"Gardening with Experts" is happening this Saturday at Gordon Cooper Technology Center from 9-12. Ten dollars will get you in to hear some pros talk about gardening during these rough times. Aphids are having a rough time in my little plant annex. Want to know about aphids? Read on..

23 January 2013 Blog

Aphid Attack

Early, early stirrings of spring are afoot.  The bird songs are switching to “hello, what is your sign?....or, my what a lovely tail you have”.  My plants that I dragged indoors months ago are in a state of despair.  They are ready to be outdoors with the birds and bees in the fresh air and bright sunlight.  I tell them we still have winter days yet to happen.  They ask me to buy them airplane tickets to the Caribbean.

This weekend the Greater Shawnee Chamber of Commerce Beautification & Enhancement Committee is presenting:  Gardening with the Experts.  It is being held Saturday, January 26, 2013 from 9:00am-noon at the Gordon Cooper Technology Center.  Continental Breakfast and exhibits are open at 9am.  David Hillock, the state Master Gardener Coordinator from OSU will be talking about “Drought Tolerant Annuals and Perennials”.  Linda Vater, writer and garden designer, will present “Creating Successful Garden Vignettes & Small Areas of Beauty in your Yard”.  Our own 4-H educator for Pottawatomie county, Dr. George Driever, will give “Tips for Successful Gardening”. 

Entrance fee is $10.00, and tickets may be purchased from the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce or the  Garden Center at Shawnee Feed Center.  You can’t go wrong in attending these presentations Saturday.  Go and get some helpful hints and great tips for making the garden of your dreams even in this dry time!

Now is a very good time to check your indoor plants, be they permanent indoor plants or were brought in, kicking and screaming, to overwinter inside.  Have they been receiving adequate moisture, or are they too wet or too dry?  Home humidity plummets during cold snaps as the heating system works overtime.  The plants dry out much more rapidly, especially if they are also in sun for much of the day.  On the flip side, some plants prefer to have dry feet during the winter, since they have suspended most activities and require little moisture until spring growth commences.

Know your plants and look at the leaves and stems carefully.  Test the soil with your fingers.  Is it damp, dry, soft or hard as a rock?  I was admiring my dwarf pomegranate today.  Yes, the plant can stay outdoors they tell me, but I was a chicken and brought it inside for the winter.  What were those little green things dotting the ends of some of the new growth leaves?  New green leaves? 

I was amazed the plant had put on new growth.  That will probably be trimmed off early spring to prevent the limbs from becoming too spindly.  But those little green dots turned out to be aphids.  Dastardly aphids.  How dare them.  I retrieved my soap solution (Ivory) from under the sink and washed down the ends.  That was too easy.  Just where had the aphids come from?   I then looked behind the shrub to the Gerbera daisy I had saved from the ravages of cold winds and low low temperatures.  The two orange blooms, gorgeous as they were, had a legion of aphids enveloping the upper and lower leaves as well as the stems.  I may not have checked the plants over thoroughly enough before they were brought in for the winter, as apparently the little buggies were hiding in the petals and leaves.

We both went outside and the daisy had a soap bathwith cold water rinse.  Now one orange bloom remains, and several leaves are now gone.  It has a stark austere appearance, and is still outdoors drying off.  Shouldn’t take too long.  There’s not much plant left.   I hope I remember to bring it back indoors!

The aphid is an interesting micro beasty.  Well over 4,000 species are known.  One species may only prefer one type of plant, while another species sucks dry dozens of different plants.  Plant sap really does not provide a complete diet for aphids.  OK, stop and express a little sympathy for these insects that can cause huge damage on cultivated crops.  They have tiny bacteria (Buchnera aphidicola) that live inside specifically designed bacteria cells made by the aphid, we think. Perhaps the bacteria were able to commandeer certain aphid cells and reprogram them to become hospitable bacteria homes.  Whatever.  The bacteria can break down the metabolic waste products of the aphid and convert it into essential amino acids. Now the aphid is happy and healthy.  Hmmm.

Research guesstimates this bacteria has been present inside generations of aphids for over 150 million years.  Most plants and animals have microorganisms that have evolved alongside and live on or inside them, beneficial relationships or otherwise.  The termite is a fantastic example.  They have protozoa (single celled animal-like microorganisms) that live in their guts to help break down cellulose. You know, your house walls, floor and furniture. The protozoa have bacteria that live on their surfaces to provide digestive enzymes to help the protozoa.  I will not even broach the subject of probiotics and yogurt with their bacteria that many of us consume every day as a supplement to our own complex organization of intestinal flora. 

My favorites are plant diseases caused by bacteria, such as bacterial leaf spot (Pseudomonas sp.) on the favorite indoor plant or the dissolving carrot bacteria (Erwinia carotovora) that digests the pectin between cells, causing a soft rot.  Surprise!  You open up your veggie drawer in the fridge to discover lifeless, limp mushy brown carrots waiting for you to put into your carrot salad.  Another Erwinia species, Erwinia amylovera, is responsible for fireblight on pears and apples.  Hey, the bacteria have to eat too.

No, I am not advocating save all destructive bacteria, but be aware that bacteria are everywhere and usually held in check by other influences.  Things happen when the balance shifts toward one direction or the other. Oh yes, back to checking your plants. 

You may need to reposition some plants for light.  The days are lengthening, and sunlight angle goes higher above the horizon.  An overhanging roof that casts a shadow may prevent adequate light from hitting the plant leaves. Look at the condition of the pots.  Make a list of things to do as spring arrives. 

Need new pots?  Potting soil?  Will the plants stay inside or go outdoors?  Are you prepared for another scorcher summer, and will your plants be in places easily accessible to you for watering and care? Now is the time to prepare for the upcoming spring and summer.  Definitely attend Gardening with the Experts!

I am a pessimist.  I am keeping a bare-bones plant garden outdoors with minimal upkeep this year.  I think we may be thunder-struck by some of the high temps that may occur (hope not!).  Water is already becoming a premium.  It is something we animals and plants will be under huge pressure to share.

Limited water for large populations of people connected to each other by pipes draining down and out all the water reservoirs.  Practice conservation of water.  Catch and reuse, do not waste, be prudent and thoughtful in water usage.  Your plants and all living things will thank you.

Houseplant Care (with a nice aphid picture): OSU Factsheet HLA 6411

http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu /docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-3231/F-6411web.pdf

Other factsheets available at:  http://osufacts.okstate.edu