Japanese beetles, phlox, tree crickets and planting fall vegetables

Updated: December 27, 2012 - 5:48 pm

As we wind down on what has felt like (and may actually be) the longest summer ever in these parts, I’ve got a lot of different garden-related topics on my mind. So I thought I’d offer up a bit of a hodgepodge here. Let’s start by pondering what in the heck is up with Japanese beetles this season. Last summer was the first year we had Japanese beetles in our gardens, and they pretty much decimated everything they like, especially our Virginia creeper. This year, we’ve picked about 12 of them off of our plants. 

We’re thrilled, of course. But we can’t help wondering what’s up because we’ve read that research has consistently shown that Japanese beetle infestations get worse before they get better. That being the case, we were expecting this year to be downright terrible. Friends who live in St. Paul and St. Louis Park have been battling them like crazy this summer, and yet many of our neighbors in Southwest agree they’ve seen fewer of them this year. 

In search of an answer, I emailed Jeff Hahn, an entomologist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. He said infestations seem to be up and down across the state, depending on where people live. Why this is happening is anybody’s guess at this point. The drought last summer that persisted into fall and/or the lack of snow cover throughout the winter could be playing a role. Whatever the case, he said, “…no sense in looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Well put. 

Nice phlox with weird names

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, this summer’s excessive rain and heat has created a perfect storm of disease problems in the garden. Come fall, I’ll be ripping out several perennials with diseases that can’t be cured. All coneflowers must go due to aster yellows. And phlox is a goner because of powdery mildew. There’s no mistaking this dreaded fungal disease because it makes plant foliage look like it’s covered with that awful white mold that creeps over cheese you’ve had too long in the fridge. 

Yes, there are things you can do to minimize powdery mildew, but, to be honest, I’m tired of fighting it. So, if you’re sick of looking at your moldy cheese phlox too, I did some poking around and found a few nice mildew-resistant varieties to replace those sad-sack plants. Phlox paniculata ‘David’: I know. Who gets the rare opportunity to name a plant and picks the name David? At least the white flowers are pretty. Phlox paniculata ‘Lord Clayton’: Hey, now there’s a name. This phlox is relatively new and has stunning red blooms with green-purple foliage. Phlox paniculata ‘Robert Poore’: Okay, one good name out of three is better than none, I guess. This looks like your classic pinkish/purple phlox sans mildew-covered foliage, so it’s nice.

All hail tree crickets

Someone once described the nighttime songs of insects outdoors after dark as the “sound of moonlight.” How perfect and lovely. I don’t know about you, but this year those songs seem louder than they usually do. A few master gardeners I know got to talking about this and one of them took the time to figure out which ones we might be hearing most. The answer: Tree crickets, particularly snowy tree crickets. Here’s a link if you’d like to see one in action: tinyurl.com/9cnhgqz. I posted more links and info about tree crickets on my blog if you want to check that out: everydaygardener.com. 

One interesting tidbit is the fact that snowy tree crickets are often referred to as “nature’s thermometer” because the rate of their chirping is related to the temperature. Opinions on the best formula to use to translate their chirping into the correct temperature vary, but the most commonly suggested method is to count the number of chirps in 13 seconds, and then add 40 to that number to get the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

Planting fall veggies

For those interested in planting some late-summer vegetables, now is the time. The average frost date around here is the first week in October, so your best bet is to choose edibles that will mature within 60 days or so. Some vegetables, like kale, can take a fair amount of frost and keep growing, but even a light frost will kill bush beans. 

Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens, lettuce, bush beans and beets are all good choices to plant now. Just be sure to check the plant tag or seedling packet for that critical “days to maturity” information. Oh, and if you have a good recipe for collard greens, please email it to me. I’ve got a mess of ‘em, as my grandma would say, and I’m not keen on the recipes we’ve got. 

Meleah Maynard is a writer and Master Gardener. For more gardening tips and articles, subscribe to her blog: everydaygardener.com.