Something’s bugging me

All is not well in the garden. . . . .

At first glance my long border is looking quite beautiful at the moment (sorry not very modest of me!) but look closer and a nasty problem is revealed. . . .

aphid on lupin

aphid on lupin

The problem is with a beautiful  lupin that has graced my garden for several years now with its wonderful blue and white spires. This lupin is under attack and I am waging war on its behalf.  The attackers appear to be Acyrthosiphon pisum, more commonly known as the pea aphid.  Now I don’t even know how to pronounce their name and they seem to be rather clever little bs, but I am trying to beat them at their own game.

Firstly I tried the standard soapy water treatment, but instead of a gentle spray I resorted to practically giving my lupin a bubble bath, stem by stem. I also removed the worst affected new stems and disposed of them.  I am not sure who ended up the wettest, me or the lupin, but I was hopeful I had got the infestation under control.  Not so! The next day there were still plenty of the creatures about.  This time I noticed something quite clever – every time I touched a stem the aphids would just drop to the ground. Pretty good defensive tactics on behalf of young Pisum! However, I refuse to be beaten by something only a millimeter long so I devised new tactics myself.  I started cupping my hand under a stem and just tapping it gently  – the aphids then obligingly dropped into my hand. . . .wicked laughter here.

I then became obsessed – 2 or 3 times a day I would go and send more of these aphids packing trying to work out whether I could kill them quicker than they were breeding.  I think we are about breaking even at the moment.

I did a bit of research:

Mature pea aphids live for about 30 days and give birth to up to 12 nymphs a day. Each of those takes 7 to 10 days to reach maturity and start producing more nymphs.  Do I stand a chance? I think not! What is more, overcrowding or poor food triggers the production of winged individuals in subsequent generations who just fly off and find another plant to destroy!  Usually adults reproduce by viviparous parthenogenesis which basically means ‘no males required thank you very much’, but as the days get shorter and colder sexual aphids are produced which then mate and produce eggs. These eggs area able to survive the winter and new aphids emerge in the spring to start all over again.

Isn’t that interesting?  Does it explain why this is the first year I have been bothered by these aphids?  Not really, but maybe the warmer spring has allowed more of them to mature successfully.

All sorts of research has been done on this freefall survival strategy of some aphids: what age do the aphids have to be before they know how to drop?, how long does it take them to locate and climb back up the host plant?, can they find the host plant again if they are blindfolded? (Not really, but they did try them in the dark!) All very interesting I am sure if you are interested in that sort of thing, but I would much prefer research that helped me to get rid of them without killing bees at the same time.

I would be quite happy to just keep them under control while the lupin flowered but we are going away shortly for ten days.  Should I sacrifice my beautiful lupin to protect the rest of the garden or can I assume the bugs will stay put on the one plant until I get back. Hmmm, a difficult decision. Watch this space.

But rest assured, if any of them dare to hatch next spring before the bees are up and about it will be chemical warfare in Aberdeen!

Next Garden Update: Lilac, lavender or just plain purple?




13 thoughts on “Something’s bugging me

  1. It’ s a Pisum is it? I have had this problem with lupins in the past, in fact I stopped growing them for several years because of it. I haven’ t had any problems for the last few years but I do sympathise . Just as your lupins are looking so good. I have to say I chuckled at your description of your warfare with them . I wage the same sort of battles with lily beetle, except I don’ t use soapy water. Lily beetles have the same cunning trick of falling to the ground and lying on their backs so that you can’ t spot them. Like you I go on the attack several times a day. However vigilant I am my lilies always look a bit tattered.

    • Sounds like lily beetles are even cleverer than my aphids! The things we have to do! Pretty sure it is a Acyrthosiphon pisum – looks exactly like the photos on Wikipedia. Though just realised that pisum just refers to the pea family of plants that it feeds on.

    • If it was early in the season I might have used it, but it will kill bees and they are struggling enough already. I have tried a safe, natural one, but it didn’t do any good.

  2. I am sure you don’t mind us being amused by your tactics otherwise you wouldn’t have given us the details to have a giggle about 🙂 But what to do when you go away…? You are clearly fretting about it and if it was me I think I would cut the lupins right back before I went as you will be miss a lot of the flowers anyway while you are away. It will be interesting to see whether they do spread, whatever you decide to do.

    • You have to be able to laugh at yourself, Cathy and share the humour where possible too.
      I think you are right and I am coming to that decision too though it will be very difficult to do and will leave such a gap at the back of my border. Will give me an excuse to visit the garden centre though! I have been thinking about some white delphiniums. . .

      • Does the lupin not put on fresh growth if you cut it back? If not, I see whatyou mean about a gap. We saw an attractive white delphinium at David Austin – Galahad – but it was HUGE! At least 6 ft tall, maybe taller….

        • I think it would put on fresh growth, but I don’t know if it would flower again – maybe it would. I keep swinging between leaving it and chopping it. I think there are dangers both ways and I suspect it might all depend on whether I have time! I did find a couple of white delphiniums in B and Q today so will plant them nearby anyway. I don’t think they would grow that big – Galahad sounds spectacular.

  3. Pingback: Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day: May in Aberdeen | My Aberdeen Garden

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