Late Night Terror For Foliage

Snails and slugs really crave hostas.

Snails and slugs really enjoy all the new seedlings and fresh foliage that is growing in the garden while the soil is still damp from earlier rain, and the weather is getting warmer. They are neither too smart nor too fast, but they are very hungry, and do their damage at night when no one is watching. They hide before the sun comes up.

The same lush foliage that they eat is also where they often live. However, they also live among lily-of-the-Nile and some ferns that they do not damage very much, as if they think that no one will look for them there. They also hide under any sort of debris and in valve boxes. Removing such debris and unwanted weed foliage diminishes their habitat.

Pieces of damp cardboard intentionally left out in cool and damp spots in the garden overnight can attract snails and slugs as they seek shelter in the morning, and then be flipped over during the day to collect and dispose of the surprised snails beneath. It is sneaky, but effective. People who happen to be up late can hunt for snails while they are out and about. Otherwise, hunting for hiding snails and slugs by daylight takes a bit more diligence.

Saucers or plastic lids containing puddles of beer is supposed to keep snails and slugs out drinking until they get roasted when the sun comes up. The problem is that the beer gets washed away whenever the garden gets watered. Besides, it does not really kill very many victims. Salt around the most susceptible plants likewise gets washed away, and can be toxic to the plants that it is supposed to protect. Keeping water in drainage saucers below potted plants is a problem for drainage, and allows mosquitoes to proliferate.

Copper tape that can be purchased from nurseries or hardware stores is an effective barrier for snails and slugs, but only if the susceptible plants are completely surrounded, and only if leaves or stems that extend over the copper do not touch anything outside. Copper tape can be self adhesive or stapled to wooden planters. Bare copper wire is just as effective. If wrapped around tree trunks, copper tape or wire should have some slack to allow for growth. An extra bit of self adhesive copper tape pressed against itself to form a tab that it can be pulled apart as needed should work well. Copper wire only needs a small loop of extra wire.


Dead wasps are the best wasps.

Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets that get established within landscapes or buildings are a serious problem. They are not so easily avoided like those out in the wild are. They are aggressive to people and pets who get too close to their nests, and attack with painful stings. Such behavior is unacceptable within the publicly accessible landscapes at work.

There are a few species of wasp, hornet or yellow jacket here. We do not get sufficiently acquainted with any of them to actually identify them. Our priority is eliminating as many of them as possible from the landscapes. Some get trapped. Others get evicted from the few nests that we locate. It is unpleasant work, but it is better than others getting stung.

Wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, or whatever they are, become more of a problem later in summer. They are just getting started for now. We were surprised to find two subterranean nests in a landscape that is in the process of being cleared for renovation. More surprisingly, they were only eight feet apart. Whomever they were, they should have been more territorial than that.

Since they are just getting started, there were not very many to get aggressive when we got too close to them. There were scarcely enough to follow as they entered and emerged from their nests. They were surprisingly easy to kill. The first nest was quite small. The second nest was a bit more concerning. We dug both out as the last few visible insects were dying.

The picture above shows a few waffle-like layers of the larger nest. Empty cells were likely left by the adult insects that were flying about and trying to defend the nest. Other cells are full of larvae that would have matured to many more of the same!

Another One Bites The Dust

P90825If this looks familiar, it is because it is the second big camellia to be killed here in the same manner in not much more than two months. The damage is not fresh, likely because the gopher that caused it started chewing on the roots as soon as the other camellia was removed. The other camellia succumbed about two months after a similarly damaged cherry tree was removed.

We are now concerned for a remaining third camellia in the same spot, as well as others in the vicinity. There is also concern that the gopher may take interest in something else, such as the birches. We would typically find and destroy any gopher that causes such problems. The difficulty here is that the area is thoroughly covered with a dense layer of Algerian and English ivies.

All evidence of gopher excavation is obscured. Even if we could locate such excavation, it would be very difficult to cut through the thicket of ivy without collapsing the tunnels that we would need to put the traps into. It would be excellent to get rid of the ivy as well as the gopher, but that would be a major project for another time. As voracious as gophers are, they don’t eat ivy!

