Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Scale Insects

Almost 20 years ago now we were heavily into growing lilium of every variety we could find. We  were gardening in Shelburne on the shores of Lake Champlain and we had found a gardener in Cabot who had started growing Asiatic lilies. We knew nothing about lilium and went to the man's home. I'll never forgot driving to the house and spotting him sitting outside in a chair enjoying the day. We walked over, introduced ourselves and chatted for a while. "Lilies are in the garden, shovel and boxes in the shed. Dig what you want and put the shovel back." We bought a box full at some absurdly inexpensive price and away we went. We didn't know at the time that within ten years we would be selling the most potted lilium in New England and that by 2006 we would have made a giant decision not to grow them any more. The reason for the change:  because of the arrival of the lily leaf beetle that entered Montreal in 1945 and into Cambridge/Boston in 1992.  It took that many years from two directions for the beetles to reach Vermont.

 Adult lily leaf beetle

Larvae exit the soil and eat their way to the top of the lily stem in about 2-3 weeks.

If you  are familiar with the lily leaf beetle you know it's an insidious beetle, 3/8" long, bright red in color, and it squeaks if you try to squish it. It has great eyesight and if it sees a hand coming its way, it rolls off the plant and onto the ground to hide. In the springtime the beetles appear consistent with the ground-breaking approach of the lily stems and in short order the lilies grow taller but the beetles grow more prolific.
Hungry beetles defoliate the entire plant and over a couple years the bulbs decrease in size and die

Lily growers began writing about various chemicals that they used with success while others mentioned hand picking the insects every day. Neither approach was feasible when you're growing thousands of pots. Chemicals made no sense to us because our son faces each day with autism and environmental involvement with chemicals prior to birth is still researched as a possible cause of a diagnosis that never goes away. As such we sought other solutions.

One day a devoted gardener from Burlington stopped by to purchase his annual collection of new lilium. He mentioned using dormant oil spray by accident on his lilies while spraying some fruit trees for scale. He said the organic character of the spray pleased him because he raised honey bees too, and although the spray required fairly regular repeat spraying, it suffocated the insects at various points in their life cycles. Once we tried the horticultural oil (mixed it with Dawn dish detergent as a sticker) we never looked back. It worked. Not 100% but it was inexpensive and environmentally it was a good choice. The key was repeat spraying and the time involved was what made it clear that we should not sell lilium at the flower farm when we moved. We knew that at our new, more visible Route 2 location we would be selling bazillions of lilies and the time element of keeping them insect free just didn't fit with a 5 acre, two person business. 

So in 2018, lilium are history with us although we miss them dearly. They are a very important part of the American floral industry and as such introductions hit the market with new colors and new names all the much so that I don't even know the names any more. But the key to me mentioning this floral journey is the use of hort oils and insecticidal soaps which worked so well on the lilies and are used regularly by orchardists growing almost any fruit that grows on a tree. And one of the big issues with trees and shrubs is scale, another insidious insect that does not receive enough attention. So-o-o if you have a chance to learn about scale and have found any on your property, read this little article on treating scale. It appeared in a recent issue of the GrowerTalks Newsletter by Ball Publishing. If you have any questions, write or call. Read on!

