Weeds are the bane of every gardener and farmer. Unfortunately, it is our cultural practices that often make a very inviting home for the weeds. So many times, people think about weeds during the peak of summer, when they are up to their ears in them. I spend very little time weeding, yet I grow a large array of crops. It all starts before one sets foot in the garden. With a little planning and forethought, you can spend more time enjoying your hobby, and less time weeding!

A nicely mulched garden bed that will almost totally eliminate the need for weeding. Photo by mrl2021

At the beginning of the season, we are very eager to get out there and clean things up. This is probably the most important time of the year, and instead of thinking of your crops, you should be thinking of weeds. Before I do anything, I think about how my actions will favor or discourage weeds. Many people like to rototill the ground. It makes the ground soft and airy, and very easy to work with afterwards. There are some down sides to this, however. The layer immediately below the tilled portion of soil can become compacted over time making it difficult for plant roots to penetrate. This is called a plow layer. Tilling also makes our soils vulnerable to erosion. The smaller, lighter tilled soil particles can be easily blown away in the wind. Also, heavy rains, which generally occur in the spring when the tilling is done, can also wash away our soil. These two actions rob the gardener/farmer of valuable topsoil – the layer that contains our nutrients.  The action of tilling also brings up weed seeds. The soil contains a seedbed of weed seeds just waiting for conditions to change. Tilling action brings them closer to the surface where they will now germinate.

A garden bed in bad need of rehabilitation. This will get tilled in the spring. Photo by mrl2021

Now I am not saying that I never till. If I have a grass area that I want to convert into a garden bed, I usually till it up. At that time, I amend the soil with limestone per recommendations on my UConn soil test results. Limestone is best incorporated into the soil, rather than simply left on the surface. This can also be a time to incorporate fertilizers (I prefer organic), compost, or any other soil amendments you choose. 

So, there are two options left to the gardener at this point – hoe or mulch. After my crops are planted, I like to put down a thick layer of mulch if possible. People debate what material is best, but I say use what is available to you. It beats pulling weeds all summer! For garden beds where I am going to do short growth crops like lettuce, I do not mulch. The lettuce will be pulled and eaten in a short amount of time and then replanted. I just don’t want to take the time to mulch around all those plants. In beds like these I like to periodically hoe up the ground. I use a stirrup hoe, which gently glides across the surface/subsurface of the soil and cuts off the weeds that start to grow.  You must be diligent, however, because if the weeds get too big, the hoe will not be easily able to cut the weeds down. Now you are back to pulling weeds (I try to avoid this at all costs).  I find with this set up, I hoe the area every two to three weeks depending on weed pressure. Other growers may recommend more frequent hoeing, but I find I am always pressed for time and this method seems to work fine for me. There are many other different styles of hoes which are meant to disrupt weed growth early on. There is no right or wrong one, but find one that works for you and most importantly, feels comfortable to use!

The author’s trusty stirrup hoe. Photo by mrl2021

For other beds that I limed and mulched heavily the year before, many times I will skip the tilling process. The mulch is still good at suppressing weeds, and also is breaking down and adding nutrients to my soil. I will go and spot weed where occasional weeds appear. In this case, you must be careful as now you have a space that is bare soil. That area should be re-mulched to prevent new weed growth. Although this does require some manual pulling of weeds, it is minimal and relatively easy if done in the spring.

A garden bed that needs only a little weeding but no tilling. Photo by mrl2021

The last trick is to tarp an area you want to convert into a garden. Silage tarps are great for this.  They generally are black on one side and white on the other. Face the black side up and leave it to cook in the sun. The vegetation below it is then killed by the heat. This can take some time, so don’t expect this to work in a few short weeks. I like to give it a few months. Also, if you need to incorporate some limestone, compost, and/or other soil amendments, you should do so at the beginning of the process, or after the vegetation is killed. Remove the tarp and till in your amendments, then re-tarp for at least a few weeks (longer is better). Remember tilling brings up those weed seeds. The tarp will keep the surface moist and warm which favors germination. The lack of light will then kill off those newly germinated seeds leaving you with clean ground when you are ready to plant.

