Hometown Gardener

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

The thunder rolled Friday evening. The gods were definitely bowling some strikes up in the heavens. Got a bit bumpy in some places but all of us got some much appreciated rain and a good soaker on Saturday. A little over 4” here and at the nursery all told. Of course some folks fretted over their veggies with all the severe threats. Some even covered them.

I have always opted to take my chances as I realize how much is gained from letting that highly charged water hit the plants. All leaves, stem, and bark are absorbent so a scenario such as this infuses Nature’s best fertilizer throughout the entire plant. Those that were pelted to the ground by winds and heavy rain are standing proud today. Now the mosquitoes will increase…

Speaking of which, I am compelled to mention how insect repellant plants really work. This time of year I find myself explaining this to folks every day. There is no plant on earth that repels anything by merely being present. It is the oils inside the plant that repel bugs… All bugs, not just mosquitoes. However, you must bruise, crush, or burn the leaves to get the aroma to release. Hence citronella candles and incense sticks.

We have been selling insect repellents and insecticides containing oils from mint, rosemary, oregano, etc., for many years now. These are safe to come into contact with human skin and they smell wonderful (much better than old fashioned repellents containing DEET). What is DEET anyway? Most folks don’t understand that either.

So all insects (good and bad) have this instinctive fear of many members of the mint family (rosemary and oregano are mints) plus any odor of citrus (lemon balm, lemon grass, citronella, orange oil). These can burn through the exoskeleton of any and all insects. Their blood does not coagulate so if the outer shell is compromised the insect will simply bleed to death. The exact same reason why DE (diatomaceous earth) does such a great job on crawling insects.

So, if you are one that believes that citronella, Mexican mint marigolds, and/or certain mints will repel insects simply because you plant them you should do some research. The main problem, as I see it, is a lot of these things get passed by word of mouth and the source is often just passing along information without a full explanation. If it is windy enough for the leaves to become bruised the flying pests likely won’t be around to smell it. Mosquitoes cannot navigate very well in wind.

The best way to reduce mosquitoes is to kill the larvae while they are still in water. Over twenty years ago science came across a bacteria strain that only kills mosquito larvae. Bacillus thuringensis israelensis (BTI for short) will not harm fish, plants, tadpoles, or any animal that drinks from the water source. It only targets mosquito larvae (wigglers). This is a very smart way to kill these pests. The not-so-smart way is to use some sort of poison or pour oil onto the water. I know that is what we used in the old days. These things will have a negative effect on every living thing. This is the 21st Century now so our understanding of Nature is on the increase. I’m looking for more pesticides like BT and BTI that target only the unwanted pests without harming unintended victims. The future of pest control is looking much better.

The third thing to do is encourage the birds to come to your landscape. I am not talking about putting out grain feeders or bird houses. Just plant the native and well adapted plants that make berries and seed for the birds. Sunflowers and thistles grow like crazy here. No need to buy seed.

All birds including hummingbirds feed their young protein rich insects. Many are nesting now and the chicks are hatching. This just happens to coincide with the time of year we get mosquitoes, flies, and young grasshoppers in abundance. Mother Nature provides.

Berries are for the birds so don’t get upset if they eat some of your blackberries. Fruiting mulberry is one of the best spring producers for those who have a big enough place to get it out away from the house proper. Our native rough-leaf dogwood is another good choice for early summer berries.

Tomatoes are quite a different story so have some row covers, shade cloth, or bird netting to protect those. Same story for peaches and plums. These are things we work extra for and don’t want to feed the birds with them. There is enough in Nature if we provide it.

I had a good client in Holliday one spring called and asked if I could get her some Venus Fly Traps. We were having biblical flies and I understood what she was getting at. I told her I would call back. A quick Google search informed me that it took four days for the plant to dissolve one fly. She would do much better with a fly swatter.

“Mosquito Dunks” (BTI), citronella, lemon balm, and all sorts of insect repellent plants at Wichita Valley. And the know-how you need to use them effectively. Come see us.

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