Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

nasty little buggers

I know. It's not very Zen of me. Live and let live, right?

Wrong! There are pulsating swarms of aphids sucking the life blood out of my (not really mine) blue atlas cedar and they have to stop!

I'm embarrassed I didn't notice sooner. Last week I discovered a sticky patch on the terrace floor and wondered what it was.

A quick glance upward told the story: the sticky stuff was honeydew, a way too pleasant sounding euphimism for aphid poop. Piercing/sucking insects like aphids, adelgids, scale, and mealybug excrete a sticky substance as they feed on plants. Ants often farm the insects, collecting the honeydew and bringing it back to their nests for food. Yummm.

Several branches of the tree are covered in a thick jacket of aphids with a happy trail of ants scurrying up and down over the backs of the insects, whisking away the honeydew as fast as the aphids can poop it out. Except for the occasional drop that falls on the floor, giving away the nasty buggers' location.

Aphids are prodigious procreators, and they do it even faster in hot weather. They can bear live young or lay eggs, and don't require males to reproduce...that's some system. Unfortunately, it's too hot to spray this week, so until the weather cools I'll physically remove them and hope for the best. I vacillate between being totally grossed out by scraping this many insects off the tree and taking pleasure in killing the sap-suckers. I am proud of neither response.

It's unusual for aphids to feed on the bark of a cedar like this. Usually they go for tender, new growth, like orchid buds or new deciduous leaves. Still, there's no excuse for not noticing this problem before it got so extreme. The prancing ants should have been a dead give-away. Aphid removal patrol sounds like an appropriate punishment for yours truly.


Ellen Spector Platt said...

Eeeuw! When you do spray what will you use? Will a strong blast of the hose work?

Frank said...

Eeeeooohh boyeee. Good luck.
Amazing how they can camouflage themselves.

Ellen Zachos said...

OE, I'll be applying a strong blast from the hose on Thursday morning (when the temperature drops a little and I can stand to go outside again). After that, I may hire the big guns to come spray something deadly. We'll see...

Frank, yes! The camouflage is very effective; I cling to that excuse.

SaraGardens said...

I bet you'll win without the big guns, though they did get a heckuva headstart!

Unknown said...

Hi Ellen,

I've found rubbing alcohol effective for cleaning up the honeydew. I've found the garden hose effective. Personally, I don't like to use deadly sprays because they get the "good guys" too. If desparate, I use a systemic insecticide that at least stays with the one plant.

Ellen Zachos said...

Flora, thanks for the rubbing alcohol suggestion. I use that to remove scale and mealybug but hadn't thought about cleaning the tile. A systemic will definitely be my first choice if I have to use chemicals. I checked the tree last night and I think my first spray may have had an effect. Fingers crossed...

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