A tarped ares that is the site of a future garden. Photo by mrl2021

The final trick is to plant cover crops after you harvest your main crop. Many times, the cover crops prevent weed seeds from taking over due to allelopathy (plant chemical warfare), or simply by occupying the space needed to grow and subsequently shading the remaining areas. Cover crops hold on to your nutrients so they are not washed away by rain, and protect your valuable top soil from erosion. Annual cover crops will winter kill and many times degrade sufficiently by spring. Perennial crops generally need to be mowed and/or tilled under in the spring. You could also tarp the area instead. Cover crops positively increase the amount of organic matter and nutrients in the soil. Certain cover crops can even be deep rooted and break up hardpan that has been created. By adding in organic matter once they are done growing, cover crops also work to break up heavy clay soil as well. 

So, there are my tricks for outsmarting the weeds. I hope this helps you spend more time enjoying your garden and less time working in it. Don’t forget to get a soil test to help dial in the proper growing parameters so all your efforts turn into time well spent!   

Matt Lisy

So, its not just me admiring the spectacular tulip displays this year. It’s not that I’ve been traveling by more of them; the flowers are just so vibrant, cheery and beckoning. And, they have been so duly noted by the New York Times and Boston Globe. Perhaps it is a sign of new hope after a long, long year of illness, anxiety and isolation. Whatever the reason, do slow down and enjoy the short but glorious tulip prime time show.

Cool hued tulips. Photo by dmp, 2019

Few flowering bulbs put on as spectacular a spring display as tulips. Most species are native to Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran where they have been cultivated for more than a thousand years. According to Persian legend, tulips sprang from the blood of a distraught lover who took his own life. About 400 years ago, bulbs from Central Asia were sent to Holland to the Flemish botanist, Clusius and planted in the botanical garden at the university at Leiden. The precious bulbs, that he was both displaying and doing research on, were stolen, twice, and were distributed throughout Holland. Clusius was trying to determine the reason for distinctive stripes or ‘breaks’ in the petals of some of the tulips. The craze that followed was dubbed ‘Tulipomania’ and finally the government was forced to put an end to this expensive obsession. Towards the latter part of the eighteenth century the Dutch began hybridizing tulips and created the majority of varieties planted today.

Tulip Carnival de Rio sports a flamed bicolor pattern not caused by a virus. Photo by dmp, 2019

Tulips are divided into two main classes. Species or botanicals are derived from the wild forms and are best for naturalizing as they are usually true from seed. Hybrids, which are most commonly purchased here, have been bred specifically for color, bloom time and other desired characteristics and are propagated by offsets. While hybrids are bold and beautiful and hard to resist, please try to find a place for their wilder and often more dainty or whimsical looking ancestors. A recent news thread was entitled, “Who Cares About Kyrgyzstan’s Threatened Tulips?” Many of the 27 tulip species in this country are at risk from overgrazing, over harvesting, mining and urbanization, not to mention climate change. Animals may be able to move to more amenable environments as their habitats are affected by climate change; plants move on a much slower scale that puts many species in imminent danger of extinction. Two Connecticut bulb companies that do offer nice selections of species tulips are www.vanengelen.com and www.johnscheepers.com.    

Tulipa tarda, a species tulip. Photo by dmp, 2020

Early blooming tulips include Kaufmanniana, also known as waterlily tulips, Fosterana tulips, and single and double early tulips. Kaufmanniana tulips are generally bicolored and grow only 6 to 9 inches tall. Many have lovely mottled or striped foliage. The Fosteranas are the tallest of the early tulips reaching up to 20 inches. They are noted for their beautiful cup-shaped flowers and wide assortment of colors.

Kaufmanniana tulips with mottled foliage. Photo by dmp, 2021

Both single and double early tulips last longer than other early blooming varieties with the singles being quite fragrant and suitable for forcing.

