gardening aphid

When you're taking a walk around your garden, be sure to check for aphids.

How acquainted are you with your garden? How often do you visit it? And do you REALLY see it?

When some of us first joined Master Gardeners, Dr. Roy Van Denburgh was director of WSU Extension and our teacher as he talked about being observant. He encouraged us to take that morning cup of coffee or tea and do a walkabout, every morning if you can but at least a few times a week.

For some of us it was a very real revelation. One member had been given a spruce tree from a friend's yard that never really flourished for years. It didn't die, but it didn't grow well either. When they did their first observation, they saw numerous spruce aphids that were sucking the life out of it. Once it was treated, it grew and now is very stately.

So take a closer look at needles, leaves and bark for possible problems. We get many calls from backyard gardeners in the spring, who notice that their trees are showing some problems in the top of the canopy. A good reason to look up with your observations is to notice problems very early on for a better chance of saving the trees. Once there is dieback showing, it probably didn't just happen that spring.

We know there is an aphid for every single plant, and though they are small it is easy to spot them. If caught early, a strong spray of water will wash away many of them, thus making way for some predators to come help you. So do stay in tuned for these guys and deal with them early. They can appear on trees, shrubs, ornamentals, and fruits and veggies.

How do your lilacs look? Many of us have very old lilacs that have large tree trunks, and when they get that large it is easy for some ash borers to burrow into them. So take a good look at those lilacs. If there are one or more dead branches, look down each one and see if there are small holes with some sawdust. Cut those branches out and dispose of them. One way to try to avoid this in the future is to cut out a third of the plant every other year and let some of the new sprouts begin to replace the old.

On your walkabout, have you noticed mildew on some of your plants? Mildew is a white substance that not only looks bad but wreaks havoc on plant material -- and why now when you have never had it before? A good observation might be that now your other landscape plants have grown up and changed things. Perhaps your plants are in more shade now instead of sun and have less circulation, which helps deter mildew. You might need to do some pruning or relocate plant material.

Have you planted squash or pumpkins in the past to only have a whole vine go down overnight? It could be squash bugs, which are the enemy of many vegetable gardeners. Take the time on your walk to look at the back side of every leaf, looking for a cluster of dark eggs laid in the V of the leaf. Take the time to squish all these eggs and pick off any of the adults you see. How about slugs? Have you observed them or the damage they do? They like to live under mulch where it is cool and damp. See if you have a shiny trail of slime and severe damage on your veggies.

It would be impossible to list so many things to look for. We are only encouraging you to make this a habit so you will spot problems early. All are easier to deal with if caught early.

Being more observant can reap some rewards, too. Not everything you begin to see is bad. When you are checking your trees, what kinds of birds to you see? How about nests? If you like to gather them to use for decor in other areas, make sure you do it in the fall and not the spring. What about those friends of ours, the predators, and pollinators like lady bird beetles, hover flies, praying mantis and our favorite, the bees? Do you see enough of them? If not, this might be a clue to plant more of the flowers that attract them for the next year.

Remember, if you are unsure of the problem you are seeing, know you can call or email the Master Gardener Clinic. They will research your question(s) and provide you with science-based answers to help resolve any problems.

The WSU Extension office that houses the Master Gardener clinic is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, we will continue to answer your gardening questions; call 509-574-1604 and leave a detailed message. We also will respond to emails at www.gardener@co.yakima,wa.us. Again, leave a detailed message and include your contact information so we can call if we have questions. If you have photos as evidence of a problem, attach them as well; we are not accepting any physical samples at this time.