Thank You, Spider Mites!

Two years ago, sitting in a garden design class, I was shocked to see a photo of my house on the presenter’s Power Point as an example of the totally boring landscape. No, the presenter hadn’t come to my house to snap a photo. It just looked exactly like my front yard. Here’s that yawn-producing line of yews.

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And here, the Alberta Spruce trees bank the yews along the front walk.

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After the presentation, I went up to discuss my outrage with the design expert. And was shot down. Yews and spruce, in a straight line in front of the house? Boring. Her solution? Just yank them out and start all over.

Jim’s reaction when I told him this story was predictable. “I suppose you want to take out those perfectly healthy bushes,” he said. And then put an end to discussion by adding: “I like them.”

Indeed, I have a problem with ‘yanking’ a perfectly healthy plant out of the ground. But while discussing my front design with Master Gardener friends, I found the verdict was unanimous. “Always thought your front yard was boring.” “Those yews are nothing more than weeds.”

And the final prediction. “You’ll get spider mites one day on those Alberta Spruce and then you’ll want to take them out!”

Spider mites? As an aside, I am an avid African Violet hobbyist. I live in dread of spider mites, so much so that I won’t bring flowers from the outside inside my house.

Time passed, as it does, until yesterday, getting in the car to go somewhere, I spotted this.

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“We’ve got spider mites,” I told Jim. “Now those bushes have to come out.”

So what are spider mites? My research shows that they aren’t ‘spiders’ but more like ticks. They can spin silk, and I should have guessed what was up earlier this spring. Tiny white webs bloomed all over he Alberta Spruce. I just thought we had spiders. Mark Shour of the Iowa State University Extension has this to say about the spider mite:

“The spruce spider mite and the twospotted spider mite feed on many of the evergreens. The spruce spider mite Is active during spring and late fall when temperatures are cool. This pest generally restricts its feeding to evergreens, with the exception of yews. Feeding damage often goes unnoticed until the hot, dry summer when spruce spider mites leave the needles and enter a resting period (called aestivation). “

Yes, yes, that’s exactly what happened. The damage can be seen in these rust colored spots on the south side of the bush. Here’s the close-up.

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The State University of Iowa article goes on to talk about solutions, as if I wanted to keep those ‘boring’ Alberta Spruce. For those wanting to know:

“Spraying a forceful stream of water (syringing) on plants can be effective in controlling spider mite populations in the home landscape. This method requires persistence and dedication. The use of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (1 to 2 percent) applications also decreases or eliminates spider mite populations. Pesticides are available that are specific to mites (e.g., Hexygon, Mavrik Aquaflow, Ornamite, Morestan), long-lasting, and kill eggs, but these miticides are available only through a professional applicator. Most products available to the homeowner are broad spectrum (e.g., malathion) and kill mites as well as many types of insects.”

Advice I’m not planning to take. This fall, we’ll remove the three Alberta Spruce (one on the south side) and with them, three yews along my front walk. I have a hydrangea that will stay.

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I’m thinking a North American Fringe Tree at the corner by the drive, flanked by hydrangeas. On the south, a black Elderberry. Maybe some daylilies. Or iris. A sedum carpet ground cover.

But these are just ideas. Thoughts anyone?

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Scraping Weeds

This is the time of year when I hear my mother’s voice advising me to “get the whole root!” Mom – who passed on 20 years ago and more – was referring, of course, to pulling weeds. Taking out the entire root means that the weed won’t grow back. At least, not that particular weed plant. At least, according to my mother.

I’ve been pulling weeds by hand for as long as I’ve had gardens. Careful to get the entire root, I weed with a trowel, just in case my fingers alone can’t get the job done. But every year, without fail, the weeds overtake me. I then wait for a cool or rainy, or cool and rainy day to spend in the garden, yanking those pesky thugs out by the roots.

There’s gotta be an easier way, right? Unfortunately, glyphosate isn’t it.

