The UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab (https://plant.lab.uconn.edu/) receives many samples of rhododendrons as well as emails from clients wondering why their plants have dead stems and dieback. Rhododendrons are very common landscape plants loved by many homeowners, but they can have a few disease issues. One common disease that we see frequently is Botryosphaeria dieback.

Botryosphaeria dieback is caused by the fungal pathogen, Botryosphaeria dothidea. Symptoms include wilting leaves that roll inwards along the midvein with dead leaves remaining attached to stems. Leaves begin to turn dark green to brown and eventually die because stem cankers block and girdle the stem. Reddish-brown and sunken cankers are found on stems and branch tips. Stem discoloration can extend to the wood and pith, and a cross section of the stem often shows a darkened wedge pointed towards the center of the stem. The infection can extend down branches into the main stem, killing the plant. On older plants, cankers and dead wood can develop black pycnidia, which are fruiting structures of the fungus.

Botrysphaeria dieback on rhododendron. Photo by Elizabeth Bush, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, Bugwood.org

Infections can occur through natural wounds, pruning wounds, leaf scars, or dead branches. Exposure to conditions such as heat or drought stress can make plants more susceptible to infection. Plants exposed to full sun are frequently infected.

Botryosphaeria can also be confused with symptoms of phytophthora infection. Botryosphaeria cankers usually develop more slowly than phytophthora cankers. Phytophthora cankers can extend to the leaves and form brown wedges of discoloration at the bases of leaves and down the midvein. Winter injury symptoms can also look like Botryosphaeria, including tip dieback and leaves rolled along the midvein. Young transplants that have not been acclimated to winter conditions or entered dormancy are often affected by winter injury. Winter injury can be avoided by planting cold tolerant cultivars and following good cultural practices.

Note the reddish color of stem tips and leaves along the midvein. Photo by David L. Clement, University of Maryland, Bugwood.org

Planting site characteristics such as light exposure and soil drainage are important things that diagnosticians consider when a plant is showing symptoms of disease. It is important to know how often your rhododendron plants are getting watered and if the soil has good or poor drainage. Proper irrigation and fertilization can help prevent plants from becoming susceptible to infection. Rhododendrons should be planted in partial sun and watered during periods of drought. Fertilizer applications in late summer or early fall can cause plants to push out new growth that does not harden off properly for winter conditions. These stems will likely suffer from cold injury and become entry sites for infection in the spring.

Managing Botryosphaeria dieback includes the preventative controls listed above. Additionally, all diseased or dead tissue should be pruned away during dry weather. Make pruning cuts at least 6 inches below where symptomatic tissue ends and sanitize tools between cuts with 10% bleach solution or 70% alcohol. Remove all diseased tissue to prevent the disease from overwintering or spreading to healthy plants. Either place in trash or burn it. Following good cultural practices is always recommended when managing disease. Avoid overhead or sprinkler irrigation, as this causes prolonged leaf wetness and aids in disease spread. Avoid wounding plants and encourage good air circulation by clearing the area around plants of any debris or weeds. Sanitation and cleanliness of the planting site is important and often overlooked. Remove any leaves or branches that have fallen to the ground throughout the growing season and do one last sweep in the fall. Fungicide applications are not effective or recommended for use against this disease, so preventative and cultural controls are most important for management.

Lillian Borbas

“Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day.” We used to sing that song as kids. After starting the spring and summer with some of the driest weather we have had for some time, we are now inundated with rain. The only advantage to this is that seed starting was easier, but only because the soil was heated up a lot by the time this rain hit. Otherwise, all the seed would have rotted. Unfortunately, we seem to be getting more rain than we bargained for…

7-15 Rudbeckia falling over ML

This perennial Rudbeckia patch is flopping over due to recent heavy rains. Photo by mrl2021.

A good soil will hold moisture and therefore help the plants survive between rain spells. In our garden, we water long before the plants would suffer. When it rains as much as it has, the soil can become waterlogged, leaving no space for air. This is a horrible condition for our plants to grow in. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about it now. Raised beds help excess water drain away from our plants, but those would have had to be installed before planting in the spring. There really is no way to cover the plants to prevent the rain from hitting them as the water table is so high it would not matter (not to mention the plastic and humidity would make matters worse).

Mold, mildew, and fungus thrive in this kind of environment. Don’t be surprised if your cucumbers, squash, and phlox become covered in it this year. There are sprays that help, but I generally do not do anything and hope for more sunlight. Soil borne diseases that affect the roots will be greater in number this year as well. Hopefully we dry out soon before this becomes a bigger problem. Pollinators are limited when the rain comes, and because of this we should expect lower pollination rates for our vegetables for the time being. 

Your plants may appear to have the lower leaves yellowing. This is normal when they are given too much water. Once again there is no way to stop the rain so just hang in there. Yellowing can also be a symptom of nutritional deficiency (particularly nitrogen). Rain continually washing through the soil many times can wash away nutrients. This is called leaching. You would be wise to put some fertilizer down to replace what was lost, but try and not put it down before a big rain storm. Organic fertilizers tend to work better in this case as they are less prone to leaching. 

