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Earwigs, Mums, Hedges and more

What to do about earwigs, potted mum plants outdoors; pruning arborvitae or cedar hedges; the Turkey fig in Ontario; the ubiquitous Datura; and what to do in Toronto with the pesticide ban
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

October 30, 2005

This week, in the absence of reasonable photos to illustrate the topics covered, I offer you three photos of a Campanula that I highly recommend if you are not already growing it: Campanula takesimana ‘Beautiful Trust’. The top photo here was taken on July 6 this year and the one below on September 27--and it was still beautifully in bloom! The close-up was also taken on September 27. Author photos.

On October 7th, Pat Timney, of unknown location, asked a question she likely had hoped she wouldn’t have to ask: “Any solution for earwig eradication? I have used various products that have helped somewhat, but I have found some in the house, coming in the windows. They are driving me crazy. In past years I have only seen a few, but this year they are a real pest. I have found myself outside in the dark with a flashlight hand harvesting. What a horrible job. They seem to be worst in pots than around the perimeter of the house. I have tried folded wet newspapers too, but had no success with that. Thank you in advance.”

I checked with Grigg Kellock, Doktor Doom himself, and he agreed that the Doktor Doom House and Garden Spray would be best for use indoors, but if it is outdoors, e.g. in pots, then the Doktor Doom Residual Insecticide Spray would be best due to its extended residual action (up to two months). Pat can check at for a dealer near her, or if she knows a hydroponics supply store, she’ll likely find at least the House and Garden Spray there.

Mike Doolan from right here in Parksville wrote on October 10th and 17th, “I have three large potted mums Zesty Victoria (2) and Dazzling Stacy; when is the right time to remove same from their pots and place in the?”

There are two potential problems that Mike faces with his chrysanthemums. The first is that his may be varieties that were developed for indoor growth; if they were purchased at a supermarket or florist, this is likely the case. Indoor mums often do not do well placed outdoors. However, there is no harm in trying. Depending on their condition, I would try them outdoors either now, or once they are finished blooming. The important consideration is the type of soil in which he plants them. If he has sandy soil such as ours along the beach in Parksville, then there should be no problem—they need absolutely super drainage. If Mike’s soil is more on the clay side, then they will succumb to the excessive wetness. The solution to the problem is to plant them literally on top of the ground, by building up a mound of soil around them. This latter solution also applies in much colder climates, such as Ontario. The alternative would be to ease up on the watering and put the plants in a cool room (3 – 5o C.), with a minimum of light, and then come early spring (February in Parksville) plant them in the garden. Again, don’t forget about the possibility of rotting of the roots in a heavy clay soil.

The second problem with planting mums into the garden is that in their second (and subsequent years) they will almost certainly grow much taller than they did the year they were acquired. That is because virtually all mums are treated with a growth limiter which keeps them much more compact than they would be naturally. The effects of those chemicals (such as Gibberellic acid) wear off after the first year.

Candace Cornock of Ladysmith, just a half hour down the road wrote on October 12, with a common question that should interest many readers: “I've recently enjoyed watching your gardening tips on the television, and I have a question please: I have a large cedar hedge (about 9 feet high, and about 35 feet long). Can you please tell me at what time of year should I be pruning it?? It needs a prune job now, but books I've read say to prune in autumn or late winter, depending on where you live.”

The fact is that in your Vancouver Island climate it does not really matter when you prune it; however unless you want to see bare spots, I would not prune more than about ten cm off any surface. You could do it now, and/or wait until late winter. The double pruning would apply if you thought you needed to remove more than the ten cm mentioned. If it was Ontario, then I would definitely not prune it now, or in late winter, but early spring, and again in July (if necessary) would be good there.

On October 13, Gloria (or BB!) wrote from Courtenay (adjacent to Comox and an hour north of us) about a fig, specifically (I think, Ficus carica): “We have a Turkey Fig tree that has been planted 3 years. This year we got a lot of figs that are green....never ripened. When do they ripen?”

It may just be that your turkey fig tree is not getting enough sun--it should be in a full sun location--and that is why they have not ripened. They are ripe when the skin is a dark purple-brown, and the flesh inside is a pink-red. I know little about figs, but from what I have learned, I think the tree should produce there. They even produce in areas of England where the prime buds are winter-injured, and the secondary buds carry on once spring arrives. So they should grow and produce there.

Incidentally, you might like to know that many growers consider the worst problem with figs is the spread of the roots, often to the detriment of fruit production. Therefore, it is suggested that the best way to grow figs outdoors is trained against a south facing wall and growing in a trench 75 - 90 cm (2.5 - 3’) deep by 1.5 m (5’) long and 90 cm wide. This trench may either be lined with 5 cm (2”) of concrete to form a large sunken pot (do leave some drainage holes in the bottom by pushing pieces of 3 cm [1”] diameter sticks in the soil base before adding concrete; once the concrete is set you simply pull out the sticks to reveal the drainage holes). Alternatively the trench should be dug deeper and 30 cm (12”) of stone or gravel added to the base, and the walls lined with overlapping old paver stones. Again the important point to remember with fig roots is that they are very strong and if left unrestrained will destroy underground pipes and foundations, particularly when grown against a wall.

On that same day, an “old friend” Dianne Woods wrote to catch up after a couple of years, and of course, with a gardening question: “The white Datura that self seeds...would it be a perennial in the Ottawa area? Do the plant roots survive or do they return from seed only?”

