By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Sorrelis an interesting herb, one that can be considered a vegetable or leafygreen. The leaves of sorrel have a tart, lemony flavor that work well in avariety of dishes. It grows best in cool seasons, like other greens, and will boltin the heat of summer. Another issue you may face growing sorrel is pests.Know the typical pests of sorrel and how to manage them for the best harvest.
Pests and Bugs That Eat Sorrel
The good news about sorrel is that there aren’t a lot of peststhat like to nibble on it. Sorrel pest problems are limited mostly to aphids,snails,and slugs.You may also find that some species of butterfly or moth larvae will feed onthe leaves.
It should be easy to determine the type of creature that iscausing your sorrel pest problems. You may see slugs and snails in or aroundthe plants early in the morning. Both these and larvae will make holes in theleaves. Aphids you should be able to see on the surface of the leaves, on theirundersides, or in clusters along the stems.
Controlling Sorrel Plant Pests
The best sorrel pest control, of course, is prevention. Keepyour plants thinned and spaced out from each other. This will force anyinvading pests to be more exposed to the elements, which they may not like.Keep each sorrel plant at least 11-12 inches (28 to 30 cm.) apart. You can alsothin the leaves without reducing your harvest by very much.
If aphids are infesting your sorrel, an easy organicsolution is to blast the leaves with water. This will knock them off withoutdamaging the plants too much.
For snails and slugs, you have several options. Whensprinkled around the plants, Diatomaceousearth will kill these pests by drying them out. Stripsof copper around potted plants can also deter slugs and snails. Adding beneficialnematodes to the soil to kill slugs is another option to try.
There are chemical control methods; however, for the typesof pests that tend to feast on sorrel, there are plenty of safer organic sorrelpest control strategies to try first.
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There’s no sugar coating it, common pesticides like insecticides and rodenticides are poison. They’re poison for the insects, and they’re poison for your family.
Insecticides are known to destroy ecosystems and have devastating effects on good insects, killing them right along with the bad insects.
Mice that are killed with poison are frequently eaten by wildlife such as owls, hawks, and cats, which poisons them as well.
Using plants to repel pests naturally means your home and yard will be free from poisons, good insects like butterflies and bees can go about their business, and bad ones like mosquitoes and flies will be driven from your property.
What is Sorrel?
Sorrel (Rumex spp) is a perennial plant that is native to Eurasia. Thanks to European colonization, it has spread to Australia and North America. It is a member of the buckwheat family.
The two most common species of sorrel grown in gardens are Common or Garden Sorrel (R. acetosa) and French Sorrel (R. scutatus).
Common sorrel is most often seen in gardens. Its leaves are arrow shaped and grow in a rosette that can be up to two feet wide. The leaves reach a height of 12 to 18 inches. It is hardy in zones 3 - 9
French sorrel is less popular in gardens but shouldn’t be. The leaves are smaller, looking more like arrow points, also growing in a rosette that grows 12 to 18 inches wide. The leaves only grow to 6 to 10 inches tall. It is hardy in zones 6 – 10.
Both sorrels will develop a flower stalk as the weather warms. It can grow several feet taller than the rosette of leaves. The red flowers are insignificant meaning that they are tiny. Sorrels are dioecious, meaning that the plants are either male or female. You need a male plant to fertilize the female plant to produce viable seed. After the flowers have died, seeds will appear. If you have both male and female plants, sorrel will self-sow in your garden.
Unless you want the plants to self-sow or you want to harvest the seeds, you should cut down the flower stalk and not allow it to go to seed. If allowed to develop seed, the plants will stop producing leaves.
Like all perennials, you should divide your plants every 3 to 4 years to keep them healthy and growing.
Both sorrels have a lemony taste because they contain oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can be toxic in large quantities, but is safe to eat occasionally in small quantities when sorrel is used in a salad. Oxalic acid can aggravate arthritis and kidney stones. People who have these conditions should avoid any kind of sorrel.
There are only a few places in the United States where these sorrels will not thrive. Anywhere from Zone 9 to Zone 4 will do. All the sorrels discussed, with the exception of Indian sorrel, are perennial. A killing frost will put the plants into dormant mode for winter. You can start plants indoors during February, then transplant outside once the threat of frost has passed. Or you can seed directly in the ground once frost has passed. (Since it is frost-tolerant, Patience dock can be planted outside as early as March.)
Plant seedlings 8 to 10 inches apart in semi-shade, or in parts of the garden that do not get full sun during the hottest part of the day. Once established, your sorrels will continue for many years. If you’d like to replant them in different areas, you can lift and divide them every five years or so, transplanting them to new ground.
Pests generally ignore sorrels. Excessive rain, however, may encourage leaf miners or black aphids. To reduce miner damage, destroy any leaves with white lines on them. Aphids can be dealt with organically by applying insecticidal soap. If deer are a problem, use a wire basket to protect your plants.