I’m designating April as beetle alert month; especially two that are currently the most destructive in my garden, the red lily beetle and the viburnum one. Both do loads of damage unless you get on their case early. The red lily beetle is unmistakable and aptly named; bright, bright scarlet. If you don’t eliminate them they will munch your lilies until they are soggy brown heaps. They will then will bonk their mates on your remaining lilies in front of your very eyes, reproduce, and then their offspring will also nosh the leaves. The larvae look really yukky, like bird droppings. So remove and dispose of pdq! Be careful, they are good at dropping to the floor and disappearing. The knack to getting the devils I find is to put your hand underneath and shake them gently into it. I’ve ordered some regale lilies: they are still my favourite and you can keep an eye on them a bit more in a pot, or at least that’s my plan. Then soil will be fresh and not larvae infested - at first at least! Bear in mind that lilies like good drainage, so a few handfuls of grit or leaf mould in the compost will keep them happy.
Lily beetles will also eat other members of the lily family such as snakeshead fritillaries, so keep a sharp watch out for the little critters.
Viburnum beetle will turn your precious bushes into manky brown affairs, sometimes very quickly. Have at least a weekly check during the spring for signs of feeding on the new foliage and cut out the brown bits back to a leaf or bud and burn the affected foliage . If it’s getting out of control, spray it – garden centres will have something suitable in stock now. There are both chemical and organic controls for this. The best time to spray is when the newly hatched larvae are feeding on the new foliage from now to early May. Treatment in mid-summer is really too late as the worst of the damage has already been done.
On a more positive note, the dwarf Japanese cherry (Prunus incisa Kojo-no-mai) is just coming into flower -pictured. It is absolutely gorgeous, almond pink blossom on bare, twiggy, curly stems. It has gently grown to about 3 metres here in 15 years, a fabulous tree for a small garden, good autumn leaf colour too. As you may have gathered if you read this column regularly, I have written a little book made up of ‘Kate’s Cuttings’ and this tree is featured in the chapter ‘Five easy but beautiful trees’. The book is wonderfully illustrated by Kevin Pyke’s gorgeous photos. It will be on sale, all being well, when we have our garden open days for charity on the afternoons of 6 and 7 May. If you are very lucky Kevin and I will be around to sign one for you!
It’s going to be a dry summer by the look of it. So do what you can to conserve water – mulch your borders after it’s rained to prevent evaporation, plant up a few big pots rather than lots of little ones, they stay damp for longer, and plant drought loving plants such as sedum and bulbous iris. I’m one to talk, I love my ferns and other woodland plants, but being realistic I may have to rethink some of my planting. Hey, ho, there are worse things, aren’t there? Hope to see you on 6 or 7 May!