Single early bloomers were crossed with late bloomers to create the midseason triumph tulip. “Apricot Beauty’ with its rosy, peach blossoms on 14 inch stems is one of my favorites, doubling as an excellent cut flower. Greigii hybrids are shorter midseason tulips known for their mottled or striped foliage. A recently developed midseason variety are the Darwin hybrids, a cross between late blooming Darwins and early Fosteranas featuring extremely large, colorful blooms. Rembrandt tulips are related to the Darwins and are grown for their vivid stripes and blotches caused by a nonpathogenic virus.

Late season Darwins are perhaps the most popular of tulip varieties. Colors range from pure white to almost black. Tall cottage tulips with their 3 foot stems and delicate looking lily-like flowers are also late bloomers. An interesting subdivision of the cottage tulips are the viridiflora, distinctive because of their bright green flares dividing the center of each petal.

Except for the species, tulips are not notably long lived plants and in formal beds they are best treated as annuals and discarded or placed in a less conspicuous spot after bloom. The bulbs break down into smaller bulblets and the flower size is reduced after a year or two. Varieties touted as perennial are usually jumbo Darwin hybrids and will provide you with 3 or 4 seasons of top quality blooms although I have had some coming back for 15 years now.

Some of these tulips planted 15 years ago still come back each spring. Photo by dmp, 2006

Plant tulips shortly after purchasing in the fall to ensure good root establishment. Planting at 8 to 10 inch depths is said to prolong the life of the bulbs. Tulips look best planted en masse so use at least a dozen of each color and limit yourself to 2 or 3 colors per bed for a nice effect. Underplanting with pansies, alyssum, or low growing spring flowering perennials like rockcress or silver mound artemesia will help camouflage the dying tulip foliage.

For a real treat to the senses, visit Wicked Tulip Flower Farms (www.wickedtulips.com) in Exeter, RI or Bantam, CT. Walk through their acres of tulips, pick your own bouquet or order online for curbside pickup. Regardless of where you are or traveling to, be on the look out for vibrant, colorful tulips to bring some cheer into your spring and brighten our year to come.

Wicked Tulips Flower Farm, Photo by dmp 2019

Happy spring!

Dawn P.  

Star Magnolia

The return of spring bring flowering trees and bulbs to rejuvenate the human spirit. The bluebirds are nesting in my yard, but too fast and cautious for me to capture with the camera. I love this time of year, even though it brings the return of weeds and some plant diseases year after year.

A favorite flowering tree of mine are magnolias. The star magnolia flower is pictured above and the tree below.M. stellata was introduced to the United States in the 1860’s originated from Japan.

Star Magnolia Tree.

The saucer magnolia, Magnolia × soulangiana, is a hybrid cross between M. denudata and M. liliflora developed in France in 1826.

Flowering Quince

This is a close up the beautiful blossoms of a flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Scarlet Storm’ and tends to only look good while flowering. It is a messy shrub, gangly and awkward looking the rest of the year. I find it also sends up shoots a few feet away from the plant needing removal attention unless you want a loose, erratic hedge.This native to Asia.

The peonies are about a foot tall already with tiny buds atop insuring June flowers will be here. The red tinged foliage produces dark red flowers in my garden. The green leafed one is a light pink variety. I do not know the names as these were shared from my aunt’s garden. Peonies can live for decades in the same spot! Peonies are native to China.

Grape hyacinths, (Muscari armeniacum,) are delightful little spires of blue bells emanating from a bulb below ground. They certainly brighten up the landscape, but can become a nuisance if allowed to go to seed and spread. I have them popping up in the lawn and garden where they did not start out. Their native range is western Asia and southeastern Europe. Best to plant in the fall at same time as daffodils and tulips.

Bluets.

Bluets, (Houstonia), is a native wildflower often found in wetter areas of lawns and around streams and ponds. These were battling for space in the lawn untreated with herbicides. They appear around the same time as the pollywogs in the nearby stream. Both wonderful signs of spring.

In the vegetable garden the kale made it through the winter and is growing well. Spring greens for supper!

Kale overwintered on its own.

The asparagus is coming up, although this spear is curled indicating asparagus beetles fed on the developing stalk under ground. Thankfully others were fine. Be on the look out for striped and spotted asparagus beetles on the stalks.

