gardening links: japanese beetle help, rain barrels

THIS HAS NOT BEEN MY FAVORITE GARDEN SEASON SO FAR, I’ll confess. Too many bouts of heat, far too little rain. One side benefit: It has been too hot to even be outside some days, let alone work outside, so I’ve been inside reading about topics ranging from Japanese beetle-control advances to setting up a water-collection system with rain barrels and more. My latest links worth browsing on the next day the weather finds you inside:

I HAVE SEEN FEWER JAPANESE BEETLES so far this season, one of the only side benefits of a dry spring and summer, since eggs and young grubs fare worse in dry turf. Permanent beetle decline would be a great thing, so I’m thrilled to read of advances in infecting beetles with a pathogen called Ovavesicula that may someday lead to better chemical-free control throughout the pest’s range.

The latest bright moment: Entomologist Dr. David Smitley and others at Michigan State University are actually having a Japanese Beetle Biocontrol Field Day July 28, where gardeners can take home infected beetles to release in their yards where they will in turn infect other beetles. I first read about it here.

How the pathogen works: Infected beetles grubs don’t survive the winters as well (populations were reduced 25 to 50 percent per year, reports Smitley), and infected females lay fewer eggs.

Now don’t get in the car to drive to that field day just yet to get; at least not unless you’re a Michigander. The one current drawback: Infected beetles can’t be transported across state lines. But help is coming. The MSU team has proposals out to extend the program.

NEXT YEAR I PLAN A GIANT RENOVATION of my aging self, er, garden. It figures to be a lot of work—but not as much work as Descanso Gardens, the long-beloved refuge 20 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, is apparently committing to.  A longterm plan aimed at better sustainability and with an eye to water in particular—such a scare resource, with no promise for anything but further challenges ahead—includes relocating acres of its prize camellia collection out from under a forest of aged oaks, for instance. The Los Angeles Times story on Descanso’s plan. (1870s Japanese camellia print from the Library of Congress archive.)

THE WATER-WISE WORD FROM BUFFALO: I always love hearing about the annual Garden Walk Buffalo, first held in 1995. America’s biggest garden tour and party includes self-guided visits to more than 350 open gardens. The 2010 version is set for next weekend, July 24-25, but 70-plus garden bloggers from around the country and Canada descended two weeks early, for what they labeled (clever, clever!) Buffa10.

Beyond the gardens, what caught my moisture-starved eye in all the early coverage: links to great information about rain barrels, including which ones to use, and how to use them, thanks to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and especially its downloadable rain barrel pdf of frequently asked questions. Now if I only had gutters and downspouts…hmmm…

  1. Katherine says:

    Thanks for the rain barrell information! I live in Southern California where there is usually a lot of rain for about 4 months of the year and next to none in the summer. A couple of years ago I added an additional downspout, and set up 12 rain barrels all connected together to capture water from the roof. The first year – even though it was a “drought” year they filled quickly and I could have filled them several times over. My homemade system works pretty well, but if I were going to do it again I’d have created a hgher elevation for the barrels, with concrete blocks or something, to create garivity pressure so that it would be easier to get the water out. I wish there were companies out here in the business of setting up professional sytems!

  2. Amy says:

    We also have fewer Japanese beetles and the dry weather has resulted in many fewer slugs — both welcome occurrences — but we seem to have an infestation of tomato horn worms this year. Has anyone else noticed this?
    Despite the lack of rain, the weeds keep growing and growing and growing and….

  3. CJ says:

    Fewer beetles, yes; but the moles are back, throwing up sand between the bluestone pavers of my walk and patio! Aargh!

  4. Renee says:

    Fewer Japanese beetles in SE CT this summer, but way more Asiatic beetles — the reddish-brown ones that hide in the mulch during the day, and feed at night. Glad I planted way more basil than usual, since some plants have been chewed to nubs. Also hit China asters and coleus. (Lace-leaved coleus, anyone?) The beetles attach to the window screens of lighted rooms at night, and there are fewer of them this week, so I’m hoping the munching phase of their life cycle is coming to a close. Also wishing some of the birds would develop an appetite for these invaders.

  5. Janet Clarey says:

    This is my first time here and I’m so glad I found your blog! Thanks for the information on rain barrels. I was just talking about getting that going last night. And, thanks for the info on Garden Walk Buffalo next week. A short 3-hr drive.

