Night Time Insects

Insect damage on basil

Well. Obviously something is loving these basil leaves besides me! And it’s basil, so there’s plenty for both of us–or for me and the hoards or whatever is chewing on this.

Conventional wisdom about damage like this–where you can clearly see chewed leaves but do not see the culprit causing the damage–is for you to wait until after dark and then to go outside with a flashlight or a headlamp (try not to scare the neighbors so that they don’t call the police) and see if you can identify your insect.

In my case, I am not going to do that. There are several reasons why I won’t. The first is that I have no intention of treating whatever I find, so why do I really care?

Next, I am not bothered by this–so again, why do I need to know?

Third, I am guessing that it is one of a couple of culprits. It could be earwigs, although I doubt they would make such big holes in my leaves.

It’s not likely slugs–no tell tale slime trails.

It’s most likely asiatic beetles, whose life span is about over–so no control is necessary. So it’s all good. And I can sleep in peace without creeping around in the dark looking for bugs.

Can Hydroponic Growing be Called Organic or Not?

Hydroponic garden

You remember my post from last Wednesday about my little “BLT” garden–all that was missing was the bacon, of course.

Interestingly enough, the New York Times published this article on the same day about hydroponic growers. It stated that there were several new and large hydroponic growers that had emerged during the pandemic, but that organic gardeners and chefs were scoffing at them because a true definition of “organic” began with soil and thus hydroponic gardening didn’t qualify.

Since I was reading this article at 5:00 a.m., that whole notion made my head hurt! First, to me, organic gardening might involve good soil health, but it does not begin there. It begins with an absence, so to speak–the absence of chemical or synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

While those products might be applied to soil, they are often applied solely to plants–and thus could also be used in hydroponic gardening as well. So hydroponic gardening could be done by avoiding these products–or not.

So I think that those that are insisting that organic gardening is all about the soil are over-simplifying the matter. One of the tenets of organic gardening is ‘”feed the soil and you feed the plant,” (and by that, they mean with things like compost and other organic elements, not with synthetic things).

But the beauty of the hydroponic system–at least in my brief experience–is that it’s quick and easy and therefore no “feeding” is necessary to get the plants up and grown. My lettuce is fully grown in about a month–and then I start over, if I want more. We’ll see about the tomatoes–they seem to be a longer producing crop. We’ll see if they’re going to need an organic fertilizer at some point.

This is the second time in a little more than a week I have written about divisiveness in the gardening world. It saddens me. Life is divisive enough. Surely, as gardeners, we should make more of an effort to get along.

How to Re-pot a Cactus

Cactus ready for re-potting

It’s funny the things you remember. In 10th grade English we had to give a speech. It was a “how-to” and I chose how to repot a cactus. I have no idea why. I was terrified of speaking in public then, even to my classmates. But I do remember that the teacher–whose name escapes me–liked that when I was explaining how to do the re-potting, I made eye contact with the class and actually looked around. I guess that was the true beginning of my garden speaking career.

Back then, conventional wisdom was that you wrapped the cactus in newspaper to protect yourself from thorns. These days, I have a few better tricks.

I started off using silicone pot holders which is great because they are impervious to everything. But they don’t make it that easy to grasp things. The empty spaces you see in the above pot were filled with small cacti. I am not sure that I would have been able to manipulate the potholders and the cactus in such tight spots.

Silicone coated tongs with cactus

So you see my latest choice–silicone coated tongs. And you can see that I have already used them to remove yet another of the cacti.

They’re perfect for gently grabbing the spiny things and relocating them where you need them to be. The only other implement I use is a spoon to transfer the soil around them and to pack it down around the cactus–because I obviously can’t do it with my fingers as I normally would.

Re-potted cactus

And here’s the finished product: two cactus in a much more size appropriate pot.

Summer is the Best Time to Groom House Plants

Newly pruned pilea

Of course, hindsight being what it is, I should have taken a photo of this pilea in desperate need of a grooming before I started snipping away. But I am never good about thinking about that.

