But, when I say food for pollinators, I meant the marvelous bees, hummingbirds and butterflies that visit the plant for nectar. I certainly didn't mean that I wanted my salvia flower buds to be eaten to nothing by the tiny Southern Pink Moth caterpillars!
That's exactly what has been happening to my annual salvias. The flower buds disappeared overnight, eaten by tiny caterpillars that I was sure had been eradicated from the garden years ago when I decided annual salvias wouldn't be planted at Clay and Limestone.
It was mid-summer 2009 when I noticed a pretty little moth nectaring on basil, its lovely pink color blended beautifully into the flowers and was only noticeable when I brushed against the container and it flew hither and yon. Yon being over to the salvia were it seemed perfectly comfortable. The moth's shape reminded me of tiny pink stealth jets and when I figured out that they were the adult stage of the voracious caterpillars eating the salvia and basil flower buds, they were christened stealth chompers.
|Before the Southern Pink Moth landed at Clay and Limestone|
They made a mess of my salvias and basil and I decided that the only way to stop them was to not invite them back into the garden. Which meant no more annual salvias would be jumping into my cart at the local nurseries. No more sweet little Salvia 'Coral Nymph', no more dramatic S 'Black and Blue' and, certainly, no more letting the basils go to flower.
Banning those beauties from the garden might have seemed dramatic at the time, but, I wasn't going to use a pesticide and I wanted to save the native fall blooming Salvia azurea from being chomped! It was new to the garden and I didn't want to chance losing is first season of bloom.
My garden has been Southern Pink Moth free until this year when I succumbed to the charms of annual Salvias 'Argentina Skies', 'Black and Blue' and S farinacea. Just after buds formed the Stealth Chompers struck! The buds were chewed to bits overnight and I could see the tiny caterpillars snacking on them... I cut the stems back and trashed the critters, hoping that any new buds would be safe.
This morning while watering I saw three Southern Pink Moths nectaring on the Salvias. They are no more. There will be no more laying of eggs and there will be no more chomping on the flower buds~I am not letting them near my Salvia azurea, even if this is its seventh year of blooming in the garden.
A gardener has to do what a gardener has to do*. Looks like I am going to have to be on the lookout for any new stealth chompers. They must have come in on those new salvias.
*especially since the birds weren't chomping on the moths!
Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.