The Joy of a Clean Garden

(April 2022)

I often speak of the most prominent reasons for ceasing chemical pesticide use in your garden: the health of butterflies, birds and people, microorganism biodiversity, and the health of your soil.

Something else I experience everyday, but don’t often speak of, is how it feels to be in a clean garden. It feels different. It is a freeing experience. Having been in the horticulture industry for 30 years, I feel the presence of underlying poisons in the herbicides and fertilizers so often used in public green spaces – and even here at Longue Vue, until we made the change several years ago.

Being in a chemical-free garden means you can eat the nasturtiums and let your children roll in the grass, without considering the residue of pesticides. Longue Vue is that place, a space to visit and experience the joy of a clean garden.

This month, Longue Vue also hosts a special opportunity to learn how to make this transition on your own. Natural gardening guru Edwina von Gal will discuss sustainable practices on April 8 at our Design Symposium, and again at an informal (and free) Perfect Earth Community Roundtable event on Saturday, April 9. On April 23rd, in celebration of Earth Day, I will hold a Natural Gardening Workshop to share the natural gardening practices of the Longue Vue garden team.

I hope you will visit soon and will partner with us on your way to a better garden.

– Director of Gardens, Amy Graham

Confronting Citrus Canker

(May 2021)

Citrus canker is a common disease in New Orleans gardens, caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas axonopodis. The illness appears as lesions on fruits, leaves, and stems, causing defoliation. It causes early fruit drop, fruit reduction, and sometimes a total cessation of fruit production. Canker’s favorite trees to invade are grapefruit, lime, orange, and lemon, with kumquats being the least susceptible.

Canker was discovered 1910 in Florida and quickly expanded to seven Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, including Louisiana, by 1914. Since 1940, the pathogen seemed to have been vanquished from Louisiana – until it reappeared on June 28, 2013.

Canker enters plants through wounds or stomata. It spreads through wind transmission, splashing rain, hurricanes, landscape equipment, transport of infected citrus, and even on people’s clothing and hands. Because canker is not curable, infested fruit should be composted on site and damaged trees should eventually be removed.

Strategies to reduce canker spread:

  • Manage citrus trees when leaves are dry; wet foliage increases spreading.
  • In citrus orchards of any size, decontaminate hands and arms before going to new trees by washing 20 seconds with soap and hot water to remove bacteria from the skin.
  • Following care or harvesting of infected trees, change and wash all clothing before handling new trees.
  • Regularly clean all tools with soap and water.
Have more questions about integrated plant care? Email me at!

Celebrating Earth Day, Every Day

(April 2021)

Eliminating leaf blowers and single-use plastics, practicing chemical-free lawn care, and processing 95% of garden waste on-site are some of the practices we have adopted in the last two years, as part of a site-wide commitment to land stewardship and a safer visitor experience, called EcoVue. Some elements of this site-wide effort are not visible – think UV sterilizers for fountain cleaning, LED light bulbs, and a smarter HVAC system. Some are in plain sight, as in our hügelkultur gardens found in the Wild Garden and along the greenhouse drive.

Hügelkultur is a German raised-bed building technique made popular within the growing permaculture movement, a blending of gardening and philosophy that integrates land, resources, people, and the environment by thoughtfully designing mutually beneficial relationships.

A hügelkultur garden is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, save money, grow food, and create a beautiful garden from debris. You build one by artfully stacking logs and incorporating your yard waste: wood chips, grass clippings, sticks, and compost. Top it with soil and mulch, and you create a very low-maintenance, raised bed. This system holds moisture while allowing for ample drainage; all the while, green matter is breaking down to create a prime habitat for soil organisms to take hold and providing plants with free available nutrients.

Please visit us on Earth Day to check out the hügelkultur beds!

See you in the gardens!

Chilli Thrips on Drift Roses

(March 2021)

In Louisiana, the hybrid Drift series roses have climbed the trellis to become rose lovers’ number one choice. They are considered Louisiana super plants for several reasons: low maintenance, drought tolerance, a compact spreading form, and amazing, colorful blooms. Drift roses make excellent container plantings, groundcovers, and border plantings. They also have higher resistance to disease and insect pests than other varieties.

However, one major insect, called chilli thrips, can disfigure a whole rose garden if left untreated. Chilli thrips feed on young foliage and flowers, causing leaves to curl and yellow. High infestations reduce plant growth and cause leaf defoliation. These insects are small – about 0.016 to 0.024 inch in length – making them a serious challenge to spot and manage. The pests can be revealed by tapping leaves over a white sheet of paper; if active, some bugs will fall to the sheet and be visible crawling about. Weekly monitoring during spring and summer is important: Thrip damage on rose plants is highest from May to early September, when new growth is abundant and insects are reproducing more quickly. During winter, when adults can nest in weeds and leaf litter, regular removal of infested plant matter is key.

For treatment, I like the insecticide Spinosad Natural Guard Ferti-loam. It’s a good organic soil bacterium that moves through the entire vascular system from roots to the leaves. Once ingested by the insect, death occurs in 24 hours. Apply two ounces per gallon of water-foliage spray on a seven-day schedule; good control will be established after one or two applications. For verification, reuse the white paper method mentioned above. If thrips are still crawling, a second treatment is required; if no movement is seen, all insects are dead. To further promote healthy roses, I recommend fertilizing in early spring and late summer with a slow-release formula for better blooming in the fall.

Happy Gardening!
Simeon Benjamin, Integrated Plant Care Gardener


Natural Pest Control: Tea Scale on Camellias

(January 2021)

In Southeast Louisiana, we are in that time of year when gardeners look for a beautiful show of blooms from their camellias. Even as our attention draws to the flowers, we might also discover a nagging insect called tea scale. This pest creates a white cottony material under foliage that sucks green pigment from the leaves, causing yellowing. The adult insects are small, brownish to gray, and if left untreated can cause significant damage to or death of the plant.

The easiest way to treat tea scale is during the early stages, in January and February. Here are the steps I use:

  1. If the infestation is heavy, pruning off the worst parts of the branches will help to increase air circulation. From my experience, the populations are worst at the lower canopy and lessen as you go up from there.
  2. I like to apply a garden pressure hose under the foliage to remove the white cottony materials before applying Bonide All Seasons Horticultural & Dormant Spray Oil Concentrate, which helps to smother the scale.
  3. Apply two tablespoons of oil per gallon of water, spraying the plant from top to bottom under the foliage.

I wait four to five days between applications; multiple treatments will be necessary for heavy populations. While applying the treatment, monitor your progress by touching the scales. If they flake off like powder and feel dry, the scales are dead. If they still feel moist, more applications are required. Dead scales will also turn a darker brown to black color.

Another product I use after establishing control is called Micro-Life Molasses (simple sugar carbohydrates). This liquid systemic organic concentrate is unpleasant for garden pests to digest, and they stop feeding. Apply this molasses once a month with weekly monitoring to establish good control, as all life stages reproduce quickly throughout the year.

Happy Gardening!
Simeon Benjamin, Integrated Plant Care Gardener