A Weed to Watch Out For
Insect Helpers

Heat, Wind, Rain...

Here in San Francisco, our weather reporters make much from small changes. Tomorrow, they may say, will be clear after morning fog, with slightly cooler than average temperatures. The next day will be the same but maybe a little breezy. The past few weeks have given them a little more to talk about. First it was hot. This happens a few times each spring and summer, but the first heat spell of spring is the plant killer. The days are almost at their longest, the plants that grow most in in the spring have lots of young, tender growth, or maybe they are covered with flowers. And the soil is drying. This spring the soil was particularly dry, since we have had no rain for some weeks. Then we had those hot days. Was it only two? I witnessed a beautiful rhododendron, in a shady site on the north side of a house, with beautiful balls of pink flowers go from that to a plant covered with sad, withering flowers, in the course of one afternoon. My own cinerarias suffered, with some, in a part of the garden that was driest, wilting so that the purple daisies never recovered. I watered all afternoon.

Then came the wind. It was so windy last week in the College garden that I thought better of transplanting the chayotes (finally) into their spots by the new arbor. OK, I'll do it next week. They are looking good, though, waiting in the wings, in the lathe house, but I think so much wind would have caused them to wilt.

And then, last Saturday, rain! What a surprise, after many dry weeks. We had only a little rain in San Francisco, but maybe there was more in other parts of the Bay Area. The snails stayed out in full view in the morning rain, allowing a very good snail hunt. The lettuce and arugula were nicely crisp. The garden seems to appreciate a rain more than a watering. But the bigger surprise is the snow in the mountains. Ten inches in the Sierra, at the end of May!

Today we are back to seasonally mild weather, followed by a foggy evening. A good day for gardening.

I don't know if it is due to the dry mid spring, or to what, but I am seeing more lady beetles than usual this spring. I rarely garden for more than a few minutes without seeing one or maybe more. And in my camera is a photo of a soldier beetle, another aphid eater. I will try to get it into the next post.


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I have been reading about lady beetles in preparation for writing about them in a future Chronicle column. It seems that it is not uncommon for them to overshoot land in their annual migration down from the mountains to feed and end up in the ocean. To a great degree, they depend on winds to deliver them to their destination, and sometimes they get blown off course, far out into the Pacific, later to wash back ashore in the millions. Happily, there are millions more.


Right after our big heat wave in mid-May I noticed thousands and thousands of dead ladybugs (or lady beetles?) washed up on Ocean Beach. I wondered whether they hatched in the heat, flew west, and perished. Thank you for your wonderful book, Golden Gate Gardening. I use it the year round for inspiration and advice in my struggle to garden in Sunnyside (near City College).


I agree it has been a strange end to May. A stevia plant I set out got beaten to death by the wind. (The one in the back yard is happy and undamaged.)
I have also notice a strange increase in lady bugs/beetles. The aphids are still there, but seem to be held a little more at bay, and I live in Half Moon Bay.

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