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Beneficial Insects.... In Conclusion
July 13, 2009
Where does the time seem to go?
Here we are approaching Mid-July already.
(Coreopsis in backyard).
Weather seems to dominate conversations no matter the time of year and now is no exception.
Temperatures are still running below normal here in Michigan, while parts of the south and southwest struggle with triple digits and and some areas suffer from severe drought.
We managed another timely rain Saturday morning, leaving the day free to celebrate Karen's, her Sister's and her mom's birthday.
The 3 birthdays are in July, so it is one big birthday party, usually held at a lake/park.
No matter where you live, it is a good idea to raise your lawn mower to a higher cut (3 to 4 inches), if you haven't by now.
You may not have that nice tight cut that looks oh so good, but you will save on watering and even some weed control.
Longer grass chokes out young weeds as they reach for the sun.
Help your veggies.
Tap you tomatoes and peppers.
Not love taps, but enough to jar the pollen so your plants can bear more fruits.
If you lack large bumblebees, your plants may not receive the proper pollination and you'll wonder why little fruits are so few.
By tapping them as the bloom, you do the work of several bees.
Be sure to deep water your plants as well.
For the past several weeks, you have seen different colors and color co-ordinations on your newsletters.
I was attempting to show you how different colors can look in your gardens.
Putting cool colors like purple and blues together.
Mixing and matching warm colors like reds, yellows and oranges.
Then there are the opposite colors.
Orange with blue, yellow with purple and so on.
Opposites do attract when it comes to colors and they offer some striking combinations.
Colors combinations force the eyes to slow down and take a look (this goes for foliage as well).
Not so sure of this?
Take a look at some of your college colors.
Here are a few examples.
The Universities of Florida and Illinois..... Orange and Blue
Louisiana State University .... shades of Yellow and Purple
The University of Michigan.......... Yellow and Blue.
These color combinations really stick out and they will in your gardens as well.
When it comes to colors, opposites do attract
If you have a small garden, consider planting warm colors.
Hot and warm colors will make your gardens appear larger where or what I like to say........... Bring it to life.
Cool colors bring the garden to you.
Yes, cool colors make your garden appear smaller.
Speaking of gardens.
My baking soda shocked cucumbers have rebounded nicely and are growing like mad.
I could've left my bad move quiet, but hopefully one of you get the idea about all chemicals.
Marti in Ohio would like to know how my over wintered Gerbera daisy is doing.
Marti, the plant is doing just fine (no picture) :-(
A slow starter, but it is taking off and blooming.
For you new readers, I like mess around and try different things.
For the past few years I have placed a trash bag of leaves on top of my Black and Blue salvia and they have wintered over each year and get bigger and better.
I cut them back, place a full bag of leaves on top in November and remove the bag in April.
Z7 plants that I over winter in Z5.
Black and Blue is already chest high.
This past fall, I tried this with one of Karen's Gerbera daisies Z8.
Well, I had all but given up on it when several leaves poked through.
Yes, it isn't like instant plants from the garden center, but it is fun to do and you have a much larger plant the following year.
If you live in warmer climates, you will get a better jump on them.
Besides, to buy a Gerbera that size would be triple the cost and to buy a Black and Blue the size I now have would cost close to 10 times more (chest high and several stem/branches).
This also works with Pineapple sage.
I will continue to mess around with tender perennials.
Isn't that what a good gardener will do after all?
Let me switch gears for a moment, I have a little story to share with you.
Our oldest daughter and son-in-law are foster parents and have been, for a good 12 years or so and are darn good at that.
After years of teen aged girls, they decided to go with younger boys this time.
They currently have two brothers ages 12 and 5 that are from the inner city.
Totally messed up home life. Drug addict parents, no food for days etc.
God bless those boys, they call us grandma and grandpa.
I have attempted to get the boys interested in nature, but they have no desire or interest in doing so.
