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It helps to have priorities

Here we are at the start of the busiest gardening month of the year. It's easy to find yourself getting behind in your plans if an unforeseen problem pops up and steals some of your precious gardening time.

It helps to have your priorities written down in advance and a realistic schedule in front of you. Of course, we know that reality doesn't always (ever?) happen according to our plans, but it will help you avoid the frustration of missing some very important tasks and possibly ruining a season's worth of a crop.

Now is the time for the home orchard owner to set out pheromone traps to monitor codling moth activity. Detecting their presence early can help you control them before they can affect a sizable portion of your apples or pears. Develop a program of sprays, baits, or predators when moths are found.

Speaking of fruit trees, cherries, plums, peaches and apricots should be closely watched for brown rot blossom blight. It also affects ornamental varieties. Disease symptoms appear in the spring after the blossoms open. Diseased flowers and leaves wilt and turn brown. The disease spreads into twigs causing small branch dieback. Profuse gumming may appear on infected branches. Fruit infections appear as soft brown spots and can engulf the whole fruit.

With the cool, moist weather that is typical of May in the Rogue Valley, one must keep a close eye on strawberries and many ornamentals for two insect pests: spittle bugs and aphids.

Control them by hosing off your plants with a strong, yet gentle stream of water, or use insecticidal soap as a contact spray. Follow label directions. Once the hot, dry summer weather arrives, these pests will almost entirely disappear. Your fight won't be a long one, but it can be intense on plants like roses.

Another problem that is typical of this season is the appearance of slugs and snails and their attendant damage to our gardens. Although not as prevalent as they are in the northwestern part of the state, they nevertheless can cause a great deal of damage to the foliage of ornamental and edible plants. Look for signs of the shiny trails left during their nocturnal wanderings to devour your choice hostas or seedlings. Control them with bait or several different styles of traps and by removing or mowing vegetation near garden plots. Remove their hiding places and they will seek more appropriate housing elsewhere.

Tiny holes in foliage and small, shiny, black beetles on tomatoes, beets, radishes, and potatoes indicate flea beetle attack. They are quite small, yet have large rear legs that allow them to leap like a flea from plant to plant. Their population can build rapidly if not dealt with early. Young plants can be particularly hard hit. Treat with Neem, rotenone, or use nematodes for larvae. Follow label directions, as always.

Leafrollers are the larvae of moths that may prove to be troublesome on blueberries and apples, as well as other crops. They will roll the edges of leaves together to form a protective covering and then eat the foliage inside at their leisure. They are problematic only if their numbers are large or if they are feeding on blossoms. They can be hard to control due to their unique shelter. Pheromone traps can prove useful in luring them away from your plants.

I haven't even mentioned that May contains the single busiest day of the year for the nursery industry: Mother's Day. Each year more plants are sold and more dollars are spent on this day than any other during the year. I always thought it would be more appropriate and helpful to stay home that day and work with mom in the garden, helping her pull weeds, plant whatever she would like to have planted, and maybe even make her a nice lunch that she doesn't have to fix or clean up after. Wouldn't a day that mom would remember fondly for the rest of her life be nicer than a hanging basket of petunias that will fade at the end of summer?

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-10 a.m. Saturday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at stanpolski@gmail.com.