The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

July 23, 2015

Attractive looking insect is destructive to peach trees

Filed under: Insects — bob @ 12:40 pm

If you see a rather large, black wasp with an iridescent blue tinge and brilliant orange ring on its body. Kill it quick! Spray it, swat it, stomp on it. It is the adult female of the peach tree borer.

This insect is not really a wasp, it just looks like one when you first glance at it. If you look closer at it you will see it doesn’t have that distinctive pinched body shape like a wasp.

A peach tree borer moth zooms quickly when it flies, very similar to a wasp. Most moths we see sort of bounce around when they fly, much like a butterfly. None of that lazy zig-zagging around for them. So actually, it won’t be very easy to stomp on them.

I spotted both male and female adults separately. Then a day or two later, I witnessed a pair mating. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me either time to get a photo for you to see.

It is not the adult that directly harms peach trees, it is the larval stage that does the damage. The adult female lays its eggs on the bark of the tree near the soil line.

Once the egg hatches, the tiny larvae start chewing their way into the inner back. There they feed and grow, burrowing their through the lower trunk of the tree. You can imagine how destructive this can be to a tree. The tree is either weakened so much that it becomes susceptible to other pests or it may, more likely, die outright from the damage.

Since the adults are mating and laying eggs right now, you may want to try using a preventative insecticide spray. Drenching the truck and lower branches with an approved insecticide may kill the newly hatched larvae before they have a chance to bore into the tree.

Once the borers are inside the tree, they are protected from sprays. At that point the best thing you can do is look for holes in the lower trunk made by the borers. Scrape away the bark and feeding debris. Be gentle, you don’t want to cause even more damage. Check the spot in about a week. The active areas will have new frass and other debris. That’s where the borers are living.

Make a vertical cut through the borer hole then poke a piece of thin wire into the feeding tunnel. If you’re lucky you’ll kill the borer. It’s a lot of fussing around but you may be able to save your tree.

There is another similar insect called the lesser peach tree borer that feeds higher up on the trunk. The adults look somewhat different but are just as destructive.



July 21, 2015

Plenty of tree frogs in our garden this year

Filed under: Animals — bob @ 9:37 am

Our garden has become a haven for baby tree frogs. Standing in one spot without having to move, I could see three of them. I’ve also seen many others hopping around in the yard.

The bright green frogs stand out against the yellow petals.

The bright green frogs stand out against the yellow petals.

Tree frogs need water to reproduce, either permanent ponds or temporary pools of water. This wet summer with all of its rain has left a lot of standing water around. Some areas around here have had water standing for a couple of months, long enough for tree frogs to lay eggs, hatch into tadpoles and develop into frogs.

It's always fun to spot one of these little guys.

It’s always fun to spot one of these little guys.

Like other frogs, they eat all sorts of insects which makes them helpful in the garden.

They’re so much fun to watch too. Tree frogs blend in so well with their surroundings that it is hard to find them in their natural habitat up in the trees. They can surprise you by showing up in the most unusual places.

Many of us have seen them resting on windows or stuck on the side of a building. One time I was happily surprised by one sitting on an apple I was about to pick.

Adult tree frogs are about two inches long, ours are a little over half an inch right now. They range in color from gray, brown or green depending on their circumstances.

This tree frog is about the same width as the daylily leaf.

This tree frog is about the same width as the daylily leaf.

It seems like tree frogs are loudest frogs we have around here. Their call is distinctive and carries quite a distance. Like bird songs, you can learn to identify them by their call even if you can’t see them.


July 15, 2015

Potential for more distorted tomatoes this season

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 12:03 pm

I don’t have to tell you we’ve had more rain than usual this gardening season in southeastern Michigan. Some locations, like my garden, have had significantly more rain than the official reporting stations because of localized heavy down pours. Don’t be surprised if you see a higher proportion of misshapen tomatoes in your garden this year be cause of this.

If you’ve grown tomatoes for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve picked your share of distorted tomatoes.

You may remember from your high school biology class that a tomato develops from the female parts of  a flower — the ovary and ovule. Under good weather conditions the tiny, newly formed tomato grows and matures normally. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, tomatoes can develop a number of different problems.

Tomato flowers on 'Stupice' heirloom variety.

Tomato flowers on ‘Stupice’ heirloom variety.

Tomatoes that have distorted areas with rough, brown edges are called “catfaced”. Although they are safe to eat, they don’t look very attractive. Catfacing is most often caused by flower petals sticking to the ovary just as the tomato begins to form. Rainy, damp weather keeps the petals from drying completely and separating from the rest of the flower.

“Zippering” is another related condition caused by damp weather. The symptom is, a long, rough, thin brown scar running longitudinally — north pole to south pole — on the skin of a tomato. It’s caused by the anther, the male part of the flower, adhering to the young fruit as it grows.

