Hello Fellow Readers,
Earlier this season my brother Rick from Knoxville, TN and a dear friend Ruth of Hope, NJ asked about rose dilemmas. Personally, I find roses fussy and hard to keep in their glory. There’s spider mites and aphids that often run amok. Never mind the funguses amongst them like black spot and powdery mildew. Then there’s deer who enjoy nibbling which is odd given their prickly nature. But when roses are in their glory, they surely are glorious. Plus, their fruit, called rose hips commonly used in tea, are a great source for Vitamin C.
Ruth purchased three climbing roses by mail order. While two were off to a good start, the third was not. She contacted Jackson & Perkins who advised a shot of Epsom salt often does the trick and asked if I had heard of the remedy. Folks use Epsom salt for fertilizing plants, often tomatoes, to promote larger fruit or more flowers. However, unless a soil test proves a deficiency in magnesium and sulfate (the ingredients of Epsom salt), adding more is irrelevant. Plants can’t take up more than they need. In fact, they don’t require much of either and most often soil has plenty of magnesium and sulfate naturally. Still, because they gave a plant guarantee, I suggested Ruth follow their protocol so they’ll make-good if necessary.
Brother Rick’s rose dilemma had to do with Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum). In previous years the campers demolished his potted roses but left his other herbs. Rick admitted he’s used a nasty chemical product in the past as a remedy. I sent him the link to an earlier column about tent caterpillars (titled Diehard Campers ) and advised him to remove the tent or apply Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring bacterium in soil. Or there’s Neem Oil, a natural alternative to synthetic pesticides. Both are safer for the environment and for you.
This week I checked on the progress of their rose dilemmas. No surprise, Ruth’s rose didn’t rally. “We told Jackson and Perkins. Now they are out of them so we are out of luck!”
Turns out Rick took the advice of his big Sis and removed the tent so his annual caterpillar invasion was preempted without using chemicals. However, he said his roses still look half defoliated with minimal blooms. I asked that he take a close look for tiny brown or green specks; evidence of mites or aphids. None found. However, he came across a colorful green insect we couldn’t identify. Upon closer inspection, he described “its sparking” which made me laugh. Leave it to an engineer to associate insect activity with electrical currents. Rick quickly hung up the phone to take photos and a video clip. “Maybe it’s not a spark. It kind of looks like he (she?) is shooting a thread?” His next photo was the clear liquid on a decoy leaf of notepaper. “Too cool to disturb her. Even if it’s bad for the rose!” Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com
I consulted with my birder buddy Dennis who also knows a lot about insects and plants. He identified Rick’s visitor as a Scarlet & Green Leafhopper. “Cool, isn’t it? It’s found in meadows and gardens. It sucks juices from plants and it is native.”
Did you know? The famous line “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” was originally written by Gertrude Stein as part of the 1913 poem “Sacred Emily” It has taken on many versions over many years but is often understood to mean “things are what they are” which is also a proclamation of the law of identity.