Full moon maples over 111 years old at Harkness Memorial State Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The end of September is here- today marks the autumnal equinox- so we are past the point of no return as far as summer goes. To be sure, this summer was excessively hot and dry, and I am not going to miss it too much, but I do love the colors of flowers, foliage textures and bird and animal activity that make summer an especially lively time. A favorite place to visit for me is Harkness Memorial State Park- shoreline, marshes, gardens and interesting buildings and plants can be found here.

Salt marsh fleabane – a late summer bloomer in the salt marshes of Harkness memorial State Park

Recent rains have brought on the appearance of wild mushrooms and other fungi. On a recent hike in the deep woods, may sister and I came across several trees that had their trunks covered with icicle-like new fruiting bodies of some sort of toothed fungi. Perhaps they are the bear’s head tooth fungus Hericium americanum or the Hericium coralloides, also known as comb tooth or coral tooth fungus. Time will tell which ones they are when these fruiting bodies reach maturity. We will check on them periodically.

Hericium ssp. toothed fungus mass not yet mature on a living tree
Close-up of Hericium ssp. mushroom showing developing teeth

Boletes, that have pores rather than gills, and puffballs, which have neither structures, are good finds now. I bring a small mirror that I can slide under caps to see if the mushrooms have gills, pores or teeth. This is helpful when trying to identify most capped fungi.

Bolete showing yellow pores under cap and reticulated stalk where it joins the cap.

Tobacco is being harvested now, and the tobacco barns have opened boards on their sides that help the leaves to dry slowly. As the leaves dry and turn yellow, the smell of unlit cigars fills the air surrounding these barns, and it is actually not a pungent but rather a sweet aroma that almost makes me like cigars- long as they are not lit up.

Tobacco barn and water tower

While checking out one of my gardens last week, there was a not so sweet smell that led to the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus among some perennials. While they are distinctive looking and colorful those attributes cannot overcome the fetid aroma of these fungi.

One species of an aptly named stinkhorn fungus

In the same garden was a monarch chrysalis that should have a its butterfly emerge any day now. This is the first chrysalis I have found in any of my gardens although many monarch caterpillars have been  here. They just pupate somewhere else, except for this fellow.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

On a trip to Milford, there were quite a few yellow-crowned night herons, most of which were juveniles. Normally denizens of the Southern areas of the Atlantic coast, they do stray north as far as Minnesota. Also in the area was a Jetson- era- like apartment complex for purple martins, which by now have flown the coop.

Jetson era- like purple martin houses in Milford

Apples are abundant at farm and fruit stands, as are pumpkins, winter squash and other wonderful things. The peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin easily identified by its outward appearance that looks as if peanuts have been glued on its pink-toned rind. These growths are caused by the excess sugar that has built up in its flesh. The peanut pumpkin is believed to be a cross between the Hubbard squash and an unknown variety.

Galeux d’Eysine peanut pumpkin

Dragonflies that migrate will be gone as temperatures start to permanently drop. Day trips like going on the Chester ferry across the Connecticut River and seeing Gillette Castle on the hillside are fun. As foliage starts to change, hiking and country drives can get a little more interesting. Migrating birds give a little action to the landscape, especially where fruits and seeds are abundant. Soon it will be time for slowing down a little bit, but not yet.

Native Virginia creeper berries are a favorite of migrating birds
Dragonfly, perhaps Aeshna species
Gillette castle as seen from the Chester-Hadlyme ferry looks similar to a soupy sand castle

If you visit farms and farm stands, there may be some interesting signs- sometimes painted on an old pick-up truck.

Pamm Cooper

I don’t want to depress anyone, but its almost over. Winter is coming, and it will come fast, thereby ending our beautiful growing weather. We can enjoy the last few days of warm weather before the nights start getting significantly cooler. Fairly soon, when temps start dipping below 50oF, we should be bringing in our houseplants. Not everything that beautified our yard all summer needs to fall victim to Old Man Winter, however. Some plants can winter over nicely and be saved for next year.

This unique geranium with beautiful dark leaves would make a great houseplant over the winter. Photo by mrl2022.

The first thing to understand is that you will be going from one extreme to another. The amount of solar radiation outside compared to what is inside is literally going from one end of the spectrum to the other. A brightly lit window, even if sunny, does not really compare to unfiltered direct sun. Fluorescent or LED light fixtures are great, but they need to be close to the plants (right above, nearly touching). The more lights the better. There are higher powered artificial lights available (like high intensity discharge, sodium lights, metal halide, etc.), but these are not something seen in the common home. Either way, leaves are adapted to the light they are accustomed to, so when going from one extreme to another, you will probably lose some. The best example of this is buying a pothos at a greenhouse or home improvement store, then bringing it home. Leaf loss is normal, especially in the lower/shaded leaves. The plants still look nice, but they are much thinner. If your plant’s journey to the inside is going from shade outside to bright window inside, that generally is not too bad and leaf loss may be minimal. 

