Writer’s Block: The Struggle is Green

By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

Now that we’re well and truly into spring our customary strong April winds and unpredictably rainy/sunny weather have arrived, as well.

But, along with the knock-you-over gusts of winds, blistering sunshine, sideways rain and other things we usually experience this time of year, there’s something else that has arrived with the growing season: growing pains.

My small garden, which I have painstakingly been attending to for weeks now, is under attack. The same warm temperatures that coax plants to grow and bloom are also the warm temperatures favored by common garden pests — insects, fungal infections, even sunburn.

But what’s plaguing my pots of plants the most are insects — or more accurately, their larvae.

I was sitting out on my patio one afternoon when the swaying leaves of my sweet basil plant caught my eye. Their normally fat, emerald green leaves flashed bits of beige as they rustled in the breeze. I took a closer look and found small, squiggly lines traced across several of the largest, most fragrant leaves.

Leaf miners.

These tiny pests are the larvae of moths or flies. The insects’ eggs, laid atop the leaves, hatch and begin feeding by burrowing a trail between a leaf’s tissues. I pinched off the affected leaves, sprayed the basil with neem oil — which is an organic pesticide and fungicide — and hoped for the best.

Just a few feet away, another plant was enduring a struggle of its own. Hanging beneath my eaves I have a pot of fiery scarlet impatiens appropriately called atomic red. Well, “had” would be a more apt description.

Nearly all the flowers have dropped from the poor plant, and the leaves have begun to look shriveled and shrunken, with yellowish spots. At first, I thought the plant wasn’t getting enough water. Then I worried that, even in the shelter of the eaves, this shade-loving species was getting too much sun and was becoming sun-scorched.

But, no, it was neither of those things. After speaking with one of the plant gurus at Waugh’s Nursery in Pharr, and poring over super zoomed-in photos of some of the affected leaves, we learned my impatiens have a case of the thrips.

Like leaf miners, thrips are an insect problem. A truly vampiric creature, the incredibly tiny, nearly invisible thrips puncture leaves and suck out the tender contents within. They’re very adept at hiding, so it took me several days before I found one single thrip while I was taking photos of the damaged leaves.

As with the sweet basil, I sprayed a heavy layer of neem oil on the impatiens, trying to get both the tops and undersides of the leaves. I also carefully removed any leaf litter from the bottom of the pot, pinched off the worst looking leaves, and gave the whole plant a shower with a little pressurized water in an attempt to remove at least some of the pests by physical force.

I don’t know if the impatiens will bounce back. I hope they do. That crown of crimson flowers was something incredible to behold.

I have more hope for the basil, which has already sprouted several new leaf nodes. Meanwhile, I’ll keep an eye on both plants, as well as the others in my menagerie. But, I’m not a natural green thumb, so I’m learning how to deal with a lot of things as I go. The struggle is most definitely green.

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