Fresh-picked strawberries

We moved into our home in December of 1996 and by June of ’97 I had broken through the sod, tilled the soil, fenced in an area, and planted a new garden. One of the first additions to that garden was a strawberry bed. Even though it took up ¼ of the space and only produced fruit during June I was always happy to have it there. Over the ensuing years the plants have, at various times, bloomed, bore fruit, sent out runners for daughter plants, and died. Three years ago I renovated the plants and moved them to a different area within the garden. This year they started to bloom around Mother’s Day and there were already a few signs of small green berries within a week. The weather during that time was unseasonably warm with a few days of temperatures close to 90° By May 15th the rainfall for Connecticut was already 1.74” below normal. Like most fruiting plants strawberries require 1” of water per week during fruit set and the growing period. Most years this is not an issue but this season has required many trips to the slowly depleting rain barrel. At least it has been warm. Some years a soggy, cold spring has led to a very small harvest. Also, temperatures that dip into the 25-35° range require covering the plants as they are susceptible to frost damage. If you have pushed their winter mulch to the side you can just bring it back over the plants should there be a frost warning.

Early spring strawberry crown

There are three types of strawberries that are generally available for the home gardener: June bearing, everbearing and day neutral. June bearing, as their name suggest, produce fruit during a 2-3 week period in June although there are early, mid and late season varieties. Everbearing strawberries have three periods of flower and fruit production during spring, summer and fall.  For better productivity and fruit quality choose day neutral over everbearing. Day neutral strawberries produce fruit throughout the growing season with few runners. If your space is limited, the soil quality is poor, or you like to plant in containers or beds, then day neutral is a good choice. Day neutral strawberries are often grown as annuals and replanted each spring. If you choose to allow the beds to carry over to the next year you may see that the yields will decline.

Strawberry flower and green berry

Strawberries prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. They need full sun. Do not plant strawberries in an area that has had solanaceous crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or peppers within the previous four years as non-host specific Verticillium root rot fungus also affects strawberries. Another soil-borne fungus that affects strawberries is Phytophthora fragariae (Red stele). Phytophthora fragariae is a very persistent fungus and can survive for up to 17 years once it has become established, even if no strawberries are grown during that time. Even varieties that are listed as resistant may succumb if planted in an area that has had a prior infection. Black root rot is another disease brought on by fungi, nematodes and environmental factors. Avoiding areas that become water-logged is very important when growing strawberries.

Berries from the garden

After you have enjoyed the fruit from June bearing varieties the plants should be renovated. This is the part that makes me cringe. Mow the strawberry plants to a height of 1 ½” above the crowns! It seems to go against every gardening intuition that I possess. Then fertilize with a balanced fertilizer. You may also need to narrow the plant rows to 10-12” and thin out plants that do not look healthy. Spread 1/2” of soil over all but do not bury the crowns. Be sure to continue watering through the fall.

Canned strawberry jam

Strawberries may require a bit of work but they are definitely worth the effort. Biting into a fresh-picked, still warm from the sun, strawberry is a bit of heaven. And then ladling lightly sugared berries over a biscuit with whipped cream? Yum. Or baking them into a crisp accompanied by rhubarb also fresh from the garden? So good. And of course, it doesn’t get any better than cooking them into preserves and hot water bath canning them so that they can be enjoyed all winter long. As of this week I had one 12 oz. jar left from last year’s batch. Now that I can see this year’s crop coming I popped the seal, put a nice spoonful on some cottage cheese and remembered all the reasons that I have strawberries in the garden.

The last of the jam!

Article and all images by Susan Pelton

The common blue violet (Viola sororia), also known as common meadow violet, purple violet, woolly blue violet, or wood violet, is a native perennial plant found throughout eastern North America. Some references give woolly blue violet (a variety with fuzzy leaves) its own species name but the most common status seems to be a single species with high variability. This little spring wildflower blooms from April through June and occurs naturally in moist meadows, woodland edges and along roads. It prefers moist, somewhat shady sites but once established it can thrive in dry and less favorable conditions and is often a problematic weed in turfgrass and landscapes.

J. Allen photo

J. Allen photo

At 3-8 inches tall, it is low growing with leaves and flowers on petioles originating from the root, not from a stem. Reproduction is via rhizomes and seed, both allowing spread and persistence in lawns and gardens. The most prevalent flower color is purple to blue but occasionally flowers may be pale purple, gray or white.

