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Saturday, March 23, 2013

New Insect Pests Threatening Bearded Iris by Michael Lockatell

First published in Newscast, Region Four of the American Iris Society, Vol 47, No. 1, March 2005.  Used with permission

Bearded irises are tough customers in the growing space. Novice gardeners will plant rhizomes in any blank space around the yard. Site selection can be problematic, but this perennial's persistence in any growing condition is a testament to the plant's durability. Plant foliage makes bearded irises impervious to frequent deer invasions in ever expanding suburban landscapes. Despite their charm and endurance, new threats are materializing to challenge the modern hybrid's standing in today's perennial borders.

It is important to be aware of disease and insect pests plaguing our modern bearded hybrids. The same suspects on the disease side continue to put pressure on healthy clumps particularly in abnormally wet growing seasons. Insect pests have remained the same for decades, but nature has recently added some new twists to keep us on our toes. 

We can expect iris borer larvae to emerge right after bloom season. Their life cycle doesn't vary too much from year to year. Good garden sanitation has proven to be very effective on their overall control by removing all dead foliage on clumps during late fall, winter and early spring. We entirely avoided insecticide application due to thorough garden cleanup and daily IPM scouting. Not one to tempt fate, a residual insecticide spray will be planned as a backup measure to combat any unforeseen infestations this summer. 

Salt marsh caterpillar (Estigmene acrea) or yellow whollybear, is an entirely different adversary. Its existence in a given geographical area can be tied to previous farm activity. Soybeans are a host for these pests along with a number of vegetable crops. A recent report from Maryland indicates salt marsh caterpillars were feeding on fall pansy crops. They readily adapt to secondary hosts, primarily perennial weeds. 

My garden is located in a portion of a twenty acre field being used for hay production and Christmas trees. Soybeans may have been part of a crop rotation plan for the ground during its days as a working farm. Farming is long gone. These pests adapted by feeding on field weeds like dogbane. They therefore migrate from other sections of this site to feed on my iris plantings. These insect pests have multiple generations during spring and summer, so Integrated Pest Management scouting is crucial to plan on effective insecticide remedy to keep them at bay. 

Larvae are covered with dense soft setae (hairs) of variable length. Body color is extremely variable, from pale yellow to black. (1) "Full grown caterpillars are about two to two and one half inches long. The have a reddish brown body that may be difficult to see because of the long black hairs that cover the entire body. (2) These fur balls look like rich black brillo pads in my garden display beds. I have discovered examples of this stage of development in February in landscape plantings. 

Salt marsh caterpillars over winter as larvae in a protected place. They prepare inside a silk cocoon interwoven with the long hairs from their body. Adult moths appear in early spring. Their wing is about two inches, but their front wings are milk white. Male hind wings are yellow-orange, while the female's hind wings remain milk white. Both adults can be identified by a peppering of irregular black spots in front and hind wings. 

Iris growers should always be scouting for salt marsh caterpillar adult moths each spring. Their appearance starts the next cycle, and plans for control measures should be considered. Female moths lay large masses of eggs on host plants. Larvae can be observed crawling rapidly across the ground, lawns or roads to find targets for their dining pleasure. If encountered, young caterpillars will curl up and play dead.

Yellow whollybear damage can be extensive on any planting of bearded or Siberian irises. They seem to like feeding later in the day. These monsters prefer chewing on tender new plant tissue. The caterpillar will climb to the top of the iris fan. They pick an individual leaf and begin feeding from the tip working towards the rhizome. A quarter of each leaf is usually consumed before moving on to another healthy fan. Another favorite tactic of these pests is chewing a gaping hole in the center leaf at the mid point of a given fan. Damage on a one fan seedling could be fatal or stunt future increase for months. If yellow whollybears are not seen on the upper portions of the iris fans, try inspecting the center of the clumps along the ground for their existence and potential feeding damage.  

Unlike salt marsh caterpillars, yellow striped army worm (Spodoptera ornithogalli) has one generation to scout for bearded iris defoliation. As an iris breeder, these pests are a major threat to any healthy first year seedling bed. Most of their feeding damage is done at ground level. One of their favorite modes of attack is sawing off just emerged side increases. They also like to eat a gaping hole in the center leaf of the fan near the rhizomes. The succulent leaf tissue of these sites is easy for the yellow striped army worm to digest, so newly divided plantings are equally at risk of a late summer attack. 

The life cycle for yellow striped armyworm averages 30 days during summer months depending on temperature. These pests can have four generations per year, but they seem to be active in my garden from late July through the month of August. Larvae (worms or technically known as instars) are the dangerous stage of the life cycle. They will appear dark to velvety black with a yellow or light colored band running down each side of the back. A black spot can be observed on each side of the abdominal segment. Adult worms can measure up to 50mm long.  

