Timely Tips: June 10 – 20

June 17, 2020


TRY OUT A TRAP – Spotted Lanternfly is very much on everyone’s mind, especially because they’re on everyone’s stuff! Yesterday I found two swimming in my kitchen sink!  Because we’re really never seen anything quite like this since the year the gypsy moth ate its way thru the pine barrens, it’s got people trying everything from laying out bait to stringing sticky-tape to spraying detergent to vacuuming their grapevines. Many of these measures are marginally effective, but come with caveats; soapy water can be harmful to plants, especially on sunny days; sticky tape and glue traps also catch beneficial insects and small animals; neem oil is for chewing insects, but these guys suck (in so many ways!)  Here’s what Penn State recommends, and it’s chemical free: How to Build a New Style Spotted Lanternfly Circle TrapAnd the Wagner Free Institute (you should really get to know these folks) is holding a class specifically to talk about what works and what doesn’t – Ending the Anguish of Spotted Lanternfly Infestations [Primex carries a large selection of spotted lanternfly control. You can view some of them here or stop in the main store!]

SEARCH & DESTROY – Get ready for the onslaught.  The insects are here!  Today I picked up a broccoli leaf, (or what’s left of the broccoli leaf after the groundhog,) and found aphids, green cabbage worms, striped cabbage worms, and, *GASP!* Harlequin bugs and their eggs.   And cucumber beetles on the cukes.    Since we already missed the boat on covering with insect netting when we planted, we need to move on to other organic methods to get things under control.  Kaolin clay (known in the trade as Surround) in an interesting way to keep bugs off your stuff.  It’s a very fine form of clay which, when mixed with water, can get sprayed on plants after each rain to dry and form a hard shell over everything. (We know it hardens things up effectively, since it is the original major ingredient in the anti-diarrheal treatment Kaopectate.) Once the plant surface is covered, insects have a really difficult time inserting either their mouthparts or ovipositors into the plants to do damage.  

DO MORE SEARCHING – Aphids are hanging out on the undersides of everything, but haven’t started partying yet, so a spray of insecticidal soap should keep them under control for a while. Don’t spray if the aphids are looking pearly grey instead of translucent; these mummies show that they have been parasitized by tiny wasps and are being controlled from within.  Leave these zombies alone to roam the garden and consume little aphid brains to their heart’s content.

CREW CUT YOUR CHRYSANTHEMUMS – Mums are fall bloomers, but need some special care NOW for best results THEN.  Once they get to be about 6-8 inches, cut them back by half; when they grow back, do it again.  And again.  Once July 4th rolls around, do it one more time and then quit.  Each time you cut the plant back, new growth branches, and the branches branch, and so on, and then each branch sets buds when you finally let it do its own thing.  This judicious pruning makes for shorter, stockier plants and many many more flowers. 

ALWAYS KEEP A POT (THE LEGAL KIND) HANDY BY YOUR FRONT DOOR – Countless times I’ve walked around with a gifted or not-so-gifted plant in my hand, gotten home, and set it in a “safe” place. Three days later, it’s either totally limp or totally crisp*.  If only I’d had a pot of soil ready, said plant would be flourishing right now.  A plastic bag in the pocket is also a must-have as a temporary safe place. Of course it must be removed before laundry day happens. Don’t ask.  * notable exception is a succulent my son rescued, still perfectly fine after months in the car’s ashtray. 

CAGE TOMATOES NOW – Before they get too big. Heavy duty cages are best; if using the wimpy kind, attach three together with zip ties so they can support each other, and hammer a stake through one of them for extra stability. If you really want to remember the variety as it matures, attach the labels with duct tape or wire to the TOP of the cage rather than sticking them in the ground; once the plants start going crazy you’ll be lucky to even find the ground.  In that case the cages are handy to mark the plants are so you know where to water. [Primex carries steel, colored, inverted, large and small cages!]

DISCOVER JUNEBERRIES – Also known as Serviceberries, Shadblow or Amelanchier alnifolia, these trees are all over our streets and parks, and the fruit looks a lot like blueberries. Once the first fruits turn blue you can eat the whole cluster. Use like you would blueberries, in jelly, pie, syrup, or dried like raisins. And pay some respect to the lowly mulberry, also found just about anywhere.  Shake the branch gently to drop all the fully ripe ones, then ignore them and eat the ones that stay on the branches—these are much more tart and worth the effort.  In fact, they are so good that yesterday a groundhog went to all the trouble of climbing my neighbor’s  tree to get to them. 

REMOVE DONE FLOWERS FROM ANNUALS TO KEEP THEM BLOOMING – The plants’ entire purpose in life is to ripen flowers into seeds so they can call it quits. Thwarting that process forces them to push out another set of flowers, and another and another, until either frost kills them or we skip a week deflowering them, in which case they win.

GET TO LIKE THE THINGS YOU HATE – Mulberries and snakes are very popular these days, and both can be useful if taken in small doses.  Snakes are eating all the annoying ground-dwelling bugs and small mammals, so leave them alone to get on with their business.  Mulberries, on the other hand, should be embraced. We loved them as kids, but as our palates got more discerning, we realized they taste like mush. But if you shake all the ripe ones off the branch and leave them for the snakes to guard, the not-quite-ripe ones are actually slightly tart and tasty. 

COME TO SOME WORKSHOPSEvery Monday 4 pm PHS holds gardening workshops on Zoom.  The next 5 weeks are dedicated to new gardeners, although anyone can participate.  


Need ideas?  Come visit us at the PHS Blog for a new entry every weekday (and sometimes on weekends!) or send an email to info@primexgardencenter.com!

Sally McCabe is Assoc. Director of Community Education at PHS, and grows stuff at two community gardens and in her backyard.  She has been a faithful Primex customer since all the way back when Pops (David’s grandfather) was still around.