Flowers consist of five petals with two upper, two lateral and one lower petal. The lower petal has striking stripes that lead from its edge to the center of the flower and this design helps guide pollinators to the nectar within.   The color and scent of the flowers aid in attracting pollinators as well. Violets flower early in the season when pollinator activity may not be reliable so they produce a second type, a cleistogamous flower that appears lower to the ground and often later in the season. These are self-pollinating

Photo: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Photo: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

Seed capsule.  Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_(plant)

Seed capsule. Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_(plant)

Historically, violets have been used for both food and medicine. Medicinal uses have included treatment of the common cold, headache, cough, sore throat and constipation. Nutritionally, a half cup of violet leaves are reported to contain as much vitamin C as three oranges. Both flowers and leaves are edible. Some violet species have a sweeter flavor and a stronger aroma that make them a nice garnish or addition to sweet dishes while others have a mild pea-like flavor and blend well in savory recipes. Some recipes for using violets are available on the American Violet Society website, including this one for crystallized viola.

CAUTIONS:

  • Never use plants for food unless you are 100% certain that you’ve identified the plant correctly.
  • African violets are NOT related to these plants and are NOT edible.
  • Do not use plants that may have been treated with any kind of chemicals/pesticides including those in lawns, roadsides, etc. if history of the site is unknown.

There is a beautiful ‘language of flowers’ in which a particular flower can carry a special meaning or message. The message associated with a particular flower, which may be specific to color, can vary by region or reference. In North America (according to one reference), the violet means modesty and blue violets in particular can mean watchfulness or faithfulness or may send the message ‘I’ll always be true”. More on the language of flowers and a list of many for North America can be found here.

So far, I’ve just mentioned in passing the fact that perennial violets can become a weed problem in turfgrass and landscapes. If you’re interested in what to do about this plant as a weed, there is great information here from Purdue University.

  1. Allen

 

Just last week, as I peered into my tiger lily bed, a splash of red caught my eye. Even though I squashed every lily leaf beetle and larvae I found last year, some had apparently been missed and they overwintered to once more feast upon my lilies. The lily leaf beetle is native to Europe and is believed to have entered North America through plant shipments to Canada in the 1940’s. It was first confirmed in New England in 1999, when adult beetles were found in Boston. The bright red adults and rusty colored larvae have a voracious appetite for all kinds of true lilies – Asiatic, Trumpet, Tiger, Martagon, Oriental, Turk’s Cap, etc. as well as Fritillaria (Crown Imperials – although mine got a wilt and died back before the beetles came out) and our native Solomon seal (Polygonatum biflorum). Daylilies, which are not true lilies but instead in the Hemerocallis genus, are not affected. Occasionally lily leaf beetles are said to feed, but not reproduce, on hostas but this has not been a problem with the variegated ones in my gardens.

Red lily leaf beetles on tiger lilies, DMP

Red lily leaf beetles on tiger lilies, DMP

Adult, bright red lily leaf beetles overwinter in mulch and litter and emerge in the spring shortly after lilies begin to pop up and expand their foliage. The adults will feed on the leaves and flowers, mate and then females can lay more than 250 eggs on the undersides of lily leaves. The eggs will hatch in 8 days or so and then the larva will also start feeding on the leaves. To make matters worse, the larvae cover themselves with their own excrement. This is likely a defense mechanism to avoid being picked off as a menu item by birds and other predators. However, it makes squishing them unpleasant so while I will pick off beetles by hand, I admit that I use gloves for the larvae. If left to their own devices, the larvae will pupate, adults will emerge late summer and feed on any lilies left, drop to the ground to overwinter and come back to start this voracious cycle again next spring.

Lily Leaf Beetle, Donna Ellis, UConn

Lily Leaf Beetle, Donna Ellis, UConn

What’s a lily loving gardener to do??? Well, if you are a Connecticut resident join our control study!

Researchers at UConn are conducting a lily leaf beetle biological control project during the summer of 2015.  If you grow lilies in Connecticut, have a minimum of 12 plants in the lily family (Oriental lilies, Asiatic lilies, Turk’s Cap lilies, or Fritillaria) in your garden, and have lily leaf beetles feeding on them, we would like your help.  We will be introducing two species of beneficial parasitic wasps in June and would like to collect lily leaf beetle larvae from June through August. The parasitoid wasps attack lily leaf beetle larvae and over time these natural enemies will disperse from release sites and begin to spread through the state to reduce populations of lily leaf beetles.  The wasps were first introduced in Connecticut in 2012 and have also been released in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, where they are establishing and starting to impact lily leaf beetle populations.  Please contact Gail Reynolds, Middlesex County Master Gardener Coordinator (gail.reynolds@uconn.edu; phone 860-345-5234) if you would like to participate in the research project.

