Of Pests and Pathogens: The Rose Slug


I found this cool little critter last week while pruning a customer’s heirloom rose bush. This is a sawfly larvae, otherwise known as a ‘rose slug’. And they’re one of the cooler ‘pests’ as pests go. Check out that glorious apple green color, and those pretty stripes.

Although their larvae are sometimes mistaken for caterpillars, sawflies are in a family of insects related to wasps and bees. Individual species often prefer a specific plant or group of plants. How do their larvae end up on your rose? Well, female sawflies have a nifty saw-like appendage that allows them to cut into leaves and deposit their eggs.

If you see them in your yard know that yes, they are eating your roses. But please keep in mind that they are not a disease, just an herbivore. Don’t break out the big guns just yet!

When unchecked, they CAN do some serious defoliation. BUT you’re not going to let them get that far…

Signs of Sawfly Larvae

  • Holes in your leaves?
  • Soft-tissue of leaves eaten away, leaving translucent, blotched brown parts behind?
  • Little green caterpillar-like larvae marching along the canes or tucked inside curled up leaves?

A few sawfly larvae are no threat to the long term health of your rose. And luckily, they don’t often occur in large numbers. If you find them on your roses, prune off any leaves you find them nesting in. Grab a pair of sharp pruners and a bucket. Clip off curled leaves that might be harboring larvae. I also go cane by cane, and check for any escaped convicts. I usually find a few there as well. Generally, I spend about 10 minutes per rose.

On a sunny day larvae-hunting can be rather pleasant. Give it a few days, and then check again. If you see more, add them to your bucket. As long as the sawfly larvae population is going down, your rose will be a happy camper. And your neighbors will be impressed by your entomological know-how.

Problem Solved…

Okay, now that you’re one with nature and you’ve dealt with those pesky rose slugs in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner (Yay you!) pat yourself on the back and head over to Holly and Flora (awesome garden/foodie blog) for a frothy spring cocktail recipe.

Happy Spring folks!

Hello Garden: Weeding and Winterizing


This one picture is pretty indicative of where our garden is at right now. With a busy September, that involved some harvesting but very little weeding, our little patch was definitely ready for some TLC.


One of my main tasks was to weed the rows between beds which had been taken over by dock, buttercup and other familiar “enthusiastic” volunteers. I also wanted to put down some cover crop and a little straw mulch, to keep the rains at bay and help create good soil tilth for next spring.

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As you can see, I definitely had my work cut out for me. I pulled out the last of our beets and carrots, as well as a little garlic. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that I’m definitely not a winter gardener. Or at least not at this point in my life. Maybe, if I was gardening at home or I got an office job and really, really missed being outside, that might change. But for now, I am happy to put my garden to bed come winter and save the rainy garden days for my clients’ yards.

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Here’s a couple shots of the cover crop seeds I planted. This year I’m trying a mixture with peas and rye among other things. I’m excited to see how it affects the soil nutrition next spring. And of course, am leaving a “control” space of my garden cover crop free. That area I plan to just mulch. It will be interesting to compare soil profiles next spring, I hope to do a mail-in soil test with one of our local labs then.



Here’s the finished work. You can see a few leeks, and our pruned back raspberries in the background but not a whole lot else. Ahhh, it feels good. Now for the other half of the garden….


Ah well, next week! With any luck, this gardener will have things wrapped up before December….

Gardening with Kitty: Grow Your Own Garlic

IMG_20141029_101636Garlic is a pretty low-maintenance crop. It chills in the ground for ten months or so and then rewards you with pungent, juicy cloves that you’ll be tempted to snack on right out of the ground. They smell that good. And they taste even better…

Notice the paws in the picture above? This post was meant to be about planting garlic in a container. But when I went out to my porch, my cat followed me outside to see what sort of hijinks I was up to. And then she proceeded to poke her adorable kitty nose into every shot.

So now this post is about planting garlic in a container and entertaining your cat in the process. For our cat, a morning spent on the porch planting funny, smelly things was great entertainment. If you have a cat, may I suggest including him or her in the fun?

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Garlic can be planted from early October to early November. And for those of you in apartments or condos like me, you don’t have to forgo this succulent allium, it’s all in the soil prep.

Alliums can be susceptible to fungal issues. However, if you provide sufficient drainage and healthy soil, you will be in good shape. Don’t be tempted to dig up some soil from outside. Regular garden soil will compact in a container and hold too much water.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • A container apx. 1 foot wide and 1.5 feet tall, with holes in the bottom for drainage
  • A good lightweight potting mix, if you can find one with coco coir- it is an excellent ingredient that won’t hold too much moisture
  • Seed garlic from a reputable nursery or online seed source- Yes, you can buy it at a grocery store, but it may very likely harbor disease. Also you will need to choose between hardneck or softneck garlic. (I like the hardneck varieties because they tend have larger cloves and be a bit more flavorful. However, the softneck varieties store better and braid nicely.)
  • A good even-numbered organic fertilizer. You don’t want to push too much growth early on here, but garlic likes fertile soil, so you want it to be there when your garlic needs it. And YES please use a complete organic fertilizer. It provides micro-nutrients and secondary macro-nutrients besides the big 3 (Nitrogen-Phosporus-Potassium).

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Fill your container to 2″ from the top. Then poke little holes in the soil about 4″ apart, and a couple inches from the edge of the container.

Take apart your cloves, and try to preserve the papery covering. This will help protect the cloves from rot. Now place them in the soil about 3″ down, and cover back up. Remember, pointy side up!

At this point, following the application rates on the container, you can mix some fertilizer in. And, if your container is somewhere under cover, you want to water a little and keep it evenly moist. (Moist not wet) For those containers on open decks/patios, you will probably have plenty of rain to keep your garlic happy.

