Q.We planted a mixed beech hedge, purple and green in Autumn 2000. This year we have noticed what appear to be blue aphids of a downy consistency on the undersides of the leaves and a sticky residue. They first appeared on four new saplings only planted in Autumn 2001 but have now spread to all the plants. What could this be? Are there blue aphids and if so how should this be treated? (Geneva France)
A.I'm not going to even guess at what your insects are, aphids come in all kinds of colours, I've never seen blue ones, but I'm prepared to believe that they exist!
The cure is more straightforward, you need to buy some systemic insecticide and use some kind of sprayer to apply it. In the UK I'd recommend Murphy's Tumblebug, in France - who knows - but I'm sure there will be an equivalent. Systemic means that it is taken up by the leaves and then passed around the plant internally so the bugs then suck up the poison with the plant juices. If they're downy, this will usually make it more difficult for contact insecticides to have an effect, systemics don't have the same problem.
Q. Hello, and help I have an old hedgerow at the end of my garden it's been there gods knows how long, it has the usual plants that you find in hedgerows allover Ireland Hawthorn, Honey suckle, Elder. My Problem is the Elder tree is covered with small black flies the leaves are falling and the tree has developed a scruffy appearance what can I do to remedy this as I really love the hedge and so do the birds. Can you help.
A. It sounds like your elder has a bad attack of blackfly. Elder are susceptible to this but some years are worse than others. You could spray with a systemic insecticide though I would advise against a chemical spray as it is part of a hedgerow with associated wildlife.
You could spray an organic remedy on it based on natural soaps (should be available commercially down the garden centre) though I haven't found these of much use myself. I'd approach it in one of two ways:
We expect our gardens to be full of healthy plants with no signs of nature. Blackfly and elder are as much a part of nature as are the birds that enjoy your hedgerow, they're both native species - depends on how you see your local ecosystem.
Q. I would like advice on the best treatment for "Beech Scale" on a new purple beech hedge. The underneath of many leaves are covered in white fluffy, sticky wool like substance.
A. You need to spray with a systemic insecticide - one that is taken into the leaf and delivered along with the food to the scale insects. The fluffy coat helps protect them from all manner of contact insecticides whether organic or not.
Q. I have some potted lilies in my back garden which have been invaded by a beetle. It has a bright orange hard body and black legs - I have had a look on the web pages to see if I could identify it but have had no luck. It has been eating the plants and has also been laying orange oval eggs in clumps underneath the leaves. Please could you identify the beetle and tell me how I can get rid of it before it gets rid of my lilies.
A. Sounds like you have the dreaded scarlet lily beetle, and sounds like I need to put up a page about it, meanwhile try here
Q. We are getting ready to plant our bulbs for next year and I'm wondering if you can tell me how to keep the darn squirrels out of our flower beds. We lost all of our bulbs at the beginning of this year and it's quite expensive as well as frustrating. Someone I know mentioned blood meal. Does this work or are there other products out there for this?
A. As far as I know there is no specific deterrent for squirrels and if they're hungry they won't be casually deterred. There's a product that detects movement and sprays water from a hose that might work though I've never tried it myself.
The easiest way I think is to use chicken wire (lightweight fencing wire with hexagonal holes 1/2" - 1" across). You scrape away the soil and plant your bulbs as normal, the wire is then buried about 2" under the ground and above the bulbs. The idea being that the bulbs grow through the wire and the squirrels can't get at them. It's harder work than spraying with something but usually works well. Another possibility is using ornamental slate. Don't know if you have this readily available in Canada, but in recent years in the UK small pieces of slate have become available in grey, violet or green colours at the garden centres for use as a mulch. I have problems with squirrels digging in the soil of my container plants looking for or burying nuts from my walnut tree. Covering the surface with slate has solved the problem entirely. The bulbs cope pretty well with pushing up through the slate but may need some help to shuffle the pieces around so they don't end up not growing straight.
Q. I have been comparing the entries on plum moths in the 1992 and 2002 editions of the RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening. The earlier edition advises "Spray with permethrin, fenitrothion or pirimiphos-methyl in early summer and then three weeks later", whilst the latest edition states "There are no effective insecticides for garden use against the plum moth".I thought they must have been withdrawn from general sale for safety reasons, so I keyed fenitrothion into Google and got 391 UK sites. It was obvious that almost all were related to safety of the residues of this and other chemicals, but were not of much use to me. However, your website came up on page 9, with the question about sources of supply of the three insecticides mentioned above. Then, on page 10, was an extract from Hansard entitled THE PUBLIC WHIP. This was a written answer dated 03/11/2003 to an MP who had asked for a list of pesticides whose use has been rescinded in each of the last 10 years. Penitrothion was listed, with the date 31/07/2001,but neither of the others was there. Your answer to the question makes me think that even if they have not been rescinded they may not be readily available to the ordinary gardener.
