By Rachel Anderson, Certified Professional Horticulturalist
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to tent caterpillars, I’ve had just about enough. They’re everywhere-in my boots, crawling up the side of the house, swimming in the dog’s water bowl and oh yeah, munching triumphantly on nearly every leafy plant in my garden! I’ve stepped on so many of these pests on the patio that there are tiny, fuzzy carcasses everywhere I look. I know, it’s disgusting! But what’s a girl to do? B.t. only goes so far and besides, I really don’t like to spray. Anything. Instead, I like to believe that nature will balance itself out somehow, although I feel like the caterpillars are definitely winning this round. At least, that’s how I felt before my husband pointed out the tiny white dot on the back of the caterpillar’s head.
That tiny white dot the size of a pin head is the egg of a parasitic wasp. The egg will hatch and gain entry to the inside of its host and begin to eat its organs! Yes! Go Mother Nature! I almost feel sorry for the poor buggers. Almost. Now before I squish anymore, I check first to be sure that they haven’t been ‘marked’ (as I like to call it-so sci-fi! I love it!). Tent caterpillars are also very susceptible to many different viruses, and as populations grow and stress is increased, they are more likely to succumb to one of them. As it turns out, I’d say 3 in 5 that I look at have had eggs laid on them and so they escape the toe of my boot, perhaps only to suffer a worse fate, but I’ll leave that up to Mother Nature.
So, here’s what to do in the garden for June. . .
In the ornamental garden:
- Keep up with the weeds! Eat them if you have to!
- Stake tall perennials like delphinium and foxglove.
- Pinch back tall late flowering perennials like asters. This will help make them sturdier so you don’t have to stake them later. I also do this to my phlox even though pinching causes it to bloom a little bit later.
- Now’s the time to prune your rhododendrons and azaleas if you think they need it. Remember, if you prune them hard you may be sacrificing a season of flowers next year. Also, if you never got around to fertilizing them this spring, now is better than never.
- Keep up with the watering of new plantings. Even if we have rain, it’s important to remember that there isn’t a deep, well established root system for new plants to absorb water. They will quickly dry out if you forget about them, which will make them unhappy and you unhappy.
- Continue to put out slug bait; those rascals know when you’re not paying attention!
- Enjoy the beauty that you have created! June is a special time on the cusp of a cool, fragrant spring full of soft green lushness and a warm, dry summer. The garden will change before you know it.
In the edible garden:
- Prune out the flower stalks on your rhubarb. No flowers if you want stalks to enjoy!
- Keep an eye out for ripe strawberries and get to them before the birds! There’s nothing worse than going out to harvest your first berries that you’ve been monitoring the last week or so and then finding out the birds have gotten there first – or the slugs!
- Use slug bait!
- Thin the fruit on your fruit trees if you haven’t done so already.
- Hopefully it’s warm enough outside to put out basil without fear of it melting into nothingness. Watch the night temperatures and use caution.
- Protect ripening berry crops (like blueberries and raspberries) with netting to keep the birds out. This works well to prevent deer browsing as well.
- Keep sowing beans, carrots, and beets for a continuous harvest. You can also continue to sow lettuce and spinach, ideally in an area that gets a bit of afternoon shade. The coolness will help to prevent premature bolting due to warm, dry conditions (hoping we have some warm dry conditions this month).
- Get those tomatoes in the ground if you haven’t yet! When it comes to growing tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest, we need to take advantage of all the time we have available during the season. It helps if the tomato varieties chosen have a shorter maturity span – ideally in the 50-70 day range if you’re growing them without the help of a green house.
- Snap off the flowers of garlic, known as scapes, before they get too tall and elongated. The scapes divert energy from going to the bulb and instead focus it on producing seeds. Don’t toss them though! They’re edible and very tasty-like garlic! Add them to pesto, sauté them in olive oil and even make garlic scape pickles! Yummy!
Gardening is so fascinating! It gets us outside and paying attention. Sometimes we’re given the opportunity to become detectives, making observations and deductions based on what we learn. There’s the pleasure and excitement that comes when a long awaited flower finally opens up or a carefully planned plant combination at last comes together. Those are the things that keep us coming back to the garden, despite the weeds, slugs, blights, and yes, the caterpillars. We can’t help ourselves! I know I can’t!
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About the author: Rachel has been gardening since childhood, thanks to her mom, and has been part of the team at Christianson’s since 2002. She’s a Certified Professional Horticulturist with a passion for roses and vegetable gardening. Rachel and her family enjoy gardening together and now share their urban garden with a menagerie of ducks, chickens, two cats, and a dog.
This article is also linked from the February 2014 issue of Garden Notes, our monthly online newsletter. You can sign up for Garden Notes on the Newsletter page of our website or sign up in person the next time you’re in the Garden Store at the Nursery.