Pilleated woodpeckers have been making a nuisance of themselves in the Cox garden. Photo by Leslie Cox

Duchess of Dirt: The pests are coming out in droves

By Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

Eewww! Another spider web across the face. That is the third one I have walked through on my way to the greenhouse. How much do you want to bet at least one of those will be rebuilt across the path in time for my return to the house with an armload of tomatoes?

John is right choked about spiders at the moment. Truthfully, I think he is secretly squeamish about them because it is always me who has to catch them when they show up in the house. Left up to him, he gets out the vacuum if I am too busy in that moment. (Was wondering why he was vacuuming in the bathroom at a weird time of the night.)

For most annoying pest, my vote goes to the raccoons who have started visiting our grape arbour every night. They have also been casing the front garden and leaving their unwanted calling cards in a few places. Now they have taken to climbing the Conference pear tree in the dead of night. Last two mornings I have found a couple of partly eaten pears on the ground. Unfortunately, the pears cannot be picked just yet as they are not ready.

It is not just raccoons after our pears. A pair of pileated woodpeckers swooped in the other day – one landed on the dying Crimson King maple tree and the other one went straight for the pear tree. I chased it away but not before it had made a sizable hole in a pear.

The Crimson King tree at the bottom of the garden will have to come out this winter. It has been dying a slow death ever since some of its roots were hit by the plough coming too close to the fence line – it couldn’t be helped. It is a hay field behind us.

We did have another of our Crimson King trees removed this summer. It was leaning towards the neighbour’s house and we decided not to test its marginal health against the fierce winter winds. We like to sleep at night… when the raccoons will let us.

But now I am reading about my horse-chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum, being listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the Red List of Threatened Species as determined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). To be sure, as a native plant in Europe, this ‘vulnerable’ status is pointed at the trees growing in their native region. Reasons for the down-grade in status are attributed to climate change, habitat loss and eradication by invasive species, pests and diseases.

So far, the horse-chestnut trees in North America are not suffering the same disastrous problems as those in Europe. But it is unrealistic for us to assume our trees will not be affected in the near future. Especially since the horse-chestnut leaf miner pest who is fingered as a main pest attacking the species in Europe will eventually find its way to North American gardens.

But the IUCN Red List is a warning. The latest report released in September states there are potentially 190 of the 454 native tree species in Europe headed for extinction in that part of the world. (Percentages of other critical species on the Red List: amphibian species – 40; conifers: 34; reef corals – 33; sharks and rays – 30; selected crustaceans – 27; mammals – 25.) A bit of a worry, isn’t it?

On a cheerier note…I am pleased to announce the imminent arrival of my first book, Duchess of Dirt: The Record Years. It is a compilation of my Duchess of Dirt gardening columns. Copies will be available for sale in October. If you would like to pre-order a copy, please contact me by email: duchessofdirt@telus.net or by phone: 250-337-8051.

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 throughout the spring and summer months.

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