Well Dianne, you ask about a very controversial plant! At least one province has tried, in the past, to ban the growing of Datura. It has several common names: jimsonweed, thornapple, mad apple and stinkwort. Keep in mind that parts of the plant are poisonous, and they (the seeds in particular) should be kept away from children.

It depends on your climate whether it is perennial, but in Ottawa, I am certain it is not! But, it does set abundant seed, and in almost all gardens where it is grown, it will come up each year from seed, without any sowing.

And still from the 13th, Sandi Fox from Scarborough wrote with what used to be a question with a simple answer, but now it is not nearly as simple! Here it is: “I hope that you can give me some advice with regards to my front lawn, which is completely dead with only the odd green weed scattered throughout. I live in Scarborough, and we had a very dry, hot summer this year and I must admit, I didn't water the lawn, as everyone said that it was dormant and it would come back in the fall so I only watered the expensive foundation shrubbery, which survived. Apparently, my lawn was not going into a "dormant" state, but was being attacked by white grubs. My question is now what do I do??? There are no grass roots at all--just dried blades of dead grass, which can just be flaked away! My questions to you are: “1) What should I do now? How can I get rid of the grubs, since the City has passed a by-law banning pesticides and I do not relish the idea of handpicking them!!! 2) Can you give me the steps on what I should do to get a nice lawn back again, from getting rid of these pests to planting, or sodding? And please suggest the time of year that these steps need to be taken in order to be effective. 3) Can you suggest a tough type of grass seed, and/or sod that I should select for a sunny dry location? Any suggestions via email would be greatly appreciated.”

I expect this will not be the only question of this type I receive over the next 12 months, now that the silly pesticide ban has gone into place in Toronto. First of all, let’s deal with the issue of whether or not lawns go dormant or just plain die if they are not watered. It is a fact that the same people who lobbied for and promoted a total pesticide ban also claim that lawns don’t need to be watered during the summer, and that they will simply “go dormant’ and bounce right back as soon as the rains return. Unfortunately they are wrong! Yes, that often happens, but total turf areas can actually die, I have seen it countless times.

Then there is the issue of insects such as white grubs and chinch bugs which can destroy an entire lawn in less than one season. There are two types of these, one where larvae of the insect eat the grass roots below the soil surface--the white grub or June beetle and European crane flies are a good examples of these, and the other insects such as the chinch bug which eats at the stems of the grass just above the soil surface. Treatment for these two types of insects used to be similar—apply Diazinon and for the soil-borne insects be sure to water it down into the soil, whereas for those above ground little after-application watering was needed. Now Diazinon is gone, although Nu-Gro/Wilson’s GrubOut is still available and it can do a good job if the lawn is well wetted prior to the application. Another treatment is the application of live nematodes which are sold usually from a refrigerator in garden centres. They have just as much problem getting through the lawn thatch as do the chemicals (if not more difficulty) and so the lawn must be well wetted before their application, and in fact I would say that mechanically aerating the lawn before the wetting and nematode application is a must.

How do you tell which insect you have? At this time of year that may be very difficult. In early September you could have dug a square 30 cm (1’) of the lawn, removing the turf (weeds) to a depth of about 5 cm (2”). Then while digging in that area, if you found more than 15 or so white grubs (with brown heads), the conclusion would have been that you should apply something to knock that population down substantially. The only really good time to do that is in early to mid September, although some control can be obtained by applying the chemical in late April (but generally not in May).

If there were no grubs, then you can assume it was an above-ground insect such as the chinch bug. If your lawn started going brown with small spots turning colour first, then those areas enlarging, it would pretty much tell you that chinch bugs were present. The test for these is to take a 48 oz. juice (or even larger) can and cut both the top and bottom out. Press one end of the can into the lawn just at the edge of where a brown patch meets a green or better looking area. Fill the can with water, and if all the water drains into the turf with nothing appearing, fill it again. Generally, if there are chinch bugs present, they will rise up to float on the surface of the water or the grass.

Now, the first thing you must ascertain is whether or not there are still a few live grass roots present in your lawn. If you are positive there are not, I think it is a bit too late to begin a new lawn now. However, you could begin preparations. What to do about the pesticide ban? Not an easy question, and who am I to advise you to break a law (silly or not). You should do this using a ready-to-spray applicator with a 2,4-D product on a day when there is no rain in the forecast. You can do it at night! Or, if you use a granular weed ‘n feed type of product, your neighbours won’t know what you are actually applying--it could be just a fertilizer, but be sure to hide the bag!

I would apply some Diazinon (if you can find someone who still has some), or GrubOut, according to directions come mid April next year, and at least loosen up the surface of the soil. I would not add any new soil. Then it will be your decision whether you sow seed (get a good variety suited to full sun at your favourite garden centre), or lay sod, or have a contractor lay the sod for you.

On October 15th Deborah Herbert of Lindsay, Ontario wrote with this ‘sticky’ question: “I love listening to your show, and I have heard you talk about Doktor Doom and how good it is. I have a Harlequin Maple tree that has been infested with something, the leaves all curl up and now the grass at the base of the tree is dying as well. I tried a tree spray that we had to use every 7 days. I'm sorry but I can't remember the name, we did get it from a garden centre, and was recommended for the problem. But it did not have any effect on the problem. Would Doktor Doom help with this problem? I live in Lindsay if you could tell me where to get Doktor Doom if you think this will help.”

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