And now you’re finished until Spring…


On Fertilizing and Be-Heading:

In the spring, you can start feeding your garlic with a high-nitrogen liquid organic fertilizer every few weeks. I like to side-dress it with a little blood meal or bat guano as well. If you’re growing hardneck garlic, be sure to cut off the scapes when they form. This will re-direct energy back down to the bulb. And besides, scapes are delicious! Around this time, early summer is when I lay off with the fertilizer.

When Do I Make Pesto?

Okay, how to know when the garlic is ready. This is important, if you leave the cloves in the ground too long, they will lose that awesome papery covering that’s so great for storage. But you don’t want to pick too early, or your cloves will be too small. When the leaves start to turn brown, contain your excitement. Wait until there are oh, about six or so green leaves left on the plant. Then you can dig up your garlic and enjoy!

Any questions? Have you grown garlic in containers before? Any hot tips? I’d love to hear about them. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments below…


Grow Love: Organic ‘Like a Boss’


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Hello friends!

And welcome to the first edition of my new feature, ‘GrowLove’. Basically an excuse for me to pick the brains of my favorite gardeners. First up, is my dad Randy.

My dad is the kind of gardener who shows up at family campouts with a cooler full of giant heads of cauliflower, enormous carrots and lush collard greens. His ability to grow healthy and beautiful plants is definitely one that any gardener might envy. He once espaliered an apple tree and a rose bush together on the side of our garage. It was one of the most gorgeous feats of pruning I’ve ever seen.

He’s been a big inspiration and influence on me as a gardener. So when I saw Gayla Trail’s latest ‘Grow Write Guild’ post, I knew he would be someone I’d have to interview. Luckily, I was home over the weekend, so I got to take a few pictures of his current vegetable garden.

Below is a rough transcript of our recent phone conversation, complete with tips for novice composters!

Hey Dad. How’s it growing? (tee-hee)

Hi Erin. I’m actually out in my garden right now. My beans are starting to do good so I’m babying those.

How are you babying them?
Leveling the soil, fertilizing with a solid organic fertilizer, watering and cultivating. I’m careful with that, you know the more you disturb the soil the more you’re disconnecting the mycorrhizae.

Why are you leveling the soil?
That makes it so that the water distributes evenly.

Okay, so what does your garden say about you?
It says I enjoy eating out of the garden. I like helping the environment, cutting down on transportation costs. Keeping things natural and organic. Simplifying. “Simplify, simplify” remember?

What early experiences led to you becoming a gardener?
Well, my dad forced me to weed the flower beds when I was a kid. Also, you know it was part of the hippie days to grow your own food. I was a little bit good at it and I liked it.

Why is it important to you to garden organically? [I had to ask him this question, because I know that gardening organically has always been one of his guiding principles over the years, and he always has such high-performing gardens.]
Because you cut back on using the oil based fertilizer and pesticides that have been linked to some diseases. They’ve only been around for a hundred years. I think of a garden as living with nature, which those synthetic things aren’t. So what’s the point of that? And nature’s so complicated…why slow it down?

What people have been your big gardening influences?
Probably Gene’s dad, a guy I worked with at the lumberyard. I made a delivery to his dad in Orting. His garden was amazing. It went alongside the house all the way from the alley to the street. He had about three fifty-foot rows of kohlrabi. I’d never even heard of a kohlrabi before. And I was like this is awesome.

And then every once in a while, I see an 80 year old with a huge garden, like they really know their stuff and it’s nice to see it in person, not just in a magazine.

I agree, older gardeners are definitely a great source of inspiration.

What got me going recently was taking a biology class and reestablishing my respect for the complexity of biological things.

Like at night, it’s pretty scary with the nightcrawlers.

How so?

Well they stick out their hole, half their body out, just flopped on the ground. When they see you, they slip back in their holes really fast.

That’s so cool! Why are you out in your garden at night?

Catching slugs. I checked for slugs and snails pretty often for the first two months of my garden, twice a day. I threw them across the creek, by the time I got them thinned out, I started using safe slug bait. Not the nasty stuff. But I still keep my eye out for them so I don’t have to kill them. I’ve also got lots of toads. They pop up in the weirdest places. There was one in my fire pit this morning.

Has being a father changed the way you garden?
Well you just try to plant things that your kids can eat right out of the garden. You guys used to go out and pick things when you were teensy kids.

Most of your vegetable gardens incorporate flowers, why?
At first it was because of companion planting, and I like edible flowers too. I like flowers in general. It’s nice if you’re working on the garden so much to have some flowers to look at. And it attracts bees and butterflies.

Any tips for novice composters? [My dad’s been composting for as long as I can remember, and always produces large amounts of beautiful black and rich compost that he uses generously on the garden. I think this might be one of the secrets to his giant vegetables.]

You know you can order a free pamphlet on composting from the government.  I like ‘Compost’ by H.H. Koep. [This may be out of publication but here’s a useful how-to guide that I found online] There’s different ways to make compost, you don’t want to have too much dirt. About 20% at most. I like to use lots of weeds, use those whenever possible, grass clippings are good. When you bring out your kitchen waste, mix it in good. It’s important to turn it. I move my compost and keep it watered all summer. Manure’s good, maybe 10% or so.

My compost piles are usually about seven feet wide, and six feet tall. It reduces down to about 5 feet tall. Make it as long as you want. I usually turn it in over the fall. Mainly I use stuff out of my goat pen, or from gardening customers. You might have to go out of your way to get good materials, if you’re working on your garden a lot, you may not have a lot of weeds. But it’s worth it.

Awesome. Dad thanks so much for talking with me today!

Thank you Erin. Good luck with your garden!



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