April 24, 2017

Lily Leaf Beetle Battles

The lilies are poking through the soil only an inch, and already these horrible pests are at it!

The dreaded Lily Leaf Beetle has invaded my gardens early this year. Attractive in its red-orange shell,
Lily Leaf Beetle Adult (Lilioceris lilii)
Lilioceris lilii can destroy a plot of precious lilies overnight! True lilies and fritillaria are most susceptible; oriental, trumpet, rubrum, and tiger lilies are favored fare. Additionally, some oriental trumpets, Turk's cap, and native North American lilies might be affected. Daylilies seem unappetizing to this beetle.

The bad news is that these insects are difficult to control or eradicate. Researchers are working with parasitic wasps released in Rhode Island a few years ago, hoping the wasps will spread through the other affected states. Other than the hope that this will happen, we gardeners have little choice in how we'll deal with these beetles.

The beetles overwinter in the soil around the lily bulbs, emerging at about the same time that lily tips begin to poke through the soil. The beetles are voracious chewers and your tender lily sprouts will be shot through with holes almost overnight, but the most damage comes from the larvae. The emerging females begin laying eggs immediately, as many as 450. These eggs will hatch in just a week or ten days.

Timing is critical for control

Lily Leaf Beetle Damage (Lilioceris lilii)
First sign of trouble
As soon as your shoots appear, begin monitoring them every morning and evening. The bright beetles are easy to see and, for a small patch of lilies, hand-picking is the most effective method. However, these insects are fast and they can fly. And they are clever: they sense your movement and drop to the ground - upside down so their black underside makes them hard to see. 

Lily Leaf Beetle Adults mating (Lilioceris lilii)Place a few drops of dish detergent in something shallow and wide, such as a whipped topping container. Add some water, but not too much. When you see a beetle on a leaf or stalk, place the container just underneath, taking care not to bump the plant. Then either pick off the beetle, or flick it off into the soapy water. Sometimes, they'll pull their dropping off trick and fall right in without your help

Lily Leaf Beetle Eggs (Lilioceris lilii)
Lily Leaf Beetle eggs are easy to see

First step done! Now, set aside the soap solution and check the undersides of the lily leaves for eggs. They are easy to see. Look for irregular lines of bright orange dots. The best way to ensure that all the eggs are destroyed is to remove the leaf and drop it into the soapy water. Some gardeners prefer to crush the eggs in order to preserve the leaf, but this leaves the chance that some eggs will drop to the ground and hatch anyway. If the leaf is badly damaged, it will die anyway and fall off.

Lily Leaf Beetle larvae and leaf damage (Lilioceris lilii)

Second step complete. Now, the really yucky part of control: the larvae. If you've missed some eggs in your initial efforts, you'll soon see leaf damage that is far worse than the adult eating habit. Turn over the damaged leaf and you'll see brown globs on the underside. These are the larvae, and the brown stuff is...wait for it...excrement. Right! The larvae carry their frass on top of their bodies as protection and camouflage.

You can either remove the entire leaf and drop it into soapy water, or if the damage isn't too great, scrape off the larvae into the soap solution. Wear gloves!!!

If you are diligent about the early hand-picking and egg removal, you should be able to weather the Lily Leaf Beetle storm without too much damage. In the space of a week, at this writing, I've removed over twenty adults from my three small lily beds, and found and destroyed only two egg masses. The leaf damage is minimal and for the last two days, I've only found one or two adults hanging about.

What other alternatives are there?

Researching the best way to control the Lily Leaf Beetle, I found several sites with suggestions from gardeners. I haven't tried any of these yet, but the logic behind them makes sense. I will see how they work and report in a later post. For now, this is what I found:
    Oriental and asiatic lilies in the garden
  • Neem oil. An effective insecticide, but one that does not work immediately, rather takes long enough that the beetles can do a lot of damage and lay a lot of eggs.
  • Diatomaceous earth. Spread around the base of the plant or worked into the soil, DE dessicates the insect and it suffocates.
  • Talcum powder without cornstarch. Used the same as diatomaceous earth, same effect.
  • Coffee grounds. Apparent repellant due to caffeine; provides benefit of acidity that lilies love, as well as soil friability.
Get an early start on controlling these nasty critters!

April 17, 2017

Tick Season Is Here

by Toni Leland

As I crawl around my landscape beds, clearing leaves and debris, delighting in each and every small green shoot I discover in this earliest part of spring, I realize that it's again time to watch for ticks. Having had a serious case of Lyme Disease a few years ago, I can tell you that prevention of tick bites is an important part of being a gardener.

For those of us who want to spend every waking minute out in our yards and gardens, there aren't many things that can deter us. To get around the nuisance of biting insects, and especially disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes, we need to get a head start on the season.

Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis)
public domain photo, Wikimedia Commons
Tick Season officially arrived in Connecticut this month. Not officially because someone said so, but because I have removed two ticks from my person in as many weeks. And I've only been out in the gardens about four times!

The most recent critter was one of the teensy tiny ticks that are known in this area as deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). These nasty little arachnids are vectors for Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis; finding one embedded in your skin is not a happy thing!  There is no vaccination for Lyme Disease, and the recovery time can be quite prolonged. According to the CDC, about 300,000 people contract the disease each year.

How Do I Remove a Tick?

On searching the Internet for ways to protect myself, I came across some interesting information and advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. First, I wanted to remove Mr. Tick. I'd heard many folk remedies for doing this, but I wanted advice from the experts.

Ticks should be removed with tweezers by grasping the insect as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight up. They don't come willingly and there's a good possibility of leaving some bits of mouth parts in your skin. However, CDC stated that it wouldn't hurt to leave it and the skin would heal after cleansing the area with alcohol.
Lyme Disease bulls eye rash
Classic bulls eye rash with Lyme Disease. Photo from CDC.

What's important is to make a note of when you received the bite, then watch the area carefully for anywhere from 3 days to several weeks. If a rash develops – especially a distinctive bulls-eye – see your doctor immediately. Or if you develop a fever or painful joints, but no rash, that could also indicate Lyme Disease or one of the other tick-borne illnesses.

How Do I Protect Myself?

Now – how to enjoy our gardens without endangering ourselves and our pets? Even if you own indoor pets, it's possible to bring ticks in on your clothing and then they find your sweet Muffy or Poochie.

Repellents containing DEET will protect you from biting insects for several hours; treating clothing with products containing permethrin will add protection, and the product remains active through several washings.

What I found interesting was the suggestion to toss your outdoor clothes into the dryer and tumble on high for 10 minutes. This would kill any ticks that managed to hitch a ride. CDC strongly recommends showering within 2 hours of coming indoors and then checking yourself carefully for any ticks that might have already latched on. Especially in your hair. I saw a recent suggestion to use a sticky lint roller over your clothes before entering the house. Any critters clinging to your clothes are snatched right off.

So, arm yourself with the right repellent, post a note on the back door to remind you to do a tick-check, and plan to enjoy your summer without any problems.

Happy tick-free gardening!