If it’s almost spring, it’s almost time for lubber grasshoppers (ewww!)

The other day, I got an email from a gardener friend. The subject line was, “Coming to your garden soon …”

Bill usually sends me photos of beautiful new plants he’s discovered, so I opened his mail with happy anticipation.

I was NOT happy when I saw not flowers, but this:

green black and yellow lubber grasshopper

Although this grasshopper doesn’t look exactly like the Eastern lubber grasshoppers we get here in the Tampa Bay area, it was close enough to make me recoil in horror.

For years, my garden was infested with lubbers — thousands of them every summer! The grasshoppers we get are even bigger than the one in Bill’s photo, and lots uglier. They serve no useful purpose that I’ve been able to find and trust me, I’ve tried!

Here’s what our Eastern lubbers look like:

eastern lubber grasshopper, facial photo, green, yellow black and red on jacaranda tree. looks mean

I usually start seeing the babies in March (hence Bill’s nudge-nudge). If you don’t know what they are, you may think the nymphs are cute. A friend of mine once posted a photo on Facebook with the comment, “Look at all the sweet crickets!”

nymph eastern lubber grasshoppers, black with yellow stripe, swarming new growth on a plant

Not!

I don’t care how innocent they look, these babies need to die! They grow up to be armored monsters that spit, hiss and eat your garden, starting with your favorite plants. Once they’re adults, the only way to slay them is man-to-mandible warfare: Smash them with a rock, snip them in half, stomp them.

They’re so hard to kill, normally gentle gardeners come up with creative ways to send them hopping into the next world.

Andy Carr of Spring Hill uses a Dust Buster for the nymphs.

man using dust buster to vacuum eastern lubber grasshoppers from plants in flowerbed lining a lanai. dog watches from inside lania

“I can collect a hundred or so in it, maybe more, until the battery is dead,” he says. “Once we have them in the Buster, my wife holds the small garbage bags, doubled, and I dump ’em in, tie ’em off and sooo long you ugly little plant-eating varmints.”

Norm Smith, a “Mad Men”-style retired advertising guy, turns them into dioramas.

“I try to come up with outrageous themes, something a grasshopper – particularly a lubber – would never be caught doing, like scuba-diving,” he told me back in 2011.

He drops them in a jar of alcohol and leaves them there for weeks so they’re preserved. Here’s the lubber diorama he made for me. (My doppelgänger has lost her legs while swinging on my bookshelf these past three years.)

eastern lubber grasshopper with wig clothes diorama in swing on tree newspaper and potted plant When I first started writing about my lubber problem a few years ago, a couple readers suggested I try  Nolo Bait. It’s not an insecticide in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s an organic bait you sprinkle around your garden, and it doesn’t affect other bugs. If the nymphs eat it, they die. If adults eat it, they’re rendered impotent.bag of nolo bait. drop-out of package

The results aren’t immediate, but I love the stuff.  I’ve used Nolo Bait for three years and my lubber population is down from thousands in a season to a few dozen.

When I first started buying Nolo Bait, I had to order it online. Now, I think a few local shops carry it, but the only one I’m sure of is  Shell’s Feed Store, 9513 N. Nebraska Ave.. Tampa

Owner Greg Shell is taking orders early (and no – I don’t get a cut of the sales for recommending Shell’s).  Since Nolo Bait relies on live organisms, it has a short shelf life, just 13 weeks. Greg’s offering customers who order before March 15  a 10 percent discount because the short shelf life and whopping customer demand once the lubbers appear make it hard to keep it in stock. He doesn’t like having frustrated customers when he’s sold out. (I’ve been one of those!)

Greg has some helpful tips for making your Nolo Bait last longer, including creating feeding stations to place around your garden. That’s what I do, because rain will ruin the bait.

I assure you, it’s lots easier using Nolo Bait than chasing giant grasshoppers with rocks and snippers all summer. Although, if you’re into art, you may prefer the Norm Smith method. His dioramas are loads of fun!

Florida gardeners can find inspiration in … Montana!

What do Florida gardeners have in common with gardeners in the upper reaches of Montana?

More than you’d expect!

rusted bedspring being used as a trellis for a vine. close-up view of X's and O's in the springs

At Angie’s Greenhouse in the northwestern corner of Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, I found beautifully repurposed junk. Owner Angie Olsen is a wizard. I love the X’s and O’s of  this old box-spring (above) turned trellis.

green, red and orange heirloom tomatoes in a basket

She also likes heirloom fruits and vegetables. This basket of tomatoes sat among the plants Angie had on sale (great marketing!)

