Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Sometimes, after I turn out the light at night, I think about what I might do in the garden the next day. It isn't a real plan but a suggestion to tackle some of the many things that need my attention. The fact is if I made a list it is unlikely that I will do many of the things on that list. This morning was a good example.

My pretty little Mexican trailing purslane, Portulaca Mexicana, in a planter high up on the wall, was being visited by ants. I know immediately that spells trouble. Is it root aphids, stem aphids or scale? It had to be one of those. Closer examination revealed this-scale. I brought the leaves inside to take a good photo of them.

Scale needs to be dealt with immediately otherwise it will just overwhelm the plant and bring about its death. Early intervention is the answer. I have already battled scale on one of my cactus this year. It took a lot of effort but I think it is now scale free. Scale also likes prickly pear and citrus.
Some time later I was filling up a watering can at the barrel when I notice ants crawling up the side of the water tank garden. This time it is aphids.

There I was the other day just thinking how carefree the water garden was and now this. The mud baby, Echinodorus cordifolius, was infested with green aphids. I ran my fingers up and down the stems removing most of them and then dunked the flower heads in the water to remove the rest. I'm not sure what to do here other than hand removal because I don't want to spray with oil. I can't remove the plant because it is growing among the papyrus. I will have to go out with an artist's paint brush to remove the remaining aphids in the cracks and do this regularly until I am sure there are no more. They do make an untidy mess on the water and lily pads with their molting skins. And then there was this......

 I searched for this on the internet thinking it was some kind of mealy bug but the only photograph I came up with said it was a ladybird larvae, Hyperaspis. I have never seen one look like this but apparently they secrete this waxy substance along their sides as a protective device. I'm glad I left well alone because he can get busy eating the leftovers.

Next it was the Manfreda sileri. When ants build up around the base of plants I am always concerned for root aphids. These aphids cannot be seen above the ground but settle onto the roots and suck the plant dry. They are particularly prevalent under dry conditions and favor certain plants like blackfoot daisies, skullcaps and Gulf coast penstemon to name a few. If you see a plant start to fail and there is no visible reason then consider root aphids. They do their work silently below the ground but little do they know that ants give the game away above the ground.
Now it was time to get round to doing the garden chore I had planned; removing the A. parryi pup from underneath mother. Almost buried underneath the mother plant I knew I needed to remove it this summer so that it would have the chance to settle in before winter. I have been leaving it until it was old enough to have its own root clump which it did. The damp soil made extraction easier.

Now, I could cut off the old leaves and the second pup, growing a little further away, would have more room to grow.

The pup was planted along the edge of the dry creek with plenty of room. Next on the list is to try to remove the Whale's tongue agave pup. That will be more of a challenge.


  1. That is news to me about ants and root aphids. Sheesh - I've always noticed that ants around a plant seem to spell trouble for that plant but had the ants themselves tagged as the major cause. I noticed ants in a planter just yesterday while I was out weeding and now I'm wondering if root aphids are bothering my irises. I've got to investigate more about this pest. Gosh - some days it seems everything is out to kill our beloved plants!

    1. Sometimes ants go into our planters because the soil is dry in there. I have now started to put screening in the bottom of all my pots. When ants gather around the base of certain plants and they start to decline it usually means root aphids. Those ants do a little farming moving the aphids around to new plants.

  2. Yep, you earn something new everyday. I had never heard of root aphids either!

  3. Ants are your early-warning signal for so many pests--I like that! Earlier this year, I caught some big black ants tending to their aphid herd. I removed the aphids with a paintbrush and they never re-established. A paintbrush is my new favorite way to remove aphids--much more effective than the old "hard stream of water".

  4. These are good tips, I'm never quite sure why I see ants in the pots so now I know what to check for. Wasps have helped take care of scale on some of my plants but I still keep a lookout for it. Removing a Whale's Tongue pup will not be fun, be sure to suit up in something tough.

    I do think about gardening tasks the night before but try not to think too much as there is so much still to do and I always get sidetracked.

  5. yes I try to make a plan. But today's plan went awry. Mower tire had a puncture. Had to buy a jack to lift up the heavy mower to remove the tire. Got the tire off and had it repaired. Then put the tire back on. I was a sweaty mess and called it a day. Today's gardening list goes on tomorrow's list. sigh

  6. Soap sprays - that's the way to deal with aphids. A solution made with soap - real soap, not detergent - dissolved in hot water works wonders. The phosphoric acid in the soap dissolves the skeletal structure of the aphids. Spray it on, and then after an hour or so wash it off. I use Fels Naptha soap. It's cheap and effective. You can check the internet for the recipe.

  7. Good to know about the ants! I will now have to keep a closer eye. I have a vague list in my head of things I like to get done in the garden, but it often takes quite a while to get each thing done!

  8. I never knew that about root aphids and ants! Now I think I know why I lost a bunch of skullcap that seemed perfectly happy in its spot.

  9. Sorry to post anonymously! I really enjoy your blog. About that white bug--it's a Mealybug Destroyer (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri)! I hadn't heard of them either, but after I saw some on some dill in early June (which also had aphids on them), I looked them up on the internet. Here's an Aggie Horticulture link: .