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Give those pests a run for their money and I.D. them before they get started!

May 31st, 2011

Pests can move in and take over in the blink of an eye!  Fortunately for us, Placer County Master Gardener Gay Wilhelm has some amazing tips for early recognition and removable of pests in the Summer 2010 issue of The Curious Gardener. Before the summer is over, pests can reproduce hundreds of generations, which is why recognizing them and taking control now is an integral part of keeping them at bay throughout the end of the season.


Heard a rumor that these guys can fly? Well, its kind of true. Generally adults are wingless but some are able to fly, usually around the spring and fall.

Aphids (left) are a fairly common pest in gardens of all kinds, as they are found on lettuce, apples and squash, just to name a few. They are green, yellow, brown, or red, and pear-shaped with long legs and antennae.   If aphids are your gardening nightmare, then you want to look for a influx of ant activity around the plant you think might be in jeopardy.  Ants are a warning sign for aphids because aphids excrete a sweet honeydew, which draws the ants toward the plant. Be wary of using fast acting nitrogen fertilizers as they increase aphid reproduction; instead use slow release fertilizer and use it in small amounts.

adult hornworm

Next one on the list: the hornworm!  If you plan on growing tomatoes this season or have already planted them, this is your enemy.  These guys are small brown or cream-colored grubs, and they grow into a long green worm with a horn on their tail, eventually turning into the sphinx moth, which is about five inches across and seen in the early evening. If you have hornworm visitors, you’ll start to see black droppings or denuded leaves.  Look for the young larvae around midsummer. Once you’ve seen them the best method for eradication is to hand pick them off the plant, but as this can be time consuming, we also suggest Bt spray. Bt, standing for Bacillius thuringiensis, will effectively destroy the larvae but if you choose this method do take into consideration that Bt will also kill any native caterpillars and butterflies that the spray comes into contact with.

hornworm with wasp eggs

The hornworm photo above is what you’ll see if you have adult hornworms running around. The photo on the right is also of a hornworm but this one may not be such a bad sign. In this instance a wasp has laid its own larvae into the worm’s back. Being a host to wasp larvae will not only kill the hornworm carrying the eggs but wasps are natural hornworm predators, so if you let the wasp larvae continue on their cycle you will decrease your need for Bt spray because the wasps will help in your hornworm eradication.

For more information, on pest like scales, cabbage maggots, earwigs and squash bugs, click here to see the rest of the article.

Mulching Police on Patrol!

May 25th, 2011

Fine Mulch

Coarse Mulch

To mulch or not to mulch?  That is the question!  Mulching is great for your garden and believe it or not, it’s actually required by law.  Don’t worry – if you do not mulch you will not be taken to “non-mulchers” jail or even fined, but mulching is an important part of water conservation and is included in the 1990 Water Conservation in Landscaping Act (AB325). This act was designed to encourage backyard gardeners to abide by seven basic principles of water conservation, one of which is mulching.

Mulch is defined as any material applied to the surface of the soil to improve the texture. Mulching reduces water evaporation from soil by 50 percent, thus reducing the need to frequently water. It also protects soil from erosion, suppresses weeds by 2/3 by blocking them from sunlight and inhibiting their ability to grow, and also serves as a soil conditioner. Earthworms, which aerate the soil and leave castings (worm poop) that act as a high-quality fertilizer, are also very much attracted to mulch.

Mulching also reduces crusting and soil compaction (that’s when the soil dries out and cracks). It does this by lowering the soil temperature by almost 10 degrees. In the winter it can have the opposite effect by contributing to warming of the soil, protecting it from those frosty winter evenings.

Mulch is usually applied to vegetable gardens once the soil has warmed up; around spring time or a little later. The coarser the material the deeper the mulch should go. The California Master Gardener’s Handbook suggests the mulch depth should be around 1-3 inches for finer materials, such as sawdust and grass clippings, and for coarser materials, like bark or straw or even shredded plant matter, use 3-6 inches. But be careful not to put mulch too close to the stem of plants or the trunks of trees as it may retain too much water and have damaging effects on the plant, like crown rot.

Thank you Shirley Porter, Nevada County Master Gardener, for providing us with this information from The Curious Gardener newsletter published by Nevada and Placer County UC Cooperative Extension.  Their website is filled with great information, classes and events.  Check it out here!

Example of Mulching Several Inches From Tree Trunk