The Tragedy of the Sawfly and Other Success Stories...

This post was going to be titled "The First Six Weeks of Spring," but recent events with my Northern Lights Azalea have caused the story of our early Spring to be pushed below the fold.

[Our top story tonight...]

On Sunday afternoon, while wandering the garden, I noticed my garden tour (2008) freebie azalea was starting to flower. The flowers were lovely, but it looked like the leaves were being devoured by something. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a couple of green worm-like things crawling on the remnants of a jagged leaf. Then I saw more of them and then more still! (There are at least two in the photo below.)

I wasn't sure what they were, but ran for the only weapon I could find-- Hot Pepper Wax. I doused the shrub in the spicy spray hoping to see the little worms explode. They didn't, but they didn't seem to like the stuff. I did a bit of research and confirmed they were not actually worms, but Azalea Sawflies. More research lead us to order some All Natural 3-in-1 Garden Insect Spray. A few hours later I went back out to see how the sawflies were faring only to find them generally happy and thinking about dinner. Again I drenched the shrub in Hot Pepper Wax.

After work the next day I checked back to find the fly larva continuing their campaign of destruction. I feared they would strip the plant of all its leaves before the garden insect spray arrived. Then it dawned on me... The active ingredient in the insect spray we ordered is rosemary oil which is the same active ingredient in the Bioganic Crawling Insect Killer we had in our kitchen cupboard! Well, I thought, that certainly should do to hold back the bugs until the garden spray arrives. Yet again I covered the plant. While the rosemary oil spray did not make them explode, they did seem the slow down and a few kind of curled up a bit. With the garden filled with the aroma of all natural bug killing oils, I felt confident my pretty little shrub was safe.

As I arrived home the next afternoon, my heart sank. The azalea leaves were completely brown! What had I done?

Only a few leaves are still green. I have no idea if they will be enough to sustain the poor thing through the rest of the season.

[We'll bring you further updates as they become available. And now back to the rest of today's headlines...]

Also in the pests department, the Eastern Tent Caterpillar population has exploded this year. There looked to be millions on the University campus, sometimes they would seem to rain from the trees. I even found half a dozen in my yard around the Ash tree, but haven't seen any tents. Please do not let them get established in my yard!!!

Speaking of the Ash tree, ours is at least 60 years old-- my neighbor can remember when it was planted. Being such a nice tree, I was very concerned about the discovery of emerald ash borer (EAB) in the Twin Cities. I had the tree treated by Rainbow Tree Care, something that will have to be repeated annually. The cost of ten years treatment is about the same as removal, but it would be another forty years before a replacement would be a nice.

Spring came early to Minneapolis this year. With no snow at all in March and unseasonably high temps in April gardens all over were weeks ahead of schedule. By the second week of April not only were all the usual early blooming flowers at their peak, over two weeks earlier than last year, Pasque flowers, species tulips and crocuses...

... but the Magnolia tree was in full bloom over three weeks early!

Not long after, a handful of Yellow Trumpet Daffodils saw fit to do more than just put up loads of leaves. But there was a smaller surprise for dafodills-- the diminutive Tête-à-Tête daffs were lovely (right)! I keep trying to plant tall daffs in hops to have lots of sunny yellow blooms around the garden, but I have yet to see more than half a dozen per year. I have officially given up on having daffs in the spot near the front of the house. Summer two years ago I re-dug the spot to see what happened to the second no-show batch of 25 bulbs only to find nothing there! My third try also resulted in nothing appearing in that spot. At least in other areas I get leaves. Maybe I should try some Tête-à-Tête daffs in that spot.

Other minor bulbs were also very nice this year. (But for some reason I did not get any good pictures of them.) I was happy to see my Chionodoxa, Siberian and striped squill all starting to spread under the apple tree! I plan on buying a bunch more althoughI have recently come to understand squill and the like are considered invasive in these parts! How can that be? The folks at say:

... Sadly, the same traits that make it attractive as a garden plant (besides the vivid color) are also what make it invasive. Large colonies of squill can be seen in the eastern counties of the state, from Duluth to Rochester. There is even an infestation at the University of Minnesota St Paul campus, just a block away from the Bell Herbarium...

I think they are lovely. Where they see an "infestation", I see a nice sea of blue.

Photo taken from the Minnesota Wildflowers website.
© Dan Ondler taken in Oronoco, MN

I did find one squill growing under the Ash tree at least 30 feet away and another single one all the way on the other side if the house in the hosta bed... Hum.

By the third week in April, the darwin and other standard tulips were blooming all over. This is the second year for the darwins (top).

While mainly species and darwin tulips are the ones known for returning, I was pleasantly surprised to see one Greenland, three Queen of the Night, three Monsella (left) and three Angelique Tulips (right, no longer double) all returned. The Monsellas are back for their third year running and this is the second year for the Queen of the Nights (only 3 of 10 returned). On the other hand, the other two took a year to rest before returning this year.

I got a free Gladiator Allium Fall 2008 which was very interesting last year. Wanting more, but not wanting to pay $5+ a bulb, I found a great deal on 15 younger bulbs sold by on eBay last Fall for around a dollar each. The old, full sized bulb has two stems in its second year with blooms around 5" across (foreground). I did not expect the young bulbs to bloom this year, but eleven out of 15 flowered with three inch blooms (background)!

Some other nice Spring blooms:


Barbara Harrington clematis

Bearded Iris, the first bloom of a big Fall planted patch.

Species Tulips


In a bit of cart-before-the-horse, I have a load of plants waiting for their home in the yet-to-be-dug new bed. There's a flat full of plants I got at the Friends School Plant Sale.

A bunch of recent bargains: a grab-bag of 40 lily bulbs from; two large bunches of bare-root Sweet Woodruff and Lamium from eBay; 60 "wild" daffodils, also from eBay; three varieties of Heuchera (Silver Scrolls, Venus and Tapestry),

20 plugs of Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip' and 10 plugs of Sedum 'Red Carpet' from Premium Plant Plugs. The plugs are tiny-- 13/16" X 1 1/4", but the roots look great and the plants are a good size. And they were only $6 for 10! I transfered the Ajuga to five 4-packs to stretch their roots while waiting for their permanent home. In a few weeks they should be as big as the more expensive packs in the garden centers.

Not only that, but I am waiting for a box of several kinds of sedum coming got a big box of four kinds of sedum from my new trading buddy, Lily in Chicago! There's Sarmentosum, Kamtchasticum, Angelina and a big bunch of Dragon's Blood. She also sent me a few daffodils and a handful of green garlic plants. I "planted" about 60% of the sedu in a cardboard flat of dirt to wait with the others for the rumored new bed. I'll tuck the rest of them in around the existing beds this weekend. I repeated the process with most of the remaining Sweet Woodruff.

The waiting area is getting a little full... The cages are for their own protection.

[Finally tonight, a cute animal story...]

Last weekend I had a little company while I was out in the garden. I crept up to take a few pictures expecting he would run off, but he sat tight the entire time I was outside. He must trust me. I keep telling the rabbits to eat the dandelions, maybe this one will take my advice and earn his keep!


  1. I didn't realize who had written this, until I saw the part about the azaleas and the hot pepper wax...

    I will send this so Sister Shields and Harrison. I think they will enjoy this.

    xxxx Most Precious Kitty's mom

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