It is sad, because they have no clue, no interest and some fears of the natural world.
Well, this past week I decided to show them a rabbit nest that borders the field (the fur kids and I have been keeping an eye on it) and they liked that idea.
I new the bunnies were pretty close to fledge time, and we have a rabbit issue around here so I brought the boys along with my 10 year old grandson to see a bunny nest and some babies if they were still there.
I gently moved back the grass and fur only to have a Chinese fire drill take place.
Bunnies flew from the nest in all directions.
The 12 year old was able to catch a bunny and you would've thought he was just given the most prized item a 12 year old from the inner city, could get his hand on.
Grandpa, grandpa, I got one.
Smiling from ear to ear.
Clueless on how to handle a bunny I showed them how to hold it.
These guys wanted to find more and take this one home.
Of course they had to bring it back to our house and show everyone the catch of the day.
Still smiling, we walked the little fur ball back and released it.
Before you panic and worry about the bunnies, by the time they leave the nest (and these guys were within a day of that), bunnies are on their own.
No mom for food or protection.
In fact, mother is ready to kindle another litter at that time.
It was a small way, I could introduce a bit of nature to a couple of boys that are totally clueless.
Thanks for your patience and allowing me to share with you.
Thank you for sending me your summer favorites.
They will be published next week.
You know of Lady Beetles and Mantids and the work they do for gardeners.
You understand the important rolls of pollinators, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and others.
Not to mention parasitic wasps and such.
The past 3 weeks I wrote on certain beneficial insects to give you an idea that not all bugs are bad.
You read about Dragonflies, Fireflies and Lacewings and hopefully you learned something and understand a bit more about these good guys.
In the past there have been letters on wasps, bees, hoverflies and others.
Earlier this year I wrote on "To Feed the Birds, You Must First Feed the Insects."
I could write on a specific beneficial insect for the rest of the summer and not cover them all.
However, I will save you worries as I am cutting the series on insects short (this gives me something to write on in the future).
Research shows that 93% of all insect species are beneficial.
Okay, then why do I have so many stinking aphids and other pests in my gardens you may ask?
Why do you feel over run?
Good questions and I hope to give some answers in today's letter.
(Beneficial Lacewing Pictured).
Wildlife includes any non-plant organism, such as insects, birds, fish, and animals.
The impact of your landscapes development upon wildlife differs from its impact upon soils, plants and water, because wildlife is mobile.
Moving from plant to plant.
Capable of moving on and off site.
In addition, landscape development does not import wildlife to a site, as it does plants.
Your activities often create an altered landscape that may or may not provide the necessary habit to support wildlife, or the wildlife you may want to attract.
Food, protection, water, a place to lay eggs or give birth, and raise a family.
That includes insects as well.
In nature, a wildlife community grows slowly, forming an intricate and balanced web.
Like plants, wildlife is responsive to the landscape's physical condition --- its land-form, vegetation and water bodies.
Wildlife species fill specific niches and perform certain functions.
Functions that include pollination, distributing seeds, eating plant material, and controlling the population size of organisms lower on the food chain.
Predator and prey.
(Birds like this Purple martin eat copious amounts of insects, good and bad.)
The food chain is an important component in nature's web of associations.
It describes the feeding relationships between species:
Who eats what, and is then eaten by whom.
When this food chain is off balance, bad things can happen and in a hurry.
Some insects like Aphids over winter pregnant.
That is correct, they don't lay eggs the first time around, they give birth and this gives the colony a running start.
However, in a balanced ecosystem, only enough survive to do it all over again the following year.
Mess with nature (pesticides, to many exotic plants, wrong habitats) and infestations are the result.
Each predator in the food chain must consume much prey in order to survive, so there are many more bad insects because they have to feed the good guys and continue to survive.
As a result, a native ecosystem supports more herbivores than omnivores and more omnivores than carnivores.
When the top of the food chain is missing, the bottom of the chain may burgeon.
