When we first moved to the Pacific NW, I was thrilled and astounded at the variety of Rhododendrons and Azaleas available to Oregon gardeners. Before long, this infatuation wore off, I got a little jaded, and when we bought a house, I soon started taking them out of the garden. In typical 1942 fashion, they were tidily lined up along the foundation, and I had different ideas. Therefore, when the Azalea lace bug hit our shores in 2008, I didn’t stand to loose much. Sadly, many others did. If I had a dollar for every person whose brought-along twigs I have ID’d as lace bug-infested, I’d be in a happy place. The rampages of these pesky little critters have reached epidemic proportions! Since Azaleas are such a staple plant in many Oregon gardens, I feel terrible when I have to tell people that there really isn’t a silver bullet around to beat these things. It’s either a persistent and ongoing repetition of timely neem oil treatments, or – since there are several life cycles in a season – continuous dousings with the nasty stuff that will kill everything – including all the beneficial insects. I usually tell people that the least frustration-intensive thing to do, is to take their Azaleas out, and replace them with something that is not susceptible to lace bugs. At least that would be the low-maintenance gardener’s preferred way out. There truly are better ways to enjoy your garden than to constantly be working against the odds. There are some good info and photos here.
The other day, I was out in the yard, and saw the one and only Azalea that still remains in my garden. It’s a deciduous one, and it was an impulse buy because of its bright orange color. I had kinda forgotten it was there, and seeing it made me wonder how affected deciduous azaleas in general, would be. The eggs of the lace bugs survive the winter embedded in the midrib of the leaves, which made me think the deciduous varieties might stand a better chance at surviving year to year – since they loose their leaves. And removing any fallen leaves in autumn probably helps too. The WSU Extension backs me up on this notion, but who knows how the plant will actually look as the summer progresses. It would be no fun to look at those pale, stippled leaves, even if I knew that they will eventually fall off. I guess time will tell.
I will monitor my orange azalea another year, and see what it does. Heaven knows I didn’t treat it very well in the first few years I had it. It has been moved at least a couple of times, and spent an entire winter dug up, sitting above ground. When I finally left it in place, and it leafed out, its leaves had this really interesting variegation. It has had this for two years in a row now, so I’m hoping it’s some kind of affliction causing it. You know, like the virus that caused the tulips back in the 15oo’s to break out into such outrageous (and lucrative) colors. Sure, a virus probably weakens the plant, but who cares when the effect is so cool?
I’m really intrigued by this wonky coloration of its leaves. More so because of this than because of its flowers, I hope it can withstand the assault of the lace bugs. Maybe I’ll give it a precautionary coating of neem oil once its leaves open – just because… If anyone out there has any ideas as to the cause of the variegation (other than neglect, which I suspect it is), I’d love to hear it!