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What’s Bugging You? Plant Pests and How to Identify Them

Thom Morgan

Thom Morgan, Springmoor landscape manager

I was busy watching my team play in the NCAA basketball tournament when the door bell rang, (It’s either that or the phone). I answered the door and my buddy Jerry was standing there with a worried look on his face. I invited him in because I thought he wanted to watch the game, but he said “No, I got a problem with my junipers, can you take a look at them?”
I glanced across the street and said, “They look all right to me.”
However, I gave in and walked with him to a bank of junipers he and his wife had planted. Most of the junipers were covering the bank very nicely, but there were patches of brown, or bare spots.
“I just know it’s that poodle across the street,” Jerry said.
“I don’t think Ralph allows his dog to wander- his chickens get loose but not his dog, “ I replied.
“I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is,” I said. “Get me a piece of white paper, and I’ll check something.”
After what seemed an eternity, Jerry returned with twenty different types of paper, apparently thinking it had to be special paper. I grabbed the plain typing paper, and held it under a partially dead juniper branch, and tapped the branch lightly onto the paper. Thousands of little dots appeared, which I smeared with my finger. Immediately, the paper had streaks of blood on it, and Jerry about had a heart attack.
“You have spider mites,” I said to a wide-eyed Jerry. “Spider mites are a very tiny insect, and they suck on the branches of various plants to get at the juices.” I told him what product to apply, and ran back home to try and enjoy the rest of my basketball game.
Most garden pests are easy to control if you just know what to look for.

Common Pests (and how to get rid of them)

If your rose petals are torn up and falling off the branch, this could be a couple of pests. Japanese beetles are most common for about three weeks from late May to early June. You can apply a systemic fertilizer which also has an insecticide already in it starting in February. Better yet, the roses have to be deadheaded once the bloom fades anyway, so you can cut all the flowers off and deprive the beetles of any food.
Thrips dig deep into roses as well, and the symptoms and cures are the same for Japanese beetles. Thrips are about a quarter inch long insects with stripes like a honey bee, and have what look like pinchers at both ends.
If your Gardenia flowers don’t form or the branches have black soot, it is caused by whiteflies. Even just brushing the infected shrub sends up a cloud of these little white pests. To get rid of these, thoroughly dose the infected plant with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil sprays. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to spray nearby gardenias too since they probably are under attack as well.
If the leaves on tomatoes are chewed away, and the tomato fruits also have chew marks and it’s mid-summer, this is most likely the tomato/tobacco hornworm. Follow the trail of chewed leaves until you find a caterpillar with a “stinger.” Usually there is only one or two per plant so it’s just a matter of picking the caterpillar off the plant, and tossing out in the lawn for the birds. The caterpillar will attempt to sting you with its so-called stinger, but it’s just a bluff. You may find these caterpillars with tiny eggs on its back- this is from a gardening good-guy. A parasitic wasp seeks out these caterpillars as a host to lay its eggs on. The larvae feed off the caterpillar, and eventually kill it.
If you are seeing stunted rose buds, wilted leaves, and thousands of tiny green or black bugs, the most likely culprits are aphids. They attack a host of other ornamental plants as well. The cure is the same as for whitefly – use an insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray.
These are just a few of the bugs that plague gardeners. If your pests don’t seem to be covered here, most garden centers offer information as well as products to combat these little pests. County extension agents are also very helpful, but it is often hard to identify a problem over the phone.

May Focal Points- what’s blooming at Springmoor Now.

  • Late season Azaleas (Azalea sp.) Pink, or white gumpo azaleas, or any of the low-growing Japanese varieties.
  • Rhododendrons (Nova Zembla), (Calsap), There are some red Nova Zembla rhododendrons on campus, and there is a nice Calsap at the SHC ambulance ramp. Calsaps have white petals with a purple/black center.
  • Wine, and Roses weigelia (Weigelia wine, and roses) have dark purple foliage, and ruby red flowers. I plan to add a few more in various locations. There is one left above a tie wall, opposite side of the street from house four.
  • Mr Lincoln Roses Introduced in 1964, the 1965 All American Rose Selection Winner, Mr. Lincoln has probably the most fragrant bloom of any rose available. Introduced to Springmoor by Mrs. Ammons, look for the first blooms of red measuring eight inches in diameter at the SHC portico. Beginning the first week of May, Mr. Lincoln blooms all summer until first frost.

May Things to Do

  • Plant warm weather vegetables such as cantaloupe, watermelons, peppers, and eggplant.
  • Side Dress vegetable rows with hay straw, or compost to keep the summer weeds down.
  • Lawns and vegetable gardens should receive about an inch of water a week. A rain gauge is a very handy tool to keep track of how much rain your garden gets. A lot of plants die from over watering. If you measure an inch of rain that week in your gauge, then there is no need to manually water.



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