Trouble in Paradise - part the second

In my last post, Trouble in Paradise - part the first, I told you about the California mice in my office. As we know, troubles come in threes...

Warning! This post contains graphic images of dead and distressed plants!

I'm prone to overworking near deadlines and work does tend to take a person out of the garden. So I was shocked to discover - trouble number two - aphids in the greenhouse!

The worst part was that I discovered them when selecting three nice seep monkeyflower plants (Mimulus guttatus) for Town Mouse, who wanted to make up a container using them.

Anyway I immediately did a lot of rinsing off with a shower attachment and also did a lot of squishing. I take some comfort from this British web site's advice:
Aphids breathe through their skin. Spraying with diluted washing up liquid clogs up their skin and causes them to literally suffocate. Their brains are unable to detect pain according to the majority of research, so don't worry unduly about any pain this may cause!
Things seemed a lot better after repeat treatments of squishing and rinsing off for a few days. I kept forgetting to look up aphid control to get the specifics on the insecticidal soap. But on Sunday as I helped tidy and organize plants for the CNPS native plant sale, which happens on the same day - April 16 - and in the same location as the Arboretum plant sale up at the UCSC campus, I asked our fearless leader, Denise, about my woes - and she told me I could expect this infestation in the greenhouse every year in spring, and that I needed to prepare for it. I gasped. I'm such a Rube. Though maybe if I was more of a Rube I'd know more about greenhouses.

So - per my internet search gleanings: I'm going to make up an insecticidal soap mix of about 1% Dr Bronner's liquid soap and spray it on. I looked up various recipes. They vary a bit in terms of the concentration, 1-2 tablespoons per gallon - or per quart. Some have added oil and some say the oil doesn't help. But you do have to use real soap, not detergent. Soap generally has animal fat, but vegetarian soaps seem to work also. Dr Bronner's liquid soap is vegetarian and has an eccentric label besides that is fun to read. If you can read type that small. Addition of pepper and garlic is also often mentioned, but I'm not going to get too elaborate right off.

This soap mixture kills on contact, and it kills the good guys as well as the bad guys. It has no residual effect, and so you have to do this weekly till they are gone. As Denise said, aphids are "born pregnant" and you have to keep after them.

I haven't actually done this yet but I will this weekend.

Then came trouble number three, in the shape of two hot days in a row.

Remember how I was worried about having too much seep monkey flower? Not any more.

You can imagine how bad I felt. Not since I found my pet caterpillar shriveled up in its matchbox have I felt this bad.

The Madia elegans were similarly devastated, just not quite so many.

The ones in the ground did just fine, and are growing lustily.

I have more plants than time right now and am falling behind on my potting up and planting. It's the ones in the smaller pots that dry out faster.

On the upside, the plants that did take the hot sun pretty well might be good candidates for the sunny south garden. Eriogonum nudum, for example, which is growing slowly but healthily so far.

It grows on a shady slope near us, and yet it is tolerating more sun than I would have expected it to.

The thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus, and the baby Ceanothus thyrsiflorus also did pretty well.

The sticky monkey flower, mimulus aurantiacus did pretty well, too. I pinched the tips of the ones whose top leaves had become curled up after the aphid attack.

I generally can't bring myself to pinch prune a baby plant. I'll get used to it sometime I suppose. But I've been wanting to see what a difference it would make, compare the pinched with the unpinched. So there's another upside. I pinch pruned about a quarter of the plants. Experiment launched!

Another upside is that I haven't had any more mice in a few days. A couple of half grown ones just after my last post. So cute, so vulnerable - then nothing since. Yay!

Rat and I pledged our troth to both go down into the crawlspace at the weekend to search for evidence of mice and mouse holes down there. But I think I might have to work this weekend though. Oh dear, isn't that just too bad.


ZZ said…
I understand completely how you feel when you see a plant not doing well. It's sad.

I had received some mini roses not too long ago, and when I looked closer on inspection, there was a small little spider who made it's home inside the leaves of this plant. After getting rid of the spider and the dead leaves, I thought it might have a chance. But as time goes on, I don't know. Maybe all that cutting I did was too much on it.

Hope things get better with the mice.
Anonymous said…
Have you read Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy? Some of the things it says are that aphids hardly ever do any serious damage to plants and that they are beneficial because they provide the vast majority of the insect biomass in pretty much any neighborhood and for that reason comprise a major portion of many birds' diets. Ever since I read that book, I no longer make even the slightest effort to get rid of aphids.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks for your sympathy ZZ - or empathy I should say!
QBC, I agree in general - but... A greenhouse is an artificial environment and somewhat closed - and full of vulnerable baby plants. I move caterpillars from my baby monkey flower to a mature monkeyflower, but I'm not going to take that much care with aphids. I could see the damage they were doing to the monkeyflower and seep monkeyflower.
The other area that is out of balance from my POV is the group of toyons that grows near our house - never any red berries because of the sooty mold that is part of the ant - aphid relationship. Plus those are not native ants! I really would like to see some red berries! But I do agree in general - there is a balance to it and the aphids feed other insects etc besides.
That's really terrible losing those plants you grew. Glad to see the thimbleberry pulled through. You've inspired me to grow my own from seed now. I ordered seed yesterday, in fact.
ZZ said…
You're welcome Country Mouse.

Awww, Country Mouse, I'm sorry your plants got scorched. Our greenhouse is being installed in a few weeks, and its exposure is so sunny that in addition to all of the automatic venting, I'm wondering if a little mid-summer shade cloth might not be a bad idea too. I'm similarly concerned about cooking my transplants. Good luck, I hope you're aphid free soon!

As for the aphids, it's a shame you don't have Syrphid Fly larva taking up residence in your greenhouse, they love to eat aphids! For adding oils to the soap mix, I've really only found that helps with difficult to smother nasty bugs, like scale. Soapy water alone works fine for the soft-bodied beasties.
Joseph said…
Oh the poor little, sad plants! I empathize with you. I feel like I've failed my plants if they start getting sick. I hope you can nurse the majority of them back to good health.

The soap spray should work well. I use the Bronner's unscented soap as well and it never fails. I've made it too soapy a time or two, which isn't good, so watch out for that. It's funny what you said about the label! I don't think I've read everything on that label and I've tried on several occasions! The print IS very small!

Good luck with those plants...
Sue Langley said…
Oh, that's too bad about the seedlings! Sometimes they get too far gone to revive with water. How far are you away from me? I will give you as many madia as you want.
Beautiful ceanothus...they look like waterfalls of blue, don't they?