By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Chicory, easily recognized by its dandelion-like leaves and bright periwinkle blue blooms, grows wild across much of the United States. The long taproots have an important role to play in the environment, promoting soil health as they break up hard, compacted ground. This versatile herb is often incorporated into salads, while the long roots are eaten like carrots or parsnips, or ground for use as a coffee substitute.
Although chicory is easy to grow, it is sometimes plagued by certain chicory insects and chicory plant pests. Read on for information about a few of the most common chicory pest problems.
Below are some of the more common pests and bugs that eat chicory plants:
Slugs – Slugs are number one when it comes to pests of chicory because they chew raggedy holes in the leaves. It’s easy to tell when slugs have been around because they leave a slimy, silvery trail in their wake.
There are a number of ways to control slugs, including either toxic or non-toxic slug baits. Keep the area free of debris and other slug hiding places. Limit mulch to 3 inches (7.5 cm.) or less. If the numbers are small, you can pick the pests off by hand in the evening or early morning. You can also surround the chicory plant with diatomaceous earth, which abrades slimy slug bellies. Homemade traps may be helpful too.
Aphids – Aphids are tiny sucking pests, frequently found feeding in large numbers on the underside of chicory leaves, which eventually become crinkled and curled. The pests leave a sweet, sticky substance that draws hordes of ants and may attract sooty mold. If not controlled, aphids can eventually weaken and destroy a plant.
A light infestation of aphids can often be removed by a strong blast of water. Otherwise, insecticidal soap sprays are effective, but may require several applications to control a severe infestation.
Cabbage worms and loopers – Cabbage loopers are pale green caterpillars with white lines along the sides of their bodies. The pests are easily identified by the way they arch their body as they travel down chicory leaves, and by the holes they chew in the foliage. Damage can be significant.
Birds usually do a good job at keeping the pests in check. You can also remove the pests by hand. Otherwise, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacteria that kills caterpillars and similar chicory insects by damaging the cell membranes.
Thrips – Thrips are tiny, narrow insects that suck the sweet juices from chicory plant leaves. As they feed, they leave silvery specks or streaks and distorted leaves, and can significantly weaken a plant if left untreated. Thrips may also transmit harmful plant viruses.
Like aphids, thrips are easily treated with insecticidal soap spray.
Leaf miners – Leaf miners are easily spotted by the thin, white trails and blotches they leave on chicory foliage. A serious infestation can cause leaves to drop from the plant.
Leaf miners are difficult to control because for most of their lives the tiny pests are protected by the leaves. Avoid pesticides because the toxins will kill beneficial insects that keep these pests in check. Instead, consider purchasing parasitic wasps and other insects that feed on leaf miners.
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Lettuce is generally a carefree crop. Occasionally some plants, especially those varieties that form heads, will be hit by a fungus disease called bottom rot.
Rusty colored spots appear on the lower leaves first, eventually spreading until the entire head is rotted. As soon as you notice any infected plants, harvest them, cut away the still usable portions to eat, and destroy the rest. Clean up the garden well at the end of the season to reduce the number of disease-causing spores that overwinter in the soil, and rotate your crops so that lettuce is in the same spot only once every four years, if possible.
Another common ailment of head lettuce is tip burn, which causes the edges of many leaves to turn brown and die. It's mostly a hot-weather problem and isn't caused by a fungus or insect. Tip burn is usually most severe if there's a lot of fluctuation in soil moisture. Try to keep lettuce plants evenly moist and choose varieties resistant to tip burn, such as 'Ithaca' and 'Simpson Elite'.
Be sure to thin your wide rows of greens properly so the plants have enough air circulation to dry off after a rain or watering. If they're too thick, plants may stay wet too long and develop rot. Continual wetness is an invitation to disease.
Beet and chard greens sometimes develop leaf spot trouble. Spots develop on the leaves, usually most severely on the older leaves. Infected leaves may turn yellow and die. Damage is seldom serious enough to warrant any control other than picking off and destroying infected leaves. If your greens are hit with a hard case, applications of an approved fungicide can help to bring the problem under control.
