While it might be a little premature to note on the relatively mild winter (minus that aforementioned little dry / cold snap we recently experienced) we Washingtonians have had this year (especially in contrast to the east coast), I saw a couple of white flies yesterday and immediately wanted to fly into attack mode. While the mild winters are easier on the fragile plants and often safely send our Rhododendrons and Azaleas into fits of big, beautiful blooms come spring, there is an unfortunate repercussion in this onslaught of milder temperatures: bugs. Colder winters kill off more insects while they are hibernating. Since I moved to Whatcom in 2009 and started really getting into gardening, I have been trying to track patterns in the relationships between climate and environment. The winter of 2009-2010 was fraught with ice storms and harsh, nasty winds, and 2010-2011 was snowy in the beginning, gave us that mid-winter thaw, and then more sleet and ice storms in early-to mid spring, which really put a damper on the growing season for a lot of us home gardeners. Then, 2011-2012 was a mild one. Some snow in town, but much more in the foothills. The Rhodies and Azaleas were BEAUTIFUL that spring. It was the 2012 spring / summer that I noticed a sudden appearance of white flies and ladybugs - lots of them. With the white flies, I try to manage pest control via organic methods, but it seems that I needed to bring out the big guns this year. And an added advantage to using chemicals, was that it kept the deer from munching on the roses as well - a constant issue up here in Bellingham. It almost makes me want to start spraying tulips and other deer-chosen edibles. I talked to an associate at one of the local nurseries, and he concurred - saying that earwigs have also been a brutal pest recently. I've had issues with insects in my apple trees (pock-marked fruit, birds pecking at the blossoms possibly preventing fruit set) but haven't been able to identify the variety, though I see plenty of earwigs in my yard. My first clue was at the planting of a weeping cherry tree. As we released the root ball, a small family of earwigs came crawling out, and the subsequent summer, I began noticing that something was chomping on the tree's leaves. I occasionally spray a combination of neem oil, dish soap, and garlic, which seems to prevent some damage, but frequent applications seem to be necessary. So if this mild winter steadily progresses into a delightful spring, keep an eye out. Last year, I kept my tomatoes close to the house with the roses, and the white flies were sure to thank me for it. This year, I am going to try to build a temporary arch-style hothouse for tomatoes, peppers and melons further out into the lawn and hope for the best. Also, insecticidal soap has been recommended to limit damage to tomatoes from white flies. Happy gardening.
Updated: 8:48 PM GMT on February 15, 2013
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