Hallo Rabbit

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

A juvenile Eastern Cottontail (common name: wild rabbit) calls my garden home. He’s bigger than four inches yet well under 12.5 inches, the low end for an adult rabbit.

Rabbits build their nest in low, dense vegetation … like this stand of Eastern Columbine marching down my perennial bed (see photo). I’ve not seen the nest, but I always see the rabbit in this general area and when s/he senses my presence s/he jumps into the thicket of columbine. You may not think of columbine as making a thicket, but my plants have reseeded so profusely that that is precisely what it looked like in April.  

A “thicket” of Columbine. Photo by A. Laine

The first couple of times I startled the rabbit, s/he dashed into the columbine (Aquilegia spp.) so swiftly that I heard but did not see it. I suspected a rabbit, but all I had to go on was a swoosh of plant leaves and the crunch of dried leaves underfoot. I spent a lot of time in my garden this spring, and eventually s/he stopped jumping away. While I went about my business of putting in new plants or pruning established shrubs, s/he was cautiously content munching on the leaves of a big patch of creeping jenny (Lysimachia N. Aurea). I have a lot of it so, I didn’t worry. I have a lot of columbine, too, so I wasn’t concerned about one bunny living in and feeding on it either. As a precaution, I sprayed the hostas with a commercial rabbit deterrent. I didn’t think to spray the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ I planted in March and which was looking really good until suddenly it wasn’t. Now I know that succulent plants provide rabbits with water. Glad(?) I could help.

Creeping Jenny in background, Columbine in foreground, Eastern Cottontail in center.
Photo by A. Laine

A common food for the Eastern Cottontail is blackberry but s/he hasn’t touched any of mine. It seems s/he preferred some young phlox (gone) and a new aster. The hardy begonia also mysteriously disappeared. Hardy – ha!

I became more diligent with the commercial rabbit deterrent spray and soon after I realized that the rabbit was the least of my garden critter worries and probably not the cause of my disappearing phlox and begonia, nor damaged sedum. I noticed a vole hole. Ugh!  My gardening season is off to a rough start.

More on voles in an upcoming post.

Sources & Further Reading




I’ve heard rabbit stew jokes aplenty, but hunting season doesn’t begin til November 17. http://www.eregulations.com/northcarolina/hunting-fishing/small-game-seasons/#rabbit

Learn With Us, week of June 1

Shade Gardening

Saturday, June 1⋅10:00 – 11:00am For Garden’s Sake 9197 NC-751, Durham, NC 27713

Description: Successful SHADE GARDENING is a necessary concern to many in our area who haven’t access to “all sun – all the time”. Topics addressed will be varieties of flowers, shrubs, vegetables and grasses that do well in shady areas to include their propagation and nutrient requirements. The essentials of soil and water as well as the unique concerns of shade-driven diseases and pests will also be covered. Free/Registration required To register, email ann@fgsnursery.com or call 919-484-9759

Painless Perennials – Durham Garden Center

Saturday, June 8⋅10:00 – 11:00am Durham Garden Center 4536 Hillsborough Rd, Durham, NC 27705

Description: PAINLESS PERENNIALS will address seasonal selections of reliable plants to keep your garden colorful from Spring through Fall and into next year. Topics will cover deer resistant plants for both your sunny or shady garden as well as attracting pollinators. Soils, sun and water requirements, in-ground and container varieties and basic pruning and propagation are also on the agenda. Free/Registration required Contact: 919-384-7526 or http://www.durhamgardencenternc.com Sign up at the store, online or by phone. Include the seminar title and full name(s) of persons attending

Garden Calendar: To Do in June

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

“June is bustin’ out all over.” And apparently it is going to be HOT. Are y’all ready?  After a relatively benign summer last year this one is looking like a scorcher already. My potted annuals on the deck want a serious drink every other day and I had to put a soaker hose in the four by eight-foot veggie garden box. So, even though it means getting out of the AC there are things to do outside. (Just get up earlier. Beauty sleep is a myth.) Think of going outside as detoxifying through sweat.

Lawn Care

If you have heretofore procrastinated on this item it is TIME to fertilize warm season grasses (i.e. Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine). It is also the best (and really only) time to fertilize Centipede. The general recommendation is for a half pound 15-0-14 or equivalent per 1000 square feet. Should you desire to be truly accurate – GET a FREE SOIL TEST.

It would be difficult to core aerate our clayey soils too much, so a day or two after a rain (like any day this spring) or a good irrigation would be an ideal time do just that.

When mowing warm season grasses a good rule-of-thumb is to remove one-third of the new growth per mowing.

If you have been drooling over your neighbor’s Zoysia lawn, June is a good time to start your own with sod or plugs.

After getting your FREE SOIL TEST in order to avoid over fertilizing, now is the time to feed your dogwoods following the recommendations.

Vegetable gardens would like a side dressing of fertilizer about now to maximize production.

Again, for the procrastinators out there, if you want a crop this year better get these plants (too late for seeds) in the ground ASAP: tomatoes, peppers, black-eyed peas, lima beans, green & wax beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes.

Start (from seed) Brussel sprouts & collards to set out in mid-July.

Coniferous evergreens (they produce seeds in cones) like pines, cedars, junipers, arborvitaes, etc. may be pruned now.

Hedges can be pruned now but be advised do not remove more than a third of the total plant top (the green part.)