As the photo shows, I took off just about as much as I left.

But why do I say that summer is the best time to do this sort of haircut on plants? Several reasons.

First, the plants are at their most active growth time. So it’s easy to see where you might want to prune or pinch (this pilea branches nicely if cut back to a set of double leaves).

Next, should you want to propagate any of those cuttings, they root most easily now. It’s much harder once the plants slow down their growing in fall and winter.

Finally, if you accidentally cut where you didn’t mean to (and yes it happens. I stupidly do it far more than I should) the plant has lots of time to recover from that.

So take a look at your house plants to see if any need a little pinching or pruning. They will thank you–and you might even get to propagate some new plants in the process.

Flowers over Foliage–or Not?

Hosta about to flower

Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a raging debate in the gardening world this time of year about what to do about plants that are primarily grown for their foliage–like the hosta in my photo above–and their flowers?

The other plant that also seems to get a lot of “press” (if that’s the right word) is coleus. There’s always a raging debate about whether coleus flowers should be left alone or should be immediately cut off as soon as they show signs of forming.

I have never really entered into these debates before but I will tell you what my prior practices have been, how they have changed, and why.

With coleus, I used to cut the flowers off. I thought that they were insignificant and didn’t do anything for the plant. Further, since I was usually growing the coleus as part of an all foliage container, the flowers didn’t really conform to that.

Then of course life happens. I don’t know what exactly happened–I suspect that I had another emergency like this month and I had to go out of town for a bit.

By the time I came back, all my coleus were flowering madly and to my surprise, the flowers were covered with pollinators. So now when I grow them, as much as I may not care for the flowers, they stay as pollinator plants.

With respect to the hosta, I don’t feel the same way. Their flowers at least are interesting and I have one that is quite fragrant. So I have rarely been inclined to deadhead the hosta flowers before they bloom.

They too are attractive to bees, which is another reason for me to keep them.

And they lend some mid-season interest to the garden as well.

I have even seen the dead flower stalks left standing in the winter, giving winter interest to a garden ( not mine–I wish I had thought of it!)

So I guess that I fall clearly into the “don’t cut” camp at this point, although that wasn’t always so. But that’s what’s great about gardening. Every year is different so you can change your mind along with your plant palette.

Life’s Too Short to Grow Bad Plants

Struggling Beach Rose

I had a brief detour down the New Jersey shore recently. It wasn’t supposed to be brief but that’s a whole other story.

I went there to have a Memorial service for my mother, who passed away in January. She is buried, but because of the pandemic, even I wasn’t able to be at that service. So my sister came east from Oklahoma and the rest of our family was finally able to gather at the church we all attended.

The plan was then that I would stay at the beach to recover from my surgery. But like everything else we tried to do this June, the universe had other ideas. At least the family was able to gather for the memorial.

In my short time at the beach, however, I did notice the struggling beach rose in the photo, above.

Struggling hydrangea

I also talked to a cousin about her struggling hydrangeas. And what I told her is the title of this post: life’s too short to grow bad plants.

Non-struggling hydrangeas

When compared to the poor little pink hydrangea above, these are doing just fabulously. And it may be a question of which side of of the newly raised staircase they are now on. The two in the above photo are sheltered from the most vicious northwest winds by that newly raised staircase while the struggling pink on one is not. But that that’s something that’s only going to be revealed by time.

While I was away, I had 5 more dead plants pulled out of my yard and I came back to find a few more that I am going to jettison. I am too old to look at struggling shrubs. It’s bad enough that I am struggling right now and need someone to do this for me!

So the last thing I want to do is to try to nurture a struggling whatever through yet another dry summer. I would rather look at a gap in the landscape and plant next year when ideally things will be better for everyone–and not quite so dry either.

Gardening for me is all about learning what works and what doesn’t. If suddenly we’re going to have drought a lot, I had better rethink my planting plans.

So another year to think about plants–and maybe recover in a lot of different ways–can only be a good thing.