Do you have tomato hornworms and are worried about your BLTs? At last count, I have 5 big, bright green, fleshy smooth caterpillars with small curved horns at their rear ends. Since I have no tomatoes on the vines yet, I have been watching them the past few days. They can really chow down, and blend in beautifully with the green tomato branches, despite their enormous size. But this blog is not about tomato hornworms. Have you read the June 21st blog "Summer Solstice Comes Just Once a Year...Duh"? The crape myrtle dilemma is described and the first step to solving the problem had been taken. This blog deals with the actual pulling up of a 25 foot multi-trunk, fully leafed out crape myrtle from its flat out position on the ground, courtesy of Bob the tornado. Read about how Linda Smith and the rest of us take on the crape myrtle, using straps and ropes and one Barney purple Ford Ranger.

25 June 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg and Linda Workman Smith

I could talk about the enormous tomato horn caterpillars that are currently hiding amongst and eating my surviving tomatoes and the Pentas, or mention the unseen munchers of my marigolds and hibiscus flowers, or set traps for the furry bushy tailed critters that are hanging upside down draining the hummingbird feeders as well as the bird feeders.  I really haven’t seen any hummers the past two weeks.

Or while walking past a pile of debris that used to be Hasbell’s house I heard a loud beep, beep, beep.  Clawing around some sheet rock and boards, we found this determined smoke detector gallantly doing its job, still attached to its little piece of intact ceiling. 

Nope, this blog is dedicated to the crape myrtle…..and Linda Smith.  We had a few discussions about what to do about Myrtle, and she drove out to assess the situation.  It was decided a large post should be cemented into the ground to serve as a support beam, as in vertical support against strong winds and gravity, so magic could happen.

The triple board post held together by large bolts was installed in concrete deep in the ground on the 20th of June (refer to the previous blog “Summer Solstice Comes just Once a Year…Duh” posted 21st of June).  Stay with me. 

Phase one:  Assessment.  Done.

Phase two:  Installation of giant stake.  Completed.

Phase three:  Pulling up Myrtle by her boot straps.  Here we go….

We could start with Linda’s original consultation and volunteering her husband’s services before asking him, but we won’t.   But Myrtle did present a problem, and her husband--Linda's not Myrtle's-- loves problem solving.  The analytical part of his mind jumped into action as he figured out the best way to bring the plant upright.  Meanwhile Linda scurried about gathering supplies:  T posts, T post driver, nylon rope, and burlap while her husband gathered tie down straps and the come-along.  They all loaded up in the trusty gardening Ranger and drove over to Myrtle’s house.

My husband had gone out to get polyester rope and looked for something to slide the part of the rope through that had contact with the plant trunks.  We had skirted along the tornado debris piled up on both sides of the road looking for a hose that had possibly been tossed in. We did see broken bricks, cracked windows, wet carpet, and remnants of the former glory days of household goods, but found no hose.   As a backup in case nothing else could be found, he bought a large diameter flexible black septic lateral pipe.  A rope that is used to anchor a ferry boat could have easily slipped through that pipe.

We assembled a shovel, gardening snips, hacksaw, scissors, matches (to seal the ends of freshly cut rope), watering hose and nozzle, the rope and pine trunk sections.  We were ready…..we thought.

The Ranger was maneuvered into position, angled to avoid hitting the piles of dead tree limbs in front of Myrtle.  All of us walked around the horizontal 25 foot long downed “shrub”, looking for places to wrap the burlap that would be the buffer between the trunks and tie downs.  The burlap was inserted around the designated trunks.  The tie down was wrapped around the trunks and ratcheted into place.  The straps were hooked up to the trailer hitch.  Except for the truck slowly moving to the southeast, everyone stood by Myrtle and held their breath.  First the trunks and branches closed together as the tie down tightened its grip, and with a final resistant snap, crackle, and pop, Myrtle slowly began her ascent back up into the air.  As she reached the two o’clock position, the truck was stopped and the tie down was reset and retightened.  We positioned ourselves to each side in case she swung off in either direction.  The truck pulled out further, and Myrtle tried to escape to the east.  Stop.  Linda braced herself against Myrtle while the discussion branched out to “we need another pole to tie Myrtle to, preferably to the southwest.  The first thought was:  dig a hole and plug in a T post stat.  We looked for a good site for the post, but then saw a natural remedy.  A young blackjack oak had been topped by the tornado, leaving a decapitated trunk about 6 feet tall with leaves now sprouting along its length.  It could not have been more perfect. 

