Privet leaf miner damage

Following the winter’s damage, I’ve been keeping an eye out to make sure the privet bushes recover OK. By and large, they are doing just that. However, I’d say some are a little weaker than would be usual, but it’s hard to tell. One thing I have noticed though is a surge in the amount of leaf miner damage.

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Damage on a privet leaf caused by leaf mining caterpillars (Gracillaria syringella)

The damage first shows as brownish marks on the leaves. They quickly expand to become a large brown blister. By this stage the blisters are easy to pull open and inside there are little tribes of larvae living a sheltered life between the upper and lower leaf surfaces.

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Inside the blister there are little tiny caterpillars – they’re quite hard to see and to photograph because as soon as their blister is burst they try and wriggle away to hide

These larvae will grow up to become tiny little micro moths – Gracillaria syringella. As the name suggests, they also mine lilac (Syringa) leaves and are known as lilac leaf miners as well as privet leaf miners. There are plenty of them on the lilac bushes this year too.

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Leaf miner damage on a lilac leaf
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…and here are the larvae inside the lilac leaf’s blister

 

Currant blister aphids

The the new leaves have recently unfurled on a redcurrant I bought over the winter. And the leaves have bright red blisters.

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Discoloured blistering on a young redcurrant leaf

These blisters look like a text book image for currant blister aphids. Sure enough, when I looked at the underside of the leaf, there was a big fat aphid with a brood of babies…

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Redcurrant leaf with blistering and aphids

These bugs must have come in as eggs on the plant. According to the RHS, the aphids need to move to hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) plants to complete their life cycle: they’re uncommon plants around here, so this could be the end of the road for these aphids, depending how far they can travel. The damage the aphids are doing looks impressive, but is really of no consequence.

Tassels!

This beautiful little tassel tree (Garrya elliptica) was bought last autumn. It’s only a baby, and possibly it shouldn’t have been left to flower so prolifically. But it looks just beautiful, especially now the sun is shining.

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Tassels (male flowers) on a baby tassel tree (Garrya elliptica), January 2017

The tassel tree, or silk tassel tree, grows to around 4m tall with a similar spread – so it’s more like a big shrub really.

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Through the tassels

Tassel trees are mainly grown for their attractive catkins (tassels) that brighten up the darkest time of winter. Incidentally, the male and female catkins are borne on separate trees: you want a male tree for the best catkin display. These trees are also quite hardy, down to about -10C, but like all plants, they’re more tender when they’re young.

(The blotches you can see on the leaves are most probably fungal and came with the plant from the nursery. It was over dry and overly pot bound, meaning it was stressed and consequently vulnerable to infestations / infections. Hopefully in the coming year with a bit of pruning and good watering and feeding it will grow away from the fungal infection.)

Growing carob trees from seed – 18 month update

Last week, I put the carob trees, planted in the spring of last year, back into their cold frame for the winter.

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Carob trees at 18 months

Of the seven pips that germinated, all have survived (hooray!). Two are definitely thriving; two are doing ok; and two have suffered quite severe knock backs.

Of the two that have suffered the most, one was badly affected by tortrix moth caterpillars (the main and only noteworthy pest I’ve noticed with these trees). The other one was badly damaged by sun scorch – yes, even here in north Wales!

Through the summer, the little trees have been out against a south facing fence with a little bit of shade from various shrubs. Early on in the summer, we had some unseasonably hot and very sunny days. And on one of those days, the tree which had been growing the best was scorched – it was on the edge of the group and had the least shelter from the shrubs’ shade. That sun-blast caused all this year’s growth on that tree to die back.

But, I’m not giving up on it. These are tenacious little trees. Even the one that had been pulled up by the birds and looked to be a complete disaster is still trying to grow (it too has been badly bothered by the pesky tortrix moth caterpillars).

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The “runt” of the carob family: it’s been pulled out by birds and attacked by caterpillars, but it’s still putting out new shoots.

Two things I have learnt, and they’re both a bit of a surprise: the trees like a lot of water (but also good drainage); and they prefer to be in shade, not full sun (which makes sense for a baby tree really). I’ve also noticed that they grow best when there are weeds in the pot. I can’t really figure that out, but it’s something quite common with potted plants. Consequently, when I repotted the sun damaged tree, I deliberately planted some weeds in with it to keep it company:)

A Strawberry Tree – Arbutus unedo

From time to time, I feel the need to acquire a specific plant. A few weeks ago, for no particular reason, I began to think it would be nice to have a strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). I see these trees often in Portugal, and there are even a couple of straggly specimens growing wild quite local to me here in Wales, but it’s not a tree I’ve often seen in local nurseries or garden centres.

The idea became fixed in my mind that a strawberry tree would be just the thing for me, and so I went in search of a young tree.

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Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) flowers

I was surprised and delighted to find a neglected specimen tucked away at a local nursery. Its pot was thickly covered with moss and liverworts and it was so pot bound that I had to cut the pot to extricate it. It’s now being mollycoddled for the winter before I’ll plant it out next year.

Strawberry trees flower very late in the year – October to December-ish. And, if the flowers are pollinated, the fruit (the so-called strawberry) will develop over the course of the next year so that fruits and flowers are both on the tree at the same time. It’s evergreen and will develop a lovely rich-reddish coloured shaggy bark as it gets older. It grows only slowly and will never grow to be super big, so it’s an ideal tree for a sheltered, medium-sized garden. Fingers crossed that my little rescue-tree revives and thrives.

(I found that the website of Waterlow Park in London had a nice page exploring the history and controversies surrounding the strawberry tree.)

Shield bug egg cases and hatchlings

This two-tone patch of egg cases underneath a cherry leaf caught my eye. On looking closer I saw that the darker patch was a huddle of newly hatched shield bugs alongside their egg cases. Each perfectly spherical little egg case has a perfectly round hatch where the tiny bug has climbed out. And, more curiously, each white egg case has a black marking on it that looks just like somebody has stamped the outline of a moth on it – like nature’s own quality assurance mark 🙂

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Shield bug egg cases and hatchlings