Monday, August 4, 2014

Pest control

I'm not really a "summertime girl", to quote that hilariously bad LFO song from my college years. Summer is usually too hot, and here on the East Coast, entirely too humid for comfort's sake. None of that has been true this summer - I'll take an entire season of 70-degree temperatures and breeze every year, thank you very much!

The one thing I do love, more than anything else, about summer, is the flowers. Starting in the spring, but then extending all summer long, nature erupts into chaotic color and shapes and scents that just make me feel alive! Yes, I know that sounds cheesy and melodramatic, but hey, did you notice the name of the blog?

Every July, I look forward to my favorite flowers, my lilies, blooming. Usually, the blossoms open into happy pink explosions right around the Fourth of July, and I can look forward to being greeted every morning and evening with their happy faces and cheerful perfume. This year, because the weather has been unseasonably cool, my lilies didn't bloom until mid-July, so they were waiting to great me in full profusion when my brother and I returned from our road trip to the Midwest a few weeks ago. I could tell as I got out of the car that they had bloomed, even though it was dark, because there is no mistaking the smell of a freshly emerged lily.

Sadly, lily blossoms never last more than a few short weeks, no matter the temperatures, and with the summer thunderstorms and gusting winds we've been having, both my and my neighbor's yards are strewn with spent petals and orange pollen. But the leafy stems (which according to the nursery company I bought them from four years ago should only reach 12-18 inches high, but this year reached as much as 45 inches in height) stay happily green into the fall, and provide a nice barrier between my property and my adjoining neighbor's yard.

This weekend, I noticed some strange bugs on the remaining seed pods and style of the lilies that had finished and dropped their petals. and the more I looked, the more I realized that it wasn't just a few bugs (which wouldn't worry me), but quite literally thousands of these insects on each of the plants.

The underside of the leaves were even more coated with insects.

So what did I do? I emailed the pictures to my in-house plant expert, my dad. I'm fortunate enough to have parents who are very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects, and a father and a brother who are actually reasonably handy. Any plant questions automatically get referred to my dad, who not only taught me every single thing I ever learned about gardening, but also just retired from a successful career as an agronomist (an agricultural scientist).

As I knew he would, he immediately identified the crawly pests, which kind of resemble winged lice, as aphids - that persistent nuisance to gardeners everywhere (for some reason, I had always though that aphids were green, not tan, but perhaps the type I found is different than the kind that Dad always battles with over his roses). Aphids are a sucking insect, rather than a chewing insect, so they don't leave bitten holes all over the plants like a lot of pests, but instead suck on the waxy surface of the plant, which can cause the plant to turn brown prematurely. They also secrete a nectar that attracts ants, and since I already have a major problem with ants (sometimes I think my neighborhood was built on a giant ant hill), I decided to wage immediate war!

Now, I don't have a special license to mix my own chemicals, and off-the-shelf sprays are often expensive. But fortunately, the solution to the aphid problem is inexpensive and doesn't require an extra trip to the store. Using any clean spray bottle, just mix equal parts dish soap and water, and then spray the heck out of each spot where the aphids are hanging out. This is non-toxic to the plants, but suffocates the aphids.

I sprayed all 15 plants down yesterday, while my neighbor looked on in bafflement (all of my neighbors, while quite lovely people, are not really nature lovers, and are therefore baffled by just about anything I do in my yard, from digging up dandelions to fertilizing and pruning the crepe myrtles). While I listened to a summer thunderstorm raging through the night, I hoped it would knock the aphid carcasses off and that my remaining lilies would once again be pristine. This morning revealed that the leaves and stems are just as covered as they were before, but there seemed to be less movement of the insect variety, so I'm hopeful that the problem has been dealt with.

But even if the bugs are still clinging to life and my lilies, I have a huge supply of dish soap and a relentless will. Even if it means I have the "cleanest" flower bed in the state, I'm going to stay at it until the threat is gone!

Next week, we may head back to the farm, this time for blackberries and peaches, so I may have more jam ideas for you, or other recipes!

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