From Alaska & the White Mountains to my Garden

Lingonberry a plant of harsh, cold climates. I’ve seen the plants poking out of rocky crevices in Alaska and high in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, all of which makes all the more surprising the stellar performance of my plants in this hot summer. For years they sat quietly, growing slowly and slowly spreading; this summer, the plants took off, their underground stems reaching further than usual and aboveground stems sporting a very respectable crop. Or, I should say, crops, plural; more on that later.lingonberries in hand

Here in the U.S., lingonberries are little known and, when they are known, it’s as jars of jam. But merely utter the word “lingonberry” to someone Scandinavian and watch for a smile on their lips and a dreamy look in their eyes. Each year, thousands of tons of lingonberries are harvested from the wild throughout Scandinavia, destined for sauce, juice, jam, wine, and baked goods. A fair number of these berries are, of course, just popped posthaste into appreciative mouths.

Lingonberry in White Mountains

Lingonberry in White Mountains

Lingonberries have often been compared to their close relative, our Thanksgiving cranberries. But lingonberry fruits meld just enough sweetness with a rich, unique aroma so that the fruits — if picked dead ripe — are delicious plucked right off the plants into your mouth or mixed with, say, your morning cereal. As far as I’m concerned, cranberries are never palatable until doctored up with plenty of sugar and heat.

More Than Just Good Looks

As tasty as lingonberry is, I don’t grow it only for its fruit. Lingonberry also outshines its stateside relative in looks. The plants are pretty enough to have garnered a rating of 3, the highest possible, in my book Landscaping with Fruit.

Like cranberry, lingonberry grows only a few inches high and spreads horizontally to blanket the ground with evergreen leaves the size of mouse ears. While the onset of cold weather in fall turns Thanksgiving cranberry’s evergreen leaves muddy purple color, lingonberry leaves retain their glossy, green appearance, like holly’s, right through winter. Lingonberry under snowLingonberry could stand in well for low-growing boxwood — in a parterre, for example, a use first suggested in 1651 by André Mollet, the French gardener to Queen Christina of Sweden

Cute, urn-shaped blossoms dangle singly or in clusters near the ends of lingonberry’s thin, semi-woody stems. These urns hang upside down (upside down for an urn, that is) and are white, blushed with pink. They’re not the kind of blossoms that are going to stop street traffic, but are best appreciated where plants can be looked at  frequently and up close — such as in the beds along the path to the front of my house.Lingonberry flowering

If you miss the spring floral show, you get another chance because lingonberries blossom twice each season. That second show has now morphed into clusters of developing fruits that hang right next to clusters of fruits ripening from the first round of blossoms. Fruit yields are greater from the second flowering than from the first.Lingonberry old and new fruits

The pea-sized fruits a show in themselves, the bright red berries hanging on the plants for a long time, well into winter. Backed by the shiny, green leaves, they making a perfect Christmas season decoration in situ.

Soil Prep & Management: Obligatory but Easy

Lingonberry plants do need some special care. Hot summer temperatures aren’t ideal. My plants were originally near the east and north sides of my house. Those on the east side are now few and far between, perhaps helped along on the way out by the scratching of the ground beneath them by my chickens, now gone (replaced by ducks, who don’t scratch). The north side of the house, not as welcoming to the chickens because it’s my dogs’ hangout, is, of course, cooler.

All the soils that lingonberries naturally inhabit have good drainage and are extremely rich in humus (decomposed organic material), which clings to moisture. In addition to good drainage and abundant organic matter, lingonberries enjoy the same very acidic conditions — with a pH ideally between 4.5 and 5.5 — required by blueberries, mountain laurel, rhododendron and other kin in the Heath Family. These conditions are easily reproduced in a garden.

I created my bed of lingonberries, which is also home to lingonberry kin, by first checking the soil pH. If the pH is too high, digging elemental sulfur into the top six inches of ground can make it right. Three-quarters of a pound per 100 square feet in sandy soils, or 2 pounds per 100 square feet in heavier soils will lower the pH by one unit. Where soils are naturally very alkaline (pH higher than 8), such as in many parts of the western United States, soil needs to be excavated at the planting site and replaced with a fifty-fifty mix of peat moss and sand. Alternatively, this mix could go into containers plunged into the ground up to their rims. In wet areas, build up mounds of soil and peat, and plant the lingonberries on the mounds, which keeps their shallow roots above water level.

