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Get rid of the pests on potted plants

Q: I have several pots of annual flowers at my entranceways that have been blooming well all summer long. Now the leaves are looking all chewed up! How do I prevent this and get the pots looking good again?

A: “Leaves looking all chewed up” leads me to think that your pots have become home to several caterpillar-type critters or the pots have become host to grasshoppers. Either of these pests can give foliage that torn edge, rather crummy look after they’ve fed. If the edges have a perfectly clean half shape removed from the leaf, those have been created by an insect called leaf cutter bee (remember, bees are good), and although the look might be alarming the amount of leaf removal isn’t truly harmful to the plants. It really sounds like its caterpillar and/or grasshoppers that have made your pots look so ratty. So there are several things that you can do to improve the situation.

First, give the pots a good look-see! Can you find any creepy crawlies? Pluck them off and place in a coffee can for disposal. Then consider spraying the pots with a pesticide to gain the upper hand. For the pots, I’d recommend the use of either Sevin or neem. The Sevin works well for all manner of chewing insects and the neem is an all-around, good-against-everything pesticide. Both chemicals can be found in ready-to-use mixtures or concentrates that you would dilute and in turn apply. I suggest that you spray in the evening. That way the temperatures have dropped and you won’t have to worry about scorching the plant life. Also, most any beneficial insects (mainly the bees) have gone home for the night and won’t be harmed. Know, too, that most caterpillar-type bugs tend to eat in the evening so if the pesticide is “fresh” you’ll have a better hunt.

Having gotten a good hunt on whoever is chewing up your pots, it’ll be time to re-pluff the pots! If you need to, tuck in a few new annual plants to get the pot really full again. Then be sure to deadhead all of the spent blooms you have to encourage new bloom series from your treasures, and if needed give the pots a fertilization. Be sure to apply a bloom feeding-type fertilizer. That’s the kind that’ll have a larger middle number in the content like 15-30-15. Remember it’s the middle number, the phosphorus, of the nutrient calculation that is utilized by blooms. The higher that middle number, the better it is for flower production. Now if your pots are filled with new soil this season, you shouldn’t need to fertilize, and giving too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. Over-fertilization can cause rank, lazy unhealthy growth, so if you shouldn’t feed, don’t. In a couple of weeks, having treated for the creepy-crawlies and feeding if there is a need, your pots will rebound and all will look better in no time!

Q: I have a tree that has some wind damage and will be removing a few larger broken limbs. Should I be sealing the cut ends or not?

A: There is quite a bit of discussion as to the sealing of the wounds, and after the entire tree is suffering a wound, so I’m at a loss. An open wound can be a way for all manner of pest or fungus to enter a tree, but if the tree is healthy then it might suffer more from having the wound sealed. It’s a real gray area.

With that, if after the limb removal there isn’t any weeping, I’d suggest letting it be and monitor the area for any signs of trouble. If the spot is weeping then seal it but do it ASAP after the surgery. Mix a concoction of one part diatomaceous earth to one part wood ash with enough water to make a slurry paste. Trowel on and spread the tree gunk over the wound surface to completely encase the spot. Dried, it becomes the perfect barrier for prevention. But it has to be done quickly and you will need to have practiced the most thorough cultural practices possible. Keep all of your tools clean by wiping them down often with alcohol and then seal the wounds immediately. No lollygagging about when you do the damage removal. Be quick and keep it clean. Be careful while you are out there Digging In!


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Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.