HG: Homegrown Column September 06, 2008

I have a sand cherry bush in my backyard that has been attacked by the strangest little green worms.
They are not more than 3/8 of an inch long, with a bulbous head (resembling a pepper seed) and a yellowish green body you can see the digestive tract through. They eat only the tops of the leaves, and at this point in time, they (the leaves) look like the proverbial lace curtains.
I really would like to know what they are, and if maybe they might come from the neighbor’s elm trees right next to the fence.
The damage doesn’t show up till about the middle of July (it was apparently then last year, too) when the leaves start showing up with the brown patches.
Last year, when I saw it I thought it was the grasshoppers chewing on them. And this year I thought the same till I was out there over the weekend and saw the worms.
This is a definite mind bender for me. I’ve never seen these worms before, and having spent most of my life on a farm pretty close to BLM land and taken entomology in 4-H when I was a kid, I’ve seen a few bugs in my life, but none like these.
What are they, and where do they come from?
Thanks much.
— Gary

I think what you have is a pear slug on your sand cherry.

Pear slug is the larva of a fly and it looks like a small, slimy, slug-like insect. They feed on the leaf tissue of certain plants, leaving a dry brown network of veins, creating a “skeletonized” appearance.

There tend to be two generations of this insect each year.

The first and most destructive generation appears in late spring to midsummer. A smaller, second generation occurs in late summer or early fall.

Pear slugs are mostly an aesthetic problem. They rarely hurt the plant; they just make it look ratty.

They have their favorite hosts: pears (fruiting and ornamental), plums (fruiting and ornamental — the sand cherry you have is most often called cistena plum), cherries and cotoneasters. We tend to see them most often on cistena plum, cherry trees and cranberry cotoneaster.

Pear slugs are easy to control with just about any contact insecticide such as permethrin, malathion, sevin or acephate. One spray will usually clear up the problem.

Next year keep an eye out for them so you can nip the problem in the bud, but keep an eye out for the second generation coming.

Hi! I have a problem with a cat coming into the yard, over a chain link fence and doing its business in my flower beds.
Not only is that bad, but it’s also driving my dog crazy, and she is driving the neighbors crazy.
Is there anything I could use to deter the cat from coming in our yard? I think I heard once about moth balls or crystals being used to keep cats away. Do you know if those things would work or have any other suggestions?
Thanks for your time.
— Carole

When a cat uses a flower bed as a litter box, it’s not only disgusting, but it also kills the soil, making it difficult if not impossible to grow anything there.

I don’t have any perfect solutions for you other than building a cat proof cage around the yard to keep it out.

One alternative is to mulch the bed with large gravel. This doesn’t work in every situation, but a cat likes to bury its business when it’s done, and it can’t push around the pieces of gravel. I’d use at least 1 1/2-inch gravel.

Along these lines, I’ve also heard of people laying chicken wire down flat in their beds. You can cut out small holes to plant the flowers and cover the mesh with a very shallow layer of soil or bark chips to hide it. Again, when the cat goes to dig a hole, it catches its claws on the wire, which it won’t like at all.

Another alternative is to spread some dog and cat repellent around.

We’ve had spotty results with these products. Sometimes they work and sometimes not.

The last choice would be to plant a special plant called “scardy cat” in the bed. It’s a type of coleus with grayish green leaves and small violet flowers. We really don’t plant it for its ornament. but it’s supposed to repel cats.

It has been available for the past couple of years, and the reports I’ve heard have been pretty encouraging. It’s an annual so you’ll have to replant it each spring.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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