"Oil or soap for scales?
Scale insects are my specialty. These’re tough little buggers to kill. Systemic insecticides work great for some species, but not for those that feed on woody tissues. Sprays work best when hatchlings (or crawlers) are coming out from their mamas’ shells.
For years I recommended horticultural oil and insecticidal soap for sprays, and thought they worked equally well against all species. A recent article by Cliff Sadof of Purdue University and his graduate student, Carlos Quesada, in HortTechnology (October 2017, volume 27, page 618-624) shows me that I need to update my recommendation.
Carlos and Cliff did a series of lab and field studies on two armored scales (pine needle scale and oleander scale) and two soft scales (calico scale and striped pine scale). Oil and soap, both applied one time at 2%, killed 67-93% of crawlers of all four species; that’s a pretty good level of control. But both oil and soap became less effective as the scale insects settled comfortably and grew. Spraying oil or soap against adult scales was as good as spraying water. No surprises so far. The basic recommendation still applies: You need to spray against crawlers to achieve the best control.
Here’s the good part: In the field studies, oil was more effective against settled armored scales, whereas soap was more effective against settled soft scales. Who knew there are differences between oil and soap on which group of scale insects they are most effective against? I didn’t!
Carlos and Cliff speculated that the difference arises from the chemical properties of the chemicals and the scale insects. Both oil and soap kill mainly by suffocation, but, chemically speaking, soap is polar (so it likes to stick to another polar object) and oil is non-polar (it is repelled by a polar object). As armored scale crawlers settle, they produce a waxy cover over their bodies within three days. Most soft scales, on the other hand, do not usually produce a thick wax layer until adulthood. Wax, being non-polar, reduces penetration of polar soap but allows penetration of non-polar oil. Skin of soft scales is polar, so soap sticks and penetrates the layer more effectively, thus doing a better job of killing soft scales.
Fascinating, isn't it?!
What about those soft scales that produce plenty of wax when they are babies, such as the wax scale? Perhaps oil works better in this case? I don't know; I will need to find out. More research!

Big, fat adult female oak lecanium scale is a common sight on oak trees in the spring. Good luck trying to kill these ladies! Kill their babies instead."

Writing this morning from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the moon is bright and the temperature just above zero.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
On Facebook as a personal gardening page, George Africa, and as a Like Page, Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens
Twitter every day!
At the nursery from Mothers Day until Columbus Day, 7 days weekly.

Sunday, January 28, 2018



Here we are in early 2018 and I already seem to be far behind on everything. Despite an immunization in October, Gail caught the flu someplace she volunteers at during the winter and that pretty much changed my plans for the past couple weeks. Alex and I are fine. Things are finally coming around with her and anything above zero degrees has been a “warming trend” for us. Hope you have stayed healthy and your gardens did well for you last year.

Gardeners must love competition as every gardener I know competes with the weather and with nature. There’s nothing we can do about the weather although we should try to learn from what we see from year to year. Making notes of temperatures, sunshine, rain, snow depths, wind, and floods, is a start. I used to keep a weather and garden journal but now I do things online. Sometimes I would make entries like these below. I mention keeping a journal, as along with birdwatching it forces you to think about your gardens and what you want to purchase/grow/plant come spring. It also will get you through winter faster and with a bigger smile, less gloominess!

Trying to remember what spring is like from year to year serves as reminder to how things grew (or didn’t) or what and when you need to start more tender transplants from seed. I’m sharing a few entries I made over a few days from 1997-2001 just to give a hint of how it works.

January 29th, 1997. -23° wind chill at noon when I was in Burlington, then off to -17° outside at the Vermont Farm Show in Barre. Really blowing when I headed home. I stared at a beautiful piece of apple pie that had just been judged at the show. I wasn’t alone!

January 29th, 1999, Cold and sunny all day. About 4” of new snow here, 5.6” in Burlington. Yahoo bought GeoCities for $3.9 billion. I’m home with a bad virus. 46” of snow at the stake on Mt Mansfield. When I feel better, I’m going to take cuttings from some red geraniums I carried over last October in the cellar. Maybe three dozen.

January 31, 1999. Seed order came yesterday from Johnny’s. I want to grow more delphinium this year and think I ordered too much. Var. Pacific Giant. Will grow some 3 foot tall celosia like we did in Burlington for the farmers market. Probably bought too much of that too. Broncos beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl. -15 ° this morning. Then it warmed to +20 °

Simple entries such as these bring me right back to where I was those years and help me remember plant variety names I struggle to remember.

