Bug soup

Bug soup is not for the squeamish, but it is one way to control some annoying garden pests –  think bright red lily leaf beetles, Japanese beetles, slugs, and any other plant pest that can be knocked or scooped into a jar of soapy water.

To start your bug soup, repurpose an empty peanut butter jar, or other wide-mouth plastic jar with a lid. Clean the jar, fill it about halfway with water, then add a small squirt of liquid dish washing soap like Dawn.


Bug soup – an empty peanut butter jar, water, and a squirt of dish soap.

Head into the garden, preferably in early morning or late evening when pests are most likely found, with the jar and a small spoon you don’t intend to use again as an eating utensil. Troll your plants for the pests. Once spotted, remove the lid of the jar, place the jar under the bug and tap or push the bug into the water.

The soap makes it difficult for the pests to crawl out of the water. They soon drown.

Replace the lid – this keeps you from accidentally spilling bug soup as you wander from plant to plant – and continue your search.

Keep your bug soup jar outside, where it’s readily available, so it’s easy to grab when taking a garden stroll. Chuck any stewed bug soup after a few hours or every few days – it gets stinky when left stewing too long – then replenish the jar with water and dish soap, and start over.

If lily leaf beetles are your focus be sure to head to the garden in the early morning when they are most active. Lily leaf beetles are bright red and easy to spot, but they tend to drop as soon as the plant is touched so be sure to place the jar directly under the beetle so it drops into the jar or use the spoon to direct the beetle to its demise. And … don’t forget to search under lily leaves for beetle eggs and the excrement-coated larva. A plastic spoon comes in really handy for collecting and depositing these icky masses into your bug soup.

The same goes for Japanese beetles, nearly impossible to capture during the heat of the day when they fly or drop at the slightest touch but less active early and late in the day. Just hold the open jar under the leaf or flower on which Japanese beetles rest and knock them into the jar. I’ve used this method for over a decade and my Japanese beetle population has diminished quite a bit. No traps … just bug soup.

If slugs are your target, use the spoon to scoop and drop them into the soup. Who wants to touch those slimy bodies with bare, or even gloved, fingers? Slugs are best found early in the morning or evening. For heavy slug infestations consider going on slugfari – a slug hunt, by flashlight, after darkness falls.

Making bug soup is standard practice in joene’s gardens, even our 6-year-old granddaughter joins in. Recently, when I saw her returning my bug soup jar to the outside shelf and asked what she was doing, I heard the most matter-of-fact reply, “Catching a slug, Mum-mum. It was eating one of the strawberry plants so I used the spoon to scoop it into the water.”

If a 6-year-old can make bug soup, you can too.


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Gardening with Deer

Gardening with deer? While doing so takes some effort, it can be done. The keys are to know your foe and, with all good gardening, choose the right plant for the right place.

Before choosing any landscape plant for an area not protected by deer, understand that deer will eat anything when hungry enough, and not all deer share the same tastes. What one or many deer avoid in one garden another individual or group may devour in another garden.

The local deer in my neighborhood tend to avoid plants with fuzzy and/or silver leaves, ornamental grasses, native ferns, most herbs, foxglove, amsonia, nepeta, Siberian iris, lychnis, nearly everything in the allium (onion/garlic) family, daffodils/narcissus/jonquils, low growing sedum, boxwood, bayberry, and some conifers such as white pine, blue spruce, and some junipers.

Perennial and shrub bed of deer-resistant plants.

Perennial and shrub bed of deer-resistant plants.

Local deer occasionally nibble new bearded iris leaves, the very first shoots of Tete-a-tete narcissi as these emerge early, crocus (even the supposed deer-resistant tommasinianus varieties, but only rarely), Lady’s Mantle, and peony foliage (generally either in early spring as they emerge or later summer into autumn), as well as young, within reach foliage of lilac, viburnum, and pee-gee hydrangea.

Read more on how I garden with deer in the heavily deer-populated region of south-central Connecticut by clicking Gardening with Deer, as recently published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust newsletter.

Browsing deer - do you see all three?

Browsing deer – do you see all three?

When gardening with deer you may not be able to plant all of your favorites, without investing in a fenced area, but you can still create beautiful gardens from mostly deer-resistant plants.

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Invasives can sneak into any garden

Three of the most prolific invasive plants in Connecticut – Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose – can sneak into any garden, making it very important to learn how to identify and manage them.

Learn to identify Connecticut’s invasives by studying the information at the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group, seeking the advice of gardener or garden coach experienced in identifying the most prolific garden invasives in your area, and/or taking small samples to a trusted, local garden center for identification.

During this time of year, when invasive shrubs and vines are leafing out, I search for young Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose sprouting in and around bird-popular shrubs and trees. Birds eat the berries produced by more mature specimens of these invasives growing on neighboring properties, then spread undigested seeds via droppings. So … just below where birds like to roost is a good place to watch for emerging invasives.

What I found this week under a bird-popular winterberry shrub growing at the edge of our driveway is a perfect example.

Invasive Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose sprouted under a winterberry shrub

Invasive Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose sprouted under a winterberry shrub

You might not expect this to be the scene of an invasion … but it was. Among young winterberry shoots, different types of sedum, violets, an iris, ornamental grasses, and a dandelion grew three very unwanted plants.

The young Japanese barberry caught my eye first.

Young Japanese barberry

Young Japanese barberry

Then a closer look revealed a multiflora rose and young Oriental bittersweet shoots.

Young Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose

Young Oriental bittersweet and multiflora rose

Without a keen eye and knowing what is what, it’s easy to pass over the bittersweet as emerging winterberry shoots, but closer examination reveals the difference in the leaves.

Now that I’ve found the three invasives growing under this winterberry, I will recheck the area throughout the growing season to be sure no other bird-dropped seeds have sprouted.

Once one becomes adept in how these three young invasives look, finding them becomes easier. Familiarize yourself with the look of young Japanese barberry; note the thorny stems. Moreover, the interior roots are yellow-green.

Young Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose pulled  and left to dry and die.

Young Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, and multiflora rose pulled and left to dry and die.

The multiflora rose has a typical-looking rose leaf and the stems sport classic rose thorns.

Oriental bittersweet can be sneaky, but once you familiarize yourself with the various stages of growth, you’ll become quite adept at -spotting this invasive vine. Leaves on young vines are light green, the stems – with leaves at the very end – usually stand straight up reaching toward the light and the roots are orange.

Do not put these plants in the compost pile. Leave them on a hot surface to dry and die before disposing of them in the trash.

By finding these three invasives early, you can usually pull them out of the ground with roots intact. Once they become larger it becomes more difficult to get all the roots out of the ground, which allows re-sprouting. Still, any location where one of these young invasives has been found and pulled must be re-visited through the growing season to check for re-growth which, of course, requires re-pulling and continued re-checking.

Why bother with all this? All three are highly invasive and crowd out other, often native, vegetation. Japanese barberry is particularly noxious and creates a perfect habitat for disease-bearing ticks. Oriental bittersweet is a vine that will wind around and smother anything. Multiflora rose is thorny and not the nicest looking rose,  grows quickly, and crowds out other vegetation. Plus, these invasives are much easier to eradicate when young, with small root systems. Once any of the three become established they are a whole lot more difficult to eradicate.

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