These nice-looking houseplants will certainly drop some leaves as they adjust to the lower light levels in your home. Expect the Neon Pothos (left) to lose a lot of the leaves near the base of the pot. Photo by mrl2022

There are a number of hitchhikers that can enter our home when we bring our plants inside. The first, and worst, is the mosquito. If your tray has some water in it, then you might accidentally introduce these into your home. They won’t last too long, but you will wake up with some annoying itchy bumps! Spiders are the next most common. They are normally good, and eat some pests that like our plants, but their webs can get annoying. Their presence triggers many horror-movie like reactions in most people as well. Earwigs are another annoying little critter.  Their pincers on the back end look intimidating. They usually do not do too much damage to your plants. Avoid overwatering the plant which will allow them a moist space in which to survive. One of the most interesting visitors I ever had was a frog! Luckily, I was able to capture him and release him back outside. Usually frogs or toads can be spotted if you carefully inspect your plant. They are more likely to be found under the saucer or pot than inside of it.

Some of my favorite out-for-the-summer plants are banana, various citrus, and fig trees. These do not need a ton of light over the winter either. I like to place them in a cool basement under one light and water sparingly. The first chance I get to move them out in the spring I take it. I like to freshen the potting mix they are planted in and add some fertilizer at that time as well.  They tolerate this type of cultivation fabulously.

In addition to bringing in houseplants, there are some of our annuals that can make fine additions to the home. My absolute favorite are the geraniums. Many times throughout history, these plants were kept in greenhouses or conservatories year-round. A friend of mine said she likes to bring in some coleus. Both of these plants are rather expensive, and it might be nice to save some for next year. There are a number of people that like to overwinter their pepper plants. I find that the best for this are the really hot ones that seem to grow slowly like the habanero. The following year you will have more peppers than you know what to do with. For a number of years, I brought in a large, not-so-hardy rosemary plant.

There are some very pretty plants which just do not seem to do well indoors. The first that comes to mind is the calibrachoa. Although beautiful outside, they seem to struggle indoors. They are not very forgiving if they get too dry. They easily and almost always suffer from western flower thrips as well. I really do not want to deal with spraying pesticides indoors all winter. The same story is true for petunias. Most bedding plants are best left outside – purchase new ones in the spring. Another pest that you need to watch out for are aphids. There are many species of all different colors. If a few sneak in, they can quickly reproduce asexually. The females essentially clone themselves.

Although beautiful and still going strong, calibrachoa generally does not do very well indoors, and is prone to a number of insect pests including western flower thrips. Photo by mrl2022.

No matter what you bring in from outside, I recommending isolating it from your regular indoor houseplants for a few weeks. This is best done in a separate room with the door closed. Any trouble should present itself by then. After the quarantine period, your plants may become a part of your regular collection, or you might simply set them up under some lights in the basement.  Be careful with watering. Cold and soggy soil are a perfect recipe for disease. You don’t have to wait too long before it is spring again! Keep the plants out of real drafty areas that favor the development of diseases as well. 

The last piece of advice is that you may not want to bring in the entire plant. For year I kept my geranium collection going by taking a few cuttings of each plant. These overwintered nicely, took up less space, and required less care. I could fit my whole collection under a few lights.  By the time the spring rolled around, I had nice plants with strong root system ready for a pot. Figs can be grown in this way too (or you might simply want more fig trees).

A mixed collection of houseplants and annuals, many of which will be brought inside for the winter. Photo by mrl2022.

By bringing in some of your favorite annuals, it might help ward off the winter blues. It could save you a little bit of money in the spring, or simply allow you to expand an existing collection of plants. I wonder how many geranium varieties I could have if I just took a few cuttings in each fall? The following spring, I could buy additional varieties. This kind of thinking makes for a large plant collection!

Matt Lisy

While I really, truly should not be encouraging more travel (especially if it relies on fossil fuels), I can’t help suggest that anyone finding themselves anywhere near Booth Bay, Maine take a side trip to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden (CMBG). It is a refreshing site for your eyes and for your souls. Rarely do we get the chance to stroll in such beautiful surroundings for hours and hours. The mission of this fairly young botanical wonder (it opened in 2007) is to inspire meaningful connections among people, plants and nature, and that it does.

CMBG is the largest botanic garden in New England made up of 295 acres of which 17 have been made into some of the most charming and awe-inspiring gardens championing native Maine plants that I, and probably you, have ever seen. The concept for this botanical garden began in 1991 when a small group of mid-coast Maine residents had a dream of building a world class public garden. Sixteen years later, CMBG opened and has been a top U.S. botanical destination ever since.

