Bunkey’s bad day revealed [UPDATED]Published 9:55am Tuesday, May 29, 2012 Updated 11:58am Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Bunkey was mowing his lawn when, horrors, he saw a white mass in his chokecherry tree. It was the nest of an Eastern tent caterpillar.
He grabbed his glove, pulled the tent from the tree and squished it.
His next step was to walk through his windbreak. It was planted for the birds and was mostly crabapple, chokecherry, plum and Nanking cherry — all trees that the tent caterpillar would be found in.
Check your fruit trees for these leaf destroyers. Go out, either early in the morning or at dusk when the critters are all in the nest.
If you are too squeamish to squish them by hand, you can tear a hole in the tent and spray them. Spray the trees with B.T. just in case you missed one. B.T. paralyzes caterpillars gut so they starve to death.
It only works for insects and caterpillars that chew on leaves. Birds that eat a poisoned bug will have no ill effects.
Not only does Bunkey have to deal with caterpillars, some of his lilacs are dying. They were planted by his grandfather in the 1940s and have had little care, consequently, most of the middles of the shrubs are dead. It is hard to believe that the common lilac is anything but bullet-proof.
One sees lilac bushes and peony shrubs still thriving long after the house they were planted near has fallen into a heap.
To keep them looking their best, they need to be thinned of old stems every few years. If they have gotten so tall that you need a stepladder to pick the blooms, the best renewal is to simply cut the shrub to about a foot high. Now you can easily remove the old, dead stems, clean out any trees that have sprouted in the hedge and clean up the litter that tends to accumulate around a too large lilac. If they don’t need anything quite that drastic, just prune them.
Lilacs are properly pruned like any other shrub or tree. Remove any dead stems, any crossing and rubbing limbs, and water sprouts. Next years’ blooms are set in July, so do your thinning and pruning in February and March, to preserve that spring’s blooms.
Lilacs are prone to root rot, especially if they are in a low spot. Ideally, they are on high ground in full sun and in poor soil.
Root rot thrives in wet soil and cool damp weather conditions. It is a fungi, spread by wind and rain. It enters lilacs through their roots, causing them to decay.
Symptoms are leaves that fade and die, dieback of branches, crown discoloration to a red/brown color. There is no cure. Since the fungi stay in the soil, never plant lilacs in the area that has had root rot. Most other shrubs are resistant to the fungi.
Moral for the day, go on a squishing patrol of your fruit trees and be nice to your lilacs with proper pruning.
Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.