July 2017
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


This looks like a yellow jacket, but it is a friendly hoverfly that feeds on aphids, whiteflies and several other garden pests.

Friendly Flower Flies

There is a small fly in gardens that might be easily mistaken for a yellow jacket, wasp or bee. It buzzes around very fast, but if you are still you might get a close look at one when it rests. They are also called hoverflies because of how they hover in midair and even fly backwards. This is a family of flies that vary slightly in shape and size (¼-¾ inch long). Most are black or brown with bands of yellow on their bodies. You can distinguish them from bees, wasps and yellow jackets because they have only two wings pointing out to the side of their body when at rest, like airplane wings. Bees and wasps have four wings pointing toward the back of their bodies when at rest. A friend to gardeners, they lay eggs that hatch into green, sluglike larva that munch on pesky aphids and thrips on the underside of leaves. Welcome these insects as they can help keep your vegetables, fruits and flowers nearly pest free. Encourage them by planting lots of small flowers with nectar and pollen. Once they take up residence in a spot, they can produce up to seven generations a year. Although some species have special flower preferences, they generally prefer yellow and white flowers. I see them on the parsley and cilantro blooms in my garden in midspring.

The light pink of magic lily softens the blazes of summer.


Grandma’s Magic Lily

Magic lilies (Lycoris squamigera) are antique plants, often part of an old garden for as many years as you can remember, but rarely do you see these in new landscapes. That’s because it takes time and patience to raise a magic lily. Sometimes bulbs produce leaves a year or two before one sees any blossoms. If you have access to any of these from the garden of a friend, you might get a head start by being able to dig a big bulb and lots of roots with it. About this time of year, the leaves of magic lily are dying back; shortly afterward the blooms appear. Magic lilies also go by two other names: surprise lily and naked lady. You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood when word gets out that there are naked ladies in your garden! Now as the foliage dies down is a good time to dig new ones from the garden of a friend to plant in your garden, or if you have the patience look for mail-order sources that will ship at this time of year.


A Doughnut for Mosquitoes

Are there hidden spots around your house where mosquitoes can breed? Even water-filled saucers underneath plants can be a place for mosquitoes to breed. However, there is no need to give up simple garden pleasures such as a birdbath or a small water garden. Easy-to-use Mosquito Dunks provide organic control of mosquito larvae for a month. All you have to do is put a dunk or a piece of one in the water. Look for Mosquito Dunks at your Quality Co-op or favorite store where insect control products are sold.



Hardy hibiscus steal the show in a summer flower border.

A Hibiscus That Keeps on Giving

Hardy hibiscus is a cold-hardy, perennial relative of the much-beloved tropical hibiscus, but with bigger blooms. While big-leafed and tropical-looking, you would not expect them to be drought tolerant, but they are. Even if the tops wilt in dry weather, it seems that the roots are tough enough to survive so the plant returns the next spring. In bloom now, hardy hibiscus varieties are sold in pots in garden centers offering a good selection of perennials. Plants vary from 3-6 feet tall, depending on variety. Flower colors are typically white or shades of red and pink. Some varieties also have bronze foliage. Shop around for the varieties and you will find some with blooms nearly a foot wide, making this one of the largest of all perennial flowers. Plants bloom though the summer and then are killed back by frost. Cut back the dead tops in winter, but do not disturb the roots so the plants can come back again when the weather warms in the spring.


Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.