Did You Know? Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth, or DE as it’s also called, is a naturally occurring compound that is derived from fossilized diatoms. It’s an excellent tool to have in your arsenal whether you’re a gardener, animal lover or homesteader. DE can help rid your garden of squash bugs, keep fleas from making your pets’ lives miserable and can act as a dewormer for your barnyard friends. Sounds too good to be true, huh?

diatomaceous earthDiatomaceous Earth works by cutting the exoskeleton of insects so that they dry out and die. Sounds painful. The great news for humans is that DE is completely safe for us…it doesn’t cut us or irritate our skin in any way. If you inhale too much, it can certainly make you cough but that’s about it. There are two types of DE: pool grade diatomaceous earth and food grade diatomaceous earth. You want FOOD GRADE DE. The pool grade DE has other stuff mixed in and I would much rather be safe than sorry, especially since you’ll be using it in your garden or on your pets.

So what parameters should you use when applying diatomaceous earth? If you’re using it in the garden, you need to apply it when the foliage is dry. DE is rendered ineffective when water touches it…the sharp edges of DE disappear as it mixes with water but once it dries DE is effective again. Try not to apply it first thing in the morning when the foliage is still dewy or before you water. If you have issues with insects in the garden, apply it directly to them making sure to coat the undersides of the leaves as well. DE will also kill beneficials in the garden so make sure that you are targeting a specific pest and not just blanketing your garden as a preventative.

What about fleas? We have an indoor/outdoor cat that thoroughly enjoys her job as protector of our property. Whether it be birds, squirrels, rabbits, moles, voles or snakes, she has successfully removed at least one of them from our yard.  But as is the case with most cats, she doesn’t just kill them and leave them be…no, she has to play with them. As a result, she has fleas; not tons of them but there are still fleas. One flea is enough to make me miserable so we use DE on her. The results vary depending on how often I apply it. We just sprinkle it on her coat and massage it down to her skin. The adult fleas are killed within a couple of hours but the eggs and larvae are still there long after the DE has faded. The effectiveness of the DE is only as good as the frequency of the application.

Now the part of the intro that mentioned using DE as a wormer in animals is not something that I’ve done personally but many folks, especially old-timers, swear by it. There are also quite a few websites that tout their products as being effective in controlling worms and other internal parasites. There are many people who ingest DE daily as well. That’s between you, the man upstairs and the DE if you decide to go that route. It can’t be much worse than the GMO laced food we ingest on a daily basis can it? Sorry for the tangent…

So, have you used diatomaceous earth to treat for pests in your garden or on your animals? What kind of results did you have? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!


Pests and Diseases: A Quick Look at Beneficial Insects

They’re the reason that I don’t spray pesticides at my house and strongly encourage others to do the same. The beneficial insects. There are so many of them that we need to preserve so that THEY can do the hard work for us. There will always be more bad bugs than good bugs. If we go in and remove the good bugs from the equation, the bad bug population can explode and then you end up on a never ending roller coaster of insecticides. Instead, we should accept that it’s OK to have some bad bugs and let Ma Nature do her thing. If she needs some help, we can step in and use mechanical means (hand picking), cultural controls (planting the right plant in the right place to begin with) and/or organic insecticides (like horticultural oil or horticultural soap). If all else fails, add another dose of compost!

Now that we’ve skimmed the surface as to why we should encourage beneficial insects, let’s look at a mile high view of them.

beneficial insects
Green Lacewing. They grow to about 1″ long but it’s not the adults that are the real predators. It’s their larvae that are known as aphid lions. Photo courtesy of www.fcps.edu


beneficial insects
Aphid lion. Look at the mandibles on the far right hand side of the picture. I’m glad that I’m not an aphid! Photo courtesy of www.uky.edu


beneficial insects
Do you know that this is a ladybug larva? Many people don’t as they don’t resemble their grown up counterparts at all. Photo courtesy of www.uky.edu


beneficial insects
Braconid wasp. Not the “normal” wasp that you think of, there are many parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in the bad bugs and result in killing the pest. Photo courtesy of www.forestryimages.com



beneficial insects
Braconid wasp pupae that have taken over a tomato hornworm. Nature can be gruesome! Photo courtesy of www.ces.ncsu.edu


beneficial insects
Praying Mantis. When I was younger, these would really freak me out…I’m not sure why. But now I see them as insect harvesting machines. Be on the lookout for their cocoons in the late summer and early fall. Photo courtesy of www.marchbiological.com


beneficial insects
Praying Mantis cocoons. If you see them in the garden, leave them intact so that you’ll have lots of babies next year. Photo courtesy of www.bugs.org 


We’ve just scratched the surface on all of the beneficial insects that we should strive to protect. Which ones are regular visitors to your garden? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!



Plant Profile: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

I love Agastache. Plain and simple, I love them. What’s not to love? They attract bees and butterflies, are extremely drought tolerant, and bloom all season. That’s about all that you can ask for in a perennial.