For now, we can only watch the adjacent camellia and other camellias in the vicinity for distress. Of course, by the time a problem is noticed, it will likely be too late to do much about it. We could only apply blood meal, and hope that it works as a repellent. These camellias get blood meal as fertilizer anyway, so would only need more applied off schedule and around the trunks.

The remains of the deceased camellia were removed from the site, and respectfully interred into the green waste recycle bin.

Plant Problems Are Sometimes Exaggerated

04It is not easy for wild trees to adapt to a refined landscape. After a lifetime of adapting to their native environment and dispersing their roots to where the moisture is through the dry summers, they must adapt to all sorts of modifications such as excavation, irrigation and soil amendment. Newly installed plants grow into a new landscape while some mature trees succumb to disease and rot.

Oak root rot is such a common disease in California that there are only a few places where it is not found in the soil. It is not often a problem to new plants, but often becomes a problem to mature trees that suddenly get more water than they are naturally adapted to, particularly if roots have been violated, and the soil has been amended to retain more moisture. Change is not always good.

However, many of the same trees that are so susceptible to oak root rot if the environment around them changes can be remarkable adaptable as young trees. California sycamore happens to be a riparian tree that naturally grows near water. Although old trees may not adapt well to change, young trees planted in new landscapes will adapt to the water that is available as they mature.

California sycamore trees that are adapted to landscape or lawn irrigation are not likely to be bothered by oak root rot until they get old. Realistically though, any old sycamore is susceptible to oak root rot. The only difference is that those that get more water mature faster, so get old sooner. A California sycamore tree planted into a home garden may live only one century instead of two.

Verticillium wilt is another disease that can be found in most places throughout California. It is notorious for severely disfiguring and killing ash trees and many other plants. However, it needs moist soil in which to proliferate. Because lawns are irrigated so frequently and often excessively, ash trees in lawns are innately susceptible to verticillium wilt. In situations that are not irrigated so frequently, newly planted ash trees can mature into healthy shade trees.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back To The Park –

P80722You would think that those who maintain the County Parks would be prepared for anything. They nearly are. They know how to deal with gophers, moles, voles, weeds, flooding, all sorts of unpleasant weather, and of course, spontaneous limb failure of massive trees. They apparently did not plan for this one.
This improvisation with a bit of dirty old plywood and a felt marker certainly does not imply that they could not handle the situation. They merely lacked a sign to warn those in the Park to avoid the area where the now exterminated yellow jackets had started to build their subterranean hive. Some brave person already attacked the hive with a can of insecticide that can be sprayed from a distance, waited for returning yellow jackets to die, and finally dug the hive up. The sign is only there because of the possibility that some yellow jackets might return much later, and that those who could return may not die now that the excavation of the hive mixed soil with the insecticide.
This was NO simple task. Yellow jackets and wasps are NASTY! I found it necessary to exterminate a hive of wasps just last summer. Wasps do not pursue their assailants so aggressively, and the particular wasps that I exterminated were not so numerous. I am certain that it was considerably more risky for whomever sprayed and dug the hive that was below where this warning sign is now.
When yellow jackets and wasps are flying about and annoying people, but their hive can not be located, it is sometimes necessary to put out traps. These traps are particularly useful in trees that are infested with scale or aphid that excrete honeydew that attracts wasps and such. The instructions that come with the traps are rather amusing. They include a rather extensive list of the various species and varieties of wasps and yellow jackets, with pictures of their distinctive coloration and patterns, so that they can be identified. I do not want to get acquainted with them. I just want them DEAD!P80722+

Weeds Want To Get Ahead

80411thumbWeeds always seem to have unfair advantages. While we pamper so many of our desirable plants to get them to grow and perform, weeds proliferate without help. They survive harsh conditions, inferior soil and some of the techniques we try to kill them with. They do not need much, if any water. They broadcast inordinate volumes of seed. They grow fast enough to overwhelm other plants.

This is the time of year when most weeds really get going. Like most other plants, they like the warming weather and moist soil of early spring. Many bloom and sow seed before summer weather gets too warm and dry in areas that do not get watered. Some that happen to be where they get watered may perpetuate second or third generations through summer! Weeds really are efficient!

