- Author: Maureen Clark
The days are getting longer and warmer, signaling that spring will be here soon. This is when beneficial insects begin to emerge. Attracting beneficial predatory and parasitic insects into your garden helps reduce the population of unscrupulous insects. Your beneficial insect friends will consume them or use them to house and feed their offspring.
Pollinators are also beneficial insects who spread pollen between flowers which is essential for fruit and seed production. How do I reduce the populations of pest insects such as aphids, whiteflies, scale, mites, mealybugs, thrips, leafhoppers, psyllids, etc. who damage your plants? The average backyard is home to thousands of insects. Only a small fraction of these insects are detrimental. Beneficial insects are the defenders of the garden and we must promote and protect them.
One of the first beneficial insects to emerge is the soldier beetle. The adults are slim-bodied, ½” long, varying in color from red to brown with black, brown, or gray wings. They are important predators in the garden consuming aphids, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied insects. Another beneficial insect that arrives with the onset of spring is the convergent lady beetle (ladybug, ladybird). The larvae resemble a mini alligator with horizontal stripes of orange and black. Both the larvae and adult stage of the lady beetle are voracious eaters. There are many types of ladybugs and other beneficial insects that look like the ladybug. The Vedalia beetle, mealybug destroyer, twice stabbed lady beetle and spider mite destroyer are a few of them.
Spider Mite Destroyer Vedalia Beetle
Not to be forgotten, are the insect parasites. These are parasitic wasps and flies. The larvae of these wasps and flies feed on other insects, or they live inside their host and exterminate them. The leafminer parasite, aphid parasite, and whitefly parasite are a few examples. Some of the best beneficial insects are spiders. Spiders feed on a wide array of insects. Additional beneficial insects are the minute pirate bug, assassin bug, green or brown lacewing, praying mantis, snakefly, damsel bug, and the predaceous ground beetles.
As gardeners, there are many ways to attract and promote populations of beneficial insects. Install plants that attract beneficials in and around your garden, the more, the merrier. These plants will provide them with food and habitat. Another idea is to create a boundary of flowers around your vegetable beds. When the bad bugs enter the boundary, they will be gobbled up by the good guys. Fall and winter beneficial flowers are: Alyssum, Calendula, Candytuft, Chervil, Chamomile, Poppies, Snapdragon, Stock and Sweet Peas. For spring and summer flowers, grow Angelica, Aster, Black-Eyed Susan, Catmint, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dill, Goldenrod, Marigold, Sunflower, Shasta Daisy, Thyme, and Yarrow.
Consider the impact of non-selective insecticides on your beneficial insect population before you spray the garden to kill something. Non-selective insecticides will kill or have negative effects on a wide variety of insects, good and bad. Another reason not to use these insecticides is it ends up in our waterways. Know what you are spraying for. It might be a good, beneficial bug, not a bad bug. The safest insecticides to use are horticultural oils and soaps, or a blast of water. Many pests can be managed without the use of pesticides. There are a lot of garden centers in our area, that sell beneficial insects in the spring. Bring these friends home, release them in your garden habitat, and enjoy their assistance in the garden.
Mealy Bug Destroyer Minute Pirate Bug
- Author: Kathleen Craig
Field Guide to Urban Gardening
By Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening
Espiritu, K (2019) Field Guide to Urban Gardening , Cool Springs Press
ISBN 978-0-7603-6396-6 $27.99
When preparing for our UCCE Master Gardener presentation, I decided to purchase this book as a resource. I did research and was looking for a publication that lived up to UCCE standards, namely, scientifically defensible advice, sound gardening principles and good gardening practices. I believe that this book meets those standards.
Well illustrated, this 224-page resource covers basics about horticulture such as the importance of soil, light, water, air nutrients, and the environment. It covers the most important consideration of “knowing what to plant, then where and when to plant it”. There is a wealth of information on watering, fertilizing, and placement of containers, and even gives how-to information on making your own self-watering containers.
The author gets creative with ways to construct raised beds and discusses the different kinds of materials. He prefers the metal raised beds which we have just installed in our own yard but gives many examples of beds that you can make or build at a lower cost.
Vertical planting is also covered, with fun examples of using unusual materials such as a repurposed hanging shoe rack, or rain gutters attached to a fence to grow strawberries. For those with no outside space, he gives directions about growing herbs indoors in mason jars, and even how to grow microgreens. Additionally, he includes a section on how to create rooftop gardens and a thorough section on growing food hydroponically.
Lastly, there is a section to address garden problems, including organically combatting common pests and diseases by recommending best practices of soil and water management, and proper using integrated pest management.