Coincidentally, 16 individual garden sites are contained in this marvel, each having its own backstory and unique plantings. Some of my favorites are included in this posting. I’m betting that one of the most popular gardens is the Native Butterfly and Moth House. This consists of a 2,160 square foot Gothic style hoophouse with a planting scheme fit to support moths and butterflies throughout their life cycles. Visitors have the opportunity to observe these vital insects from birth through metamorphosis into adult butterflies or moths. Surrounding gardens are whimsical yet offer nectar and food plants for adults and caterpillars (larvae).

Butterfly House at Coastal Maine Botanic Garden. Photo by dmp2022

The Great Lawn was modeled after 19th century landscape parks and creates a sense of openness amid the surrounding forested areas. The Lerner Garden of the 5 senses is less than an acre in size but the path winds it way through plants and sights that delight the sense of smell, hearing, sight, touch and taste (please don’t eat the daisies). Slater Forest Pond Garden was built on a low lying site perfect for a pond adding more life to the gardens with aquatic creatures.

A gift from the Burpee Foundation funded the Burpee kitchen garden that was started in 2006. It provides the chefs at the Kitchen Garden Café with herbs, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers for their culinary creations. Visitors get to see a choice selection of many food producing plants tucked neatly into raised beds with a cooling fountain centerpiece.

Burpee Kitchen Garden. Photo by dmp2022.
Fountain centerpiece in Kitchen Garden. Photo by dmp2019.

A favorite of children (young and old) is the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. I love the tool arch and the little shed with a green roof. Apparently this 2 acre parcel of woods, ponds and theme gardens was inspired by several of Maine’s childrens’ book authors including E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web).

Entrance to Children’s Garden. Photo by dmp2019.

On a hot summer day, the Haney Hillside Garden is cool and soothing. It features 3 terraces linked by switchback trails on a steep, rocky hillside. Paths lead past the water and moss terraces and at the bottom sits a subtle, yet perfectly situated, large glass orb created by New York sculptor, Henry Richardson.

Glass orb in Haney Hillside Garden. Photo by dmp2022.

Other gardens include the Cleaver Lawn, the Arbor Garden, Founder’s Grove, Vayou Meditation Garden, the Shoreline Trail and Landing, the Giles Rhododendron and Perennial Garden and one can’t forget the Fairy House Village where visitors are welcome to create shelters and other dwellings for these tiny, mythical creatures. According to the sign for this garden, the tradition of building fairy houses began in the woods of nearly Monhegan Island.

Fairy House Village. Photo by dmp2022

As if these absolutely gorgeous gardens, statuary, sculptures, water features and hardscapes aren’t enough to take it, five giant trolls await discovery by you. They are mammoth recycled wood creations by the Danish artist, Thomas Dambo. His trolls are found around the world (www.trollmap.com) and convey a message of sustainability as well as one of global connections. Our actions affect everyone else on the planet and we need to cultivate a sense of care for all our natural resources and fellow inhabitants, especially with all the havoc climate change is creating throughout the earth.

One of Thomas Dambo’s trolls. Photo by dmp2022.

As Guardians of the Seeds, the trolls are there to teach us and reinforce the importance of the Maine woods but really about all trees. We know trees as purveyors of shade, carbon storage units, able to prevent erosion and filter air and water but did you know that trees provide homes for 50% of the planet’s land-dwelling animals? Or did you know that right now there are about 3 trillion trees in a world of almost 8 billion people – that’s about 375 trees per person. Not a lot when you think about it. Trees are essential for healthy ecosystems that keep us alive.

Guardian the Seeds – another Troll by Thomas Dambo. Photo by dmp2022.

Good stewards of this earth can follow the teachings of the trolls and plant more trees, consume only what you need, and encourage others to become more aware of our dependency on the natural world and treat it with the respect it deserves. The future of this earth really does depend on everyone’s actions.

Dawn P.    

The soil is a reservoir that holds water for plants. It is important for recharging groundwater by allowing rainfall to infiltrate and filter through the soil into the water table. This happens because the soil is a porous media where the spaces in the soil (pores) are either filled with air or water. The capacity of soil to hold water determines your watering practices in order to provide continued sufficient water for plant growth depending on the drought resistance of your plants. However, not all soils are equal in this capacity.

Bare soil dark with organic matter. Photo by dmp2022.

Field capacity is an important characteristic of soil because it represents the maximum amount of water that a soil can hold. The main soil properties that affect the field capacity of a soil include soil texture, organic matter and compaction.

Soil texture refers to the proportions of sand (0.05-2.0 mm), silt (0.002-0.05 mm), and clay (smaller than 0.002 mm) in the soil. A higher proportion of the larger sand size particles, the more coarse a soil is. Sandy, coarse textured soils have lower field capacity. This is because the greater amount of large particles leads to larger pores from which the water can quickly drain. On the other hand, fine textured soils comprised of the smaller soil particles have a greater amount of small pores that can hold water better, leading to a greater water holding capacity of these soils. However, not all the water held by soils can be used by plants. Some water is very tightly held in the soil and not able to be taken up by plants.

