Friday, April 1, 2011

I'm from Buenos Aires and I Say KILL 'EM ALL!

There's still snow on the ground and my seedlings and young plants have been beset by a nefarious plague.

Remember the good old days when chez Dirt Gently's was a sea of green and the only worry was a spot of unsightly fluffy white fungus? Oh, how good it was to be blissfully innocent!

It seems that the plants in the propagation and germination station have been overrun with leafhoppers turning the propagation and germination station into a miniature version of Klendathu. Sadly, my foes weren't even the cool-looking multi-coloured ones (leafhoppers, that is, not arachnids). Instead, these guys:

Know your foe: Leafhopper
The little buggers laid waste to the jalapeno peppers, bacopa, cape daisies, moonflowers and bok choi. Thankfully, the datura and spinach have been spared; while I've found a few bugs on these young plants, they have mostly been undamaged.

The field of battle

The adult and young bugs suck the juice from the undersides of leaves, leaving behind a payload of toxic saliva that causes leaf burn, "windowpanes" in the leaves where they feasted and, in young shoots, causes leaf distortion.

Broken windowpanes

A little crooked
Leafhoppers especially like to hang out along thick veins on the underside of leaves, on the apical meristem where they'll royally mess up your new growth, in the crotches between the main stem and petioles on my bok choi, and at and just below the crown. Basically, if it's a hard to get at area, leafhoppers live there.

Is a live and let live policy preferable to war with the bugs? Maybe, if I could rely on predator insects to knock these little bastards off. But it's much too cold for the bugs that like to eat 'em to be very active.

I applied neem oil to the tops and bottoms of the leaves as thoroughly as I could, and spent considerable time daily manually squashing the bugs, but my efforts appeared to be futile. As a last resort, I drenched with insecticidal soap. This burned the plants and left holes in the leaves where there once were "windowpanes."

I've quarantined these plants again, leaving the germination station rather bare. I'm debating destroying the affected plants as I can't seem to get rid of the bugs, and two flats of newly germinated seedlings to protect. The other alternative is to leave the plants outside for a day, hoping that the cold kills off the bugs but not the plants. What do you think?


  1. I've had some bugs too, I don't know for sure what they are but it seems likely I've got the same problem you do, but not nearly as bad.
    usually when I have bug issues I dry the plant out (as much as I can without killing it), I always worry about fungal/damping off problems so I'm actually kind of a light waterer, this seems to keep many issues at bay
    please let us know if you find a solution!

  2. Ha - your choice of the Starship Troopers clip is perfect! I think your healthy sense of humour is an essential balcony gardener characteristic. And your recent posts and pics of spring emerging on the deck helps put the trials of rearing seedlings into perspective. Life unfolding indeed - I look forward to your continuing adventures in the garden.

  3. I didn't end up drying the plants out but I did try, separately, strong jets of water to knock the bugs off, neem, insecticidal soap, and pyrethrin over the past couple of weeks, and they didn't work that well.

    As a result I destroyed the plants that still seem to be infested, and any plants where the foliage is too dense to allow me to thoroughly inspect for the presence of bugs.

    I will be keeping a close eye on the plants that remain. So far, they've been mostly bug free. I think it's gotten to the point where I can safely control the problem by picking the bugs off by hand.