Gail wants you to know that “the parasitoid wasps are very tiny, non-social, stingless wasps and that the wasps are not a panacea that will destroy the lily leaf beetles quickly. We encourage gardeners to tolerate the beetles and the (yucky) larvae so that we can collect and inspect them.  If they spray an insecticide or pick off the adults/larvae, then we can’t ascertain if the wasps are doing their thing.  We could potentially have had more parasitism occurring but we can’t confirm if the larvae are removed and killed without being examined.”

Lily Leaf Beetle Larva, Donna Ellis, UConn

Lily Leaf Beetle Larva, Donna Ellis, UConn

Donna Ellis, UConn Senior Cooperative Extension Educator and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program Coordinator, who is coordinating this research project wants you to know that “The lily leaf beetle biological control project, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began in CT in 2012 with the release of two species of beneficial parasitoid wasps that will help reduce lily leaf beetle populations. The releases will continue this year, and Gail is looking for gardens throughout Connecticut. The releases have been made in all counties. To date, there has been one confirmed site where a parasitized lily leaf beetle larva was collected (New Haven County) in 2013. With additional numbers of beneficial wasps introduced each year in the state and the establishment of these biological control agents, we anticipate an increase in the number of parasitized lily leaf beetle larvae in the near future.”

LLB Parasitoid wasp release, created by Gail Reynolds, UConn

LLB Parasitoid wasp release, created by Gail Reynolds, UConn

Gail will visit potential gardens to assess the lily, and lily leaf beetle populations, and she will release the parasitoid wasps, which are reared and shipped to CT from the University of Rhode Island (URI). Gail will also be doing most of the lily leaf beetle larval collections, to ship to URI where they will be examined to determine whether they are parasitized.  During the summer, Gail and Donna will receive training at URI so that we can examine the larvae at UConn.

Gail took the lead in creating a new fact sheet on lily leaf beetle biological control in Connecticut which can be found on the UConn IPM website: http://ipm.uconn.edu/documents/raw2/html/569.php?aid=569

Good gardening to you all!

Dawn

Dawn (with input this week from Donna Ellis and Gail Reynolds, UConn PSLA & Extension)

Spring is busting out all over. This week we have jumped from the cooler temperatures right into the warmth of summer like weather. It is almost like we didn’t even have a spring after that long winter. For plants, this means a huge jump in pushing out their spring flowers and leaves quickly, denying us the weeks of leisurely enjoying the blossoms as they slowly open, instead now they are rushing to develop as the heat is hitting. The plants are as rushed as we are. This week, two of my favorite spring bloomers, Shadblow and Cornell Pink Azalea, popped open and are already starting to fade after just a few days.

amelanchier flowers Pamm's photo

Amelanchier flowers Pamm Cooper photo

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canadensis is commonly called Serviceberry or Shadblow is a wonderful small, native tree.Other names for the shrub or small tree are Juneberry, saskatoon, and sugarplum.  The tree grows to only 20 feet and appears airy with leaves on the smaller side of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long and one inch wide.It looks good in all seasons with its grey, striped bark and multi-stemmed habit. In the wild, colonies form into a thicket when it is left to produce suckers from the bottom. Single plants can be pruned up into a tree form. Serviceberry is hardy to zone 3 growing from Maine south to the Carolinas. It can be found in swamps, water edges and bogs as it likes wet feet and moist soil. However I have seen it grow happily, even thriving in drier situations proving its adaptability. The white spring flowers are 2 to 3 inches long with obovate petals. The flowers come out before the leaves emerge. After flower petals drop, red fruit is produce during the summer. The fruit will turn black when ripe. The fruit is tasty and edible, but difficult to harvest before the birds strip the tree clean. The leaves are a common host for several caterpillars ensuring a population of butterflies nearby.

The common name Shadblow comes from the timing of the white flowers blowing on the wind at the same time the shad fish are spawning in the Connecticut River. This might just be local folklore, but I have heard it many times from shad fishermen. Several named varieties are in cultivation and marketed under the names and description as follows.