Agastache foeniculum, in particular, is a knockout perennial. It has lavender-purple blooms that start in May and continue all season. The blooms are held on upright spikes above the 3′ tall fragrant foliage. The fragrant foliage is a deterrent to deer. That’s another tick mark on the plus side of the equation for growing Agastache. Bees and butterflies are drawn to Agastache like a moth to a flame. It is truly a magnet for all types of our six-legged friends including beneficial insects that take care of the nasties that want to decimate our gardens.



Look at that little guy…so happy to be in the vegetable garden eating and pollinating all at the same time. These are plants that I grew from seed last year and they are ginormous this year. They’ve already been blooming for weeks and will continue for months more. Have I mentioned that I love Agastache?

There are a few cultural conditions to keep in mind when growing Agastache. The first is the soil. Agastache are native to dry areas with poor soil. Don’t plant them where the soil is too rich or they’ll end up all floppy. They won’t die but they won’t be impressive either. Also, don’t plant them in wet soil. They must have well-drained soil and they actually prefer droughty conditions once they are established. You can water them but you may force too much top growth and then you end up with the floppiness issue again. Their last cultural requirement is sun. They can tolerate a tiny bit of shade but they prefer the fullest of sun. You almost can’t give them too much sun. Agastache is hardy to Zone 4.

One other thing to keep in mind when planting Agastache foeniculum is that they reseed readily. You can expect to have many more baby Agastache next year surrounding your original plants. They are easy enough to remove if you don’t need anymore but why not give them to your gardening friends or transplant them around the garden. If your garden beds are filling up and you have a veggie garden, move a few out there. Your cucumbers and tomatoes will thank you!

Have you grown Agastache in your garden? What are your opinions? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. I’d love to share your experiences with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!





Reader Question: Butterfly Garden


Today’s Reader Question is from Sheryl in Rockville, Maryland:

I’d like some advice on planting a butterfly garden. I have a butterfly bush and its covered with butterflies in the summer. I’d like to expand the border to include other plants that they would like. Thanks for your help in advance.

Great question Sheryl! Butterflies are such fun to watch in the garden as they flit from flower to flower engorging themselves on nectar. Let’s take a look at some of the plants that they particularly enjoy and then we’ll look at some other items that you can add to entice them.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) – you already have the grandaddy of them all to attract butterflies. They come in many different colors including white, pink, yellow and purple. There are dwarf varieties that are as short as 3′ and taller varieties that can reach to 8′ tall.
  • butterfly garden

    Butterfly Weed

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – this plant often grows on the edges of ditches and needs dry soil. If you enjoy bright orange flowers, this is the plant for you. Just be aware that they are very late to emerge in the spring…it’s often May before they fully emerge from their winter dormancy.

  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – while it may be in the same genus as Butterfly Weed, its cultural requirements are completely different. While Swamp Milkweed will perform well in average soil, it is at home in wet conditions. Its blooms can be pink or white. Monarch butterfly larvae will completely strip the leaves from the plants but the reward of adult butterflies make it completely worthwhile.
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium, E. maculatum, E. rugosum) – there are many different species of Eupatorium that butterflies adore. There blooms can be mauve pink, rose or white. Joe Pye Weed’s cultural needs are similar to Swamp Milkweed…they can tolerate average soils but thrive in wet conditions.
  • Hardy Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) – the same conditions as Joe Pye and Swamp Milkweed prevail with Hardy Ageratum. If you’re a fan of the little annual ageratum, you’ll love the tall blooms of this plant. They come in blue and white but they self seed like crazy so be sure that you want lots of them before you plant the first one.
  • Catmint (Nepeta spp.) – butterflies adore catmint’s purple flowers. Catmint can range in size from 12″ to 36″ depending on the cultivar you select. Catmint is very long blooming.
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – so much breeding has taken place with coneflowers that its mindblowing. It used to be that coneflowers were either white or pink…now they can be white, pink, orange, red, yellow or green. Regardless of the color, butterflies love them.
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – parsley is an important larval food for butterflies so make sure you plant some clumps just for them. See my link for more information on parsley in general.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of perennials that attract butterflies but it is guaranteed to bring them in by the droves. Here are a few other ideas to keep them coming back for more.

  • Plant a pot of mint and sit in the garden. Never, ever, never plant mint directly in your garden unless you want a garden of mint and mint only. The flowers are adored by our winged friends.
  • Take a terra cotta saucer and fill it with sand. If you keep the sand moist, the butterflies will use it as a watering hole. If you’ve ever witnessed butterflies drinking from the sand along a lake or river, you can appreciate how much they enjoy these sips of salty water.
  • Place a few large stones or concrete statuary in the garden so that the butterflies have a place to warm their wings in the early morning.

butterfly garden

Sheryl, I hope that you can take these ideas and use them to enhance your butterfly garden. An added bonus of creating a butterfly garden is that bees and beneficials will find comfort in your landscape and help you keep your pest population in check. I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers regarding plants that attract butterflies. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

February 16, 2012Permalink 4 Comments