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Episode 84 – Meet the Beneficial Bugs in your Backyard

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

“Beneficial insects” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, without a lot of explanation. To further confuse matters, there has been so much talk about bees and their benefits to humans that when you hear the term “beneficial insects,” you couldn’t be blamed for wondering, beneficial in what way? To whom?

When we say “beneficial insects,” we mean carnivorous insects that eat, well, other insects. These native insects manage plant pests like aphids, whitefly, spider mites so are worth inviting into your garden. However, it’s primarily the larval stage of these insects that are the most effective at pest control; adults tend to eat nectar and pollen. And since you aren’t going to get an larva (babies) without making a hospitable place for the adults, so it’s crucial to have a wide array of flowers available for them. Because the adults tend to be on the smaller side, the flowers themselves should be small, and ideally, arranged into clusters for easy browsing – this is why plants like thyme, oregano, fennel, dill, bee balm, yarrow, and sweet alyssum are all great options in your garden. They look good and encourage beneficials to not just visit but take up residence so you can take advantage of the voracious larval stages to come. Speaking of larval stages, it’s important to note that they often look substantially different than the adults – for example, take a look at what a ladybug larva, the most effective life stage for pest control, actually looks like. So of course, another aspect of making your garden hospitable for beneficial insects is not using pesticides and not smashing insects unless you know they are actually pests. 

Tune in at the YouTube link above or on your favorite podcast platform to hear our whole conversation. You can meet a whole bunch of beneficial insects here, and here are some more resources on choosing plants to support them. 

Everyone knows that butterfly bush – known scientifically as Buddleia – attracts butterflies. It’s right there in the name! But the same factors that attract butterflies also sustain beneficial insects like lacewings, ladybugs, and syrphid flies. These insects all need very small flowers with a high pollen and nectar content, and butterfly bush fits the bill just about perfectly. The fact that it flowers non-stop all summer long is also a boon to beneficials, providing a food source that lasts for months instead of just weeks. This makes it an excellent complement to the vegetables, herbs, and herbaceous perennials that may already be in your garden that sustain the adult stage of these insects.

There are lots of excellent butterfly bush in the Proven Winners ColorChoice line but today we are focusing on one of my favorites, Lo & Behold Blue Chip Jr. This is an improved version of the original Lo & Behold Blue Chip which came out about 15 years ago. Blue Chip Jr. boasts bluer flowers, attractive silvery foliage, a nicer, more compact habit, and because it’s a member of the Lo & Behold series of butterfly bush, it’s seedless and non-invasive, too. Thanks to its small size – just 1.5-2.5’ tall and wide – everyone has room for it!

Since it is early spring, it’s the perfect time to talk about butterfly bush. Because even though everything else in your yard may be starting to show signs of life, butterfly bush might not. It’s naturally very late to leaf out in spring, sometimes as late as summer. I personally have had a butterfly bush leaf out as late as the second week of July and it ended up growing vigorously after that and bloomed just fine. This very late emergence on butterfly bush is more likely to occur if you planted your butterfly bush late the previous season, if you live in USDA zone 5 or 6, or if your plant is in an exposed area. So, be patient! Don’t be tempted to rip it out too quickly, and don’t go crazy pruning it, because you don’t know where on the plant the new growth is going to emerge, and you don’t want to remove part of the plant that may be key to its recovery.

The best time to prune a butterfly bush – and you definitely should prune them – is once the new growth begins to emerge on the stems. It’s not really easy to see where the growth comes from on a butterfly bush, and by waiting until you see it, you let the plant tell you where to prune rather than just trying to take a wild guess and ending up wrong. Then you can cut just above where a large, healthy bud is emerging. If you didn’t experience much dieback on your plant, you may find that there are lots of healthy buds emerging. In this case, cut it back as far down as you can, again, just above a large bud. Doing this ensures you get good flower coverage all over the plant instead of just at the tops, as well as gets you a dense, compact habit. Unpruned butterfly bushes become “second story plants” that only have a few flowers way up at the top.

