A big, bad bug’s return, a perennial garden re-do, and moving houseplants inside: This Weekend in the Garden

That Miscellaneous to remove bug eggs

Masses of spotted lanternflies — which many gardeners in the area are seeing for the first time this season — could be an attention-grabbing new issue, but they’re not the only beetle having a standout year in 2022.

Our old nemesis, the spongy moth (formerly known as the gypsy moth), has returned to monumental populations in many parts of Pennsylvania this year, causing tree defoliation not seen in years.

Sponge moth larvae feed on about 300 species of tree leaves, with oak trees being a particular favorite. State Bureau of Forestry specialist Ryan Reed reports that 2022 was an “outbreak year for spongy moths” stripping the canopy in forested areas across Pennsylvania and beyond.

The hairy caterpillars with distinctive pairs of red and blue spots do most of their damage from mid-May to early July, before spinning reddish-brown cocoons. They hatch as adult moths in mid-summer to mate and lay eggs in July and August.

The current eggs overwinter and hatch the following April and May to start a new feeding season. One generation occurs per year.

Like many beetles, sponge moth populations run in boom-bust cycles dependent on weather, predators, and the presence of disease controls.

Otherwise healthy trees will usually regrow even when fully defoliated, but several consecutive years of problems or other contributing stresses can kill them.

While damage is most evident in forests, where moth larvae and their “poop” can rain down on passers-by, sponge moths can also attack individual trees in native landscapes.

Foresters advise home gardeners to keep an eye out for spongy moth eggs, especially those who live near wooded areas or who had tree leaves eaten by moth larvae the previous spring.

Egg masses can now be found on logs, as well as firewood, rocks, patio furniture, and other outdoor objects.

The masses appear as tan smears and can range in size from a quarter to two to three inches long. Each mass contains between 200 and 1,000 eggs.

Ohio Extension educator Amy Stone notes that sponge moth egg masses can be laid on any surface “and doesn’t necessarily have to be on trees or other plant material. When I look at trees, I often look at the undersides of branches. But eggs can be found anywhere in the canopy.”

Other favorite spots Stone mentions are under the overhang of a house, shed, garage, or barn; on or in kennels; on or in birdhouses; behind decorative garden art attached to buildings, fences, or trees; on vehicles, trailers and mobile homes; on piles of firewood, especially between logs, and in any sheltered spot in the countryside or in the forest close to caterpillar damage in spring.

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The Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry says now through the fall is a good time to look out for and destroy these masses.

Egg masses can be scraped into a sealed container or bag and disposed of in the trash.

In spring, when the larvae have hatched, burlap can be wrapped around tree trunks to act as a trap, where the larvae often hide during the day. The caught caterpillars can then be smashed or scraped into a can of soapy water.

Young caterpillars are also susceptible to an organic, bacterial spray called Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis Var. kurstaki) that homeowners can buy. It is most effective within the first two weeks after the egg hatches and is very specific to caterpillars.

The Bureau of Forestry also suggests that homeowners remove unnecessary yard items where egg masses may be hiding, such as B. Piles of old wood, building materials, dead branches, firewood and other waste.

For large properties with many endangered trees, aerial spray companies may be hired to spray from above.

Visit the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website for more details on sponge moth control.

Weeds in the perennial garden

Vigilance – and sometimes a complete dig up and redoing – is required to keep perennial gardens like these weed-free.

Editing vs. a complete redesign of the perennial garden

Many gardeners have switched from annual flowers to perennials in the last 20 years because a.) they come back year after year (at least if the animals don’t eat them) and b.) supposedly less work.

While perennials offer some pluses (longevity, variety, long-term cost savings, ability to divide and expand, etc.), they’re not exactly a plant-and-forget option.

Some perennials die off after a few years and need to be replaced.

Others grow faster than you would like and need to be “shoveled” and weeded out or divided every year or two.

And still others drop seeds and start popping up where you don’t want them.

Arguably the biggest challenge in maintaining a beautiful perennial garden long-term, however, is preventing weeds from overpowering the bed.

