Monday, September 10, 2018

The Mysterious Case of the Grevillea Chigger

This is the area just north of our patio as it looks today, this part of the garden underwent a make-over when the large, floppy Grevillea australis was removed this last spring.

That green mass below was the Grevillea, photo from summer 2017. I previously wrote about the removal of the Grevillea, and the replacement plantings, back on June 5th (here). But what I didn't mention then — because I wasn't yet aware of it — has become perhaps the most exciting development of my summer: I have gotten ZERO painful, itchy, bites this season! Let me digress...


This area used to be home to a huge overgrown planting of privet (Ligustrum). It was an inherited mess that we managed to live with for 9 years (I was finally coming to terms with it's removal in this post from July of 2013). In February of 2014 I shared photos of the area post privet removal (here), and in May of 2014 I revealed the new stock-tank pond that we'd placed (here). Little did I know what lay ahead. The summer of 2014 was the first time I suffered repeated, remarkably painful and itchy, insect bites — and they continued to haunt me every summer since, until this one.
My entire life I've been that lucky person who didn't get bitten by mosquitoes, I also grew up in a part of the country without chiggers or no-see-ums. I'd never even heard of those pests until I married a man from Nebraska. However, after completing these plantings I discovered a day, even an hour, spent in the back garden on a warm day — the bites never happened until July, and then ran until first frost — meant a bite, or two, or occasionally three. They were always on my torso (under the back bra-strap was a favorite location) or my neck. I never saw, or felt, the critters doing the biting.

The connection between the new "pond" and surrounding plants started to form in my head the next summer. I could work in the upper garden and not suffer, but work in the lower garden, or time spent on the patio, was almost always rewarded with a bite. As the Grevillea australis grew, and flopped toward the tank, I began to wonder if it wasn't hosting something. Of course that was just me postulating, I had no proof, and I loved that plant and the water garden so I certainly wasn't going to get rid of either one. Until I did. Not even thinking about the bites. Until I did. Because they weren't happening anymore. Thus I give you the mysterious case of the Grevillea chigger... could it be? Did my nemesis depart with the Grevillea?

Okay if you've read this far in my mini Nancy Drew mystery you deserve a little plant-porn reward. Let's look at how the "new" plants in the area are settling in. The Symphytum × uplandicum 'Axminster Gold' has had a good year.

The vent-planter filled with succulents and an Agave topper is looking good.

I'm going to have to decide how I want to over-winter these guys.

Lift them roots and all, or just cut off their heads and let them re-root indoors. And what about the purple Oxalis? I guess I should be planning to lift it and plant it in the ground somewhere.

Hopefully the Passiflora 'Amethyst Jewel' has settled in nicely and will come back just as strong next year.

And I must say, I'm happy to have a better path through this part of the garden.

Just how wide is that path? How big are those plants? Feet for scale.

And the view over to the patio, where I can enjoy a glass of wine and not suffer itchy, painful, red bumps the next day. Hallelujah!

Weather Diary, Sept 9: Hi 80, Low 55/ Precip 0

All material © 2009-2018 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

42 comments:

  1. I've had a problem in the past with insect bites on my torso and legs whenever I work near the stream in my back garden, I always assumed it was mosquitoes, even though they aren't supposed to like moving water. I never see or feel what does it, but it itches like mad for several days, much worse than any mosquito bite I ever got back east. Maybe my problem is chiggers too. So far this summer I haven't been bitten, but I've been working around the stream less too. Hope you continue to have a chiggerless garden.

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    1. I thought mosquitoes were opportunists that only bit exposed skin? Unless you're gardening in a bikini (maybe you do?) how are they getting at your torso? ;) And I should have said that I'm only saying chigger because I have no idea what it is and it's fun to blame the chiggers.

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    2. Oh Lord no, the image of me in a bikini would make me want to wash my eyes out with bleach. I do wear thin short sleeve shirts so I always assumed they were biting through the fabric.

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  2. I am always aware of mosquitoes and fully cover myself if they are bad. But this year for the first time, I got chigger bites around my wrists and scattered on my arms even though I was wearing long sleeves. They were the worst itch ever. I figured out where I got them and have almost ignored that areas. But now I am tucking my long sleeves into my gloves whenever I am outdoors. I am sure you are correct that there is a relationship that you've interrupted. Your Axminster looks great. I think it likes your gravel more than my mulch.

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    1. "there is a relationship that you've interrupted"... well said! That Axminster was not happy on the hottest days, but a nice long drink and it perked right up.

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  3. I have no idea what kind of chigger could be living on the grevillea exclusively. Definitely a mystery!

    Having said that, I've been getting weird bites myself this summer. They're not mosquito bites, but we don't have chiggers or no-see ums here. At least as far as I know. But something's out and about in the early morning....

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    1. And as I said I'm not sure that's the case, I like what Linda said above "there is a relationship that you've interrupted" — I hope I've interrupted it permanently! I also thought we didn't have chiggers but I guess we do.

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  4. They do sound like chigger bites and I should know because I get them all the time and they are nasty. Always groin, underarm, waistband etc. But normally we get them from being in among the rocks. As to overwintering those plants. They really look at their best right now but by next year they will have really overgrown and will start forming roots along their stems saying, cut me off. On the other hand I think spring would be a better time for rooting. They are gorgeous though.

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    1. Unfortunately I can't wait until spring, or I guess I could just leave them and hope we have a mild winter...

