Vine Weevil Alert!

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A Vine Weevil Grub

Take a look at the pictures  above and below and please excuse the poor quality. This was taken today and it shows one of a number of complete and utter bastards I found in a pot today. This particular little bugger is vine weevil grub – study it closely and take heed – note its curly little white body and its dirty brown mouth and if you see one SQUASH THE LITTLE BLIGHTER IMMEDIATELY.

weevad

The Adult Vine Weevil

I knew something was up when I saw that my old reliable French Marguerite (Argyranthemum frutescens) was looking not just poorly, but utterly defeated. On touching it, it just came away in my hands and I immediately knew what was up. A quick investigation in the soil in the pot revealed a gang of the white wriggly grubs close to the top of the soil and confirmed that I had a serious vine weevil problem,

Vine weevils are dreadful pests, really, really annoying and tend to pick on favourite plants. Container plants are particularly susceptible. Though the adults are troublesome; they chew tell-tale semi-circular bites of out of leaves, it is their grubs that cause the catastrophic damage by eating the roots of plants, sneakily under the soil surface, so it is only when the damage becomes apparent and the plant dies that you notice their presence. By this time it usually too late to save the plant.

Adult vine weevils are curious creatures their Latin name is Otiorhynchus sulcatus – the sulcatus means grooved and you will notice the leathery backs of the vine weevils are indeed grooved. They look like beetles but there are matte and leathery rather than shiny and have little snouts. All of them are female. They reproduce by parthenogenesis –which means virgin creation in Greek, but anything less virgin-like and innocent you would be hard pressed to find. Each female fan produce offspring from unfertilized eggs.

Naturally weevils have no taste for dandelions, common daisies, thistle, bind weed or other pesky plants, instead they prefer ornamental plants and fruits, especially precious container grown specimens. From now – late spring until midsummer the little fat grubs will be feasting, growing fatter and greedier by the day until the time comes for them to sleep and metamorphose into adults and the adults will be busy laying more eggs – each one will lay hundreds in a lifetime, and remember, she doesn’t have to hang around waiting for a Mr vine weevil to mate with.

So how do you control these little creeps? The best way is obviously to stamp on, squash, and crush and give no quarter at all to any live adult weevils or their grubs. Sometimes the odd adult, brazen hussies that they are, will waltz across the floor of the house. You must immediately kill the beast and dispose of the body. When you find an infestation in a pot you must throw away the soil – every bit of it. If you think the plant has a chance of survival wash the roots thoroughly, take off every bit of soil and examine it to make sure there are no grubs (or adults) left on the plant, repot in clean, sterile soil and give it a good water and feed.

As I do with slugs, the best way to find the weevils is to get out in the evenings and hunt them down. If you suspect and infestation or see the tell-tale chunks bitten out of the leaf margins of plants like bergenia or rhododendron, lay some newspaper underneath the plants and give them a good shake to see if you can knock any weevils that might be hiding off their perches. Regularly check pot plants for signs of weakening, look underneath them and dig your fingers into the soil to see if you can spot any white grubs.

The best control for vine weevils is by encouraging gardener friendly wildlife into the garden such as hedgehogs, frogs and birds who will eat the grubs. A biological control is readily available, a nematode worm. The nematode is a tiny little creature which loves to feast on the baby grubs. When you buy the nematodes they come in a packet and you mix what looks like dry powder into water and pour it onto your plants. The down side to nematodes is that they only work in warmer weather.

If you are non-organic and have just had enough you can go for the scorched earth solution and try acetamiprid – a chemical insecticide. You can’t use this on any edible plants and you also run the risk of killing bugs that really don’t cause any harm at all.

 

Gardening for lazybones

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

From Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost (1926)

 

If I had a euro for every time someone says to me ‘but I want a low maintenance garden’ I’d be as rich as Croesus. It is possible to have a relatively low maintenance garden but there really are no low maintenance blowsy, old-fashioned flower gardens; they are like those blonde, demanding glossy women you see on the arms of oligarchs – super high-maintenance. A garden that performs season after season requires intensive work, bulb planting, cutting back, dividing, moving, deadheading and planning.

 

For truly low maintenance the best way to proceed is to stick to flowering and evergreen shrubs which only require an annual pruning, small trees and very easy perennials that come up from year to year, do not self-seed profligately and some spring and summer bulbs which come up reliably from year to year.

 

A number of companies manufacture porous membrane (categorically not plastic sheeting) which you can put over freshly weeded and prepared soil. You then cut a flaps in the membrane, dig planting holes, pop in the plants and then cover u the holes again around the plants with a mulch – general of gravel. Make sure you use plenty of mulch so absolutely none of the membrane is visible, especially around the edges. Err on the side of excess, as the mulch will settle and spread out quickly and you don’t want any bald spots to appear. It is really important to plant generously too – nothing looks drearier or more depressing than an expanse of gravel with three of four miserable, tiny shrubs dotted about. Seeds will still self-sow and grow in gravel or other mulch, but they should be easier to weed out when there is a membrane between their roots and the soil below.

