trouble in paradise: galls, beetles & more woes

cedar-apple-gallI NTO EVERY GARDEN SOME PESTS MUST FALL. And creep, and crawl, and hatch, and wriggle, and pupate, and fly and tunnel, and just plain materialize and cause havoc. Paradise (or so the tour guests called it recently) has its share of troubles this year, more than I’ve ever seen, actually. Am I paying stricter attention, or are they out to get me in a bigger way than in years past? Hello lily beetles, viburnum leaf beetles, tent caterpillars, various fruit-tree borers, and my old friend cedar-apple rust (above). How are we going to learn to get along? Or are we?

CEDAR APPLE RUST is having a banner year here. So what do you do when you live with warring roommates? In the case of the back-and-forth rounds of battle between the towering Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) in my front yard and all apples and apple relatives around the place, nothing.

Well, I do watch in fascination, especially at the stage of cedar apple rust above (a few weeks ago), when orange, almost gelatinous “telial horns” are developing where the cedar galls were last fall and winter. I don’t intervene, despite the havoc this fungus causes, particularly foliar damage and defoliation of apple relatives (the reason my shadbush, or Amelanchier, and my oldest of apples lose their leaves so early each year; the reason I don’t even try to grow hawthorns).

Quince, crabapple and pear are some of the other plants similarly affected. Learn more about the fungus these host species pass back and forth like a hot potato (the entire cycle is diagrammed here, in a pdf).

viburnum-leaf-bettle-instarVIBURNUM LEAF BEETLE: Someone on the blog recently said, “I can’t grow Viburnum because of the leaf beetle,” and I replied, “I’ve never had it here.” Famous last words.

My garden relies heavily on Viburnum, as do my beloved avian companions, and I bet there are more than 30 shrubs of numerous species and varieties in the garden. I have lost track.

One day in 2009, from a distance I noticed a catbird was intent on what looked like a dead shrub in the distance, but up close turned out to be a defoliated (but alive) Viburnum opulus, the cranberrybush viburnum. The catbird was having a wild time eating a glut of larvae (above) of the viburnum leaf beetle, who had just finished eating the foliage of the shrub. The food chain at work…until I interrupted it and squashed about 500 of them and cut off the worst branches, bagging them tightly for the trash.

I should have done this between October and April, before the eggs hatched into larvae; now I know.

Around the place I went, checking every Viburnum, expecting the worst. But only a couple of cranberrybush types that, like the defoliated one, were growing in pretty substantial shade, had any leaf damage, and slight at that. But why? Apparently there is natural resistance in many species, and you can get the list here if you wish to grow Viburnum but not ones that the beetle and its larvae adore. Onward to…

Foliage of Lilium martagon hybridLILY BEETLES: I was likewise cheeky about lily beetles: I don’t have them, I told a reader, who wanted help tackling this voracious leaf-eating pest (above, the leaves before the onslaught). Well, now I do have them, and in fact have drowned many red (adult) beetles in recent years along with many more larvae who were eating my Martagon lilies.

Besides hand-picking, tactics for control friends have tried include Neem oil spray. All about lily leaf beetles and what progress is being made against this pest by researchers is explained by University of Rhode Island’s Lisa Tewksburg in detail at this link.

caterpillar-patrolEASTERN TENT CATERPILLARS: I made the rounds in April with my bamboo cane, disrupting any weblike tents (above) I found and squashing anybody inside. As I’ve explained before, I do that to try to reduce the concentration of caterpillars hanging around in my favorite trees. I guess I missed a few; I’m seeing full-grown caterpillars more than I’d like to. Squish!

borer-damageBARK BORERS IN FRUIT TREES: In 2008 I lost one of 10 crabapples to bark borers, and another suffered mightily (jury still out; it’s trying to be vigorous). A third tree (actually newly planted in spring 2008) succumbed in 2009. Here’s what I know about these tiny but disgusting creatures who can quietly fell a tree (including to get out your pyrethrin-based concoctions and a piece of wire to insert into their tunnels if you want to kill them).