I set my plants at two foot by two foot spacings which plants fill in to form a solid mat over the ground. Young lingonberry plantEvery year, in late fall, I scatter wood chips, sawdust, or shredded leaves over the plants, enough for an inch or two depth. Sifting down through the leaves and stems to keep the ground cool and moist, to prevent frost from heaving plants in winter, to maintain high humus levels in the soil, to provide some nutrients, and to buffer soil acidity. Every few years I check acidity, and sprinkle sulfur on the soil, as needed.


Beyond needing mulching and having their soil acidity monitored, lingonberries are carefree plants. My main “job” is harvesting the berries. No need even to rush picking or eating them. They keep well on or off the bush, in part because they contain benzoic acid, a natural preservative. Refrigerated, the harvested berries keep for at least eight weeks. In nineteenth-century Sweden, lingonberries were kept from one year to the next as “water lingon,” made by merely filling a jar with the berries, then pouring water over them.

My main problem with lingonberries is, at the end of the growing season, deciding whether to harvest and enjoy the berries immediately and enjoy only the glossy, green groundcover or whether to leave the berries on into winter and enjoy the look of the glossy green groundcover livened up with red berries. Or to split the different, occasionally harvesting some of the fresh berries all through winter.

Lingonberry and lowbush blueberry in fall

Lingonberry and lowbush blueberry in fall


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (in my opinion)

For better or worse, every year nurseries and seed companies send me a few plants or seeds to try out and perhaps write about. The “for better” part is that I get to grow a lot of worthwhile plants. The “for worse part” is that I have to grow some garden “dogs.” (I use the word “dogs” disparagingly, with apologies to Sammy and Daisy, my good and true canines.) Before my memory fades, let me jot down impressions of a quartet of low, mounded annuals that I trialed this year.

Calibrachoa Superbells Blackberry Punch was billed as heat and drought tolerant, which it was. As billed, it also was smothered in flowers all summer long. It’s a petunia relative and look-alike. Still, I give it thumbs down. But that’s just me; I don’t particularly like purple flowers, and especially those that are purple with dark purple centers.

I’ll have to give Verbena Superbena Royale Chambray a similar thumbs down. superbena royale chambrayIt’s that purple again, light purple in this case. Also, the plants weren’t exactly smothered with flowers and most prominent, then, were the leaves which were not particularly attractive.

Golddust (Mecardonia hybrid) made tight mounds of small yellow flowers nestled among small yellow leaves. I give this one a partial thumbs up. The flowers were too small and there weren’t enough of them even if the leaves alone did make pleasant, lime green mounds.

And finally, a rousing thumbs up for Goldilocks Rocks (Bidens ferulifolia). This plant also was a low mound of tiny leaves, needle-shaped this time. Sprinkled generously on top of the leaves all summer long were sunny yellow blooms, each about an inch across and resembling single marigolds. Flowering was nonstop, even up through the many recent frosts here, right down to 24° F.
Goldilocks Rocks
Bidens in its botanical name caused me slight pause when I planted Goldilocks, not because of any displeasure with our president, but because the common name for this genus is sticktight, or beggartick. You know those half-inch, flat, 2-pronged burrs that attach to animals — and, inconveniently, your socks — when you walk through wild meadows? Bidens, sticktightsThose are Bidens, trying to spread. (Not to be confused with the round, marble-size burs of burdock.)

No problem with Goldilocks Rocks that lined my vegetable garden paths. The flowers were too low to reach any higher than my shoes.

Ugly, Beautiful, and Tasty

Despite the recent spate of cold temperatures, there’s still fruit out in the garden, hanging on and ready for picking at my leisure.

The first is medlar (Mespilus germanica), a fruit that was popular in the Middle Ages, but not now. Its unpopularity now is due mostly to its appearance. One writer described it as “a crabby-looking, brownish-green, truncated, little spheroid of unsympathetic appearance.” The fruits resemble small, russeted apples, tinged dull yellow or red, with their calyx ends (across from the stems) flared open. I happen to find that look attractive. Medlar fruit  in summer

The harvested fruit needs to sit on a counter a few days, like pears, before it’s ready to eat. Worse, from a commercial standpoint these days, when ready to eat the firm, white flesh turns to brown mush. Yechhh! Except that it’s delicious, with a refreshing briskness and winy overtones, like old-fashioned applesauce laced with cinnamon.Medlar ready to eat