Curled asparagus stalk from beetle feeding.

Along with the good comes some bad: weeds. Hairy bittercress had a great year this spring. It is a cool weather annual that will die out with heat. The elongated seed pods shoot its seeds out to make new plants next year. Hand pull or mow if in the lawn.

Today’s rain spurred cedar apple rust galls to awaken and grow. They look like an orange jelly ball with tentacles. They will dry and release spores that will float on the wind to infect new apple tree leaves with cedar apple rust spots. Those apple leaves will yellow and drop leaving a bare tree. If you can reach the orange galls at this stage, cut them off and put them in the garbage to interrupt the lifecycle of this two host disease.

Spring often bring good winds. Great for wind power and kite flying!

Enjoy!

-Carol Quish

Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands

.

Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

Figs are a delicious, exotic tasting fruit that many people don’t know can be grown right here in Connecticut. Yes, our winters are too harsh for this warmer climate plant but with a little know how and some effort, you can grow a successful fig crop year after year.

Violette de bourdeaux is a popular variety of purple fig Photo: C. Johnson

Selecting a variety

While no one variety is completely resistant to the cold temperatures we experience as New Englanders, there are some varieties that are more resilient than others. Chicago hardy, Brown turkey, Celeste, and White Marseilles are just a few examples. Flavor preference is another factor to consider after cold hardiness. Figs range from light green, to brown, to dark purple, with some variation in size between varieties. If you’re not sure what you like, you might try looking in the produce aisle of your local grocer and see if there’s a range to sample from there. Although this is rarely the case, most grocery stores in New England will only carry figs seasonally and even then, it is a narrow selection. This only adds to the appeal for home gardeners wanting to produce their own crop. There is a large market for purchasing pre-established plants of all different fig cultivars. However, many fig enthusiasts choose to share cuttings among each other as this plant propagates so easily.

A semi hardwood cutting showing root proliferation.
Photo: C. Johnson

Propagation

Figs can be propagated via vegetative cutting with relative ease. Green cuttings tend to be less successful than woodier cuttings with the sweet spot being at about 1 year old. At that age, the propagule will have some woodiness to it but not so much that it is no longer pliable. Cuttings can be taken almost any time of year but semi dormant to fully leafed out branches are ideal. Some rooting hormone and placing shallow wounds on either side of the stem can go a long way towards rooting (as seen in the photo).

Growing conditions

Figs do best in a hot, full sun location. If you are planting in the garden or placing in a container, be sure to give them as much sun and warmth as possible. A relatively fast draining media will also go a long way towards producing a healthy fig crop as figs prefer not to remain wet for extended periods of time. Figs do well in moderately fertile soils with minimal need for fertilization in the garden. Plants grown in containers will experience a higher rate of nutrient leaching and therefore will require some fertilization during the growing season.

A spring breba crop on Ficus carica ‘Ischia’. Photo: D. Nordby

Overwintering

Figs are not adapted to our cold winters so measures must be taken to protect these plants during the cold season to ensure they survive to see spring again. Techniques for overwintering figs range in difficulty and complexity. The simplest option, which mainly applies to container plants, is to simply move them into a semi heated structure such as a garage or basement. This can be done with plants that are in the ground by digging them up and wrapping the root ball. There are also several methods of mulching and wrapping that have been proven to be successful. Overwintering methods have been covered in depth by Dr. Charles R Vossbrinck at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. See his article here.

Symptoms of mosaic virus showing on Ficus carica ‘letizia’. Photo: D. Nordby

Pests and diseases

The two most common diseases of figs in Connecticut are rust and fig mosaic virus. Rust can be prevented through good moisture management practices. Pruning and spacing plants to increase air flow as well as careful watering to keep foliage dry will go a long way towards preventing rust. Mosaic virus can cause some decline in overall plant health and appearance, but healthy plants often outgrow this virus. Be sure to clean pruners with rubbing alcohol in between cuts to prevent the spread of this virus.

