Here we are in the middle of dog days. The summer solstice slid by more than a month ago, and sultry August stares us in the face. Pestilence shows no indication of subsiding.
Pestilence, that’s the subject we looked at last week, featuring the two- and four-legged sorts. Today, let us examine whatever six- and eight-legged kinds pester us to death with their pestilence.
Six-legged ones, of course, include insects most of all. What gardener has not been pestered by them? On our British garden tours I was astonished at the lack of insect trouble they had on their side of the pond. It’s a given that they have insect troubles, but not to the extent we have here in the broiling southeast of the USA. Our lengthy and scalding summers are just what most insects thrive on, with a whole five months or more to dine on your favorite petunia or marigold.
Oh, and I forgot, there are pests with no legs in the form of slugs and snails, which love nothing more than to make your hostas into a network of lace from their nocturnal feeding. I smashed underfoot a four-incher on our patio just a few weeks ago.
But back to the six-leggers. Among the worst of them are Japanese beetles, in years they are rife. So far, this has been a pleasing off-year for them, a wonderful hiatus from their voracious feeding on one thing or another. I’ve only seen a dozen or so.
There are too many damaging insects to mention them all. Suffice it to say, when damage becomes unbearable, forget the home remedies and pull out the big guns. Al Gore or Ralph Nader, or somebody, will outlaw whatever is effective as soon as it hits the market. Case in point, good old Cygon. Not the one in Korea, but the chemical that would zap anything that moves, but unfortunately, careless people too. Always use sensible protection when spraying chemicals.They took Cygon off the market some 10 years ago, but fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the bugs, I found a couple of quarts at Nursery X just before it was outlawed. I am still using it, most effectively, but my supply is going down fast.
A lot of creepy crawlies you see strolling among your goodies are insects in disguise. Some segue into such desirables as butterflies and moths, but others end up as damaging insects. You should know the difference and attempt, as best you can, to slaughter only the bad ones. Now then. What about the eight-leggers? They include such as spiders, ticks and mites. I should say “other mites,” for ticks are indeed mites, and giant ones to boot.
Red spider mites are notorious for consuming, almost overnight, whole dwarf Alberta spruces (their favorite), other needle evergreens, and such as azaleas and some few other blooming shrubs. Once extensive spider mite damage is seen, it is sometimes irreversible. Not always, however. Several doses of an effective miticide will generally wipe them out. Most insecticides are simply nectar to their appetites. Spider mites are almost microscopic, and their damage is caused by their overwhelming numbers. An azalea, for instance, shows damage by a whitening of its leaves, because of the mites (by the thousands) sucking sap from the undersides of leaves. Google up for effective miticides. My old favorite Cygon was death on them, and I doubt anything selling now is as good, but try anyway.
Ticks? We’re in an area of the country with a high density of tick population. They range from the almost infinitesimal seed ticks to larger dog ticks and others in between. I sometimes need my wife to help me to remove ticks, especially ones that are dug in..
Some people seem immune to them. Others, like me, draw them like flies to s … sugar. My Assistant says it is because I am so sweet. As we speak, I have no less then 15 tick bites extant, all itching with varying degrees of intensity.
I was diagnosed a few years ago with a tick fever. It started with a normal miserable bite and then became a red welt some 8 inches across with a “target” in the center. A draw-down dose of antibiotics finally got rid of the fever and itching, but I did not feel good the rest of the summer, as my doctor had predicted. Don’t fool around with a tick bite that looks like trouble.
Chiggers are mites too, and we all know what, and where, they do their insidious business. They seem to start up around blackberry picking time while tick bites are sometimes experienced as early as February. Their feeding activities are often in the part of a body that can’t be reached by the arms and hands of the same body. That is where My Assistant comes to the rescue again with the calamine lotion or more modern substitute.
Then there are out-and-out real spiders. Brown recluses skulk around in houses and sheds, while black widows are found under boards and rocks in natural areas. Both are bad news. I have known victims of brown recluse bites to almost lose an arm or leg in extended cases.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.