An Ageless Ramble


With the recreational and meteorological summer now officially over it’s time to look back, look forward and move on. And it’s time for my first fall ramble.It seems to have been a pretty remarkable summer for gardening. July was hot, August was cool (crazy, as usual) and for the most part the rain was cooperative. Everything looked lush, grew well and there were no major garden disasters.

It seems that everyone learned how to cope without our usual bedding impatiens problems. Their loss just forced us all to be a bit more creative.

Don’t Blame It On The Bossa Nova

And we now have a scapegoat for anything that goes wrong in the garden and landscape. Blame it on global warming.

So I’m going to blame the elongated season of the Japanese beetles on, you guessed it, global warming. The beetles showed up right on schedule but their presence seemed to have lasted 10 days to almost two weeks longer than in past years. In fact, I found one holdout JB on a perennial hibiscus 10 days into September. I think we’d call him/her an outlier.

The other thing that surprised me was the number of JBs. They hit the same plants as always on my property—the perennial and shrub hibiscus. Oddly, this summer they were also attracted to one of my new magnolias but not the other two. But it was the numbers that perplexed me because last summer was hot and dry and that’s not the kind of weather that should lead to high JB populations the next season.

I’m also starting to rethink my abandonment of the yellow bag beetle traps that have sex lures to attract the insects. A number of years ago I stopped using them and suggested that others do the same as I sensed we were just bringing more beetles onto our properties with the lures.

I wasn’t sure what percentage were getting into the traps. But I watched the behavior of these beetles this summer during mating season and it was just amazing how strong the sex hormone (pheromone) from the female drew the males from all points on the property and beyond. It wasn’t uncommon to see five or more males piling on a female, and all because of that special scent they detected—the same one used in the yellow traps.

More on this next spring. But for now, if you had an outbreak of JBs on your property this year that seemed larger than in past years, then you should be scouting your lawn for white grubs ASAP.

These grubs are a result of the eggs laid in the top of the soil in July and August. As the soil cools, the grubs move farther down.

Cut a piece of sod 1 square foot. Look at the soil in the cut piece and under it from 1 to 3 inches down. See any white grubs?

Check several spots on your lawn. If you’re finding more than seven or eight grubs per square foot, you may have a problem. It’s too late to treat now but keep your findings in the back of your head until next year when we’ll explore some control strategies.

In the meantime, we’ve had some chilly nights already. It looks like we’re going to have a colder and snowier winter than we did last year.

Moving Along

Credit where credit is certainly due. During the summer I did a column on invasive plants and included some pictures and text on the invasive lythrum that was growing in two road medians in Hampton Bays. The plantings had been done by the Hampton Bays Beautification Association and after a few email exchanges with Board Director and Secretary, Maud Kramer, she told me that the HBBA had decided to remove the lythrum.

Thank you Maud. Thank you HBBA. A job very well done.

I’ve also got some thoughts to share on organic weed control.

A few years ago I wrote about an organic iron-based material that was being used for weed control. The particular product was called Iron X, and while I found it very effective in my home trials I also found that it was prohibitively expensive to use for anything other than small areas or spot weeding. But it did work on a wide range of perennial broadleaf weeds.

Since, I’ve read some more recent research on the product and the scientific results were very similar to what I had seen on my lawn. In most cases it was almost as effective as 2,4-D—the systemic pesticide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid—but without the environmental and chemical consequences.

Iron X is still pretty expensive. Not 10 times as expensive a chemical application as I’d found five years ago, now it’s only three times more expensive than 2,4-D applications.

You can now buy the product by the gallon. You’ll need to make two or three applications either in the fall or in the spring. The product is sold under the trade name “Fiesta” and you can find it online or ask for it at your local garden center. It will cost about $85 a gallon.

A Happy Story For The End

I had a wonderful experience over the summer working with a woman in her mid-80s who had never gardened before. She joined my community garden group upstate in the spring.

Regina had never planted a thing before and hadn’t even had a houseplant. Having lost her house in the flooding that resulted from Sandy, she relocated and was looking for something to take up some of her time.

So here I was with an 85-year-old woman who had never planted a seed, grown a plant or done anything horticultural. Our beginning was very frustrating because Regina had no clue what a seed actually did, nor did she know the very basics: that it would need soil, warmth and water.

We got past that and she learned how to thin the seedlings (“But Andrew, how do I know which are the weeds?” she’d ask.). After a couple of months of trepidation she learned how to plant, cultivate, feed, water and weed. The transformation was just remarkable, as was the change in her life.

Regina would tell me how this tiny little gardening plot meant so much to her. Every day, she would tend to it. I was so touched and so gratified. And Regina was just plain happy.

But there was a problem in veggieland. I had created a monster.

Regina confided in me one day that she couldn’t pull out and eat the plants that she had nurtured and grown. She just didn’t have the heart to kill the things she’d brought to life.

Well, we had a long, long talk—mostly about the history of humankind and the fact that all her life she had been eating things that other people had grown. The clincher though was when she realized that every plant that she grew had the ability to go to seed and provide the basis for new plants; that made her feel much better. She’s now reaping that which she has sown.

What a wonderful thing for someone of that age to discover gardening. Do you have a friend who needs a push or a prod? Don’t let years stop them. Gardening is ageless.

Keep growing.

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