The other competition gardeners feel might come from their “people” neighbors but certainly from the critters of the forests or wood lines that adjoin their property. You’ll have some better luck controlling animals than the weather but it can still be tricky. Every summer the two biggest concerns gardeners ask about when visiting our flower farm are deer and woodchucks. When you live in Vermont there are no shortages of either. Before we started to grow flowers on Route 2, I encircled the entire property in Tenax fence mounted onto 10 foot pressure treated 4X4’s. Back then the company was in Italy but now it’s here in the US. It is easy to find on lots of websites but remember to start with the tall stuff as deer really can jump. Some companies will pay the freight on the 300 foot rolls so shop around to learn how to put it up and what size you need. I cemented the 4X4’s in the ground so there was 8 feet above ground but there a number of variables involved in soil type, size of stones in your soil, wet swampy areas, etc. As for woodchucks I don’t want to get into Fish and Wildlife laws but there are some. I have relocated some woodchucks that I caught in Hav-a-hart traps baited with cantaloupe or watermelon. It works very well but read up on the process and be careful so when you’re finished you have fewer woodchucks but the same number of fingers….. AND  not a skunk!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where winter 2018 has made a serious start. Be well!

George Africa, Gail and Alex garden seasonally on Route 2 at Vermont Flower Farm just west of Marshfield Village. They are good at answering your questions!


Go Vertical

It’s a quiet morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. The rain gauge measures 0.43” of rain since 8 PM but the 35.2° temperature kept it as rain, not the 6” of snow it could have been. Yesterday Alex and I closed the gates at the flower farm for the last time this year after bringing home all the tools and equipment that need a little attention this winter. The impending holiday season keeps us all busy but the winter days that follow provide ample time to clean up the items that make our garden work easier, change oil and spark plugs where necessary, and get things in order again. Give it some thought after the New Year.

I have always enjoyed incorporating taller plants, trees and shrubs into our landscapes so for those who know me, it’s not a surprise to hear me suggest “Go Vertical”. In today’s garden designs, our aging population more often starts with smaller gardens to provide good color but easier maintenance. Adding some “vertical” can make smaller gardens appear larger while adding more color and texture afforded by edible and non-edible shrubs, small fruit trees and conifers we might not have considered before. When taller perennials are added to the mix we can extend our bloom times and color mixes and probably receive a few of those “How’d you do thats”.

Smaller conifers are often overlooked because they tend to be more expensive to purchase, are slower to mature, and are not commonly available in Vermont on the retail market. Green Works, the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association ( offers a member list which can point you in the right direction once you have an idea of what you would like to add. A membership in the American Conifer Society ( can also help. Almost every year I buy in something new to add to our gardens and offer for sale to customers until they are sold. In recent years I have added an arborvitae named North Pole that is eventually a 10-12 foot tall, 3 foot wide, dark green column the deer seem to avoid. I have contrasted it with a smaller, yellow arborvitae that’s also column shaped, in the 6-8 foot range over time, named Filip’s Magic Moment. To add some holiday red, I use one of the many winterberries that have those abundant, nice red berries that hold on until past New Years and provide food for birds that winter over with us. I also use a red stemmed dogwood named Arctic Fire. Conifers come in all heights, textures and many colors so if you look around you can find something that will meet your design and color needs. Try to research the maintenance requirements too so you don’t purchase something that requires an annual effort greater than you wish to extend.

Tall perennials are abundantly available in terms of heights and colors. I like the various veronicastrums, the green to green-brown, dark brown to brown black, 3 to 9 foot tall cimicifugas (now reclassified to actaea), Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, any of the taller helleniums, and the wonderful penstemon, Dark Towers, with its nice foliage and bountiful lavender flower scapes that make great cut flower accents too. Add a cedar fence pole to the mix, wrap it modestly with a piece of knitted or nylon flower fence and plant a package of the new generation of annual sweet peas or a single pot of Honeysuckle Scentsation with its special fragrance and pale yellow flowers that go into September and your garden will have a vertical presence that magnifies your original design. Beyond making decisions on what colors and textures you wish to incorporate, none of this is difficult. Still have concerns or questions? Drop us a note at and we’ll help. Until next time, remember, “We’re always here to help you grow your green thumb!”

Recent Writings

Recent Writings

I write a monthly article for an area newspaper and post the the writings here at The Vermont Gardener afterwards. Hope you find some information, ideas, resources appropriate to where you garden. Horticultural Therapy was written in October 2017.


A cloudy morning here on the mountain above Peacham Pond. A bit of fall color hangs on despite another minor rain storm arriving sometime this afternoon. The flower farm is closed for the season and my activities have turned to the 70 acres of forest we own. It’s a contrast to working with shrubs and flowers at the flower farm but it’s a therapy that calms the spirit and relaxes the soul.

