It used to be that the only thing I needed to worry about when growing lilies was those darn voles eating my lily bulbs. The resident raptors, neighbor’s cat and a package of VoleBlock finally got them under control. Now I can have beautiful lilies, I foolishly thought! Imagine my chagrin a few years ago when I go out to admired my lilies and find nothing but brown, shriveled stalks. Turns out that a voracious beetle, of European descent, managed to work its way down from Canada feasting all the while on what else but lilies! The one thing that lily leaf beetles have working against them is their color – bright, vibrant red which makes grabbing one, even when they fall to the ground after being disturbed, pretty darn easy. I’m getting pretty good at hand-picking and squishing the little red devils. At first I was squeamish about this task. To make matters worse, the little buggers belong to a species of beetles that actually squeak pitifully when they are in distress! Talk about a gardener’s conscience! After witnessing their quick destruction of my beautiful plants, however, reality set in and I go out just about every day this time of year with nothing but their extermination in mind.
Lily Leaf Beetle
 Now, you know nothing in gardening, or life for that matter, is ever that simple. You see, lily leaf beetles overwinter as adults in leaf litter and mulch and start feeding as your lilies (or fritillarias or Solomon’s seal) begin earnest growth. Then they lay eggs on the underside of leaves which hatch in about 3 weeks. Ugly little larvae that look like slugs and cover themselves in their own poop then begin feeding again on the undersides of leaves making it difficult to spot the unwelcome diners. These I squish with gloves or clip the leaf part off that they are attached to and drop it on to the ground where I can step on them. Yuck! Any remaining larvae will hide in the mulch or leaf litter after about 3 weeks of feeding, then pupate for another 3 weeks and finally emerge as hungry adult lily leaf beetles that will keep eating until they run out of lilies or a hard frost. These will then find a hiding spot for the winter and next spring the cycle begins again.

 On to my next red hot item – aphids. Aphids are not nearly as destructive as lily leaf beetles, at least on the plants in my garden. Mostly they are annoying as they cause new growth and flowers to be distorted and unattractive. Aphids are sucking insects and are quite adept at extracting the sap from plant stems and other growing points. They also produce that shiny, sticky excrement we call honeydew. Ants are much enamored by this food source and will protect aphid colonies from predators so that they can keep all the honeydew to themselves.

Red aphid photo by Deborah Tyser

Red aphid photo by Deborah Tyser

 

Aphids do have some curious traits not common to many other garden insects. First they seldom lay eggs but rather give birth to live young; all daughters which can themselves begin reproducing in about a week’s time. Each female aphid can produce from 50 to 100 daughter aphids! So if you see just a few aphids on your plants one day and dozens the next, now you know why. Many female aphids can also reproduce without mating! If their populations become too high at a certain locations, winged forms are produced which can fly away to establish new colonies elsewhere.

 

Aphids come in many colors but you can see that the ones I am dealing with on my heliopsis are red. Fortunately aphids are easily controlled by hitting them with a good spray of water. Generally one has to repeat this water treatment several times as aphids can be persistent. Do keep in mind that aphids are attracted to lush new growth. Overfertilization, especially with nitrogen, stimulates this type of growth so only apply the amount of fertilizer, natural or synthetic, as recommended by a soil test or on the package.

 

I am not sure what is eating my lettuce seedlings but I have planted several types of lettuce several times and one day I see little seedlings poking their heads up through the soil and the next day they are gone. I have been planting lettuce in a similar fashion in the same area for almost 20 years and have never had so little success. So I decided to replant with Swiss chard and just buy some lettuce transplants. As I was perusing my choices at the local garden center, ‘Freckles’ and ‘Galactic’ caught my eye. One is a beautiful maroon red leaf lettuce, the other a red spotted romaine. A head of lettuce in the grocery store costs the same as one six pack of lettuce plants and I’ll be able to enjoy so many more salads for the same price that is if nothing eats these! Red leaf lettuce is higher in antioxidants than green leaf lettuce plus it adds visual interest to the garden. For information on the health benefits of lettuce check out,  http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/FOODNUT/09373.html.

Freckles romaine and galactic red leaf lettuce

Freckles romaine and galactic red leaf lettuce

 

Time in the garden always seems to be in short supply so I try as many maintenance reduction tools as possible. Mulches work especially well on decreasing the amount of time needed for watering and weeding. I also feel that mulch should enhance plantings and add that final aesthetically pleasing look. Others may disagree with me but I find red colored mulches are often too bright and draw attention away from the plants and put it on the mulch which by itself is not particularly interesting. I know there are red mulch aficionados out there and diversity makes gardens and life interesting but for now I’ll just pass on this shade of red in my garden beds.