Figure shows general relationship between soil how plant available water capacity (easily available water plus slowly available water) is impacted by soil texture (source: The Nature and Properties of Soils by Ray R. Weil and Nyle C. Brady).

Plant available water holding capacity represents the water retained in soil between field capacity and the wilting point, in another word, it represents the amount of water retained in soil that can be taken up by plants. Even though soils that have high clay contents (such as clay loam, clay) can hold more water, they hold the water tightly so less water is available for plants than silt loam or a sandy loam. The question is, how do we improve soil texture for improved plant available water holding capacity? Unfortunately, changing soil texture of a field is not a viable option unless you introduce foreign soils to the field. Fortunately, there are other options available to improve plant available water holding capacity.

Organic matter is another portion of the soil that holds water. The higher the organic matter content, the more water the soil can hold. Increasing organic matter can increase the field capacity significantly. Increased soil organic matter content improves soil structure which results in increased infiltration, therefore, increasing plant available water. The strategies to increase soil organic matter includes growing cover crops, adding manure, compost or biochar or mixing in leaf mold, peat moss or coir. Avoid disturbing the soil by refraining from overtilling, either manually or with a rototiller.

Till either manually or with a rototiller only when necessary. Photo by dmp2012

Compaction reduces the plant available water holding capacity of a soil. This is because compaction reduces porosity which in turn decreases a soil’s field capacity. Compaction also crushes large pores into smaller pores which leads to a greater proportion of the water being held more tightly by soils. As a result, compaction results in less water available for plants to take up. Also, when a soil is compacted, it becomes harder for roots to penetrate. This can lead to less volume of soil for roots to access to water that is held below than the compacted layer. Stay off soils when they are wet, avoid overtilling, and make defined walking paths through garden areas or perhaps use stepping stones so as not to compact your soils.

Salt content is another soil characteristic that impacts availability of water to plants. Soils that are high in salt concentration tend to have higher wilting points that results in less water for plants to take up. This is more of a problem in the dry regions of the US where salt accumulation is mainly a result of natural soil formation processes and irrigation. In our soils, the salt level can be elevated in areas that have been overfertilized.

In addition to adopting practices that can increase the plant available water holding capacity, there are other practical options for reducing water loss from soil. Mulching is an effective practice to reduce evaporation loss of water. There are many sources of mulches available in the market such as hay, straw, wood chips, bark or cocoa shells. Gardeners can also use untreated lawn clippings.

Haiying Tao, Ph. D.

Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org    

Credit: PA dept of Agriculture

There has been an invasion on Connecticut’s southwest border and the invader is expected to take over the state in approximately two years. It will threaten agricultural businesses, nurseries and homeowners and could cause billions of dollars in damage while devastating the landscape. Who is this invader? It is commonly called the spotted lanternfly, and every Connectican should be concerned. 

The spotted lanternfly, Delicate Lycormala, (SLF), is a sap-feeding plant hopper native to China. It is believed to have entered this country as an egg mass stuck to a shipment of stone sent to Berk’s County, Pennsylvania in 2012. Since then, Pennsylvania’s agriculture, vineyards, forests, nurseries and residential areas have all suffered serious damage from this invasive pest.

Credit: Ichydogimages

Sadly, the SLF started making its way into Connecticut in 2021. The CT Agricultural Experiment Station immediately issued a quarantine order to slow the spread of this pest. While this will not stop the advance of the SLF, it is hoped a sufficiently aggressive effort by all affected will slow it down long enough to find a treatment that will control and, with any luck, eradicate this pest . 

Credit: Ichydogimages

But, what is a spotted lanternfly and why is it so important to stop it from invading our state?  This beautiful looking plant hopper affects fruit trees, grapes, hops and ornamental trees.  The nymphs (immature stage of the SLF) and the adults feed on the sap from trees and vines causing them to weaken. Then, excretions from the SLF, called honey dew, stick to the leaves, which causes black sooty mold to grow, reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize properly.  For agricultural crops, this will reduce yields and weaken trees and plants further, eventually destroying them.

In addition to destroying plants it can wreak havoc on everything from lawn furniture,to sidewalks, to the sides of buildings, to car tires,  to anything else outside making it a sticky mess.

Credit Victoria Smith, CASE

Lawrence Barringer, PDA, Bugwood.org

Research is actively under way at Penn State in collaboration with Cornell University using various anti-SLF agents; they haven’t yet produced sufficiently consistent results to qualify as an SLF control.

What can you do to help? Right now, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is conducting a “call to action” for the state’s citizens. They urge everyone to report any sightings of this invasive pest.

If you spot an SLF, kill it right away and report it on CT Agricultural Experiment Station’s website, by filling  out a brief form along with a photo at:  https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/CAPS/CAPS/Spotted-Lanternfly—SLF

Marie Woodward, Horticultural Consultant

Tobacco barn

“Keep calm because August is here.” – Unknown

This may be remembered as the year of drought and oppressive heat. Trees and shrubs are showing signs of stress in parts of the state that missed isolated rainfall events, and many fern species in shaded woods have turned brown. Animals are having a full-time job looking for water and birds are at my bird baths all day long getting a drink. Even though it has been a dismal year weather-wise, there are still a lot of interesting things to see when we are out and about.

