GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the category “pests”

Ants-in-the-Pants Not a Fun Game

Yesterday while removing spring/summer blooming plants in a raised bed, I found a little more than dying plants. Recent rains encouraged fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) to look for higher ground. Raised bed = water-free home. Think of a beach house on stilts. Part of the mound fell from the root ball of a plant onto the leg of my jeans. Passersbyers witnessed moves that haven’t come from my body in quite some time when  I was
stung several times. I still can’t figure out how those demons got skin contact. Soon after the fiery sensation (thus, the common name),  itchy red bumps emerged, morphing overnight into nasty looking bumps that made my right leg look more like a 14-year-old boy’s face.

These boogers have been a southern gardener – and nature lover – problem for several decades now, hitching a ride into the U.S. on ships or even plants imported from their native South America. This invasion does have its upside, though. “Fire ants voraciously consume populations of fleas, ticks, termites, cockroaches, chinch bugs, mosquito eggs and larva, scorpions, etc.” says Galveston County Master Gardener Trish McDaniel in a publication called “Beneficials In the Landscape” from Texas A&M University. “(The) culinary creed for fire ants could be: if it will stay still for a bit, then it’s dinner!”

As far as full-grown humans and livestock, this appetite fire ants have for the things we hate most is good news. Not so much for little ones, though. A fawn born near a fire ant mound can spell disaster if momma doe doesn’t get her baby away quickly enough. So too with a calf or kitten.

a-on-playground

Organic pest control is always best to use near children or pets.

There are a number of organic methods for ridding yourself, albeit temporarily, of fire ants. (A great website for this information is from Urban Harvest.) One free way is to pour boiling water on the mound’s freeway. Do this several times over a two-hour period for the best results, as some of the ants could be too far down in the earth to be killed with the 1st pour. As they BRING OUT THEIR DEAD (you Monte Python fans know the line), hit the mound again.

When I found the mound – or they found me – yesterday, I took a little different approach. With a school nearby and me nearby (I’m a clutz and can’t blame McDonald’s if I get scalded), I sprinkled a bit of instant grits around the area.

kiss-my-grits

For a cheap & easy fire ant bait, you can KISS MY GRITS!

The ants will take it down deep into the mound where it will absorb liquid and they’ll blow up like they’re on steroids and eventually implode. Or explode. The point is, they’ll no longer bite.

So sorry to disappoint, but I’ll not be doing the ants-in-the-pants dance for a bit. Unless DANCING WITH THE STARS calls. Then could I borrow a mound from you? That’s basically the only way to get my groove on these days, I’m afraid.

FRUIT FLIES FLOWN: a great organic remedy for fruit fly problems

This week my sister was visiting from Denver. Besides apologizing for the heat and humidity of our Gulf Coast summer, I found myself begging forgiveness for a hazy cloud in my kitchen.

Has anyone else noticed the fruitfulness of fruit flies this year?*

They’re awful! I realize it could be worse — it could be RAINING — but I’m fed up with the little boogers. They’ve even moved into my bathroom, and I promise there is NO fruit for them there. I’ve tried sticky traps, putting my compost jar in the fridge, and everything else I could think of to rid my kitchen of the fruit flies. (I don’t do chemicals, and diatomaceous earth doesn’t help with flying insects.)

close trap

TIP: Be sure you leave an opening at the bottom of the funnel for the fruit flies to get out into the glass.

My nephew and his wife came over for dinner and the brilliant girl had the perfect fruit fly RX: an easy homemade trap. She doesn’t remember how she 1st heard about it, and honestly, who cares as long as it works. And IT DOES! In 2 days the cloud parted and I haven’t seen a fruit fly since.

The proof's NOT in the pudding and neither are those pesky fruit flies!

The proof’s NOT in the pudding and neither are those pesky fruit flies!

