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GARDEN FANATIC:Summer gardening in September

“A worm tells summer better than the clock"¦

What shall it tell me if a timeless insect

Says the world wears away?" "” Dylan Thomas

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade." "” William Shakespeare



“How large would the worm be to leave droppings that size?" asked Betsy. “I can’t find them," added Jeff.

Reluctantly taking a break from my glass of wine, I glanced at the 1/4" diameter frass (insect droppings) and jagged holes in the Gaccione’s bower vine. About four inches long, I replied"¦ probably a hornworm (and likely not a rat). “They like to hide, blend in with the foliage," Catharine added helpfully.

Right on schedule, these caterpillar larvae are feeding on leaves and flowers, signaling the end of summer. Soon, they will enter cocoons, to pupate until next spring. Emerging as moths or butterflies in the spring, the cycle will become complete, as will the anticipation of another eternal summer in Laguna.


The curtain will be falling on the Festivals this weekend (among other things), but summer gardening and weather continues for several weeks. Your questions for the Plant Man:

Q: How do Betsy and Jeff control their caterpillar situation?

A: Hand removal is the most practical approach, particularly if one’s near vision is intact. Otherwise, I recommend spraying with the safe insecticide, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Q: Should I still be fertilizing my garden?

A: Fertilizer is generally applied while plants are actively growing"¦ with Laguna’s mild climate that means monthly feedings through at least November.

Q: The city has limited the height of my privet hedge. I understand that constant trimming devitalizes a hedge. True?

A: To some extent this is true. Shearing privet every week could be injurious, however, monthly trimming during the growing season should not be a problem.

Q: It is all right to use electric hedge shears?


A: Absolutely. A quality electric shears will complete trimming in about a quarter of the time required with hand shears.

Q: I’m preparing an area for azaleas. How acidic should the soil be?

A: For most azaleas, pH 5 to 6 would be good. Your local nursery can help with a test kit and soil preparation methods.

Q: How can I tell which end goes up when planting a bulb?

A: There will usually be a vestige of roots at the bottom with the top generally more tapered, and a shoot may be visible as another clue.

Q: Why does white alyssum come up yearly, while purple ones don’t?

A: The purple varieties of alyssum are not as vigorous due to its more complex genetics. White flowers tend to be more prolific due to simpler genes.

Labor Day weekend will include a quiet beach walk with Catharine and Buster, from Heisler Park to Pearl Street and back, and possibly an invite to see David’s remodeled home.


Later, I’m going to enjoy my homegrown tomatoes and watch the bamboo grow. It’s going to be a perfect weekend to enjoy Laguna (as long as you don’t drive!).