Master Gardener News Blog
A New Pest for an Old Favorite
By Andrea Peck
Agapanthus, or African lily, is a mid-sized plant with small, tubular flowers that form a clustering habit. From far off it looks like one big spherical ball of flowers set on top of a smooth green leg of a stem. Most often they are blue, but can come in purple, white or pink. The leaves are rich and green and kind of floppy, just like a lily. The agapanthus is less girly and delicate and more what you might call, sturdy female. It would be surprising if you had never seen one because they are grown around malls and shopping centers—anywhere that you find hardpan and broken sprinklers. Easy to grow and resistant to pests and diseases, the agapanthus is probably the official flower of the mall landscaper. If you see them often enough you may grow weary of them despite the fact that they actually are very pretty plants.
But, all this may change for the lovely, though utilitarian, agapanthus. It appears it has developed a nemesis in the UK (It has not been sighted here in North America). The pest goes by the name of agapanthus gall midge. The name sounds somewhat innocuous but it can cause mayhem when the flower buds become disfigured and discolored before falling off, leaving only floppy leaves and a beefy stem.
Until 2014, the midge remained in a cloak of invisibility. Personally, I thought that trick was reserved for superheroes or their foes, but interestingly, new pests do surface from time to time. The creature is so new that it has not even been given a scientific name.
The damage is caused by the larvae, icky maggot lookalikes, of a small fly. The fly lays eggs on the flower buds of the agapanthus and when the eggs hatch the flower begins a slow descent into flower netherworlds. Because the pest is new to the scene, not much can be said as far as lifecycle or control. The larvae are about 3mm in length, a creamy white or orange, and can be found inside flower buds, sometimes in a milky liquid of their own making.
Planting Spring Flowering Bulbs
By Leonard Cicerello Master Gardener
Having never planted flowering bulbs, I am not sure what time is right – Angela in Morro Bay.
A little work mid to late fall will reward you dramatically come springtime. Flowering bulbs come in every color of the rainbow, and more. Who does not admire tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and the many other varieties of spring bulbs?
Begin by choosing healthy bulbs that are not dry, withered, spongy, or moldy. Then choose the right location. Most bulbs require a sunny location and soil that is rich in organic matter, well-drained, and slightly acidic (ph 6-7). To improve existing soil, whether it is too sandy or too heavy, add organic material. Bulbs can also be planted in containers.
Planting depth is not uniform for all bulbs. In general, plant the bulbs to a depth of three times their height. For example, plant allium eight inches deep, crocus three inches deep, daffodils six inches deep, hyacinth seven inches deep, and tulips six inches deep. Place bone meal or superphosphate in the bottom of the planting hole and plant the bulb with its point up, which will become the stem. If rodents are a problem, plant your bulbs in a cage made of ¼”- ½” metal mesh. Water thoroughly after planting. During fall and winter, irrigation is only needed in the absence of rainfall. The premise is to prevent rotting in wet weather.
Bulbs look best in clumps or drifts. To get a natural looking effect, either dig a large area and plant several bulbs at once, or simply toss the bulbs into the air and plant them where they fall. You will be surprised. To make sure that you do not disturb or forget about the bulbs, mark and label each bulb you plant.
When bulbs finish flowering, let the foliage die back naturally before you cut it off at ground level. It is unsightly for a little while, but that time is important to the bulb because it will continue to photosynthesize and store up energy it will need to produce flowers next year.
If you think some of your bulbs are overcrowded, dig them up and divide them after the foliage completely dies back.
Visit www.ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo to see our monthly garden chores for San Luis Obispo County.
Oh, For Me?
By Andrea Peck
Last weekend my husband committed a slightly criminal act in the name of love—he picked me a snippet of a coleus plant. The plant, a beauty, dominated a large pot inside the pathway of a shopping center. Lest you are worried that we damaged the original plant, I will state, for the record, that the plant was huge and lush at the time of the picking—and likely still is-- unless, as I suspect, there was a pruning in its future.
He delicately selected a small, leafy shoot from the very back of the plant and presented it to me. I said, “I do. Again.” Then he did what men have done before and will continue to do. He left my potential new plant in the confines of his car. Overnight.
I am not by any means abdicating responsibility. After all, I did forget about it myself. It takes two, you know.
The next day, a little sheepish, he presented the cutting to me. If all men are boys, these are the times that you get a window into their uncanny ability to time travel from 50 back to 7 in less than the blink of an eye. I faltered momentarily at the sight of his grubby hand and what it held. The Grim Reaper seemed near.
The cutting was wilted beyond recognition, but I stuck it in water anyway.
I had little hopes for the deep maroon and purple plant. It hung in the glass, droopy and depressed. I think it took two days for the smaller top leaves to move skyward. After about 5 days the entire plant perked up and grew a few tentative roots. The coleus are resilient plants.
My earliest memories of coleus plants are with my mother. She loved those leafy plants. Perhaps it is the extraordinary color that they display despite their penchant for shade. We lived in Southern California at the time and had a tiny atrium for a yard. My dad had made a faux tiny hill scene along with a tiny creek bed that ran down the middle. The fairy-sized hills were covered in dichondra and the outskirts were dotted with ferns. It was the early 80's. A plain sliding glass door led from the kitchen to our miniature Shangri-La. It was a masculine vista featuring green and green and concrete and then some more green. Even the concrete eventually grew green in that sunless, stucco-enveloped alcove. Once the coleus were given a chance to populate, they provided neat little plots of color.
