Pests

Scale Insect I'm keeping an eye on my Acers at the moment (June) for scale insect. They start as tiny white, woolly patches and grow a shell like the one on the right. The adults are mobile, the young aren't. If you leave them they can multiple rapidly and seriously weaken a tree by sucking the sap. I hunt them out and rub them off with my (gloved - yuk!) finger.

Millipedes seem to be abundant this spring. They burrow into underground stems and weaken plants and can be a real nuisance (but not fatal) on Phlox and Heleniums over winter. They are cylindrical and shiny black. Don't mistake them for the friendly bugs, Centipedes, that are usually brown (dark or pale), have longer and fewer legs, move quickly and look more flattened in profile.

Swift Moth Caterpillar: Digging up Heleniums to divide today, I noticed some of the fleshy underground stems had been hollowed out causing the plants to grow poorly with some sections dying out. Right in the centre of the clump I found this beasty - the 1 1/2 in (3cm) long caterpillar of the swift moth which is a voracious feeder. I've also found these inside the dead, tunneled out stems of Delphiniums. There is no effective control but regular division of Heleniums will prevent congested hiding places forming. Fortunately it is not very common in the garden. By the way, our Robin had a really good feast on the blighter.

Aphids: We don't really like spraying our garden plants. Not just for wildlife protection but also for reasons of cost (have you ever worked out how much a single spray of insecticide costs?), and effectiveness. For example green fly can be rubbed off of plants more effectively and easily than spraying. However I do spray my Echinops in May. The tightly furled leaves nearly always get infested with rose aphid and these distort the stems and damage the flower buds. I draw the line at rubbing the pests off of the prickly leaves and the ladybirds seem to share my aversion to the irritant leaves. However in August I do feel justified as the electric blue globe thistles open to welcome hoards of bees and butterflies.

Voles: We all love feeding wildlife in our gardens and in this extra cold weather many birds and animals are kept alive by our intervention. Our garden Robin comes down to me each morning and evening to cadge a bit of our duck's food.  However I do draw the line at the local voles and field mice feasting on the leaves of newly propagated plants in our cloches and coldframes. Today we discovered trays of young Centaurea plants nibbled to the soil. The little blighters had even had a good nibble on some Heleniums I'd propagated recently which must have been quite harmful to them.  These small mammals like to feed in the cover and security of a coldframe away from cats, kestrels and owls so its worth keeping an eye on your plants each day and if you don't like the idea of traps etc you will have to move plants they have a taste for. We find placing pots on a tray raised from the ground on smooth 5 litre plastic pots are enough to keep them at bay.  Actually for some plants like Geum and Geraniums a little nibble by a vole in winter before new growth starts helps tidy plants up in preparation for spring. However, these little critters just don't know when to stop!

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