- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
I must confess: I began this blog with the intention of telling you about my yard’s most dependable bloomers during our long, hot, dry summer. When I went out to photograph the winners (lantana and Salvia … yawn), I found several praying mantids among the foliage.
This seemed much more interesting to me. Have you noticed the mantids in your yard yet? I bet they’re out there.
We’ve always been fascinated by praying mantids at our house, especially when our children were younger. We attempted to keep one or two as pets, but I could not allow it to go on too long. The insects seem so solitary, so plodding, so Zen, it felt cruel keeping them away from the wild. (Full disclosure: The kids also befriended a few tomato hornworms over the years, naming them Verde or Spike. Alas, I did not feel much sympathy for those nasty things, and they remained as pets until they inevitably died in their shoebox purgatories. Cruel? Probably. Sorry. I call it even.)
But these mantids, they’re just plain cool. They’re predators, and the gardening world has taken notice. I have seen some garden stores selling gray-brown mantid egg cases in hopes the newly hatched mantids will stick around and dine happily on your aphids and yellow jackets and such. After some quick research, I learned praying mantids (AKA preying mantis) are not just predators, but “generalist predators,” meaning they eat whatever they can get their spiny front legs and jaws around. This includes beneficial insects and, yes, other mantids.
That makes them Zen cannibals. How cool is THAT?
It also means, as so astutely stated on the UC IPM website, “As mantids consume both pests and beneficials, they are difficult to use reliably for biological control.” So save your money and avoid the egg cases at the garden store. But please let them run free, if you’re lucky enough to have some land in your back yard.
- Author: Edward Walbolt
I was talking with a few fellow gardeners recently and was asked for some suggestions on what gardeners can do to keep our garden space looking its best and in the best health during the taxing, hot, summer months. The first and maybe most important thing a gardener can do in mid-summer is to mulch the beds of the garden so that moisture levels are maintained in the soil during long hot days. This will prevent some of the extra watering the garden often needs of those 90+ degree days. In addition to adding mulch I also add compost to my flower and vegetable gardens to get some fresh nutrients to the plants which are often overdue to be replenished. Most of us compost the garden in early spring and after a few months all of the beneficial nutrients have been used up and need to be replaced. It is especially important for vegetables so that they have plenty of nutrients to complete bearing mature fruit. This is also a good time to stake the larger vegetable plants for reinforcement and continued healthy production. The vegetable plants will likely increase in size after the composting has been re-done and staking the plants in advance will enable continued plant growth. The middle of summer is an opportune time to dead head old blooms and make room for fresh new ones to begin developing. It is a little detail that makes a big difference if you have lost some color in your flower garden. Finally, this time of year is a great time to weed the garden carefully, remove the unwanted weeds and make some space for your favorite plants to stretch out and fill in.
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
This summer, the Master Gardeners have taken on the theme of Pollinators for their farmers market booths. They will talk about a host of other gardening topics, but the focus is going to be pollinators, and what you can do in your yard to host, attract, and maintain pollinators locally.
Pollinators are very important to the local crops and pollinating the various fruit, nut and vegetable crops we grow here in Solano County. Without the pollinators, we'd be without the bounty. I'm not just talking about the European honey bee, I'm talking about the host of other insects out there (and birds and bats too!). Solitary insects like the leaf-cutter bee, you know this little bee by the half-circular cuts it makes in your plants. Most people are troubled by this, but seeing this phenomenon in your yard should make you excited about having solitary bees in your garden...pollinating away. Other insects like the huge carpenter bee always get my attention as they lumber by. They are huge bees! I sometimes mistake them for hummingbirds out the corner of my eye.
It is important to get out there and have a look at your garden and see what insects are there. You'd be surprised by the variety and number of insects you can find, and most are beneficial insects. You just have to become knowledgeable about what you're looking at.
The Xerces Society is a great place to start learning more. They have a ton of free materials to get you started. Here is the link to their website http://www.xerces.org/. I recommend looking at their publications and then fact sheets, many are free. The Master Gardeners are utilizing several in their 'bee binders' they take to the farmers markets.
Get out there and learn more about your native bees.
- Author: Riva Flexer
When you work in your garden, you cannot help but see who, or perhaps, what co-exists alongside you and your trowel. Some creatures you simply must observe, such as the ants and aphids that infest your Pittosporum tobira, or the little sowbugs that wriggle and scuttle when you disturb the dead leaves under your Distictis Rivers vine. Speaking of which, it’s a good time to disturb those dead leaves and all the other detritus under your plants, on the soil surface. By cleaning up you are removing potentially harmful pathogen spores, such as black spot and rust, which will be only too happy to infect your plants come springtime. The organic material may have functioned admirably as a mulch, but cleaning up is more important now that the rainy season is coming.
But back to those creatures in the garden. I’ve been noticing lots of ants, and, more dramatically, the arachnids. There seem to be plenty of orb spiders this autumn. You’ll recognize them by their beautiful, often enormous spiral webs, which they construct at night, and which we see, often glistening with dew, in the early morning. The spiders can be large, with half-inch bodies and then, of course the eight legs… for those of us with a genuine phobia, it can be the stuff of nightmares.
But they are your best friend. Take a look at a web and you cannot count the number of gnats and fruit flies caught in the sticky fibers. If we are prone to blundering into webs, just imagine the hapless insect. I’ve been watching ‘Charlotte’ for nearly three weeks now. I couldn’t help but notice her web, first attached to my upper deck and my ‘ XXX Soldier ‘ rosebush. She’s big, and her webs are too, with long (4-5 foot) anchor lines up to the deck underside, where she lurks and feeds off her prey. I’ve seen her wrapping up a paralysed bee in silk, carrying it up for a meal. I’ve watched her take down her tattered web by eating the silk. She is just fascinating, and her web is full of little flies. I respect her enormously and avoid her, as she does me. Live and let live…