Common buckeye butterfly on a wild Rudbeckia flower

The native trailing wild bean, Strophostyles helvola, may be common but easily overlooked as populations can be sparse in their habitat. Flowers are pink and the lower keel has a dark purple projection that curls upward like the raised trunk of an elephant. Leaflets are in threes, with bluntly lobed leaves.

Groundnut, Apias americana is another native pea family vine that blooms in August. The flowers of this plant are clustered and very fragrant and they are visited by many of the smaller native bees that can climb inside.

Groundnut flower cluster

In a field with mowed paths I recently observed a good number of the non- native wool carder bees on the flowers of birdsfoot trefoil. This plant is also member of the pea family and has yellow, puffy, slipper-like flowers.

Wool carder bee with head inside birdsfoot trefoil flower

This same field had thousands of grasshoppers that took flight as I walked along the path. Most seemed to be what I have nicknamed the ‘plus and minus” grasshopper, for the tiny patterns on the wings. There was also a seed bug on Queen Anne’s lace that had interesting vein patterns on its wing tips.

Wing tip vein patterns on seed bug

A little eft of the red spotted newt put in an appearance in a golf course fairway a couple of days after a heavy rain, as is their habit. They come out of the woods looking for food, seem to lose their way getting back to the safety of leaf litter and often need a rescue from mowers.

Eft returned to the safety of the woods

Katydids are another late summer insect that may be heard rather than seen. Their loud rasping ‘night music’ begins in late July and is joined by crickets by August.  

 Common true katydid

This morning I was out just before sunup and heard odd noises on the siding of the garage. I saw two dark forms moving up the siding and needed a flashlight to discover that they were gray tree frogs. Must have been some insects there they were hunting, I guess.

Gray tree frog climbing up the house

Tobacco is being harvested and hung in barns now. Any barn is something of interest to me, and tobacco barns in use are just one type I like. Any barn with a flag, too, for some reason. I am also a fan of playful or interestingly creative farm signs.

Something bad must have happened

I am hoping we come to the end of this drought in time for water supplies and plants to recover before winter. Just saw a monarch laying an egg on milkweed that hadn’t succumbed to aphid damage or drought, so that is something good. As you travel about outdoors, at any time of year, do not forget to look up. You may miss something…

Pamm Cooper

Gardeners are no strangers to insect pests. While typically a mild nuisance, insect damage can weaken plants and lead them to be more susceptible to disease. There are even times when insect feeding alone can damage a plant sufficiently to kill it, so noticing when insect feeding is occurring and the different types of insect feeding damage are important skills for gardeners to keep in their tool belt.

The Nibblers

We all know these. Nibblers cause the most obvious type of feeding damage – the holes and leaves munched away. Insects that commonly cause this type of damage are grasshoppers (order Odonata), caterpillars (order Lepidoptera), immature sawflies (order Hymenoptera), and others with mandibles (mouthparts) made for chewing. Usually, the most economic way to deal with these pests is to simply pick them off of your plants when you observe them.

Although many types of Lepidopteran pests simply chew through leaves, some remove leaves (and needles!) to form casings needed for pupation and metamorphosis, as is the case with these bagworms (likely Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). Photo credit: Nick Goltz

The Borers and Miners

This subgroup of the nibblers are tougher to deal with. While they have similar chewing mouthparts, they are the usually found within their plant hosts. Borers are usually beetles that chew through woody plants (order Coleoptera), though sometimes caterpillars (order Lepidoptera) chew through herbaceous plants (such as the squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae). Leafminers may also be Lepidopterans, though most are immature flies (order Diptera). They are best managed by using a systemic insecticide – one that is taken up by the plant and distributed throughout. As with all insecticides, be sure to apply following label instructions and not while pollinators are visiting the plant.

Beetles have bored through this wood. Some species burrow deeply into the plant’s vascular tissue while others burrow along the bark, forming tunnels called “galleries”. Both types of damage can be seen on this log in the Sonoma forest. Photo credit: Nick Goltz

The Piercing-suckers

These insect pests have a modified mouthpart called a stylet, which works like a straw. Piercing-sucking pests use their stylets to suck plant “juices” from soft tissue, stunting growth and causing leaf distortion, spotting, and reduced vigor. Common insects that cause this type of damage are aphids and whiteflies (both are order Hemiptera). Insects in this group are more likely to transmit viruses than those in most other orders.  

