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Weeds do a lot of other garden pests

A red fox hunts in Terry Yockey's rain garden. (Photos by Terry Yockey)1 / 4
Septoria rudbeckiae turns black-eyed Susan foliage black.2 / 4
Try to pull yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis) before it can spread seed.3 / 4
Hard to miss, this is a giant stinging nettle.4 / 4

By Terry Yockey, garden columnist

I was sitting on the deck with my husband a few days ago when he asked me what the tall pagoda-shaped plant was growing behind the bird bath. I looked up and was shocked to see a giant 15-foot high stinging nettle looming on the horizon.

I didn’t even think that nettles could grow that tall.

I promptly removed it after I had donned my full gardening armor. For the really dirty jobs, I wear two layers with long sleeves, bandanas around my head and neck and jeans tucked into my white athletic socks.

I adopted that practice after I accidentally stuck my shovel into a nest of yellow jackets a few years ago and some wasps managed to fly up my pants. Once inside my pant legs, of course, there was no way out so you can imagine how fun that was!

Another perk of the jeans in the socks maneuver is that ticks cannot climb up your pants either. Of course, looking like a huge dweeb when you are out in the yard is NOT one of the benefits, but as with most things you have to take the bad with the good.

Not really clover

It was only a few years ago that I discovered that one of the more pernicious weeds in my yard and gardens was not what I thought it was. Yes, I am a Master Gardener and, yes, it is surprising that I went for 13 years as a Master Gardener thinking that the shamrock-leaved weed with the small yellow flowers in the photo was a variety of clover.

Well, I now know that it isn’t. It is actually Oxalis stricta, also known as yellow wood sorrel.

I have been battling the wood sorrel for years and this season was no exception. On the positive side, the best control is hand-pulling and it is pretty easy to pull out compared to some of the more stubborn weeds.

Animal pests

I have an electric fence so I have very few problems with deer, thank goodness. Unfortunately, I still have to contend with the rabbits and especially the bunny babies. I really hate when they start “hatching,” because they love to start cutting things off at the bottom and then just leaving them there to rot.

I usually have good luck putting rabbit wire cages around their favorites munchies including their very favorites which are my beautiful trumpet, Oriental and Asiatic lilies.

This year, however, the lovely pink lilies in the back of the Fragrance Garden were in full bloom when they suddenly disappeared. When I went to see what had happened I found all of them gnawed off and laying haphazardly all over inside the wire cage. Baby bunnies strike again.

Yesterday I saw a red fox in my front yard stalking prey. Is it wrong to hope that the no good lily-eating bunny was the fox’s dinner last night?

The moles are also back with a vengeance. I trapped 16 moles last year and have already exterminated 10 this season.

As with past years, as soon as one is gone, two more take its place. I have tried, but live and let live just doesn’t work when it comes to the ugly critters, so I have perfected the art of the trap. I have written how I manage to get so many in previous columns, but you can also find my instructions on my blog at

Rudbeckia diseases

I managed to dodge the bullet for many years and my Goldsturm Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans) stayed disease-free. Most of my gardening friends had experienced a variety of pathogens on their plants including the dreaded Septoria rudbeckiae that can turn the plant completely black all the way down to the ground.

Last year, I decided to divide my rudbeckia so I could share some with my son. Logically this should have helped keep them disease-free since when I replanted the divisions they would all have much better air circulation and would dry out faster.

That isn’t what happened though and instead I ended up with the nasty looking plants you see in the photo.

This is the second year the septoria has reappeared so I am seriously thinking of replacing all the Goldsturm with another less problematic plant next season. But what?

Biting insects

While attending the Bluebird Recovery Program’s Expo at Red Wing High School in May, one of the speakers advised using imitation vanilla extract to keep the buffalo gnats from parasitizing baby bluebirds. He opened the bluebird houses and put some under the roof and he said that kept the gnats from biting the baby birds.

I’m sure you noticed how bad the biting gnats were this season, so after hearing about the bluebirds I thought — why not? If it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

I am happy to report that I put some vanilla on a bandana around my neck and also on my hairline and this is the first year I have not had one gnat bite. I also told my husband, my brother and my neighbor and they all reported instant relief from the biting.

Thank you Bluebird Recovery Program.