      Sorry you're being attacked by the chiggers!

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  5. I don't have any clues about this specific mystery, but I hope you are right! This summer I've been using the eucalyptus-lemon wrist bands and whatnot--whenever I go outside for certain chores or certain times of day (mosquitos and others do love me). I have had a much more pleasant summer, skin and itch-wise. One would think that bites are physical, but they kind of start to become emotional, as they go on an on. So, anyway, I hope you have an increased enjoyment of back quarter again! Love that photo with your feet for scale.

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    1. Yes!!! Emotional, definitely! Glad you understand, sorry you're a target.

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  6. It also could be an allergic reaction to the plant. This went on with me for 7 years every summer. I was certain the itchy bumps were either bugs or poison ivy...Turns out I was allergic to the sunflowers (contain latex) that grew in my yard every summer. Each time I brushed against one, I would break out but it was a systemic reaction such that I didn't necessarily break out where I brushed against the plant but instead broke out on my belly, upper arms, etc. Of course, it could be chiggers. Just wanted to give you a different perspective.

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    1. I appreciate the idea, and it makes sense. However I still suffered, even when I didn't brush up against the plant. Good thing to consider though and I appreciate your sharing your experience.

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  7. If you do have chiggers, tuck those pant legs into your socks because they really like to travel up my legs and leave their love bites. They are horrible and it always takes me a little while to catch on that yes, it truly is summer and I truly do need to tuck those pant legs in. Glad your problem seems to be solved.

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    1. Socks? I garden in flip flops!

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    2. Ha Ha - You wouldn't last long in NE Alabama - too many fire ants. I hope you never get to experience their bite. I was never much of a garden glove person in Portland, but I learned quickly that it's a lot different here.

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    3. I was "lucky" enough to experience fire ants in Austin. Ugh, no thank you!

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  8. Grevillea chiggers - that's a scary proposition! You're well rid of them, especially as you got a wider path and better line of sight in the bargain. That passionflower is incredible. I've yet to get one to bloom here but at least my current plant hasn't outright died this time.

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    1. Here's hoping for lots of passionflowers in your future!

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  9. This summer has been an abnormal one weather-wise for you, hasn't it? I'd be surprised if a single plant was the cause, but I'm no expert.

    I also got bit by something "weird" this summer, and after 10 weeks or more I still have a bit of a red dot there.

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    1. Yes, we've set some records (like 2 days over the old total of days above 90F, and a record dry spring into summer) but I don't think that could be the issue. I've still watered things, and two additional days above 90 wouldn't make a difference, especially when heat is what brought it on.

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  10. Thowe plants are pretty huge now! Either that or your feet have shrunken. Glad that whatever was biting you is gone now.

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  11. What a pleasant patio. So glad you can enjoy it without getting bit.

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  12. Glad your 'chigger' problem seems to have gone and isn't due to your unusual weather.
    Our worst pests are ticks from Apr-June and Sep-Nov. giving us not just itchy bites, but diseases like Lyme. Not looking forward to the next onslaught due any day now. :( With all the rain we've had, mosquitoes are pretty relentless this year, too. Once frost hits, they'll be done for the year. It is always something in the garden!

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    1. Ticks, what a horrible fear to live with. We had them where I grew up, but Lyme was rare there.

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  13. I am also one of the chosen that is not of interest to mosquitoes. I think maybe they bite me on occasion , but I have no reaction. And they really aren't around here much anyway.Too dry I expect. I wonder if the Grevillea removal was just a coincidence and something else was afoot ?

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    1. Could very well be (coincidence)...whatever it is though I'll take it.

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  14. BTW, your blue Agave is stunning!

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  15. Nice! Mosquitoes, chiggers, and no-see-ums can ruin a perfect day (or a perfect garden). Truly. We've been having near-perfect weather here lately, but the mosquitoes are ruthless. They appear to be a different, angrier species than we had earlier in the year. I'm glad you solved your Nancy Drew mystery. ;-)

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    1. An angrier species...I am so sorry!

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  16. Garden looks awesome, especially from the angle in that last photo. No bites is a nice bonus.

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  17. Mosquito season just starting here.. the big ones are ok but the little black ones are annoying! (And more numerous!).

    I like the change, and your garden is wondrous.

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    1. "wondrous" good word! (and thank you)

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  18. This is the first year I have ever received chigger bites in my own garden. I felt assaulted. After all I should be immune in my own garden. I have since read that they like plants that are close together and dampish. Maybe your combination of close leafy plant and water trough gave them a perfect place to commune awaiting a warm blooded creature to pass by. I blame rabbits for bringing every into the garden. I am sure they brought chiggers to annoy me.

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    1. How dare they! And those wascally wabbits!

      "close together and dampish"...that pretty much describes that area.

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  19. It's been mystery buggy here too, and we've taken to wearing citronella-infused wristbands and anklets. My passionflowers took the summer off, and purple Witchcraft finally squeezed out a small, stunted bloom -- I water it and water it but apparently not enough...The patio is perfection!

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  20. Glad whatever was biting you has left the building. (Now if only my fire ants would do the same thing!)

    I didn't realize how huge the leaves of the variegated plant were until you posted your feet for scale. Now my plant envy has reached even greater proportions. It's so hard to find a broad dramatic leaf here that isn't an agave!

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  21. I've been blaming spiders, of which we have gazillions. Can't think of any way to escape those little demons.
    rickii

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