As I post this, aphids are making a pass at my honeysuckles, and I know that Japanese beetles will show up by July 4th. Tomato hornworms and all the other annual tomato troubles show up in varying degrees each summer, too, and on and on. Exhausting business this gardening, no?

So who’s been causing trouble in your corner of paradise?

  1. Jackie says:

    Does anyone have a way to discourage chipmunks from tunnelling everywhere, short of drowning or poison? I find tunnels around my 30 year old boxwoods and under my flagstone patio causing it to shift in spots. I love the animal life, but so distructive…

  2. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    The best way to eliminate tent catepillar nests is to burn them. My Grandparents had a dairy farm, and my Grandmother did it in their orchard. First of all you need a long pole. Secondly you need old rags like towels, or flannel shirts, etc, that you are going to cut and tie around the end of the long pole, like making a big “Q tip”. Grandmother than dipped the rag end into kerosine. If you do not have kerosine, use charcold lighter fluid. So you don’t get burnt, light an outdoor candle first, and then pass the rag end by the flame to light it. Working quickly go up to the underside of each nest, and set it a fire. I did it a few years ago on a crab apple tree in my Mother’s city garden. Good Luck!

    1. Clara Miller says:

      After realizing a long time desire for a couple of quince trees, I planted two last fall. They made it well through the winter, then were looking good in the spring…then it hit. An orange prickly looking blob followed by rust spots on leaves, etc. Near as i can tell, its cedar-quince rust.

      Yes, theres a big old cedar nearby looking rusty. On line reading seems dire…systemic…etc. Any advice?

      Cedar is still very much alive (its old and large), but any blossom on quince fell and no sign of fruit. Also rust spots on leaves.

  3. margaret says:

    Wow, I guess I picked the wrong day to go get my hair cut, see my longtime garden mentor for some wisdom, catch up with the bills and mail I’d let go prepping for tours…because here you all are, including *many* new faces. Hello!

    So welcome to Jane, Jackie, Melissa, Jan, Lisa and Warren, and Deborah.

    As for chipmunks (Jane, Jackie), in a word: C-A-T. If I were to write here that you can also eliminate them with peanut-butter baited traps as you would mice, people would say I am a murderess. They are exceptionally cute; I lovingly call them “Chippie,” and so I adore and LOATHE them all at once. Fortunately, my Jack the Cat finds them amusing so we stay slightly ahead of the curve.

    As with squirrels, there is no behavior-modification that I am aware of; you are either with them or without them, and if you are with them seeds will disappear and so will bulbs and who knows what else. Roto-rooter.

    @Deborah: I had this on some Viburnum ‘Winterthur’ and wondered if it was from aphids. Have a look at these photos and see what you think. The adult beetles of the leaf beetle issue won’t be out here quite yet. Look at them if you wish here.

    @Melissa: Since catalpa is pretty sturdy, other than I think bronze birch borer on occasion and some sphinx moth caterpillar that will eat the leaves, I think this is a great time to take your dead branch to the local Cooperative Extension in your area for accurate diagnosis.

    @Kathleen: I planted my potatoes mid-April and they just needed hilling now, but first came up in mid-May. It has been cold over all. Wait just a moment longer before panicking, then ask again and we will figure it out.

    @Dan: Oy vey, not that, too? I am on the lookout. With spider mites in general, they are opportunists when conditions are dry/hot and the stress that those can cause, so keep the plants well watered, and also use water (as in the hose-end nozzle) to shower the mites right off the plants regularly. Everyone likes a nice refreshing shower every now and again. :)

  4. Deirdre Gibson says:

    The terminal leaves on my American cranberrybush viburnums are curling up grotesquesly and then dying. Looks like the V. nudum now are doing this as well. I see ants on them, but no evidence of aphids. Any idea what might be happening?

