Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Getting Bugged

Ahh, springtime in the garden. All looks peaceful and serene.

The plants are green and blooming, despite the harsh winter, late freezes, and dry spring.

One of the Pale-Leaf Yuccas has two tall flower spikes.

And one mysteriously writhing flower stalk.

Bluebonnets and Gulf Coast Penstemon bloom around the Giant Hesperaloe.

I finally divided the Brakelights Red Yucca that I bought a couple of months ago. I was hoping to get at least three plants and ended up with five. All divided easily and should survive. I planted three near the Giant Hesperaloe and still need to decide where the other two will go. They are in their own pots until I decide.

But looks can be deceiving. Amid all the beauty of spring, destructive little beasts are lurking around the garden and feasting on some of the plants.

Large numbers of the beetles feed on Missouri Evening Primrose in the front garden. 
I think they are flea beetles. 

Here is a close up of the beetles on the Missouri Evening Primrose. Interestingly, in the back garden, they are feeding on some wild Gaura that I collected from a field and they are not touching the Stemless Evening Primrose, a close relative to the Missouri Evening Primrose.

Four lined plant bugs suck the juices out of the leaves which results in damage that looks similar to a disease, rather than an insect attack. They are quite fond sages. Damage to Autumn Sage is pictured above. They are also attacking the Mealycup Sage and Big Red Sage.

In addition to the sages, the Four lined Plant Bugs are feeding on the Gayfeather. A couple of them are barely visible in this photo. Had I seen them when I was taking the picture, I would have attempted to squash them between my finger and thumb. They are hard to catch because they drop to the ground when threatened. I spot sprayed the flea beetles and four lined plant bugs with light horticultural oil in an attempt to get them under control. That is the strongest insecticide that I will use and it seems to have helped some. I have to be careful with the spray because I do not want to hit any good bugs or predators of these pests. This fall, I will put out some beneficial nematodes to see if that will help control the overwintering pests.

Another pest attacking the Gayfeather and a few other plants are spittlebugs. The nymphs live in the foamy mass they create on stems and suck juices from the stems. Fortunately, they usually do not cause much damage. I will try to get rid of them by washing them off with a stream of water from the hose.

In addition to the flea beetles, hummingbird moth caterpillars are quickly consuming the Gaura leaves and flowers. It is interesting that they are different colors.

I don't mind this caterpillar too much because I will eventually get the benefit of more of the moths in the garden and more opportunities to try to take a good picture of one. This blurry one is feeding on the flowers of Gulf Coast Penstemon.

Too bad for the caterpillars that they were discovered by a female grackle over the weekend. She ate just about every one of them. Who knew grackles ate anything besides french fries in parking lots?

I invite many caterpillars into the garden by planting the host plants that they eat. One example is bronze fennel which supports black swallowtail caterpillars. In this example, the damage caused by the caterpillars is barely noticeable. 

Some insects can be a pest in the garden, but they are usually just a temporary annoyance. The flea beetles and four lined plant bugs should disappear as quickly as they appeared and new growth should replace the damaged leaves. 

This is the second year these two insects have attacked the garden. I hope biological warfare this fall with beneficial nematodes will keep their numbers in check next year.

Is your garden getting bugged too?


  1. I kind of welcomed the colder winter. The year before was so mild even the pecans didn't get enough cooling hours plus I hoped the cold weather might reduce some of the pests.

    I had a problem with four lined plant bugs few years ago. It was a nasty nasty problem. They seem to uglify everything that is supposed to be pest free -- all those lovely resinous plants we grow here. I did totally get rid of them without chemicals but it was labor intensive. Each morning in spring (when they are slightly more sluggish) I shook them out into buckets until I stopped seeing any fall into the water. The nymphs look really different from the adults. They are small and bright red. Four lined plant bugs will aestivate or disappear during the hot part of the summer. But in the fall I had to be obsessive about clearing the duff and trimming the top bits of all the susceptible plants in the affected area. If you skip the cleanup step like I did one year you will have them as bad or worse the next spring. Once I wised up to that important step I haven't seen them around at all. Thank goodness. Good luck. =)

    1. Debra, thanks for the tips. It gives me hope since you eradicated your four lined plant bugs. It may take a while, but I think the garden will eventually get everything in balance. I hope the nematodes work because I do not want to clean up all of the leaves and stems. I call that mulch.

    2. I hope you can write an update next year. If the nematodes work that will be handy info.

      I know what you mean about keeping material on soil that was the exact reason why I didn't do a cleanup that first year. The second year when they came back worse I bit the bullet and left only the area around the affected plants bare until the first freeze. The adult bugs lay their eggs in living tissue as well in the spring so trimming the tops of plants in the fall makes a big difference. There is a set distance though I can't recall what I read. I recall it being short -- like under 3 inches -- but memory is a tricky thing. If you want to go that route you might want to check the research. These four lined plant bugs are a much bigger problem in northern areas and are only starting to cause a stir down here. the nice thing for us is we can learn from their experience.

    3. Debra, thanks for the additional information. I put out some nematodes this evening. We will see what happens. I got to thinking that I may not be able to put out more in the fall because of watering restrictions. There will not be any outdoor watering, with the exception of trees and foundations, if we get to stage 4. They will not survive if the soil is too dry anyway.

  2. That is quite a bit of damage to a few plants but your garden seems to have survived the harsh winter well. The brakelights red is a good color for early spring. One of our hesperaloes has a curly bloom stalk too. Just one on a plant with several others that are fine. I don't remember seeing that before.

    I see some spittlebugs and beetles but they mostly stay in the wild area along the creek and out of the garden. The monarchs flew through before the milkweed was even out of the ground. When they come back through I'll watch for grackles.

    How did the talk go?

    1. Shirley, most everything fared well after the winter of ice, roller coaster temperatures and late cold spells. We are even expecting temperatures in the low 40s on Thursday morning. I am planning a winter follow up post soon. I would like to find some mature Brakelights to see their mature size. It looks like they will remain pretty small.

      I saw one monarch this year. My milkeweed is doing well. I would like to see some caterpillars eat it. You probably do not need to worry about grackles going after your monarch caterpillars because they retain toxins from the milkweed and are supposed to taste bad to birds.

      The talk went OK. There was an audience of five. Apparently, the Dallas Mavericks are a bigger draw.

    2. But those five people can each tell more. =)

  3. Thanks for the hummingbird moth caterpillar photo and info. Sorry I couldn't get to your library talk.

    1. No problem Collagemama. You were kind enough to show up the first time. No need to put you through that again. The second time was a rerun.

  4. Your garden looks so full and so FANTASTIC! Nothing bugging me too too much right now, knock on wood. I chuckled at your hawk moth blurry pic. I can NEVER get a good pic either! Then there are those like Shirley that give as pictures in motion! ;)

    I am seeing more caterpillars than ever this year, and I am so pleased. It seems not long ago to me that this yard had nothing alive but starlings en masse!

    1. Shirley is getting pretty good with her photo tricks. I would settle for a clear picture. Some critters are just too fast for me.

      Caterpillars and worms. It shows your garden is alive. For anybody that missed Heather's excitement about worms in her garden be sure to check out the video at CTG: http://video.klru.tv/video/2365212674/

  5. I wish some grackles would come along and eat all the caterpillars that are consuming my mountain laurel. I thought this cold winter was supposed to provide some respite from the pests, but it would seem not. I'm holding my breath to see if the stink bugs make their return to the veggie garden. I'd love to have a few un-nibbled tomatoes this year.

  6. Where did you get the Giant Hesperaloe?


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