I often think we here in Florida have it tougher than other parts of the country. But when I saw this product, I realized we ALL have it rough.

white box with red and green letting, Plantskydd Repellent for deer, rabbit and elk

In Montana, gardeners do not rely on boxed deterrents alone!

vegetable garden surrounded by fence made of red posts and screen with deer antlers on top

Whenever I travel, I’m on the lookout for native wildflowers. They’re beautiful and many have a great back story. Fireweed was all over the place when I visited in early August. It’s edible, medicinal (need a laxative?) and pretty.

purple flowers fireweed, clusters of lavender blooms on a tall sake

At East Glacier Park. we visited the Glacier Park Lodge and found this wonderful cottage. A sign in front says “private residence.” It’s the home of Ian Tippet, who has worked at Glacier Park since the 1950s. (He talks about what he does to prep for summer on his Facebook page.)

dark brown cottage with bright red trim in northern Montana near Glacier National Park. flowers tin roof. summer perennials

Need a reason to visit Glacier National Park? This is Lake McDonald after a super rainy day.

mo lake mcdonald I love the yard art! Drive through the neighborhoods wherever you travel, and you’ll be entertained. We found this guy while cruising the neighborhoods surrounding Whitefish, Mont.

metal moose sculpture, life-sized, blue green and gray, moose sculture in whitefish, Momntana

Finally, you don’t need a fishing license to toss a hook into the many streams in Glacier National Park. My husband and I enjoyed a thoroughly heady afternoon (ah, the view!!) on a trout stream along Going to the Sun Road, Eventually, we were joined by a black bear (surprise!) and a wonderful family — the Grindlings.

Elliot, 8, and Simon, 6, were high-energy, non-stop explorers until two other young bucks became as curious as they were. All four stood stock-still for several minutes, checking out the wildlife.

mo boys bucks

(I’ve entered this photo in the national park servce’s viewer-votes driven contest — http://www.sharetheexperience.org/entry/12728181. If you want to vote, I won’t complain!)

 

Chickens & sun hats & ice plants — Oh my! It’s GreenFest!

 

florida chickens, black, gray and white, coop, little boy, happy

I could want chickens. Heck, I could want everything. Which is my one complaint about GreenFest, the annual spring plant festival that reminds us Floridians why we put up with hurricanes, droughts, deep freezes (didn’t sign up for those!) and Eastern lubber grasshoppers.

The chickens at Holloway Feed Stores’ booth mesmerized my friend Zane, 6, his little sister, Annabelle — and lots of other kids and kids-at-heart, who got to cuddle little chicks, too. Proprietor Joey Holloway is ingeniously capitalizing on the urban chicken craze by building beautiful coops. They’re not just for your Grandma’s double-wide in Webster anymore!

GreenFest, which continues tomorrow (March 25) at the University of Tampa’s Plant Park, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, is celebrating its 15th year. It’s always Tampa’s first big spring plant festival, and the combination of 80-plus vendors, a beautiful setting (Plant Park), and a hard-working team of volunteers bent on making everyone happy makes it a hit year after year.

One plant I saw in lots of wagons was Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoeches, sold at Mitch Armstrong Nursery’s booth.

lavender blooms sprout from a scape, look like rabbit ears, soft fragrant leaves, thumb-sized bloom portion sprouts petals on top

vendor annie sprague rubs foliage of Spanish lavender to awaken aroma. bushy green plant, fern-like foliage, lavender blooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annie Sprague, right, says Spanish lavender is fairly new to her and Mitch. She says this non-edible variety is supposed to better tolerate our summer heat and humidity. In the photo above. she’s fondling the foliage to awaken a sweet scent tinged with a piney undertone. Beautiful! The blooms, left, last through spring, but those soft green leaves keep the fragrance going.

“Lavender’s good for the soul,” Annie says. I have to agree — I forgot everything when she started massaging the foliage, which is a pleasantly soft feel.

Annie has her Spanish lavender at home doing well in morning sun (no afternoon sun) and complete shade.

Another item that was getting a lot of buzz, and buyers, was the habanero honey, below left, at Briarwood Farm’s booth. Apparently, it’s really good on chicken — the dead kind. Below right, purple ice plant — a little something I picked up for my sunny spots. I have another “ice plant” that looks completely different.  This one is Delosperma cooperi.

lavender, daisy-type flower with yellow center, elongated succulent leaves, green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t plan to buy a sun hat — I’m a $5 kind of garden-hat girl. But I’ve gotten lots of unflattering comments about my current hat (below left), and wow, the palm frond hats at It’s Our Nature were beautiful! My new hat is 6 times $5 but, what the heck. It’s also supposed to protect me from ultraviolet rays, which should make my dermatologist happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone who wasn’t hat shopping — Patsy Woodruff, president of Friends of Plant Park. She’s been wearing her “blooming’ idiot hat” since the first GreenFest 15 years ago. She’s so much braver than me!