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The Planto Doctor: Pest tips help gardeners deal with what bugs ’em

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Some of the crawly beasts we encounter during the summer are fascinating. A number of these creatures are extremely destructive, while others are a simple curiosity, performing many beneficial functions. Read on for some common and not-so-common bits of wisdom about those animals that share your garden along with their flora relatives.

Pick up a pot on your patio or garden or lift a rock, and lo and behold a prehistoric, armored creature about one-half inch long wobbles along into the daylight. Congratulations, you have disturbed the sleeping quarters of the pill bug or its cousin, the sow bug.

Let’s talk sow bug behavior. The ancient, literally fossil organism known as the sow bug or pill bug is not an insect but a crustacean, more closely related to shrimp. They are not mischievous, and their favorite food is decaying matter.

A bit about their behavior and features. Sow bugs have hard, dark gray or brownish-segmented bodies about one-half inch long. If disturbed, they roll themselves into protective balls. Pill bugs do their feeding at night, and if their numbers are minimal, they do no harm.

Occasionally, particularly during times of extreme rain, their numbers increase substantially. When their numbers grow very large, they may decide to increase their menu by munching on the fine rootlets of young plants. If that should occur, try to eliminate or control dark areas under pots, boards or rocks, which are places they like to hide during the day.

But sow and pill bugs are not alone in making your garden their home. You know that a tree or bush is not supposed to be adorned with a nest composed of very fine silk. And you are perfectly correct in making this assumption.

If your trees or bushes have this quality, you have become the proud parent of the uglynest caterpillar, which produces silk webs at the branch endings, or the dreaded tent caterpillar, which produces silk webs at the crotch of a branch.

Woody plants such as cherry, hawthorn and rose are particular favorites of this species. Caterpillars munch on leaves from late spring through summer. During the fall, the adult moths begin to emerge. They lay eggs and start the cycle anew. Since the nests usually are out of reach, the easiest way to get rid of these pests is to use a pole pruner to cut off the webbed limbs. Destroy the nests after they fall down.

Garden tip for mid-summer

With the extraordinary amount of rain this summer, gardeners may feel that more than enough water is in the soil, thus daily watering is not needed. They may be right, but then again, they may be wrong. The old 1-inch a week rule does not work for all gardens in all locations. Plants in sandy soil require more water than vegetation in clay soil, and plants in full sun and hot exposure require more water than those in partial shade and cooler environments.

The best way to determine when your garden needs water is to stick a finger in the soil. When the soil feels dry 2 inches below the surface, it’s time to water.

Questions or concerns regarding gardens or houseplants may be addressed to the plant doctor by e-mail at Harvey.Goodman@att.net.

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