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What species might cause damage in the garden this year?

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 19 Feb 2014 at 12:37 PM

I’m playing a game with myself to try and guess which garden wildlife might cause a problem in 2014. In 2013, there was a noticeable increase, in the gardens I frequent, in vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) larvae eating plant roots, especially Heucheras. In those cases, I got to them in time and managed to root up what was left, so the plants survived. The larvae were put out for the birds and quickly eaten up by a robin. This year, on the other hand, I’ve been finding more Angle shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) moth caterpillars than previously.


Angle shades moths have two generations a year, breeding May to June and August to October, so you’d expect to find some caterpillars at this time of year, but I haven’t come across them in the same numbers as this year. These caterpillars survive the cold winter by producing chemicals that stop their cells breaking down in freezing weather, allowing them to become active and start eating again as soon as temperatures get to around 5C.

Whilst there may not be many leafy plants around in winter, there are over wintering plants such as winter cabbages and spinach to be had, as I discovered the other day. One big handful of spinach had three fat caterpillars, quietly munching holes in the leaves. There were also two small snails and an unknown spider’s egg cocoon. The caterpillars were put out for the birds, the snails went on the compost heap and the leaf with the spider’s eggs was tucked behind a plant pot next to the house.





It seems almost inevitable, given the mild and unusually wet winter, that we’ll have trouble from slugs and snails this year. It’s the little slugs that tend to do the most damage and they can strip a young plant overnight. I have my fingers crossed that the newts which were born in the pond last year will make some meals of them.

There is one possible pest in this garden that, if they do cause damage, it will be partly because I’ve deliberately made the garden hospitable to them: sparrows (Passer domesticus). They love the big Cotoneaster, the Kilmarnock willow and the thick ivy growing along the top of the wall, flying from one to another for much of the day. They are lively little birds and I enjoy them, but they can also be quite destructive. In my old garden, I watched one day as they shredded every yellow crocus and primrose flower in the garden, leaving the debris on the ground. When they started collecting nesting material, they spied a clump of Stipa tenuissima and several joined in at pulling as much out as they could. By the end of their efforts, the plant looked like a small green hedgehog.





That year, the sparrows were joined by starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Starlings are known to add plant material to their nests that may deter parasites and their plant of choice was Lavender. They pulled off every single tuft of new growth and carried it away.

Rather than worrying, I’m being philosophical about it – they are all part of the food chain – and reminding myself of the words my father intoned to us as children: ‘Share and share alike’.


Phot's-Moll said:

I'm hoping the wet weather will have reduced the number of vine weevils as I have a lot of problems with them. I did try the nematodes, but that didn't seem to make any difference.

I do see a lot of those green caterpillars. I don't mind them and sparrows as much as other pests as they don't tend to completely destroy plants.

on 23 Feb 2014 at 01:32 PM