Remember, it's a good idea to rotate the location of the cabbage family greens (kale, collards and mustard) in the garden each season to help avoid disease problems.
Insect Pests on Greens
There are few insects that generally cause serious problems on greens crops. Probably the most troublesome for many gardeners are the small leaf miners that feed on spinach, chard, beet and turnip greens. The immature stage of a small fly, these tiny larvae tunnel in between the layers of leaf tissue, feeding and causing tan-colored blotches on the leaf surface. A good way to control miners is to cover the rows of greens with screen cages or floating row covers to keep the adult flies from laying their eggs on the leaves. Also, examine leaves closely for clusters of white eggs on the undersides of leaves, then spray with an approved insecticide to kill emerging larvae. Spraying after the miners are inside the leaves does no good.
Aphids and leafhoppers can be a nuisance in some gardens. These insects can spread certain diseases among lettuce plants. Aphids are soft-bodied, pear-shaped and may be green, yellow or purple. Leafhoppers are light greenish-yellow, small but quite active. Spray with insecticidal soap at 10-day intervals to discourage these pests. Keep weeds under control in and around the garden since they can harbor leafhoppers.
The more pungent greens like chicory and curly cress seem to have fewer insect visitors than the milder-flavored ones.
For more information on identifying insects and diseases on your greens, and methods and products to control them, contact your local county Extension agent. He or she will be familiar with the problems that are most likely to be troublesome in your area.
Chicory is easily grown from seed. Most gardeners purchase seed from catalogs that specialize in native plants or wild flowers. If you live in Colorado, you will not be able to get the seeds. Many states don't allow catalogs to ship seeds of invasive plants to their residents. Chicory is considered invasive in Colorado and companies are not allowed to ship the seed to Colorado addresses.
You can sow your seeds in the spring after your last frost when the soil temperature reaches 65⁰F to 75⁰F. Surface sow the seeds which means that you want to just sprinkle them on top of the soil. The seeds need light to germinate so you don't want to cover them. They will germinate best if they have good contact with the soil. The best way to achieve that is to lightly tamp the seeds into the soil. An easy and fun way to do it is to walk over the seeds in your garden! Sow the seeds 6 inches apart in rows that are 2 feet apart. Germination should occur within 1 to 3 weeks after sowing.
You can also start your seeds indoors 5 to 6 weeks before your last frost. Surface sow the seeds. Don’t cover them. They need light to germinate. Tamp them down gently on top of the soil so that they have good contact with the soil. Keep them moist and they should germinate in 1 to 3 weeks. You can transplant your seedlings outdoors after your last frost when the soil temperature reaches 65⁰F to 75⁰F.
Chicory coffee and beignets are a classic New Orleans breakfast
How you harvest radicchio will depend on the type of greens that you’re growing. Heads of radicchio should be harvest when they’re firm to the touch, which is around 65 days after sowing. Make sure you don’t wait too long harvest, because the older the head, the more bitter they taste.
To harvest the heads, cut the entire plant above the soil line. If you cut the head right at the stem, you may get a second head later in the year. You can choose whatever stage or size to harvest. Some people want them to be as large as an orange or grapefruit, while others prefer them young and tender. The leaves of radicchio can be harvested at any time, making it an excellent substitute for lettuce in salads.
You don’t have to use your radicchio immediately. It stores well in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.
Radicchio might be best known as an addition to salads. You can eat the entire head, but some people prefer the center of the plant over the outer leaves. I like to use the outer leaves for things like pizza and soup, and the inner leaves, which are more tender, for salads and raw eating.
Radicchio can be eaten raw or cooked. Salt helps to counteract any bitter flavor in the leaves while drawing out the sweetness. You can saute the leaves in olive oil and salt for a side dish. Radicchio pairs well with acid flavors like lemon and it’s delicious baked. Get creative with it – you can use the leaves as a bowl to hold crumbled cheese, nuts, and meat, or as a substitute for kale in soups or risotto.
Growing radicchio at home isn’t hard. You can have several harvests in the spring and fall, so you have lots of opportunit ies to try this unique vegetable in a multitude of dishes. Give it a try! You might love it.