The Red Menace

If you’re a gardener, but you haven’t yet experienced the ravages of Lily Beetles in your garden, count yourself among the lucky, but don’t get too complacent just yet. Like the Emerald Ash Borer, Lily Beetles are on the move.

I had first heard of Lily Beetles, in a warning from Marion Jarvie (a renown gardener and lecturer from Toronto Canada). That was (I believe) in the late 1990’s. It was more than a decade later, before I would come upon one in my own garden, and I squished it Pronto! Despite my vigilance, I would not see another red devil, until sometime around 2018 or so. However from then on, they were here to stay.

As I understand it, Lily Beetles arrived on the scene as it were, in Massachusetts, in the early 1990’s. It quickly became apparent that action was needed to battle this invasive pest, and the search was on for a suitable, biological control. Extensive trial studies were made, prior to the release of a predatory wasp, with very positive results. Currently, similar studies are being conducted here in Michigan.

Last year, Andrea & I (in our garden), along with Tony Reznicek (in his own garden) committed to a serious campaign of twice-daily patrols throughout our gardens, search and destroy missions really (once in the morning and again in the evening) checking every lily plant and dispatching all adults and larvi we we could. If they sense impending danger, the adults are surprisingly adept at dropping to the ground and rolling onto their backs with their black, belly-side up, making them all but invisible in the garden litter.

I set this one onto an arm of an Adirondack Chair for scale, next to a Daddy Longlegs.

During the middle of the day the little imps can be found resting and chewing the undersides of the leaves.

Our efforts paid off noticeably, in that there wasn’t an increase in the number of adults and larva found on our plants, however this changed the following year the following year. To me, it seems as though there is a “flush” of adults, feeding on our plants, mating, laying eggs on the undersides of the lily leaves (the eggs are red as well) and then there’s a period of roughly 10-14 days where there will be almost no (or very few) adult lily beetles. During this dearth-of-adult period, the eggs hatch and the larva begin their work, devouring the leaves, and in the case of young plants, consuming the stems as well. The growing larva have a delightful, protective-mechanism of covering themselves in their own excrement, which I suppose works on the squeamish, but I squish them anyway, right along with any and all adults I can snatch. The larva grow to a point and then drop off to the ground, to pupate in the soil (I’m told till next year).

Here’s what the schmutz-covered little buggers look like, hanging on the underside of a partially-chewed leaf.
Here’s one I found right after a hard rain washed away its crap-shield.

Then, after a two week calm, there’s another flush of adult beetles, and the cycle repeats seemingly in two-week cycles, all summer long. By religiously making our twice daily patrols thru the garden (squishing all beetles & larva alike, even red eggs when I see them) the overall numbers stayed pretty consistent. I do usually miss a couple of the quicker, and perhaps more wary adults, who drop to the ground before I can snatch em.

While the Lily plants might look a little ragged (from the chewing that our pinching fingers interrupted) our plants bloomed and survived enough to replace the bulb, and the following year out plants reappeared, relatively, none the worse from the previous years foliar-damage.

The real pay-off from last years diligence, came in the fewer, overall numbers of Lily Beetles this year, that Andrea & I (as well as Tony) saw in our gardens.

Now we’re not kidding ourselves, new beetles are coming in from neighboring gardens, and until our State’s Trial Studies are completed, and the predatory wasps are released (and wasp numbers increase to sufficient numbers to be effective) we’re going to have to keep up our efforts. And while I’m not tearing out my lilies, I won’t be adding any nor replacing any lilies in the garden. It is a lot of work, but all in all, we seem to be holding our own.

That is until we went away for a long 4-day weekend!

These Maragon Lilies looked fairly unmarred when we left.

The morning after we returned home, this is what we found. In just 4 days of free rein, the Red Menace had these cherished plants in tatters. I must add that Lily Beetles are so fond of Martagon Lilies, that they’ll keep coming back even to devour the stems if left unchecked.

Tony tells me that the adult Lily Beetles only lay their eggs on lilies, and so far I’ve only found larva on lily leaves. However I have observed, adult Lily Beetles, actively feeding on the leaves of Polygonatums (they seem to find an unusually large form of Polygonatum biflorum I have in the garden especially tasty), Mianathemums, (both racemosa and stellata) but thankfully, and strangely, none of the Asian forms of either Maianthemums nor Polygonatums have been chewed!