7-15 Yellowing Zuchinni plant ML

Yellowing of lower leaves of this zucchini plant caused by too much water. Photo by mrl2021.

Another thing to watch out for that you can do something about, are the weeds! The moisture and warm soil will help them germinate as well. Weeds may outgrow our plants in certain conditions. Get out there while the weeds are still small with a stirrup hoe or any hoe you prefer and get them before they get too big. When they are small, the hoe can cut or disturb weeds in a way that kills them. In many cases, if left unchecked, the weeds will grow taller than our plants and shade them out. A few weeks from now our prized plants may be totally outcompeted! Manually remove any weeds too big to hoe up. The wet ground usually makes weeds easier to pull so at least there is some good that comes from all this precipitation.

7-15 Weedy peppers ML

The pepper patch is in need of the hoe. Photo by mrl2021.

7-15 Raspberry and tall grass ML

This spring-planted raspberry patch is being overtaken by grass – time to weed before it gets shaded out completely. Photo by mrl2021.

Over saturated ground may also cause trees to uproot – especially pine trees. Be very careful if you see trees that seem to be leaning over. Hard, frequent rain can also cause washing out of the yard where the grass may not have been that thick.

7-15 Washing out in thin grass ML

This area of the yard was due for reseeding but now has washed out. Photo by mrl2021.

Tall annual and perennial plants may also get pushed over by the heavy rains. You may be able to tie them up with some string, as they probably will not stand up on their own again this year. If perennial, they will come back next year and have a normal, upright growth pattern so no worries there.

7-15 Cosmos spilling into the lawn ML

The Cosmos are spilling over into the lawn. They will need to be tied up before mowing. Photo by mrl2021.

7-15 Crocosmia flopping over ML

The Crocosmia is flopping over this year. I could tie this up after the rains end. Photo by mrl2021.

Hopefully this blog helped you understand what is going on around you. With the exception of weeding, there is not much we can do about it other than pray it stops raining so much! This will all end sooner or later and will be a distant memory. I guess we should be happy we did not have to lug around the garden hose. Be ready to fertilize when the rain ends and tie up some of your prized plants. This is all part of what we have to deal with when gardening. In many respects, although outside of the norm, it is nothing new. Maybe one day soon the lawn will be dry enough to mow!

Matt Lisy

Now that most folks’ soils have been tested and gardens planted, there’s been time to peruse and spiffy up the perennial and shrub beds, and invariably plant questions arise. A not uncommon query is regarding variegated plants that send up all green shoots.

goutweed var w grn

Variegated goutweed with green stem. Photo by dmp, UConn

It seems gardeners either really love variegated plants or really do not care for them. Personally, I find many variegated plants quite attractive especially when trying to dress up a dull corner or bring a glimmer of light to a shaded area. The uniquely patterned foliage worn by some of our most popular variegated plants is one of Mother Nature’s marvels. So, why oh, why are stems of variegated plants turning green?

An understanding of how variegation in plants occurs might help. Natural genetic mutations are occurring all the time in people, animals, and plants. Plant enthusiasts take note of those happening in plants. Maybe a shoot or branch or flower is produced that is different from the rest of the plant. The color, size, growth habit or bloom type may vary. This is often referred to as a sport. Occasionally, intriguing growth characteristics are caused by insects or diseases. Only sports caused by genetic mutations can be propagated.

Heliopsis Loraine Sunshine w sport

Heliopsis Loraine Sunshine with green shoot. Photo by dmp,2021.

Not only are variegated plants the result of genetic mutations but many of our dwarf conifers and weeping versions of trees and shrubs are as well. Witches brooms, which are congested collections of multiple shoots on one part of the plant, are good natural mutations that have given rise to many types of dwarf conifers. Once that most people are familiar with is the dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica”).

If deemed interesting enough (i.e. a marketable commodity), it will be propagated by divisions, cuttings, or tissue culture. Vegetative propagation, as opposed to seed cultivation, is required to maintain the unique coloring or growth characteristics. If seeds are sown, more interesting variations may or may not occur. 

Gardeners delighted by these unique variegated, dwarf and weeping plant forms are often dismayed to notice solid green leaves or full-size branches or even upright growths on their prized specimens. This is known as a reversion and is a natural process by which the cultivar reverts back to the original form found in its parentage.

spirea with solid green branch

Golden spirea with a green leaved branch. Photo by dmp, 2021.

Reasons that reversion might occur vary. Perhaps there are unstable changes in cell mutations. Maybe the environmental conditions that the plants are exposed to are not a good fit for the plant in terms of light availability. Cold or other injuries may stimulate latent buds. No one cause for all reversions likely exists.

