My Pine Has Brown Needles!

We all know that deciduous trees—oaks, maples, and the like—lose their leaves in the fall. But what about conifers? They’re supposed to be evergreen! Should we be worried if we see lots of brown needles on our pines and firs?

Pine trunks_NehalemSP-OR_LAH_8177As is frequently the case with questions about gardening, the answer is “it depends.”

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Garden Compass

compassI have a new job, and I love it. It involves identifying plants and finding out what ails them, quite a bit similar to what a master gardener does. Sure there are frustrations…

What plant is this? I stare at the green blob in the photo, frustrated that the cell phone camera focused on the fence in back rather than the leaves in front. Is it a shrub or a tree? How can I possibly identify it if I can’t even see it?

What will this seedling grow into? Is it a weed? There are two cotyledons and two true leaves, and they look like every other seedling in my book.

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Oh no… Spider Mites!

2-spotted-spider-mite-whitney_cranshaw-colorado-state-university-bugwoodorgMy houseplants had been looking fine all summer, but now they were obviously ailing. No leaves were drooping, no obvious critters were chomping on the leaves. It was more of a general sense of decline—and a dappled, grayish pallor to the foliage.

Closer inspection revealed that many of  the V-shaped joints between leaf petiole and stem were filled with minute webbing. My skin crawled. My plants were infested with spiders! To be more accurate, my plants had spider mites. These tiny bugs are not insects. They are arachnids, just like spiders, scorpions, and ticks. Like spiders, they have two body parts and eight legs. Unlike spiders, all of whom are predators, spider mites are more like vampires. They suck plant juices.

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Spittlebugs

spittle-bug-dbg-lah-001rHas someone been spitting on your flowers? What is that collection of tiny bubbles surrounding that stem? If you probe beneath the goop, you’ll find one of a number of leafhopper species called spittlebugs. All leafhoppers resemble stocky, miniature grasshoppers about a quarter-inch long. They have sucking mouthparts used to puncture plant stems. Then they feed on the juices and sugars found inside.

Spittlebugs use a special pore on tip of their abdomen to bubble air though some of those juices. The result is a frothy mass that protects them from predators.

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