Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lilies, Oh My Lilies!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A great morning here at Vermont Flower Farm and a good day to get out and visit nurseries in your area. Flowers are popping right and left and even though we have had some strong winds and hard rains of late, things look great. Today's weather is much improved over yesterday. I spent ten hours on the tractor on our new property on Route 2 and I'll be heading back there in a few minutes. Yesterday was one of those "coat on, coat off" days. The 42 degrees at 5 AM took a long time to get to 60 and every time the cloud cover moved in, we were back to wind and low fifties.

Karl the wonder dog and I made our 5 AM walk this morning and were bothered that a young deer, only one, decided to visit the lower hosta garden for a late night/early morning snack. Two hostas I really like were on the menu: Rascal and Alex Summers. A few others such as Inniswood and Revolution lost a leaf or two.

I tracked the deer through the peony garden and into the back field. It spent some time finding a piece of fence that looked like it had a big enough space to scoot under. As soon as the fawns are able to run with their moms, the deer head to our hosta heaven and try to find leaves that I haven't sprayed with TreeGuard. It's a great product but not worth much when it's still in the jug. I have been too busy to spray but that has to happen by nightfall. Hostas turn into "deer lettuce" this time of year and you have to keep the deer from thinking it's the best eating crop available.

Before I head out of here I want to ask that you go out today and check all your lilium. If you know Gail and me, you know that we have grown tens of thousands of lilium over the years. We have dozens of customers who have better collections than we ever had because they purchased and cared for new bulbs from Vermont Flower Farm. The current problem is a big one so please listen and look well.

As our climate changes, our lands our invaded by more and more insect life from afar. In 1992, a very destructive, small red beetle, the lily leaf beetle, Lilioceris lilii, entered the east coast at Boston. This picture from the University of Rhode Island isn't the greatest but try for some other pictures.

Our insect communication was not all that good because the beetle actually entered Montreal in the mid forties, fifty years before we might have shared that information. It immediately began its migration south and east. The various lily listservs I subscribe to have now documented the bug in all parts of the US east of the Rockies and now through Nova Scotia.

The reason I am mentioning this beetle today is that the beetles were visible three weeks ago and by now, the first set of eggs have no doubt hatched and the larvae should be obvious if you haven't taken any counter measures. Here's a larvae picture I took last year.

If you do not eliminate the beetles and the larvae by either hand picking or some chemical or organic means, this is what your stem of lilies looks like in short order.

So the question is "Control". The research funded by the North American Lily Society resulted in a recommendation of a parasitic wasp. That's fine but it's questionable if the wasp will live in Vermont and similar climates and production never even started. The second recommendation was Neem oil spray. This works well, is very expensive and has to be reapplied several times. A friend of ours in Burlington has been using dormant oil spray for years and even though he lives in a well established pocket of lily beetles, he has never had a problem.

I followed friend David's suggestion and went one step further and bought a light weight dormant oil with a built in fungicide and miticide. Remember, this stuff is made for fruit trees and people in the industry only know it as being used for that. I sprayed early after seeing a few beetles which I presumed probably had already layed some eggs. To date there has not been any hatch and if there was, the oil prevented the eggs from developing. Is this accurate? I think so, but we have lots of gardens and I only sprayed the lilies I saw on the first passing. To continue with the study, I have sprayed gardens of two friends. One is a half mile from here and one is 3.5 miles from here. One had noticed beetles, one had not. Neither has larvae yet. I also gave some oil to a friend in Morrisville and it appears to be working there too.

Please do some careful inspection today and if you find beetles, please let me know. Sevin has been recommended but that is a spray which kills the good bugs and beetles too and I am a butterfly man so I'm reluctant to get carried away with that stuff. A friend in White River said the price just went up as the announcement of the beetles ran in the local paper. Similar stories abound. A month ago, another friend asked the Dept of Ag to comment and they kind of did a "what beetle?" response. That would not be the case today. So-o-o-o if you want some good looking lilies like this Uchida (below) do a through inspection and formulate a control plan today.

And since this picture just came through from print it off and put it on the fridge. With luck, it will be the only one you'll see. Unfortunately, I fear for the worse as I think this beetle is here to stay.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a trailer of canoes and kayaks just went by--probably heading out on the water to check on the loon population. As for me, I heading into the garden and then out onto the tractor. Enjoy your gardens, stop by for a visit! Ask us a garden question!

George Africa

Have you checked


julie said...


Hi. I saw your name on the links in Meeyauw's blog. I want to tell you that I love your photos. I love Vermont even if I haven't set a foot, much less a hair on your country, LOL! I'm just content reading about it (and other New England states) through magazines and sites like yours.

Thanks and have a great week!


David said...

They're showing up all over here in the Champlain Valley.

Last year, I was able to control the problem with frequent applications of neem oil, which I don't find terribly expensive -- especially if you get the concentrate and mix your own. I use it to control aphids and keep roses free of blackspot.

This year, I couldn't bring things under control with neem oil and tried imidacloprid, a systemic. It definitely did the trick and I haven't seen any beetles or larvae since then. Still, it would be nice to have effective, earth-friendly options.

Anonymous said...
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Julie said...

Hello! I'm so happy to see a Vermont garden blog. However, not so happy to find out that I too have have this lily problem in Richmond, VT. Who knew? (I'm pretty new at this.) Is there anything to do at this late date? How about for next year? Thanks! Julie

Julie said...
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George Africa said...

To Julie from Richmond, Vermont, and gardeners everywhere--lilies are beginning to open at Vermont Flower Farm but my concern for the lily leaf beetle only heightens. The use of dormant oil is working very well and we have not seen any hatch of larvae this season. That is encouraging. The beetles do fly very well and apparently from long distances. How many hops it took to get here from Montreal (beginning in 1945) or Boston (1992 confirmed sitings) I do not know.

If you enjoy lilies I would recommend that you use the dormant oil spray through this season. If there is already a successful hatch of those disgusting larvae then it's a personal choice of hand picking or using a caustic chemical like Sevin or a grub control applied to the base of each plant. I have already given thoughts on that. My choice would be to carefully cut off any lily stem that displayed beetle grubs and place in a trash bag and send to the landfill. Just consider the season a loss and try to gain control for future years. You have to be very careful and watch as the darn things drop off at first sight of any motion, a hand coming towards them, etc.

I need to write to the North American Lily Society again and see if we can get some $ back into the research stream.

Julie and other gardeners close by, please stop by and see what we have for lilies. This weekend is Hosta Days, where I run around explaining to people how to grow great hostas and giving advice on colors, size and sunshine. Gail offers her world famous blueberry coffee cake and evryone smiles. Karl the wonder dog just looks out the window and barks at customers with strange voices.

Come visit!


Julie said...

Thank you, George. I will certainly visit. Julie (Richmond)