When variegated plants start sending out all green shoots, the explanation may be the most straightforward. Some common variegated perennials include brunnera, phlox, sedums, obedient plants and heliopsis. The leaves of these plants may be edged, striped or frosted with cream or white areas. Where there is no green on the leaf, there is no chlorophyll and it is this pigment that is able to absorb energy from the sun that the plant can use for photosynthesis. More variegation, less chlorophyll, often resulting in weaker, less vigorous plants with smaller leaves.

sedum var w grn shoots

Variegated sedum with green shoots. Photo by dmp2021.

Of course, we gardeners have a tendency to tuck these illuminative plants in shadier areas to brighten then up. This means even less light reaching the leaves so plants may send out solid green leaves to give themselves a better chance of capturing more sunlight ensuring their survival. Even variegated plants in sunny sites may produce solid green shoots, however, so just lack of adequate amounts of sunlight does not account for all reversions.

Stranger looking are the growth reversions in trees and shrubs, especially dwarf evergreens, like the Alberta spruce. It is quite a sight to see what looks like a regular size spruce branch arising from the dwarf Alberta spruce.

Alberta sprunce w sport2

Alberta spruce with sport. Photo by dmp, UConn

Since the solid green growth or full-sized leaves or needles on herbaceous and woody plants can photosynthesize more efficiently, they will prevail unless we remove them. If not pruned out in a timely fashion, they will often overtake the weaker variegated or dwarf plant parts and once they do, their effects typically cannot be reversed.

Inspect your variegated plants on a regular basis and remove any solid green shoots when young. Keep an eye on dwarf evergreens and weeping forms as both are often grafted and may send out full sized parental shoots or upright shoots, respectively. Remove these to keep your plants attractive and growing in the desirable form.

sedum var remove grn

Removing the solid green shoots on the sedum. Photo by dmp2021.

Don’t let the possibility of reversions deter you from selecting variegated plants for your gardens. Many remain stable for a good long time and serve as attractive accents, complements or contrasts to existing plantings.   

Dawn P.

Stewartia blossom

Life get really busy sometimes and gardens get neglected. This has happened in my yard this year, but my garden has not neglected me. I was able to take a breath, and a walk, and found the garden has gifted me beauty and kindness in its offering of June blooms even without my close attention to the plants. Rain has fallen, sun has shined, and weeds have not overtaken very much. Perennials have produced and some annuals have reseeded defying this lax gardener.

I took first notice of the Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartia pseudocamellia) tree in the front yard as it began to flower. As the common name implies, Stewartia is native to Japan. It is a smaller tree with white, camellia-like blossoms along the branches. The each flower only last a couple of days, but more buds will open over a few weeks’ time extending the display. This is the most flowers I have had yet on this ten-year-old tree.

Gloriosa Daisy (Rudbeckia Hirta) is listed as a short-lived perennial and a reseeding annual. I can’t tell which is true as I have them pop up in various places as well as in the original spot. These originally migrated by seed from the neighbor across the street that had them growing in the cracks of her walkway. She said if they were that determined to grow there, she would let them. The birds love the seeds in the fall and obviously ‘deposited’ some in my yard. I love the random color patterns on the various different plants. They make good cut flowers for grand-kids to create arrangements and their sturdy stems even survive the ride home to bring a bouquet to their mom.

Around the back the Rose Campion (Lychnis Coronaria), was a mass of magenta flowers and grey, fuzzy leaves outgrowing its intended spot while keeping the weeds at bay. Thank you, Rose Campion for working so hard when I didn’t. This plant is another short-lived perennial or biennial that sets copious amounts of seed creating new plants which are easily moved to more desirable locations. They look great planted in mass drifts. I cut them back after the flowers fade, leaving a few to make seed for scattering in barren spots. I have been known to toss these seeds out the car window in areas that could use a little love and color.

The bumblebees were loving the pale pink flowers of the None So Pretty also called Catchfly, (Silene armeria). None So Pretty is a reliable reseeding annual in my yard. The seed hitched a ride in a plant gifted from a garden mentor over twenty years ago. She told me “Once you have it, you always will” while speaking of the dainty plant. Sure enough the next year her seeds grew from the soil included with the hosta she shared with me the year before. This is a testament to the large amount and viability of the seed production of this Catchfly. It is called Catchfly due to the sticky sap produced on the underside of each flower thought to catch flies, although I have never seen any insects stuck to it.

The pale-yellow hollyhock by the back door always makes me smile. It is in the driest spot in my yard with the worst soil yet it still grows tall and loaded with blossoms. It survives and shines calling me back to the garden and welcoming me into the morning light. History recalls hollyhocks as the perennial used to plant around the outhouse since it grew tall and wide. Visitors did not have to request the location of the ‘facilities’, just look for the hollyhocks.

Coral bells are an extremely reliable and long-live perennial that needs very little care. Its round-lobed leaves create a mounding base, excluding weeds and competition for nutrients and water. Long flower stems rise up from the base holding the tiny bell-shaped flowers. Humming birds and bees of all kinds feast on the nectar contained. they have a very long bloom time of a month or more, only needing to prune out a few stems which fall over.

