Not long ago, Nancy brought a couple of hostas to me with a few small holes in the leaves. A couple wanted to know what was eating the leaves. The holes were quite small, no bigger than 1 or 2 millimetres, so we both quickly ruled out the usual suspects; slugs and earwigs. I looked the plant over, couldn’t see any bugs on it, and answered as honestly as I could. “Some bug”. They decided not to take the hostas and left immediately, the woman letting loose a well-emphasized “ooof” as she got in the car. It was the kind of sound meant to let us know that she couldn’t believe she was talking to someone so stupid, and was more than likely accompanied by a rolling of the eyes. If you have teenagers, or know any teenagers, or ever were a teenager, you know exactly what I’m trying to describe.
Bugs are a part of gardening. There is no getting around this. If you worry about every little hole, you’re going to send yourself to an early grave. When it comes to gardening, Mother Nature is definitely in control. Our job is to try and lead her in certain directions and hope for the best. You can no more control every bug in your garden than you can stop the hail from shredding your hostas, hydrangeas, and other big-leafed plants. Most plants adapt to getting munched on occasionally anyways.
Bugs aren’t always bad for your gardens either. Sometimes they carry pollen from one flower to the next, ensuring that they produce viable seeds and fruit. If you didn’t have bugs in your garden, you would get few, if any, tomatoes on your tomato plants. The caterpillar munching away at your parsley is going to become a beautiful swallowtail butterfly someday soon. Most birds rely on the bugs flying and crawling around. Even the pesky mosquitoes provide protein for the hummingbirds, dragonflies and bats.
This isn’t to say you should leave all bugs to do their own thing. Some bugs can be very destructive. Many of these newer threats have come from Asia and have no natural predators here.
Most gardeners by now have encountered the Lily Beetle. It’s bright red, about 3/8 inch long and devastates lilies to the point that I no longer sell them. To control this bug, you need to squish the adults. Put something underneath them when you approach them because they will drop when they see you coming, and they usually land on their backs making them hard to find. Neem oil works on their eggs, the black gooey stuff under the leaves. Applying diatomaceous earth around your lilies in the spring before they emerge was recommended to me by a lily expert as well.
Emerald Ash Borers have made their way up from the States, originally coming from Asia. They have killed millions of Ash trees in Ontario, Michigan and its surrounding states and they have been identified in Durham region. You may have seen signs saying not to move firewood from one region to another. This is an attempt to keep them from spreading beyond their current boundaries.
Asian Long-horned Beetles are another serious problem, killing primarily Maples, but also Horsechestnuts, Poplars, Willows, Elms, Mulberries and Black Locusts. They have been found in Toronto and Vaughan and the government has put in restrictions on moving tree material from our through these affected areas.
When it comes to bugs in the garden, I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer often recited at 12-step addiction programs. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Let’s not be bugaphobes. For those who really don’t want any bugs in their gardens, I’m afraid you’re left with Astroturf, plastic artificial plants and silk flowers.