This July the garden felt like a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s start with the good.
July is the time when annual flowers have grown enough to crowd out weeds and really start to look like the pictures in the seed catalog. This summer’s hot-hued garden beauties are aflame in pinks, reds and magenta.
A favored plant by garden guests has been the ‘Celebrities’ mixed miniature hollyhock found at the Kauffman Garden’s front entrance. We put them front and center, surrounded by ‘Butterfly’ pentas, golden melampodium and a mixed variety of annual vinca.
Another eye-catching plant that the gardeners and volunteers were asked about daily was the ‘Carnival’ Amaranth. This plant is also known to old-school gardeners as the “summer”poinsettia” because they have very bright leaves that mimic a bold poinsettia. They are not actually poinsettias or related to them in any way. These amaranth just happen to have striking-colored, wide leaves.
The summer poinsettia amaranth would have a better following in gardening circles, but their habit can be a little unpredictable. Every plant will be a different height or have a different shape. We chose to plant them in dots throughout the planting bed and hope for the best. Most of these amaranth were so tall that we needed to affix them to garden stakes.
Now for the bad and the ugly.
Unfortunately, the dreaded Japanese beetles are also attracted to hollyhocks and amaranth. They are also very difficult to control whether you rely on organic or non-organic techniques.
We have inoculated the soil with Milky Spore which controls the Japanese beetle grubs that emerge from the soil in late spring/early summer. We knock the beetles into soapy water in the morning when they are groggy and throughout the day when there is a spare moment.
There are oil-based spray products like Neem oil and horticultural oil with pyrethrin which will kill these pests, but when temperatures are above 90F, the product will burn the plants. This makes it very difficult to use anything with an oil base, as our July temperatures were closer to 100 most days.
There are also non-organic products like Sevin and Malathion that will harm the butterflies and pollinating insects. When we are forced to use these we cut all of the flowers off of the Canna or roses, then spray the plant down. That way the munching beetles are harmed, and the pollinators just go to a different plant.
Using beetle traps are fine for people that have a lot of land, as they are recommended to be used about 1/8-1/4 mile away from your garden. Most normal gardeners and homeowners don’t have that kind of space.
I even experimented with literal snake oil. When looking at the hardware store for a concentrated cedar oil (which Japanese beetles are supposed to hate) the only product I could find with this ingredient was a snake deterrent. To make a long story short, it didn’t work
This has prompted me to invent something called “garden blinders.” This is when you walk past all of the beetles and try not to notice their damage until their adult stage is completed at the end of July. Then you cut off damaged plant parts when the beetles are gone for the season.
The Japanese beetles are going to be back next year, so we have the whole winter to think up new schemes to battle them. Gardening in Kansas City is not for the faint of heart. There are droughts, floods, insects and diseases to keep us busy. In the end, it is important to not sweat the small stuff and enjoy the triumphs when you can.