‘Glennform’ (Rainbow Pillar®) – Has an more upright, shrubby growth habit, good for hedging. 20 feet tall.

‘Prince William’– Shrub habit, 10 feet tall, with good, multi-colored fall leaves and good fruit set.

‘Sprizam’ (Spring Glory®) – A compact shrub, 12 feet tall, 8-10 feet wide with yellow-orange fall leaves.

‘Trazam’ (Tradition®) – More of a tree variety, growing 25 feet tall with a central leader and good fall color.

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea is an early spring bloomer bursting out in clear pink blossoms before it puts out leaves. Usually covered with flowers from bottom of stems to their tops. Their are several varieties of Rhododendron mucronulatum but Cornell Pink is most commonly found in the trade. There is also a variety sold as  ‘Storrs Pink’ but appears to be the same as ‘Cornell Pink’. Both are very reliable, hardy plants, providing bright, spring color every year. The shrub is 4 to 8 feet tall and wide making a nice mound of flowers in the spring and green foliage in the summer. Fall leaves will be yellow to orange before the drop for the winter. Summer fruit is a small capsule, not normally noticed or significant.

Rhodendron mucronulatum is native to China, Korea and Japan. It is hardy to zone 4 and prefers full sun to light shade for best flower show. Provide good drainage, acidic soil and high organic matter to keep this shrub going strong. It looks beautiful in a mass planting in a large space backed up by evergreens.

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Another favorite tree showing its beautiful flower buds is Gingko biloba. This is a male flower on a male tree. The flowers are produced on the shortened spurwood, which are compressed, never growing long. You can see the many years of growth rings just below the bud. Lichen is growing on the stem just below the spur containing the flower, adding a bit of interest to the photo by my co-worker, Pamm Cooper. Female trees have female flowers and produce a fruit which, when ripe, smells a lot like vomit. I suggest if you are purchasing a gingko tree, chose a male.

-Carol Quish

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Marsh Marigolds blooming in a stream in early April 2015

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!

Sitting Bull

I always look for marsh marigolds Caltha palustris L., also known as cowslip, along boggy woodland streams, in early April, and they were certainly blooming within the normal time period this year. Last spring they were late arriving, perhaps because of a snowfall in mid- April. Who knows? I am just glad to see them as they are a limpid herald of spring. Bloodroot is also an early bird, and I have some in my garden. But flowers have not opened fully or they close without good sun, so maybe soon we will have less gloomy gray days and I can see the flowers.

bloodroot 2011

Well, spring is trying to get started here in Connecticut and we seem to be on average ten to fifteen days behind normal plant development so far, according to the UMass Landscape Message report for April 24, 2015. After a winter that saw high snowfall over frozen ground, and topped off by continual cold temperatures after a two- day tease of high 60’s a couple of weeks ago, we all need a break from cold, gray days. That should happen soon. Maybe.

Lawns took a big hit this winter and spring from snow molds, voles and soggy soils causing the death of some areas of the lawn. Green up and recovery has been slow as soil temperatures are only in the upper 40’s. Regrowth is spotty at the moment. Of course, grubs are up and at ‘em and have been for a few weeks. Worms are near the surface and so are the moles that eat them. Robins are always a good indicator of the presence of earthworms near the soil surface, and so is mole activity. Vole damage may have killed large areas of lawns, readily seen where they clipped off the tops of the grass while under the protection of snow cover. If crowns were eaten, then raking up the dead material and reseeding will be needed.

vole-and-snow-mold-damage-april-6-2015.jpg

Vole-and-snow-mold-damage-in April from 2015  winter snow cover

 

The time frame between forsythia full bloom and lilac bloom is typically when pre- emergent crabgrass control is applied. Be careful not to be too late or too early. Last year older forsythia cultivars were late and were in full bloom at the same time as lilacs. This year may prove to be similar. Hardy forsythia cultivars are already in full bloom, while the older ones are in sparse to no bloom as of today (April 28, 2015). If that is the case, make sure to apply pre-emergent products before lilacs bloom and some already have leaves and flower buds appearing.