 

If you have your heart set on a ‘proper’ flower garden but don’t have a lot of time or are just bone idle and can’t be bothered, there are some short cuts and lazy tricks to make things easier. Firstly really do a bit of homework and find the very best, all-round, top performing plants.  So go for the most disease-resistant, repeat-flowering roses and plants which will put on a good show for a long season. Another trick is to grow plants slugs and snails don’t like, thus saving you a lot of time and heartache with slug patrol. You can still grow Hostas but just choose a variety like Sieboldiana which are more resistant. You can also use the porous membrane trick described above to cut down on weeding. Only use bulbs that come up reliably year after year and don’t need dividing very often, so no tulips or iris reticulata – you can use these, but plant them in pots. Similarly only use dahlia in pots, so you don’t have to lift and replant year after year. You can just pop the pots in a shed or frost free spot during winter and then dot the pots around the garden where you want the flowers to be. If you want to grow tender and half hardy annuals and you have no greenhouse and don’t want the faff of seeds, pricking out and potting on use plug plants (order them now). They’re sent at just the right time for planting, and with step by step instructions. You can also sow hardy annuals like opium poppies and nigella straight into gravel and they will come up and survive just fine. Most gardening books and magazines advise adding organic matter to your soil each spring – a great and accurate tip, but they usually specify laborious digging in. I find that this is totally unnecessary. If you make sure you have weeded the soil, you can just bung a load of compost or other well-rotted organic matter on top and the worms and wiggies will work it into the soil beneath for you. You can also save time on staking tall plants by putting in the supports around the plants before they come up. If you don’t mind the garden looking a bit Derek Jarman fire a load of twiggy sticks in the ground around the plants or seeds and they will grow up using the supports as they come along. A famous and well-regarded garden designer I know of never, ever cleared fallen leaves but left them as a ‘natural mulch’ in her woodland garden without any ill effects, though I would advise removal to make leaf mould in the flower garden.

 

So there you go, tips for lazy bones like me, I’m off for a lie down with a book now – happy gardening.hammock2

Falling in love again……

‘Planting and Gardening addes much to the Health and Content of Man’

Moses Cook The manner of raising, ordering and improving forest-trees 1676

I wrote the piece below over a year ago. It is interesting as I really had done a lot more in the garden than I had given myself credit for, which of course I only now realise with the benefit of both hindsight and present observations:

Gertrude Jekyll said in 1899 that ‘the love of gardening is a seed that once won never dies, but grown and grows to and enduring and ever increasing source of happiness’, although I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, it can on occasion, as in every love affair, cause a great deal of heartache, not to say backache. After losing interest in the garden in late autumn and actually – most uncharacteristically for me -falling out of love with it during the winter months I am feeling cheered and galvanised again. I am not sure what it was about last autumn but I have never, ever been so slack in the garden. Perhaps it was on account of the fine weather and lack of rainfall that the demands of watering and staking plants drooping in the heat began to bore me. There were also the competing demands of the come hither and alluring seashore which enticed me away from ever-present and high-maintenance first love.  Never was there such a year for swimming and chatting on the rocks between dips with friends in the long hours of daylight and warm sunshine.  With the callousness of a faithless lover I turned my back on the flowerbeds.  Weeds grew with abandon, stalks drooped, promiscuous plants were left to seed as others shrivelled with neglect and the patch of lawn became a small, yellowing meadow.    By the time the spell was broken by the return to normal meteorological service I felt defeated by the amount of work to be done and decided to leave things until spring. I paid a heavy price for my philandering and had to get down to work extra early. the hellebores sprang from the traps particularly prematurely this year – not just the Helleborus nigra – so called the Christmas rose but all the hybrids popped up, including some plants that I don’t usually see until April. This only drew attention to the scandalous wreckage of the garden, so instead of sitting back and enjoying the early spring I had to get out in the freezing cold and do a lot of the jobs that should have been done months before.   For all of you who worked hard on the autumn tidy up last year, March named after the Roman god of war is, appropriately enough, the beginning of the martial year and the true start of the gardening year when we gardeners once more set to war with nature, attacking slugs and beasties, weeding and pruning and trying to put manners on the garden.

So get out there and smell the fresh air, feel the first rays of thin sunshine on your back, listen to the frogs noisy lovemaking in the pond and fall back in love with the outdoors and get down to your jobs for spring as detailed below!