Aphids (order Hemiptera, family Aphididae) are the bane of many a gardener! They reproduce quickly and often target young, supple tissue like new leaves and flower buds. Above is a photograph of aphids feeding on my roses earlier this year. Photo credit: Nick Goltz

The Gall-makers

Some insects, such as thrips (order Thysanoptera) can cause some similar disfigurement damage as those mentioned above, but may also cause the formation of galls, a type of unusual growth on plant tissue caused by insect feeding and/or the production of unusual plant growth hormones by the insects. The larvae of some wasps (order Hymenoptera) can cause the production of really interesting galls. There are non-insect pests, such as mites (class Arachnida), and certain types of fungi and bacteria that can also cause galling. Most of the time, the production of these galls do not seriously injure the plant and are only an aesthetic issue, but be sure to keep an eye out for any reduced vigor associated with these galls.

Plant galls take many different shapes, sizes, and forms! Often, an insect will lay her egg on/in a leaf, and the feeding young larva will cause the gall to form around it, providing necessary nutrients and protection from predators. Some insects only lay one egg on a leaf. This was obviously not the case in the above photo. Photo credit: Nick Goltz

…and (Nearly) Everyone Else

It’s important to remember that most of the insects we encounter in the garden are harmless or beneficial – pollinating our plants, eating pests and keeping the insect community diverse and healthy. Be sure to only apply insecticides as a last resort and only when pollinators and other beneficial critters aren’t present. The best time of day to apply insecticides (to minimize sun injury and contact with pollinators) is in the evening when plants are dry unless otherwise specified on your product label. Not sure what insect is visiting your garden? Contact the folks at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center by emailing ladybug@uconn.edu for advice and identification services.

Nick Goltz, DPM

The past two years have been very challenging years for gardeners. I find myself wishing for a “typical” year as we seem to have swung from one extreme to the other. Last year was a complete wash out, with many crops not coping well with the seemingly constant rain. This year we go to the complete opposite – dry! I cannot believe how fast my crops are literally wilting after I water them. I got taken by surprise by the extremely hot weather a few times, and while spending too much time at work, ended up missing a few waterings. It seems there is little forgiveness for this. How many times I uttered the phrase “but it was supposed to rain” as I looked at struggling plants. A lot of how well your crops will cope with weather extremes depends upon your soil type. Heavy clay soils tend to hold on to moisture; in wet years this can lead to a lot of fungal diseases. Sandy soils dry quickly, so in years of little rain it can be difficult to provide enough water. If you have a nice loam soil, then you have the equivalent of Goldilocks’s porridge that was “just right.”

This winter squash and corn patch benefits from afternoon shade. Note the wilting plants in the front left of the photo, and the bone-dry grass in the foreground. Photo by mrl2022.

I wrote an article a year ago where I commented about how well some varieties of green beans coped with the wet weather. It is interesting (making the best of it) to see how those same varieties of beans coped with the dry conditions. Although not a formal scientific study, the observations of these plants are notable. I generally plant three varieties of bush green beans: green, yellow, and purple. These are the same specific varieties I plant each year. During the wet year, the green were the first to die off, followed by the yellow.  The purple seemed to tolerate the wet weather quite well and produced a huge crop. Now that we have a dry year, the opposite seems to be holding true. The purple was the first to die off, the yellow are struggling some, but the green seem to be thriving. In a “normal” year, I have all three varieties producing a large crop. It is only in times of extremes do the tolerances become important. Most farmers choose varieties of crops that are well suited to their particular set of growing variables (soil, sun, soil chemistry, cultural habits, etc.). Interestingly, I have one variety of pole green beans that seemed to thrive in both the wet and the dry years. 

These family heirloom pole beans seem to thrive in all types of weather. No wonder they have been in cultivation for hundreds of years! Photo by mrl2022.

Watering sounds easy, but it can lead to trouble. Frequent irrigation with no rain can, over time, lead to salt accumulation in the soil. This is because when water evaporates, the salts dissolved within can stay behind. We usually do not see this here in the northeast, but the southwestern United States can. Due to time limitations we all suffer from, it is tempting to water a short sprinkle frequently, but this is not good for your plants as it encourages shallow roots. It is better to water less frequently, but for a longer period of time to encourage deep roots. Deep roots help the plant survive during times of drought. Having said all that, I have never seen the soil so dry as I did this year. I water with a sprinkler, and this year I had to increase my watering duration by 50 percent to adequately wet the soil. If your garden is small enough, it is a good idea to use drip irrigation. It wastes less water by putting it right by the plants. This requires running plastic piping throughout your garden, periodically poking a hole in it, and running a drip line to each plant. It is somewhat tricky to then rotate your crops the following year as the plumbing will generally need a different configuration. Careful planning may allow for some flexibility in this situation. Drip irrigation has the added benefit of not wetting the leaves, which can cause burn spots in some plants, and contribute to diseases in others. A less expensive alternative is a soaker hose which just seeps water along its entire length. This is simply snaked through the plants.  Remember though that watering is expensive! If you are on city water, you will have a substantial increase in your bill, and if on a well water, higher electricity costs. This assumes your well has enough water to keep up with the increased demand. The bigger the garden, the more water needed.