Foliar damage occurs during the last three instars of larval development. Host plant research indicated defoliation during this span is 5, 16 and 77%. Observations at my garden reveal substantial feeding can take place in a matter of days. After the yellow striped armyworm passes through the larval instar, it pupates about 1-3 inches deep into the soil to over winter. Pupae emerge in the spring to mature as adult moths. 

They have a wingspan of 30-35mm with a very complex color pattern on the fore wings. Eggs are laid in masses from 50 to several hundred. They are then covered with gray scales from the female moth. Armyworm populations are considerably larger during cool, wet springs followed by warm humid summers. Since Central Virginia has experienced these weather conditions in recent years, iris gardeners should be scouting their gardens for these pests by the beginning of June. 

Insecticide remedies vary for salt marsh caterpillars (yellow whollybear) and yellow striped armyworm. They have proven to be immune to applications of Imida Chloprid used for iris borer control. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office for the latest control recommendations for these insect pests. Always use a spreader sticker to keep formulations on target foliage. A residual spray application is your best option. Rotate insecticides and always read the product label before any application.
A special thanks to Dr. David Holdhouser soybean specialist, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for his technical assistance in the preparation of this article

  1. Insect of the Month May 2004 Salt-marsh caterpillar. Seen at 
  2. Holshouser, David L., soybean specialist, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (personal communi-cation). Written communication on salt-marsh caterpillar and yellow striped armyworm. 
  3. Highley, L.G. and Boethel, J. 1994. Handbook of Soybean Insects. Entomological Society of America, Lanham MD, 38-41. 
  4. Highley, L.G. and Boethel, J. 1994. Handbook of Soybean Insects. Entomological Society of America, Lanham MD, 102. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Tribute to My Mentor

First published in Newscast, Region Four of the American Iris Society, Vol 47, No. 1, March 2005.  Used with permission

It is hard to imagine spring iris bloom without Lloyd Zurbrigg. His tutelage over the past five plus years has enabled me to develop a love for growing, creating and evaluating Siberian and bearded irises for the perennial garden.

My late mother's favorite garden plants were irises and herbaceous peonies. Thanks to plantings at my aunt and uncle's home and the guidance of long time growers Ethelene and Charles Gray, the attention of this landscape professional began to focus on bearded irises. The Grays' display gardens at their home in my hometown of Montvale, N.J. were chock full of the best spring blooming tall bearded selections on the iris scene. My new interest in these hardy perennials finally resulted in the establishment of drifts of these eye catching plants in front yard beds at my parents new home in Richmond, Virginia.

After coming to Richmond in 1996, I eventually joined the local chapter of the American Iris Society. Carolyn and I attended the AIS Region 4 Spring Meeting in Towson, Maryland in 1998. Aussie breeder Barry Blyth was the headline speaker at that event, but we always remember a tall and handsome gentleman on the two day tour surveying irises at each garden stop wearing his signature white safari hat.

Our next encounter with Lloyd would be back in Richmond. He gave a program at a CVIS winter meeting on the latest developments in his various breeding lines. He showed two slide trays worth of interesting seedlings, so Carolyn and I decided to come to Durham, N. C. to see his garden in spring bloom. It was an overwhelming experience for two first time visitors. We saw row after row of predominantly white blooms with various shadings of yellow on the fall shoulders thanks to the constant use of MESMERIZER, RENOWN and SUNNY SHOULDERS. After a few hours of his patient reciting of seedling numbers and parentages from his black ringed stud book, our heads were literally spinning!! It would take me a few years to easily recognize the parents and merits for instance of 0026, 0032C, 0033 and MASTERWORK.

The coming of the new millennium soon transformed a casual association into a close friendship centered on the further development of his legendary breeding lines. We finally convinced Lloyd to visit my garden in spring 02. Carolyn picked him up at the train station, and his initial reaction to seeing the garden was priceless. "I never expected anything like this!!" It was a joy of a lifetime having him walk through each iris row with me. We evaluated my first crop of seedlings and countless named varieties. He was interviewed by a local newspaper reporter and watched proudly as a film crew taped a segment for my appearance on a local public television gardening show. Doc adorned in a iris apron and armed with a pair of tweezers and a box of pollen envelopes from seedlings and named varieties growing in his own garden, he had the rare luxury of having two bloom seasons to make crosses. Plans began in earnest to bring some of his older seedlings from Durham to Richmond for evaluation and further breeding.
Dr. Lloyd Zurbrigg and Mike Lockatell

Photo: Photo: Lloyd Zurbrigg and Mike Lockatell Spring 2004, Courtesy of Mike Lockatell

We would share two more springs together evaluating old and new seedlings, making crosses and looking for new ideas to try in the future. Carolyn and I cherished the time Lloyd spent with us each spring. We finally decided to have the living room piano tuned before his 04 visits. We shared memorable moments of music and song each night before dinner. The sheet music for a song composed by one of wife Nita's music students, still resides on the music holder waiting for Doc to play it on his next visit.

