Pest Control

Beneficial insects make garden pottery

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While watering my garden when I noticed some small, gray brown forms on a twig of a new hypericum bush. The branch looked dead and I was thinking of pruning it off.  I looked closer and saw what appeared to be tiny pots formed as if with a tiny potters wheel and glued to the stem of my new plant.  I wondered how on earth they had gotten there, or what kind of creature had put them there.

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As I poked around and snapped a few pictures there was a small dark, mud dauber looking wasp, circling around in the alstroemerias nearby. Wondering if this was the insect connected to the small structures, I took a step back and watched as she hovered closer to the Hypericum bush. She seemed to be carrying something. I watched closely and she flew up to the top clay pot looking structure, the only one that didn’t have the top sealed over, and she put a wiggly little grub worm into the hole. What the heck was going on here?

And so of course I turned to google. What I quickly identified was a Potter wasp, Eumeninae. Possibly Eumenes fraternus, but I'm not sure they are supposed to live in my area.

A species of beneficial insects, similar to mason bees and sometimes called a Mason wasp. They are totally non aggressive, as I found with the one circling in my alstroemerias waiting for me to move always from her brood structures, the correct name for the tiny pots on my Hypericum stem.

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It turns out the Potter bee, or wasp, helps the garden by collecting and caterpillar grubs and larvae that would otherwise eat our veggies and flowers and uses them to create a food supply for her larvae.  Paralyzed and sealed inside her perfect little brood nest pottery structure.

It is the female potter bees that make these perfect little earthen structures. They tend to be loners, not having a hive mentality.

Looking at pictures online made me feel most impressed with our garden buddie’s fine-tuned skill. This potter bee made such perfect smooth little pots the ones online looked coarse and chunky by comparison…maybe she likes my soil.

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Despite my sensitivity to bees I decided not to prune away the stem. The momma bee came back and created and sealed a fourth brood chamber. The scientific name being from the Latin root Eumenes, meaning “well-disposed, friendly, and gracious”, I can hope her offspring are as docile as she is and they will be welcome beneficial predator in my garden for seasons to come.

I planted the Hypericum berries to experiment with the success of a new plant varieties that are bring modern cutting gardens into our home gardens, and by accident I learned they create habitat for beneficial garden insects, talented ones at that!

Is a weed just plant that's been misjudged?

The difference between a weed and a plant is judgement- Unknown author

I love the tea bags with the little quotes on the tag, but I keep getting this one and it bugs me! And no, I am not just being judgey, this was on a test I took some time while working on my horticulture degree.

 Scarlet Pimpernail (shown here) is a toxic weed that immitates garden perennials, it also tries to pass itself off as chickweed which is a common weed plant that is ebible and medicianal

Scarlet Pimpernail (shown here) is a toxic weed that immitates garden perennials, it also tries to pass itself off as chickweed which is a common weed plant that is ebible and medicianal

There are specific plant behavior adaptations that make some plant species weeds.  For example, weeds are highly adaptable plants, they are characteristically non-fussy plants, they can thrive in a wide range of environments and they have the ability to reproduce or self propagate at exceptionally high rates. Weeds are super survivors of the plant word. They are fierce! Not only are they not fussy about soil and nutrients, they are strong competitors that vie for the nutrients we put out for our less lively cultivars.  They will out compete you pretty flowers and lush veggies, they will rob them of key nutrients. Of course, saying that I am obligated to tell you the opposite is also true, some weeds improve the soil, like clovers and oxalis and vetch all fix nitrogen on their root nodules and help to add to the soil. There’s a balance to all things, still I think a garden full of vetch is not efficient nutrient management system.

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A weed species of buttercup on the lower right, is trying to blend with the reseeding hellebore cultivars.

Weeds are sneaky too, sometimes they really amuse me because they make it easy to see how crafty plants can be. They will change their appearances and characteristics to blend with and look like the garden plants they grow among.

There is another common definition of weeds, that they are Plants Out of Place. I totally agree with this when it comes to a tree seedling against a building foundation, but I have trouble when it’s alyssum jumped out of a flower pot to grow in the side walk cracks

Plantain plant

Plantain growes just about everywhere in North America and is an instant cure for bug bites and swelling

Weeds are incredible plants, their adaptability has aided in human survival. One of my favorite common weeds is plantain. Plantain grows anywhere the soil is stripped bare or exposed, and has done so since the earliest European settlers arrived in North America. I love plantain because it is one of the first plants I used medicinally. I was taught to chew up a little piece of the leaf and put it on bug bites for relief. I have been doing this since I was five. Plantain reduces swelling, helps restore and repair skin tissue and soothes stings. Many weeds have medicinal value and it is too often lost information instead of common knowledge.

 Dandelions can tell you about nutrient deficiencies, while being a great source of micronutrients for the enthusiast forager.

Dandelions can tell you about nutrient deficiencies, while being a great source of micronutrients for the enthusiast forager.

Weeds speak to us, they talk about the soil and the environmental conditions even when out of season. Weeds species existing in an area can help us learn what we are dealing with in the ecosystem when planning a garden, for example dandelion’s often grow in soils depleted of calcium, dock grows where the soil gets wet and boggy, and as we already know a garden full of oxalis has plenty of nitrogen and the builder probably dumped a bunch of subsoil under that patch of plantain in your back yard.

 Area once overcome with weeds is wildly planned with Erigeron and Valarian. It makes a much better display then the weeds that took over before.

Area once overcome with weeds is wildly planned with Erigeron and Valarian. It makes a much better display then the weeds that took over before.

Weeds can also tell us what will survive. If a lot of weeds are reseeding themselves try planting various reseeding plants that provided more competition to the weeds.  Plants like Red or Pink Valerian, Centranthus rubra or Santa Barbra Daisy, Erigeron karvianskianus or Love-in-a-mist, Nigella can be used to this end. They are also plants that could fall under the hammer of weed judgement.

Where ever your weeds fall in the spectrum, it's good to take a look at them and find out what they are try to figure out what they are telling you. Knowing what you're dealing with is half of the battle, it will give you the key for finding sustainable balance in your garden.

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