and follows predictable stages.

Beginning in late May, the females crawl up the rose bushes to lay their eggs. Using their long snouts, they chew into the buds to feed and then turn to deposit their eggs in the buds. They could make multiple holes into a bud, and damage several buds.

When the eggs hatch, the legless white larvae feed on the buds and on the blossoms as they mature. The buds often are weakened by the adult’s feeding and fall to the ground with the larvae still inside.

The larvae burrow into the soil to pupate over winter, and, as adults, emerge in the late spring to continue the reproductive cycle.

There are several ways to interrupt this cycle and avoid damage to your roses. The timing of your controlling action is important in blocking the creation of a new generation of insects.

Starting in April, examine your roses to spot the adult rose curculio. They prefer roses with white or yellow blossoms, but could also be found on pink roses.

When you find rose curculios, either pick the insects by hand or shake branches to make them fall on to a cloth or bucket. They will play dead, but will soon revive and crawl back up the plant, so don’t be deceived: drop them in soapy water, where they will drown. You could also spray the adults with insecticidal soap or neem oil, but this treatment requires direct contact will not affect the eggs or larvae.

Predatory birds can be important allies in this process, so take steps to make your garden hospitable to birds by providing them with food, water, and shelter…and keeping synthetic chemicals out of your environment.

When you see damaged buds or blossoms, remove them immediately and dispose of them through the green waste (not the compost). Be sure to remove drooping buds. These buds have been weakened by the rose curculio and could already be supporting its larvae.

Once the larvae are in the soil, control measures are still possible. The most effective organic option is the importation of insect-parasitic nematodes, tiny worms that are natural predators of the larvae, and might already be present in the soil. These nematodes, which have been called “biological insecticides,” can be purchased from garden centers or the Internet, and imported into the rose bed.

With fairly easy but timely efforts, you can control this pest and enjoy your roses in their undamaged, beautiful form and color. The roses are looking particularly good this year, and definitely worth protecting.

Gopher Cats

The most devastating tragedy in gardening when a favored plant topples, suddenly dies, or even worse for a smallish specimen, disappears as it’s pulled underground.

The creator of such tragedies is the gardener’s nemesis, the pocket gopher. There are several genera and species of these creatures. In California, we most commonly have Botta’s Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae), named after Paul-Émile Botta, a naturalist and archaeologist who collected mammals in California in the 1820s and 1830s. Perhaps he appreciated this particular mammal’s qualities and did not see it as just a pest in the garden.

Gardeners have access to multiple strategies, tools and commercial services for battling with gophers over territory. Some do-it-yourself tools, e.g., stainless steel gopher baskets, will cost almost as much as a plant at the garden center. Still, the basket costs less than replacing the plant. The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program has provided a useful overview of the problem of gopher in the garden. 

For several years, my garden has not had gopher visits. As I heard the frustrations and complaints from other gardeners, I felt that I had been lucky, or that my garden was somehow unattractive to gophers. I concluded that two feral cats that I saw in my garden were controlling the local population of gophers. My role was limited to tolerating and not feeding the cats: a well-fed cat would not be an effective hunter.

Eventually, I no longer saw the cats in my garden. I’d like to think another gardener has recruited them, or that they had wandered off for better hunting opportunities. Most likely, they retired.

Without the cats, I soon saw signs of gophers in my garden. After tinkering with traps without immediate success, I decided that a predator would be the ideal solution to the gopher problem. Gophers have many natural enemies, including owls, hawks, coyotes, foxes, skunks, badgers, bobcats, weasels, and snakes. These predators might visit my urban garden occasionally, but a more practical plan would be to have a well-oriented cat in residence, always watching for prey either for a meal or for amusement.

I have recently seen an unfamiliar cat roaming around my garden. Feral cats are, by definition, not accustomed to contact with humans, and tend to keep their distance. The challenge is to persuade such a cat to spend a lot of time in my garden, stay outdoors, and hunt for gophers.

Public and private agencies seeking to control feline populations will vaccinate and spay or neuter feral cats, so it would be best for a gardener to adopt a gopher hunter that had received such treatment. The attending specialists also could advise on training the cat for its role as a resident predator of gophers. My role might be limited to providing water and a place to sleep. As the cat becomes accustomed to my presence, I might show approval for a gopher catch, and disapproval of a bird catch.

I will add this gopher cat project to my resolutions for the early weeks of 2018, along with spraying my apple trees and pruning my roses.

Speaking of roses, last week’s column stated incorrectly that modern garden roses began in 1967. The correct date is 1867, with the introduction of the first hybrid tea rose, ‘La France’.

Best wishes for your new year in the garden!

Adding Annual Plants to the Garden

Annual plants can add much to any garden: providing seasonal color for cutting or enjoying in place, discouraging weeds, preserving soil moisture, and feeding birds while growing easily and requiring only as much space as the gardener chooses to commit.

In addition, annuals can fill spaces in the garden temporarily or annually. That’s a priority for me, as I see areas in my garden that need brightening or just something interesting for next spring’s planned garden tour.

The easiest and least expensive way to add annual color to a garden requires simply choosing seeds from the garden center’s rack of packets, and planting the seeds according to directions on the packet. There are many options and planting is very easy. It’s almost as if the seeds plant themselves.

Wait, that’s actually what they do!

In my garden, this process becomes more complicated because of geographically organized beds. The area that needs the addition of annuals is the California/Mexico beds.

The obvious choice would be California wildflowers, but there are hundreds of them, and very few can be found among garden center offerings. A fine mail order supplier is The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants ( ) a non-profit organization in southern California. This group offers seeds for a wide range of California native plants, individually and in mixtures.

I have ordered the Coastal Mixture, which includes annuals and perennials of various heights:

  • Arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) – 12–15” annual, purple & violet.
  • Beach Suncups (Camissonia cheiranthifolia)  – 6–12” perennial, yellow;
  • Blue Thimble Flower (Gilia capitata) – 15” annual, lavender blue;
  • Dune Poppy (Eschscholzia californica maritime) – 6–8” perennial, yellow;
  • Miniature Lupine (Lupinus bicolor) – 3–4’ annual, blue & white;
  • Mountain Phlox (Linanthus grandiflorus) –12–24” annual, pink & white;

Annual plants from Mexico that I’m considering include

Four O’Clock Flower (Mirabilis jalapa) – 36” perennial, various colors on the same plant. A popular garden plant that has been naturalized in a long list of countries of the world. A friend has provided seeds for this “pass-along” plant.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) —72” annual, Orange-red with a yellow center disk. This is a spectacular plant that I have grown before. It rises to full height in 85 to 90 days. Seeds are available online.

All of these plants would grow best when direct-seeded, but I will start the Four O-Clocks and Mexican Sunflower seeds in peat pots, so they could be placed in the garden by design without disturbing their roots.

This should be an interesting spring season! Consider annuals for your own garden.

A Note about Invasive Plants

In a recent column on pruning, I shared a photo of a Red Clusterberry (Cotoneaster lacteus) in my garden and mentioned that I had scheduled it for pruning. A reader advised that this plant is invasive and recommended warning readers of that fact. After checking, I agree and am glad to recommend against adding it your garden. This plant’s invasiveness is based on its vigorous growth, root-sprouting, and proliferous production of fruit. I have observed strong growth, seen only occasional sprouts come up from the roots, and watched birds feasting on the berries. Very few seedlings have appeared under the shrub, but the birds might have deposited seeds in their countless branch offices, out of my view. My garden has the more popular Orange Cotoneaster (C. franchetii) that has produced many more seedlings but has not been described as invasive. If you can’t abide such seedlings, get these plants out of your garden.

