Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Learn from my mistakes #21, what would you have done?

Some of you might remember I did a little battle with mealybugs last winter. I tossed a few Agaves because of it, but nothing I was really upset about losing. Just some random ones I'd acquired along the way.

But now, things have been amped up a bit.

Last week I spent a good chunk of time moving the tender succulents into the basement. Not because of frost  thankfully that's still weeks away  but because hauling those containers down the stairs is easier when they're dry. Add in a little water weight (from the autumn rains) and they get heavy fast. Plus they'll handle winter much better if they come in not soaking wet. Part of my routine is to look over the plants carefully, clean them up and dispatch any hitch-hikers. I found my mealybug situation had worsened.

Above and below is Agave desmettiana 'Variegata'. Nothing particularly special about it, other than the fact it's my oldest Agave. A gift from my brother it has been with me since before I moved to Portland, we've been together for 14 years. I really thought I might someday see this guy bloom.

But not now, he's gone. Besides the bugs found on the leaves at soil level they were thick on the new leaves as I pulled them back from the middle spike, who knows what was further in, between the leaves I couldn't pry apart. I stood there for a good long time trying to decide if I wanted to attempt a battle to save it. Once I dumped the pot and saw they were congregated along the roots my decision became obvious.

What would you have done?

This is Agave macroacantha, one of a pair.

When moving containers as part of the "migration" process I noticed there were a zillion ants under this one. And a few little white guys...

Pulling the plant free I discovered more.

And more...

Keep it and battle the bugs, or toss it? What would you have done?

Oh my beautiful Agave 'Felipe Otero' (I think that's what it is? There is some confusion between A. 'Felipe Otero' and A. titanota)...

You too?

And this ugliness greeted me when I broke apart the center spike on my Agave geminiflora.

What would you have done?

As it is I ended up tossing the Agave desmettiana 'Variegata', one of the Agave macroacantha, Agave geminiflora, Agave gypsophila 'Blue Wave' and yes Agave ‘Joe Hoak’. I couldn't bear to document it all (my heart is breaking a little — oh ya — let's stop and take a picture...).

I felt one of the Agave macroacantha and the A. 'Felipe Otero' were good candidates for rehabilitation. Stripped of their soil, and drenched with Gerhard's mixture of 70% isopropyl alcohol, soap, and water, they're segregated and I'm watching them.

Since this is a "Learn from my mistakes" post you might be wondering what it is that I learned? Well...when I first spotted the mealys I should have been more severe in my response. Agave 'Joe Hoak' was the first (back in January of 2015), an expensive plant that I wasn't willing to just toss. I should have taken it outside and dumped it from the container, looking closely at the soil and evaluating the next steps. I did not and I regret it.

And yes, I plan to work through the entire collection, over the coming weeks, pulling them and inspecting the soil and taking action as needed. Oh the life of a gardener, if it's not one thing it's another!

All material © 2009-2016 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

35 comments:

  1. Oh no :( I don't know how you feel about systemic bug killers but....

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    1. How successful are they in dry soil? I should have used it in the spring...

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  2. Sorry to see that--it happens here, but the Agave usually blooms before the infestation becomes overwhelming. Here the mealies are protected by those blankety-blank ants.

    You can treat yearly with systemic if you don't mind pesticides. It does poison the flowers for bees, but if you don't get blooms, it's not a problem.

    I've got plenty of 'Joe' offsets, also gypsophylla, LMK if I can send you some.

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    1. I guess since none (or very few, just a couple of Aloes) actually bloom that's the way I'll go...although I HATE the idea.

      I would love to take you up on that generous offer, but if it's okay I'll wait until spring...

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  3. Try treating with systemic insecticides. As you probably already know, such infestations are signs of environmental stress, so not being in prime agave growing climate, you either need to be proactive with early treatment, or reduce your agave cultivation to more resistant species. FWIW, Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak' tends to get meanies here too. Feel lucky you don't have Argentinian Ants that far north, they are so incredibly specialized at spreading/farming mealies, aphids and scale to other plants throughout the garden.

    I would suspect that the root mealies are more widespread than you could possibly eliminate completely. I'd recommend treating all your Agaves with a systemic as a preventative, or they will explode indoors this winter.

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    1. Thank you David, I guess it is time I take the plunge. And yes...environmental stress is, unfortunately, their reality. And no doubt you're right about the root mealies. Ugh...

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  4. I'm with David. I've found Bayer's systemic tree insecticide (blue bottle at the box store) to be very effective applied any time of the year. The benefit is that it gets the buggers hanging out in the roots as well. I usually also spray with alcohol just for fun. Sorry these evil buggers got your kids!

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    1. "I usually also spray with alcohol just for fun"...you managed to make me laugh Peter, thank you.

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  5. That's awful to have to dump so many favorite plants. I've had to start using systemic on my agaves due to the evil weevil. It's not something I would have done in advance but now I do.

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    1. And I will be following in your path Shirley...