Last year I planted four Borage, (Borago officinalis) plants in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators as I had read borage was good for them. Boy were they right! The bees and other pollinators flock to the blue, dangling flowers. It also reseeded this year without any assistance from me. I have not watered, nor weeded and the bed is full of borage plants, calling far and wide for insects and humans to take a look at its beauty. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads or as a garnish.

I find it comforting to know a time away from the garden did not end in disaster or mass amounts of work. My garden survived without me, and welcomed me back in its best way possible.

See you in the garden,

Carol

American Lady on Viola Flower

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck

June is always a month when there is an explosion of the new and a little fading away of certain things. Spring wildflowers have had their day and now the flowers and fruits of summer are arriving to take their place. Viburnums that just a little while ago were lending the air a sweet fragrance are now full of developing fruit. Crabapples and wild cherry are full of green fruits while flowers like yarrow, June blooming magnolias, winterberry, milkweeds and whorled loosestrife are just in bloom. Trees are full of leaves and the sky is a clearer blue so when foliage and skies meet, it is a striking contrast.


June blooming magnolia flowers appear after the leaves are fully out
Native tulip tree

American cow wheat, Melampyrum lineare, is a native annual wildflower that has interesting tubular white and yellow flowers. This small plant appears along dry woodland edges and is partially parasitic, stealing nutrients from the roots of certain tress, especially native birch.

Cow wheat flowers

Yarrow, an introduced wildflower, is attractive to many pollinators and butterflies. After years of not seeing a variegated fritillary, last week I finally came across one in a power line right-of-way that was exclusively feeding on yarrow flowers that were abundant there.

Variegated fritillary on yarrow flower

Whorled loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, also native here in Connecticut, has leaves that are whorled around the stem, and star-like yellow flowers that dangle in between. The leaves are covered with small dark pits on the upper sides.

Whorled loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife flower

On the home front, lantana, salvia, petunias and violas are among the annuals that draw a lot of butterfly and bee activity plus hummingbirds visit lantana and annual salvias as well. A golden northern bumblebee, Bombus fervidus, visits certain flowers including the flowers of a new variety of Buddleia called ‘Miss Violet’.

Spiffy golden northern bumblebee

On a hike I came across a colorful geometrid moth called the hollow-spotted plagodis. Caterpillars of this moth are large loopers and can be found feeding on several trees but preferring Betula species like sweet birch.

Hollow- spotted Plagodis moth

On the same hike there was the sound of a newly fledged bird calling for some food from its parents. I tracked it down among a large stand of invasive mugwort to see what kind of bird it was. Closest guess- pine warbler. I left it alone so mom or dad could give it its next morsel.

Fledgling warbler-likely a pine warbler

On a walk along a land grant property in Manchester, there was an old  Carpathian or English walnut Juglans regia featuring a stout trunk with striking deep, vertically fissured bark. The bark was light colored and the dark fissures made it appear outlined.

English walnut

Dog vomit slime mold can be found on wood chips or mulched areas, usually after heavy rains. Usually it seems to appear overnight as the fruiting stage begins and can be a yellow or orange color.

Aptly named dog vomit slime mold on top of wood chips

Gray tree frogs can be heard trilling day and night. They are frequently found here at home resting on patio furniture, trees, shrubs, water faucets, inside watering cans and many other places they have found suitable for hiding during the day. They often rest on leaf upper sides on trees or shrubs. The one below was on a grape leaf.

Other things of interest are galls of all types on tree leaves and twigs, including the oak apple gall made by a small wasp. The larva feeds inside the gall and emerges as an adult from there.

Oak apple gall
Very tiny oak apple gall wasp just emerged from its gall

There are so many interesting things going on for those of us blessed enough to wait or look for them. The excitement never ends. I agree with the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau, who loved observing and becoming part of his surroundings in nature- “This is June, the month of grass and leaves . . . already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me.”

Pamm Cooper

During the spring, many homeowners notice changes or problems arising in their gardens and landscapes. Throughout May, the Plant Diagnostic Lab received many samples and emails of evergreen plants such as junipers, arborvitae, cedars, and boxwoods for diagnosis. Phomopsis Tip Blight on conifers and Volutella Blight on boxwood are two common diseases seen this time of year. Homeowners tend to notice symptoms in the spring and early summer when conditions are wet and damp and conducive for disease development.

Phomopsis blight is caused by the fungal pathogen Phomopsis juniperovora. Plants that are commonly affected include juniper, cedar, cypress, and arborvitae. Most infections occur in April through early June and in the fall but can occur throughout the growing season on young foliage during wet and humid conditions. Symptoms first appear on immature tissues about 3-5 days after infection. Older, mature branches are resistant. After infection, small yellow spots can be seen on the foliage. Eventually, shoot tips will turn a reddish, brown color after the fungus has entered the xylem.

