Sunday, July 29, 2012

Deer Country: Meet Brow and Zer, Hosta Browsers

Brow (top) and Zer

Twin fawns Brow and Zer nervously investigated our gardens without their mom on Friday evening. 
Every year I call twin fawns Brow and Zer because of their browsing of our perennials, shrubs, and young trees.

Brow this year is the fawn with two horizontal, cupped parentheses marks on his left side just before her rear left leg.  Zer is the one with the four-dot U marking at the top of her left leg.  On a statistical basis I call them female, so it will be she and she, her and her, Brow and Zer.

Friday evening Brow and Zer came as close as about 15 feet from me, though a window separated us.  During earlier visits they were with their mother, who generally kept them about 50 feet away. 

But Friday their mother was nowhere in sight, and they ventured closer and closer, nervously, with Brow occasionally stamping one of her front feet, probably because her mother often does that when she feels I’m too close to her twins when I’m outside and invade her comfort zone.

Zer: If I step between the alliums and the Shasta daisies,
I’ll be at the hostas.
Several nights earlier Brow and Zer and mother, I assume, chowed down on our hostas, some of which were within four feet of my study window, through which I often photograph them.  Of course I was busy zzz-ing while they were snacking.

Perhaps Brow and Zer will visit often, but if they do, our hostas will not be in danger because Brow and Zer and Mom ate all but about seven leaves of the four plants I had treated with deer-repellent tablets in the spring.

I suppose Ellen and I will just have to get used to hostas with leafless stems, and Brow and Zer will have to get used to hosta stems without leaves.

Brow: Aren't they hosta candy stalks
just beyond the lavender?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Deer Country: Were Repellex Systemic Tablets Effective?

Repellent-treated hostas, July 24

Our local deer, including frisky fawns, have been venturing recently from their early-summer hideaways.   Monday night they dined in our front yard perennial gardens and there expressed their opinion about hostas flavored by the new Repellex Systemic tablet that claims to repel all sorts of critters—including deer.

Their decision: Yummy!

Repellex cleverly advertises “Hosta la vista, baby,” but our deer replied, “Thanks for the salad!”

In short, the new high-tech tablets failed to protect our hostas from our local deer.  The deer ate nearly every leaf from the four hostas I used as an experiment and left untouched the untreated “control” hosta a dozen feet away.  Perhaps the deer reserved that plant for dessert some future night.

The same repellent-treated hostas, June 27
When I wrote in April about starting the experiment, I expressed concern about how many tablets to use.  Directions with the tablets seemed simple, but I thought that perhaps the tangled root mass and many crowns of hostas called for special treatment.  I talked then with a company representative who said early feedback indicated I should add extra tablets.  I did.

But, still, this week the bambits dined on the hostas and left us mostly leafless stems.

I had an informative exchange of emails with the Repellex Company while I was writing this story.  When I outlined my hosta problem, a company spokesperson said that “customer feedback has been focused on issues with hostas” and that the company is working on a solution.

“The typical application pattern as listed on the label is accelerated with the doubling of a hosta plant with new growth away from the treated part,” the company representative explained.  “Therefore retreatment is required more frequently on hostas.  Stay tuned.  We are working on a granular application that will be similar to using some tablets above ground around the plants.”

Does that potbelly contain hosta leaves?
That makes sense to me—a granular systemic repellent that you can sprinkle around tricky plants such as hostas.  I hope it works.  I’ll probably buy a sample when it comes on market so I can do a follow-up experiment.  The systemic idea is a good one, and I really want to enjoy our hostas spring, summer, and autumn as I relax on our front-porch glider.

Where does this experiment leave me as I contemplate our perennial gardens in Deer Country?

I’ll continue to plant deer-resistant plants.  I’ll regularly apply a repellent spray to our deer-favorite plants.  I’ll continue using strong fencing when I want to keep deer out of a specific area.  And I’ll probably do a second experiment on our hostas when the granular Repellex Systemic product becomes available. 

If you want to read my August 2011 posting with additional background about Repellex Systemic tablets, CLICK HERE.

If you want to read my posting about my successful 2011 experiment with Deer Out, the mint-based repellent spray, CLICK HERE

Update, July 26: The bambits returned last night and chowed down on the "control" hosta.  Five hostas, four treated, five heavily browsed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's Happening in Your Garden?

They're back!
A young brown marmorated stink bug
on a blackberry leaf
Have you taken time to walk about your garden to observe what's happening?  I try to walk and look at least once a week, and I notice a lot of things I don't really like, but at the same time I'm constantly learning how to be a better gardener.  Here's a link to my recent posting on the University of Maryland Extension's "Grow It Eat It" blog.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Time to check for hungry redheads

Redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars
eating mugo pine

Have you checked your mugo pines for hungry redheads this week?

When I checked our one mugo pine last week, all was well.  When I checked it again this morning, I found three colonies of redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars (Neodiprion lecontei) munching away on needles.  There must have been 40 or 60 or 100.  I didn’t count.

Sawflies are related to wasps and bees, but the adults are small and do not sting.  The “saw” part of their name comes from the saw-like ovipositor of the female.  The larvae, or caterpillars, are plant feeders and look like hairless caterpillars.  They chow down on a variety of pines and can damage, even defoliate, a small tree.

For several years I’ve tried to mechanically control the redheaded caterpillars by handpicking them and dropping them into a bottle of soapy water.  But I wasn’t a perfect caterpillar picker, so some always dropped down into the thick pine to return as future generations later in the year or the next spring.

This year I put away the bottle of soapy water and researched on the Internet for a more terminal solution.  I began with a search for “Killing redheaded sawfly caterpillars” and from the long list of entries chose “Sawflies of Trees and Shrubs” by the University of Minnesota Extension.  I read only the “redheaded” (there are many kinds of sawflies) and “Management” parts.

At the end, the publication gave a thoughtful list of factors to consider and then three ways to control them:  mechanical (such as hand-picking), biorational insecticides (insecticidal soap if the caterpillars are very young), and conventional insecticides.

Dead & dying caterpillars after
dusting with carbaryl
Since my hand-picking skills had failed to control them, and since I didn’t have insecticidal soap, I used one of the recommended conventional insecticides, acephate (brand Orthenex). I sprayed mid-morning Tuesday.  While I was spraying, I received a sad reminder why I try to avoid pesticides: They kill all insects, not just the bad guys.  Too late did I see the young, inch-long, bright-green praying mantis.

When I checked on the redheads five hours later, they were busy eating mugo pine needles and singing, “Who’s afraid of the pesticide spray….”  I revisited the Minnesota website and chose another weapon, carbaryl, which I had in powder form (brand Sevin).  I lightly dusted the colony areas.  Two hours later: All visible caterpillars were dead.

During future, regular walkabouts of my garden, I’ll check the mugo pine for new infestations because redheads seem to have spring and autumn generations here in central Maryland.  Walking periodically through your garden to observe what’s happening is a good way to keep pests and other problems under control.