This does raise a very important question. Is it fair that the commercial growers can spray their crops against pests and therefore achieve a high yield of saleable produce, whereas the ordinary gardener cannot, and may suffer a considerable or even complete loss of his crop?
A. This is a question that has puzzled me too on occasion, though not many occasions and therein lies the answer possibly. What follows is "what I reckon" I haven't actually researched it.
Home gardeners have been getting a lot more organic in recent years and less keen on buying sprays against pests and diseases, particularly those with the nastier chemicals.
So it is not always the case that the home gardener can't get these chemicals, as in not allowed to. More that they don't use them so you end up with the chicken-and-egg with supply and demand. You may be able to get them from a horticultural wholesaler bricks and mortar store or by post from the same type of place. You may find that such places require an account and/or minimum purchase of £50 / £100 - conditions that most home gardeners don't or won't meet.
I'd try the Yellow Pages to see if there is anywhere near you that might sell these chemicals. Don't be surprised if the smallest container costs £20 or more and holds more than the average gardener would use in a lifetime.
Q. Is there any other way to prevent the plum saw fly that decimated our crop last year? The plums, Victoria, are so much more tasty without finding the little grubs in them. I don't know whether it will be a problem this year but I would like to try and stop them, either by chemical or 'green' methods.
A. Not that I know of is the short answer. Last year was a particularly bad year for whatever reason. I have a Victoria plum myself and had similar infestations, the worst I can remember. I also had a couple of emails last summer on a similar line. These things tend to go in cycles and I'm hoping that this winter being harder and longer than last will mean that this summer will have less pests than previously.
Q. I planted some beautiful white lilies, they are now well advanced in the leaf stage, I was horrified to see that they are being eaten voraciously. I initially though the insects were ladybirds BUT on closer inspection they are completely red, have a slightly thinner more pointed body shape. Can't remember ever seeing them before and can't find them on your website......HELP please!!
A. Sounds like you have the dreaded scarlet lily beetle see here
Q. Can you tell me why the birds always eat my primulas and primroses, and what I can to to prevent this? my neighbours gardens seem to have undamaged primroses!! please help!!
A. They prefer the paler colours, especially the original pale primrose yellow, but then those are the prettiest.
Q. There are large patches of toadstools on my lawn. I believe they may have come from a "puffball" type which my son hit with a stick, spreading the spores everywhere! They now are spreading and grow very quickly. Please can you recommend something to kill them permanently.
A. There aren't really any effective fungicides for lawns as the fungi involved are as tough as old boots, propagate like anything and are large and spread out under the ground.
The only effective strategy is to remove the food source which will either be something rotting under the soil or most likely a bed of thatch in the lawn, so you need to scarify well and improve drainage.
It's unlikely that you son's actions caused them to appear everywhere as fungi like puffballs need to be quite old (more than a year) before they produce fruiting bodies. I'd guess what you're seeing is the produce of at least a years worth of activity under the ground. Also, puffballs will only produce more puffballs, if you now have toadstools, they are a different species altogether and you have a variety of fungi.
Q. My garden is invaded by squirrels. They dig up my lawn and patio plants and are becoming quite a menace. Is there any deterrent I can use to get rid of them as they don't seem to be afraid or cats or humans! Is there anything I can put in my pots or garden to stop the squirrels digging and hiding their nuts?A. As far as I know there is no successful way of deterring squirrels from your garden. The best way is not to give them any reason to be there. Do you put food out for the birds? That will attract them, it attracts them in my garden, but my terrier is very vigilant at stopping them getting too comfortable, she's very pro-active and the squirrels give her plenty of exercise!
I had a similar problem with plants in pots and stopped it by using small pieces of slate as a mulch on top of the pot - garden centres sell bags of approx. 3" - 4" across stones. "Paddle stones" would probably do the job also, and I've heard they don't like gravel, but have never tried it.
Q. I have a Hydrangea plant that is covered in small white 'beasties', mainly under the leaves but also on the stems. I thought they were mealy bugs but they are more cylindrical in shape and have a brown 'head'. They do not appear to move. They have also destroyed a Euonymous bush and have spread to another mature Euonymous close by. I have photo's if that would be helpful. The leaves of the infected plants go yellow and the plants begin to look bare and sickly. I just want rid of them!!!A. Blimey - horrible little beasties!
They are juvenile caterpillars probably of some small moth. If you want to be organic, rub them off manually or cut off the stems with them on and dispose - if not too large. I've found that throwing bread or cooked rice near affected plants can attract robins and blackbirds that may well enjoy a feed of fresh meat too.
The best way to get rid is to spray with a systemic insecticide that is taken up through the leaves and passed around the plant. Also spray surrounding plants and parts of the same plant that don't seem to be affected. Don't try and attract birds in this case!
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