  • a glass or jar
  • apple cider vinegar
  • rotting fruit
  • funnel that fits snuggly into glass/jar
  1. Put the rotting fruit into the bottom of the glass/jar.
  2. Add a tablespoon or so of vinegar.
  3. Top with the funnel.
  4. Periodically take it outside to free your captives.

*NOTE: Fruit flies can also be an issue on indoor container plants.

Oh, deer, not tonight, please

Help! We bought a house in the suburbs that needed new landscaping, but every time I put out plants, the deer come during the night and eat them. What can I do?

Deer nibble much of the green in their paths unless your plants don't rate high on the menu.

Deer nibble much of the green in their paths unless your plants don’t rate high on the menu.

Ask folks planning a move into the countryside how they feel about nature and they’ll express devotion. A year and hundreds of landscaping dollars later, the attitude often has drastically changed. Pest control companies make their living off this fact: we like the natural world as long as it stays in our control… nature within prescribed boundaries. Termites tunneling in downed timber? Mosquitoes munched by mockingbirds? Snakes snacking on mice and rats? Wonderful! Deer munching in a serene landscape on the horizon? Lovely. When it’s OUR serene landscape where they’re munching, however, that’s a different story.

So how can we protect nature while keeping our gardens from becoming the Luann platter tonight? Deer-free zones don’t exist where deer do, but you can follow some simple steps to encourage nibbling elsewhere with PLANTS, PARAPHERNALIA, and PARABLES. This post goes over the plants. Looks for the next two deer-deterents later, same bat-time, same bat-channel. (Only those of us over a certain age will know what the heck I’m talking about, and only YOUR hairdresser knows for sure…. Yes, another oldie but goodie from ads of Christmas past!)

• PLANTS – Love fresh greens in your salad? So do deer! New growth lures deer in for the locavore smorgasbord. But there are specific plants they don’t find quite as appealing. Look to the surrounding area for ideas. What plants do deer ignore in others’ gardens or in the indigenous plantings nearby? If your yard is an undistinguishable humdrum café, deer will look around for culinary excitement.

Not only can you discourage browsing ON certain plants, but WITH certain plants. Strong herbs such as rosemary or society garlic to throw off the scent and repel deer. Native plants are also naturally more deer resistant as edging can signal b-o-r-i-n-g, and keep deer in the dark about the rest of your yard. For a list of plants to use, contact your local native plant society or Master Gardener group.

Living with Low Spots

After it rains, our back yard takes forever to drain. It’s so discouraging to plant things and they drown. How can we get rid of the water without flooding our neighbors?

Drainage dilemmas plague many folks, either with seasonal sinkholes where water collects after a rain or a spot that’s always spongy and nothing grows well but weeds. Now we are talking shallow depression in the yard here, not hole-big-enough-to-eat-the-house-Florida-style.

raindropsLike a leaky roof, you probably don’t even think about drainage until it rains.

Landscaping professionals may disagree on HOW to solve drainage issues, but most agree the best solution financially and physically is to work with what you’ve got. Obviously if muddy waters rage through your yard like the Mississippi at flood stage – and you’re not interested in water-front property – you might need to a more comprehensive remedy. However, if your problem is periodic or simply a nuisance, here are a few inexpensive or even FREE ideas to try.

GRADE: Lawn grass responds best to a minimum 1/4″ drop vertically for every foot horizontal distance. That grade should point AWAY from your house, meaning soil at your home’s foundation should be the highest point. (Unless you live on a mountain, but that’s another post for another day.) Why? Constantly soggy soil means constantly soggy grass which means a lawn in constant distress. Expect diseases, especially fungal infection, and the pests that follow to become the dominant feature of your landscape if the slope’s too slight.

While pleasant to view, moss on a walk-way spells D-A-N-G-E-R! Raise the walk a couple inches and backfill with sand.

While pleasant to view, moss on a walk-way spells D-A-N-G-E-R! Raise the walk a couple inches and backfill with sand.