The last thing I wanted to comment on was shade. Although I generally think of shade as an enemy of agricultural crops, it can certainly work to your advantage in certain situations. This year, afternoon shade has helped keep some crops from drying out. My winter squash and corn seem to be thriving with some afternoon shade (this is the hottest time of the day!). The plants in my kitchen garden do not seem to wilt if in the shade of a poorly placed mulberry trees (I did not plant it so close to the garden; it was there when I purchased the house). Many times, gardeners will use shade cloth to cool heat-sensitive crops like lettuce. Shade may decrease the temperature by ten degrees. This can help the lettuce resist bolting. Don’t forget to select varieties resistant to bolting as well. Be careful of shade though. Hot, wet, and shady can lead to powdery mildew in a number of our favorite ornamental and food plants (phlox and zucchini for example). Most of our agricultural plants need six hours or more of sun each day.

This variety of cucumber thrived in last year’s constant rain, but struggles to hang on during our current dry weather. Photo by mrl2022.

The thing to keep in mind is that these extremes do not usually happen. You may get a few years in a row like we have had, but there are many more typical years to come. Use these years to your advantage and learn what you can. Try not to let yourself get frustrated. I find myself thinking about my soil composition more now than ever. This would be a great time to get your soil tested. Adding compost can help aerate clay soils, and hold moisture in sandy soils.  Compost not only adds nutrients to the soil, but also improves nutrient retention. I like making observations and comparisons in these types of years. For example, in last year’s wet, the cucumbers grew like crazy. In this year’s dry, they have not grown much at all. Apparently, cucumbers like a lot of water (but not soggy soil which leads to disease). Experiencing and now knowing this can help me grow better cucumbers in years to come. So many people rate their garden as successful or not by the amount of produce produced in a given year. Of course, each year this is the goal, but when you learn more about your soil and plants this can help you grow more crops during your entire lifetime. To me, the knowledge is the most valuable part!

Matt Lisy

On a recent visit with my cousin in New York (also a writer), she brought me for a stroll along the High Line, an old railroad line repurposed as a city green space in the city. I had read about it in several gardening magazines but none of the pictures in the articles or even in this blog do it justice. If you have the chance, go walk it yourself. In this major city of almost 19 million people, you can feel like you’re strolling in the woods, through a prairie and even in a water park. The design is clever, aesthetically pleasing, and practical – all at the same time.

One can see the Hudson River from the High Line. Photo by dmp2022.

First a little history. During the mid to late 1800s, freight trains delivering food ran on street level while creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians with some 540 people being killed by them. Despite attempts to warn folks of oncoming trains, it was decided to elevate the tracks in the 1930s. With the rise of trucking in the 1960s, train service was put on the sidetracks, so to speak, and some of the sections of elevated track stopped being used and were even demolished. By the 1980s, trains were no longer using these tracks and calls for their demolition were being heard.

In 1983, an idea for reuse of this structure first took hold as Chelsea resident, Peter Obletz, formed the West Side Rail Line Development Foundation that sought to preserve this structure. As fortune would have it, a bipartisan Congress pass the Trail System Act, which allowed for old rail lines to be converted into recreational areas.

Old railroad tracks are still visible in along the High Line. Photo by dmp2022.

For the next couple of decades, the future of the elevated railroad tracks was debatable, even dubious. Some areas of track were still being demolished. Even former mayor, Guiliani, called for their demolition. But some noticed a change in the landscape; these abandoned tracks were being colonized by native (and other adventitious) plants providing homes for themselves as well as the pollinators, predators and other wildlife. Among those who were credited with this discovery were Joshua David and Robert Hammond who founded Friends of the High Line, a non-profit conservancy that advocated for its preservation and reuse as a public space. 

In 2003, this organization hosted an ideas competition for ways this ‘park’ could be used and received 720 ideas from 36 countries. The finalists were landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf, whose mission was to transform the High Line into a welcoming public space. The first section of the High Line was opened to the public in 2009 and the last spur section in 2019. The High Line is now a 1.45 mile-long greenway featuring more than 500 species of plants.

The plantings on the High Line were predominantly inspired by the self-seeded landscape that predominated between abandonment and human reintervention. Plants that were chosen because of their qualities of hardiness, seasonality, texture and sustainability. Piet Oudolf, the landscape designer claimed, “My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it, but recreate the emotion.”

It is quite amazing how natural the plantings look and fit into their citified surroundings. Plantings vary from the Washington Grasslands and Woodland Edge with its great patches of native grasses and prairie perennials like echinacea and my favorite, the compass plant (Silphium laciniatum). The bright gold flowers resemble sunflowers and open in midsummer on stalk that can grow 6 to 10 feet tall. I thought it was called the compass plant because the flowers seem to be facing the sun but after doing a little research, I found it’s name is from the belief that the deeply-lobed leaves point in a north-south direction, which is true some but not all of the time.