The plant itself is quite beautiful, a small rustic-looking tree with elbowed limbs. In late spring individual white blossoms resembling wild roses festoon the branches. In autumn, medlar leaves turn warm, rich shades of yellow, orange, and russet. Medlar in fall

I would bill medlar as very easy to grow, except here on the farmden. A few years ago, a pest started attacking my fruits, turning the flesh dry, rust-colored, and inedible. I have yet to identify this pest (rust?) which is absent just about everywhere else. Do any other of you few medlar growers have anything to say about this pest, if you’ve seen it?Medlar pest

Beautiful and Tasty

Walking around my home to the bed supported by a low, stone wall along my front walkway, we come to lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). This fruit never fails to stir a smile, a dreamy look, perhaps even a tear in the eye of Scandinavians away from their native land. Nonetheless, it’s actually is native throughout the colder zones of the northern hemisphere.

Lingonberry is an evergreen groundcover growing only a few inches high; I grow it both for its beauty and its fruit. In spring the cutest little white, urn-shaped blossoms dangle upside down (upside down for an urn, that is) singly or in clusters near the ends of thin, semi-woody stems. Lingonberry floweringThe bright red berries hang on the plants for a long time, well into winter, with their backdrop of holly-green, glossy leaves making a perfect holiday decoration in situ.Lingonberry fruiting

The key to success with lingonberries is suitable soil. Like blueberries, a close relative, they enjoy, they demand, a soil rich in organic matter, well aerated, consistently moist, and very acidic. I created these conditions with some peat moss in each planting hole, a year ‘round mulch of wood chips, leaves or sawdust, topped up annually, and sulfur applied to bring soil pH to between 4 and 5.5.

Lingonberries have been put to lots of culinary uses besides the usual lingonberry jam. I like to eat them straight from the plants. They’re not sweet, but they are delicious.

(I considered the two above-mentioned fruits so worthwhile that each warranted a chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. This book’s out of print now, but is due to be revised and re-issued again in a couple of years. Some of the information in that book can be found in my currently available books Grow Fruit Naturally and Landscaping with Fruit.)




Preiselbeere, Kokemomo, Puolukka, Partridgeberry, Cowberry, Rock cranberry — or Lingonberry, They’re All the Same Fruit.

  Besides enjoying the season’s plums and peaches, I’m also enjoying a few uncommon fruits. Uncommon now. These fruits have been enjoyed by humans somewhere at sometime, just not extensively now. 

The most familiar of these to most would be lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-ideae). As jam, in jars, that is, unless you’re Scandinavian, where this fruit is very popular harvested from the wild and then used in drinks, sauces, and pancakes.
Lingonberry fruit and flowers
Lingonberry, which is native throughout colder regions of the northern hemisphere, is often compared with our native cranberry. I think that does lingonberry an injustice. Both are diminutive plants, spreading as their stems root where they touch the ground, so could be edible groundcovers. Both are evergreen, but while lingonberry’s dainty leaves have the same green gloss as those of holly, and retain it all winter, cranberry leaves turn a muddy purple with the onset of cold weather in late fall.

I recently read that the berries are “not good to eat in their raw state as they are quite bitter.” That writer evidently never tasted lingonberries; I eat them raw all the time and find them delicious. And it’s not because my taste buds are so robust. I’d never pop a cranberry, which is closely related to lingonberry, into my mouth. Too, too sour.

Lingonberry is now ripening fruits — and it’s also blossoming! The plants bloom twice each season, yielding an early and a later crop. Lingonberry fruit and flowersIf not harvested, the later crop hangs, looking pretty and in good condition for eating, through autumn and on into winter.
Lingonberry with snow
To thrive, the plant needs similar conditions to those enjoyed by blueberry, cranberry, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and other lingonberry relatives. In addition to good drainage and abundant humus, the soil needs to be very acidic, with a pH ideally between 4.5 and 5.5.

Right after planting and then each year thereafter, some time between fall and spring, my lingonberries get mulched with a one- to two-inch depth of some finely divided, organic material that is not too rich in nutrients: sawdust, woodchips, chopped straw, or shredded leaves, for example. The mulch sifts down through the leaves and stems to keep the ground cool and moist, prevent frost from heaving plants in winter, and decompose to maintain high humus levels in the soil — all of which translates to larger berries and more of them.

The plants require little care beyond regular watering for the first couple of seasons.

