Invasive species, Insects and July Show Stoppers

As we move into July, there is a lot going on in our gardens in both the plant and insect world. Astrid (Master Gardener Coordinator) began by highlighting concern about one plant in particular, the invasive Dog Strangling Vine. She encouraged us to become better stewards of our land by becoming more knowledgeable about the invasive species in our area and managing them as best we can. With the insect world becoming increasingly active, she shared a positive approach to coexisting with insects. Then, she highlighted Lilies and Daylilies, July showstoppers and explained the difference between the Lily and the Daylily. Finally, as always, there were your questions.

Dog Strangling Vine

Knowing invasive plants and what to do about them makes us better stewards of our land.

Dog Strangling Vine is an aggressive species from the Milkweed family, introduced into our area. Horticultural identifiers include the leaf shape (leaves taper to a point; edges are not serrated) and arrangement of its leaves (opposite). It has tiny pinkish flowers and a seed pod shaped like a tiny banana (mini Milkweed pods). The pod bursts open in a few weeks releasing thousands of fluffy seeds to be dispersed far and wide by the wind. The Dog Strangling Vine has no natural predators. Currently experiments are being conducted with a type of moth from Ukraine that eats Dog Strangling Vine as a natural way to control it:].

This vine has a number of negative impacts. Being in the Milkweed family, it is able to confuse the monarch butterfly into laying eggs on the plant. Unfortunately, when the caterpillars hatch, they are unable to feed because the leaves are toxic. In farmers’ fields, the vines can tangle and trip cattle so that they are unable to get up.

Ontario Invasive Plant Council is a good resource for more information about this plant, how to control it and best management practices. The website is also useful to learn about other invasive species. Another helpful resource is Two apps also help with accurate identification of plants: iNaturalist  (for plant and Insect identification) and . Use both apps to ensure the information is consistent, then research further on the web to make the right identification.

A positive approach to living with insects

As with all living systems, complex interdependencies and relationships exist between insects and plants. For example, ladybird beetles (also known as Ladybirds) eat aphids. Aphids suck up plant juices (source of carbohydrates like sugars). Ants will eat dead and sick bugs and at times even attack live bugs to meet their nutrition needs. In a healthy ecosystem, there is a balance between all living organisms including the so called “bad bugs” in your garden. Your goal then is to try to allow for and build towards the most biodiversity.

Did you know?

  • Ladybird larvae (1/8th to ¼ inch bugs) are voracious and can eat more aphids than in the adult beetle stage. A caterpillar can be your friend in the garden!
  • Squash Bugs eat the leaves of squash, pumpkins and cucumber. Damaged leaves inhibit photosynthesis, and thus the plants ability to make food. Your instinctive response may be to hand pick them (good organic approach, right?) But wait, if you pause and observe a little longer, you will see that Tachinid flies in the vicinity lay their eggs on these squash bugs. When the larvae emerge, the squash bugs become their food. Ground beetles, soldier beetles and damsel flies will also prey on the squash bug eggs.
  • Colorado potato beetles can defoliate potato plants. Again, you may choose to hand pick them, or you can just wait for the two spotted stinkbug which prays on the Potato Beetle – seen here.

The moral of the story is when you see insects in your garden, don’t panic right away. Stop, observe and be patient. Try to get to know your bugs. Given a little time, balance may be restored, independent of your interference. With this approach however, you should build yourself a “buffer” in your vegetable garden, an extra row or two to share. And the more biodiverse plantings (opposite of monocultures) the more healthy the ecosystem becomes.

July showstopper, the Lily

There are two types of Lily, the Daylily (Hemerocallis) and the True Lily (lilium family). Each of these has 6 petaled flowers which are edible. You need to look beneath the ground at the roots to distinguish between the two. There are other clues as well.

The true lily has a bulb, like an onion or garlic. Accordingly, it forms clumps, growing out from the main bulb.  Its leaves are tiny and short and alternate all along the stem. Its stem produces multiple lasting blooms.

The Daylily has a spindle-shaped tuber (swollen stem growing underground) and can spread like a ground cover or be clump forming. As its name suggests, each flower blooms for just one day. It’s leaves a long strap like coming from the base only, not along the stem, like a true lily.

To keep your lilies blooming, snap off the spent flowers at the swollen base of the plant where it is attached to the stem.

For most flowering plants the principle is this:

Plants produce flowers to allow for reproduction through seeds. During seed production,  the plant focuses a great deal of energy (micro and macro nutrients) on this task. Seed formation is the endgame. However, if blooms are removed, the plant will continue to utilize its resources to produce more flowers thus stretching out the blooming time.

Some featured Lilies

  • Turks Cap Lily (Lily) – a 4ft tall plant with recessed petals and  nodding speckled downward facing blooms. While it is not ideal as a cut flower because the flowers face downwards, it is pest free.
  • Hemerocallis “Happy Returns” daylily – a 2 ½ ft tall award winner. It has numerous everblooming soft yellow blooms (starts in early July until the snow flies).
  • Hemerocallis “Fulva” or commonly referred to as ditch lily daylily – originated from Japan and has naturalized in our area. While not native, it is not invasive and is considered naturalized. It is a spreader and is very useful in stabilizing ditches and slopes. It is not everblooming, blooming only in July.

Gardeners note: most daylilies produce numerous blooms in one 3-week window during the growing season. So, when selecting your lily, look for everblooming varieties. Other attributes are blooms above the leaves and strong stems to hold the large flowers.