B1 phomopsis juniper Bruce Watt bugwood.org

Infected branch tips on juniper. Bruce Watt UMaine. bugwood.org.

Over time, cankers will form at the base of the blighted shoots, appearing as a gray band. These cankers can girdle stems less than 1 cm in diameter. Black pycnidia, or tiny fruiting structures, form on killed tissue 3-4 weeks after infection. During wet weather, yellowish conidia, or spores, are extruded from the pycnidia and spread by wind and rain splash. The pathogen can remain on the host and continue to spread spores for up to 2 years when environmental conditions are favorable.

Volutella blight on boxwood hosts is caused by the fungal pathogen Pseudonectria buxi. Symptoms begin in spring as poor vigor and leaves turning light green to straw or tan colored. Leaves turn upwards and tend to remain attached to the branch. This key observation can help distinguish Volutella from boxwood blight, which causes rapid defoliation. Additionally, distinctive black stem streaking and cankers are signs of boxwood blight. Volutella can cause sunken lesions on the stems and plants may eventually lose bark.

B2 Volutella blight L. Borbas

Volutella blight symptoms. Photo by Lillian Borbas, UConn 2021

B3 Straw colored leaves stem lesions L. Borbas

Straw-colored leaves attached to branches. Sunken stem lesions. Photo by Lilian Borbas, UConn 2021

B4 Black stem streaking Mary Ann Hansen bugwood.org

Black stem streaking on a boxwood diagnosed with Boxwood Blight. Mary Ann Hansen. VPI & State University. Bugwood.org

On the undersides of leaves, Volutella will form distinctive orange to salmon-colored sporodochia (fruiting bodies) in moist and humid conditions. The pathogen is spread through rain splash or contaminated tools and is commonly associated with plants that are stressed. Maintaining plant vigor and utilizing the cultural controls outlined below can help manage this disease.

B5 Sporodochia boxwood Bruce Watt bugwood.org

Sporodochia on boxwood leaf. Bruce Watt, UMaine. Bugwood.org.

Management recommendations

For both Volutella and Phomopsis blight, control options are similar. When growing plants susceptible to these diseases, preventative methods, proper planting practices, and cultural controls are important for management. Proper site selection can discourage infection, for example, well drained sites with proper light exposure and air circulation. Ensuring that plants are properly spaced will reduce humidity and moisture around the foliage. Make sure the plant’s mature size is considered when planting. Properly irrigate and fertilize based on the needs of the plant and planting site. Do not water with sprinklers or overhead irrigation as this will encourage prolonged leaf wetness. Avoid letting weeds or other vegetation grow close to the plants. Excessive watering or fertilizing can make the plants more susceptible to infection. Avoid shearing, wounding, or pruning plants in wet, humid weather as this will aid in disease spread.

Regularly check your plants for signs of the symptoms described. If these symptoms are observed, cultural practices should be implemented first. Remove all infected tissue during dry weather, cutting 3-4 inches back from the damage. Disinfect tools between plants and cuts with 10% bleach or 70% isopropyl alcohol. Discard or burn the infected branches as they can be a source of disease. If the plant is heavily infected, it may need to be removed. Consider choosing plants that are more resistant or not susceptible to the disease.

Fungicides may need to be applied if infections become severe and these cultural controls are exhausted. However, many fungicides are used preventatively and should only be used after cultural controls have been tried. They are often only effective if followed by this management and applied before new growth begins in the spring. Whenever using fungicides, always read and follow the label for information on proper rates and application times.

Lillian Borbas

Everyone loves the summer, but it is even more special for a gardener as we get to grow the plants we love! Times of excessive heat like we are experiencing now can make things very difficult not only for the gardener, but also for the plants. Although intense heat is detrimental to many of our crops, excessive heat early in the season can make it particularly hard to start a garden.

ML 21 Sprinkler

During heat waves, watering regularly becomes much more important. Photo by mrl2021

At this time of year, most plants do not have a very well-established root system. Many people do not plant their gardens until after Memorial Day here in Connecticut, even though mid-May is generally the last frost free day. Newly transplanted plants cannot handle intense heat – even if you are watering them. They simply do not have the established root system needed and wilt in the hot sun. The top layers of soil dry out rather quickly, and deeper roots are necessary to find the moisture. 

Seed starting can be particularly problematic at this time as well. Remember that seeds need not only proper temperature, but proper moisture. Seeds are generally planted within the first few inches of soil at most. This layer dries out rather quickly, so keeping the seed bed consistently moist during germination is a daunting task. With both transplants and seed starting, I will generally wait until after a heatwave has passed.

There are a number of crops that do not do well in hot summer heat. Most of the Brassicas despise the heat. These crops include cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, etc. Peas and lettuce also do not like the heat. The best thing to do is keep these plants watered (more on this below), or planted in partial shade. Another option is placing a shade cloth over these plants to reduce the sun and lower the temperature. Some light does pass through, but they are not out in the intense sun.