A second tie down was wrapped into place, and with some deft ratcheting action, the tree was pulled away from the east.  It was now secured with straps in two directions, the south and southwest.  In order to stand the myrtle straighter, the Ranger was backed up against the myrtle with a doormat used as a buffer between the myrtle and the tailgate.  The truck gently shoved the myrtle straighter until we decided Myrtle looked good.  It was now time to replace the tie downs with the ropes and……the dryer vent hose?

Where is a lousy hose when you need it?  Looking in the trunk of his car, my husband saw the blue hose, one of three used in watering the Japanese Garden.  Eh, it could be shortened, so he cut pieces of blue hose while Linda’s husband melted the rope ends so the rope could thread through the hoses easily.  Two large trunks on Myrtle’s south side were bound by the attractive blue hose/rope combo and stabilized to the triple board post.  Two other trunks on her north side (Myrtle has about 6 slender trunks originating from her base) were tied off to the blackjack oak.

It was now time to remove the "trusty Ranger" and see what happens.  As the truck pulled slowly away, Myrtle stood tall and proud….. in spite of the strong south winds whipping her branches and leaves.  Linda got down on her hands and knees and piled wood and leaf mulch around Myrtle’s base.

We rolled over five slash pine trunk sections, each nearly two feet in diameter, and spaced them around Myrtle, mostly as an anchor for her root system.  Another backup plan, just in case.  I watered around Myrtle’s base, then put the hose into slow drip mode, nestling the nozzle in the depression created while she was being hoisted up.  

We gathered around the Ranger, congratulating Linda’s husband on a well thought-out and executed plan, totally amazed it all came together.  Another small tree was hovering close to the ground several feet from the Myrtle, so rope was looped around it and the little cedar was pulled back up, using the same blackjack as a supporting post.  A third Arborvitae next to the cedar was also nearly horizontal, and it, too, was tied back up to the same sturdy oak.

There you have it.  Today, after nearly 5 days of strong winds, the cemented in heavy triple board post does lean at an angle while securing the crape myrtle from the south side.  That tie up is under a tremendous amount of stress.  We found four more pine sections to put around the tilting post.  The entire affect looks like a mini-clear cut pine forest with this towering crape myrtle waving in the middle.  White ropes connect back and forth to the crape myrtle and the triple post, and more white ropes tie the crape myrtle, the cedar and the Arborvitae to the blackjack oak.  If one goes, they all go.

Bob, also known as the May 19th tornado, decimated so much of the flora in our area; It was a joyful experience to reclaim a small portion of it.

Great job guys.

Oh yes.  Tomato hornworms turn into Sphinx moths, often called hummingbird or hawk moths.  They hover around flowers in the evening, getting nectar and pollinating, a very good thing.  Not so bad, if you can sacrifice your tomatoes for a few weeks while the caterpillars eat prior to dropping to the ground and going into the pupa state.  Two weeks later they emerge as moths, ready to eat and mate. 

I suggest if you have the tomato or tobacco hornworms, try to locate some other plants in the Solanaceae family, such as potatoes, peppers, moonflowers, eggplant or even silver nightshade plants (also in the same family) and transfer the caterpillars to them.  What, you want peppers and tomatoes and potatoes?  Myself, I would gladly put the hornworms on eggplants!