Needless to say, that if the State is looking for volunteer test gardens (whenever they’re ready for wasp release), I say “PICK ME ! PICK ME !”

It is possible to have Lilies in your garden even with Lily Beetles, but it sure ain’t easy!

Approaching Mid June

Two evenings ago I had wandered around the garden to take some pics (the smoke from the wildfires in the province of Quebec Canada) is doing a good job of diffusing the light which I thought might help with the images I collected using Andrea’s phone.

This is the ‘Little Patio’ I installed last fall with the help of Don LA Fond. It is located down beneath the canopy of large Norway Spruce trees.  The limestone rocks (on the right) I’d hauled here earlier in the day, will be installed as an edging to mach the left hand side, and finally finishing this project.

Moving roughly 200 ft east,

Andrea had made the right call when she suggested to create a separate island of tufa within this wide patch of limestone gravel. It infers a broken, continuation of the end of a long low tufa wall that starts to the west at the big limestone steps.

One would think that by now, I would cease to be amazed at how successful  Rock Garden plants preform in a drought, including this one, such as we’ve never expected before.

A glimpse westward down the south side of the Limestone  bed.

As the gravel path leads to the west (and uphill), the low Tufa wall (to the left) sinks into the grade until it is little more than a Tufa curb.

Below, a close-up view of a beloved Delosperma, one of Andrea’s purchases at the NARGS Annual Meeting held in Dorango Colorado, the summer of 2021.

Looking a little parched, however it is growing in 4“ of crushed limestone gravel over a very sandy mix below.

A view west, of the north side of the limestone bed that’s undergone quite a revision since its first inception decades ago.

Ito hybrid peony ‘Bartzilla’ (below) also seems to laugh at the prolonged drought.

Turning to the right,180 degrees away from Bartzilla,

Is Picea abies ‘Gold Drift’.  I relocated it here as I was informed (by Bob Fincham) “that I needed to get it more sunlight” if I ever hoped for it to attain the screaming canary-yellow, that it had when I first experienced this Bob Fincham introduction. That occurred in the Conifer Garden he helped create at South Seattle Community College.  We easterners have come to accept that there’s no way to give this plant sufficient solar radiation in this part of the country.

A section to the same path, further on from ‘Gold Drift’ as we head down towards the pond.

Where the Scutillaria,  Linum, Dianthus, and some of our native Iris lacustris have made themselves quite at home.

A peek back to the East, to where we’ve just come from.

The concrete step that I poured in place, marks the transition from the Limestone bed to the Fieldstone Rockery to the west.

Turning back to the West, and continuing on downhill,

This section of the garden has become a lot shadier as the trees have grown.  The path is so much better now that it’s leveled (South to North) and the weedy grass has been replaced with gravel.

A couple of steps onward,

Cornus alternafolia ‘Argentia’ still bent, from the storms of March

Below, an especially tall growing Polygonatum kingianum from Far Reaches, growing just downhill of the Cornus alternafolia ‘Argentia’.  That cornus, once a rooted cutting, long long ago, one of countless gifts from Dick Punnett.

Moving onward to the south on the path that encircles the pond,  now nearly empty due to lack of rain.

One  of a precious-few sites, where I can please Dysosma delavayii (above)

Turning the “corner”, and looking westward along the south side of the pond.

The ‘Little Patio’ is directly behind me as I took this pic. The path (at the far end) turns North.

Bending the curve,

Everything’s a lot more stressed that it appears.  The moisture starved trees are all under attack by various insects sensing their lack of vigor.

Looking due North.

Signs of winter storms damage last March (in the background), snapped-off tree tops and sawn-off broken branch stubs.

The circle path bends (again) now looking East.

Large Pinus strobus (in the background) appearing much thinner due to repeated branch-stripping in back to back March storms.

One more turn, now looking past our Pond-side overlook where Andrea & I enjoy our evenings.

Heading up the hill, and towards the house.

The west end of the tufa wall. A top of the tufa wall, another gifted plant that’s making itself right at home.

Phlox ovata, collected from the SW shores of Lake Erie by Peter Zale, ( I believe ).

This Penstemon grandiflora has seeded itself into this recycled storm water pipe.

Penstemon occurs in white as well as a pinkish-purple in our garden.

Lastly, a look to the other side of the Limestone Stairway.