Centuries of Flavor

Also ripe now is a fruit that has been enjoyed by humankind for the past seven thousand years (although not so much now)! At a site in northern Greece, early Neolithic peoples left traces of their meals of cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), along with remains of einkorn wheat, barley, lentils, and peas. It was also well-known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The hard wood was reputedly the wood for chariot axles.
Cornelian cherry fruit
The plant was grown in monastery gardens of continental Europe through the Middle Ages and was introduced to Britain about the sixteenth century. By the eighteenth century, the plant was common in English gardens, where it was grown for its fruits which sometimes were called cornel plums.

The fruit was familiar enough to be found in European markets even up to the end of the nineteenth century. Cornelian cherries were especially popular in France and Germany, and the fruit reputedly was a favorite with children.

Native to regions of eastern Europe and western Asia, the cornelian cherry is still appreciated for its fruit in certain parts of these regions. Baskets of kizilcik, as the Turks call the fruit, are found in markets of Istanbul. The fruit is a popular backyard tree in gardens of Moldavia, Caucasia, Crimea, and the Ukraine.

When the fruit was popular in Britain, it was made into delicious tarts, and shops commonly sold rob de cornis, a thickened, sweet syrup of cornelian cherry fruits. The juice also added pizazz to cider and perry.

Depending on ripeness, fruit flavor varies from sweet to tart. It has a distinctive flavor and can be used in cookery at all stages. If tart fruit is allowed to sit for a day or two or three, the flavor becomes less tart and more mellow.

Cornelian cherry is a favored ingredient of Turkish serbert, a fruit drink sold in stores and from portable containers carried like knapsacks on the backs of street vendors. In the Ukraine, cornelian cherries are juiced, then bottled commercially into soft drinks. There, the fruits also are made into conserves, fermented into wine, distilled into a liqueur, and dried.

The plant is actually not a true cherry, but a species of dogwood. It is still widely, but mostly planted as an ornamental for its very early show of small, yellow blossoms, around the first day of spring here on the farmden.
Cornelian cherry flowers
Cornelian cherry is among my most successful fruit crops. Despite its early bloom, it has never failed to bear. Birds, insects, and diseases have little effect on production. Pruning is unnecessary. What else can you ask for from a fruit plant?

(I am still looking for some good recipes that use this fruit and lingonberry for possible inclusion in an update of my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. Got something? Both fruits are covered in my currently available books, Landscaping with Fruit and Grow Fruit Naturally.)

Intoxicatingly Delicious?

This last fruit is very uncommon, and I didn’t plant the tree mostly for its fruit. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) bark is gray with corky ridges that, especially in winter when illuminated by low-hanging sunlight, has that crisp, achromatic quality of photographs of the lunar landscape.

Hackberry bark

Hackberry bark

The fruit itself is refreshingly sweet, like a date. Problem is that the fruit is pea sized and contains an almost-pea-sized seed. So the fruits nothing more than a thin covering over the seed.
Hackberry fruit
More prominent in the human diet is a close relative, one name of which is the lote tree (C. australis), which even figure in Greek mythology. When Zeuss drove Odysseus’ ships off course, the sailors finally found refuge in the Island of the Lote Eaters. Eating the fruits caused a pleasant drowsiness, to the extent that the sailors, forgetting their homes and friends, wished for nothing more than idling away on the island. Odysseus had to drag them back onto their ships.
Island of the lote eaters
The lote tree, native to Europe and temperate regions of Asia, is pretty cold-hardy (Zone 5). I have ordered seeds and should get to taste fruit of the lote tree in a few years. I might never leave the farmden.


Interloper, Not Welcome by Everyone

As I was coming down a hill on a recent hike in the woods, I came upon an open area where the path was lined with clumps of shrubs whose leaves shimmered in the early fall sunshine. The leaves — green on their topsides and hoary underneath — were coming alive as breezes made them first show one side, then the other.
Autumn olive along trail
The plants’ beauty was further highlighted by the abundant clusters of pea-size, silver flecked red (rarely, yellow) berries lined up along the stems. I know this plant and, as I always do this time of year, popped some of the berries into my mouth. The timing was right; they were delicious.