Compass plant. Photo by dmp2022.

If I didn’t have socks on, I too would have dipped by toes in the water feature on the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck. The water just ran over a shallow stone-like base. Even the pigeons, tried to get into the water to drink and cool down on a hot, sunny day. Especially interesting were the wetland plants growing in the raised steel planters. I loved the giant horsetail (Equisetum hyemale).   

This pigeon was enjoying the water as much as human travelers. Photo by dmp2022.
Giant horsetail. Photo by dmp2022.

Another wonderful section is the Donald Pels and Wendy Keys Gansevoort Woodland. This area is filled with shadbush and grey birch trees with underplantings of various perennials including variegated brunnera that lights up the shade. A magnolia with its seed pods caught my eye but when trying to identify which species it is, I am not sure as the seed pods look bigger and shaped differently than the three magnolia species on the plant list, the bigleaf magnolia, the umbrella tree and the sweet bay magnolia. Quite a magnificent plant, however.

Not sure which magnolia this is but the seed pod sure is interesting and the leaves are huge. Photo by dmp2022.

The High Line takes you on an almost magical walk through a variety of natural scenes amidst its urban surroundings. It really makes everyone who wanders down its pathways appreciate the goodness and the greenness of this world.

Dawn P.

Nothing inspires awe and good cheer like a dahlia. Native to Mexico and Central America, the dahlia is a member of the Asteraceae family. Its garden relatives include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia. They are gorgeous flowers that bloom from midsummer through autumn and come in a rainbow of colors.  Dahlias’ size can range from petite 2-inch pompoms to giant 15-inch “dinner plates”. Many varieties reach 4 to 5 feet tall. They do best in rich, well-draining soil with a pH level of 6.0 to 7.5. 

Beautiful dahlia flowers by Marie Woodward, UConn

Dahlias can bring color to any garden, and dwarf varieties can be grown successfully in containers. Of course, they simply rule supreme in a cutting garden. (Growing vegetables? Put a row of dahlias on the border, where they will not shade your edibles.)

Dahlias are hardy to zone 8 and will survive in warmer climates if cut back and mulched heavily.  In colder zones, like Connecticut, dahlias can either be treated as annuals or dug up after the first frost and stored indoors for winter.  Dahlia tubers don’t like cold soil. They prefer a soil temperature of 60 degrees. A good rule of thumb many gardeners use is to plant dahlia tubers a few days after tomatoes are planted in the ground.  Some gardeners start tubers indoors in containers a month ahead to get a jump on the season.

Tuberous root of dahlia before planting. Photo by dmp2009.

To get the most blooms from dahlias and for a plant with a more bushy and rounded shape, it’s recommended that dahlias get “topped” when the plant gets to about 18 to 20 inches tall.  Topping means pruning the main stalk or trunk of the plant back to the third or fourth set of leaves. Even if there is a bud present at the top of the plant, it still needs to be removed, something some gardeners find hard to do especially after going through the effort of planting the tubers and waiting with anticipation for blooms to appear. But, doing this step will stop the main trunk of the plant from growing upward, encouraging the plant to develop lateral stems, making it a fuller, rounder shaped plant that is more stable and aesthetically more pleasing to the eye. And, of course, it will encourage more blooms.

When topping dahlias, one can use fingers and pinch the stem, use a knife, or a pair of small secateurs.  Location of the cut is important. Dahlias have sets of leaves that create a layer around the plant. The cut should be made above the third or fourth set of leaves from the bottom.

Use pruners or a sharp knife to make your cut. Photo by Marie Woodward.

It’s recommended that all dahlias that will grow to maturity above three feet get topped at the beginning of the growing season. Dahlias that don’t reach that mature height don’t need topping.  These dwarf varieties of dahlias will naturally produce lateral stems on their own. 

Some dahlias develop more than one stalk. This means the tuber has more than one eye on the tuber. Some dahlia growers believe that it is best not to have more than two stalks per plant. In any plant with more than two stalks, the extra stalks should be pruned down to the soil leaving only one or two main stalks. 

The most important thing to remember when topping dahlias is to watch the weather. Topping should not be done if there is a heavy rain in the forecast. Avoid watering dahlias heavily after topping, too. Why? because the main stalk on dahlias is hollow. If water gets into the stalk, this can cause the plant to rot. If water is present in the stalk, the dahlia will start to show signs of wilting. To fix this, take a clean sewing needle or pin and prick a hole on the side of the stalk to see if water runs out of the stalk. Then allow it to drain.

Stake dahlias or grow through wire mesh to keep top heaving plants from toppling over. Photo by Marie Woodward.

Topping dahlias, though counterintuitive to some, should be viewed as a “one step back, two steps forward” approach. It will benefit your dahlias, rewarding you with fuller, healthier plants with an abundance of blooms to enjoy from mid-summer to the first hard frost. And who wouldn’t want that?

Marie Woodward