With this in mind, the plants you choose can encourage or discourage the presence of wildlife (including pests).
Oaks and pines are the most valuable woody plants for wildlife. Followed by wild cherry, blackberry and dogwood.
Lush green lawns offer little for wildlife except a few worms for robins and forage for rabbits, geese and maybe a few deer.
Here is an eye opening example or two.
Research shows that some of our wildlife can't survive without native plants.
Willows (Salix sp.) and cherry/plum (Prunus sp.) each host around 450 different moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera sp.)
While oaks (Quercus sp.) host an astounding 517 species of moth and butterflies.
Moth and butterfly larvae attract birds that also eat other insects (good and bad).
Larvae become butterflies and moths that pollinate and fill our gardens with joy and beauty.
True some of our insects require a narrowing field of host plants and certain species like
Karner Blue Butterflies are now on the endangered species list.
Aphids, whiteflies, mites, thrips, etc. are generalists.
They feed on just about anything and may come with your exotic plants.
Exotics wont attract the good guys as often.
I have seen it first hand and can recall declining a shipment of tropical hibiscus infested with Whiteflies. (they were so bad, as soon as the trailer door was open, they were flying every where.)
If the habitat isn't conducive for other native wildlife (prey insects, birds, lizards and toads), the pest insects are going to take over.
Even if they account for 7% of the insect species, the are more numerous because they are natural food for so many predators.
Disrupt that equation with pesticides, lack of native habitat, nesting sights, protection etc. and the bad guys go wild.
When Gardening or landscaping, you must consider many factors to attract and keep wildlife.
Predator insects go where the food is.
If you lack prey, predators move elsewhere which can be a good thing.
When prey is found, predators aren't far behind.
We often get infestations because of insecticides that kill off bad and the good.
A few aphids may survive, while the lady beetle or hoverfly larvae are killed off.
You may have won the battle, but are you loosing the war?
Insects often become immune to certain insecticides and more powerful chemicals are used.
More beneficials are killed as are birds from eating dead and sprayed insects, and on up the chain it goes.
When we plant to many exotics, birds and certain insects stay away, as there is nothing to draw them to your yard.
Another reason that pest insects may flourish.
God designed nature to work on a delicate designed balance.
Mess with nature and it messes back.
Nature is also very forgiving when we give it the chance.
Not only do we have native insects to deal with, we have foreign invaders to contend with.
Japanese beetles in the Eastern half of North America with no real natural enemy.
Haven't heard of it.................. You will as they rapidly spread thoughout North America, gain with no real natural enemy.
Invasive fish ruin our waterways.
Invasive plants take over our land.
I'm sure you have your nasties to contend with as well.
Landscape development improves habitat for some species, degrades and eliminates habitat for others, and creates appropriate habitat for exotic and domesticated species.
As a result, adapted wildlife thrives and reproduces, potentially overrunning your landscape, damaging vegetation, interfering with natural and human functions.
Managing these species requires some planning and time.
If not, outside intervention may be needed to keep some populations in check and that can cost big money.
Through many of you writing back to me, I have learned that many of you have indeed learned a few things about Dragonflies, Fireflies and Lacewings.
Enough that many of you will leave some insects alone, even ignore a hole or two in a leaf, because you know that many insects do more good than harm.
I will continue with insects sometime or maybe a single letter here and there.
Until then, continue to learn more on the wildlife around you.
Check your plants on a regular basis and enjoy the summer.
Remember, 93% of insect species wear the white hats.
Well, it's time to fly for now.
Before I go, here is your positive thought for this week.
Take time to laugh - it is the music of the soul.
From an old English prayer.
There isn't much to add to this thought.
Smile, Laugh, and Love.
Be sure to share these God given wonders with others.
Allow your inner child to surface.
Until next time my friend.
"Treat the earth well:
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our
Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
Ancient Indian Proverb
PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.
Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.
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