May doesn’t like me. Don’t know why but it’s always in May that if something’s going to go wrong, it goes wrong. No ladder breaks while I’m up it, except in May! I don’t fall down the stairs and crack a rib, except in May! No vein in my leg clots, except in May! And no vein in my leg develops ulcers, except in May! You may worry about Friday the 13th but that’s only one day once in a while. I have a whole month to worry about every year!
So while I was spending time in late May and early June this year with a foot up in the air (gotta keep it higher than the pelvis), playing around with various painkillers and trying not to ladder my stockings (compression before you ask!), I didn’t notice the arrival of some little visitors until they’d overstayed their welcome and devoured about half of an 18-foot-long (or is it “feet”?) berberis hedge.
Why do we call them “berberis sawfly” when it’s the larva, or caterpillar, that does the damage? The flies just, well, fly about, have some illicit sex and lay some eggs. The flies are pretty nondescript; they look like flies. The caterpillars are sort of pretty in a way. Not that big.
But bloody hungry! They’ve only had a week or so of undisturbed feasting and they’ve left me with a rather defoliated hedge. Though what I want to know is, given the volume of leaf the colony has devoured, where’s all the caterpillar crap?
The “nice” pesticides like pyrethrum will cope with a small infestation but are not effective once the scouting party has sent word back home and all the aunts, uncles and distant cousins have come to the party. And “pick ’em off by hand and squish ’em” is fine when you don’t have something like a London Marathon crowd running from one end of the hedge to the other. And, of course, we’re talking about berberis sawflies here. What do you find berberis sawflies on (OK, smart-arse, I know they also like mahonias)? And what else do you find on berberis? Yep, you guessed it – THORNS!
So the choice is sacrifice the berberis or kill the caterpillars en masse. And as the berberis still stands a chance of recovery, it’s the caterpillars that are for the chop. I want to save the hedge. If I can’t, the alternative will be 18 feet of paving. Or a low wall. It won’t be another hedge. It’s up and at ’em time. Out with the Provado!
First step was to make sure that any flower buds were removed and, for the rest of this year, I’ll make sure that none develop. I don’t want to attract pollinators to the hedge. Provado Ultimate Bug Killer is systemic. It’s also essentially a neonicotinoid that hasn’t been banned but whose effect on pollinators is indeterminate. I want to minimise the risk.
I’m not a fan of chemicals but when I need to, I’ll use Glyphosate (NOT Roundup which is more than just Glyphosate) and I’ll use Provado Ultimate Bug Killer. Fortunately, the need is not often. I last used Provado in 2014. Glyphosate only gets used if horsetail dares to rear its ugly head in the garden and then by the thimble-full.
Having sprayed, I’ll keep a close eye on the hedge. There’s enough foliage, I think, to keep it going and I hope it’ll regenerate. There may be a second round of caterpillars (there are generally two a year and much will depend on how well I’ve “caught” the current generation) If I’m vigilant, I may catch the new generation early enough to zap it with a pyrethrum-based insecticide. Though if I have to it’ll be a second dose of Provado.
And now I’ve got to put my foot up again for a while. Life is so hard! Oh well ……