Sunday, April 10, 2005

Lowly Worms

I owe a partial apology* to the slugs of my garden: Sorry for blaming you for skeletonizing one of my hollyhocks and turning the leaves of my foxgloves to tatters.

I have discovered the real culprits, thanks to a tip from some folks at GardenWeb Forums who sugggested that climbing cutworms might be to blame. I’d not heard of climbing cutworms before, but I have heard of the nonclimbing variety--a particularly vile creepy-crawly that mows down seedlings at ground level, thus breaking the hearts of many a gardener. I’ve always been very thankful to have never been a victim.

Even though I had my doubts about cutworms being the perps, I had to admit that over the past few weeks not many slugs have been drowning their sorrows in the round-the-clock supply of Miller High Life I’ve made available to them, which led me to wonder if some other pest might be at work.

Armed with a flashlight and container of water with a squirt of detergent in it, I tiptoed out into my garden at 10:00 PM last night.** I trained my flashlight on a foxglove, and there were three cutworms gorging themselves silly. They are dreadful. Gingerly, I reached down and picked one up (with my gloved hand). It curled itself into a ball--characteristic behavior and proof that it was indeed a member of the despised cutworm family. I plopped it into the soapy water.


I persevered and gave the same treatment to eight or nine others.

Gardening can be murder.

Even though wormy things are probably my least favorite life-form, I have to say that I am a bit conflicted about having to be so personally and unequivocally responsible for their demise. I spent some time this morning researching more humane alternatives, and it seems that “handpicking” is really the best option, unless I want to douse my garden with toxic chemicals. Which I don’t. And at least I’m not snipping the worms into pieces, as some gardeners recommend. Anyway, it comes down to the worms or the foxgloves. The worms live; the foxgloves die. The worms die; the foxgloves live—that is, if it’s not too late. The foxgloves are not at all well.

I really want these foxgloves to survive because: A) They are volunteers that sprouted up last fall, presumably from foxgloves I had the previous year, as I had no foxgloves last year. A nice serendipity. B) Foxgloves are biennial and since they sprouted last fall, they are going to bloom this year, despite the cutworms’ best efforts. I can see the stalks rising out of the mutilated rosette of leaves, and I want to see them triumph over a higher (debatable) life-form. C) I’m eager to see if these foxgloves look the same as their “parents,” which were the giant white variety, or if they revert to the standard pink color. I’m hoping for white and giant. They were smashing.

*I cannot issue a full apology, nor will I remove the beer traps, as I know the slugs noshed on my delphiniums, and have, in general, been up to no good.

**Cutworms spend the daylight hours buried below the surface of the soil, doing god knows what. After dark they emerge and start their feeding frenzy.


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