However, the same pleasant weather that allows weeds to grow so efficiently also allows us to come out to work in the garden. The same soft rain moistened soil that the weeds enjoy so much also facilitates weeding. It will be more difficult to pull weeds later when the soil is drier, and roots are more dispersed. It is best to pull them before they sow seed for the next generation anyway.

Most of the annoying weeds are annuals or biennials. Some are perennials. A few weeds might be seedlings of substantial vines, shrubs or trees, like privet, acacia, eucalyptus or cane berries, especially the common and very nasty Himalayan blackberry. Cane berries have thorny stems that are unpleasant to handle, and perennial roots that must be dug. They can be very difficult to kill.

Tree and shrub seedlings should be pulled or dug out completely. Except for palms, most regenerate if merely cut above ground, and are very difficult to remove or kill the second time around. It is no coincidence that they tend to appear in the worst situations under utility cables and next to fences and other landscape features. Birds tend to perch in such spots as they eat the fruit from around large seeds that then get discarded, or as they deposit small seeds that were within small fruit and berries that they ate earlier.

Timmy in the Garden


Tim Buck II, pronounced like ‘Timbuktu’ in Mali, but known simply as ‘Timmy’, came to live with us while he was just a baby fawn. Mr. Tim Buck Senior left Mrs. Buck to raise little Timmy alone as a single mother. Mrs. Buck then vanished, leaving little Timmy enfeebled on the side of Highway 9 south of town. No one knows what happened to Mrs. Buck. She might have been hit and killed by a car. She might have been eaten by a Mountain Lion. Somehow, she was not there to raise little Timmy.

Traffic was stopped on Highway 9 as little Timmy staggered about, either anemic, or starving from the absence of Mrs. Buck. He could barely walk, and certainly could not bound up or down the steep hillsides to leave the Highway. Most of us who stopped knew that he would not survive, and just accepted it as part of nature. However, we could not just leave him there with a few concerned children also stopped in the traffic with us. I loaded him into the back seat of the pick up and took him with me so that the children would think that he would be taken care of. I expected him to be deceased by the time I got home.

Instead, like a scene straight out of ‘Tommy Boy’, Timmy survived. He got up and was looking at me in the rear view mirror. Now what? Barbecue? I took him home to ask the neighbors.

That was too much help. They gave Timmy goat milk and groomed him of ticks, and a within a few hours, Timmy was bounding about the yard and playing with Bill the terrier, and Melly and Chewy the two cats. By nightfall, the entire herd wanted to sleep in my bed!

Timmy grew very fast and consumed quite a bit of goat milk. He craved more than milk though, and started eating my roses. (This was later in spring.) When I yelled at him to stop, he just looked at me quizzically, and continued eating. The roses did not last long. Timmy then ate the leaves off the fruit trees. Then he ate some ornamental grasses. There was not much that Timmy would not eat. When I tried chasing him off to eat in the forest, he just came right back to play with his friends and eat more of the garden. When I kept the door closed, he just came in the cat door and found his way to my bed. When I took him across the creek and down the road a bit, he just followed me back.

The funny thing is that everyone liked Timmy! He was so nice and polite, even as he destroyed the garden. That was a very bad year for gardening!

By the following spring, Timmy was spending almost all of his time out in the forest. He had depleted everything in the garden, so needed to go farther out to find vegetation within reach. He had grown very fast into a tall and lanky young buck. I slowly resumed gardening in early summer, with only minimal nibbling.

I sometimes wonder how Timmy is doing. I am pleased that he is no longer in my garden. I can enjoy growing roses again. The only thing I enjoy finding in the rose garden more than a nice healthy rose is a bitten off stub where there was about to be a rose.


P80304Coons are not much of a problem in the garden; but they can be a problem around the home. They scatter trash, eat dog and cat food, and can be dangerous to dogs and cats. They get into places we do not want them, including basements, attics, and even our homes. Once inside, they can cause significant damage.

That is why they sometimes need to be trapped. No one wants to do it, but it is sometimes necessary.

One problem that we did not consider when putting out a trap for a coon who was getting into the trash was that we might not actually catch the offending coon. Actually, not catching the coon was not as much of a problem as who we caught instead.

