Bugs Blossom as Winter Recedes

Spring weather restarts eternal life cycles
Beautiful Orange Yellow Marigolds Close Up. Bright And Colorful Garden Flowers. Selective Focus, Blurred Background.
Photo by Veronika Lunina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

One of the best ways to make improvements to your home landscape quickly while controlling costs is to plant ornamental annuals.

The color possibilities are many and varied. Cool-season annuals will flourish until the weather warms consistently. Dusty miller plants, pansies and dianthus are readily available options, but their lifespans are limited by lengthening days.

Warm weather annuals that can be started as spring nears include zinnias, angelonias, wax begonias and marigolds. Marigolds have several desirable features that go beyond their varied color and texture patterns, including an ability to suppress parasitic nematodes. There are many types of nematodes, with most being microscopic. Marigolds deter root-knot nematodes, the most damaging local species.

Root-knot nematodes cause swollen galls on the roots of many ornamental plants, vegetables and fruit trees. To compound the situation, there are no over-the-counter nematicides (nematode killers) available for homeowners.

The French marigold (Tagetes patula) is thought to be the most effective against the widest variety of nematodes. Alpha-terthienyl, a compound produced by marigolds, is also effective against some fungi and bacteria. Ideally, marigolds should be planted two months before a vegetable crop is begun at the same site.

Marigolds are available as starter plants or as seed. Rich, well-drained acidic soil is the best for growing, and medium and full sun is required. Plants should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.

Spring triggers bugs’ return

The lengthening days of late winter and early spring activate many bugs that have overwintered in the home landscape’s unseen and protected sites. Some are a benefit, while others, as we all know, are destructive.

Hundreds of spider eggs can be encased in a small, tangled ball of webbing covered by leaves and other detritus. The warming weather instigates hatching and a mass exodus from the nest.

Those that survive predation from birds and other animals will scatter and provide insect control as the season progresses.

Those leaf-footed bugs that survive the winter will move quickly to deposit eggs on tender new leaves. The egg clusters hatch in a few days, and hungry little insects emerge.

These tiny gold-toned future problems contrast starkly with the new green leaves. Careful observation and examination can easily identify these eggs.

The leaf-footed bug uses its straw-like proboscis to puncture leaves and stems and suck out juices. Classified as a piercing-sucking insect, it will prey upon a wide selection of vegetables and ornamentals.

Given their quick reproduction cycle during the warm season, it is wise to destroy the eggs before the leaf-footed bugs hatch in the spring. Eliminating them early will leave fewer to reproduce and damage plants later in the summer.

The leaf-footed bug’s feeding activity opens plants to bacteria and decay. If vegetables are attacked, they can rot while still on the plant.

Pluck slugs, shape azaleas

Azaleas bloom profusely and add bright hues to the spring landscape. When the bloom is finished, it is time to consider pruning and shaping. If the plant has become too large or unbalanced, clip and shape to the desired size. This task must be completed before early July, or the following year’s flowering will be reduced. Peaches bud in the early spring with blooms soon to follow. It is time to begin insect and disease prevention protocol. The necessary treatments are available at garden centers, and the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office can provide advice and recommendations. It is important to always read and follow label directions. Slugs are getting active, that is, as active as they can get. These shell-less cousins to snails are easy to track to their meal sites by their slime trails. Early removal will likely prevent large destructive populations later.

Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County extension director.

Categories: Gardening