Annual weeds, which emerge from seed every year, are fairly easy to manage—if you keep them under control. These are at least easily pulled up due to their young, limited root systems, and most give up easily when cut down to ground level with a long-handled weeding tool.

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Annual weeds can also be limited by the use of granular weed killers, which will not harm most existing plants and can therefore be sprinkled over perennial beds once or twice a year. (By the way, early fall is a good time for the second application of this season.)

Much more “challenging” are perennial weeds that come back from their own roots year after year.

Many of them also spread quickly by stolons or underground stolons, tangled with the prized perennials and making them almost impossible to eradicate.

Some of the worst offenders are bindweed, buckhorn, nut grass, creeping charlie, quack and one of the worst of all, Canada thistle, which combines prickly stems with its ability to regenerate with double vengeance if even a piece of its root is left behind .

Weed killers are ineffective against perennial weeds once they have emerged and started growing. To control these, you must either spot spray them with a broadleaf herbicide, or kill them all (making sure the spray doesn’t drift onto your garden perennials), or go there and pull them out or dig them up.

If you’re persistent enough, it’s possible to bring a weed-infested perennial garden back under control—even if you have to dig up a few perennials to untangle them from the weedy invaders before replanting.

But sometimes perennial gardens are so overgrown with perennial weeds that it’s easier to dig up, remove the weeds, and replant the perennials.

For this type of complete makeover, first dig up your “guardian” plants and plant them in a temporary holding bed. You can pack them close together. Just label them and give them a good bath for their short term stay.

If you don’t have a temporary planting spot, group the dug up perennials in a shady spot and cover their roots with damp mulch, leaves or straw (to keep the roots from drying out).

Then control the weeds by either digging up and removing them or spraying them with a weed killer.

If you dig, you can immediately replant the cleared bed. Incorporating an inch or two of compost into the soil is a nice bonus before transplanting.

Put on an inch or two of fresh mulch to prevent new weeds from immediately sprouting in the disturbed soil, then give the bed a good soak. Water every three or four days until the ground freezes and when the rain doesn’t do the dampening for you.

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If you use an herbicide to kill the weeds, you must wait at least a few days before replanting. Check the label of the product you are using for details on the interval between application and safe transplanting.

Late summer to early fall is a good time for a perennial garden iteration. The other is early spring.

  • Read George’s column on the 18 Best Perennials for a Season-Long Show
Indoor plants back inside

Cooling nights signal that it’s time to bring houseplants back inside.

Time to bring the houseplants back inside

Nighttime temperatures are moving into the cool enough range now that it’s a good idea to bring your houseplants back inside for the winter.

Most houseplants will benefit from a few months of summer vacation outdoors, where the heat and humidity returns to their native habitats.

Although many species function primarily as so-called houseplants, no plant is native to the dark, dry environment of a home.

Since most houseplants come from tropical or subtropical regions, they are not adapted to near-freezing temperatures. Some begin to suffer even as the lows drop to the low 40s overnight.

Before your houseplants reach that point while on vacation, put them back inside.

Hose them down first to get rid of any bugs that might be on board to hitch a ride. Or spray the plants with insecticidal soap before moving indoors.

Pay attention to whether the pots have holes in the bottom or not.

If so, consider placing dishes or containers underneath to catch run-off water damaging furniture…or double pot them by placing pots with holes in larger pots without holes.

If the pots don’t have holes, you don’t need water catchers, you need them do Be extra careful not to overwater. Because excess water cannot drain from the bottom of holeless pots, the roots can easily rot in potting soil that is too wet. (Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants.)

Tropical plants that you have grown in the ground in summer and that you overwinter need to be dug up and potted in fresh potting soil and then hosed/sprayed before going inside. With these (elephant ears, tropical hibiscus, palm trees, papyrus, etc.) it is okay to thin out or prune back some of the foliage as some of these species can grow quite large for indoor growing.

Remember to use no or limited fertilizer for your houseplants throughout the winter. The growth requirement is then low, which is why the water requirement also decreases in winter.

  • More when-to-do-what tips: Georges “Pennsylvania month by month gardening” Book