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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spittlebugs on Garden Plants

Spittlebug bubbles on lavender stem.

Who Spit on My Plants?

It’s the season for spittlebugs (Cercopidae family). You may see what looks like spit on plant stems but don’t blame it on the neighbor kids or the guy next door. The spittle, or foam, is made by a tiny insect that's so small you will likely never see one. The bug likes lavender, strawberries, salvia, rosemary and a variety of other plants. The spittle is a protective covering for the nymph of this insect. It attaches itself to a plant stem, then secretes a liquid that turns into bubble-like foam, around itself. This foam hides the spittlebug from predators, insulates them from temperature fluctuations and keeps them moist.

Spittlebug eggs are laid in late summer and overwinter on plant debris. The eggs hatch in spring and the young nymphs then crawl up plants and attach themselves, then make their protective covering of “spit.” These insects do little harm to plants. They feed somewhat on the plant’s sap, but unless you have large amounts of these little clumps of spittle, there’s no need to use any kind of poison on them. The easiest control is to use the spray from a garden hose and wash them off the plant with plain water onto the ground, where predators can easily eat them.

The "spit" is a protective coating around the tiny nymph inside.

So don't despair when you see the cluster of bubbles on your lavender or other plants. The spittle is made by a tiny insect to protect itself from birds and other insects. Spray it away with a garden hose and forgive it for looking like spit. Who knows what our house looks like to it?

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Organic Fungus Controls in the Garden

Powdery mildew can affect bee-balm (Monarda) as well as roses, squash and other plants.

Copyright Jim Long 2013; Ozarks Gardening
Cool, damp weather encourages a new set of problems in the garden. We’ve had rains, chilly nights, humid and cloudy days, all things which create conditions for fungus and mildew to grow. If let untreated, either of those can slow down or kill garden plants. There are some simple solutions and remedies that cost little and are effective. 

Powdery mildew is a condition you may find on squash, cucumber, melon and rose leaves. As the name implies, the leaves take on a white or gray, dusty coating. Powdery mildew starts as a small, round white spot on the leaves. In just a few days, the spot has grown to cover the entire leaf. Here’s a simple treatment that shows good results.

Mix up 1 part plain whole milk from the refrigerator with 9 parts water. Pour into a garden sprayer and spray the affected plants in early morning. Repeat the spraying twice a week until the mildew disappears. There’s lots of research showing plain milk is as effective as chemical fungicides, and it’s a whole lot cheaper and more safe. It’s also good to avoid excess fertilizer in cool, damp weather as that can encourage mildew problems, as well. 

Pepper plant suffering from root rot.
Root rot is another common problem when the weather is damp and cool. Plants appear to wilt and die for no apparent reason. Watering the plant makes the problem worse as the fungi, including Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Pytophthora and Fusarium, can be spread to other plants by water run-off. Here’s a simple treatment that costs almost nothing.

Cornmeal, worked into the soil before planting encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria that combats various fungi from growing (which is why I always recommend using agricultural cornmeal in your tomato beds in February and March). But simply sprinkling a half cup of agricultural cornmeal (or even plain, cheap cornmeal from the grocery store) around each plant is helpful. Work it into the soil around each plant to prevent root rot. For plants that are already affected, use the same method, but if the plant doesn’t show some response in about 10 days, pull up the plant and destroy it to prevent the fungus from spreading to other plants.

I haven’t tried this one, but if you have, let me know of your results: Farmers in India are using Coca Cola as a spray pesticide on crops instead of commercial pesticides, with good results. Either the sugar or the caffein (or both) seem to deter insect problems. I couldn’t find the ratio of Coke to water, but if you have tried this successfully, please let me know. 

You can find more of my stories and gardening information on my garden adventures blog, You can order my books and products from my website by clicking on this link: Happy Gardening!

One of my newest books is the Make Your Own Hot Sauce. Check it out on my website.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Safe Organic Garden Pest Control Formulas

Anytime I can find a safe control for pests in the garden or yard, I use them. Rather than using a chemical that kills everything, I choose methods that only target a specific pest. Here are some simple pest controls I use.

Packrats and mice in the riding lawnmower: buy a little bottle of mint oil - spearmint or peppermint, and soak a cotton ball. Place it somewhere around the motor and wiring where it will stay put. Rats and mice hate the smell of mint and will stay away. Replace the cotton ball and mint oil every 3-4 weeks. Mint cooking extract works, too, although the smell disappears faster than the mint oil.

Cabbage worms: once the worms start, you can control them with a safe, non-chemical spraying once a week of bacillus (available at garden centers, feed stores). To prevent the worms, make a simple paper barrier early in the year, as soon as you plant cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or kale. To do that, cut a square of heavy paper or cardboard, about 4 inches by 4 inches square. Make a slit halfway across the square, then slip it around the base of the plant, flat with the ground. Cabbage worms start out as cabbage moths, which lay their eggs at the base of the plants, then they hatch into cabbage worms. By preventing the egg-laying, you are preventing a good many of the worms you would have later.

Soft-bodied insects, such as mites, aphids and mealybugs: Mix 1 tablespoon canola oil and 4 drops of Ivory soap (Ivory works best) into a quart of plain water. Pour into a spray bottle, shake well and spray the leaves of the affected plants both on top and underneath the leaves.

Mites: mix 2 tablespoons of hot pepper sauce with 5-6 drops Ivory dish soap into a quart of water. Let the mixture stand overnight, pour into a spray bottle, shake well then spray affected plants. Shake container often during application.

Slugs: Little lids of beer placed under the plants that are affected works well. Diatomaceous earth (a natural finely-ground shell) scattered around the plants works on slugs, snails and other soft-bodied insects. The tiny shell particles, called diatoms, work by puncturing the outsides of soft-bodied pests but are not harmful to pets or humans.

Fungal diseases: Mix 2 tablespoons baking soda into a quart of water. Pour into a sprayer bottle and spray affected areas. Repeat application every few days.

Hollyhocks: the bugs that riddle the leaves of hollyhocks can be stopped before they destroy the plant buy using this formula I first learned about from Sharon Lovejoy: combine 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon dish soap (Ivory works best), 1/2 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon of water. Shake well and pour into a sprayer. Spray the underneath sides of the leaves at the first signs of holes in the lowest leaves. Repeat, spraying underneath all of the leaves each week.

Caution: sprays which kill harmful insects may also kill beneficial insects. Use the homemade formulas selectively, only spraying plants that are infected. Always apply early in the morning or just before dark to avoid bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Apply again after a rain.

Happy gardening!

Copyright May, 2013, Jim Long