I found the illustrations and explanations to be top-notch and easy to understand. My experience with the container and raised bed gardening and my ability to give sound gardening advice have been improved with the use of this book. Although it is named “Urban Gardening” the book covers gardening basics for the beginning gardener whether urban, suburban, or rural. For more information, the author, Kevin Espiritu has the following online resources:
- Author: Mike Gunther
- Author: Jenni Dodini
This past summer, I had to stress my hydrangeas terribly by moving them to replace the entry deck. In the meantime, I tried to keep them, and several other plants, alive despite their roots having been cut and moving them "out of the way" while the work was being done.
Next part of the story ---
One day my daughter texted me from work because one of her regular customers asked for some corks that could not be sold for whatever reason. She said he was going to put them in his garden to help with water retention. She was curious about why. (My daughter works in the part of the wine industry that we appreciate briefly and then get to the good stuff -- the company puts the logo on the corks for many of the wineries that we enjoy in the Napa area.) Anyway, I was intrigued because it was so hot and my hydrangeas had been suffering before I moved them. Water retention is a good thing, and I was spending a good deal of time on watering. And, I had a bunch of corks sitting in a bucket doing nothing, but I couldn't get myself to throw them away.
So, I couldn't see how said corks were going to retain water in their intact state. Really. After all, what is their purpose if not to keep the wet stuff inside the bottle? Plus my daughter explained the process in the production is to put silicone on the corks after they are printed with the winery logo so the cork can be put in the bottle and create a seal. I got on the Internet and pretty much everything I found led me to Pintrest. (Should have been a clue, but I missed it.). What I did learn is that as a newbie to Pintrest, a person can get seriously carried away there. I found that many sites were recommending using cut or ground corks as mulch and saying that cork is better than regular mulch because it doesn't suck nutrients away from the plants as regular mulch does. WHAT????? I looked at several articles from the University of Just About Everywhere with an Ag. Dept. that told what kind of nutrients different kinds of mulch delivered to the garden over what period of time. (Missed another clue there.) Still, I think I was sucked in by all the pretty pictures.
So, I wrote up a blog chronicling my project with the corks and hydrangea. Jennifer (MG Coordinator) asked for actual science about how the corks retain water in the soil. Back to the drawing board and Internet to research corks. Finally, after quite a while, I find that corks, like all barks, are "hydrophobic". So much for retaining water in the soil!
Conclusion to the story ---
I really didn't do anything to harm my hydrangea. It needed to be repotted because had the roots not gone through the bottom of the pot, it would have suffered, but oh well... My "DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST" mantra has been reinforced.
Cut up corks, but not nearly enough to really keep moisture in. Plus, I think the birds have taken some out because there are a lot less there now than there were when I took this picture.
This is how the plant looked when I took it out of the pot. The soil was pretty compacted and old and mostly root. So far, this plant has survived and is happily back where it came from.
- Author: Erin Mahaney
I know I have a good garden tool when my husband keeps stealing . . . er, “borrowing” . . . it from me. The Hori Hori garden knife is one of my favorite multi-purpose tools. I use it to dig holes in clay soil, cut open bags of soil amendments, dig weeds in tight places, create furrows for seeds, measure items, cut twine, divide plants, and hack at miscellaneous small things. It truly is an all-purpose tool! In fact, I rarely bother to carry a trowel, weeder, or other single-purpose garden tools anymore.
First, nomenclature. The Hori Hori knife was originally designed as a bonsai gardening tool. (Hori Hori is translated as “dig-dig.”) Some companies call them soil knives and others use the shorthand “garden knife.” For ease of reference, I'll use “garden knife.”
There are several styles of garden knives available, but they have certain features in common. Most garden knives have a dual-edge with a serrated edge on one side, depth markings, and a twine cutter. Depending on your preferences, different features to consider are wood or composite handles (wood is heavier but feels more solid to some), ergonomic handles, rounded or square handles, depth measurements in inches or millimeters (or both), blade length (typically 6-8”), type of hilt, availability of a sheath, and perhaps even aesthetics. Most important, however, is how the garden knife feels to you. It should be comfortable, capable of frequent use without fatigue, and provide a solid, secure, grip.
I have two very different garden knives. My first one, a Hori Hori knife, is quite basic compared to modern versions. It has a rounded wood handle and a sheath, but no twine cutter or depth markings. After losing it in the yard for a period of time, I couldn't do without and so I ordered a replacement from A.M. Leonard with a bright orange (harder to lose) composite handle and a 6” stainless steel blade, depth markings, and twine cutter. (Then, of course, I found the Hori Hori knife, but this was fine because now I have an extra one to share with my husband.) I don't prefer one version over the other. The Hori Hori knife has a pleasing weight and solid feel to it. But the soil knife has a different style of serrations that are sharper, and it is lighter and more ergonomic. In researching garden knives for this article, I learned that the tool keeps evolving with even more ergonomic versions and different features. Maybe I need to try one of those someday . . .