Talks center on pests, plants

Gardeners from across northwest Iowa came to Fort Dodge Saturday morning for the 35th annual Garden Seminar at Iowa Central Community College.

The event, which is also sponsored by the Fort Dodge Area Gardeners, Webster County Extension and Iowa Master Gardeners, featured speakers on topics that included insects that can cause problems for gardeners and how to create a native plant garden.

Sela Bryhne, president of the Fort Dodge Garden Club, said the event provides an education for area gardeners.

“It keeps us informed,” she said. “It’s important to stay educated on what’s going on and what to do. Today is all about reaching out to people.”

Donald Lewis, an entomologist at Iowa State University, talked about three types of insects that gardeners have found to be nuisances.

One of them, the Japanese beetle, has been found in 59 counties in Iowa. Lewis said this bug is unique in that it comes in waves, then seems to disappear.

“It isn’t necessarily a smooth wave,” he said. “Just because they’ve been spotted in a county doesn’t mean the entire county has seen them.”

Experiencing a Japanese beetle invasion can cause a lot of stress to gardeners, but Lewis said just because one year sees an “explosion” of bugs doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

“It’s not the end of the world, but it feels like it at times,” he said. “They come and defoliate trees, and it looks bad, but the tree won’t die. The damage is mostly cosmetic.”

Lewis also talked about the emerald ash borer, which he said has killed millions of trees across the country.

He said the bugs were first found in Iowa back in 2010, but so far they’ve only been found in Allamakee County, near the borders of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“We may not see them in central Iowa in our lifetimes,” he said, adding that other Iowa counties are taking precautions to slow the spread of the ash borer. This includes removing older ash trees that are declining and replacing them with different ones.

He also talked about the brown marmorated stink bug, which has primarily caused problems near the mid-Atlantic states.

Lewis said Iowa hasn’t experienced problems with the bug at this point.

“It’ll be a significant nuisance when it gets here,” Lewis said. “We’ll be watching for it.”

The second presentation was by Leland Searles and Kate Garst, who talked about how to create a native plant garden.

Searles, an Iowa Master Conservationist, and Garst, a founding donor of Whiterock Conservancy, maintain a native plant garden in Des Moines.

“You’ll be looking for good, stable soil,” Searles said. “Native plants grow strongly in that type of soil.”

He said creating a native garden takes plenty of time and patience, and added some people get frustrated that after up to two years there are only a few plants in the garden.

“Be patient,” he said. “You aren’t who you are because you grew up overnight. Neither is a prairie.”

Garst said appearance also plays a role in creating natural plant gardens.

“You need to define your area to make it not look like a weed patch,” she said. “That can also help educate your neighbors on natural plant gardens.”

Searles said even though gardeners need to work hard at maintaining natural plant gardens, it pays off in the end.

“After a few years they become really low-maintenance,” he said.

The speakers were well-received by the audience members.

Johanna Fawcett, a member of the Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club, said she enjoyed the presentation on natural plant gardening.

“I was born and raised on a farm, and what they talked about brought back memories of all we did when we were kids,” she said.

Bill Becker, a member of the Fort Dodge Area Gardeners who has been to every Garden Seminar, took a lot away from Lewis’s presentation.

“He had a lot of new information, especially on how to control diseases,” he said.

Becker added he enjoys attending the seminar every year.

“I’m happy it’s still going,” he said. “It’s very wonderful.”