Rose Sawfly (or Why Are Little Caterpillars Eating My Roses?)

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First things first: the “little caterpillars” that you see on your rose leaves aren’t really caterpillars. Yes, I know that’s exactly what they look like, but they’re not.

If you recall my “holiday gardening” post about 2 weeks ago, I said that in my climate there were some sawfly larva that showed up between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day in my climate. And here they are.

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This is the rose sawfly larva. It showed up the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. You see that on this leaf (and look closely, because it’s a tiny caterpillar the same color as the leaf. It is on the petal nearest to you) the leaf is just beginning to show a bit of damage. More in a moment about that.

Why is it important that these aren’t caterpillars? For organic control purposes. If you want to spray (I generally don’t; I just let the roses get slightly disfigured because there’s only one hatching of these a season in my part of the world)–you can’t us BT which only works for caterpillars.

Also if you do spray, they tend to hide beneath the leaves, so be sure to get the undersides.

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Otherwise they will leave your leaves disfigured (with these scrape marks that then often get burned into holes by the sun, making it look like some other disease or insect has been there). Don’t be fooled.

The two sets of leaves in the above photo show early damage and more advanced damage. The top set is the earlier damage, although even there, some of the scrapings and holes have been burned or eaten through the leaf.

As you can see in the bottom photo, the mouth scrapings made by the insect are browned by the sun. It’s not a good look.

What can you spray? Insecticidal soap is a nice remedy for soft bodied insects. Just remember to spray in the evening or first thing in the morning before the heat of the day and before most of your beneficial insects might also be accidentally sprayed.

Is This Normal?

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On Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about roses.

This rose foliage may not look all that unusual to you. I meant to take a photo all summer and then cut out this cane. The fact that it’s still there tells you that it’s been a difficult gardening year for me.

Actually when I went to take the photo today, I took it in 3 different versions. I wasn’t sure what would show you how unusual this is relative to what’s around it in the dead of winter.

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If this photo doesn’t work for you, perhaps this next one will.

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Yes, that straight cane–and the well branched canes with the tiny rose hips behind it–are on the same plant. Now I think you can see the problem.

The long straight cane is obviously a sport or mutation that needs to come out.

I would tell you that it was the rootstock trying to assert itself, but I believe that this is a rose grown on its own roots (as opposed to many roses which are grafted onto hardier rootstock in which this sort of thing can happen).

In any event, this long mutant cane needs to be pruned out now before it causes harm to the rose.

By “harm,” I mean taking over or possibly passing disease.

This is a priority for me very early this year.

Nature Got a Little Confused

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This was the scene just a week ago–roses in about 7 inches of snow.

Now, yes, Connecticut has gotten snow earlier than this, and it’s even gotten more snow earlier than this, with catastrophic results. But this still isn’t common, as these blooming roses indicate!

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This is a very wintery scene from my backyard. Much of this is gone now because we’ve had a couple of very cold rains (36 degrees and rain–ugh–but at least it wasn’t more snow–or ice!)

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Here you can see how many leaves were still on the trees when the snow fell.

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And finally, this is my raised bed. I didn’t grow much that was edible in here this year because of last year’s poisoning. Still, I put some parsley in it, hoping for some swallowtail larva. I got a few near the end of the season, meaning, I hope, that our washout of a summer has finally cleansed this bed and I might at least be able to grow edibles again next year.

But notice the spikes standing up right at the front of the photo–that’s evidence that something was eating the parsley right before the snow fell–so again, at least the parsley’s edible!

At this point, summer seems a long way off–but as Mark Twain once said, if you don’t like the weather here, wait 5 minutes!