Fighting the spotted lanternfly: Don’t use sticky traps outdoors

The spotted lanternfly can destroy grapes, peaches, hops and other crops. (Courtesy Virginia Cooperative Extension)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that the sightings were in Virginia.

Spotted Lanternfly update! I just spoke with Virginia Tech entomologist Eric Day about the confirmed sightings of this invasive insect in Frederick County, Virginia.

He explained that their favorite plants in the area — the so-called “Tree of Heaven” — have either been eradicated or treated with a systemic insecticide to keep the lanternfly numbers as low as possible. Which is ecologically fine, he explains, as the Tree of Heaven is not pollinated by bees, so no collateral damage there.

The same cannot be said of another method of control being actively promoted. Many garden centers are selling large rolls of sticky paper to wrap around trees, but these sticky sheets have trapped a lot of wanted creatures as well — bats, birds and pollinating bees. So don’t jump on that bandwagon. (A wildlife rehab facility just sent me a photo of a young red tailed hawk trapped in the stuff — chilling!)

Right now, just look for and destroy their egg cases (which look like splattered mud) and report all sightings.

Please report sightings of the spotted lanternfly in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. The site is technically for Virginia, but D.C. or Maryland findings will be sent to the appropriate state or federal agency for their area.

(See last week’s plot for lots more info on this invasive insect.)

Deflower your tomatoes!

October is now “the cruelest month,” because it’s my sad duty to tell you that the summer crop season is officially over.

  • Pull off any new flowers that form on your peppers, tomatoes, zukes, cukes and such — there just isn’t enough time left for them to become viable fruits before frost comes a callin’.
  • Maybe even pull off baby fruits to try and coax bigger ones to fully ripen.
  • The shorter hours of daylight even make it a good idea to just start bringing green tomatoes and peppers inside; just let them sit out at room temperature, and fully grown fruits will slowly color up.
  • Go all the way and pull up the old spent plants, and you’ll have room for pansies and salad greens — both of which love growing in the cool air of fall.

How much rain have we had, garlic lovers? I got moss growing on the north side of my leg!

Have you planted your garlic yet? The best time to do so is considered to be “the first day the kids go back to school.” Well, those kids have been failing tests for a month now, and my garlic is still waiting to go in the ground! Why? Wet soil.

Garlic cloves want water, of course. But like most plants, they want to dry out in between waterings. And it’s just asking for neck rot and other problems if you plant them in sodden soil to begin with. (If I had planted my poor cloves at the “correct” time, they would have been drenched with 127 inches of rain by now!)

So I’m still waiting until the ground is nice and dry to plant my garlic. If you have also been waiting — or procrastinating, which is the professional form of waiting — don’t worry. There’s still time. Single cloves planted soon will still develop into nice full heads by the end of June next season. But can we get that dry stretch before Halloween?!


Don’t prune roses now — unless you don’t like them

Lynn in Rockville, Maryland, writes: “My roses have gotten really tall and gangly. And tall. Is this a good time to prune them?”

No, Lynn. It is pretty close to the worst time. Pruning stimulates new growth. Pruning in the fall stimulates that growth just as the plants are trying to go dormant, sending their energy down into their root systems in advance of winter. Pruning now disrupts this natural move to dormancy and can greatly stress the plants in question.

Even worse? Pruning next month, when that lush new growth could freeze solid when a really cold night follows a mild day.

The best time to prune roses and other summer bloomers is in the spring, about two weeks after new growth appears.

The dead of winter is also fine, but don’t prune too low down on the plants or you’ll expose the crowns to severe winter injury. Leave at least a foot or two standing.

How to eat Fig Newtons

Lynn in Rockville writes: “I have a fig tree whose main branches died last winter. It grew back up from the ground into a huge plant, but it put out its figs very late in the season. There are numerous small green ones that I don’t think will have enough time to ripen. How do I prepare the tree for a good harvest next season?”

Figs are “half-hardy” in our region, Lynn. Left unprotected, the top growth will often die back over winter while the roots survive. But without some top growth to get things started, there isn’t time for the plant to produce enough biomass for it to then produce a ripe crop of figs.

Fig-perfect directions:

  • Do not prune the tree.
  • Drive some stakes into the ground and wrap burlap around the stakes — not around the actual tree.
  • In the spring, remove the burlap, trim back any dead wood and get ready to make Fig Newtons.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at MikeMcG@PTD.net.

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