Growing Concerns 497: Fig pests, bugs, garden forecast

Early Winter!

Alcohol and a shower is a great New Year's cure for buggy indoor plants


Dear Janet,

After I bought an indoor fig tree I started to find purple/white bugs on the leaves and trunk. Then "wart" type growths started growing along the trunk. I've tried spraying to get rid of the bugs but the warts seem to be spreading.


Dear F.S.,

Mealybugs and scale are two common pests of many indoor plants. As they age, mealybugs develop a powdery white coating and scales produce hard shells and become immobile. Both suck on the plant, taxing its energy, multiplying rapidly and producing sticky droplets of honeydew. Both are resistant to sprays because of constant exposure to those chemicals and because of their waxy coatings.

Wipe the whole tree, leaf by leaf and twig by twig, with a rag kept moist with rubbing alcohol to remove many of the insects and all the honeydew. Examine the foliage two days later for shiny honeydew. Look above that for surviving insects and re-swab them with alcohol. Then shower the plant monthly, spraying it first with soapy water and letting it drip for 15 minutes. This keeps remnant populations in check until longer days and stronger light give the plant enough energy to fight back on its own.


Garden Forecast

Here are my weather-related predictions for the upcoming growing season:

Some shrubs and trees will turn up dead this spring...

...even in older plantings. It's a result of cumulative damage from successive years of drought. Establishing new plants will be tough because the drought will likely continue. Think hard before replanting to try to avoid same-species replacements, which are always problematic where the previous plant weakened slowly and succumbed to opportunistic diseases. 

Lawns will be weak and thin...

and sod will be in short supply. It wasn't just your lawn that suffered from the heat and drought. 2002 was the worst sod-growing year in a generation, so sod producers will not have as much to sell.

Spring will come earlier...

this year and in the foreseeable future.The EPA has confirmed global warming and its side effects, such as birds arriving in their summer homes four to five days earlier each year, and plants leafing out three days earlier. Unfortunately, another effect some experts expect with global warming is an increase in extremes -- more sudden changes in weather such as what brings on spring frosts. If you plant early, build in some kind of frost protection.

More foxes, fewer voles...

because voles, plant-eating, shrub-girdling rodents also known as meadow mice, are a favorite food of foxes. Wildlife spotters have reported red foxes now living in every major U.S. city, perhaps because the fox is just that adaptable and perhaps because the coyote's expanse into suburban areas has proven to be too much competition for the foxes.

More butterfly species will be seen.

39 species of butterflies have been reported further north than ever, with climate warming.

Mosquito borne diseases...

will continue to concern us.  Mosquito-borne diseases including dengue fever have been confirmed moving north in Latin America.Please, gentle readers, don't panic and re-institute whole-yard broadcast sprays! Past experience showed us that regular broadcast spraying causes more trouble than it corrects, and has increasingly less impact on the target insects. Cleaning up mosquito breeding places such as old tires and hanging gutters has a far greater impact on mosquito populations, without harming non-target populations such as songbirds and beneficial insects.

Water, in ponds and bird baths, will be even more popular.

Drought may have played a greater part in decreased songbird numbers than West Nile virus. In my yard in 2002 even the hummingbirds were coming to our pond for a drink, the first time in 14 years of pond ownership that we've seen this happen.


Green thumbs up

to shoveling your own snow and noticing where it's deep and shallow. Where it's deep, something upwind is sheltering that area -- plants that need protection will be better there. Where it's shallow, air moves well. Fungus-prone plants that need good air circulation will thrive there.


Green thumbs down

to too many invitations, too little time! We're finding out now when the year's garden walks will be, and don't we all wish we could go soak up ideas from every single one.


Originally published 1/4/03