DRAINS: A “dry river” can be installed to quickly wick water away from your low spot.

River stones, if used in a dry river, must be large enough that they won't wash away in a down-pour.

River stones, if used in a dry river, must be large enough that they won’t wash away in a down-pour.

A bit of river rock, making sure it’s headed DOWNHILL, is an easy fix. But if the stones block instead of remove water, might as well invite the neighborhood over for a  pool party next time a black cloud hovers. Water gushing  down your river?  A large boulder or clump of ornamental grass strategically located slows the flow. If the runoff is more than a dry river can handle alone, or if the area is not conducive to such a feature, consider a French drain instead of or besides. There are plenty of how-to’s online for French drains. If you hire drainage done, you might take the advice of a landscaper friend of mine when interviewing installers: “If you call in somebody to help with drainage and they don’t have a level in their truck, run ’em off!”

PLANTS: If the area is wet for a short time and not a nuisance, consider planting natives that thrive with wet feet, soaking up the extra moisture. Or how about creating a wildlife or bog garden, or even a water feature to take advantage of your problem? Check your local native plant society for a list of appropriate ones for your area.

One of my favorite plants for low spots is our native river birch, Betula nigra with its gorgeous peely bark.

One of my favorite plants for low spots is our native river birch, Betula nigra with its gorgeous peely bark.

Duel purpose, this container also holds rainwater runoff to irrigate the nearby veggie garden.

Dual purpose, this container also holds rainwater runoff to irrigate the nearby veggie garden.

RAIN BARREL: At my house, rain barrels are going in at the gutter downspouts. When I build my new porch, I’m planning the roof based on collection of rainwater so my garden is self-sustaining when irrigation limitations come back, as they surely will.

Before you head for the big guns, be sure your plumbing or irrigation isn’t leaking and you’re watering properly.  Then next time it rains, look for your low spots. Choose a remedy that will turn your problem on its head, making the area the HIGHlight of your landscape. Not so discouraging after all, is it? cc:

IF YOU HAVE A LANDSCAPING CHALLENGE, SNAP A SHOT AND LET ME KNOW. WE’LL FIGURE IT OUT TOGETHER!

“I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes…”

“Any natural organic way to keep snakes out of the yard? I am not opposed to killing them, but would rather annoy them so much they go off and bother someone else.  Thinking specifically copperheads and garden snakes.”

This year’s record drought in some areas of the country and record rains in others are bringing varmints that used to live in holes out where we can see them.  Many folks do not like this.  I actually want these creatures in my yard since they are voracious eaters of other things I prefer not to have there.  I don’t even mind SEEING them.  It is NOT unreasonable, in my opinion, that I don’t want an up close and personal relationship.  At six years old, a spider bite nearly rotted two fingers off my right hand.  And even God tells us not to like snakes, doesn’t he?   I have a slinky friend that lives in my yard.  He’s not my pet and doesn’t have a name, nor does he “sit” or “roll-over.”  I’ve found him quite trainable, though.  He responds appropriately when I say, “get-the-heck-away-from-me-if-you-wanna-stay-alive!”

Non-poinsonous Gulf Coast ribbon snake in my yard

Unlike Joan in the  Hormel commercial who doesn’t shave under her arms and keeps a goat on the roof, my dear friend Diane Cabiness is a real naturalist.  In fact, she’s a certified Texas Master Naturalist and the one I go to when I have a native plant question. She’s also the number on my cell phone’s speed dial for critter queries.  She rehabilitates injured snakes and spiders and then takes them to visit school children, which to me is cruel but the kids LOVE ’em.  Nerds get a chance to be cool kids when they let things crawl around on them without screaming or peeing their pants.  Diane’s cool even without her reptile and arachnid collection.  She has an authentic love of creatures, which is not the vibe I get from hairy goat gal who appears lazy instead of an embracer of nature. So I asked Diane what constitutes a yard where snakes would not be happy.  Her answer?  1)  no food, 2) no water, and 3) no cover.  That simple.  Since snakes snack on small mammals like mice, getting rid of wood stacks, brush piles and similar vermin friendly habitats could remove their food source.  (Those are favorite spider hang-outs, too, by the way.)  In dry conditions, use less water and make sure you don’t have leaky outside faucets.  If you have shrubs, ground-cover, or a thick mulch (more than 3″) around the house, you’ve also inadvertently created a cozy snake spot.  