My second crop of seedlings bloomed for the first time this past spring and fall. The best ones for rebloom featured Zurbrigg breeding lines as part of the parentages. Spring flowering saw unseasonably hot temperatures, but he nonetheless spent equal time looking at and breeding with hopefuls from both of our lines. Carolyn noted his satisfaction with our progress, and he spoke highly of his W72 seedlings in his last contribution for the Reblooming Iris Robin.

I brought bloomstalks from two of his older seedlings to the Region 4 Fall Flower Show in Fredericksburg. Even though neither one won top honors in the seedling division, PP36 and RR39 received a lot of favorable attention at the meeting. Lloyd came to Richmond for a final time to see my garden in fall bloom. His health had worsened since spring, but he found enough resolve to spend two days with us and to look at three of his older rebloom seedlings PP61 , SS111 and SS129 in full bloom. A couple of additional fall hopefuls were unfortunately still in bud stage, but we had great fun speculating on their eventual bloom. We agreed, at the time, there was nothing to introduce, but some of our seedlings had lots of breeding potential.

News soon indicated Lloyd had an inoperable malignant tumor on his liver. His condition began to deteriorate, and he was unable to write a contribution to the latest round of the Reblooming Iris Robin. I ended up composing a report for both of us highlighting the best fall rebloom in years for Central Virginia and Region 4. It was ironic I would soon get sick too, and my subsequent recuperation prevented me from seeing him one last time. Photo: Lloyd

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rebloom visits Austin

By Mike Lockatell, AIS Region 4 Reblooming Iris Chairman

Reblooming bearded iris culture can be a frustrating experience. Fall flowering traits are still not well understood. Weather and micro-climates can dramatically alter yearly results. Some varieties are so fickle, soil types can drive success or failure. Rebloom breeders end up using instincts to make their best combinations each spring to obtain more reliable offspring to flourish in any growing condition....

Click on thumbnail for full text of article

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A New Script for Rebloom
By Mike Lockatell, AIS Region 4 Reblooming Iris Chairman

Click HERE for the full text of the article (pdf)

American Iris Society Region 4—The Newscast August 2012 p. 10-11

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reblooming Bearded Irises

Reblooming Bearded Irises have existed for decades.  Unlike “Encore®” Reblooming Azaleas, these special perennial plants received minimal attention from Iris fanciers.  Public notice finally arrived in the late nineties due to a feature story appearing in Martha Steward Living Magazine.  Product demand forced major producers to list selections in their yearly catalogs.

Spring only flowering bearded irises cannot become a reblooming one.  Remontants (rebloomers) are bred for spring and fall flowering.  As hybridizers such as the late Dr. Lloyd Zurbrigg formerly of Radford, VA and Durham, NC retired, concrete performance data and new development saw a significant decline over the past decade.  Since rebloom origins are difficult to pinpoint, only a handful of dedicated breeders across the US and Canada are actively working for new color breaks and patterns plus better fall reliability.  One current goal is to move the fall bloom sequence up to late August or early September.  Such progress would allow gardeners in colder climates the chance to enjoy these marvelous heirloom plants in fall flower.

Gardeners should use extreme caution in ordering plants from mail order catalogs and print media ads.  Growers fail to make the distinction between warm and cool season varieties.  West Coast selections may not grow or flower in fickle Mid-Atlantic growing conditions.  Consult reputable local growers for the best choices in performance and fall bloom reliability.

Mike Lockatell                                            
Roots & Blooms, LLC                                   
The Joyce Lockatell Memorial Garden
500 Pantela Drive
North Chesterfield, VA 23235
(804) 330-2916

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Great Clarence Mystery

Mike has published an article proposing a solution to the "Great Clarence Mystery"--the unknown parentage of one of the most breathtaking of Lloyd Zurbrigg's reblooming irises. "Clarence" was a finalist for the prestigious Dykes Medal, but failed to win it due to uncertain antecedents.

The article was published in "Irises: The Bulletin of the American Iris Society" vol 92(2), April 2011, and appears HERE by permission.