Summer scorecard: We’re keeping tabs

06/23/2012 7:53 AM

06/23/2012 7:53 AM

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy — at least compared to last year.

“By this time last year we already had seven days at or above 100 degrees, and this year we have yet to reach the century mark,” the National Weather Service said this week on my Facebook feed. (Anytime I’m tempted to de-Facebook — and I am daily — something weather-related always pulls me back. All is forgiven anytime a meteorologist gives me some storm prediction to look at.)

It’s still plenty summertime-warm, and the official start of the season seems to be a good time to check in on how our plants are doing, especially those that lived through the 2011 heat wave.

Of mites and men

A reader e-mailed me this week about the leaves of burning bushes turning tan and falling off. Remember driving on West Kellogg last summer and seeing the bushes burned?

Extension agent Bob Neier said there were a couple of possibilities hurting them now.

“It’s usually a root problem,” he said. “Some of these got too dry last year. They had root damage from that, and it was too wet this spring.” He recommends cutting out any dead spots above ground and doing some exploratory digging around the plant. “Is it wet? Is it dry? You may have to change the watering.”

The other possibility: “Some have spider mites horribly, and that’s causing them to fade.” Take some leaves and beat them over a white sheet to look for signs of crawling. If you see mites, get a sprinkler that shoots straight up and place it under the bush so that it can knock the mites off. Turn it on every other day for a few weeks, Neier suggests, keeping the plant in good shape as new leaves replace the lost ones. Insecticidal soap and horticultural oil are alternatives (read the label and don’t apply when the weather is too hot), as are strong blasts with the hose if you don’t have the right sprinkler.

Tree report

So how are our tried trees doing? “Good and bad,” Neier said. “We’re seeing a lot of things that weren’t cared for last year that are now a third dead.” Unfortunately, the natural inclination is to outweigh last year’s drought with this year’s water. Some people are watering such trees every day, and they’re rotting the roots.

“It’s really hard to teach watering, yet it’s common sense. Give it a good soaking every week,” or even less often, Neier said. “That’s better than watering it every day.”

He said he saw a cottonwood turn totally brown in the last week. Cottonwoods are happiest in a boggy area; even a well-watered lawn doesn’t provide them with enough moisture. So naturally such trees suffered particularly last year if not cared for.

If you see trees that haven’t leafed out by now, they “are in serious trouble,” Neier said. “They should be in full leaf and growing vigorously.”

Not so rosy

Rose rosette continues its procession across swaths of roses where the property owner has not eradicated it at the first sign, Neier said. This is another heart-breaker. You see a very strange-looking shoot emerge from one of your rose bushes, and the rose bush should be removed at that point. Instead, we prefer to prune out the shoot and pretend we never saw it. The rose can continue to look good for a long time. But the rose rosette hiding inside will eventually kill the bush and spread to others, not only in your yard but in the neighbors’.

If every rose on a property has rose rosette, the disease has probably been there five years, Neier said. If there’s a single witches’-broom shoot on every rose in a yard and the roses look good, give them three years, “and everything will die,” he said. “If they would have taken out the affected plant the first time they saw it, it wouldn’t be spreading to the others.” I feel the need to repeat this every time he says it.

“You may lose one plant that cost you $30 versus 50 plants that (each) cost you $30.”

And while Knock Out roses are being planted in seemingly every open space — because they’re easy-care and bloom all summer and don’t get the diseases of hybrid teas — they are entirely susceptible to rose rosette. One reader wrote me about a plague of it moving through Haysville.

Japanese beetles

Japanese beetles also are preying on roses, along with other many plants.

“They’ve been around Wichita seven or eight years,” Neier said. “This year is the first time they’re getting close to common.” Not only might you find the shiny metallic copper beetles munching on your apple trees or snuggled between rose petals, when they’re in larval form they appear as grubs munching the lawn.

“They won’t kill things but they chew them up pretty bad,” he said. The beetles are easy to dispatch, though — many gardeners just pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water to drown. This is best done in the morning when the beetles are sluggish, Ward Upham of K-State says. Otherwise you can use any insecticide labeled for beetles.

The beetles in grub form should be treated as our normal May beetle grubs: If they have been a problem in the past, apply a product containing Merit (imidacloprid) or Mach 2 (halofenozide) now as a preventative. As with many things, the application is a little early this year, Neier said.

Fungus among us

Wichita has started to see conditions that encourage brown patch, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said.

"A number of lawns are still experiencing stress from last year and are going into dormancy more quickly than normal when underwatered, so that can sometimes also look like a disease," she said. "If you’ve had brown patch in the past or suspect that you are beginning to see it this year, make sure that you are not overwatering or watering in the evenings. Also, avoid summer fertilization on fescue and keep the mowing height at 3 to 3.5 inches. Preventative fungicides can help, but they must be reapplied several times throughout the summer."

Just peachy

Let’s end on a fragrant note. Peaches are also early this year and starting to ripen.

“Typically peaches on a tree will ripen over a couple weeks, because fruit on the top and outer edges will ripen first,” extension agent Rebecca McMahon says. “A ripe peach should not have any green color left. I always look at the stem end to make sure I don’t see any green there either. It should also have a good aroma. If the peach has no green on it, smells like a peach, and has a slight give to the fruit, then it is ripe and will not get any larger.”

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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