Many people hate this plant, which I’m sure a lot of readers recognized from my description as autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). What’s to hate? The plant is considered invasive (and banned) in many states in northeast and midwest U.S. “It threatens native ecosystems by out-competing and displacing native plant species, creating dense shade and interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling.”
Flowers of autumn olive
But there is a lot to love about this plant, in addition to its beauty. In spring, about the middle of May around here, the plant perfumes the air with a deliciously sweet fragrance. And poor soil is no problem. An actinobacteria (Frankia) at its roots takes nitrogen from the air and converts it into a form that plants can use.

That ability to make its own fertilizer is just one reason this plant was loved before it was hated. Native to Asia (where the plant is not considered invasive), autumn olive was introduced into the U.S. and the U.K. about 200 years

Autumn olive fruit

 ago for their beauty and to provide shelter and food for birds, deer, bees, racoons, and other wildlife. The plant isn’t stingy with its garnered fertility. The soil near plants becomes richer, all to the benefit of nearby other plant species. As such, autumn olive has been planted to, for instance, reclaim soils of mine tailings, and, as interplants, to spur growth of black walnut plantations (by over 100 percent).


But let’s get back to me — and you — eating the berries. The berries are high in lycopene and other goodies so most sources tout the health and healing benefits, after admitting that the berries are astringent and tart.
Yellow and red autumn olive fruits

But, for most autumn olive plants, that’s only if they’re eaten underripe. Right now around here, some plants are offering their dead ripe berries that are neither tart nor astringent, but sweet. Don’t mind the single seed inside each berry. Just eat them also; they’re soft. That window of good flavor is fleeting, lasting only a couple of weeks.

And eating the berries, seed and all, will slow the plants’ spread, pleasing invasive plant people.

So Bad(?) Yet So Good

Are invasive plants really bad? Or just bad for us? Planet Earth likes plant growth. Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, sequestering carbon, blanket the ground to limit soil and water erosion, and help support micro and macro communities of organisms.

Natural landscapes and their associated natural communities aren’t static. They change as they evolve. No doubt, humans have altered many natural successions. That might spell disaster for our aesthetic or economic sensibilities, but is not “better” or “worse” for our planet.

Scandinavian Dreams

Noncontroversial is another red berry that I am now picking and enjoying. That’s lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). If you are Scandinavian, you probably just smiled and a dreamy look came into your eyes.Each year, thousands and thousands of tons of lingonberries are harvested from the wild throughLingonberry fruitsout Scandinavia, destined for sauce, juice, jam, wine, and baked goods. A fair number of these berries are, of course, just popped into appreciative mouths. Most everyone else only knows this fruit as a jam sold by Ikea.

I grow this fruit and am now enjoying the fruits of my labors. I planted it both for its good looks and its good flavor, which got it a chapter in my book Landscaping with Fruit. (Autumn olive also made it in.) Let’s start in spring, when cute, little urn-shaped blossoms dangle singly or in clusters near the ends of the thin, semi-woody stems rising less than a foot high. These urns hang upside down (upside down for an urn, that is) and are white, blushed with pink. They’re not going to stop traffic from the street, but are best appreciated when plants are grown where they can be looked at frequently and up close—such as in the bed at the front of my house.

Lingonberry flowers


If you miss the spring floral show, you get another chance because lingonberries blossom twice each season. This second show, appearing in mid- to late summer on young stems, bore the fruits I am now enjoying.

Lingonberry sports evergreen leaves, the size of mouse ears and having the same green gloss as those of holly. Like holly, they retain their lush, green color right through winter. New shoots sprout above the spreading roots and stolons to so plants eventually make an attractive and edible groundcover. 

The fruits that follow the flower shows couple just enough sweetness with a rich, unique aroma so they are, if picked dead ripe, delicious plucked right off the plants into your mouth or mixed with, say, your morning cereal. They are pea-sized and somewhat of a show in themselves. The bright red berries hang on the plants for a long time, well into winter, making a perfect Christmas decoration in situ.
Lingonberry fruit on plant
Lingonberry is native to colder regions throughout the northern hemisphere. This fruit is the Preiselbeere of the Germans, the kokemomo of the Japanese, the puolukka of the Finns, the wisakimin of the Cree, the airelle rouge of the French, the keepmingyuk of the Inuit—and the lingon of the Swedes. In English, the plant parades under a number of monikers, including partridgeberry (Newfoundland), cowberry (Britain), foxberry (Nova Scotia), mountain cranberry, and rock cranberry.

If you grow lingonberry, give it the same soil conditions as its relatives, blueberries, mountain laurels, and rhododendrons. To whit: Well-drained soil that is high in organic matter, very acidic, and not too fertile.


