Everyday Gardeners

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Roses are one of the favorite foods of Japanese beetles. When one starts to feed, it releases a pheromone that attracts more beetles. Early control is essential to prevent a full-force invasion.

Japanese beetles are back in central Iowa, several weeks ahead of schedule. This morning while photographing in the garden, I noticed (and killed!) half a dozen of the pests on a rose bush, one of their favorite plants. Among the 300 or so other plants that attract them are grapes, hollyhocks, hibiscus, crabapples, and lindens.

Adult beetles usually don’t emerge until late June, but as with everything else garden related this year, they’re well ahead of schedule. Normally the adults feed for several weeks before laying eggs in the ground. We can hope that their early emergence also will result in their early departure! But this means it’s time to start my daily morning rounds of the garden with a bucket of soapy water. I find that’s the simplest and most effective way of controlling them. I hold the bucket under the flower/plant on which they’re feeding, give the bloom a little tap, and the beetles drop into the sudsy solution to their demise.

Avoid the temptation to purchase a Japanese beetle pheromone trap to control the pests. These devices do indeed lure and trap hundreds of the critters, but they also attract many more that never make it into the trap. Instead, the extra beetles feed on the plants in your garden, causing even more damage than had you done nothing.

Japanese beetle trap.

You may have heard by now that the Pantone fashion color report has designated Tangerine Tango as the must-have color for 2012. This reddish orange tone is not for the timid! The vibrant hue makes a bold fashion statement, whether you use it in home decor or in the landscape. It’s a festive color that infuses a happy mood. But it can be difficult to use in combination with other colors. Try it with blues and purples, which are complementary colors. Or go with reds and yellows, which cluster with orange on the color wheel.

If you’d like to inject some fashionable color in your yard in 2012, here are some suggestions for flowers that provide a punch of orange.

Row 1 (left to right): 'Sunset' daylily, 'Nonstop Apricot' tuberous begonia, Oriental poppy; Row 2: 'Safari Tangerine' French marigold, 'Sunny Susy Orange' thunbergia, 'Sunpatiens Compact Orange' impatiens; Row 3: 'Vavoom' rose, 'Warm Igloo' chrysanthemum, 'Zahara Double Fire' zinnia

Row 1 (left to right): Butterfly milkweed, 'Dreamsicle' calibrachoa, California poppy; Row 2: Clivia, 'Campfire' crassula, 'Mystic Haze' dahlia; Row 3: Crown imperial fritillaria, 'Intrigue' canna, 'Landmark Citrus' lantana

Those dreaming of a white Christmas in Central Iowa appear to be out of luck. Despite a dusting (or shall I say “slushing”?) of snow as Hanukkah began, prospects for additional white stuff before Christmas look slim. And with 40-degree temperatures in the forecast, it appears that what little snow we have will be gone before the weekend arrives.

Never fear. You can still have a white holiday in photos. I took these shots in my yard back in November when we had an early 4-inch snowfall.

Bright red winterberry holly pops against the white backdrop of snow.

The leaves of shingle oak capture newly fallen snow.

Flower Carpet roses covered in white are seemingly all decorated for Christmas.

Boxwood greens contrast with fresh snow.

This 'Blue Star' juniper topiary wears a cap of snow.

I recently traveled to Mobile, Alabama as a guest of the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. My major interest in participating in the trip was to see Bellingrath Gardens and Home, but I was also pleasantly surprised at the wide variety of attractions available within walking distance of the tour group headquarters, the historic downtown Battle House Hotel. The Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center delighted with its interactive display about the human body and petting zoo of Australian animals that tied in with the IMAX presentation on the Australian Outback. The Museum of Mobile provided great historical context for this first capital of New France and original home of Mardi Gras in the New World. The Dauphin Street Historic District Walking Tour showcased dozens of historic buildings, including a couple of the restaurants where the group dined, Wintzell’s Oyster House, and Spot of Tea.

But the highlight of the tour for me had to be the gardens and displays at Bellingrath. Fellow garden communicator Sharon Asakawa and I arrived ahead of the main tour group so that we could spend some time viewing and photographing the late fall chrysanthemum displays, formal rose garden, and other gorgeous plantings before darkness fell. After a tour of the mansion, we returned to a magically transformed landscape decked out with more than three million holiday lights in 950 displays. Pictured below are just a few of them. The holiday light display at Bellingrath Gardens and Home continues through December 31.

The courtyard in the Bellingrath home featured cascading chrysanthemums on the balcony and scrolled ironwork typical of historic buildings in Mobile.

The terrace garden features bluestone pavers that originally were used as sidewalks in downtown Mobile.

This Chicago Peace rose was in near perfect condition.

After dark, the rose garden is transformed by its glowing gazebos and uplit fountain.

Triangular trees and sparkling snowflakes create a postcard scene on the lawn.

I really thought that the train engine should have been labeled BH&G rather than BG&H!

The stockings are hung by the chimney.

Clusters of holly leaves and berries line a walkway.

While trimming back frosted foliage this past weekend, I noticed quite a few annuals and perennials that had survived the fall freezes. I had to admire their tenacity! Here are a dozen flowers that were still attractive in my yard earlier this week. I’ll soon see whether they bounce back after the 4 inches of snow that covered the garden last night!

'Walker's Low' catmint

'James Galway' rose

Verbena canadensis

Snow Princess sweet alyssumTwinny Peach snapdragon

Scabiosa 'Vivid Violet'

Salvia plumosa

'Pomegranate' yarrow

'Glamour Red' flowering kale

Chrysanthemum 'Cool Igloo'

Viola 'Endurio Sky Blue'


Lamium 'Anne Greenaway'

Japanese beetles feeding on Knock Out rose

Japanese beetles feeding on Knock Out rose

Every morning for the past week and a half, my day has started by making the rounds of the garden in search of Japanese beetles. These voracious pests prefer the roses in my garden, but I’ve also found them on raspberries, hydrangeas, asparagus, and hibiscus. And I’ve seen evidence of their feeding on chokeberries and cannas, too. They can feed on more than 300 species of plants, so they may choose others in your yard. At other locations I’ve seen extensive leaf feeding on grapes, golden rain trees, and  lindens. Most feeding injury occurs on plants in full sun. Damage can quickly mount up because as the beetles feed, they give off a pheromone that attracts other beetles to the site. That’s why you’ll often find clusters of them feeding as on the Knock Out rose pictured above.

Damage to foliage is characterized by leaf skeletonization. The beetles eat the “good stuff” and leave the tough veins behind. Lower on the same rose plant I found the skeletonized leaves pictured below.

Leaf skeletonization from Japanese beetle feeding on rose

Leaf skeletonization from Japanese beetle feeding on rose

Rather than allowing the beetles free reign of the yard, I fight back with a bucket of soapy water. The beetles have the curious habit of dropping off their feeding site when disturbed before flying away. This trait makes it fairly easy to hold a small bucket with several inches of soapy water (I use liquid dish detergent) under the flower or foliage being devoured, and with a light brush of the hand, sweep the beetles into the bucket where they meet a quick demise.

In the grand scheme of things, collecting Japanese beetles every morning during their month-long feeding cycle may not put a noticeable dent in the population (unless you can convince enough of your neighbors to join the attack), but it feels better to be doing something to thwart their actions than to give in to their appetites. And I have to think that eliminating hundreds of hungry beetles at least does a little good. If nothing else, I get the satisfaction of seeing a bucket full of dead beetles!

A morning's harvest of Japanese beetles

A morning's harvest of Japanese beetles

For a list of plants that Japanese beetles tend to avoid, and more control tips, read our online story about Japanese beetle control.

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