In the Garden:
Middle South
June, 2004
Regional Report

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Ready for her morning hunt, a dainty Sphecid wasp scopes out my flower garden from a dew-laden, California poppy leaf.

A Bounty of Beneficials

The poppies are popping and the squash are squashing, but the biggest dramas being played out in my garden right now are taking place on the insect stage. It's a bug-eat-bug world out there, and it looks to me like the good guys outnumber the bad guys about ten to one. Here are some of the top acts (so far) from this year's show, followed by an important production note.

The Aphid Eaters
Out of about a hundred corn poppy plants, one suddenly became covered with thousands of little black aphids. Three days later, the aphids were gone, and in their place I counted three ladybug larvae and eleven squirmy things I later identified as well-fed hover fly larvae.

Flea Beetle Monster
I had been spraying Neem on the flea beetles on my eggplant and then had to go out of town for a few days. When I returned, most of the flea beetles were gone. Instead, each plant now hosts a scary-looking, red bug with long, black legs, which I have nicknamed "The Thing." I think it's some kind of assassin bug, and it obviously knows more about controlling flea beetles than I do.

Wasp Wonders
Leaf-eating caterpillars don't have a chance in my garden. The big wasps are dragging them to their nests to feed to their larvae, and the little ones are using them as egg-laying sites. The wasps are helping control the flies from my neighbor's cows, too, so I can work in the garden without being bitten.

Now for the special feature! Scientists have recently learned that when a plant is damaged by an insect, the plant picks up cues from the insect's saliva and sends out a gaseous signal that attracts appropriate predators. To tune into this show, simply allow a little insect feeding to occur, and then watch. It's one of the best shows in the summer garden!


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