 The Eternal (Fruit) Optimist

   We fruit growers get especially excited this time of year. On the one hand, there’s the anticipation of the upcoming season. And on the other hand, we don’t want to rush things along at all.
    Ideally, late winter segues into the middle of spring with gradually warming days and nights. Unfortunately, here, as in most of continental U.S., temperatures fluctuate wildly this time of year. Warm weather accelerates development of flower buds and flowers. While early blossoms are a welcome sight after winter’s achromatic landscapes, late frosts can snuff them out. Except for with everbearing strawberries, figs, and a couple of other fruits that bloom more than once each season, we fruit lovers get only one shot at a successful crop each season.Some berries of summer
    How did all these fruits ever survive in the wild? They did so by not growing here — in the wild. Apples, peaches, cherries — most of our familiar fruits — were never wild here, but come from climates with more equable temperatures, mostly eastern Europe and western Asia. We favor them because they are part of our mostly European heritage.
    The fruits that I never worry about here are the few that are native: pawpaw, persimmon, grape, mulberry, lingonberry, and blueberry, to name a few. (Also raspberry, gooseberry, and currants, cultivated varieties of which are hybrids of native and European species.) After decades of fruit growing, I’ve hardly missed a harvest, no matter what the weather, from any of these native fruits. (I cover native, non-native, common, and uncommon fruits in my books Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden and Grow Fruit Naturally.)
 Some fruits of fall   Still, I can’t deny the delicious flavor of apples, peaches, and other non-native fruits, especially those I grow myself. So I do grow them, do what I can for them, and hope for the best. I may even put a thin coat of white kaolin spray on these trees to reflect the sun’s warmth and further delay awakening of the buds.
    Last year was a very poor year for many tree fruits, and I’m not sure why. (Recovery from the previous years cicada attacks could be part of the reason.) Nonetheless, every year about this time I’m bursting with optimism for a bountiful fruit harvest.

Veggies, As Usual, Chugging Along Nicely

    I consider vegetables relatively easy to grow because most are annuals and because, with most of them, I can sow and harvest repeatedly throughout the growing season. Let cold or some pest snuff them out, and I can just replant.
    The first of my lettuces, sown early last month in little seed trays, are up and growing strongly, each seedling transplanted into its own APS cell (available from Ninety-six seedlings take up little more than a couple of square feet and, with capillary watering from a reservoir beneath the APS trays, I need check the water only about every week.Seedlings in APS trays
    My next wave of indoor seed-sowing will take place in the middle of this month. That’s when I’ll sprinkle pepper, eggplant, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage seeds into the miniature furrows of miniature fields of my seed flats.
    I’ll also sow another batch of lettuce seeds indoors, this batch for eventual transplanting outdoors. The first batch is soon to be transplanted into greenhouse beds.

Fig Prophylaxis

    Buds on fig trees planted in the ground in the greenhouse are showing hints of green and swelling ever so slightly in spite of the cool night temperatures in there. The scale insects that I battled last year  are undoubtedly also coming to life on those plants. In the past, I’ve kept these insects at bay by scrubbing the bark in winter with soapy water or by spraying it with insecticidal soap, or, during the growing season, wrapping the trunk with a sticky Tanglefoot barrier to stop travel of ants that herd the insects.
    I’ve never gotten rid of scale insects, only kept them from gaining the upper hand. And some years it’s been a neck and neck race as to who would win out before the end of the season.
  Spraying oil on dormant fig tree  I’ve already begun this season with prophylactic sprays of oil. Oil has a long history of controlling insects and some diseases, with the advantage of causing little collateral damage to the environment, including beneficial insects. Because it’s main effect is to clog insect breathing ports (spiracles), there’s little danger of insects developing resistance.
    Oil’s major hazard is its potential to injure plants, mitigated by spraying when temperatures aren’t too hot or below freezing, or when rain is likely, all easily avoided in a greenhouse. Various kinds and formulations of oil — kinds include vegetable, mineral, and neem oils — differ in their hazard to plants. I’m using a high-purity mineral oil (Sunspray) from which I expect no damage, especially since the plants are still leafless.
    Scale insect eggs should be hatching about now. Brutal as it may sound, I hope to suffocate the crawlers before they settle down to one spot to cover themselves with their protective armor and literally suck the life from the plants. Weekly sprays should cover successive hatches.

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