HIT: snakes and spiders are free, NATURAL pest controls for the garden

MYTH: effective snakes REPELLANT, or snake OIL?

As far as repellants, moth balls and sulphur/sulfur – often the ingredients in products touted as SNAKE REPELLANTS – might make the small mammals that are known snake treats scarse, but are ineffective for keeping away snakes themselves.  Their awful scent more likely keeps YOU out of your garden so you don’t see the snakes there.  Beware using both, which are dangerous to mammals.  (“Mustard gas” is made with sulphur.)   I’ve planted pungent herbs such as rosemary and onions surrounding my roses and veggies where I’m puttering around a lot, often with bare hands.  Mint under the hose bibs, too.  The deer are less likely to browse where these plants are present and I’d heard snakes don’t like them either.  I’ve not seen any snakes anywhere near the rosemary….yet.

Keep snakes at bay with a SNAKE-PROOF FENCE....

SNAKE-PROOF FENCING can be installed where small children or pets need to be protected, but cost prohibitive in a large area.  Check out the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management for more information.

While death is natural and organic, the North Carolina Extension Service lumps things into “lethal” and “non-lethal” when it comes to snake control and, like my friend Diane, prefer the non-lethal controls.  (Not sure “decapitation-by-hoe” is considered a death by natural cause, anyway.) They also amen Diane’s suggestions about what works best to keep snakes at bay near homes.  Then they talk about snakes IN the home.

Close cracks and crevices in buildings and around pipes
and utility connections with 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth,
mortar or sheet metal. All doors and windows should have
tightly fitting screens.  
(http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/gaston/Pests/reptiles/snakecontrol.htm
 
Thanks, guys.  I’d never even thought about them coming inside…..till now!

Battling Garden Pests

Effective BANDAIDS in the war against pepper attack....

Cutworm damage to sweet peppers.

Am I showing my age?  If you didn’t recognize the title of my post today, Pat Benatar dominated 80’s rock for a time with this song.  That’s how I’m feeling about my garden this morning.  The cutworms have declared war!  My peppers have been under attack the last few days and I want to share some of my organic arsenal for the fight ahead this summer.  First of all,

WHAT IS A CUTWORM?

image courtesy of Montana State University

They aren’t mean; just immature.  An immature MOTH, to be specific.  And like all growing teens, when they wake up hungry in the middle of the night and prowl around the fridge — I mean GARDEN — they can easily take a slice of nice, juicy plant branch like it was leftover pizza.  Preventative care is the best solution for those of us who don’t like to have pesticides of any kind in our landscape.

Bandages DO work as preventative measure.  Sort of.

HIT:  worms + metal = bad news  (in the CRAWLERS CHRONICLE anyway!) 

Yesterday I twirled copper wire around the base of my sweet peppers and other plants cutworms tend to attack. No new wounds this morning.  I’m not doing the victory dance just yet, though.  It’s also too little too late for the damage already done, but should encourage the fiends to find a new spot to munch where the grass is greener.  Another method used by many gardeners is aluminum foil.  I usually keep a bit of clean, used foil in my cart to re-purpose for the garden.

MYTH: you have to pull out the BIG guns for cutworms.

What organic method have you found effective for cutworms?

