Con­trol­ling mealy bugs and test­ing the soil

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - GARDEN - By Ellen Nibali

I have a gar­de­nia that I keep in­doors dur­ing cold weather. For a long time it has not bloomed and I see a white pow­der where it is sup­posed to form buds.

In­side that waxy fluff are mealy­bugs. They are tough to con­trol and if you have valu­able plants near the gar­de­nia, the mealy­bugs can move to them. It’s usu­ally eas­ier to sim­ply toss in­ex­pen­sive plants than try to elim­i­nate the mealy­bugs. This is be­cause their eggs are en­meshed in waxy fluff and thus rela- tively wa­ter proof. Like- wise adults and nymphs can be cov­ered in wax and ob­scured in plant nooks and cran­nies where it is dif­fi­cult to get thor­ough pes­ti­cide cov­er­age.

For this rea­son sys­temic in­sec­ti­cides may of­fer the most re­li­able con­trol be­cause they make the plant toxic to feed on rather than re­ly­ing on a con­tact in­sec­ti­cide. If a con­tact in­sec­ti­cide is used be pre­pared to re­peat the ap­pli­ca­tions two or more times to kill nymphs that hatch from pro­tected eggs and adults or nymphs hid­ing in plant tis­sue. If an in­fes­ta­tion is dis­cov­ered early enough on a few cher­ished house plants, the mealy­bugs may be re­moved by a cot­ton swab dipped in al­co­hol or fin­ger­nail pol­ish re­mover. Keep an eye on the plants for a few weeks to make sure no mealy­bugs are over­looked.

Putting house­plants out­side over the sum­mer where preda­tory in­sects can at­tack a pest in­sect on your plant some­times pro­vides the best pest con­trol.

Gar­de­nia’s can be finicky bloomers, and in­sect in­fes­ta­tion low­ers the plants’ vigor, but there are many rea­sons why they don’t bloom. Bud drop is the most fre­quent com­plaint. Some con­tribut­ing fac­tors are: lack of uni­form or ad­e­quate soil mois­ture, low hu­mid­ity, too warm or too cold, in­suf­fi­cient light and rapid tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions. The last can re­sult from bring­ing a plant in from cool out­doors to hot in­doors. Search “mealy­bugs — house­plants” on the Home and Gar­den In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter web­site.

How do I de­ter­mine what type of soil I have in my new gar­den?

The three ma­jor min­eral soil classes are: sand, silt, and clay. They are based on par­ti­cle size. Imag­ine the rel­a­tive sizes be­ing com­pa­ra­ble to a bas­ket­ball, a golf ball and the head of a pin re­spec­tively. Soil type — known as “tex­ture” — is de­ter­mined mostly by the rel­a­tive per­cent­ages of sand, silt and clay. For ex­am­ple, a “silty clay loam” will have more silt and clay than sand.

You can de­ter­mine the type us­ing your fin­gers. When you rub soil be­tween your fin­gers, the sand feels gritty, the silt feels like flour or tal­cum pow­der, and the clay feels sticky or greasy when wet.

All soils can be pro­duc­tive. To im­prove them, add or­ganic mat­ter on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. A soil test will tell you nu­tri­ent lev­els in your soils, not soil type. How­ever, some soil test labs will per­form a me­chan­i­cal anal­y­sis, for an added fee, to de­ter­mine soil tex­ture. It’s a good idea to get a soil test done be­fore you start us­ing your gar­den, and now is a good time. Search “soil test­ing” on the Home and Gar­den In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter web­site for a video of how to col­lect the soil sam­ple, what to test for, and how and where to send it.

Univer­sity of Mary­land Ex­ten­sion’s Home and Gar­den In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter of­fers free gardening and pest in­for­ma­tion at ex­ten­sion.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Mary­land’s Gardening Ex­perts” to send ques­tions and pho­tos.

UNIVER­SITY OF MARY­LAND EX­TEN­SION/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Mealy bug eggs shown in the waxy fluff on what should have been the bud of a gar­de­nia.

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