    BTW…I also noticed fewer Japanese beetles this summer. I used a spray (pesticide, ugh) when I saw the first of them because last year I was out of town when they first arrived and they nearly destroyed my roses. Good to know what kind of environment they do/do not thrive in.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Janet. Sounds like you have a plan for next weekend now, and you can investigate the rain barrels I bet, too. Hope to see you soon again — and enjoy your upcoming adventure!

  6. Steve Zick says:

    Margaret, I hear you about this gardening season–the relentless Chicago heat and sporadic rain has both me AND the garden struggling. I’m getting through it by reading and re-reading an old fave: The O’Brien Guide to Irish Gardens, by Shirley Lanigan (2000). Reading about places with plentiful rain, moderate temperature and an endless plant list is keeping my spirits up!

  7. lou desena says:

    spider-mites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!—–sucking the “chlorophol” out of my “roses.spray them,and 2 days latter —“their back”.just as agravating as “japenese beatles!!!!!
    i spend 2 hours daily “breaking off their heads as they lay in the palm of my hand on their backs.can anyone make a “spray”–that—-“works????????”-for these
    garden agravations???

  8. Sandra says:

    Margaret – I’m doing a major garden renovation this fall too – time to recognize I’m getting older. Can you do some discussion of what you are doing besides the normal replacing perennials with flowering shrubs or just green shrubs? I’m planning some of that gorgeous Hakelonea with divisions from existing ones and some santolina for the edges but am torn on what to put in the in the next row up and the center (rectangular gardens viewed from all sides.) Whatever I do also has to be deer unfriendly (hence the grasses and santolina.) Sure would love your input. Thanks for all I’ve learned from you (you even got me to rag out the treegator I forgot we owned and used it to good measure around my new amur chokecherry.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome Lou. I hear you! I don’t use any chemicals, so I end up hand-picking beetles and using the hose to spray things that have aphids and mites and such, over and over. Low tech over here. :)

      Welcome, Sandra. I will do some writing about this, yes. Right now I’m sort of brewing my thoughts. Will there be something woody, with height, in the center of these beds? Not sure I am picturing it properly yet.

      Welcome, Suzanne. I used the nematodes years ago, too, and had some good results. And I do a lot of drowning of them. Ick, but effective.

      See you all again soon.

  9. Suzanne says:

    I’ve been using beneficial nematodes for several years to control Japanese beetles, and am pretty happy with the results. You apply them in the spring and again in the fall. The nematodes feed on Japanese beetle grubs. We don’t use pesticides because we raise bees, and we have a pond full of happy frogs and fish. But this year I did notice beetles feeding on the leaves of our green beans. I mixed up some soapy water and sprayed it directly on the beetles. They drop off the leaves pretty quickly. You don’t need to use a lot of soap (I just use a little dishwashing soap).

  10. Abby says:

    The question I have, and that no one has answered to my satisfaction, is whether the run-off from an asbestos-shingled house is safe to use in a vegetable garden. I still want to get a rain barrel, for the flower bed on the south side of the house that never gets enough rain. And another question I have is, in areas where houses do not have gutters, isn’t that to prevent roof damage from ice dams? Gutters require maintenance that involves tall ladders, too. Can you tell that gutter cleaning is not one of my favorite tasks? I hope Michigan shares its infected Japanese beetles with the rest of us, although I have not seen that many this year, despite our rainy spring. Or maybe, after they were done with my climbing rose, they simply moved on.

  11. Judith says:

    We had a dry winter and spring in Southern Ontario, and I was concerned about a dry summer too but fortunately we’ve been getting plenty of rain. I started using rain barrels a few years ago and they’ve been extremely useful. Our city water supply is chlorinated which I don’t like using on the plants. Surprisingly enough, even with all the rain I haven’t seen too many slugs this year or Japanese beetles, I also look for plants that will tolerate drought conditions.

  12. Brian G. says:

    Abbey, asbestos siding is usually very old and has been painted many times over the years which acts as a sealant. Unless your siding is broken in places or crumbling I doubt you have anything to worry about. If you are still concerned, the best way to check for contamination is to have tests done on your foundation soil and any water you may collect in a barrel.

  13. Tammy says:

    It sounds like “too many bouts of heat, far too little rain…too hot to even be outside…”
    you may have moved to Texas. lol.
    I am experiencing MORE bugs this year than I have ever seen. I don’t use pesticides and am just wondering if it has taken a couple of years for them to realize it. Yuk!

    1. Margaret says:

      @Tammy. Love your comment…and yes, it has felt like TX here in NY. We finally got a little rain (in violent storms, yikes!) but nothing deep this spring/summer really at all.