I also keep food grade diatomaceous earth on hand for just such an occasion.  This is a powder made of tiny marine fossils.  Just think of what it feels like to walk barefoot across razor sharp seashells.  That’s pretty much what those little varmints traverse when diatomaceous earth is sprinkled around the base of a plant.   They won’t cross the line twice.  (Wear a mask when putting out diatomaceous earth, though.  It’s equally as damaging to soft lung tissue if inhaled.  Also it must be re-applied after a rain, but since we’ve been in drought, my soaker hose doesn’t seem to mess up my moat of powder.)

Now that I’ve put out the land-mines for the cutworms, which I should have done a month ago, I guess I should apologize ahead of time to my neighbors, unwilling soldiers in the war when my cutworms march next door.

Too many peppers, too little time!

Farmer Brad, Jenny & Eva

Last week I told you I got the chance to visit Home Sweet Farm, settled by gentleman Farmer Brad and his adorable wife Jenny along with their two daughters and various beasts – both tame and not-so-much – including horses, dogs, and chickens.  Everyone at Home Sweet Farm not only pitches in with chores,  they are multi-multi-taskers.  Even the chickens do more than just their regular chicken stuff.  They are an integral spoke in Brad’s wheel of pest control.

Grasshopper control at Home Sweet Farm.

At my house, I use I.P.M.   I usually pick off the grasshoppers and relocate them…..to the trashcan.  (Sorry.  They should have gone to my neighbor’s house for supper!)  When I picked up a grasshopper –  the bain of typical farmers – at Home Sweet Farm,  Brad told me I was holding lunch for the hen-party!  No chemical pesticides allowed on this farm.  Pesticides are usually non-specific, meaning they kill anything.  The balance of life sways violently in one direction and the whole thing gets even more out of kilter.  But what if the chickens are a little hungry, say, without as much food GIVEN to them?  Instead, they’ll munch on grasshoppers.  Once there aren’t as many grasshoppers, the supplemental food can be ramped back up.  Now, that means Farmer Brad and Jenny have to pay attention to what’s going on at the farm where they “grow righteous food.”  The reason it truly IS righteous is because they DO pay attention.  Broad spectrum pesticides are often the lazy man’s way out.  All life is a wonderful system with the potential of imbalance.  Sometimes all it needs is a little LESS of something on one side to get the scales back where they need to be, not MORE heaped onto it.  I’m not saying I’ve never been guilty of being lazy, I’m just hoping I remember the importance of the systemic balance next time I’m tempted to reach for Rx in a spray bottle.

Okay,  off the soap box and back on to the scales.  The reason I went to see Farmer Brad?  Peppers. TONS of ’em.  His great-grandfather – “Great Papa” Joseph DeFino – immigrated from Italy to Des Moines, Iowa by way of Argentina.  We are trying to hunt down exactly where he got them, but Great Papa DeFino brought thin-skinned sweet pepper seeds to this country, either from Italy or Argentina, for using in traditional Italian dishes.  When Brad and Jenny went full-time into farming, he asked his uncle for those family favorite peppers seeds, which they call ‘DeFino’s Sweet’ pepper.

'DeFino's Sweet' pepper bush

When he showed me the pepper bushes, I was amazed.  Peppers in the Texas heat are known as the rabbits of the gardening world when it comes to being prolific, but these were makin’ babies all over!   And apparently they are just as rampant in their procreation up Nawth.  Because of the relatively short growing season in Des Moines, veggies have to get down to business quickly.  However, these keep producing till frost for us, which means a L-O-N-G time enjoying peppers for Home Sweet Farm C.S.A. members.  Brad picked a pepper for me that was just blushing from green to red and we munched on it, right out in the field.  It was delicious!  He told me one of his memories of eating the pepper was going down into the basement at his Nana’s house in Des Moines and getting some of her blanched vinegar peppers.  They spread them on good ‘ole hard crust home-made Italian bread or put them into salads when fresh peppers were no longer available.  Instead of giving all your extra sweet bell peppers away, try this recipe Farmer Brad sent for YOU to enjoy.  Or send me YOUR FAVORITE PEPPER RECIPE to share!