The old tufa bed, going strong in June.  Abies concolor ‘Elkins Weeping’ a discovery of a beloved GLC member Harry Elkins.  Of course another gift from Dick.

We are hoping (with fingers crossed) that the forecasted rain will bring our parched garden some much needed moisture! I do hope your garden is getting all the rainfall it needs.

It’s Always something part II

Flying-squirrel nest box installed last summer.

Last summer, a dead, standing spruce trunk that I had mounted a nest box on nearly 2 decades earlier had finally fallen. Its occupants, suddenly homeless required new accommodations, so I constructed, and put this one up the same day.

Now, nearly a year later here’s an image of the same box, only now its been usurped by roving honeybees. They’re hard to spot in this image, but believe me they’re there!

Most fortunately for me a good friend and good neighbor is a beekeeper! So this past Sunday morning Mike came over along with the necessary tools and a spare bee jacket for your’s truly.

I’d set a ladder the night before, after a brief run thru of our plan, Mike ascended the ladder, smoker in hand. He gave the bees a few puffs of smoke to calm the bees and then plugged the box opening with a rag, the hard part done, came down.

Then it was my turn up the ladder. I tied a rope around the box, unfastened it from the tree, then lowered the box to Mike waiting below.

Once on the ground I make a quick check that the rag was securely in place.

With me holding the box upright (in order to keep the honey from spilling out of the comb).

We carefully walk down to mike’s house and waiting Apiary.

First thing to be done is to attach some clamps to hold the back of the box in place and then remove the securing screws.

The squirrel box is set onto the waiting brood box, that Mike had previously removed a couple of cell frames from. That was done in order to make room for the comb that Mike will have to remove by hand, from the squirrel box (once its opened).

A couple more puffs from the smoker and its go time!

Mike places the comb (he removed from the squirrel box) and places them into the Brood box after he’s dumped the bees into the box! I think our photographer Andrea must have been in retreat during that step, as there’s no images of the event.
Then its just a matter of reassembling the hive.


And then setting the bees former home (the squirrel box) in front of the hive entrance (their new home), Mike says to reorient the bees to their new surroundings. Mike brought the squirrel box back to my house the following day.

All in all it went smoothly. Now Wednesday, everything looks good at the hive, though there is a small ball of bees that refuse to leave the site of their former home. Mike says they were probably out foraging when we removed the squirrel box and took it to his Apiary, and they don’t know where their home’s gone to.


Taking A Moment

Clearly I must be old, as the past several of months have shot past in what seems like a few weeks time. Clearing up and disposing all of the trees and countless limbs that came down in early March, has been an ongoing and exhaustive task.

One of several staging areas for brush to be burned.

All of the downed materials have been dragged away, but plenty of broken off branches remain above, hung up in the trees waiting for gravity and perhaps a storm to dislodge them.

Supervisor Mya keeps a watchful eye.

Our little Prairie needed to be burned as well. Once those tasks were completed then the restoration work could begin.

Larix laricina ‘Iron Bar’ standing straight and tall once more.

Quite a number of trees required various corrective treatments in order to get them back on track. The columnar larch above, was bent 90 degrees (roughly half way up its length). I wrapped 2″ wide strips (cut from old towels) about every 18″ around the tree’s trunk and secured with masking tape in order to pad the tree. Next I took a 10ft. section of threaded, 3/4″ Black Iron pipe, that I’d taped sponge, pipe-insulation onto, and starting at the topmost end of the pipe, I secured it to the Larix trunk (using duct tape) wrapping the duct tape on top of the masking taped, toweling strips. Working my down the trunk at roughly 18″ intervals, until I reached the end of the 10 ft. section. Next I threaded-on a coupling union in order to add an additional 36″ length of pipe which I had slid down over a 3/4″ x 5 ft. section of rerod that I had hammered into the ground roughly 4 ft. At this point I’m thinking of leaving this straightening device until sometime next spring.

Pinus parviflora ‘Oba jo’ with a lateral branch taped to the main trunk stub.

A dozen or so trees, were in need of re-establishing a leader. This is a relatively simple task to accomplish, so long as I can reach the point where the trunk had snapped off. First I make a clean cut below the jagged break. Then select one of the nearest lateral branch below, gently bend it upward and using masking tape, I make several passes around the trunk-stub and the bent-upward branch in order to hold it in place pointing upward. This once-lateral branch will quickly establish itself as the new leader and the masking tape will simply fall off within in a year’s time.

