Azalea sawfly larvae, leaf damage and excrement discovered by Leslie Cox in her garden. Photo by Leslie Cox

Duchess of Dirt: Inattention to detail causes trouble in the garden

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

Darn. Remember those azalea sawflies I was talking about two months ago? Well, the adults have been and gone. How do I know? I am seeing ravenous, newly hatched larvae. With the help of my digital microscope, I have found first and second instar larvae, as well as unhatched eggs.

Double darn. I really should have hung the yellow sticky traps in the azaleas. Had honestly planned to but hey, all gardeners know how long the spring chore list can stretch. Now I am paying the price for my tardiness because the female sawflies likely started laying their eggs around the last week of April. Best guess.

I do know through researching this pest that adult sawflies are only out in sunny weather and they have a short lifespan of one to two weeks. Same as most butterfly species. The scary part is sawflies are quite possibly parthenogenetic, meaning females do not need to mate with males in order to produce eggs. So says P.J. Leisch and Susan Mahr of the University of Wisconsin, at least.

But right now the sex life of the adults is not what concerns me. It is the result, or lack thereof, of such amorous activity in the garden that has me unglued.

How well I remember the infestation we had on these azaleas last year. Damage was incredible…although thankfully, the larvae never do enough damage to kill the plant. Only make it look unsightly covered in decimated leaves with just the midrib remaining. Looking back in my journal, I was hand-picking the larvae through the last week of May and into June. At least I learned one lesson last year: to start looking for damaged leaves earlier.

So guess what I am doing for the next several days…perhaps into weeks? You got it. Hunting and squishing tiny green larvae. No help for it. I am certainly not going to spray the recommended pyrethrum on my azaleas! We both love sticking our noses in the wonderfully scented ‘Irene Koster’ so chemical treatment is an assured no-no, even if we were even remotely inclined, which we are not.

Organic remedy calls for a jet blast from the hose. Not happening either with both azaleas in full bloom so I am reduced to squishing. John does help a little but being far-sighted, he is virtually blind in spotting the tiny green larvae which blend in well with the azalea leaves. Part of the larvae’s line of defence against predators.

And thankfully, there are predators who hunt these pests. I was working side-by-side a European paper wasp the other day. Literally. I didn’t bother it and it ignored me, intent as we both were on our hunting activities – me to annihilate, the wasp to find lunch. I also noticed a fly licking a leaf, cleaning up some larvae excrement. Yucky, I know, but hey, I’ll take help with house-cleaning wherever I can get it. Especially when it does not cost me anything.

Enough about pests. Don’t you always feel a sense of wonderment when you learn something new about your garden? We do. Both John and I were amazed to discover our Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ (double-flowered Japanese rose) is actually scented. And delightfully, I might add.

It is embarrassing to admit this fact since this shrub has been in our garden for nearly 20 years. In our defence, there are scented plants nearby to which we attributed the cause. However, on this particular night, it was a true revelation to walk past the kerria and realize it was the scent producer. And there is the kicker. This kerria is only scented at night.

The things you learn as you work, and walk, in a garden. Incredible.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in The Record.

Just Posted

Comox Valley Ground Search & Rescue kept busy across the province

CVGSAR had a busy week, sending rescuers as far away as Invermere

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

Glacier View residents take a ride on the river

Ground Search and Rescue guides floaters on Puntledge

Brewing up some community engagement

Insp. Tim Walton says goodbye to the Comox Valley

Canadians fear for relatives trapped amid flooding in Indian state of Kerala

More than 800,000people have been displaced by floods and landslides

IndyCar driver Wickens flown to hospital after scary crash

IndyCar said Wickens was awake and alert as he was taken to a hospital

Ex-BCTF president ‘undeterred’ after early release from pipeline protest jail term

Susan Lambert and Order of Canada recipient Jean Swanson released early

Fast food chains look to capitalize on vegetarian, vegan trend with new items

Seven per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians and 2.3 per cent identify as vegans

B.C. swimmer halts journey across Strait of Juan de Fuca after hypothermia sets in

Victoria MS athlete Susan Simmons swam for eight-and-a-half hours in 9 C choppy waters

‘Hard on water:’ Smoke not the only long-range effect of wildfires

The project began more than 10 years ago after southern Alberta’s 2003 Lost Creek fire

B.C. VIEWS: Genuine aboriginal rights are misused and discredited

Camp Cloud one of long line of protests falsely asserting title

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to march in Montreal’s Pride parade

Trudeau will end the day in his home riding of Papineau

Most Read