HIT

Blanched Vinegar Peppers  By Lucretia Cimino (my Nana)

INGREDIENTS: red & green sweet peppers, ½ cup vinegar, ½ cup water, garlic cloves, red hot peppers, olive oil, salt/pepper

Wash and sweet peppers in half.  Blanch in boiling water for a few minutes.  Pack peppers loosely into jars.  To each quart jar, add 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, 1 small red hot pepper, 1 tsp oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Fill jars with hot vinegar and water solution.  Seal jars.  Let set a week or two before serving.

MYTH: Giving away all your sweet peppers fresh. Instead, pick a peck for PICKLED PEPPERS!


a C.S.A. subscription doesn’t get you a new magazine…..does it?

Several months ago, I visited my oldest daughter in Arlington, VA and realized I’d had a little more influence on her than I knew:  she’s a farmer.  However, living in a 3rd floor condo with only a small balcony, she’s pretty limited in her crops.  Herbs and micro-greens in the south-facing windows limped through the winter, but her seeds for heirloom veggies were already thriving under a homemade hothouse on the balcony.

last of fresh brussels sprouts from my garden

Boy was I PROUD!  Then when the fridge opened, I saw she had a garden there, too…….all kinds of greens and other winter produce.  But she didn’t grow them in the Fridgidaire.  She’s part of a C.S.A. that delivers a couple times of week to locations in her area.  She hops on the D.C. Metro to pick up her “share,” including various fruits and vegetables and herbs, eggs, meats, including fresh fish and oysters, artisanal breads and cheese, even “kitty milk,” which is raw milk.  C.S.A.’s, or Community Sustained Agriculture is a growing trend, especially in urban areas where land is scarce and valuable.  Families band together and promise to buy from local growers as a subscription, either monthly or annually or by the season.  They then will receive FRESH, seasonal produce, often with recipes and ideas how to use these ingredients of a healthy diet.

HIT

HIT:  GOOD FOOD = GOOD HEALTH

My physician is convinced nutrition is the key to wellness and last year she asked me to start a C.S.A. with home delivery for our area.  We have a great little farmer’s market already, but many of her patients are unable to make it the few hours on Saturday morning it is open because of soccer games or other conflicts.  Thank goodness, my friend (and formerly my editor at Houston House and Home Magazine) of AUTHENTIC LIVING Donna Mosher let me know she’s taken up the slack. THANKS, DONNA!  Jolie Vue is one of the local farms now offering home delivery of produce.

MISS

MISS: HOME DELIVERY OF FRESH PRODUCE CAN BE A STRAIN ON YOUR GROCERY BUDGET.

Next week I’ll introduce you to the owners of a C.S.A. – Home Sweet Farm – I visited working on the next book in my HEIRLOOMS series, HEIRLOOM EDIBLES FOR TODAY.  Their motto?   “We grow righteous FOOD,” and boy do they ever!  I think their love of the land and the people they meet sharing their bounty will inspire you, as it has me.  Going to pick up your produce weekly at a designated drop-off (or your local farmer’s market) might be a more affordable alternative to home delivery.  Even better, folks were out at the farm, helping to pick their OWN produce while I was there.  They were actually enjoying the task, laughing together as they picked their peck of peppers, as yet un-pickled. (Which, by the way, I’ll give you FARMER BRAD‘S recipe for those next week, too!)  So maybe the combination of laughter (“the BEST medicine”) and sweating together in the near 100 degree temps will count  as my aerobic activity for the day.  What do you think, Dr. Davis???

heirloom sweet bell pepper ripening on the vine at HomeSweetFarm

Want a NO-MAINTENANCE ROSE?

Sally asks:

“Do I have to dead-head my Knock-out roses, or should I just leave them alone?  I know they are supposed to be low-maintenance, but are they NO-maintenance?”