If you’re considering adding a butterfly bush to your garden this season, spring is the perfect time to do that, especially if you live in a colder climate. The longer the plant has to develop a root system before challenging cold weather sets in, the better it will do over winter. There are two main keys to success with butterfly bushes: one, full sun. They definitely need at least six hours of bright sun each day, and this is just as true in hot climates as it is in cooler ones. Not only is that going to give you the best flowering, but it’s also going to attract the most butterflies and beneficial insects, too, because they all need sun to regulate their body temperature. The second key is good drainage. Butterfly bushes are considered hardy down to USDA zone 5 and heat tolerant up through USDA zone 9 but even in warmer areas, wet soil is the quickest way to kill one. They simply cannot take wet soil and especially cold, wet soil. So if you have clay soil, you want to plant your butterfly bush slightly high in the soil – a bit above rather than even with the soil line and certainly not below it.

Butterfly bush are very deer resistant, even better for attracting all those beneficial insects! Lo & Behold butterfly bush come to us from NCSU professor emeritus Dr. Denny Warner.

If you’d like to add Lo & Behold ‘Blue Chip Jr.’ butterfly bush – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

There is definitely a very good chance your Meyer lemon is still alive, Angie! The truth is that citrus is not the easiest plant to grow indoors, and it’s not surprising that by late winter, it would start to get really stressed from a combination of low light (even if you have it in a bright spot), dry air, and low air circulation. When an indoor plant gets stressed, it’s common for pest issues like spider mites to explode. As a result of the stress, and the damage to the leaves from the spider mites, the plant dropped all of its foliage to conserve its resources until conditions improve. Fortunately, conditions are improving, simply by virtue of the days getting longer and the sun getting brighter. So I would recommend that you continue to care for it to avoid it experiencing any further stress which would set it back even more, and start bringing it outside on warm days, bringing it back indoors until it’s warm enough for it to be outside full time. Though I haven’t seen the plant, I feel pretty confident that it is likely to leaf out again and recover – it happened to me with a lemon tree before!

 

Oak leaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, so they cannot be pruned without removing some flower buds for the current or following year. As such, we recommend that you avoid any kind of regular pruning or trimming back. You can remove branches to shape the plant as you wish, but don’t cut it back – stopping that will be the first step toward getting it to bloom. Next, oakleaf hydrangeas may not flower when they are young, especially if you started with a very small plant like you might typically order online. Hopefully, as it matures, it will be able to make flowers. Third, don’t forget about deer – they love the flower buds of hydrangeas specifically and may have nipped yours, literally, in the bud. Finally, though they are quite shade tolerant, they are not as floriferous in deep shade, so that could be the issue. However, as long as your plant is getting at least four hours of light or filtered light throughout the day, you should get some blooms each year. 

Yes, asparagus definitely needs six hours of bright sun each day to grow well, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be six consecutive hours – if it gets two here, three there, and one later, that should be sufficient. As for the trench and spreading the roots – asaparagus crowns come with a mass of tangled roots, and to get them off to the best start, it’s best to dig a trench that’s slightly mounded in the center to raise the level of the crown itself, and then use the space on the sides to spread the roots out and encourage them to grow outward. You’ll find a diagram that clarifies what it should look like here

While there are some bacterial and fungal diseases that can cause brown streaking or spotting on iris, by far the most common cause of prematurely brown foliage on iris is the dreaded iris borer. This is the larvae of a moth that burrows into the rhizome and eats it, leaving behind a slimy mess and a very sad iris. You’ll find lots of good photos of what to look for through the season here, but July is really your key time to scout for and manage the borer. Dig up your plants and inspect the rhizomes carefully – the damage from the borer is unmistakable, leaving large holes and crumbly material (frass, a mix of the iris tissue and the borer’s excrement) in the holes. If you spot any borers, smash them, and remove any damaged rhizomes. Replant the healthy ones and keep watered and happy for the rest of the season. In fall, cut back all of the iris foliage and discard it – this should remove any eggs or young larvae fixing to do damage to your iris next season. While the borers do cause a  lot of damage, fortunately, they’re pretty easy to manage without chemicals. Do bear in mind, however, that this is a very common native insect so you will need to repeat this each year to keep populations in your garden under control. 

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above. Due to high volume, we may not get to your question, so if you need an answer quickly, please reach out via the Proven Winners website.

Branching News - Rick

  • In the United Kingdom, “jacket potatoes” – baked potatoes with various fillings – have become a staple in fast-food menus, offering a comforting and potentially healthier alternative to fried dishes.
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