Over the years I have had many opportunities to share the benefits of gardening with folks from many walks of life. In the middle to late 70’s I created a gardening project in South Burlington with the inmates at what was then the Chittenden Community Correctional Center. UVM donated a piece of land on Swift Street and many county businesses donated equipment and supplies to get us going. It was a wonderful program because it taught different skills and produced fresh food to compliment the center’s meals. Not once was there an “escapee” from the program and participants maintained perfect behavior records while in the program. Being outside obviously made a difference. Horticultural therapy works!

Also in the 80’s I put together a similar program on the Burlington Interval for 16 teenagers with not the best records of city street behavior or a fondness for authority in school or in the community. The program lasted an entire summer, included selling produce at the local famer’s market, and eventually became a year-round work and education program. No one ever ran away from the program and the kid’s pride and enthusiasm for their work continued on relentlessly with wide smiles—even when I arrived one day with a 50 pound sack of onion sets that had to be planted………and they planted them…..all upside down. Horticultural therapy works!

I remember meeting a woman one year who thanked me for all the time she had been able to spend as a high school aged girl walking and relaxing in the shade garden adjacent to our home. I never knew the woman until she told me she had a mentor who brought several girls to our garden to relax and work through issues of physical assault, sexual abuse, or family or school conflict. It was one of those “build it and they will come” kind of things I guess but I was so overjoyed by having been able to present a site to sit within a garden in the woods and begin to heal. Horticultural therapy works!

Around the same time I was building programs in Vermont, the Japanese began studying what came to be known as “forest bathing” or in Japanese, ‘Shinrin-yoko” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”. The work in Japan and elsewhere since then is very similar in outcome to the projects I was involved with. Nature has a way of providing various sights, sounds and smells which stimulate the senses and relax us. Horticultural therapy work!

Back in early October I made my fall hiking trip to Maine. I do this every spring and fall to rejuvenate myself for a busy summer at the flower farm. I hiked at the Cutler Preserve, at Great Wass Island and at the Frank Woodworth Preserve ( on Ripley Neck in Harrington, Maine. Each of these sites provides opportunity for forest bathing and each one reminded me of Vermont’s local town forests and hiking trails. Of the three, the Woodworth Preserve reminded me most of the Japanese forests because of the virgin fir and white cedar trees, the wind sculpted trees, the shorelines and the moss covered forest floors. Forest bathing can certainly occur there!

There’s plenty of information available about forest bathing/forest therapy/arboreal therapy/horticultural therapy but here in Vermont you don’t have to look too distant, travel too far to gain access to the forest where you truly can enjoy nature and relax. Hanging in the office at the flower farm is a vintage Mary Azarian poster that brings to light the benefits of gardening and implicitly forest bathing. You probably remember it. It contains a quote from Minnie Aumonier. “When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” When you can, get into your garden. At other times try town forests such as the Stranahan Town Forest in Marshfield or other public properties. Your blood pressure will probably decrease and your smile will broaden. Happy gardening too!

Off season from Vermont Flower Farm, George Africa, his wife Gail and son Alex work and write from their home on Peacham Pond Road where they spend time in their own forests. Write them with your gardening questions at

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The snow and cold continue to put a damper on my outside work. I keep the wood stove going and read gardening blogs of interest from near and far. Tony Avent owns Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC where he grows and sells some very interesting perennials. He recently blogged about baptisia which is becoming a more popular perennial, especially with recent hybrids which maintain a more controlled posture instead of spreading bigger and bigger each year...and becoming next to impossible to move. Each year Gail adds a couple-three new varieties to her collection. Three of the newer ones are pictured below.

When you get a chance, read Tony's blog to learn more about baptisias.

His blog, named Tony Avent's Blog, includes a piece on baptisia. Take a look and be sure to check out his website for the nursery too!

Cherry Jubilee

Lemon Meringue with Peony Paula Fay

Brownie Points

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Marshfield, VT 05658

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Happy New Year 2018!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Just back in with Karl the Wonder Dog. It's a quiet morning, +11° when I first went out but now down to +5.7°. Windless. The moon is bright although there are some minor clouds floating in front of it. There's a prominent, wide, white jet stream over the house but I don't remember hearing a plane go over. A friend in Sharon, Vermont reports he thinks he sees the same thing. It's big! 