Sometimes an open locule forms along with zippering. A locule is a chamber inside the ovule that produces the fruit part of the tomato. An open locule is also called an “open hole”. It shows up as a dry, brown hole or depression on surface of the tomato.

Those over-sized, distorted tomatoes that look like two or more tomatoes merged into one, are also caused by poor weather during flower development.

Some varieties are more prone to these disorders than others — the “Beefsteak” varieties being one common example.

I should stop here and mention “blossom end rot”. It is not related in any way to these disorders but is caused by inefficient movement of calcium inside the tomato. That is a discussion for another blog.

Distorted tomatoes can also be caused by high soil nitrogen, excessive plant pruning, exposure to herbicides and tomatoes rubbing against one another.

As the weather straightens out, tomatoes forming later in the season will have fewer catfacing and zippering symptoms at maturity.






June 30, 2015

Waterlogged soil causing plant problems

Filed under: Weather — bob @ 8:21 am

Gardeners in our area are having to deal with unusual amounts of water in their gardens. The amount of water in the soil is more like what we would see in early spring after the snow melt rather than late June or early July.

Driving around I see standing water all over our area with no place to go. Soils in many places are waterlogged which means big trouble for plants.

Most plants are able to cope with a day or two of flooding but after that, complications start to set in. The biggest problem is a lack of oxygen in the soil. Plant roots need oxygen to function.

All types of soil contain air spaces between soil particles. Fine textured soils with a lot of clay, have very small air spaces while sandy soils have large air spaces. This is very important because plant roots need access to soil air, they can’t efficiently use the oxygen dissolved in water.  When we have too much rain, these air spaces fill with water. Once that happens, the plant roots begin to drown and eventually die.

A water damaged plant, curiously enough, shows symptoms exactly like a plant that has been growing in a drought. In the case of a drought, there is not enough water for the roots to absorb so the upper part of the plant wilts. With a waterlogged plant, the upper part of the plant also wilts because can’t the roots have stopped working so no water gets moved into the upper parts of the plant.

My raised bed has helped keep the plants up out of the water. I haven't even been able to weed this bed because of the high water.

My raised bed has helped keep the plants up out of the water. I haven’t even been able to weed this bed because of the high water.

After a the soil returns to normal, plants need to be watered more often because they have fewer roots. Often, if the damage is not too bad, the plant will recover by growing more roots to replace the ones lost by drowning. If it the damage is too great, the plant will be stunted and never be able to live up to its potential.

Another problem, especially with a vegetable garden, is the potential for contamination. In urban or suburban neighborhoods where all sorts of properties are nearby, there is the potential for flood waters to carry contaminants like bacteria or chemicals. Think of that dog kennel down the street or that parking lot with runoff water carrying motor oil and other debris.

You may want to think twice about eating vegetables exposed to contaminated flood water.




June 29, 2015

Moth mullein welcome in the cottage garden

Filed under: Flowers,Weeds — bob @ 12:13 pm

There’s some new unexpected members to our garden family of plants this year. It is a group of moth mullein plants.

I’m not really sure how they got there. I figure they most likely hitched a ride as seed in soil from some other plants that I transplanted from someone else’s garden a couple of years ago.

Since moth mullein is a biennial, it takes two years to bloom. The first year for all biennials is a nondescript growing stage which is why I hadn’t noticed the mulein until now. If I was a more tidy gardener, I probably would have pulled them out last year thinking they were some kind of weed seedlings.

Moth mullein is a non-native species so, many people consider them actual weeds. Originally they were brought to this continent as a decorative flower and useful herb — it has some insecticidal properties.

Moth mullein in bloom.

Moth mullein in bloom.

While it may be an immigrant to this country, moth mullein seem to have very little impact on the native ecosystems of our area. They really can’t compete with well-established native plants. However, each plant produces thousands of seeds a year and tilling the soil tends to stimulate their germination. In the garden they may eventually wear out their welcome. In some states they are classified as noxious weeds but not here.

American goldfinches feed on the tiny moth mullein seeds. I saw a pair of goldfinches checking out my plants today. The seeds are not ready yet, so they decided to leave before I could get a photo of them. The seeds are pretty small, about one millimeter long, and can sprout even after laying for a hundred years.

I’m not too worried about the mullein taking over my garden just yet. They are behaving themselves in a very dry flower bed and are only a couple of feet tall. In your garden, if it has fertile soil and is well watered, they might grow twice that size.

Moth mullein is a perfect candidate for an English cottage garden where plants are expected to reseed themselves year after year.

Seeds are available through mail order seed catalogs and online sellers. Of course you can always collect some from the wild since they are not endangered nor invasive in Michigan.




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