Macremphytus tarsatus, Macremphytus tarsatus, Macremphytus tarsatus. Roll that off your tongue a few times … difficult … frustrating? Explains how difficult it is to control sawfly – the common name for Macremphytus tarsatus, and how frustrating it is to walk outside to peruse your foundation plantings to find your red twig dogwood totally bereft of leaves. And I do mean bereft … nude … free of vegetation … leafless … get the picture?
It seems I have been fighting to grow red twig dogwoods for about a decade now. I was drawn by the lovely magazine and nursery catalog photos of the red clump of branches standing tall while surrounded by blankets of snow. What a cool contrast, I thought. This would look great against a backdrop of blue/gray siding. So I bit, I bought, I buried. I waited, I watched, and after the first snow I was convinced I had found a striking, interesting focal point for one of my front yard beds during winter months. In theory, the red twig would grow to about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, be covered in variegated cream and green – or solid green – leaves in spring, summer, and fall, thus acting as a center shrub on either side of my rather traditional looking house. In theory, these shrubs would be an anchor for summer blooming perennials, and in the winter months their red twigs standing in pure white snow would be a focal contrast to the neighboring rhodies.
In reality, this is all a bunch of bunk! Deer love to eat red twig dogwood leaves in summer – even though they have a rather unpleasant, fuzzy underside. Deer love to eat red twig dogwood stems in winter – particularly when so much of their normal fare is buried under snow. But deer browsing was not too bad. Then I discovered sawflies. These relatively attractive larvae – as caterpillars go – simply crave red twig dogwood leaves. Just when I’m beginning to enjoy the mid to late summer fullness of my dogwood shrubs, the sawflies show up and totally denude the stems.
So a common sense gardener would simply control these pests. I’m a common sense gardener … so I did some research. Control generally means hand picking. Ok … I do this with other annoying creatures like Japanese beetles and slugs. But each dogwood leaf can have dozens of sawfly caterpillars grasping onto the undersides of leaves … every leaf. And, by the time you realize you have a sawfly infestation, it’s too late. The leaves are nearly gone, as you can see in this not too great photo, but you get the picture. Notice those twigs branching off the main stem? Each was once surrounded by a leaf. (I could have spent more time getting a better photo, but I’m done with the whole sawfly thing … I’m just plain annoyed.)
So I think I’ve come to my senses. This yard – at least the foundation bed in front of the house – is simply not the place for red twig dogwoods. This fall I’m digging them up. Rather than chuck them I’ll probably plant them elsewhere and tell them they are on their own – left to ward off deer and sawflies as best they can. If they don’t survive the uprooting, I’m ok with that . Life is just plain too short for annual fights to grow something that simply does not work. Will I miss the winter contrast? Absolutely. Will I seek an easy care, insect resistant, deer resistant replacement? Absolutely again.
But, the bottom line – or I could say the last leafless red twig – is whatever I plant will be easy care, and deer and sawfly resistant.