C. Johnson

Germination of seeds is one of life’s most beautiful phenomena. You take this dead, rock looking thing, put it in some soil, water it, and a beautiful, living, green plant begins to grow. This was always a fascination for me as a kid, and even now as a well-seasoned adult, it is still like watching a bit of magic. Seeds truly are one of nature’s evolutionary breakthroughs. When the plant is near the end of its life cycle (annuals), or is approaching a harsh season (perennials), they go to seed and thus carry on the species by giving rise to the next generation. The seeds then just sit there dormant, waiting for environmental conditions to improve, biding their time patiently. 

Seemingly lifeless tomato seeds waiting for environmental conditions to be right so they can germinate. Photo by mrl2021.

When the time is right, and all the abiotic (non-living) parameters line up correctly, the seeds will germinate. Seeds are a bit like Goldilocks and the porridge in that respect. Too hot or too cold and it is a no go. However, when seeds find themselves in the correct temperature range with the right amount of moisture, they spring into action. It is important to note that there is a range at which seeds can germinate. The trade off, though, is that it generally takes longer to germinate at cooler temperatures. That being said, if we increase the temperature, germination will be sped up considerably. There is an upper end to this range, however, and if it gets too warm they will not germinate either. 

Note that each plant has its own optimal germination temperatures. It truly is not one size fits all, so it behooves the gardener to research the proper germination temperatures for the vegetables you are trying to grow. The nice part is that we can manipulate the process to occur much faster than it would have normally. Many vegetables take seven to fourteen days to germinate, assuming you are using room temperature. Any colder than that will either lengthen the germination time, or inhibit germination all together. 

The best way to speed up the germination process is by adding bottom heat. This is accomplished by using a heat mat. These can be really pricey, but once purchased can be reused year after year. Unfortunately that is not all you will need. These heat mats need to be controlled by a thermostat (control box). Do not attempt to use them without one as it will ensure disaster.  These are many times just as pricey as the heat mat itself. There are a number of different heat mat companies out there. There are some differences so do your research and find the one that matches what you are trying to accomplish. Heat mats come in many different sizes to accommodate the needs of the grower. There are mats suited to one standard 10×20 plant tray, or mats that can hold up to ten of those plant trays. Of course there are many sizes in between those extremes, so you should be able to find one that can fit your space. If you are trying to decide between two sizes, I always recommend going bigger if you can as with any hobby or endeavor humans generally like to expand.  

A heat mat. Photo by mrl2021

You have to choose your seed starting location carefully. First of all, you will need access to an electrical outlet. Extension cords may be okay to use, but make sure they are sized to handle the electrical needs of your mats. The more mats you have, the more amps you will be pulling. Read the information on the electrical cord packaging to determine the proper gauge and buy the shortest cord possible. I always go with a bigger gauge just to be safe. You will plug the mat or mats into the thermostat, and the thermostat into the wall outlet. The thermostat will have some type of mechanism which allows you to set the temperature so read the instructions on how to adjust it and set to the proper temperature for your plants. Don’t forget to change the temperature once you switch crops, if needed. These seed mats work great, but they do have their limitations.  They generally cannot raise the temperature more than twenty degrees above ambient. So while the basement may seem like a great place to start your seeds, it may end up being a little too cool if unheated in the late winter or early spring. The heat mats should be left on for twenty four hours a day until the seedlings are up and well on their way.    

A thermostat used to control the temperature of the heat mats. They will not function properly without one. Photo by mrl2021

The thermostat will have a probe on it to sense temperature. This can only be inserted into one tray, so it is assumed all the trays that fit on that mat will be the same temperature. You want to make sure that the probe has good contact with the soil, and is neither too deep nor too shallow.  One word of caution – the seed starting medium must be kept moist for two reasons. First, if the soil dries out then the seeds won’t germinate. Second, if the soil gets too dry, the probe will not be able to sense the temperature properly and your thermostat will not function properly. This could end up cooking your seeds or not working at all. At the very least, it is best to check the moisture levels twice a day, but three times is even better. I like to water my plant trays with a spray bottle. You have to be very careful not to disturb the soil too much as this may dislodge some sprouting seeds. 

