Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer tells about cleaning the hummingbird feeder; handling cedar-needle blight and buying ladybugs to get rid of aphids.
Q: How do you clean hummingbird feeders?
A: The first rule is to avoid using soap. Hummingbirds hate the taste of it, and if there’s the slightest residue, they won’t use the feeder. If you change solution often, simply scrub the feeder with a bottlebrush and then flush it out with hot tap water.
If the solution ever looks cloudy or spoiled, clean it thoroughly with a solution of straight white vinegar and rinse with hot water. Since it’s necessary to change the nectar practically every other day in hot weather, save yourself a big hassle and choose a type of feeder that’s easy to take apart and clean. I recommend the basin-style feeders over the inverted bottle type because the latter is frustratingly hard to clean.
If you decide to replace your old feeder, get one with perches. The hummingbirds will really appreciate a seat at the table rather than expending valuable energy beating their wings while they snack.
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Q: What’s wrong with my blue atlas cedar? Some of the needles are turning brown and the ends of several branches appear to be dying.
A: I suspect that your tree has cedar needle blight. This fungus disease is favored by prolonged cool wet weather such as we experienced this spring.
As you described, needles at the end of branches turn tannish-brown, and end of branches often die. In bad cases, entire branches can die, and in the worst cases, entire trees can be killed.
Although there aren’t any chemicals registered to prevent cedar needle blight, there are steps you can take to help combat the disease. Start by making sure an irrigation system isn’t wetting the foliage every time you water. If the foliage remains dry, the disease won’t spread, but it will spread all summer if water hits the branches regularly.
As soon as possible, prune off any dead branches and rake up fallen needles. The disease overwinters on dead branches and needles, so removing them from your garden will help reduce the severity of reoccurrence next spring. For more information, visit the OSU Plant Disease website at www.pnwhandbooks.org/plantdisease (search for “cedar needle blight”).
Q: My garden is full of aphids. Should I bring in some ladybugs?
A: Ladybugs will do wonders but don’t buy them to release in your garden because the ladybugs you buy for this purpose almost always fly away before doing any good in your garden.
That’s because lady beetles go through a metabolic change in fall causing them to accumulate fatty oils that act as antifreeze in winter. Then they migrate to the woods and find a hole in a log, or some other hideaway where they nestle together to survive the winter cold.
The folks who collect them keep them in the cooler and when they sell them to us, the ladybugs are still full of fatty oils and have no interest in eating anything until they exercise a bit. Since ladybugs don’t do push-ups and sit-ups, they’ll take off and fly several miles before working up enough appetite to feast on aphids in someone else’s garden.
Fortunately there are plenty of native ladybugs flying around looking for a place to call home.
Your large number of aphids will help attract them, but ladybugs love to eat pollen almost as much as bugs. Adding some ladybug favorites such as yarrow, angelica, daisies, sunflowers, alyssum, fennel, dill or lovage will greatly increase your chances of luring them in.
Ciscoe Morris: email@example.com; “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.