Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.
Q: I have lived in the same house in the Pocket for 12 years. Last April, for the first time, I had a small infestation of big black flies in my bedroom. They were a nuisance, but manageable.
This year, again in early April, the black flies were back with a vengeance! Fifty to 100 swarmed the outside screen of my bedroom, and somehow got into the bedroom. Then, of course, they swarmed against the inside of the window (and all over the walls and ceiling) because they wanted to get back out again.
No flies on any other windows or in any other part of the house. No dead animals outside in the plantings under or near the bedroom window. No torn screens. Nothing different or unusual anywhere inside or out. I sprayed inside and out. The flies eventually died. I phoned a pest control company that had no ideas for me except to fumigate my whole house.
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What happened? Where did the flies come from? Is this going to be an every-April event? How can I prevent this in the future? I’m already dreading next April.
A: “Bug Man” Baldo Villegas says: First you need to see what types of flies Judith is talking about. In this case, it is important to have some specimens of the flies so they can be properly identified. Some flies feed on plant materials, leftover food scraps, fecal material, dead animals, etc. By knowing the species or types of flies, one can pin down the problem and give Judith the proper advice.
An alternative to a sample of the flies would be close-up pictures of the flies. This can only be done with dead flies as it is very difficult to take pictures of flies as they fly when one gets too close to them. Also it is helpful if the pictures are in focus so one can properly identify the type of fly that Judith is talking about.
Samples of the flies can be taken to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Pest Diagnostics Laboratory at 3294 Meadowview Road, Sacramento, CA. 95832. The Pest Diagnostics Laboratory has fly experts that can readily identify the flies. With that information, Judith can research the information on the internet and hopefully get rid of the problem.
Baldo Villegas, known as Sacramento’s “Bug Man,” is a retired state entomologist and master consulting rosarian.
Acanthus not for everyone
Recently, a reader asked about the identity of a glossy, green-leaved mystery plant, Acanthus mollis, or bear’s breeches. Although many gardeners love this popular perennial, others loathe it. The reason? Once established, acanthus is hard to kill.
“Acanthus is not ‘a wonderful perennial for California gardens,’ ” wrote reader N. Sandars. “It is an invasive plant which is very hard to get rid of. A new plant can form from just a tiny bit of root of the plant.”
Sandars discovered that when an acanthus was chopped up by a rototiller during a landscape renovation. Now, new acanthus plants are sprouting all over the backyard.
“This is an ongoing war,” Sandars added. “I am 68 years old and have battled Bermuda grass, bamboo and blackberry plants in my past. Many gardeners are like me and would not like to willingly introduce such an invasive hard-to-kill plant into their garden.”
Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:
- Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
- Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; email ceamador. ucdavis.edu
- Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
- Colusa: (530) 458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu
- El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday
- Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions
- Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message
- Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 242-2219; email email@example.com
- Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
- Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
- Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned