After last week's column concerning the effect of a mild winter on spring blooming plants, I began thinking about what other changes we can expect this year in our gardens.
I wondered if, as the season progresses, we would even notice much difference. And then I began to wonder if it is the changes in our gardens or is it how we handle those changes that will most impact on the rest of the season.
One reason to be on careful watch could be how this winter has affected the insects in our gardens. People often remark that a mild winter could result in many more insects because they aren't killed off over the winter by cold temperatures. I had to think about this. After all, the reasons our insects survive the winter at all is because they have adapted to our cold weather, so how could they be killed off when it gets too cold?
Many common garden insects, both pests and beneficials (those that are predators to the pests), winter over by either hibernating or by becoming inactive with colder temperatures. Some insects burrow under the soil to the depths they need for survival. Others will hide out in piles of debris and mulch left over from last fall's not-so-clean clean-up, slowing down their systems until they are virtually in suspended animation until warmer temperatures bring them out of it.
This reminds me of Sea Monkeys. You remember the ads on the back of comic books when we were kids; send in your dollar and you get back a packet of Sea Monkeys. When I was young, my curiosity got the best of me and I really did send for them. I followed the directions, dropping what looked like a packet of dust into a glass of water and set it on the windowsill. I followed the directions that came with the packet and was delighted when the tiny creatures, which are actually a trademarked species of brine shrimp, hatched and lived for a while. I was disappointed when they died, but my point is, like Sea Monkeys, some insects are just waiting for the right time and the right conditions to basically ''come alive.''
But this doesn't mean we won't be inundated with more insects this season. In fact, we likely will be and probably earlier than usual. In most cases, it won't be because the lack of cold weather didn't kill them off. It will be because the warm temperatures woke them up earlier, giving them extra time to produce more offspring, more generations for those that reproduce more than once during a season and possibly more time to live and reproduce if their natural predators aren't on the same schedule.
Aphids overwinter as eggs that were deposited on a host plant and they hatch in the spring. Those who use insecticide to treat an aphid problem usually applies the product while the insect is in the flying stage of their growth. If early warm weather causes the insect to hatch and go through its life cycle sooner than expected, the treatment of these pests could be disrupted. When using insecticides, timing is often everything.
Slugs also overwinter in the egg stage and like aphids, a mild winter could give them a head start on the season. Slugs love hosta and since the warm weather has sent these plants out of the ground a little earlier than usual, the slug-fighting season could be a longer and more difficult battle this year. You may want to keep plenty of beer on hand, and not just for the slugs.
Although it's not a garden insect, for people like me who have pets, fleas can be even more of a problem this season. Fleas have four stages of growth, the egg, larva, pupa and adult, and then the cycle continues. Fleas overwinter in the larva or pupa stage and when the temperatures are mild, their cycle can continue even through the winter. They are most active when conditions are humid, especially spring and fall, but if we have a humid, mild winter, fleas can be quite a problem.
While it's safe to say that some insects will survive and thrive even better through a mild winter, only time will tell if we even notice any impact it might have on our insect populations.
What is safe to say is that when the time comes, the insects will be here, as they are every year.