Twelve Ways to “Plant-Mass”

An important guideline for amassing plants in your garden is to plant when seasonal rains will water the plants as the establish roots and prepare for blooming in the spring. So, a good time to add plants to your garden (or to find a late gift) is right now.

Here are twelve ways to succeed in that enterprise.

  1. Plan to fill an existing space in the garden. Impulsively buying plants that catch your eye in the garden center can result in specimens that are too large or too small for spaces that need filling, or won’t complement plants next to those spaces.
  2. Focus on plants that will add to your landscape style or theme. There are many alternatives to randomness in garden design. An explicit theme or style in your garden provides direction in the hunt for new plants, and adds coherence to the look of the garden.
  3. Choose plants that will thrive in your garden’s environment. Most important is your U.S. Dept. of Agriculture climate zone, but also consider elevation, sun exposure and soil type.

    Crassula argenta

    Jade Plant (Crassula argenta) in a one-gallon nursery can

  4. Select plants of an appropriate size for the spot where they will grow. A common error is to install a plant that will outgrow its location.
  5. Look for plants that are pest resistant. With fuchsias, for example, a good choice would be a variety been bred to resist the Fuchsia Gall Mite (Aculops fuchsiae), a pest that’s difficult to control.
  6. The logical corollary is to examine plants that you might buy to check for any evidence of “livestock.” The symptoms (e.g., chewed leaves, creepy-crawlers or their eggs on the underside of leaves) are usually unmistakable, but if you have any uncertainty, choose a plant that’s symptom-free.
  7. Similarly, look for plants that are disease resistant. Several varieties of roses are both beautiful and resistant to powdery mildew and black spot. Why would you want to struggle with those diseases?
  8. Again, before buying a plant, check for any sign of disease, or anything other than good health. Garden centers screen their plants diligently, to protect customers and their own reputations, but problems can be missed. This is most possible with amateur plant sales.
  9. More and more, gardeners prefer plants that are free of toxic synthetic chemicals. Growers are beginning to label plants that have been grown without the use of neonicotinoids (“neonics”), for example, which appear to be harmful to bees. If the label doesn’t give assurance, ask!
  10. To minimize your plant-buying expense, favor the garden center’s smaller plants. They should be well rooted, rather than freshly transplanted. In your garden, they will grow quickly to reach the size of more expensive plants.
  11. On the other hand, to achieve an immediate effect, favor the larger plants. You will be paying the nursery for caring for the plant for months or even years, but the results may be worth the cost. An added benefit is seeing a well-grown plant’s structure.
  12. Before buying a plant, especially one that fills its container more than others, check for healthy roots. Gently pull the plant from its container to examine roots for healthy color (usually white) and ample space in the container. Plants left too long in a container become root-bound, which can hamper their growth. On the other hand, such plants often could be divided into two or more for the price of one.


Protecting the Pollinators

The next time you are in your garden, tell the bees a national strategy now exists to protect their health.

The document, dated May 19, 2015, responds to President Obama’s memorandum of June 19, 2014, establishing the Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and including representatives of fourteen other federal agencies. The president asked for a report in six months, but it required eleven months.

Monarch Butterly

Monarch Butterly

Several federal studies on pollinator health had already been conducted, and most observers recognized that the decline of honeybee and butterfly populations was resulting from several factors:

Loss of Habitat. The use of Roundup to kill weeds in crop fields also has been eliminating milkweeds (Asclepias tuberosa) that Monarch larvae eat.

Exposure to Chemical Pesticides. The use of neonicotinoid pesticides (“neonics”) also has been killing honeybees and leading to Colony Collapse Disorder, and perhaps killing birds as well.

Attacks from Pests. The Varroa destructor is a tiny parasitic mite that first appeared in the United States in 1987. It infests bee colonies and feeds on bee blood.

Other threats to pollinator health include loss of nutritional forage, diseases, and even stresses related to trucking beehives to pollinate agricultural crops.

The Task Force report addresses four themes: research on pollinator losses, public education and outreach, improving pollinator habitat, and developing public-private partnerships to carry out these activities.

