Mornings in the garden

Are you among the gardeners who make morning coffee strolls through your gardens? I am. Not only is this a wonderful way to begin each day, but you can observe so much by quietly wandering among your flowering and edible plants. Just you, a wakening cup of coffee, the birds, and bees and other pollinators.  With sharp eyes and ears, and no other distractions, you pick up all sorts of details you might otherwise miss.

I often carry along pruners and a bucket to collect yellowing leaves, deadheaded plant parts, clippings and weeds.

This morning’s tasks included removing spent blossoms from the last of my blooming iris ensata (unknown variety),

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the earliest of my blooming daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Happy Returns’),

Daylily Hemerocallis Happy Returns 6 Thumb

and whatever spent blossoms I found on Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ and assorted annuals.

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I tended to potted tomatoes, removing yellowing leaves and suckers on the indeterminate varieties. (Unsure how to prune tomatoes? Read Fine Gardening’s  great article)

While tomato tending I spotted a couple of holes chewed in one small tomato leaf near the lower region of just one of my potted plum tomatoes.

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Being curious … and knowing the telltale signs of trouble … I flipped the leaf over. There, munching away was a very young, quarter-inch long, hornworm.

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There are no signs yet of other hornworms which, when mature, have voracious appetites and will defoliate a tomato branch overnight. But you can bet a ripe tomato I’ll keep a close watch for others.

I found just one hornworm last September, when it was quite a bit larger, had already had a good sized meal of one tomato branch, and had left its telltale droppings.

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I’m leaving this year’s youngster alone for now – watching and waiting to see if  parasitic wasps decide whether it’s a worthy nursery. If you see a full grown hornworm with multiple white oblong-shaped structures on its back leave it in place. A parasitic wasp … a garden beneficial … has chosen the hornworm as the ideal home and early feeding ground for baby parasitic wasps.  This is good.

Inexperienced veggie gardeners may freak at the sight of their beloved tomato plants literally munched to stems by hornworms. Daily tomato inspections can prevent severe devastation. You have to check the undersides of each leaf and along each stalk since hornworms are really talented at blending into their surroundings. Control them with handpicking or … if squeamish … use my favorite icky garden creature control method. Partially fill a coffee or juice can with water then add a couple of squirts of dish soap. With a gloved hand, a wooden popsicle stick, a plastic spoon or similar tool, knock the icky creature – slug, caterpillar, Japanese beetle, etc. – into the soapy water. They drown.

But, before disposing of all hornworms  take some time to really check this creature out.

tomato worm close up, macro

They can be quite beautiful when viewed with the right frame of mind and with a photographer’s eyes.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry

12 comments for “Mornings in the garden

  1. July 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    So far, I have not seen any tomato hornworms, but I inevitably get at few at some point in the season. Your photo at the end of a more mature one is fascinating. They do look a bit different from a photographer’s eye!

    • joenesgarden
      July 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Sage Butterfly: my husband took that photo last year. I love the blue background.

  2. July 4, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Joene, I have always been a morning person, and my morning tour of the garden is one of my favorite summer rituals. My beverage of choice is tea, but the process looks very similar, including secateurs and a container for deadheads. My Happy Returns daylily just opened its first flowers yesterday, heralding the beginning of daylily season.

    • joenesgarden
      July 4, 2011 at 9:24 pm

      I’m a morning person too, Jean, so spending mornings in the gardens starts my day off perfectly. Don’t you love Happy Returns … their extended bloom and perky yellow blossoms?

  3. July 4, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I tour with coffee in hand in the early morning, but deliberately without tools. I “force” myself to look, enjoy, and take it all in. Later on, with tools and gloves, I’ll make the rounds to check on plants close up and fix things. Mornings are for strolling and enjoying the whole scene!

    • joenesgarden
      July 5, 2011 at 9:43 am

      Laurrie, I usually make one round with coffee and no tools, or coffee and camera then, like you, return for round two with tools.

  4. July 4, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    that catt is cool

  5. July 7, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Joene, that last shot is beautiful, if a little frightening! Sadly, I’ve missed quite a few coffee strolls with the business of moving, but you remind me it’s an excellent way to start the day – I’m going out now 🙂

    • joenesgarden
      July 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      Enjoy your current gardens as often as you can, Cyndy. Soon your memories will be what reminds you of what you created.

  6. July 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Oh my, that last photograph, although beautiful…gives me the shivers! Our last garden was overrun with tomato hornworms. Eventually, we ended up with an orphaned duckling, and once she grew up she’d follow us around the garden in the hopes we’d throw them to her 😉 It is amazing how much damage they can do to the fruits and the stems though.

    • joenesgarden
      July 8, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      Curbstone Valley Farm,
      So sorry to hear of your hornworm problems. Hornworms are definitely a pest to aggressively watch for and control … as your experience shows.

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