  14. just finishing what turned out to be a year long complete renovation from foundation plantings to every border and lastly the overgrown wooded area out back. Lots of sweat and tears, advil and new plants, but hopefully now far more sustainable and less work for my aging bones. Good luck with yours…I am eager to see what changes get made in your gardens, which are stunning BTW!

  15. Alan says:

    Hey Margaret,

    Very hot & dry here in SE Virginia as well. It’s tough to keep everything watered and alive. I have so many young trees & shrubs….very depressing sometimes.
    Thanks for sharing the links. I especially found the rain barrel info useful. I need to install some gutters as well!!

  16. Tod says:

    Unfortunately the Japanese beetles found their way to 2 new cherry trees I planted, despite the harsh weather. I kept handpicking to no avail, so I put traps about 15 feet away from each tree and that seems to work. I’m intrigued to find more organic solutions if you have any. Of course the local nursery pointed me to the most toxic spray possible [which I actually bought out of desperation but have quarantined and will return after reading the label which stated that it was harmful to bees. WTF?].

    Anyhoo wish me luck. On the bright side, those dumb roses I bought a few years ago are actually happy this year not being the salad for the beetle tourists.

    And thanks for posting about the rain barrels. I’m working on a massive installation for the fall.

  17. Jayne says:

    I’ve just come back from a trip to Savannah and Charleston, so I now realize we dont even know the meaning of the word HEAT in CT! My garden looks so sad. Dahlias are languishing, vegetables growing slowly. Only the lilies seem happy, especially when I am plucking the red lily beatles from their leaves! Where have those delightful June days in the garden gone?

  18. Aleta says:

    Thanks so much for posting the info on this new pesticide-free method for fighting Japanese beetles! I’m in Michigan so I’m definitely going to this presentation and to pick up some infected beetles to take home and release. I haven’t seen as many this year either, but I’ll take any precautions for the future I can get!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Aleta. So glad it’s a perfect fit for you; I am jealous that I’m not nearer by. Let us know what happens, won’t you? See you again soon!

  19. No mention of Milky Spore? We had a grub problem in our lawn when we first moved in, so after some research on the internet we decided to buy some Milky Spore and since having spread it on the lawn, our grub problem hasn’t resurfaced. I’m sure the hot weather you mention has definitely helped as well!

    Milky Spore purports to work similarly to the pathogen you mention above. When watered in to the soil, the spores are consumed by the grubs, in whose bodies they multiply in the millions. The grubs then explode, thereby spreading the spores for other grubs to eat and die with. Eventually, the entire lawn should be grub-proof, as every inch of the soil contains spores, which are entirely safe for humans and for other vegetation/beneficial organisms. And if you tend to have Japanese Beetle problems, one of the best things you can do is to eliminate the grubs that they hatch from. Not cheap, but at least from our evaluation, it seemed quite effective!

  20. Pam says:

    I thought the relatively few JB’s were just my wishful thinking. Good to know there’s an upside to the hot, dry weather.
    The Portland (Maine) water district has a rain barrel program where they buy in bulk and sell to those who sign up for a reduced price. I’ve installed 3 barrels and they fill up in a half hour in a good thunderstorm – we have a big roof. I collect enough water for the flower gardens, and we pump water from the pond out back for the vegetables. I’ve been doing a lot of watering this last couple of months, but the veggies are happy and the flowers are beautiful, so…

  21. mary kirwin says:

    Hi, I’ve had a vegetable garden for a few years. After our pumpkins and squash took it over last year and it resembled jurassic park, we decided to plant another garden with just squashes and pumpkins. Went out last night to see how things were going in that particular garden and found many of the plants had yellowed. Upon further investigation, we saw that grubs were at the core of the problem, right at the stem of the plants! It was a bit horrifying. My question is, whether it be milky spore or nematodes, is it too late now to do anything? Just wait until the fall to deal with it? Thanks in advance for any assistance. I live on cape cod if that matters? Also, Margaret, enjoy you blog and thanks for the many pointers. mary

  22. Debi Kauffman says:

    We used to have a terrible problem with japanese betteles they would cover my chinese elm trees so bad, that if you shook the tree a swarm of betteles would fly away. The strange thing is we haven’t seen any betteles for at leat 15 years. Can someone tell me if they go away on their own? I still have my trees. The only treatment we used was traps every summer. I read about their life cycle, but I’m not sure how many years we had to used they traps. Just a little curious. If someone
    might have an answer for me. Thanks Debi Kaufman

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