Pests, etc.

See that blurry half-inch vampire? The one that’s out of focus and I don’t even care? That’s a variety of leafhopper that likes to spend its life in battle with me over the Texas hibiscus in the front yard. Its one worldly desire is to bite holes in stalks and stems, creating potentially lethal holes and scars in a perfectly innocent plant. When I googled them this morning, I found out “there are more leafhopper species worldwide than all species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians combined.” Great.

It is difficult for me to admit, and even more difficult to confess, that I enjoy killing leafhoppers. Worse, I enjoy killing them with my bare fingers. They can be quick and evasive, and sometimes require insecticidal soap; but I mostly enjoy squeezing, yes, their guts out. I make it my business to step out the front door and do away with twenty of them at least once a day. Just in my hibiscus!

I like killing leafhoppers because they make me really mad, which you should not do to a gardener. We have tools, some of which are heavy and some of which are sharp. Some are both. Or, like my fingers, they are simply enough to do you in. And we don’t mind sneaking up on pests, either.

All gardening people have to do battle with critters that compete with us in a pitched battle to conquer the plant world. We have our desires, the pests have theirs. I, for example, want the Texas hibiscus to produce blossoms nearly eight inches across on its six-foot-tall foliage for the next several months. Like this:

This is Hibiscus coccineus. MY Hibiscus coccineus. Can you blame me for being possessive?
Unlike some city people, I do not regard the deer as pests. Perhaps because I see myself as an invader of their turf; perhaps because they don’t often saunter across my yard. I know they do now and then, because of deer poop and also the height at which certain chompings have clearly taken place. I don’t think it’s the yard bunnies doing it, and I doubt it’s zebras – although I have often thought, out in the greenbelt on a ragingly hot day when the cicadas’ music makes me feel like someone has run an electrical wire through my head, that I would not be at all surprised to come across a giraffe or an elephant out there. It just has that African feel to it sometimes, particularly when the drought is upon us.
I suppose I could say something about aphids: super-annoying and ubiquitous. I go after them with soap sometimes, especially when they are decimating the butterfly weed. But I don’t bother with them too much since against aphids I feel completely helpless, and that’s because of the crape myrtle.
Ever since I lived in Texas, I have wanted crape myrtle. I just loved how some people had rows of them arching over the sidewalk, making an elegant summer canopy. They are called “the lilac of the south,” you know, and come in a dazzling array of colors I will be happy to show you in a couple of weeks when the blooms are up and running. Our house came with a number of crape myrtles, and they are very pretty.
But what about this: if you come down to Texas and you are standing under one of those lovely crape myrtles admiring those heat-enduring flowers, and you feel something like a light drizzle falling on you, I will have to tell you that it is no light drizzle; it is aphids. Aphid waste material, to be perfectly honest. And I would invite you to take note of the black sticky slime that eventually coats the crape myrtle leaves, your car, lawn furniture, the sidewalk, and anything else that lacks the sense to stay out from under crape myrtles.
So with crape myrtles, it’s a love-hate thing for me.
Meanwhile, I thought I’d share a few pleasant photographs of some happily uncomplaining, virtually unchewed flowers currently coloring up the yard. It’s Monday, it’s hot, and I need a little enjoyment.

All through the summer, one or the other of the cacti is likely to have a flower. This is nice of them.

The cacti get little insect pests too, little crab-looking things. They respond very well to the insecticidal soap by dying. Sometimes that level of cooperation is the best a gardener can ask for, especially when so many pests seem immortal.

Nothing cheers me more than lantana, which I have in many colors. Bees love it, hummingbirds love it, no major pest problems to speak of, one purple variety spills itself all along my curb, some are native and utterly thrilled to volunteer all over the yard. There are spill-over-the-curb varieties in yellow and in white also, but somehow I haven’t planted those yet. This is what I need: an excuse to run over to the Natural Gardener!

Floyd sometimes takes me mountain biking on a trail in far south Austin (because, you know, 60 miles of trail a block from the house isn’t enough for me). This trail starts out at the site of an old homestead. All around the long-abandoned yard, and here and there in the dappled woods, native lantana blooms all through even the most vicious, arid summers. Its only drawback here is being deciduous. Lantana? Yes, please.

There are a number of pink things going on outside right now. One of them belongs to a desert rose that currently lives in a pot on a shelf over by the rain barrel, avoiding the worst of the afternoon sun. My desert rose is singularly stalky and unattractive (my son-in-law calls them “Dr. Seuss plants”); and then it will go and surprise me with something like this:

In the sidewalk garden I have two rose bushes, selected because they are varieties that thrive in old Texas cemeteries. After reading all my cemetery stuff from Italy you may be thinking I have a penchant for morbidity; but in this context I am merely expressing a preference for plants that thrive on neglect. I guess after a while, pests must give up on such hardy soldiers.

One last rose, a rock rose. Since I’m heading for the Natural Gardener anyway, maybe I’ll pick myself up another one of these. Pavonia lasiopetala is a very hardy Texas native. It’s a perennial shrub that can be a short-timer, living only three or four years; but it has the excellent quality of seeding itself easily. Mine lives in the front yard by the driveway, its blooms making a pretty contrast to the dark purple salvia that will feed the honeybees all summer long.

This piece started with pests and might just as well end with pests. Every year I try to have a few sunflowers around. If I had my way I’d have an acre of them, but I don’t. Maybe that’s just as well, because the squirrels at my house live to see a sunflower bud get just so big before they run up that thick unpleasant stalk and CHOMP.

This year I’ve managed to eke out a sunflower or two, scruffy as they are – because I only use bird seed because why bother spending money for seeds to make lovely sunflowers that will never become flowers anyway?

Maybe the camouflage table helped.

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