For some gardeners, daylilies are a passion. There are thousands of varieties of these flowers as well as an international society, breeder showcases and competitions. The price of a single variety can run as high as $ 375.00 for one root. Yes, some people are passionate about daylilies.

Questions and Answers

Can you eat the spent flowers of the Daylilies?

You can eat the spent flowers; however, they are less tasty and have a more mushy texture.  The buds and fresh flowers of the daylily are juicy and crunchy in texture and delicious in salads (remember to remove the reproductive parts of the flower). Other culinary uses include pickling or stir frying the unopened buds. (stir fry just as you would pea pods).

Could you recommend a good book on insects?

Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy is an entomologist who describes what a good insect balance is and how this works in your home garden. His website also has many great pictures.

To identify individual insects, iNaturalist is recommended. You upload a photo and the community can send you their suggestions. You can then follow up with further research on the internet to verify. When looking at insects, some important aspects to note are the size of the head, the shape of the body and its coloring.

An example of an insect recently identified using iNaturalist was the robber fly. These look like bumble bees. Further research showed how the robber fly captures and eats bees and other insects. Because of their broad diet they are considered beneficial in the garden.

I want to start vermicomposting. what is a good source for worms, and info on their care and feeding?

Vermicomposting is Astrid’s favourite way to compost. She has a worm “condo” in her basement all year round. You can order worms from Cathy’s Crawly Composters.  She operates from Toronto and has been in business for over 25 years. Her website provides useful information on how to care for your worms and how to manage problems that may arise. Moisture and feeding, for example, are important. You need to monitor moisture content. Don’t overfeed your worms, and don’t feed greasy animal foods or strong-tasting foods like citrus, garlic or onion. Another possible source for worms is local farmers. At the time of this writing, Cathy Crawly was out of worms but here is another online source: Wormbox

Did you know: Finely chopped vegetable scraps left in an open bowl on your counter will start to decompose “on their own”. Of course, this is not really on their own – there are micro-organisms at work doing the heavy lifting. As the scraps start to decompose, the micro-organisms multiply.  So what do the earthworms eat? The micro-organisms! Their waste, in turn, becomes nitrogen rich compost which will provide nutrition for your plants. Vermicompost is higher in nitrogen than any other type of compost and is extremely nutritious with many other nutrients for gardens and house plants. To extend the use of a limited supply, you can dilute your compost with water and use right away.

I have a question about potting soil. I listen to you talk about microbes, and it seems like potting soil is barren?

Yes, it is if often sterilized and also packaged in sealed plastic bags. For this reason, you need to add mycorrhizal fungi inoculant to your seeds and plant roots when planting. It’s also good to use live compost in the mix and cover the potting soil with a little mulch to feed the microbes in the pot. Any soil in a plastic bag is basically dead. Sometimes, microorganism reproductive spores can survive in the bags and may ‘wake-up’ when the plant roots start to produce root exudates into the rhizosphere (i.e. food for microorganisms).

Would you put worms in an indoor plant?

Yes. Add vermicompost to your indoor plants as a dilution in water. It will feed your plans and may contain worms which can be left in the pot.

Are there any varieties of Lilies that are not edible?

For humans there are no poisonous lilies or daylilies. For cats, however, they are highly toxic. Before eating any plant however, you should take great care and seek advice of an expert. There are for example may plants with Lilly in their name that are not part of the Lillium or true Lilly family. some of these may be poisonous.

I am new to vegetable gardening and accidently pruned the top of a determinate tomato plant. Can this mean death to the plant?

No, this is not a death blow. While cutting the terminal shoot may compromise further growth, hopefully the plant will send out side shoots. Ultimately, any plant needs to produce fruit to reproduce and survive, so there is hope. It depends, however, on how much of the top you took off. Wait and watch. See this as a learning experience. Give the plant the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully, you will still be able to harvest some fruit.

What advice can you give regarding the current heat wave and limited/lack of water?

Lack of rain can have troublesome effects on plants. Worse still is the damage that you can do to your plants by your watering habits:

– Do not: water your plants lightly and often. This encourages the roots of the plants to remain close the surface of the soil. Roots will then become stressed unless watered very regularly.

– Do: water your plants deeply and less often; once or twice a week depending on the soil texture. Sandy soil is more porous and does not hold water well thus requiring more frequent watering. Excessive watering can, however, leach out the nutrients in the soil. Clay, on the other hand, retains water and so you don’t have to water as often. However, a soil high in organic matter can help both soil textures. For example, a clay soil without organic matter will hold on to the water so tightly, the plants can’t use it. The key to healthy soil is organic matter, which retains or releases water as needed independent of the soil texture. Plants in pots will need to be watered much more frequently as container soil is very different in texture.

When you say you should water less frequently for a longer period of time – how long is long – an hour? longer? And how much should you give the plant.

The short answer is – it depends. A general rule of thumb is that you give newly planted shrubs and small trees a 5 gallon pail of water at least once or twice a week depending on your soil. Check that the water has penetrated to the roots and stays there. Do this by digging a 6 to 8-inch hole with your trowel near your plant and inspecting the soil.

On one occasion, Astrid was asked to diagnose a problem with cherry tomato plants that were yellowing. A number of possible diagnoses included too much water, too little water or a fungal infection. After digging down to inspect the roots, it became evident that the soil was bone dry. Once the plants were watered properly, they bounced back quickly.

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Happy gardening!

Reporting by Colette McKinnon, Master Gardener in Training,
Rideau 1000 Island Master Gardeners