Some garden victims are our planters, flower pots, and hanging baskets. Any type of container generally dries out rather quickly. They are above ground and many times dark colored. Both contribute to rapid drying out of the soil inside. Sometimes you can buy special soil or add components to the soil to prevent this rapid dry out, but you can expect to give more watering attention to containers during heat waves. Once a day watering may be necessary, though time consuming. Many of the commercial nurseries have automatic watering systems to take care of their stock while it waits to be sold. Containers should be watered until you see water flowing out the bottom. Be careful as severely dried pots will have soil pulled away from the sides and water will flow out the bottom immediately. In this case, a slow hose drip for an extended period of time may help, as will additional soil added to the pot.

ML 6-21 Flower pot

Containers of all kinds are particularly prone to drying out. Photo by mrl2021.

Although we normally think of it as a weed preventer, one of the easiest ways to prevent our soil from drying out is a good layer of mulch. You will need to put on a decent layer because a thin little layer does not do much. I put on at least three inches of mulch or more. People wonder what type of mulch is best, but I say use what you have available. Mulched areas tend to need to be watered less due to the moisture retention so make sure to take this into account when you are watering.

ML 21 Rhubarb

A well-m.ulched rhubarb plant. Photo by mrl2021

Regular water in is essential to keep our crops in good shape. This can be harder to do than you think. One trap I have been caught in in the past was believing the weather forecast. I remember one year where we were supposed to get significant rain each day. I thought, “Why water when it is going to rain?”  Well it did not. The next day it was the same story, and this went on for almost a week. My poor plants were wilting and miserable by this time. It is not good to stress the plants like this. And if you are not paying enough attention, it can be too late to fix! My rule is to water when the plants need it regardless of the forecast (unless 100% rain is predicted). Our plants need about one inch of water per week. Too much can contribute to rot and fungal diseases. Too little and our plants will languish. You can measure the amount of water being put down with a good rain gauge.

ML 21 Rain gauge

One of author’s rain gauges. Photo by mrl2021.

It is best to water in the morning. Evening watering keeps the plants wet and can invite fungal problems, and slugs love the moisture! Watering in the hot mid-day sun can cause water droplets to form on our plants and burn them when the sun’s rays hit. I have found this is particularly problematic with cabbage. In the early morning, before the heat of day, is best. The problem is that many of us go to work at that time! I set the hoses up the night before and then turn on the spigot when I wake up, and turn off before I leave. Another option is using a timer. There are many manual and digital timers out there. I generally get a bit nervous with these as your water must remain “on” for them to work. Should something fail, water will be gushing all over until you come home. I do know many people who use and like them, so I guess I am just being paranoid. 

I am going take this time to remind everyone to get a good soil test. Not only will you be able to dial in your nutrient requirements, but you should be able to find out what type of soil you have.  You will need to adjust your watering based on your soil type. Sandy soils will tend to dry out much quicker than any other type. Clay soils tend to hold water and can become water logged.  Adding humus will improve the quality of both soils.  

My last bit of advice is to not forget about you! Drink water throughout the day when it is hot.  Too many times I have come in feeling great about the work that was done, but not feeling very good physically as I did not drink enough. It is easy to focus on the work and forget about ourselves. Take frequent breaks! Try to minimize the time spent outside at the hottest part of the day (afternoon around 2pm). Try and follow the shade and work on that part of your garden if possible. The early morning and the late evening are generally much cooler, although you won’t have as much time. Wear sunscreen and/or protective hats and clothing. Above all, find a nice comfortable chair placed in the shade and in view of a beautiful flower garden. Add a cup of lemonade or iced tea and you are all set! 

Matt Lisy

If you are looking to continuously supply your kitchen with a variety of interesting and healthy fresh vegetables then succession planting definitely has a place in your garden. In its simplest form, succession planting is just growing the same or different crops one after another in the same spot. So, for instance, after your quick-maturing radishes are harvested, one could plant bush beans and after their harvest, a late summer crop of lettuce.

radishes

Harvest radishes then plant a crop of beans or other quick maturing vegetable.

Another succession planting technique is to make several sowings of the same vegetable at regularly timed intervals. Typically salad greens are planted this way because realistically it is not that easy to use up 30 heads of lettuce in a single week so it would probably make more sense to have smaller, more manageable harvests maturing every week or two. I also use this method with my pickling cucumbers. Try as I might, I cannot seem to thwart those nasty, bacterial wilt-carrying cucumber beetles so I plant more cucumber seeds every 3 weeks or so and keep the newly germinated seedlings under a row cover until they start blossoming.

squash-4

Row covers are set over newly planted cucumber seeds and left on until blossoms form.

To make the most of space and increase yields, two or more crops can be planted simultaneously in the same bed. This works well with crops of different heights and maturation dates. Baby beets or early turnips can be planted in beds with Brussels sprouts; quick maturing lettuces or other salad greens with corn, or even at the base of trellised peas or beans.

