Fritillaria imperialis can grow up to 3 feet tall and repels deer. Unfortunately, it’s also the early and alternate host for the scarlet lily beetle. ANDREW MESSINGER
The dreaded scarlet lily beetle found on its alternate host Fritillaria imperialis in mid-April. ANDREW MESSINGER
Trapped safely in a folded piece of tape and dated, this blacklegged (deer) tick was not attached long enough to cause an infection. The two short extensions at the tip of the head are like saw blades that the tick uses to make a puncture then draw blood with a different mouthpart. ANDREW MESSINGER
Sawyer permethrin on the left is one of the best tick repellents. Sprayed on clothing, it remains effective for several weeks even after washing clothes. Never apply it directly to your skin. On the right is one brand of neem oil. While an interesting organic insecticide, its important to learn how to use it and how it works. ANDREW MESSINGER
Mosquito Bits are used in bird baths and water gardens to control mosquitoes. When the pellets are mixed and dissolved in water, the bits are used to control fungus gnats in houseplants. ANDREW MESSINGER
We’re well into April. UPS is dropping off plants several times a week, but things are just a wee bit slow in the garden due to cool and wet weather.
Some signs of the cold winter have left behind reminders, and initial dormant oil sprays finally got applied when there was no rain for 24 hours and the temperature cooperated. Just days ago the weather service issued freeze and frost advisories to the area. Much to go over, and this my friends, is my April ramble.
A few points of panic or near panic. I woke up this morning and felt a small bump on my right forearm. A quick trip to the bathroom mirror and sure enough, the first tick bite of the 2022 season. I wasn’t in the woods, but I was in areas at the wood’s edge, in the gardens and around plenty of leaf litter.
With plenty of experience with Lyme disease and babesiosis, I follow a routine, and you should have one as well. I try to inspect my body twice a day from head to toe. When I know I’m going out into a tick area I wear clothes sprayed with permethrin, and just before entering a tick area, I add a layer of insect repellent with 40 percent DEET. In spite of all these precautions, I still had to do six tick removals last summer — but I did not get infected.
When I find a tick, I get my kit together. This consists of cotton swabs, 90 percent alcohol, a metal tweezer with a narrow, sharp point and a piece of clear tape. Most of the literature says that if you can remove a tick (properly) within 24 to 36 hours of it attaching, there is a very low chance of getting an infection. The tick has to be carefully removed (swab with alcohol first), the tweezer sterilized, then with a magnifying glass or a helper, the tweezer is pushed down to the mouthparts and the tick removed, mouthparts and all.
The tick is immediately put on the piece of clear tape so it can’t escape, and the point where the tick was attached is swabbed again.
People can react differently to the bite. I usually develop a small red spot, and it often itches hours or a day later. I watch the spot to make sure it doesn’t enlarge and always watch for the telltale bullseye ring that can be an infection indicator, but it doesn’t always have to be present.
One suggestion I have is to spray your gardening clothes and work shoes with permethrin. Sawyer makes this as a pump spray and an aerosol, but I find the liquid (pump) easier to apply. I do my boots each time, and now I spray the outside of my socks as well. Let them dry before putting them on. Permethrin is a very effective repellent, lasts for a number of washes or a number of weeks but never apply it directly to your skin or face.
The tape is folded over the tick to form an envelope, dated and attached to the refrigerator door. If an infection ensues, a doctor may want to see the tick for a species ID, as different ticks can carry different diseases. When in doubt, always contact your health care professional, and depending on how long the tick may have been attached to you or how engorged it is, you may be asked to go on an antibiotic regime. It can’t hurt to go online and review the types of ticks we have here — or where you travel. Absolutely check your body carefully and often during the gardening season. And yes, they are at the beach and in the dunes.
Several months ago I wrote about using Mosquito Bits as a treatment for fungus gnats on houseplants. The information has now been updated, and you can now add 4 tablespoons of the bits in warm water and let it sit for 24 hours to dissolve. As the bits dissolve, mix the solution and apply as your regular watering. Repeat about every two weeks, and the gnats will be done. This is a biological control that is both safe and effective, but not fast.