The probe attached to the thermostat senses the heat in the seed trays. Make sure to keep the growing medium moist to ensure proper function. Photo by mrl2021

To help prevent the drying out of the growing medium, you can use plastic wrap over the top of the trays. There are also commercially available clear plastic domes made to fit over the 10×20 standard trays. They are fairly reasonable in price so I just use those, but the plastic wrap will work just as well. Once the seeds are up, it is best to take off the domes in order to prevent an overly humid environment which can support the growth of some harmful fungi.  ‘Damping off’ is a common fungal disease that causes the death of many seedlings. It looks like the plant rots right where the little sprout goes into the soil. Once the plants have started to grow you can remove them from the heat mats. Leaving them on too long can be detrimental and cause them to get tall and leggy, and even flop over. Remember that the heat mats are only for speeding up germination time. At this point you can move your seed trays to an area with really bright light.  Avoid window sills as these are usually cold and drafty. If needed, supplement with overhead lighting set a few inches above the plants. Adjust the lights as the plants grow. Soon it will be time to harden off your transplants and set them out for a bountiful harvest.

The heat mat, probe and thermostat in action warming the soil to speed germination of some vegetable seeds. Note the clear dome to retain moisture. Photo by mrl2021.

by Matt Lisy, UConn 2021

Although their name may suggest otherwise, perennial beds and borders do change with time. Every few years they need to be reevaluated. Plants may need to be moved to a different location where they will either look or grow better. A great number of perennials (at least the ones I grow) benefit from division. Perhaps those trees nearby have extended their branches enough to alter the amount of sunlight now available. Or maybe you lost part or all of a shade tree in last year’s wind storms. Maybe that cute little 4-inch pot of doronicum you planted has laid claim to more than its fair share of the garden. Even your tastes in colors, design ideas or seasons of bloom may have changed. Whatever the reason, spring is a good time to overhaul the perennial garden.

Elm broken by last year’s wind storm. Photo by dmp2020

Before you begin to pick up that spade and begin digging, you need to decide on the type of look you are aiming for. Your site conditions will likely dictate your choice of plant material. Try as you might, perennials like gaillardia, lavender and dianthus will not do well in soggy soils, while hellebores will wither away in hot, dry exposed sites. Consult one of the many splendid books or websites on perennials, talk to a knowledgeable person at a local garden center, or give us a call if you are in doubt about a plant’s cultural requirements.

Another factor to consider is the maintenance many perennials require for their best display. Delphiniums in all but the most sheltered areas need to be staked. Yarrows and evening primroses should be divided every couple of years. Garden phlox must be religiously deadheaded so its usually magenta colored progeny do not take over the world. Lilies need the once over just about every day to patrol for lily leaf beetles. And, some plants like columbine, rudbeckia and agastache just seem to have relatively short life spans, at least in my yard, and require regular replacement whether through self-seeding or store purchase. I don’t believe a plant exists that does not require at least occasional attention but if you are limited in the amount of time you have to deadhead, stake, divide, and control pests, you will definitely want to choose less demanding perennial species.

Birdhouse garden with desired coral colored phlox and self-seeded magenta phlox. Photo by dmp2009

When redoing your perennial beds, keep in mind also the season of bloom. Many perennials, for all their loveliness, have a tendency to bloom over a short 3 to 6-week span of time. A few will provide color, or at least interest from early summer until frost. These include plants like hostas, coral bells, Russian sage, and some dwarf daylily cultivars. Some gardeners strive for a riot of color for mainly one time period, say the month of June, while others prefer smaller portions of color that extend over the whole growing season. Spring flowering bulbs and annuals can provide interest either by complementing the flowers of perennials or as fillers when little else is blooming. 

Sedum, coral bells and artemesia provide a long season of color. Photo by dmp2012

Spring is generally a great time to divide mid and late season flowering perennials with the early fall being better suited for the early spring bloomers. If you cannot replant the divisions immediately, pot them up, or heel them in somewhere not in full sun. Perennials with a long tap root like baby’s breath and echinops do not appreciate being moved so place them carefully. Asters and some others in the composite family tend to die out in the center. Just transplant the new growth surrounding it and discard the woody middle part. If you need to move Oriental poppies, wait until they go dormant, usually in July or August.