Single plantings can be made of the same crop with different maturity dates. For instance, one can plant early, mid, and late season varieties of corn, potatoes or cabbages at one time for a longer, extended harvest.

Succession planting can be as easy or as intricate as you want it to be. For more complex plans, it is important to become familiar with the cultural requirements and varietal characteristics of the vegetables or herbs to be grown. When coming up with a plan, first make a list of all the crops you want to grow. Use gardening catalogs, books, websites and seed packages to find out important plant information like how early in spring the seeds or plants can go into the ground, the number of days from seed sowing or transplanting until harvest, space requirements, and the plant’s tolerance to frost.

Another consideration is how long the plants produce for. Are they plucked out of the ground, like carrots, providing an empty space to plant another seeding or transplants into? Will a secondary crop be produced after the main harvest? For instance, some species of broccoli will continue producing side shoots well into the fall. Kale and Swiss chard will continue to grow new leaves throughout the growing season.

kale & chard

                                            Kale and chard can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Indeterminate types of tomatoes will continue producing after the determinate ones are spent. Another consideration when growing tomatoes is how you plan to use them. Determinate varieties stop growing once they set flowers while indeterminate ones continue to grow foliage and produce flowers until stopped by frost or disease. So the determinate varieties will produce fruit that ripen all at once and this is very useful if the harvest is to be canned or frozen.

Tomatoes mulched with grass

Grow a selection of tomato varieties for a longer harvest window.

One also needs to take into account about when the soil can be worked in the spring, the approximate dates of the last and first frosts of the season, and about when the soil freezes and the harvest season comes to an end. Despite its relatively small size, there can be a two week or more difference in seasonal variation between southern and northern Connecticut. Typically, last frost is anticipated around mid-May and the first frost can occur anytime after mid-September. Most of us experience a growing season of at least 120 days.

It is a really good idea to compile this information into a planting chart or notebook. Then you can come up with initial planting dates, harvest times, and dates for planting your successive crops. Leave room for notes as pests and weather conditions may alter even the most carefully made plans. Also, comments from previous growing seasons are useful both when deciding what to grow again and also deviations from stated days to harvest.

notebook

                                                    Keep notes on varieties, planting dates and harvest times.

Keep in mind that the dates to anticipated harvest assume that seeds are sown or transplants set in the ground at the recommended planting time. With succession planting, seeds and plants are added throughout the growing season. Weather conditions and the angle of the sun greatly affect the rate at which vegetables grow and mature.

During cooler springs, pea seeds planted two weeks apart may mature within a week of each other because plants grow faster as the weather warms and the days lengthen. The opposite is true at the end of summer with cooler weather and shorter days. Cabbages which would typically mature in 50 or 60 days, may take 70 days to form a head as the number of hours of sunlight each day decreases. This is one reason why keeping records is important.

A few crops like radishes, carrots and spinach are always direct seeded into the garden but others like summer squash, cucumbers, lettuces, Chinese cabbages and kale can be either directly seeded or started in pots and transplanted into the garden. I have noticed a few local garden centers have been selling young transplants in late summer for second plantings. Why not try your hand at starting a few seeds in early August for transplanting into the garden to fill any areas left bare from harvest or mishap?

Maintaining a fertile garden soil and supplying plants with adequate water is crucial for successful succession plantings especially if tighter spacings and double croppings are being used. Any plants or seeds being planted during the heat of the summer will require extra watering.

Succession planting is a great way to make the most efficient use of garden space and also to provide a delicious, varying menu of vegetables for the dinner table. Give it a try and I am willing to bet it will open a whole new way of planning your home vegetable garden.  

Dawn P.

This week I was driving a local highway with the windows open in the car and was overcome with the sweet scent of flowers invading the car. Scanning the sides of the road revealed tall trees draped in white panicles of full flowers of black locust trees.

Black Locust Tree in Flower

Robinia pseudoacacia is the Latin name for this once a year proliferation of beauty and fragrance. Its bark is handsomely striped with interlacing furrows and rope-like ridges along its mature 50 to 70 feet tall trunk. Black locust is native to the central and southeastern United States, and not native to the northeast, but has happily made itself at home here. It spreads into colonies via underground roots and by seed, becoming naturalized in minimalized care areas. It is not a recommended tree to plant here due to its aggressive spread and its sharp spines. Black locust is considered an extremely aggressive spreader here and not recommended to plant in our area. It is listed on many states’ invasive plant lists, including Connecticut. I will slow down a little on the highway to take in the olfactory pleasure during this one week of the year it provides beauty while recognizing its negative attribute of invasiveness.

Another pleasant surprise was finding three native wildflowers while tending to grandchildren right in their own backyard. The flowers were going unnoticed next to the climbing gym and at the edge of the lawn in a wetter area of the yard. A teaching moment was offered to the children to look and love, but not pick the flowers, allowing them to completely their life cycle and find again next year.

The Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), is a wildflower of special concern as its numbers are dwindling due loss of habitat and deer finding them a tasty treat. It is not illegal to pick them, but highly discouraged as they take many years to grow to a mature plant from a seed. Pink Lady’s Slipper needs a certain species of Rhizoctonia fungus to break the seed coat before germination can happen. This same fungus is needed it the root zone for the plant to survive, making transplanting to a new spot unsuccessful. It is a look and enjoy and leave it where you found it situation.

The second native find was a Jack-in-the Pulpit flower shooting up above the poison ivy. We did not get a close look due to the hazard of reaching it. Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is so named as it resembles a person covered with a hood. The maroon and green stiped spathe is held up and over its dark colored spadix covered with tiny flowers, once pollinated will turn into bright red berries in the fall.

Canada Mayflower

The final find of the day was a patch of Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense). They are a low-growing native wildflower with a spike of dainty white flowers. It spreads via root rhizomes into large colonies on roadsides and at the edges moist forest floors. It has a pale, red fruit in the fall eaten by a few species of birds.

Back at home in my garden I found the peonies had opened just in time for the much needed rain, which always seems to be the case every year. I chose to cut some and enjoy these beauties inside before the weather trampled them.

-Carol Quish

Juvenal’s duskywing on native Geranium maculatum

“The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.”
― Ponce Denis Écouchard Le Brun

May is a harbinger of things to come and the herald of things that are already here. Each May I look forward to the appearance of certain ephemeral wildflowers and butterflies that are worth the effort often necessary to search for them. For instance, small butterflies often have a limited flight range, and to find them, you need to know when they start to fly, what flowers they visit, and what the host plants are for their caterpillars. Some wildflowers can be hidden by taller plants surrounding them and a surprise when come across.

Eastern pine elfin on a blade of grass

The Eastern pine elfin, Callophrys niphon, is a tiny hairstreak butterfly  that has only one brood and a flight time that may go from mid-April- June, but is more likely to be found in  flying about in mid-May. Small enough to fit on your fingernail, this elfin is often seen nectaring on blueberry, huckleberry and wild strawberry near its caterpillar’s host plant, white pine.

Eastern pine elfin

Henry’s elfin, Callophrys henrici, is another small hairstreak with an early spring flight time. Mid May is a good time to look for males perching on host plants like redbud, huckleberry, blueberry and viburnums during the day. Nectar sources include willows, hawthorn and pussytoes. Where both species are found, you may come across both the eastern pine and Henry’s elfins in the same stand of wild blueberries or huckleberries.

Henry’s elfin

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatiu,s is another small butterfly found in dry fields near oaks, which is the host plant of its caterpillar. Often confused with Juvenal’s duskywing which flies at the same time, Horace’s  has several larger glassy spots on the forewings. They have a rapid, darting flight and feed and perch with wings outstretched.

Horace’s duskywing

One flowered cancer root is an interesting parasitic wildflower that has no chlorophyll and depends upon a host plant for nutrients. An annual, once the seed germinates, a host plant must be found within a day. Hosts include the genus Sedum and members of the families Saxifragaceae and Asteraceae. The plant consists of a 3-10 inch stem with a single purple to white flower which is covered in hairs and looks like sugar crystals have been sprinkled on it. Look for this plant in May in wet fields or meadows among tall grasses with host plants nearby.

One-flowered cancer root

Garlic mustard, while an invasive plant and worthy of being pulled up, is still useful to bees as a pollen and nectar source. While of use to native pollinators, I still yank out any garlic mustard I can and hope native plants like Geranium maculatum will take its place.

Tiny bee on garlic mustard flower

Columbine and Geranium maculatum bloom for a long period of time and are visited by many pollinators, with columbine a favorite of hummingbirds as well. These plants are often found together along country roadsides and ditches, as well as power line right-of-ways. If at the edge of woods, nodding trillium may also be found nearby. This trillium has very large leaves which hide the drooping flower beneath them.

Columbine and Geranium maculatum

Fringed polygala, a diminutive wildflower that is no taller than 6 inches and has tiny pink airplane- like flowers is a personal favorite. Two of the flower petals unite to form a tube, with the third keeled with a pink fringe. They can be found along dappled wood lines in May or under pines.

Fringed polygala

Shrubs and small trees also can have striking flowers, and one is the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago. Tiny white flowers occuring downward curved panicles that can be 5 inches across. Flowers attract many native pollinators and later on the fruits are eaten by many bird species.

Blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum

The native pinxter is another shrub or small tree that makes itself known through its display of showy pink flower clusters that appear before its leaves and linger well after its leaves are fully out. Hummingbirds visit the flowers of this wetland plant.

Pinxterflower near a woodland swamp

This spring has had a good display of both native and ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and early perennials. Butterflies are already more abundant than last year, and hopefully that will continue throughout the year. Spring is the forerunner of better things to come, but for right now, spring has enough for those of us who are wildflower and butterfly enthusiasts.

Pamm Cooper

Swallowtails like this spicebush swallowtail are in flight in May