Ann Wright: Garden surprises in April
Finding some sort of order and calm during the current disruption in our day-to-day lives is one reason to retreat to the garden! The warming days, bees dancing among the blooms and an abundance of birds in the backyard offer a sense of solace and surprise.
The rock garden in my backyard has been a several-year project — the continued growth of lush weeds is a testament to the continued work needed. But this year, there have been surprises. The California lilac (Ceanothus concha) is full of blossoms, and is teaming with pollinators. The Matilija poppy has grown to a majestic stature and the new support device I found helps it stand very tall, almost dwarfing the Japanese maple added a few years ago. The evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) with bright white flowers adds a swath of contrast amidst the green. The peony is building up to opening blooms. Some native plants, added over the years, contribute to the symphony of color and textures in the garden. A new surprise is the purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) blooming amidst some native flowering current (Ribes sanguineum). The deep purple of the hummingbird sage (Salvia spathecea) adds a wonderful contrast to the shades of green. Another true surprise is the above-ground pool cover, now transformed from ugly tarp to colorful swamp — complete with moss, frogs and a garter snake. It will dry out soon, so we enjoy the creatures while we can — although the little garter snake quickly retreated into the star jasmine bed.
Not as surprising, in the vegetable and orchard garden, some of the fruit tree leaves are curling, suggestive of the armies of aphids that are around this time of year. Likely the dormant oil spray was not applied in timely fashion, or not often enough during the dormant season. Late spring, when temperatures are warm but not hot (65°-80°F), many species of aphids cause the greatest damage. This is the time to check for aphids often — at least twice a week when plants are growing rapidly. This aspect of integrated pest management (IPM) will help direct treatment plans. If aphids are caught early, many can be knocked off plants with sharp water spray. Low to moderate numbers of leaf-feeding aphids aren’t usually damaging in gardens or on trees. However, with large aphid populations foliage may be injured where leaves turn yellow and shoots are stunted. Certain species of aphids inject a toxin into the plants, causing leaves to yellow and curl. Aphids also produce an abundance of sticky exudate which is called honeydew. With time this turns black with sooty mold. Once aphid numbers are high and leaves begin to distort, treatment with water spray does little good — aphids are able to hide inside the curled leaves. (Check the website at, ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7404.html).
When considering whether to apply insecticides for aphid control, remember that most larger plants can tolerate light to moderate levels of aphids with little damage. Larger aphid populations may rapidly decline when hot temperatures arrive. Often a forceful spray of water or water-soap solution, even on larger trees, will provide sufficient control. If infestations are high and insecticides are warranted, insecticidal soaps and oils are the best choices for most situations. Oils may include petroleum-based horticultural oils or plant-derived oils such as neem or canola oil. These products require thorough covering of foliage to kill the pests — which is accomplished primarily by smothering the aphids. Using a 1% to 2% solution oil solution, with large volumes of water, spray the target thoroughly — including the top and underside of the leaves.
As May approaches, the Nevada County Master Gardeners continue to follow CDC and state mandates in response to the coronavirus. Until further notice, public workshops, events and activities have been suspended. However, we are live on the radio on Saturdays! The “Master Gardeners and Friends” talk show airs on KNCO radio, 830 on the AM dial from 10 a.m. to noon. It’s a call-in show, so folks can call the station at 530-477-5626 to ask the Master Gardeners questions. We are also on Facebook and Instagram and the website (http://ncmg.ucanr.org) has a “Got Questions” link to email your gardening questions to us. Here’s hoping you find lots of wonderful garden surprises this April and that you are safe and well.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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