Asters multiply quickly and benefit from division every 3 years or so. Photo by dmp2012.

Think about what bulbs you might like to see blooming with your early season perennials and make a note to purchase them for fall planting. Place the bulbs behind sprawling perennials so that the dying bulb foliage will be camouflaged.

Daffodils and other bulbs in the birdhouse garden and white garden. Photo by dmp2013.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and, most of all, don’t be afraid to rectify any unsatisfactory plantings. Unlike, permanent tree and shrub plantings, a perennial garden can be modified to suit your needs and desires.

Happy Spring!

Dawn P.

Shamrocks are the official plant of St. Patricks Day symbolizing the country of Ireland. History and folklore state St. Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain the concept of God being three in one: father, son and holy spirit. He used Ireland’s native clover(Trifolium repens) commonly called shamrock to give a visual to the idea for the spreading of Christianity. Today a similar shamrock-looking plant, Oxalis, is sold as ornamental houseplants to celebrate the holiday, adding a bit of the green to our homes when it is sorely needed at the end of winter.

Two colored Oxalis.

Plant breeders have even found a way to add a little purple in this ‘shamrock’ plant for sale at the local grocery store. I wonder what St. Patrick would think!

White clover. photo White-clover-leaf1 MSU.edu

White clover (Trifolium repens), has become a widespread common lawn weed in the United States. Normally it has only three leaves, but occasionally the plant produces a fourth leaf proclaiming to provide luck to its finder. Many a child has spent a busy afternoon searching for their own four leaved clover to press between the pages of a book to preserve it. Clover is a fascinating plant in the legume or pea family Fabaceae which takes nitrogen from the air and deposits it in nodules on the roots. When the plant dies and breaks down naturally, the nitrogen is slowly released for other nearby plants to use. Clover is great for building soil nutrients and adding a bit of luck to your garden or lawn.

Oxalis stricta, photo from Umass.edu

Oxalis or yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), is another lawn weed reminiscent of shamrocks with its trifoliate leaves. It is the wild cousin of the well-bred Oxalis houseplants. This one has yellow flowers rather than the white, and is a native annual that sometimes lives through a mild winter.

I wish you luck in finding your shamrocks on this St Patrick’s Day!

photo Idaho.gov

-Carol Quish

“March brings breezes loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil.” 

― Sara Coleridge 

Bald eagle
bald eagle

This winter started off warmer than usual, settled down to a white and cold normal one, and now it seems to be in a hurry to get as warm as possible before April can get all the credit for bringing in the welcome green of spring. By the end of the month spicebush may be blooming and perhaps the marsh marigold.

marsh marigolds in a woodland bog

Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) are one of the first wildflowers to bloom and the plant is very conspicuous as it grows in swamps, along streambanks, and sometimes directly in the water in wet woodland habitats. There may be no leaves on other plants yet, and  brown leaf litter may cover the ground, but the splash of bright green highlighted with yellow flowers is a welcome herald of what will come.

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs, plus their territorial daytime calls as well. Male turkeys have begun their strutting, hissing and stamping routines which are somehow alluring to the hens.

male turkeys
Male turkeys fanning display

Bald eagles have built a nest in my town, and the pair have been seen sitting together along busy roads where they have chosen to raise their young. A nearby open river has provided food for them all winter, and the high traffic volume and large number of people watching this pair does not seem to bother them at all.

Killdeer, one of our first birds to return from their winter vacation homes have been back since late February this year. The early bird gets the worm… They lay their eggs directly on the ground in open gravelly areas and their young are born covered with down and ready to run around with the parents.

Killdeer
Killdeer

Like the killdeer, blackbirds and grackles have been back since late February, but wait until females arrive a month or so later to breed. They can be seen together in large flocks where seeds are abundant.

