Friday, May 21, 2010

It's On

By now you all know how much I love my garden. I slave over it. I coddle every plant and lovingly tend to each blossom. I tuck angels and faeries in amongst the greenery and hang wind chimes to catch the breezes that blow off the water beneath the bluff. But this past week I've taken that guardianship to a whole new level.

When we moved in I didn't know squat about gardens, but I learned in a hurry. In fact, I went plant wild and couldn't bear to drive past a nursery without stopping to bring home another treasure. Then one day I ordered a load of compost to feed my new darlings. Only I didn't know I was bringing a new enemy home with me.

A few weeks after the compost was laid down, weird bites began to appear in some of the leaves of my plants. I noticed it on the rhododendrons initially, then the azaleas. But pretty quick the astilbes started to get chewed to nothing, and the heucheras too, not to mention my gorgeous hydrangeas.
If there was anything left of the plant, it looked like someone had blasted it with a shotgun. Shredded and full of holes. Frustrated because I could never see any bugs on the plants, I picked off a few leaves and took them into a nursery. The woman looked up at me with such sympathy in her eyes that my stomach dropped. "You've got black vine weevils, hon," she said.

I'm convinced this is the most evil insect known to mankind, and the arch enemy of gardeners. The adults are about the size of lady bugs, and only come out at night to feed. After they lay waste to the foliage and blooms for a few weeks, they lay eggs deep in the roots of the plants where the larvae feast away, often killing the plant. They're the exact color of dirt so you can't see them, and if you disturb them they freeze and fall off the plant so you'll never be able to find them. Each adult becomes a female that lays between 200 and 800 eggs. You do the math.

I've tried everything to get rid of them. For six years I've put down parasitic nematodes to kill the larvae, but with limited results despite the thousands of dollars I've spent. Turns out, nematodes don't work in clay soil, which is primarily what I've got. Pesticides haven't worked, and the entomologist I talked to (yes, I really did contact an expert) said they've become immune to all commercial pesticides. So the only thing left for me to do is hand pick them off the plants. Every freaking plant on my property. In the middle of the night, when it's dark, and it takes me around two hours to do a thorough search.

So I've officially declared war on the evil weevils. Early May is the critical time to get to the adults before they start laying eggs. This past week I've been out every night from ten until midnight, pulling them off my plants. Rain didn't stop me, nor wind nor even Strep throat. Running a fever and on antibiotics, I still got out there with my flashlight and threw any I could catch into a bucket of water. And I didn't feel bad at all about drowning them. Not one little bit. If I can't catch them between my fingers, I squish them with my thumb against the leaf they're trying to devour. I've come to like the snapping sound their little shells make when I kill them. Thus far, I've found enough adults to make a half-inch thick layer in the bottom of my two gallon bucket.

But every night I go out, there are still more adults roaming on my plants. That gives me a vague idea of how many larvae are sleeping underground, waiting to crawl out and start munching on the smorgasbord I've planted for them. God, I hate the little buggers.

I'm not ready to concede defeat yet, but I may have to bite the bullet and dig out the entire garden this fall, replace all the soil with fresh (and sterilized!) stuff, and replace every single plant. Let's just say it's going to take me selling a lot more books to cover the cost of that project.

Wish me luck. Your sympathy is appreciated :)


Katie Reus said...

This violent streak of yours against those bugs is inspiring :) Wish I had your green thumb too! Me? I touch plants and they wither, lol. Good luck eviscerating those evil buggies!

Beth Trissel said...

Oh man, so sorry. I am an avid gardener too, and totally sympathize. Try Neem, the organic spray that sickens any of the chewing insects while leaving all others unharmed. Only the ones that suck or gnaw on your leaves are affected. It also has fungicide properties to help with the diseases they can cause. I need to go blast the potato bugs. You will not see results immediately as it takes time but it does seem to work. Organic gardening stores and companies carry it. You can also try mixing up a strong blend of pulverized garlic, and a light oil, one of the kind tolerated by plants, and potent peppers or buy that pepper stuff and zap them with that. I haven't used the pepper stuff but heard good things about it.
Fire bugs are really evil too. I will see if Neem works on them this year. I am tolerant of a certain amount of damage but they decimate plants. Get the best quality Neem, not sure if there's a difference, but there might be.
And let me know how it goes!
Just don't spray Neem on anything with butterfly larvae as they eat host plants but are desirable.