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Japanese Beetle. Photo: Bruce Marlin via Wikipedia Commons.
Japanese Beetle. Photo: Bruce Marlin via Wikipedia Commons.

Dry weather, pests a challenge in the garden

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It's late June, and time for a check-up in the garden. Martha Foley talks with Cornell Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy about some of the common challenges faced in the vegetable garden. First, it's very dry, despite showers over the weekend. Amy helps prioritize what to water. Second, it's bug season, and there bad bugs, and good ones.

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Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

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Though there has been some recent rain, it’s been a dry spring.  “You really have to go out and look in your soil and see how far down that water got,” said Amy Ivy, horticulturist for Cornell Cooperative Extension. She explained that water is easily absorbed by mulch and by the surface, so it doesn’t always reach the roots of plants. There are some plants that need more water than others in dry conditions, so people who have difficulty watering their gardens can prioritize.

“In the vegetable garden, it's the things that need to make a nice juicy pod like peas and beans, although peas do have deep roots so they can probably gather moisture, but just watch those crops,” said Ivy. “Onions are another big one that do not like drought. And the garlic is finishing off now, it’s actually finishing off a little earlier than normal, but this would not be the time to have it be terribly stressed because you want the bulb itself to not be shriveled.”

“If your garlic is still doing pretty well, you don’t want it to be drought-stressed,” concluded Ivy.  She explained that garlic should be watered now unless it is close to being finished, because drying is part of the natural maturing process it goes through at this time. According to Ivy, finished garlic still has four to five green leaves remaining on the plant. Each of these leaves corresponds to a wrapper leaf around the head of garlic, and harvesting the garlic when all of the leaves are brown is too late. This year, the garlic is finishing early, and Ivy said, “Typically we harvest garlic around mid-July.”

“Put the water where it’s needed,” said Ivy. “Don’t use a sprinkler at this time because you can’t help but water beyond the crop and beyond the row. Use either a slow-soak by hand if you have a small garden and direct the water right to the root zone of each of your crops. That’s the very best thing to do if you can, but it’s hard to be patient enough to let it really soak down.”

Late blight on tomatoes is still an issue facing gardeners, but there have been no confirmations of it in the main part of New York State. There is still some on potatoes in Long Island, and there have been more confirmations of it in Pennsylvania. According to Ivy, a storm from the south could potentially carry the blight to New York. “We’re concerned, but we’re watching closely,” said Ivy. Local tomatoes have started to face the issues of early blight and septoria leaf spot, which are common problems that start at the bottom of the plant and work their way up.

Insects have also begun to appear. Japenese beetles are out and have been causing problems with a wide variety of plants. However, Ivy warned against buying traps for these bugs. “The traps that they sell in every store, everywhere, catch so many beetles. They really do kill a lot of beetles, but the problem is they have such strong attractant that it brings in more beetles than you ever would have had.”

The traps don’t just have one pheromone, which is a sex attractant that brings males in. Japanese beetles tend to appear in masses and have an aggregation scent that brings in other beetles. This second pheromone is also included in the traps. Ivy said, “The Japanese beetle traps are the ones that are too good at attracting the beetle.”

These beetles have become resistant to pesticides and often require hand-picking. “You can try pesticides if that’s the way you like to do things, but don’t be surprised if they’re not very effective,” said Ivy. At times, the beetles need to be removed twice a day from plants. Ivy explained that the easiest way to remove them isto hold a yoghurt cup filled with soapy water beneath the beetles. When the beetles are touched, they drop in defense and fall into the cup.

Many other bugs are also emerging. Another prevalent pest, the adult of a grub that damages lawns, is currently coming out. Though they don’t do damage, they swarm loudly at night. Ivy cautioned gardeners with regards to eliminating pests and said, “Please make sure you know what bug you have. A lot of beneficials are coming out as well.”

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