  5. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    There are two ways to eliminate Japanese beetles. The first one is with the “Bag a Bug”, that is sold in garden centers. The device has a floral lure to attract the girl beetles, and a sex lure to attract the boys. Position it AWAY from you garden in a sunny place. You want it as far as possible from the garden, because it will attract beetles not just from your garden, BUT other properties The beetles go to it, fall in, and can not get out. As the bag fills, the beetles start to die, and get smelly. Take two grocery bags, and put one inside the other. Then put the filled Bag of Bugs into it, and tie it tight to keep the smell down (you can also tie a twist tie around it) until it goes into the trash. A second old fashioned way to eliminate beetles is to take a coffee can, and fill it with about an inch or two of kerosine. Going up to each zinna, rose, etc that has beetles on it, take a pencil and knock the beetles into the can of kerosine. They will quickly drownd. This process is more labor intensive than the bag a bug, but it works. My Mother’s mother, and Aunts did this in the morning, and late afternoon. Save the can somewhere, and use it daily until you have to many drowned beetles. You then can light that little bit of kerosine and burn it until it goes out, and pitch it.

  6. Lisa says:

    Pests are never fun but part of the eco-system, I suppose. If the challenges you’re facing weren’t so daunting in scale, I would gently suggest the cedar apple rust looks almost artistic. It reminds me of one of those rubber squishy stress-relieving balls. How do you eradicate something that looks so gel-like?

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Dierdre. As mentioned just now as you were probably commenting and I was replying to previous ones, specifically in response to Deborah (above), see what you think re: the aphid possibility (two links provided). I am interested to all figure this out together, as I have the same thing.

    @Fred: I just knock the beetles into soapy water, like this.

    @Lisa. Exactly. I am endlessly fascinated (and horrified). Taking photos of it all gives me a chance to *really look*.

  8. Barbara J. Ensign says:

    I actually have a question??? has anyone ever have tomatoes reseed themselves? In my garden after tilling twice I started to plant and discovered about 5 plants that had reseeded themselves, really stange, I left 3 as they were close together…see and learn I guess…b~

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Barbara. It would be unusual if tomatoes *didn’t* reseed, year after year after year. Endlessly. In the garden, the pathways, the compost. Biggest issue is that these “volunteers” can carry diseases from one year to the next, so nbot always the free prize that they at first may seem. Many years they are fine, no worries…but sometimes they are the bearers of trouble. There is some info/links about that in this older post.

  9. I truly empathize with the fretting about all the unwelcomed visitors. We, too, have a lot of rust, aphids, blights and other defoliation resulting in plant and tree loss. A couple of years ago, we mysteriously lost about 50 mature red pine–they just up and died without any apparent reason. We are still cleaning up their unsightly remains!

    We still have not learned to co-exist in any sort of harmony with the four-legged creatures who think the kitchen garden, the cottage garden…let’s just say everything…is their buffet for gourmet dining day or night. Yes, deer are my nemesis and they are not “dear” to me! They have even resorted to eating on several occasions this spring planted pots and other plantings on the porches around the cottage. The audacity!! I really am not keen on their style of pruning buds and newly-opened blossoms on all my sweet plants.

  10. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Margaret, I like the idea of the soapy water better than the kerosine that my Grandmother used. I did say her way was “Old Fashioned”. If she were still alive, she would be a One Hundred Fifteen (PLUS) year old gardener. For any of your readers, looking at this, I do think knocking them into the soppy water with a pencil would be easier for some, than with the hand. And as they are being knocked into the water, some will fly off. BUT don’t worry they will not bite you. Maragaret you and I, and most of the people on the Garden Conservancy tours are offering GRAND BUFFETS to the insect world, because of the large amount of plant life we have. Having one’s own “Personal Park”, is something that is had by one in a thousand, or even five thousand people. For the average gardner, who has minimal plantings, hand picking the beetles off of plants will not take that long. I have used the Bag a Bug for a few years, and it did , as I said before, attract beetles from other properties. These days, I let the beetles eat as they want. As for the Milky Spore, I tried it years ago, but it did not work. A man at garden center said to me, to have the best results with that product, you have to have underground sprinklers that keep the lawn moist most of the time. Prolonged dryness kills off that product. Here, I just water the flower beds and boarders, AND on rare occasion, (long periods of drought) the lawn gets a drink. Grubs seem to be more prolific if the soil is gravelly-sandy, or rich and loam like. Clay soil is not what they want. They have a hard time borrowing down below the frost line in winter to survive. I once had a house that was built in a clay area, and had minimal beetle problems. Here it is gravelly- sandy.

