Use UV light to identify plant invaders

Tracey FitzgibbonIn your July 17 post… you suggested using a flashlight to find out what is eating coral bells. A few years ago when we were fighting a pest that was destroying my tomato plants, we tried going out with a black light UV flashlight. They are easily and cheaply available. You’ll be amazed at all the little critters you’ll see when you shine a UV light (at night) on your plants. Many tomato worms and the like are fluorescent (when hit by a black light), which makes them easy to spot. Plus, exploring your yard with a UV light on a moonless night is a fun science fiction adventure. – MK, Los Lunas

Dear Readers: How cool is that?

Here’s another way to hunt down destructive critters in your gardens.

I knew and remembered that scorpions have a fluorescent glow when hit with ultraviolet light, also known as black light. But I didn’t know so many other critics would respond to the light.

So, go out in a black light and see what else you can see. Hopefully, you will be better informed about what is hurting your gardens and decide how to treat them.

I recommend using diatomaceous earth or a ready-to-use insecticide spray called pyrethrum.

The CC in Northeast Heights wanted to know what pesticide he recommended. That depends on what you are hunting. The pyrethrum spray is probably the fastest. Remember to apply the spray in the evening hours as you will be exposed to sunlight and want to keep it fresh.

Diatomaceous earth is slow but effective. So if you’re looking for a quick fix using pesticides, pyrethrum spray will be the ticket. Although it takes longer and is a little slower in results, diatomaceous earth is another way to treat your plants. You can apply both to get a one-two punch.

Q. My hollyhocks had a banner year with infrequent watering due to the lack of water. Now that I have collected some seeds, tell them how and when to plant them, or how best to repeat next year’s crop of hollyhocks when I give them the seeds? – JM End

A. From all the information I have gathered, you want to wait until the end of September to plant the hollyhock seeds. They will do better if they are given enough time to sit on the ground during sleep. This is called stratification. Stratification makes the seed coat more porous, so to speak, so it’s easier for the germinating embyro to emerge when the time comes in the spring.

So, for the time being, until the end of September – even mid-October – store your hollyhock seeds in a paper bag and shake the contents well every two weeks. Store the bag out of any direct sunlight and aim to keep it cool, but do not refrigerate.

Mark your calendar, then go out and decide when to start the next generation. Sprinkle some finely ground compost over the area and rake the area using a sturdy metal grater. Once it’s attached, use the top part of the rack and adjust it back into place. Again using the tines, gently scratch shallow lines or grooves in that area. Sprinkle the seed and gently cover the seed, using the top part of the rake to level the area.

Hollyhock seeds should not be buried too deep. Once you have them fixed, wet the area with a gentle spray of water. Occasionally, during dormancy, water carefully to keep the seeded area calm.

Hollyhocks are incredibly hardy creatures, so at least they don’t want or need to be damaged. Come spring, the hollyhock plant should sprout and soon the hollyhock will be abundant.

Then MS asked, “What happened in Hollyhocks, New Mexico? They used to be everywhere, now they’re rare.”

I think they may have fallen out of fashion. When new, interesting plants come on board, some standards are forgotten. Also, if the mother plants are taken up with too much yard cleanup in the fall, perhaps too much of the seed will be cleaned up as well.

So, begin the rebirth of a happy hollyhock stand by planning to plant your seeds in the fall and then in the spring.

Enter Happy Diggin.

Tracy Fitzgibbon is a Certified Nurse Practitioner. Send gardening questions to Digging, The Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to

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