The Task Force also identified three target outcomes:

  • Reduce honeybee colony losses by to no more than 15% within ten years;
  • Increase the Eastern population of Monarch butterflies to 225 million butterflies by 2020;
  • Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.

The Task Force, working with numerous federal agencies, has developed a series of action plans and resources to pursue these intended outcomes. It also has committed to annual assessments of progress toward these goals.

Another bureaucracy has been created!

Bee-friendly organizations have been less than enthusiastic about these plans. For example, the Xerces Society said, “The national strategy includes valuable long-term plans that could, over time, strengthen the pesticide regulatory system. But it fails to offer pesticide mitigation to address issues currently facing pollinators.”

Similarly, the Center for Food Safety said, “the plan is unfortunately too weak to actually accomplish these goals.” The Center called for speedy action to reduce uses of chemical pesticides and herbicides that have been identified as threats to pollinator health.

We’ll watch for the results of these action plans. We would like to tell the bees that the federal strategy is working.

Meanwhile, help to protect our hardworking pollinators by keeping your garden free of synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides, and using the less-toxic alternatives. For more ideas, the Pollinator Partnership has provided,  “7 Things You Can Do For Pollinators.”

Source: Nature First Pest Control, Inc


Another bee-friendly group that advocates reduced uses of neonics is Beyond Pesticides.

The Bees Need Our Help

Gardeners can enjoy gardening at many levels. We can experience the Zen of Weeding, as I did this afternoon, and then shift to enjoy one of gardening’s many other dimensions.

Gardening often turns up in the wonderful world of public policy, a dimension that can resemble a house of mirrors.

The Case of Colony Collapse Disorder, an example of gardening in public policy, is in the current news with a flurry of contradictions.

Bee on Purple Flower

Colony Collapse Disorder refers to the widespread, sudden mysterious deaths of entire bee colonies. We deplore the premature demise of these colonies, and sympathize with the industrious victims, and fear the potential threat to our own wellbeing: bees pollinate about one-third of all the fruits and vegetables we eat.

Scientists studying the causes of CCD suspect a combination of factors, and environmentalists focus on neonicontinoids, a category of very effective and widely used systemic pesticides. Both commercial crops and garden center plants and seeds are often treated with “neonics” (as they are called). Several European nations have banned neonics, but the United States currently permits their uses.

Manufacturers of neonics have insisted that CCD results from several other factors, e.g., Varroa mites, Nosema fungus, viruses, drought, and loss of habitat. Others have speculated that bee colonies are traumatized by the practice of trucking hundreds of beehives to large-scale agricultural sites, such as California’s almond trees groves.

In May of 2014, Harvard University reported an environmental scientist’s research that “strengthens the link between neonics and CCDs. The head of the National Academy of Sciences’ earlier study of the problem dismissed that research, and called it “effectively worthless,” because it was based on bees’ exposure to pesticides at doses far above typical levels.

On June 20, 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum calling for the creation of a federal strategy to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators. This call to action included an order for the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on pollinator health. The Task Force, including multiple federal departments, was to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy within 180 days, so its report was due around Christmas time last year. Presumably, it has been subjected to internal review since that target date.

On March 20, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that honey production in 2014 was up 19 percent from 2013, leading some to conclude that the CCD problem was over. Beekeepers had imported Australian honeybees to replace hives lost to CCD, so that conclusion might require another look.

These events provide a glimpse of the process of creating public policies, which are influenced by environmental, economic and political forces, and which eventually impact our interests as individuals.

No one has suggested that neonics are good for the honeybees. The goal is to balance the undeniably negative effects of agricultural chemicals with the anticipated positive long-term effects on our food supplies, recreational gardening and quality of life.

Gardeners can help the bees in small ways.

  • Plant bee-friendly gardens.
  • Do not use garden chemicals containing neonics.
  • When buying plants or seeds, ask the retailer if those items are free of neonics.