This year – like every year since I retired – I started off with a commitment to daily weeding. And this year – like every year – a couple of rainy days defeated my best efforts.

The May/June issue of TAG (The American Gardener magazine from the American Horticultural Society ) included an article by Thomas Christopher entitled “Winning the War on Weeds.” Exactly what I need!

The first bit of advice caused me to stumble. “Snip, don’t rip” was the suggestion. Evidently, tearing a plant out by the roots disturbs the soil, leaving an opening for more weed seeds to germinate. Okay, so does that mean Mom was wrong?

I then remembered a bit of EMG training advice that I heard but didn’t adopt: don’t disturb the soil by hoeing or tilling. Instead, scrape the ground with a sharp hoe.

Really? Putting these two things together, I got out the nearest thing I could find to a “sharp hoe” – no idea what it’s called.

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With it, I tried to scrape some weeds. Sort of worked but not really.

So Amazon to the rescue. I searched for ‘sharp garden hoe’ and came up with many different options, including this Niasku Weeding Scraper Garden Tool . I selected this option because of price – less than $15 – and no shipping. Here it is!

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Careful now. That edge is sharp!

I wanted to clear the plot that once contained string beans until I decide what next to plant there. (The rabbits got the shoots – another story for another day.) Here’s what the plot looked like when I started.

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Here’s what it looked like when I finished – less than 5 minutes later.

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On a good day, it would have taken me half an hour to clear this bed by pulling up every weed by its roots.

I’m not exactly playing fair here. First, the TAG article admitted that snipping – or as I interpreted it, scraping – only weakens the weed. Another snip or scrape may be needed. And without the shade provided by desirable plants, weeds will overtake the garden once again. Why? Because it takes sun to germinate weed seeds. Or almost any kind of seed, for that matter. Crowding out the weeds with desirable plants is key. So I need to decide what will go in that bed PDQ.

I ‘weeded’ five garden beds in less than an hour. Pretty amazing. Even if I have to do it all again tomorrow.

Broken Promises

I promised myself not to start another garden. We have plenty to care for. The front landscaping – boring yews and dwarf Alberta Spruce – need twice-a-year pruning. The front garden is huge and needs daily weeding. The shade garden to the north of the house must be weeded and watched for slugs. The three – yes three – backyard gardens need water every-other-day and, oh yes, weeding. The fifteen newer trees need buckets hauled every week without rain.

Tired yet?

Last but not least, I have nine raised beds, more or less filled with vegetables. Weed, water, check for bugs.

It takes a lot of time. I have no need for another garden. And I promised.

One of my favorite extension master gardener stories involves a couple who had to tear out gardens that they spent years building in order to sell their house. People just don’t want the responsibility and work of many gardens.

But there’s that garden of rusty things and Jim did such a nice job with edging and mulch. I probably wouldn’t have planted anything new except for my (bad) habit of trolling the internet where I stumbled on Smokey’s Daylilies.

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After two hours of drooling on their site  and some time  wondering where I could plant a whole bunch of new daylilies, I thought of the already prepared bed in my garden of rusty things. Too tempting.

I love daylilies.  All shapes, sizes, and colors, they bloom prolifically in the middle of summer.   They don’t seem to be terribly fussy about clay soil and can go more than a week without watering.  Carefree?  Well, not exactly.  They need to be weeded – everything does. Fall clean-up is a must to get rid of the dead leaves.  They should be divided every couple of years, otherwise they get too big to bloom. But even if you forget the clean-up and the dividing this year, you can do it next without the plants tanking.  Very forgiving plants.

I bought eight different hybrids, including one that I’ve coveted for a couple of years and haven’t found anywhere else. Each order came with two ‘fans’ and Smokey’s sent me a free gift – eighteen to plant. As of this morning, it looks like they’ll all survive.

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If all goes well, they’ll flower next summer. Can’t wait.

And, yes, absolutely, positively, no more gardens.