By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
As the first Mandarin NewsLine edition of 2022 rolls off the presses, I’m looking at the gardening year beginning again, but perhaps it’s not the only way to observe the natural world. There are broad natural cycles to follow if we are to be successful gardeners, but looking at the big picture sometimes leaves us missing the details.
Two insect discoveries in the first week of December intrigued me. My pink gaura plants had attracted some aphids, which were hard to spot, being almost the same deep pink color as the foliage where they were feeding. Aphids have an interesting life cycle. As insects, one might assume they mate and lay eggs; the young hatch, eat, mature, etc. But for most of the year aphids birth live young female clones, and later in the year they produce eggs which overwinter. These two articles shed some light on aphids’ lives: https://tinyurl.com/yc498y8k and https://tinyurl.com/4t6jewc4. I’ve also discovered that there’s a wooly hackberry aphid — which explains the sooty mold that was an unsightly problem for plants growing beneath my tree.
The second was an encounter with a bee, possibly a leafcutter type. It had become trapped in an empty yellow watering can and when I tipped it out, it seemed disoriented and didn’t fly away. To my surprise, it didn’t hesitate to walk onto my hand and very tickly it was! Although I found some flowers for it to crawl onto, it stayed put. It took flight briefly, but landed very clumsily, too close to a lawn that gets sprayed regularly with chemicals, so I picked it up again. Finally it crawled onto a beggar’s tick flower (https://tinyurl.com/47yku342). It certainly hadn’t been behaving like a healthy bee, but the following morning when I went to check it had gone.
Last year, one of my large coonties had a soft scale. My options were to spray with an oil or to remove all the leaves, which would have ultimately improved its appearance. I’ve tried both approaches before, but I’m a bit relaxed when it comes to pest control, so I killed some by the “squish” method, and let nature take its course. Inevitably the scale attracted a variety of small predatory insects like flies, wasps, lady beetles and assassin bugs, most of them unidentifiable to anyone but an expert, and I enjoyed watching them. I fully expect to see the scale again this year, along with those natural predators.
The weather has been mild, but horribly dry hereabouts. Watering the perennials and grasses in my front garden bed has been tricky. The young Shumard oak gets a soaking every week, along with the woody shrubs. One grass that was installed for us turns out to be generally happier in wetter areas. It’s designated as FACW (facultative wetland sometimes in dry areas), by the USDA, so realistically it isn’t going to work here. I knew from experience that the wild rosemary (Conradina grandiflora) would not appreciate supplementary water, and all five plants are thriving even in a drought period. They were still flowering in December and attracting insects to feed. Others like the liatris, goldenrod, and bunch grasses have died back for the winter and probably don’t need water either. It won’t be till spring when new growth emerges that I know whether or not they have survived.
The veg patch is looking great, with plenty of greens to see us through. The onions are still small, so they might be late maturing, depending on the weather. It’s all good. For detailed advice, see the “New Leaf – Yard & Garden” newsletter (https://tinyurl.com/2p847k7h) and “The Neighborhood Gardener” (https://tinyurl.com/2w4jrjnn).
We gardeners undoubtedly are a mixed bunch; I wish you all success in your endeavors. I hope that the New Year brings peace, understanding, hope, and good health to us all, wherever — and however — we live. And that we can all contribute to cherishing the natural world that is La Florida.