Organic gardening methods would be best for gardeners…and bees!


A friend at Suncrest Nurseries, Inc., a large wholesale company in Watsonville, responded to this column by saying, “Suncrest does not use neonicotinoid pesticides at all, in any way, shape or form on any of it’s plants !  I think we are the only non-organic nursery to do so !”

The Internet offers much information on bees and threats to their health.  deaths. Here are some interesting websites:

UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab

Genetic Literacy Project: The USDA Study on Bee Deaths

The Genetic Literacy Project supports GMOs, dismisses neonics’ role in bee deaths, and doesn’t like organic foods. The project seems friendly to the chemical industry.

Environmental Protection Agency to Limit Use of Neonics

USDA Release on Honey Production

An increase in honey production is welcome, but it doesn’t mean that bees and other pollinators are safe from pesticides.

Presidential Memorandum Calling for Pollinator Health Strategy

This task force was to report in 180 days. That would have been around  Christmas, 2014. Let’s watch for the report.

List of Pesticides Containing Neonics

Friends of the Earth: Bee-Toxic Pesticides in Garden Center Plants

This paper is a couple years old, but still relevant.


Buddleia Pests

Q. Recently I had the gardener take out two buddleias as they were wormy and nothing seemed to help.  Now I have to replace them. The area receives sun from around 11:00 am on. One big drawback is that whatever I plant there must not be attractive to deer, if that’s at all possible.

I live on the corner of two streets and according to city ordinances my fence can be higher than 4 feet which is nothing for the deer. The gardener suggested potato bush, what do you think?

Do you have any suggestions as to what kind of flowering shrub and when to plant them?

Thank you very much.

A. Your plants probably were being eaten by the buddleia budworm (Pyramidobela angelarum). I once removed an otherwise healthy buddleia for the same reason.

Monrovia, a wholesale nursery that provides plants for many local garden centers, lists 160 deer-resistant shrubs that would grow well in a sunny location in the Monterey Bay area. We should recognize that few if any plants are deer-proof: a really hungry deer will eat just about any plant.

The blue potato bush (Lycianthes rantonnetii or Solanum rantonnetii) will grow to about 8 feet x 8 feet, and would be a suitable replacement. However, it is attractive to both aphids and thrips. This is not the same as the potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) which is also deer-resistant, but which has a different growth pattern. Another potato bush (Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevinis not considered deer resistant.

Another good choice would be the Abelia. Click here for information on ten varieties, almost all of which are deer-resistant.  I have four Abelia x ‘Edward Goucher doing well in my garden (where deer don’t visit).

If you would like to try buddleia again (with a plan to manage pests), here is information on 23 varieties, most (perhaps all) of which are deer resistant. It’s easiest to consider a variety that’s in stock at a local garden center.

There are ways to manage the buddleia budworm, but they are not easy, partly because it can have two or three generations in a single year. The method, briefly, it to cut the plant low to the ground in the winter (to eliminate over-wintering pests) and then whenever the pest shows up, spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (“BT”). A widely available product is Safer Caterpillar Killer.

I hope this helps.

Sap on Orchids

Q. My indoor orchids all of a sudden have developed some sticky sap on the underside of the leaves and flower stalks.  Is this bad?  And if yes, then what can I do to eliminate this problem.  I wrote to Sunset magazine twice, but haven’t received an answer. August 2014

I love your articles in the Monterey Herald.  They are always so informative.

A. It’s most likely that the sap is produced by very small pests that suck the plant’s juices. These might be aphids, mealy bugs (cottony blobs) or scale (bumps that slide off). Use a bright light to spot them, looking closely at the new leaves in particular. Eliminate the pests by wiping them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or Q-tip.

If t you can’t see any pests, the sap might be produced naturally by some orchids to attract pollinators. If that’s the case, it’s not a problem, but some growers will wipe off the sap with a damp paper towel.

Best wishes.