  11. chigal says:

    Aaaaugh, I hate aphids! I’ve pinched off a lot of new growth from my lemon tree, and flushed them. If they come back again, I might have to go with pyrethrin. But I’m afraid to put it outside where it could infest the peas. I think I’ll build a ladybug house and hope it doesn’t get infested with wasps.

  12. Amy says:

    Since having my own gardens to tend to when we moved into our house in late summer 2007, I was happy that I hadn’t any pests to deal with, except for slugs eating the hostas. This year, though, I had sawfly larvae on my roses (I hand picked and squished with good results) and now aphids on my spirea (to which I need to give a good spray of soapy water). I just about hurled when I saw those massive clusters of little buggers on the poor branches of my spirea bush. :(

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Amy. Yes, the lily beetles nearly made me upchuck, as did the larvae of the viburnum leaf beetles, but I persisted. I am bigger than they are! See you soon again I hope.

  13. jenni says:

    Chipmunks….they keep digging up and eating my corn, while the cat naps on the front porch. I have planted corn 3 times, and I doubt I will have enough stalks together to actually make corn. Tommy the cat have had some sit down conversations about his lack of motivation at work. He doesn’t seem to be very concerned.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jenni. Jack the Demon Cat and I just had the same conversation after the chippies ate 5 of 10 hills of pumpkin and squash seeds. Not good. He didn’t have much to say in his own defense, frankly. Sorry you find yourself in the same boat. :)

  14. Mary says:

    Having given up a year ago on apple trees that were being viciously attacked each year by tent caterpillars (my first major gardening loss), the next victim was my lovely arrowwood viburnum. It had grown happily for 10 years and was then destroyed by, what I later found out, was the viburnum leaf beetle. Now it’s the dogwood sawfly which has eaten every last leaf on my lovely red twig dogwood. Oh, I forgot. I also lost a group of mugho pines to some kind of sawfly. I garden in northern NJ. Any shrubs that aren’t so susceptible to pests?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary. Yes, it’s always something; gardening is continual interaction with the good, the bad and the ugly to be sure. I suggest you grow viburnums that are rated least susceptible from this list and don’t give up on apples and their relatives. I have tent caterpillar each year but I do this to the webs before the caterpillars pupate each spring. You can also spray with BT (a non-toxic caterpillar spray from the garden center).

      The key with all garden pests is to walk around regularly and check on things to catch them before damage is done (in spring I do this almost daily) and take immediate action.

      As for the pine sawfly issues, Ohio State has a fact sheet about tackling that. The mugho is a favorite for that pest. Pines do have a lot of issues in the Northeast lately, but I still grow them, many kinds, and again I check them for early signs.

      As for “trouble-free,” nothing is, exactly, but definitely look at the viburnum list for some options there. I do well without any trouble also with variosu witch-hazel relatives (Fothergilla, Corylopsis, Hamamelis) but I couldn’t make a garden out of them alone. :) Vigilance. There are few things I simply cannot grow because the pests are too bad, so I soldier on in most cases. See you soon!

  15. Dahlink says:

    I know this is an old post, but it brings back memories of my in-laws. My mother-in-law loved her mugho pines, and they would schedule vacations only after the sawflies had arrived and been beaten off. I’m not sure exactly how they fought them, but it sounded like serious combat!

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