You may recall that last summer I had my first experience with the dreaded scarlet lily beetle. With a collection of over 70 lily varieties, it seemed to be just a matter of time, and I knew the beetles had been active in gardens just a few miles away. They found me. And yes, I was in a panic. I followed all the good advice that is found online and through research at the University of Rhode Island, but there was more bad news: This beetle has an alternate host, which is the early-spring-blooming Fritillaria.
Of course, I have a small planting of a half dozen Fritillaria only feet from where the first beetles were found on the lilies. That meant early spring scouting on the frits when they emerged. I checked several times a day as the frits emerged and grew. One day while walking by with the dog, I spied a red flash on a frit leaf, and my heart sank. Panic set in.
I needed to catch this beetle, but even more important I needed to kill it. My insecticide of choice for a quick knockdown was pyrethrin, but I had none mixed and ready. I scrambled to find a small sprayer and mix up a quart of spray, all the while hoping the beetle was still in the same place. It was, and in seconds it was zapped and shortly dead and collected.
On to step 2: Try to protect against the other beetles to come and make sure no eggs or emerging larvae are present.
Now I needed to empty the sprayer and mix a quart of Neem insecticide. Neem oil is known to repel this beetle, kill the eggs by smothering them and kill the larvae. Stay tuned. This will go on for months, especially as the frits fade and the lilies continue to grow. The neem will be applied every five to seven days as insurance.
Neem is interesting stuff. The insecticidal oil comes from the bean of the neem tree in India. There are two ways of producing the oil. One uses cold pressing of the beans, and the other uses an alcohol extraction. Each formulation has its uses so if you want to use this material (it is organic) please read up on it. It’s an interesting product because it may be effective as a Japanese beetle repellent, but my trials to date have been inconclusive.
A reader sent a note asking a few lawn questions. The note started out with an acknowledgment that some of my advice over the years had worked. The writer knew that lawn fertilizer shouldn’t be applied until May. So once again the reminder: Turfgrasses will green up and get lush when fertilized in April. But when done in May, the fertilizer is much more helpful in root growth and stimulation that results in a healthier lawn going into the summer.
And speaking of lawns, I read more and more about fescues and how this should be the new choice for lawns. Several varieties being promoted need little maintenance and much less watering, but it’s not a panacea. When not mowed, the fescues can get taller than our traditional lawns, which we keep at 2 to 3 inches in height. I fear that the fescues, if allowed to grow taller, may be lower in maintenance but will also be more prone to attract ticks, and they choose plant material that’s usually taller than our 2-to-3-inch cut lawns where they can wait for a body to brush by.
I did some planting of a few small shrubs that came in late in the fall in 2-quart pots. I got them in as soon as they arrived hoping for good root growth in the cool fall soil. In mid-March, I noticed that nearly all of them had been heaved or pushed out of the ground due to the cold winter. It’s not a common problem out here, but late plantings and a cold winter can still result in heaving even out here in the Hamptons. A winter mulch might have avoided this.
Which brings me to a question for you: I’ve noticed that a good percentage of the containerized shrubs and perennials that I plant don’t thrive or survive. Have you noticed the same thing? They arrive with root masses totally ensnared in the pot and need to be cut and loosened before planting. If not, they usually fail, but I’m seeing failures even in plants that have been carefully unpotted, roots loosened and properly planted. Let me know if you’ve had similar experiences. Nurseries who turn out these potted plants by the hundreds of thousands rarely if ever follow up to see how these plants do once they’re sold.
If you’ve got a vegetable garden, cold frame or greenhouse it’s critical to make sure you have a weed-free buffer around them. The periphery of these areas are magnets for weeds (and insects) and these weeds become a prime place for the insects that will then move into your garden, cold frame or greenhouse. Try to keep a buffer around your vegetable garden that’s at least a foot wide — the wider the better — and keep this buffer weed-free and cut short. A 1-foot-wide strip of a weed barrier would be perfect but not always aesthetic.
If you put down a weed barrier, cover it with an inch of angular-cut bluestone that you can find in driveways. You’ll not only keep out the weeds but voles won’t cross the strip (they hate the feel of the processed, sharp bluestone) and you’ll keep the weeds out as well.
Continue to do succession plantings in your new salad greens garden and remember that April 24 is our first frost-free day in Southampton (most years). This will be a week later farther out east and a week earlier west and toward inland areas like Riverhead. Keep growing.
One fine body…