Pepe got to the trap first.

Pepe was none too happy about it.

Neither were we.

You see, Pepe, who is difficult to see in the picture, is a skunk.

Normally, skunks are more destructive to gardens than coons are. They dig grubs out of lawns, but damage the lawns at least as much as the grubs do. They pull out freshly planted seedlings because insects tend to congregate right underneath. Although they are good at controlling some types of plump insects among tough perennials, they are not very careful about getting to the insects that they pursue in more sensitive young plants and vegetable gardens.

However, this was in a situation where landscaping is minimal, and there is no lawn. Skunks had not been a problem . . . until now.

Once in the trap, we did not know what to do with Pepe. No one wanted to get close enough to open the trap. We could not leave Pepe trapped without food or water. Because Pepe had been harmless, we could have released Pepe on the spot, but instead decided to relocate Pepe nearly a mile away, on the far side of Zayante Creek, where there is more insects and water. It was a good distance between us and Pepe, but not so far that Pepe could not return if Pepe wanted to.

I got close enough to the trap to cover it with a trash bag, and then put the covered trap into a trash bag so that it was wrapped almost all the way around. Surprisingly, Pepe did not seem to mind the procedure, and watched calmly. The bagged trap went into the back of a pickup, and was taken to the relocation site. Of course, no one came with me to help.

Once at the relocation site, Pepe did not want to leave the trap. I had to literally dump Pepe out; and then step aside PROMPTLY. Once on the ground, Pepe, who had seemed to be about as big as a big kitten unfolded into a huge fluffy skunk with a big fluffy tail! I have no idea where all that fluff came from!

I had guessed that Pepe would be thirsty from his incarceration, and would be in a hurry to get down to the brambles near Zayante Creek. Instead, Pepe just stared at me sadly. I tried to explain the situation to Pepe, but my French is lacking. Apparently, Pepe did not understand.

As I turned and started to walk back to the pickup, Pepe ran past me and got there first. Pepe stopped at the open door, and looked back at me as if requesting help getting in. This was not good. I stayed back, which annoyed Pepe, who had been a good sport through this entire procedure so far. Pepe sort of hopped about with his fluffy tail flailing, as if frustrated that the floorboard of the pickup was just out of reach.

I tried to explain in English and really bad French with maybe a bit of Italian and Spanish mixed in where I could not remember the words, that the relocation site should be satisfactory. Eventually, Pepe seemed to agree to give it a try. Pepe slowly waddled away and downhill to Zayante Creek. In the second picture, that black and white blotch to the left of the roots of the alder tree is Pepe, looking back at me sadly.P80304+

What Is Killing The Box Elders?

P71004Remember our concern about the mistletoe? ( You might think that everyone would be pleased to see it gone. Yet, there is the concern that whatever killed the mistletoe might kill something else. That is what happened when the SODS killed so many coast live oaks after being ignored for a long time in the tan oaks. We were aware that the tan oaks were dying, but because the trees were so unpopular, we were not too concerned about it.

Now the box elders are dying around Felton. It is hard to say how widespread the problem is because it has not been investigated yet. Like tan oaks and mistletoe, the native box elders are not exactly popular trees. They do not even make good firewood. We only use them as firewood to get rid of them. However, when so many are die, it leaves big holes in the forest canopy. This is not really a problem, since the forest will have no problem filling the holes in, but it certainly gets our attention. Will the disease or insect pathogen that killed the box elders kill something else next?

The trees seemed healthy as they defoliated last autumn. They were bare through winter when the San Lorenzo River came up higher than it had since 1982. A few box elders got taken away by the River, along with all sorts of other riparian trees from the flood zone, but that is to be expected. Then, after the River receded, many box elders that were in the flood zone did not foliate in the spring. A few foliated, only to have their new foliage shrivel and die shortly afterward. Some of the dead trees became infested with boring beetles. All of the dead trees deteriorated rapidly through summer, and some have dropped big limbs or fallen over.

What is happening with the box elders could be completely normal, and caused by an endemic pathogen; but it makes one wonder. There are so many new insects and diseases being brought in with plants arriving from all over the world, without any regulations to limit the spread of such insects and diseases.P71004+