Keep pinching your garden mums until mid-July.

Hydrangea macrophylla (the ones with the BIG leaves) can be pruned when the flowers fade.

Azaleas may be pruned until July 4. (An “old wives tale” that works.)

Dieback in ericaceous plants (acid-loving) such as azalea, rhododendron, Pieris, etc. can be pruned out now. Remember to cut below the damage and to sterilize the pruner with 10% bleach between cuts.

Pest Control and Herbicides
Patrol your shrubs for the following likely suspects: lace bugs, leaf miners, spider mites, aphids and bag worms. Use appropriate measures to curtail their destructive tendencies. If the bag worms have already bagged themselves you will have to hand pick them and destroy them in any manner you see fittin’.

June is also the beginning of the Asian invasion better known as Japanese beetles.  There is a myriad of treatment options.

Tomato early blight could be rampant this year what with all the warm dampness.  Watch for dark spots on the leaves and treat with an appropriate fungicide. There are some good organics on the market.

June is a good month to eradicate poison ivy, kudzu and honeysuckle. Get ‘em with an appropriate herbicide while they are rapidly growing.

As with shrubs it is time to be on guard in the garden. Several (many?) insects are looking for gourmet gardens to satisfy their gastronomic inclinations. Look for a variety of worms on cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), cucumber beetles on cucumbers (ironically), squash borers on other cucurbits-squash and melons, flea beetles on green beans, tomatoes and eggplant, and aphids on anything green.

Continue with regular pest-management programs on bunch grapes, fruit trees and roses.

Use pesticides wisely, sparingly and only when necessary. Always read the label and follow directions.

Other Fun Garden Stuff to Keep You Outside
Water lawns as necessary but try to do it early in the day to avoid evaporative loss.  Watering a lawn in the evening promotes disease. Lawns and gardens need about one inch of water per week either from natural sources or irrigation. 

Strawberry beds can be renovated now.

It is also a marvelous time to sit on the deck or patio with a glass of your favorite cold beverage and enjoy your garden.

Leaftier and Leaf Roller Caterpillars

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

I recently learned about leaftiers and leaf rollers. These plant pests may be confused with one another as at first glance the damage they do to leaves looks similar.

This was a scene on my Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in early May (see photo below). A tiny creature was cocooned on the leaves where a flower would hopefully form later this summer. Surrounding the creature the leaves were crinkly and curled in a deformed way as were leaves at the tips of other flower stems. I instinctively snipped the stem tip to minimize damage to the plant and get a closer look.

Photo by Andrea Laine

I had a hunch that the creature was the pupa of an insect. But what insect and how much damage could it potentially wreak to my, otherwise healthy, hydrangea? I was curious enough to research further; and it was a good time to re-educate myself about insect lifecycle.

Insects look different in each stage of their development. Typically, there are four stages: egg, larva, pupa, adult. The process by which insects move from stage to stage is called metamorphosis.  Most of us know that the butterflies (adult stage) we admire in our garden were once caterpillars (larva stage). We are probably less familiar with recognizing insect eggs and pupa. I know I am.

“My” pupa is likely a developing moth (insect order Lepidoptera). I believe this because of the way in which it wrapped itself in the leaves at the branch tip of the hydrangea. For protection while they morph from pupa into adults, moth larvae, i.e. moth caterpillars, spin cocoons or silky webs (behavior indicative of leaftier caterpillars), while others roll a leaf around their bodies (leaf rollers). The caterpillar feeds on the developing flower bud and leaf surfaces within their reach. The damage may be unattractive and limit bloom, but it will not kill the host plant.

Hydrangea leaftier caterpillar (Olethreutes ferriferana ) has a distinctive appearance: long green body and brown head. There are as many types of leaftiers and leafrollers as there are plants to pester. Photo credit: University of Illinois Extension.

By the time I took note of the distorted leaves on my hydrangea the moth had advanced to the pupa stage and ceased feeding. According to Durham County Agriculture Agent Ashley Troth, leaftier caterpillars drop to the ground to pupate and leaf rollers largely pupate where they have been eating. No activity on the outside belies much activity internally. During pupation many tissues and structures are completely broken down and structures of the adult are formed.2 The following spring the adult moth will emerge.

Since becoming an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in 2015, I have become hesitant to destroy an insect lest it be one of the beneficial ones. (Prior to my EMGV education I didn’t acknowledge that many are beneficial.) Given that there are 11,000 species of moth3 in the U.S., I may never learn to distinguish between a good one and a bad one. But, so long as the nibbling of their larvae stays within reason and lets my plant produce most of its blooms, perhaps we can co-exist.

Leaftiers and leafrollers are found on a wide range of plants, including many fruit trees. Prune out the effected foliage, webbing and remove caterpillars from plants. Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is an effective control for recurring problems, particularly if applied as soon as larvae hatch.4  Trees infested with leafrollers can furthermore be sprayed with horticultural oil.5

Footnotes,  Sources & Further Reading

1, 4, 5 http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/pests-and-problems/insects/caterpillars/caterpillars-leaf-tiers-bagworms-and-web-former.aspx

2 https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/4-insects#section_heading_5108

3 https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/moths


When you are stumped about something gone wrong in your garden, remember Durham County Cooperative Extension’s  Ask an Expert resource. Send photos and an explanation of what you are seeing to:  mastergardeners@dconc.gov.