Q: A few of my shrubs have little globs of white foam on them, and I think that means spittlebugs. I am worried because those shrubs were expensive. What should I do?
A: I am glad to tell you that you need do nothing at all. Yes, those globs of foam are the homes of spittlebugs. They are defenseless against bigger creatures, so spittlebugs secrete a mass of foam and hide inside. Each white glob covers just one spittlebug.
One time when I was curious, I poked around inside a bit of foam until I could see the bug. It was actually kind of cute. Nearly as small as an aphid, it was lime green, shaped like a cone with two eyes on the blunt end. Looking at its funny face, I could understand why spittlebugs also are called froghoppers.
It is true that spittlebugs live by sucking plant juices, but they are so small, and there are so few of them, that I have never seen any damage they caused. Gardeners and spittlebugs can coexist without difficulty.
Q: I covered my annual bed with leaves last fall. Should I clean them off now, before I plant flowers?
A: I don't. I leave the mulch on my flower beds, for several reasons. Not only will that layer of leaves or dead plants help to hold in soil moisture, it will also keep weeds from sprouting. The less weeding I have to do, the better, as far as I am concerned.
I push the mulch aside just far enough to dig a hole. I set in the plant and snuggle the mulch back around its base. I try to avoid bare soil in flower beds whenever possible.
Q: Can you give me a list of flowers that will bloom in the shade and that deer won't eat?
A: We all wish that there were such a list, but there is not. No flower is safe from deer appetites, whether it blooms in sun or shade. Sometimes I think that includes silk flowers. Even if the deer decide that they do not like the flavor, they will take a bite and spit it out.
Nor are there any sprays guaranteed to keep deer from eating plants. Most of the sprays work sometimes, on some plants, against some deer. They work better if there are many plants and few deer.
The best sprays are those which make plants taste bitter. Even those work only when the plants are sprayed before the deer get their first nibble. Suppose that a deer eats an unsprayed tulip, for instance, and then the whole tulip bed is sprayed. The deer will return many times, biting off and spitting out the bitter tulips, apparently hoping that the next one will taste good again.
The only way to protect flowers from deer is with some kind of barrier which keeps deer and flowers separated. There are many kinds of fences, some decorative and some nearly invisible. There is deer netting. There are small decorative enclosures for flower beds which a deer will not jump because it does not see a big enough landing area. There are containers which can be moved inside at night or when no one is home.
Deer like to keep going to the places where they always have gone. If deer have not discovered your flowers, they may never find them. If you live on a deer highway, though, only barricades, not stop signs, will send the deer down a different road.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email email@example.com. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.