This is the time of year when summer-blooming bulbs appear in every garden shop, hardware store, or even grocery store. Like a kid in a candy store, I can look at them for ages, dreaming of the colors and shapes that could appear in my garden. Recently the image on a package of Asiatic lily bulbs jumped out at me.

Dark Lady blend 2

The mix of antique-looking purples, creams, and pinks would be a beautiful addition our garden bed where limelight hydrangeas, pale drift roses, and a Dogwood Cornus florida with its pale cream blossoms touched with pink.

Asiatic lilies, along with Easter lilies, are true lilies in the genus Lilium and Fritillaria, in the genus Fritillaria, are members of the family Liliaceae. The trumpet-shaped blooms of the Asiatic lily flower in early summer and may face upright atop stems that have long, slim whorled leaves.

Oriental lilies, on the other hand, have flowers that are outward and downward facing and flower in late summer, including the very appropriately named hybrid ‘Stargazer’ lily whose outward-facing flowers appear to be looking up.

Stargazer 1

The Oriental lilies are more fragrant than the Asiatic so they are a better choice if that is what you desire in your garden or home. Both are great options for cutting and look lovely in containers with lower growing plants surrounding them. In addition, when grown in containers they can be swapped out with other plants after blooming or grow both groups in the same planter for a succession of blooms.

However, the bane of any true lily grower’s existence is the Lily leaf beetle, Lillioceris lilii. Both the larvae and the adult Lily leaf beetle feed on the foliage of true lilies, in fact they can totally defoliate a plant in a matter of days. This pest was first documented in the United states in Cambridge, MA, in 1992. In the subsequent years it became a major agricultural and economic pest of growers. The Lily leaf beetle is also known as the Scarlet lily beetle due to its bright red coloring.

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This insect lays its eggs and completes its entire life cycle on the same plant and can cause damage to both the stems and leaves. The bright orange-red, oval eggs are laid in groups of about 12 on the underside of the leaf in May. In 7-10 days the eggs will darken and then hatch out, allowing the larvae to feed on the underside of the leaf before moving to the upper leaf surface and the buds. They can be hard to control with insecticides as they use their own frass (excrement) as a barrier to cover themselves.

In another two weeks they will drop to soil to pupate emerging a week and a half later as adults.  The adults will continue to defoliate and weaken the plant. Neem can be used as a control but must be applied every 5 days or so. Scouting and handpicking are often the best option and I find that holding an open container below them as I scout helps to catch them if they attempt to drop to the ground. Fun fact: they will make a squeaky noise if squeezed or disturbed.

If you don’t enjoy the monitoring that is required to deal with the Lily leaf beetle or the disappointment of walking past your flower beds only to discover that your lilies have been stripped clean you may want to consider planting another dependable perennial bulb: the daylily.

Flower bed

Daylilies used to belong to the same family as the true lilies, Liliaceae, were reclassified in the family Asphodelaceae in the genus Hemerocallis. Since it was first formally described by Carl Linnaeus in the mid-eighteenth the Liliaceae family kept expanding until it encompassed over 300 genera and 4500 species. Most of these were grouped into Liliaceae simply because they had six tepals and a superior ovary. From 1998 to 2016 a phylogenetics (evolutionary history and relationships) study by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group was key in recognition of the family Asphodelaceae. Within Asphodelaceae is the sub-family Hemerocallidoideae and the genus Hemerocallis in which resides the daylily.

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The ephemeral blooms of the daylily give it both its common name and Latin name as Hemerocallis comes from the Greek words hemera (day) and kalos (beautiful). To keep daylilies blooming longer I remove any spent flowers and also any of the large, bulbous seed capsules that may appear. Daylilies will grow in full sun or part shade in most soil types although like it slightly acidic, perfect for Connecticut gardens. A bit of a 5-10-5 fertilizer at planting and then each spring when growth appears is all that it needs.

The one pest of daylilies that I have to deal with each year is the metallic-brown Oriental beetle (Anomala orientalis). The adult beetles are attracted to the open blooms and will nestle themselves right down into the center of the blooms.

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Its another pest that I control by handpicking, dropping them into a container of insecticidal soap. I don’t mind though as this activity gets me up close and personnel to the beautiful blooms and also reminds me to deadhead as I go along.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton, UConn

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.