Spring Surprise in Toronto

(Question)

Hello,
I had issues last year with little munchers of the insect variety in the garden; first, they left little holes in the leaves of the sweet potato vines; then they moved on to the leaves of the echinacea flowers leaving almost nothing left. I was cleaning up the garden just a few days ago after the winter melt & I noticed something has been munching on the tulip leaves which are starting to spring up. Is there 1 particular kind of bug that could be responsible for all this feasting? If I don’t take severe action I think that my flowers will all be gone gone gone. Is it normal for bugs to munch on this many plants?

(Answer)

How annoying!  However, I doubt very much that a single insect is responsible for the damage to your plants as the symptoms are not consistent. I also think that it is unlikely that you will loose all of your flowers.  There are many bugs which attack multiple plants but there are ways of controlling them.

I think it is likely that the pest on your sweet potato vine leaves were flea beetles.  There are a number of steps that you can take to control them should your vines be invested again this yea.  First chose your cultivar carefully.  Jewel or Centennial are varieties which are more resistant to infestations of flea beetle.  They can also be  controlled with parasitic nemotodes or by applications of diatomaceous earth, both of which may be available at your local garden centre or hardware store.   The latter only works  if dry, though, so if it rains or you irrigate you’ll need to re-dust your plants.

Your echinacea leaves were also likely attacked  by beetles; although most likely the Japanese beetle, not the flea beetle. These beetles are large enough that you can control them by hand picking them off and depositing in soapy water.  You can also shake the plants early in the day to dislodge the beetles.  Diatomaceous earth can be an effective treatment.   It is best to take action in the morning, when the beetles are more lethargic. Echinacea are hardy plants and should return again this year.

I don’t know where you live, but your tulip leaves may have been attached by rabbits, which like eating the tender leaves – apparently they are quite sweet.  Methods of control, include fencing the tulips away from the rabbits and planting plants that repel rabbits near your  tulips, such as lavender and as catnip.  Spreading bloodmeal around the garden may also discourage rabbits as they may think a predator is near.

Good luck and don’t give up!