Take heart! Natural enemies stalk weeds

Canada thistleBy Michael Leach

Weeds are villains in the garden story. They combine the reproductive prowess of a locust plague, kill resistance of a mad-slasher and relentlessness of sci-fi storm troopers. 

“Resistance is futile,” they are telling me. Looking in horror at the Amazon jungle growth threatening to take over the house, I’m inclined to agree.

But not just yet. Besides the inevitable late-summer slow down in growth, there’s news that offers a degree of moral support in the meantime. 

Weeds get sick. Take Canada thistle — puh-leeze (but wear heavy gloves when handling). Some are victims of a bacteria that makes them look bleached and so reduces their food making ability. According to The Ohio State University Extension, the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae pv. tagetis, “cuts down on their seed head production and occasionally kills the plant. Laboratory-made extracts applied to thistles reduces seed production … by 87 percent. But this isn’t enough to overcome seeding by surviving plants.” No silver bullet.

Bugs eat weeds.  The mis-named tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, is the primary host  of ailanthus webworms. These little darlings can defoliate one of those odious and highly invasive trees. But so far, they are failing to stop the pest’s spread.

Another insect, a Southeast Asian import, also relies on tree of heaven as its main food source. But the spotted lantern fly, Lycoma delicatula, also dines on 70 other plants. Woodies are preferred but grapes, soy beans and other food crops are on its menu. 

It was discovered in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and is being monitored.

monarch and milkweedGood weeds face problems. Common milkweed, which can be weedy due to its underground assault, force roots and wins our hearts. It’s a food source for Monarch butterfly larvae. It’s garden-worthy flowers have an enticing fragrance and attract a wide range of pollinators, not just Monarchs.

Turns out it, too, has enemies, such as milkweed yellows, spread by leaf hoppers. The bugs suck juices from infected plants and spread them to healthy ones. Leaves curl and turn somewhat yellow, according to the Nature Scoop newsletter from Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District here in central Ohio. 

Obviously spraying to kill hoppers is problematic. 

The best management approach is removing infected plants to help stop the spread. That’s what I do with victims suffering aster yellows and garden phlox that dares to mildew. Out to the curb in a brown bag. 

The newsletter also carried encouraging news: Monarch Watch predicts the eastern Monarch population will increase this year due to favorable weather conditions. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,  Monarchs migrating up the Atlantic coast appear to be from Florida not Mexico.

 

 

Are Gardeners Allowed to Take a Break?

adirondack-chair-x

Discover how you can build Adirondack chairs like these by visiting This Old House

By Michael Leach

Putting the white Adirondack chairs on the cozy, brick-paved patio symbolizes spring for me, almost as much as sunny daffodils and fluttering kites in blue skies.

 While a thorough cleaning remains to be done, these chairs already do nicely for breaks from the lengthy, early spring chore list. In recent years I’ve found that getting out of those chairs becomes harder and harder. Age isn’t the only factor.

 I suppose Auntie Mame, the zany subject of a novel, movie and Broadway plays sums it up best, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” For us green thumbs, substitute “The garden” for “life”. The suckers spend all their time nurturing their gardens rather than allowing the garden to nurture them.

 Unlike some gardeners, who claim they can’t sit in their backyard Edens because they always see something to do, I learned to turn a blind eye. Only the area around the patio is regularly groomed. This allows me to use the space (weather permitting) whenever company comes, a break is needed, or I want to enhance morning coffee or something cool to sip in the evening. Patio time brings peace and pleasure, not a guilt trip.

 This is why it’s important to consider garden furnishings as much more than decorative focal points or accents. Besides the patio, the maple-shaded picnic table and an aluminum reproduction of a cast iron Victorian bench beside the sycamore tree are frequently used in clement weather.

 Granted, we gardeners are blessed. What many consider drudgery, we delight in. Letting go of weeds, watering cans, trowels, pruning shears and shovels isn’t easy because we derive intense pleasure from working among plants, tending the soil and keeping things tidy.

 Too often, however, we obsess over details no one sees — unless we stupidly point them out. Those gorilla in the picture studies show it would take a thistle the size of King Kong before most guests will notice anything amiss in the perennial borders or vegetable beds. If yours is a reputation of plant nerd, they might compliment you on this towering horticultural achievement.

 Dormancy is natural, going all the time isn’t. Not that I’m giving you permission to plop down for the rest of the season. Not hardly. A friend, who died last fall at 102 and gardened until well into her 90s, always advised, “Never let the rocking chair get you.”

 She also recognized that rest is not a dirty, four-letter word.

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