The honeymoon is over. Yes, that heavenly period in early spring when all around us produces bright, perfect new growth—glossy leaves, plump buds, flawless blossoms—is at an end. Now it’s time to collect our combat gear and prepare to do battle with the myriad forces that are determined to undermine the beauty of our gardens.
Insects, slugs, rodents, fungi…they’ve all come out to feast on the sweet, tender vegetation we have nurtured. Everyone I talk to has complaints. Jill’s crabapple (Malus species) has been decimated by the winter moth caterpillar (Operophtera brumata) that is prevalent this year. Pat is inundated with snails. Bonnie and I both have lungwort (Pulmonaria) that looks like Swiss cheese thanks to the slugs. A woodchuck is nipping the tops off my coneflowers, and a squirrel is dining on my sweet potato vine (Ipomea batata).
It happens every year, and I guess I hope every year that this time it won’t. It’s only when damage has been done that I take action. For me this year, the slugs have been the worst. With several weeks of off and on rain, they are plentiful and hungry. Besides the lungwort, they’ve chewed on my day lily foliage, lamium, hostas and phlox. So off I go with a large container of Slug Magic (www.bonide.com) to sprinkle on the ground around the bases of all these plants. This is just one brand name; the key ingredient to look for is iron phosphate. Iron phosphate should take care of the snails, too, though I haven’t had them in my garden—yet. One consolation is that the lungwort foliage can be cut back and will renew itself quickly with fresh new leaves.
Tags: Malus, crabapple, late winter, early spring, fungi, rodents, insects, snails, Operophtera brumata, winter moth caterpillar, Ipomea, Sweet potato vine, Lungwort, Slug Magic, Hostas, Lamium, day lily, iron phosphate, Phlox divaricata, Critter Ridder, woodchuck, squirrel damage, squirrels, Safer, Bonide, Globe thistle, Echinops ritro, Echinacea, Coneflower, Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt, Neem oil, Spinosad, slugs
Next, I head out with Critter Ridder (www.havahart.com) to sprinkle around the coneflowers (Echinacea) and other plants favored by the woodchucks and squirrels. The woodchuck seems to like fuzzy and prickly foliage, including Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro).
As for the winter moth caterpillar, according to Jill it can be sprayed with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a biological insecticide available from Bonide, Safer and other companies) when it is newly hatched. Later, as the little “loopers” swing on their silken strands, Spinosad (from Monterey at www.montereylawngarden.com , Green Light at www.greenlightco.com and others) and Neem oil (from Monterey or from Garden Safe at www.Lowes.com) are organic options. The other approach would be to spray susceptible trees (such as crabapple, maple, oak and fruit trees) with dormant oil (from Bonide and more) in late winter to smother the eggs.
The main thing, I guess, is to accept that these challenges are business as usual in the garden and I should anticipate them every year. These remedies are effective and the key is to apply them promptly at the first sign of trouble. It's all part of nature’s plan, and gardening will never be about perfection!