Sunday, May 18, 2014

Green Peach Aphids

Weather: Continued high winds, dry air, and erratic temperatures, last rain, 4/19/14.

Subfreezing temperatures killed my grape leaves Wednesday. Looks like they also destroyed leaves on roses of Sharon near the village

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and yellow species roses, snowball, blue flax; buds on peonies.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, cheat, needle, rice and June grasses.

In my yard: Bearded iris, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, golden spur columbine, vinca; buds on privet, oriental poppies.

Animal sightings: Cottontail, gecko, small birds, lady bugs, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: The Golden Book of Nature tells children about the wonders of ants and even shows pictures of ant farms. It mentions they milk aphids. On another page, it shows beautiful ladybugs.

The Silver Anniversary Edition for adults expelled from that original Eden admits aphids can be a problem handled by ladybugs.

If that isn’t enough, it suggests you spray the plant with soapy water.

It also would help to remove the ants. It’s filled with folk remedies like putting down grits and spreading Borax or baby powder with talc around the hill.

Everything said in both story books is true, and absolutely useless when you’re faced with a real aphid infestation.

Ladybugs do eat aphids, but the arithmetic is wrong. They don’t usually show up until there are lots of aphids. Then there aren’t enough of them. Aphids can reproduce every 20 days, go through many generations in the spring.

A friend tried buying ladybug eggs, which hatched nicely. Then they flew away, leaving her with her aphids.

The moral, ladybugs are good at flagging a problem. They are more interested in being ladybugs than in solving it for you.

As for ants, I’ve been trying to get rid of them for years. So far all I’ve done is harasses them. I kill the workers, but in a week a new generation is back.

The problem is I never get the queen. I’ve been told to dig up the hole, then pour kerosene or gasoline in it. My worst ants bite. I’m not sure how you protect yourself while digging, and how you get the ground wet enough to dig in New Mexico without alerting them. They’re wily enough to move the queen when they suspect trouble.

I do remove plants that attract ants, especially goat’s beards. They also attract ladybugs.

But there are limits to this strategy. There simply are plants I’m not willing to sacrifice on the ant altar.

Soapy water, or many insecticides, only work if the spray actually hits the insect. They are useless once they dry. They work against aphids that have soft skins, but don’t affect lady bugs with the beetle shells. However, the ladybugs left when I sprayed. I think they didn’t like getting wet.

Aphids have many protections. The stay on the undersides of leaves, which are hard to spray. They force a tree to create galls, then stay within the protection of the resin domes.

While most can’t fly, come summer some can. They abandon woody plants for vegetables and other succulent leaves.

I’m told green peach aphids probably won’t kill my tree. Instead, they will weaken it by forcing it to produce smaller or deformed leaves that fall off. They leave their sticky residue on leaves. Then, viruses move in, and they kill the tree.

The only useful advice is to spray it with water every couple days. The water, with or without soap, knocks the aphids to the ground. Since they don’t fly, they have a hard time crawling back. It also may remove the goo, but not the resin domes. They have to be pried loose, and they always take some bark with them. The galls tend to be near existing cracks in the bark, which may trap water and invite more of those viruses.

Even spraying’s easier to say than do. You can’t spray on cold mornings, because the hoses don’t work well. You can’t spray in the afternoon when the wind comes up, without getting soaked.

I’m not actually sure I have aphids. I’ve only seen one. Other strange insects have shown up in what has been a long, warm spring following a wet fall and dry winter. However, the signs are there: the white stuff under leaves, the deformed leaves, and, for a while, the ladybugs.

Photographs: All taken in my yard, 12 May 2014.
1. Ladybug near scar in bark of my peach tree.
2. Unknown "caterpillar" on plant near the peach.
3. Ladybugs being ladybugs.
4. Debris accumulated in stickum on goat’s beard.
5. Ants on peony bud.
6. Resin dome near crack in bark on peach.
7. Stuff accumulated inside a curling peach leaf.
8. Unknown insect on goat’s beard.

9. Peach leaf cluster that hasn’t unfurled, creating a hideout of aphids; leaves already turning yellow.

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