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Garden Docs: Who, or what, ate the lettuce?


<strong>Sue R. writes:</strong> <em>I have a new raised bed built with redwood and all set with timed irrigation. I planted a variety of lettuce starts and, to my dismay, the very next day, when I went out to check, they were almost eaten to the ground. Do you have any idea what ate the lettuce? This is a very expensive experiment. Also, do you have some favorite varieties that you can recommend?</em>

It could have been slugs, snails, earwigs or birds. If indeed it was slug or snail damage, you will see slick-appearing trails on the soil surface and on the remaining vegetation. Try baiting with the product Sluggo, which is safe to use around vegetables.

Earwigs do not leave trails but leave a notching appearance on the leaves. Try wrapping moist rolled newspaper around the edges of the box. Earwigs will hide in the moist newspaper rolls and you can discard the captured insects. Also effective for trapping earwigs is a solution of vegetable oil and a little soy sauce placed in a low container. The insects are attracted and will drown.

Birds love newly planted lettuce and can readily devastate a new planting. Purchase some lightweight floating row cover and loosely cover the entire bed, anchoring it around the edges with stones or boards.

This is a wonderful product to use as it allows moisture and sunlight to reach the new plants. As the lettuce grows, the material gently lifts without weighing down the plants. Most important, it does a fine job of keeping flying insects and birds from devastating tender new plants.

To really determine what is causing the damage, play an investigative role during the evening with a flashlight. This is when you will find damaging insects, since they are most active after dark. And of course, check during the day for flights of birds enjoying the harvest. Don't give up on your lettuce.

Here are some favorite lettuce varieties: Red Sails, Oakleaf, Silvia Red Romaine, Freckles, mesclun mixes, Salad Bowl and arugula. It is always fun to try different varieties interspersed with colorful Johnny-jump-ups or violas for a colorful and edible bed.

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<strong>Ken asks:</strong> <em>What can you advise about the proper care of a Chilean jasmine. This vine was recommended and installed by a landscaper for the previous owner of our home.</em>

The botanical name for Chilean jasmine is Mandevilla laxa. It is a noninvasive vine that seems to do well in the warmer areas of Sonoma County, has white blooms that are wonderfully fragrant and is a fine addition to the garden when planted on a trellis next to a sunny entrance.

Chilean jasmine is hardy to 15 degrees, but is actually root hardy to

5 degrees when the root area is well mulched. It blooms on new growth, which will help you determine how it should be pruned for optimum bloom, fullness and tidiness.

If the vine has become badly tangled and you wish to keep it tidy, Chilean jasmine can be pruned back almost to the ground before the middle of November. Most of the leaves should have fallen, thus helping you have a better visual idea of deciding which stems to prune/remove/thin out. Be somewhat conservative when pruning and leave 6 to 12 inches of old growth.

Its twining growth habit can be gently pinched back during the spring-summer-fall growing seasons to encourage fullness, to train new growth and encourage continuous bloom.

In the spring, top dress with compost around the base of the root area, keeping the mulch from direct contact with the main stems, and watch it grow to 15 feet.

<em>Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors, gardening consultants Gwen Kilchherr and Dana Lozano, can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.</em>