Insects and disease
The mornings are cool now that fall has arrived. The cool mornings actually arrived a week or so before the official fall date. There has been a frost down in the valley a mile away but no frost here yet which means that the gardens are still looking full and lush although there is decline in the air. The afternoons are clear, warm in the sun and cool in the shade, kind of days. When I step out the front door on these warm afternoons there is a loud hum. The oak tree anchoring the entry garden looks as though it has a bit of matted fur all over the trunk and limbs. Climbing high into the branches, English Ivy, Hedera helix, has made a home. Now before you get all excited, yes this plant is invasive and on many invasive lists but here in northwestern Rhode Island it has not spread by seed. Here, it just has climbed high and when it climbs high it flowers. The flowers of English Ivy are creamy umbels which have an incredibly sweet fragrance. Their sweetness is appreciated by the bees. I know there is more than one kind of bee enjoying the nectar. I can see bumblebees and I think there are honeybees but I have not taken life and limb in hand to climb a ladder into this bee haven. I am content to stand under this tree and just listen to the happy hum. These are not the only 'bees' in the garden. In July as I started to pick the climbing beans in the vegetable garden I heard the familiar and angry buzz of hornets. Looking for the source I realized that they had and were still building their nest in the top of the tutuer on which the beans were climbing. My first response was to back away and leave the beans right where they grew. My second response was to purchase hornet and bee killer. I thought long and hard about the implications of applying this pesticide in the vegetable garden. Hornets can be quite aggressive and if I had an allergy to bee venom I would not hesitate to remove these trespassers. But while hornets are not great pollinators they are great predators. Most of us have experienced hornets hovering over a soda can or descending upon the fallen fruit in an orchard but they also eat a variety of insects. I do think there was less damage on all the Brassica plants in the garden this year. The cabbage looper often etches a lacy leaf pattern on the brussel sprouts foliage which does impact the size of the actual brussel sprout. So, I left the nest and have watched it grow all summer long. It is really a marvel of engineering. These critters are doomed anyway since the first frost is imminent. Have you ever left a wasp nest alone just so you can observe what goes on in and around it?
It seemed to happen overnight but, of course, it did not. It takes time to build up a takeover population of hard shelled, syrup producing, life sucking scale. Anything with a Latin name of Coccus hesperidum, must be bad mustn't it? I have had the flowering maple for several years now and, in fact, I have two which I have trained to standard form. They are not tight and neat but loose and tree like. I like having a maple tree or two in the window in the winter and it is even better when they bloom with hot scarlet/orange bells. I noticed that the left maple seemed a bit droopy. I checked the soil and it was moderately dry. The edge of the container seemed sticky. It takes a lot of scale to produce enough syrup to make the edge of a pot sticky. The windowsill was also sticky. What had I been doing each time I watered it? I obviously was not checking it for scale. I know, I was looking at the birds or the snow or trying to see whether or not the dogs were still in the yard. It pays to keep a close eye on your houseplants in January. This seems to be the stress month for houseplants. The heat has been turned up for a while, the air is dry, new growth is beginning to emerge as the days reach ten hours of light or more. But where did the scale come from? I answer gardening questions all the time but I have to say I have never seen an adequate answer to this one. I have introduced no new plants to the collection. The only answer I have is that perhaps there were eggs in the soil which have been quietly and stealthily waiting to hatch and start the battle. Do you have any thoughts on this? I brought the plant to the sink and after I put on my glasses and the horror of seeing all these insects subsided, I saw absolutely no way to remove all those little hard cases. I usually use neem oil on any insect problems but it only works on the crawlers which hide for a certain amount of time under the hard shell. The life cycle is two to four months. Common sense prevailed. I hacked it back. It was five degrees outside when I stuck that stalk in the snow by the back door. I hope those little suckers are frozen solid by now. Don't get mad, get even. The plant is now a stick sitting in a pot. I checked the remaining stick. I see no scale. I will keep an eye on it. I just can't show it to you as it looks too grim. I know it will send out new leaves. It just won't match the other tree anymore. That is the way it goes. I am checking all the other houseplants for scale and so far, nothing. They are all getting neemed though just in case. Are you battling any insects in your indoor garden? What, when, how?