But, color aside, the most amazing character trait of the coleus is its ability to propagate. Just provide them with a small glass of water to soak their stem in and they are off and running. They can be grown indoors, in containers, and outside. They are considered an annual and do not tolerate low temperatures. They prefer well-draining, acidic soil that is rich with organic matter. They do best in a partly shaded area. Coleus come in a variety of colors, all of which seem to have a remarkable combination of deep and bright colors. The one caveat with the coleus is that it does like to stay moist; lack of water can be a quick death for these plants. One trick that I've heard is using your leftover coffee to water plants such as the coleus, which have a low pH requirement. Combine that with the clean water you use to rinse your coffee pot and you should be able to keep the lovely coleus from wilting.
Apples-Garden To Pantry
By Nancy Hartwick UCCE Master Gardener, Master Food Preserver (MFP) SLO County
Author: Linda McClure, Certified MFP & Christine Nelson, MFP Program Coordinator
Edited by: Katherine E. Soule, Ph.D., Youth, Families, & Communities Advisor
UCCE in San Luis Obispo County
Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Red Delicious, and Rome Beauty are some of the many types that can be grown in the Central Coast climate. For good fruit set, it may be necessary to have more than one tree and to plant more than one variety to encourage cross pollination. Some varieties, such as Golden Delicious, can be self-pollinating, but many are not. Select varieties with overlapping blooming periods to encourage pollination.
Apples must be grown in full sun, preferably a south facing site, for best fruit set. Avoid sites with temperature extremes which is the most difficult condition for fruit trees to endure. Fruit trees acclimated to temperate zones are typically purchased and planted as bare root trees. Mound planting is helpful in reducing root rot and promoting growth; do not plant in a basin. Plant above the original soil line and keep the crown dry. Head the tree at 20 to 24 inches to encourage low branching and balance growth.
For further information on pruning and caring for your apple trees, visit http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu/
When it comes to food preservation, apples are a super star. You can do so many things with them, and they stand up to it all so well! Dehydrating, canning, freezing, pickling - you name it, they can take it. Preserving apples during peak harvest will add variety to your menus throughout the year!
Join the UCCE Master Food Preserver (MFP) of SLO County's 4th Saturday Class, “All About Apples,” on Saturday, September 26th from 10:00am to 12:00pm at the UCCE Auditorium, 2156 Sierra Way, SLO. You will learn how to make apple pie filling for a tasty fall treat, as well as acquire new skills for making delicious dried apple rings and applesauce! Please register online (http://ucanr.edu/allaboutapples) or call the local MFP Helpline, 805-781-1429. Let's welcome autumn by preserving one of its delicious fruits, apples, so we can enjoy the flavor of fall year-round!
Hummingbirds and Hawks
By Andrea Peck
Last week I talked about birds and their ability to alter their reproductive habits depending upon their assessment of predator presence. Though the researchers who conducted that study did not conclusively decipher ‘the why' of bird behavior, they did successfully establish that birds are capable of monitoring their environment and responding to it, particularly when it comes to reproduction.
Another, more recent study has found that one bird, the hummingbird, is capable of selecting nesting sites that provide them with protection from one of their main predators. The study, done at the Southwest Research Station in Arizona, focused on the behavior of black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri), Mexican blue jays (Amphelocoma wollweberi) and the northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and the Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii).
In this area of southeastern Arizona, both the northern goshawk and Cooper's hawk are prevalent top or apex predators. Generally, the hawks build their nests near the tops of the tree canopy. While the fierce hawk with its predatory mystique may seem intriguing, if you have the darting eye of a scientist, you might observe some little nests dappled beneath the hawk's rugged twig-strewn lodging. Then you may wonder what those are doing there. And why.
Those artistic nests made from spider web and plant down belong to the hummingbird. Smart hummingbird parents, the researchers found, select a locale that is just near enough to the predatory hawk in order to avoid their own personal threat --the Mexican blue jay. The jay has a known predilection for the eggs of the hummingbird.
You may wonder how a tiny hummingbird stands a chance, but in this particular area, the hawk shows little interest in the paltry, snack-sized hummingbird or its eggs. Both types of hawks prefer a meal over an appetizer and a medium-sized bird, such as the jay, fits that bill. The northern goshawk is a powerful raptor that hunts crows, hares and squirrels. The Cooper's hawk grabs its prey with its feet, squeezing the animal until it is dead. They have been known to drown their prey by submerging it in water.
When in the presence of hawks, the jay alters its flying pattern to keep a better eye on the hawk. The jay, on its own flies at all levels, but when a hawk is near, it flies at or above that of the hawk. Hawks search for food in a dropping motion—if they are located at the top of a tree, they swoop down at an angle in pursuit. If you picture the space between the top of the tree and the angle of “hawk coverage” you will have an idea of what researches describe as the “cone of protection.”
The researchers were able to determine that 80% of hummingbirds elected to live in association with hawks. The other 20%, left unprotected, had significantly less survival rates. Furthermore, it was clear that the jay altered its foraging patterns when in the presence of hawks.
It is likely that the powerful hawk has no idea that it is providing such a service. On the other hand, the world of animals is a mysterious one which is often underestimated. Perhaps that is where the real study lies.
To see the actual study view this link: