More Insects of Summer

Hydrangea leaves with leaftier caterpillar inside

Here’s an insect that’s very easy to find and very easy to deal with.

Inside this crumpled up set of leaves is yep, you guessed it, another green worm. Hard to imagine that the world is so full of green worms, isn’t it?

This guy is called the hydrangea leaftier–kind of a crazy name, leaftier. Maybe it sounded like leaf-tyer to whomever came up with it. For you scientific types, it is Olethreutes ferriferana. Anyway, as you can clearly see by the photo, that’s what this little worm does–it sews itself into a little cocoon of hydrangea leaves–almost always near the top of hydrangea arborescens, or smooth hydrangea plants.

What’s lovely about this insect is that to deal with it, you just cut off the little clump of sewn together leaves and dispose of them in the trash. Don’t compost them or you will give the little worms time to hatch out into the moths which they become and start the whole vicious cycle all over again–because once you have these things, you have them forever unless you manage to rid yourself of them early.

And in addition to marring the appearance of your plants, why do you want to go around cutting off your leaves–or better yet, peeling open the leaves and smashing the little caterpillars, for those of you who like that sort of thing–every year? I know I have enough to do in the garden in the spring without that, thanks!

Sneaky Little Devils


One benefit of some extra time on my hands is that I managed to catch a very strange mites infestation. You can see the freshly showered plants here.

I am not sure if you can distinguish it, but all these plants are in the ficus genus. What’s interesting is that they are scattered around a rather large room with other plants in between that are not affected.

Some of the unaffected plants are a large ficus elastica, one of those very trendy pilea peperomoides, and 4 snake plants.

What’s especially unusual is that the plant in the upper left–ficus ‘Audrey’–has been deliberately segregated all winter because it’s had mealy bugs. Some plants can’t win for trying. But it was way away from everything. How do these mites travel?

I have to conclude that it’s me. They must hitch a ride on my clothing or hands and travel from plant to plant. But at least I have the time to catch this sort of thing right now.

Black Eyed Susan Leaf Damage

Chewed leaves

Every time I do a post about insect damage on my black-eyed susan leaves, I get comments:

“Don’t you know they get a fungus?”

“That’s not insect damage; it’s a fungus and they’re all going to die.”

So this time, before the leaves all turned black, as they do, making it indeed look as if they have the common fungus that infects the black-eyed susans, I thought I would post a few photos of the chewed up leaves.  I still haven’t gotten any photos of the culprit doing this, but I’m pretty sure it’s the four-lined plant bug, a tiny green and black insect that is–gee, what do you know,–not very particular to the plants it likes to chomp on. Black eyed susans are one of its favorites.

chewed leaves

Here are some more chewed leaves. You can clearly see chewing and holes, not fungus.

chewed leaf

And one last photo, just in case there’s any doubt about whether this is chewing.

So if you have black-eyed susans, take a closer look, early in the season. That “fungus” you think you may have may actually be insect damage.

Wordless Wednesday–What Do Aphids Tell Us About Spring?

hellebore with aphids

Ah aphids–the insects that Stephen King couldn’t make up if he were trying. What do they tell us about spring? Well, first of all, they tell us that spring is arriving, even if it’s still snowing.

I took the above photo on March 30. On the 31st, we had more snow. I wanted to hurl myself out a window. Luckily, I don’t live or work anyplace tall enough to do myself damage so I restrained myself.

It may be a little difficult to tell but that’s a real close-up of one of the hellebores I got from the Flower show. Both of them have aphids. I was not happy to see that except in the sense that it meant spring had actually arrived.

Why do I insist that’s true? Well, aphids are the first insects out in the spring (and the last to go dormant in the fall). They are the hardiest of the bunch. But even they won’t come out until there’s new growth to feast on. And what sparks new growth? Lengthening days and warmer sun–spring!

I also tried to get a close-up (hence the somewhat weird photo rather than a traditional one.) Notice on the green leaf in the foreground the white specks that look like dust? Those are the nymph stage of the aphids. That’s your first chance to catch them, before they become full bodied, sap suckers.

The real “full-bodied” aphids, as I call them are on the flowers. Again, they might be hard to see. They’re up near the stamens and pistil and are almost translucent. These guys are clever and like to hide so they can do their work and sap the plant of energy before you even notice.

Most of us miss the nymphs completely because they look like dust. But when you’re watering you can often see them floating on the water. Pay close attention. I’m sure they’re out there, waiting to grow up and start affecting your plants too!

And after you wash the aphids off–or spray insecticidal soap–make sure you check all the plants around where the affected plant was. And wipe down the windowsill as well. There are dozens, if not hundreds of nymphs lurking there, just waiting to grow up. That way you won’t wonder, “Where did all these bugs come from?!”

Wordless Wednesday–Who’s Been Walking In My Yard?

vole trails

As the snow was melting this past weekend, this was what was revealed. What looks to be a crazy quilt of trails are actually vole trails that had been hidden under more than a foot of snow, safe from the little critters predators (hawks, owls and foxes in my yard)

From this photo you can see that the trails don’t really lead to much vegetation. But that doesn’t mean that they are harmless. I know from experience that in this area there are underground chipmunk burrows. So who knows where else the little critters were going from here?

Actually in my yard, I rarely, if ever, see any evidence of vole damage. I suspect it’s because I have the “woods” and they can feast to their hearts’ delight on all the vegetation they want in there.

Make habitat for critters and it is possible to co-exist peaceably–usually.

What Happened to My….

chewed hosta leaves

This is a prime example of why you shouldn’t automatically spray a pesticide when you see chewed leaves. Because while there’s no denying that these leaves have been chewed, in this case, the remedy calls for a repellent, not an insecticide.

The hosta has provided a tasty snack for the resident groundhog (or woodchuck, depending on your regional preference–it’s still the same animal) family. These creatures are one of the most notoriously difficult garden pests. They tunnel, they climb and they have voracious appetites for greenery. And once a woodchuck has established a liking for your property, he will return year after year to mate and raise a family, ensuring repeated destruction.

The only proven method of control is fencing that not only extends four feet in height, but also goes at least a foot underground–and this proves impractical for most folks. Some call in a licensed wildlife person to relocate the animal.

In some states, it is legal to shoot them–it is not legal to do so in my state (much to the chagrin of some gardeners, I know.) I have gotten extremely lucky by planting herbs around the perimeter of the vegetable garden and only putting in peppers and tomatoes. He (or she) has sampled a pepper, found it not to his liking and has left the rest of the garden in peace for two years in a row. I can’t promise this approach will work for everyone.

Repellents to try would be the same ones that would work for deer and rabbits (but do not try them on edibles unless the label specifically says that they are approved for use on edibles!) and would be those that contain hot pepper, perhaps mixed with rotten egg.

Ack! What’s Happened to My Impatiens?!

A year ago, this space was awash in Impatiens.  3 months ago, it was full of newly planted Impatiens.  Now?  Bare soil and a few scraggly hangers-on. What happened?

Good question!  The brief answer is that they rotted.  The bigger question is why–and even I’m not sure. Nearby Massachusetts has an outbreak of a disease called Impatiens Downy Mildew.  They are recommending that folks with infected plots not plant the following year, because it can infect the soil and recur.

Here’s a fact sheet from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on the phenomena.  My problem is different from what’s going on in this descriptive fact sheet–I think.  The problem in my case is that the stems of the plant are rotting off–literally–at the base. It’s much more like a damping off sort of issue–only in mature plants that have been in the ground for months.

And just like with damping off, once the stem of the plant rots off at the base, needless to say, there’s no saving it.

I’ve often had Impatiens that look similar to those in the UMass fact sheet–they occur near the end of the season and I just presumed that their yellow leaves and spindly anemic growth was a result of the lateness of the season and the coolness of the temperature.

In fact, this hanger-on looks suspiciously as if it does indeed have downy mildew.

Perhaps I’d just better change my planting habits in this bed for the next several years–in an abundance of caution.  Who wants to look at bare soil from now until the first snowfall?


No, this isn’t a post about growing older–that would be doddering.  Dodder is actually a very scary sort of parasite that can invade the garden and spread disease.  It’s fairly uncommon in my part of the world–the Northeast–but reading the agricultural bulletins from the Midwest and California leads me to believe it’s a fairly decent sized problem out there.  This one from Colorado State was typical.

That being said, I was shocked to find it growing on this patch of coreopsis in a town-maintained planting on a public street by a bus stop.  I’m quite sure they haven’t a clue what it is or the havoc it can wreak.  I’m not sure if I called the Public Works department I would get someone who would be knowledgable enough to care.

Dodder, for those unfamiliar with it, is a bit like mistletoe–it is a true parasite (although to get technical, mistletoe is hemiparasitic, because it can photosynthesize).  Its seed germinates and once the “host” as its stems are called come in contact with a suitable plant, it attaches to that plant and derives all its nutrients from that plant.  Needless to say, the plant won’t survive.

Also needless to say, herbicides can’t be used to control it without killing the “host” plant.  And despite appearances, it can’t simply be just “lifted off” the plant.

As it grows it will make tiny flowers and set more seeds, thus perpetuating the cycle.  Thus the only real way to get rid of it is with a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring–something that seems unlikely in this flower bed.

Also as it’s growing it can be transmitting disease to the host plant and plants around it.  Dodder is known to transmit at least 20 different kids of disease.  The ones most likely to affect this ornamental bed would be the “yellows” which are a series of fungal diseases and wilts.  Aster yellows is perhaps the best known one–or best known to me at least.

Dodder is a relative of that delightful field bindweed that I know you’ve all seen in your garden  (or perhaps other folks’ gardens)–if it’s flowering it looks like a small white morning glory with very pointy leaves.  It is also a relative of morning glory.  Think of it as the “bad seed” of the morning glory family–and hope to never see it in your garden!