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Columns

Down the Garden Path: Common Questions from the Help Desk

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

Master Gardener Help Desk emails have really been different the past two weeks. Our early spring challenges have left and along came the first of our summer concerns in the landscape and vegetable beds. The list turned into more than a column’s worth, so I’m going to hit the big ones this week:

Maple trees have seen two kinds of foliage damage that are obvious. We have had tar spot for several years, and some springs are worse than others. This year, a newcomer came to play. It is called maple leaf blister, which is a gall. The gall is not typical, and most would not even see this on the leaf. Both problems start out while certain maple tree species and cultivars are budding out. Tar spots start out as a dime- or nickel-sized spotted circle, becoming completely black, as if someone had dropped a bit of tar on the leaf. Maple leaf blister causes distortion and inner veinal necrosis, leaving the areas between the veins dark and blackened. Leaves will rain down for a while. Neither one requires a treatment; they’re just visually bothersome.

The viburnum leaf beetle can defoliate an entire plant in a matter of days. The insect favors the dentatum types, and lucky for us so far, its range is limited to northeastern Illinois. It is the larval stage that does the real damage by feeding until it will pupate into an adult beetle. The most effective means for controlling VLB is to prune infested branches in the fall. However, reducing the larval population ultimately will reduce the adult population that lays the eggs. Products containing carbaryl as the active ingredient or one of the pyrethroids (cyfluthrin, permethrin, resmethrin) are effective as foliar sprays. In regard to other management options, Cornell University has a very helpful management guide for homeowners. At this time of year, the best option for homeowners who are experiencing defoliation is pesticides. It is important to make sure larvae are present and to make a thorough application so the pesticide comes in direct contact with the larvae. Spraying adults or eggs is less effective. There is some information on the use of horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps at www.hort.cornell.edu/vlb/newtools.html. On any product, always read and follow label instructions.

Lichens, sometimes known as lichen moss, is a combination of algae and fungi, causing a silver-gray crusting or “growth” on trunks and branches. Totally harmless, the lichen only needs a place to exist. It does not cause a branch to die, but it can continue to grow on a dead branch. It does not need any control measures.

Tomato foliage diseases are back as well. Our common foliage diseases on tomatoes overwinter in the soil. Rain or watering will splash soil particles up and onto the lowest leaves and away it goes. From those lower and interior leaves, the fungal spores will spread upward and outward, leaving us with a skeleton of what was a healthy tomato plant. Some precautions include using black plastic as a barrier. Ditto for layers of newspaper and landscape fabric. Culturally, staking or caging gets foliage off the ground, as does growing in containers using a potting soil. Once the disease is established, fungicide sprays are not really going to work.

Hostas and slugs go together like salt and pepper. If you have hosta, eventually you will have slugs, which leave a slime trail to let you know they have been there feeding. Slugs hide beneath the foliage at or just under the soil line in leaf litter and organic debris, out of the sun. They feed at night. There are baits available to manage slug populations if they get severe. Since they hide under cover during the day, you can place flat pieces of cardboard, small boards or even a roof shingle among the hosta. Then, during the day, pick up the pieces and the slugs will be gathered in numbers on the bottom side. Dispose of appropriately, such as placing them in the garbage or feeding them to the birds.

If you are having challenges in the yard, the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners are standing by via email to assist you. Contact them in Kendall County at uiemg-kendall@illinois.edu, in Kane County at uiemg-kane@illinois.edu or in DuPage County at uiemg-dupage@illinois.edu.

• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at http://go.illinois.edu/overthegardenfence.

To get more tips from Hentschel, watch his “This Week in the Garden” videos on Facebook and YouTube.

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