It's a new year and a time when I can squeeze in some writing to The Vermont Gardener which I have neglected for some time. A couple years ago I found that Facebook was doing a good job for us getting the word out about Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens but politics and inaccurate reporting have taken away visitors and detracted from a good source for me to tell about gardening in New England. I'm working on year two of a monthly piece I write for the North Star Monthly, a terrific paper that originates in Danville, Vermont, about 12 miles from here. Between that and more writing to The Vermont Gardener I hope I can get some gardeners switched over to a more regular source of gardening information. Our website for Vermont Flower Farm continues to be an excellent source of information and it too is undergoing some changes during what has become the coldest winter I can remember since being a kid. Back then it was not uncommon for us to see our breath inside our old farmhouse when we went to bed and it was really obvious when we woke up! -25° is a number I do not like to see and feel!

2017 was a great season for us at the flower farm on Route 2. It was a depressing start in April and May when it just rained and rained. We couldn't get into the fields to plant, seeds would wash away, and it was too cold to get small plants going. Alex couldn't mow the fields and as the grass grew taller and taller, so did the weeds between the rows of perennials. Then one day it stopped raining and really that was it. Within a week Alex could mow and I hired two helpers to weed whack between the rows of perennials to shape things up.  Our planting crews appeared and the insulating blankets and plastic came off all the plants we carried over and life began again. From then on the majority of the rain came at night and 2017 turned into our most successful year ever!

For 2018, we will not deviate much from what we have offered for the past 30 years. Daylilies and hostas will continue as our main crops with over 500 varieties of each to choose from. We have display gardens to walk through and thousands of pots of each of these ready to go. Vermont Flower Farm is one of the best places in Vermont to walk around and pick up large plants in garden-ready pots offered as gallons, 6 quarts, 2 gallons and some specimen sized plants for instant gratification planting. We open on Mother's Day every year--rain or snow does not deter us--and we continue into mid October, sometimes a bit longer if the weather holds as it did this past fall. It's a long season for us but it provides gardeners and landscapers a great source for excellent, Vermont-hardy plant material. 

Besides the daylilies and hostas we have one of the best selections of peonies and also astilbes in Vermont. Our current selection of astilbes numbers about 50 varieties and our experience with this plant is some of the most extensive in Vermont over the past 25 years. We were co-featured in last year's spring issue of Fine Gardening Magazine and we know that if you're looking for astilbes, you probably already found us. As with all our perennials, these can be purchased from our site via mail order. We ship Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday each week.

We have always grown peonies and always had a small number for sale but two years ago we started to build our inventory and in 2018 we will offer 50 varieties. These are all potted and tagged and ready to go right into your garden. I will not have complete pictures on our website until next year but most of what we sell will bloom this year. 

5 years ago we started growing lilacs again as the garden industry began to promote them again and garden restorations always seemed to mention them. We have mature lilacs planted around the flower farm property and sell them in one gallon and two gallon pots. There are over 25 varieties available now and there's little doubt that number will grow as they become popular again.

For ten years now we have sold hydrangeas and 2018 will be no different. The exception are the blues and pinks commonly known as Endless Summer because they are not dependable in Vermont.  They bloom on the previous year's stem and often succumb  to repeated spring frosts which kill the flower buds. We offer twenty varieties in sizes of 2 feet tall at maturity, 3-5 feet and 4-8 feet. 

Gardeners can never say "no" to new plants and besides our major offerings we have dozens of other plants to offer you. Actaea, pulmonaria, sedums, rodgersia, astilboides tabularis, Siberian iris...a long, long list of Vermont hardy perennials. Give us a thought, view our website, read about us here on The Vermont Gardener, or check us out on Facebook at Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens or my personal page, George Africa. Although some of the world does not like Twitter, we are linked to Twitter too for all our posts, and you'll see our name on various social media formats too!

Best gardening wishes, smiles and good health for 2018!!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener