Blue Winged Wasp: A biological control for Japanese Beetles

Did you know that most wasp species aren’t aggressive? When we hear ‘wasp’ we tend to think of the aggressive species, living in nests, that swarm us.

Wasp are carnivores, and actually can do a lot to help control pests in our gardens.

Today I saw a blue winged wasp, Scolia dubia, in my yard. It is a non aggressive species that is desirable to have in our yard. It can sting, but only maybe if it is highly threatened.

After reading about it, I learned that the female burrows into soil and lays its eggs on Japanese beetle grubs in the ground, which then eat the grub as the larvae grows and matures.

According to Penn State, this species of wasp especially likes goldenrod and mountain mint, of which I have several large clumps in my yard. So if you’re looking to decrease the Japanese beetle population in your yard, think about planting species of Solidago and Pycnanthemum in your garden.

Five Spotted Hawkmoth

Every evening as the last rays of sun dwindle down in the sky, I look out from my back patio door. What I see visiting my nicotiana’s every night, looks like a hummingbird, but it’s actually a moth!

Every day at about dusk, a Five Spotted Hawkmoth visits the nicotiana by my back patio. It likes to feed on the nectar from its fragrant, long, white, tubular flowers.

Even while I’m standing right beside it, it doesn’t pay any attention to me watching it. It has really large eyes and a long proboscis in order to get the nectar located down in the tubular flower. The nicotiana is the only flower I’ve seen it feed on in my yard.

There are different species of hawk, or sphinx moths all around the world of the Sphingid family. They are fast flyers and acrobatic too. I see my visitor in my yard whip around the plants and over the fence and back again. Many species can hover in place like a hummingbird. Many species like fragrant light colored flowers, such as nicotiana, four o clocks, or datura.

Not all, but some of these hawk moths are considered pests. And guess what, the Five Spotted Hawkmoth is actually also known as a tomato hornworm! I plant lots of tomatoes every year, and it’s rare that I’ve seen any hornworms on my plants. I saw one in the early summer, but a parasitic wasp took care of the hornworm for me!

These non-stinging parasitic wasps actually look like a type of fly to an untrained eye. The wasp lays its eggs inside the caterpillar to use as a host (as it will do to any species of caterpillar) and the larvae hatches into what looks like bits of rice.

Dead tomato hornworm with parasitic wasp larvae

I don’t have an issue with hornworms, so I’m not worried about seeing this hawkmoth in my garden. I’d rather the hornworms be used by the parasitic wasp as its host instead of the monarch or swallowtail caterpillars that are around in my yard too.

National Honey Bee Day

Today is national Honey Bee Day!

Honey bees are not native to the America’s, but they provide a great resource to us; honey, propolis, beeswax, and royal jelly. They also help pollinate food and flowers!

In my garden, I don’t see honey bees too often. However, this is the first year I’ve had mountain mint in my yard. It is covered in honey bees (and tiny native bees)! So, if you want to specifically help out honey bees, plant plants in the mint family. I have also seen honey bees on some catmint in my garden too.

There are over 20 species of mountain mints in the Pycnanthemum genus that are native to the US. However, there are just a few you’ll likely find at a nursery that has native plants.

  • Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
  • Short Toothed Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum¬†muticum)
  • Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)
  • Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint¬†(Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)

Despite the name ‘Mountain’, they do like full to partial sun, and takes average well drained soils. I have it growing in an area with hard clay soil, and it’s doing very well. Being in the mint family, the leaves do have a nice minty aromatic scent when crushed.

It has clusters of flowers which bloom over a long period over the summer. In spring, the foliage is some of the first green you’ll see appear in the garden. While the flowers are not showy, the foliage is a show stopper with its silvery blue green color. Some of the species have small differences, so they can be difficult to identify.

The Virginia and Narrow Leaf Mountain Mints look similar with its finer foliage, and shorter habit. These two species look quite a bit different from the Short Toothed and Hoary Mountain Mints however. The Short Toothed and Hoary also look similar to one another.

Some of the mountain mints (from my experience the hoary and short-toothed do) like to form large clusters by rhizomes and will go as far as you let them. However, it’s easy to pull where you don’t want it. In a small garden, pull what you don’t want in the spring time.

Leave Coneflowers for Goldfinches

The pink petals on Purple Coneflowers are starting to fade away for the summer. The gold colored seed heads will start to mature and turn dark, as the seed becomes ripe for picking.

The American Goldfinches will soon be sitting atop the seed heads picking away at the seeds. Adult goldfinches are seed eaters; and they love purple coneflower seeds. There’s almost no time I go outside and don’t see them nibbling on the coneflower seeds this time of year.

When things go brown in the garden; many people think it’s time to clip it all away. However, the heads of the purple coneflower are a valuable seed source for the goldfinches during the fall. Usually, they will eat the seeds fairly quickly when they’re ripe during the fall. If you want to clip away all the brown, wait until all the coneflower seeds are gone sometime in winter.

Plus, I think when a bit of snow or frost sits on the brown coneflower heads, it looks pretty cool.

If you’re wondering what types of coneflowers goldfinches will like; it can be difficult to know! They for sure like purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea). I am unsure about other species of echinacea. Pale Purple and Glad Coneflowers are very similar to Purple Coneflower. The goldfinches like to sit on top of the flowers as they eat the seeds. They probably like stems that are going to support their body weight.

As far as coneflower cultivars (like pow-wow, salsa, etc.), it may depend. Some cultivar species may not even produce seeds since they were bred sterile, or the seed quality will be lacking due to the genetics of the cultivar. Many of the cultivars are shorter and are compact. The goldfinches simply may not like a coneflower just based on the structure of it.

If you’d like to attract goldfinches to your yard with coneflower, plant them in a larger mass together. Goldfinches often like to sit together with one another and eat together. Much like us!

Native Asters

It’s getting to the time of the year here in Central Kentucky where many summer perennials are dwindling. The purple coneflowers and blazing stars are nearly done flowering in my yard.

However, I know there is still some perennial color yet to look forward to, as the days get shorter and temperatures begin to drop. Those perennials are asters and goldenrods.

Aster is an important plant species for pollinators. It offers nectar and pollen when there’s nearly no other plants flowering in the fall. This means asters are an integral part of a pollinator garden. Most asters are either white or purple in color with many shades in between.

Aster in Greek means ‘star’. Aster’s star like flowers means it is in the Compositae (or Asteraceae) family.

Depending on the species, different asters will like different sun requirements. However, most of them will like medium to dry soils. To reduce seeding, remove the spent flowers in late fall before they disperse seed.

There are some species of Japanese asters (Kalimeris sp) available on the market, however they are not in the same genus as our native asters. I cannot comment on their performance as a pollinator plant. I only know I have planted one in the past, and it has not thrived in the least.

Did you know aster has also been traditionally used as an herb? Parts of the plant have been used as a sedative and decongestant. Do your research if you’d like to look more into this!

The color purple is a symbol of fall, so add some asters to your garden in celebration of the season! Aster is also the flower for the month of September, and the flower for 20th wedding anniversaries.

EARTHeim currently has plants available for sale of each species at time of posting.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

Most of the asters (unless you get into cultivars) have purple to purple blue flowers. This aster has deep purple flowers. This is one of the taller asters, reaching nearly 5 feet. In late May, I prune mine down by 30-40% of their growth at that time. This keeps them shorter and bushier. This also means more flowers! Full Sun.

Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

This aster also has very vibrant purple flowers. It stays shorter, around 2′ tall. The leaves have an aromatic pleasant aroma when crushed. Full Sun.

Silky Aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum)

The leaves of this aster are unique in that they are fuzzy soft and have a bluish silver tint to them. It reaches 1-2′ feet in height and also has colorful purple flowers. Full to Partial Sun.

Blue Wood/Heartleaf Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Not many plants have bluer looking flowers, but the blue wood aster does. It is a woodland aster and likes partial shade to shade. It will get around 3′ tall. I also prune mine about 30% in May to keep them shorter and bushier. Its flowers are smaller than the other asters, but are prolific.

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