This week, maybe just for a week, the dogwoods are blooming. Spring comes in waves around here. First it’s the star magnolia, showers of white petals beginning to peep in early February, then the camellias. Then the tulip trees blossom in March, and the Japanese maples and the birches begin to leaf out. Now it’s April, and the street is awash with white and pink dogwoods. The roses are just about to burst open, as is the jasmine.
About this time of year in the spring, when the weather warms up, the blooms are off the stone fruit trees, and the new fruit are just beginning to grow, the ants start to stake their claims on the trees. You can see them marching up the trunks and disappearing into the foliage. What are they doing? Most likely building their scale nurseries. The ants nurse and protect the scale insects, which, tapped into the sap of the tree, produce a sweet nectar that the ants love to eat.
You can pick off the scales one by one (they’re squishy underneath their hardened shells, like baby snails, yes eww gross, wear gloves) but unless you tackle the ants, the scales will just come back.
So, what to do?
Yesterday a guy came to the door wanting to know if we had any spiders we wanted killed.
“Yeah, we’re doing the house down the street, thought you might have a problem too.”
“We like spiders. We don’t kill them.”
“You LIKE spiders?”
“Yes. We LIKE spiders. We don’t kill them. They kill the bugs we don’t like. So we don’t kill the spiders. Thanks for stopping by, but we don’t need anyone to kill our spiders.”
So, is it safe to assume that everyone hates spiders and wants to get rid of them? I love spiders. I don’t even kill the ones I find occasionally in my room. I might shoo them out the window, but more likely I’ll let one build a small web in the corner and let her catch mosquitos. When she’s done and gone I’ll dust away the web. The daddy long legs do tend to overpopulate the eves outside, but they are easy enough to brush away a couple of times a year.
Why do I like spiders? Because I hate, truly hate, mosquitos and silverfish. Insects that spiders like to eat. Same reason I love praying mantis.
Sometimes at night, I’ll find a spider in the bathtub. I’ll talk to the spider and say “Hey there Mr. Spider. You don’t belong here. Tomorrow morning I’m going to take a shower and if you are still in the tub you are going down the drain.” Sure enough, 9 times out of 10, Mr. Spider is gone by the morning.
Here in California, the only spider you really have to watch out for are black widows. But they are quite distinctive. Jet black with a bright red hour glass shape on their belly. Black widows have really ugly webs too, and tend to hang out in outdoor tool sheds.
Anyway, this beautiful gal is an Argiope Aurantia, also known as the Yellow Garden Spider. She is currently camped out on my lavender bush in my flower garden. She’s been there for about a week and has managed to devour quite a few bugs.
We have a pomegranate tree in our front lawn, pretty close to the sidewalk. Although we live on a quiet, sheltered, cul-de-sac, that doesn’t keep people from driving by, hopping out of their car, nabbing a few poms and speeding away. Last year we woke up one morning to find half of the tree stripped – basically all pomegranates within reach.
My mom had a friend over the other day who discovered a praying mantis in our living room. She calmly asked my mom for a paper towel, and used it to pick up the critter. Mom thought her friend was going to release it outside, but instead the woman crushed it in her paper towel and threw it in the trash.
If I had been there I would have screamed.
Mom, possessing better manners than I, and still a bit stunned, said nothing. We don’t kill praying mantises here. We treasure them. If we find them around the yard, we pick them up and take them to the garden. They have a voracious appetite for the bugs that do the most garden damage. Just last week I found this gal chomping on juicy tomato worm. A worm that had already stripped 3 or 4 leaves from my one tomato plant.
Several weeks ago I put in our fall crop of lettuces. Here in Northern California we get two lettuce growing seasons, in the spring and fall. They were doing beautifully until one day I found that something was ravaging them and leaving behind little mounds of poo.
Caterpillar ravaged plant
The culprit I discovered was a little green caterpillar, about an inch long. I pulled off and squished 20 of the suckers in our little lettuce patch. The next day I pulled off another 10. The following day I found a whole bunch of babies. Grrrrr. What to do?