Once again this year, every lilac in Southcentral seems to be showing signs of the latest surprise invasion. They are each harboring lilac leaf miners. Those brown patches on most leaves contain a caterpillar, one of the life stages of the pest. These eat tissue between the leaves and then use a silk thread to roll up the leaf and create a cocoon so they can pupate.
After a week, the caterpillars are transformed into small, fingernail-size moths. You may have seen them on your lawns. These will lay eggs, which will hatch into caterpillars, and the cycle will repeat. I am not sure how many cycles these moths have here in the summer, but elsewhere there are several. Let’s keep an eye on untouched leaves for the rest of the season and see what happens. Citizen science at work.
Fortunately, we are getting flowers before the leaf damage is visible. And, usually these kinds of population explosions work themselves out as natural predators take care of the problem. I have my fingers crossed.
Perhaps it is best to just see if nature will do her thing. Still, will someone remind me to suggest spraying lilacs with Bt next year just before these guys start eating? You might consider spraying this year if your leaves have not rolled up. And, you can squish the brown patches, but you will be working all day to do just one decent-size shrub.
Speaking of leaves, slugs are always around once eggs hatch early in the season. They have just gotten big enough lately to be seen easily. You know the routine. Trap them outside your gardens with beer or yeast in shallow containers they can get into and drown.
Every year I am asked if our slugs can be eaten. They can, but be careful, as slugs can carry a parasite gained from eating rodent feces which causes a form of meningitis in the human brain. If you are going to eat your slugs, you have to cook them. You also might want to purge their waste systems. I don’t recommend the practice. There are plenty of other strange things to eat out there.
Like mushrooms! The wet weather has caused the annual August explosion of fungi. I shouldn’t have to tell you to not eat any you cannot identify — just like no one needs to tell you to mask up because you already do — but I will! You need a good mycological identification book and, preferably a real experienced guide as well before you eat even the four or so that are all over, easily identified and delicious.
Some folks expend a lot of energy picking them. I leave my mushrooms in place. They are fruits of an extensive underground network, and you are not going to eradicate them. In fact, you don’t want to! Most of the mushrooms that pop up this time of year are fruiting bodies of the vast mycorrhizal fungal network that is feeding our trees. Those amanita? They support the birches in your yard.
You may not know that moose love mushrooms. So do squirrels and other animals. Treat them like summer bird feeders, only look for mammals.
Two question about the ability to grow peonies from seeds collected from plants that are now beginning to produce pods. What a loaded question!
First, seeds are not ready yet. Let the pods develop and collect them in September. These may or may not be true to the parent because they may have cross-pollinated with a different type.
Outside, these seeds are planted in a bed someplace that can be watched and maintained for the four-year-or-so wait for a decent plant. The seeds need a couple of warm months and then the chill of winter. We may or may not get enough warm time before winter here, so you can plant them indoors starting in October.
And finally, should you cut back peony plants to prevent diseases? First, of all, don’t do anything right now. Let your plants continue to grow and feed the root system. I know the standard advice is to remove peony leaves from the garden in the fall. I never have and have not had problems. If you do remove the leaves, make sure to mulch the remains to replace what you took away, and mark where the plant is so you will know next spring. Without this year’s stems it may be hard to find.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: I know you read this, but have you joined, checked the website, gone to a Thursday socially distant picnic and generally taken advantage of this great institution? You should. alaskabg.org
Lawn pattern contest: Keep those wonderful lawn pattern photos coming in. It is not too late to mow a pattern into your lawn. Winner gets an autographed copy of one of my books.
Tomatoes and cucumbers: Cloudy, raining days mean no pollination, unless you be the bee.
Kohlrabi: How long are you going to wait to harvest yours? Baseball, not softball size is the way to go.
Butter and eggs: Their flowers are opening. When you encounter them, pick and remove from the landscape.
Dahlias, delphiniums: Stake yours. Those flowers are heavy when wet.
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