The Web site Buckeye Yard and Garden Online announced last week that southern Ohio gardeners have reported sightings of Japanese beetles. This means it's only a matter of time, possibly days, before we see them, too.
The season usually starts out with a few, here and there, occupying a favorite plant. Their numbers are so low the first couple weeks that it is easy to control them by hand-picking the voracious adult beetles and dropping them into a can of warm, soapy water.
But as the season moves on and warm days become more consistent, the beetle population increases to the point that hand-picking beetles is like pulling out your hair - one strand at at time.
What should we do about these attractive little pests that leave our plants so unattractive? Should we try to annihilate them from the face of the earth (or at least our backyards)? Should we sneak beetle traps into our neighbor's yards so they will congregate over there and leave our gardens alone? Should we get out our chemical sprayers and fill our landscape with enough poison to take down a small country? While some might jump on that third suggestion as an easy way out, we don't recommend it, even remotely.
BYGL is an online newsletter for gardeners that is published each week from April through September. The newsletter, which can be accessed at bygl.osu.edu, is a great resource for answers to questions about plants, insects and what to expect in our gardens in general. They even have a search engine to look in past issues of the BYGL from a keyword that you provide. The newsletter is written and compiled by horticultural scientists from The Ohio State University.
But back to the beetles. According to advice from the BYGL and other reference materials, as well as from the personal experience of a well-seasoned beetle battler - me; if you can stand it, the best thing to do is simply wait out the little buggers. They are most populous in our gardens during the month of July. In most cases they don't kill our plants, although the total defoliation of a plant can cause it to weaken and die. By the time the beetles have completed their cycle of breeding, burrowing under the soil to lay their eggs and then dying, most plants haven't lost enough to cause permanent damage and can quickly recover. Gardeners who might be catastrophically affected by beetles are commercial growers who can't afford to risk losing plants from beetle damage.
It's true that a plant without leaves is an ugly plant. Between beetles and black spot, I've known many potential rose growers who simply give up. If your plants are affected to the point of no return, or at least to the point of that previously mentioned hair-pulling hissy, go ahead and spray, but use your head.
There are pesticides out there that even organic gardeners can make friends with, particularly those with the chemical compound azadirachtin, commercially known as Neem. This compound has been tested to preserve a large percentage of beneficial insects when used to combat those insects we don't consider our friends. You know who you are.
On another subject, I recently received a call from a reader wanting to know the best way to grow parsnips from seed.
I like parsnips. I buy them from the grocery store and roast them with other root vegetables in late fall when they are in season, but I only remember once planting them in my own garden. It has been a long time ago and if I remember correctly, they did well for me. It was during the time we had a large garden and I was growing many different things and lots of them. During those years, most, if not all, of my plants were started in our basement planting beds under fluorescent lights and over heat cables. We don't garden to that extent any longer, but my parsnip experience was a happy one, I recall.
The problem with growing parsnips is that they require a long growing season. Not only that, but the seeds themselves take more than two weeks to germinate, so the 140 days it takes to mature a parsnip doesn't include the 14 to 18 days from seed sowing. When a seed packet gives an average harvest date, they are talking about from germination, not from seed-sowing.
But fortunately, parsnips don't mind a bit of cold and often spend their last month of growing after we've already had a few frosts. It is said that cold weather even enhances their flavors.
I would recommend preparing your garden bed for parsnips the previous fall so that by early spring, you are all ready to simply plop the seed in the soil. You can likely put it in the ground around mid- to late-April. By the time the sun starts to warm up the soil in May, your parsnips should be poking their first set of leaves out the ground.
When they start to fill in the row, begin to thin them out to about three to four inches apart. As they grow, you can continue to thin them and eat them as you thin, the same way you would baby carrots. Water regularly to ensure healthy roots. At maturity, the parsnip tops can reach three feet in height.
Thank you to Mary from Vienna for the great question about parsnips. I hope you have continued success with your garden.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener from The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.