Knock Out roses in partial shade, Ft.Worth Botanic Garden (photo by Cherie)

The Knock Out ® rose  (Rosa ‘Radrazz’ KNOCK OUT) is the fastest selling “new” rose ever.  Since being sent to the Conard-Pyle Company for testing in 1992 by Wisconsin rose breeder William (“Bill”) Radler, it has been amazing the growers. Radler says. “I wanted to breed the maintenance out of roses so I wouldn’t have to cut (them) back as the years passed.”  Although bred to weather cold winters, Knock Outs proved resistant to disease, pests, heat and humidity as well, making them a great rose for the South, too.  These hardy shrubs, now come in several colors and are touted as a great alternative for those who want beautiful roses without all the fuss.

HIT: no deadheading necessary

Knock Out ® roses do NOT require the old blooms to be removed, called “deadheading.”  Repeat blooming will occur regardless, even in partially shady areas.  However, cutting, or “pruning” your roses back each spring (I do it Valentine’s Day here in my Texas garden) will keep the shrubs tidier and at a manageable size, if you garden in a small space or prefer hedging at 3-4′.  (My Knock Outs get over 5′ in a season if I don’t trim them….which I don’t.)  Another reason to deadhead is if you prefer not seeing the spent blooms dangling.  WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ROSE?

MISS: a rose by any other name....

photo from Robin McBurney Fruia

A dear memory to me is the scent of my grandmother, Nana Dodson, who bathed in rose-water.  While some say the Knock Out ® rose has a scent, I’ve not noticed it.  Instead, I prefer low maintenance antique roses such as ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison,’ which emits a TRUE rose scent, in my opinion.  It might not boast a perfect, unblemished bloom every time, but the fragrance fills my entire garden and takes me back to my childhood.  I also worry that, as with other plants, Knock Out roses could be over-planted and should a disease or pest start to attack it, entire landscapes would be wiped out overnight.  Besides, I love plants too much to have only ONE kind, even if it is a low-maintenance, pretty one!

fragrant 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' rose, which comes as a climber or shrub (photo by Cherie)

Periwinkle problems solved?

Gena asks me:

“I PLANTED WHITE PERIWINKLES 2 WKS AGO. THEY LOOKED GREAT AND NOW ONE BY ONE IN A ROW EVERY DAY THEY LOOK WILTED . I AM SO MAD. WHAT COULD IT BE? 

infected periwinkle (photo from http://www.plantanswers.com, Dr. Jerry Parsons)

Annual periwinkles or vincas (Cathaaranthus roseus) are susceptible to a fungal disease.  A great deer-resistant annual color plant for sun or partial shade, periwinkles have been plagued by this fungus for several years, although it effects only the periwinkles and not other plants.  But once it gets in your soil, anytime you plant periwinkles in that spot, water mixes with the soil and it splashes back up onto the new plant, it will be re-infected.  There have been steps suggested to reduce the chance of re-infection, but in my experience periwinkles simply aren’t worth it, rotting before your very eyes as you watch all your money go down the drain.

HIT

The Texas A&M University horticultural team rides in once again to save the day.  My friend Dr. Brent Pemberton has found a solution while doing a trial of a specific variety of periwinkle seed –  ‘Nirvana’ –  from Goldsmith Seeds, Inc.

“The results were UNBELIEVABLE!!!! During the fourth wettest spring and early summer in San Antonio weather-keeping history!!, not a one of these plants died of the disease. These plants were planted in the contaminated beds rather than *clean* beds. The deer walked all around the flowers and did not touch a one!”  (from www.PlantAnswers.com)

MYTH

You no longer have to give up on annual periwinkles in your garden, even if you lost them in years past.  Look for varieties that are resistant to the Aerial Phytophthora fungus, like ‘Nirvana.’  But don’t be afraid to try other great annuals like white dwarf zinnias or even our American native perennial, desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa).   Now you can have your flowers and deer won’t eat them, too!

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