While hiking in the woods, my sister and I came across some peculiar damage to quite a few mature trees in a widespread area. Bark had been scratched and clawed off, sometimes shredded, and areas damaged were about three feet off the ground. This was the work of a black bear, new to this particular area and now residing in the woods by the looks of it. Marking trees with teeth and claws, especially in  spring is thought to either mark territory or just be from normal stretching and scratching activity.

Scratching and tooth mark damage to tree
Claw marks from black bear

Along the shore ruddy ducks usually can be seen floating in large groups along the in Old Saybrook causeway. These cute little ducks can be recognized by their small size, blue bills of the males, and the perky little tails that are sometimes held straight up. Sometimes little coots can also be seen along the Connecticut shoreline now.

Spiffy little ruddy ducks
Coot showing off its wonderful clodhoppers

Sweet ferns Comptonia peregrina, a native shrub with aromatic foliage, is showing its flower buds unfurling at this time of year, and  some of our pussy willows are almost blooming. I have a black pussy willow that is almost in full bloom, and that is a sign that Collettes inaequalis, a small, handsome, native ground-nesting bee, will be out and about soon.

Black flower variety of pussy willow

 

Sweetfern flower and leaves unfolding

I can hardly wait for green to be the primary color in the landscape again, and I strongly share this person’s sentiment:

  “Winds of March, we welcome you, there is work for you to do. Work and play and blow all day, blow the winter wind away.” ― Unknown

Pamm Cooper

Painted turtles enjoying a warn, sunny march afternoon
David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

Veteran houseplant owners and novices to indoor gardening alike, have most likely, at one time or another, experienced the plague that is a fungus gnat infestation. These tiny insects begin their lifecycle in the potting media of houseplants that have been consistently overwatered. Once established, fungus gnats multiply quickly, with populations usually localized to a certain plant, or group of plants.

This insect is not known for causing excessive damage to the plants themselves, fungus gnats are more annoying and unsightly than they are damaging. However, the larvae feed on organic material found in the potting media, which can sometimes include the roots. Another reason root damage is less likely is because fungus gnat larvae reside in the top 2-3” of the soil. These insects are attracted to moisture as that is where they lay their eggs. It is not uncommon for fungus gnats to attempt to fly into your mouth. Anyone who has experienced this knows that fungus gnats are not something you want to leave unchecked in the home.

Fungus gnat larvae. Photo by Richard Lindquist
Overwatered potting soil, perfect for fungus gnats. Photo by C. Johnson

Controlling moisture is key to controlling fungus gnats. Populations are most abundant when there is an overabundance of moisture in the area, usually this is caused by overwatering. Over saturated media is the perfect egg laying habitat for this pest. Managing your irrigation goes a long way towards managing this pest, letting soils get as dry as possible before watering is a highly effective yet simple control method. It is important to note, this technique can be damaging to some plant species that may require consistent moisture in their growing media. If that is the case there are other options for control. Bottom watering just enough so that the bulk of the root ball is wet but the top of the soil remains dry is also effective. This can be tricky and requires some experimentation to get right.

A butterfly shaped sticky trap. Photo C. Johnson

A popular method for monitoring as well as controlling fungus gnats and other flying insects is the use of yellow sticky cards. Insects are attracted to the bright yellow color and are then entangled once they land on the trap. I use these in my houseplants even when I don’t have a sever problem as they let me know what insects are present just by looking at what’s stuck to the trap. Adding these traps to an already established infestation will help reduce the  breeding population of flying adults. There area also chemical controls available for this pest in the form of pellets which are placed on top of the potting media. Bacillus thuringensis var. Israeliensis is a strain of bacteria that is also effective at controlling gnats and can be applied to the soil via drenching. Ensure that any chemical controls being applied are labeled for fungus gnats and that you follow manufacturer’s directions for indoor home use.

Carl Johnson

UConn Home & Garden Education Center, 2021

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Dean of the College, Cooperative Extension System, University of Connecticut, Storrs. The Connecticut Cooperative Extension System is an equal opportunity employer and program provider. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, Stop Code 9410, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964.