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  6. Spray for England (or Portland ) remove everything that isn't perfect and all the roots!!! And start again......I managed years wi one then one dodgy plant and it all went wrong. Luckily just a few these days.

    I'm always suprised at how much of a agave you can remove and still survive!!

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    1. You're so right about how much of an Agave you can remove. Sometimes I forget not all plants are so tough and it comes back to bite me.

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  7. I know how you feel. So disheartening.

    I agree with David. This is a situation where a systemic insecticide is called for. I've had mealies on an Agave parryi var. truncata because it's in too much shade (I find that agaves in full virtually never get mealies), and I resorted to a granular systemic. So far so good.

    And if it's any consolation, my experience is that Agave desmettiana is more prone to mealies than other agaves anyway.

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    1. Interestingly it was my Agave macroacantha in full sun that was the worst, the one in shade was the one I kept. I'm seeing the weakness in the variegated plants come shining through in this situation.

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  8. I've had the same experience with Agave desmettiana as Gerhard. The ants appear to aid and abet the mealybugs in establishing colonies. I usually blast the infected plant and all those in the vicinity with the hose, following up with another blast every week or two until they give up, then occasionally as a preventative measure. That's worked for me so far. I hate systemics too but, if the infestation is advanced and the plants are going inside for a time, I'd be tempted to go ahead with that. Good luck, Loree.

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    1. And Andrew keeps telling me that ants are harmless! (We had a major disagreement about how to handle their coming into the house this summer).

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  9. I don't hang birdseed where feral cats live, and I try to support local organic farms, but I'm really not that pure when it comes to rare plants, and I kill mice. Toxics for me, unless they will endanger your dog.

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    1. Thanks for the support! Since Lila only makes it downs stairs assisted I think we can be sure to keep her away from things that have been treated. Still I don't look forward to this...ugh.

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  10. Today I brought in all my succulents and cacti for a very long 6 months of inside living in Denver. After reading your post I realized that since we are in a dry climate and you are not... Damn, I've got it so good! The dreaded mealybug only hits an occasional aloe. Whew.
    My friend... I do feel the pain in your muscles and joints moving and hoisting our beloved spikes!

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    1. Well we're a dry climate until about now, then the switch gets flipped. So far I haven't found them on any Aloes, I'm sure it's only a matter of time...unless I take action.

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  11. An aside... if only I lived closer to all of you on the W coast. I had to say a painful goodbye to my Agave desmettiana. He was magnificent. A $5 plant that grew to 4' tall and 5'wide over 9 years and still did the 6 month thing inside then 6 months outside in the full CO sun. Never sunburned once. I tried my best to find him a new home. RIP my beauty.

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    1. 4ft tall and 5 ft wide ad you were still moving him? Wow...THAT is dedication. (I'm ignoring the RIP part...sniff)

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  12. mealybugs are dreadful creatures; I dumped a Graptoveria that was not one of the common type this weekend . I think systemics suck but as with any chemical I would use them in an emergency --sometimes one has to be pragmatic. Avoiding the bloom season is key. There is a certain satisfaction in the alcohol soaked Q-tip process though. Kind of like throwing snails against the fence.

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    1. I completely agree about the alcohol and snails comparison. But the roots...those are the real unmanageable...

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  13. I've never had them as bad as this. So I sympathize and am crossing my fingers. I think I will check my incoming plants much more vigorously this fall.

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    1. Thank you...and I hope you don't find a thing!

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  14. It's heartbreaking! It's tough to say goodbye even to one agave... Hold on there!

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  15. Probably easier to treat with a systemic before you move them all inside, FWIW. A second treatment 3~4 months from now too. Don't forget to add several fans on timers, and try to avoid plants touching indoors if possible

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    1. Yep that would have been ideal. Too late now...(but will definitely be adding the fans).

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  16. Yes, the evil Argentine ants and their symbiotic ways with aphis, mealy bugs, scale. Beschorneria has been constantly waylaid by scale -- tossed my blooming plant this year. Ants/aphis on aloe hybrids, not so much the species. (They killed Aloe 'Kujo' last year.) Aloes planted close to brick-on-sand paths (antfarm!) are more susceptible. Mealy bugs, woolly aphis on agaves I swear is new the past couple years. Never a problem before. I think it's the warmer weather. Maybe a nice cold winter will solve your problem -- outdoors at least.

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  17. Sadness. I've never seen ants cultivate mealybugs here: only aphids. Yikes!
    Blast away with the systemics. As most have said, you're not endangering pollinators with your Agaves.

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  18. I feel your pain. Could it have something to do with the oddball summer we've had (a real roller coaster ride)?

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  19. I would have done exactly the same Sometimes being cruel is just the best thing. It is tough to chuck out favourite plants, but the risk of transferring it and becoming an even bigger problem is much worse.

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  20. i did pull up and toss a pieris i was very fond of. Sorry. i have a fatsia and an aucuba with scale i am not sure if i should keep.

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