Tsuga canadensis ‘Golden Dutchess’

Where entire trees had come down or had to be removed, new planting opportunities were provided. Years earlier I had sited a newly acquired, golden-needled hemlock, in a location that didn’t provide enough direct sunlight in order for the needles to attain their bright golden yellow hue. Relocating it, to where this large White Pine had snapped off at the ground, had near immediate effect, as the existing needles quickly became much more golden yellow and the new buds and expanding shoots are even more so!

Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’, pulled inside-out by last March’s snowstorm.

Fixing this is going to take some doing, but I have a plan, which will involves a 12ft. step ladder and nylon strapping. We’ll have to see if all goes according to plan!

But it hasn’t been all work and no play. We did get to go on a few horticultural shopping sprees, in addition to the arrival of several mail-order nursery orders, so there’s been a lot of planting getting done.

Several new Peony-flowered Eranthis

I did get to go and hunt for unusual forms of Eranthis, though this year it was in mid February instead of the usual mid March. A few more of these green-centered beauties came home with me.

A green flowered Trillium grandiflora

While this was the most unusual mutant trillium that was added to my collection from this Spring’s hunt. By the way this plant is in a one-gallon pot! so you can see it’s quite a beast as well.

Then this past Memorial Holiday weekend a new hiccup occurred, but that will be another installment.

Ah March!

Well there’s little doubt as to just how March is coming in this year. Two weeks ago we had an Ice storm that knocked out electric power (almost 5 days) in addition to Cable TV and internet for nearly 6 days. Many of the trees in the garden suffered broken branches snapped from their trunks which often fell onto smaller woody plants beneath. While this did create a mess that took several days to clean up, all in all I found it to be a plus as in every case, the fallen branches were ones in need of removal so that more sunlight reach the garden below.

The following weekend’s winter storm delivered 13’+ inches of wet snow that stuck to every twig and branch like spray-on flocking some folks applied to their Christmas trees and windows. The resulting damage was much more significant. Many trees had their tops snapped off, many many more branches were ripped out of the tree trunks, and even a 60ft White Pine snapped at ground level! And of course took out the power as well as TV & internet service again. Aahgggg!

Unlike the preceding Ice Storm (which melted away within a day and a half) the heavy snow persisted in spite to the 40 degree daytime temps, postponing any kind of clean-up until all of the snow’s melts. Only about half of which did so prior to today’s additional 5″+ of fresh, but thankfully dry, fluffy snow.

This is the second pile of broken branches that have fallen here, in a little over a week!

While the devastation had me thinking that perhaps there just might be something to Prairie / Steppe Gardening, I refrained from chainsawing all of the remaining trees.

Where the snow had melted, reassuring signs of Spring appeared.

One of 4 Adonis amurensis, though others are still beneath the snow.

This cut-leaf alder is one of many casualties.

Headless Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’ will have to go.
This Stewartia koreana was already slated for removal.

Galanthus nivalis (planted as single bulbs just several years previously) are increasing nicely. I don’t know if voracious rabbits would attack, but I’m not taking any chances with this young Hamamelis ‘Pallida’. The tree guards remain on all of young woodies, until the grass greens-up!

The top 8 ft. of Pinus strobus pendula, along with countless other branches from larger, straight-species Pinus strobus in the background.
Our native White Pines are especially ill-equip to deal with ice or excessive snow-loading. I sure hope my Abies koreana ‘Kohouts Icebreaker’ (somewhere beneath) is unmalled.

The top of this Picea pungens had to be cut in half in order for me to drag it out of the “Ditch”

Only time will tell if this Thuja occidentals ‘Rheingold’ will remain, or be chainsawed.

While things are currently a mess to be sure …

Spring’s heralder’s continue onward, unabated.

I find Eranthus especially cheerful, and successful at seeding about.

One of several less-common forms I’ve been most fortunate to find.

As well this peony-flowered form.

There will be lots of clean-up for me to see to, in the not too distant future.

The first of the Crocus tommasinianus to appear.
Impatient Trillium naval, just waiting for some sunshine!

Helleborus tibetanus, (Thanks Marion)!

Spring will not be denied, and with each flower every day gets little better!