As for the birds- I participate in the Audubon Spring Bird Count every year, which takes place from the last week of April through the first two weeks of May. The idea is to count species during this time frame, so many migratory birds make the count interesting as they pass through on their way north. So far even the birds that breed here are slow in arriving. Got one wood thrush, the first I saw this year, on Saturday. Savannah Sparrows are just arriving here in Storrs, so Bob-o-links and Meadowlarks should arrive soon as well. Pileated Woodpeckers, the Holy Cow! Behemoths that are here all year, are regular visitors to my backyard woods. Last week I was able to get a shot of a male and female on the same tree. How often does that happen?

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Savannah Sparrow on Horsebarn Hill, Storrs April 28, 2015

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers in my backyard woods

Hummingbirds have been spotted in southern areas of Connecticut, so get ready with hummingbird feeders. Usually they arrive as apples are blooming or the early Azalea cultivars. Keep in mind that hummingbirds eat insects as well, and often can be seen in the woods, especially around oaks because these trees attract many insects. So the hummers will not starve if you are late with your feeders.

Bluebirds have built their nests already, or at least have picked out a good nesting spot. If you have a large open area near woods where you know bluebirds live, but have trouble with sparrows consistently taking over any house you may put up, consider putting up two or three houses 25- 30 feet apart.  At my golf course, and here on campus on Horse Barn Hill we put up three birdhouse in the same area and every year we have a tree swallow, a bluebird and an English sparrow in each box. Clean them out by early to late March as bluebirds select nesting sites early even though nest building may not occur yet.

Male Bluebird on this year's selected nesting box

Male Bluebird on this year’s selected nesting box

Insects are slowly but surely making their presence known. Butterflies seen so far are Mourning Cloaks, Spring Azure hairstreaks, Commas and Question Marks, and Cabbage Whites are migrating in this week. Bees and wasps are now common where flowers are blooming, and so are many flies. Lily leaf Beetles will appear as lily host plants start to grow, so be prepared to deal with that pest. Boxwood leaf miners should be in the pupal state soon, and adults should fly by mid May. Look for pupal cases that are exposed on leaves as the adults emerge to gauge when egg- laying may occur. Fireflies are also in flight, but are not in flashing mode yet. Six- spotted tiger beetles should be out and about. Check for these along open dirt roads or woodland paths- their brilliant green metallic elytra make them easy to spot. And tent caterpillars are emerging from their egg masses and using silk to make their tents at forks in cherry branches.

Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter
Tent caterpillars just hatched and in daytime shelter

There is too much else going on to even think about, but I am glad that  green and other colors are on the landscape palette again. Here’s hoping we have a great growing season with lots of rewards for our hard labors.

Pamm Cooper                                    All photos copyright 2015 by Pamm Cooper

I look forward to filling the window boxes with pansies each spring for the Easter holiday. However, that did not happen this year as my daughter Hannah discovered that a bird had laid a 1” white egg in the flower box outside of her window! The next day there was another egg in the same nest and then a Mourning Dove took up residency.

IMG_20150417_181649212_HDR

 

Since that time the female and male doves have been taking it in turn to sit on the eggs. This is quite admirable as there is no overhead protection and we have had a few very cold and rainy days and nights. Also, she sometimes appeared larger and more fluffed out than at other times and I assumed that this was related to the ambient temperature.

IMG_20150419_154329200

A bit of research taught me that the male and female actually take it in turn to sit on the nest, the male during the day and the female at night. So it is more likely that I was looking at two different birds!

IMG_20150409_101022691

I found that Mourning Doves raise three or more broods in a single breeding season so it will be interesting to see if they have chosen our window box as a permanent location. Mourning dove nests are usually a flimsy platform nest of twigs located from 5 to 25 feet up in a tree or bush so the current location seems to fit their needs as it is outside a second story window. The nest itself appears to be lined with dried White Pine needles. Each brood consists of two nestlings. One egg is laid in the evening, and the second on the next morning which is what we observed. The incubation period is 14-16 days and it was 16 days after we spied the first egg that I looked out and saw the two nestlings had hatched! They picked a pretty cold and rainy morning to make their appearance.

IMG_20150420_071233722 - Copy

 

Nestlings, cared for by both parents in the same day/night pattern as incubation, fledge (learn to fly) in about 12-14 days. It seems incredible that they can achieve that so quickly. The parents continue to care for the fledglings until they are 25 to 27 days old. One parent or another is on the nest continually from the time that the eggs are laid until the young are well grown.

Mourning doves are found across most of North America. They are smaller and lighter colored than the common city-dwelling Rock pigeon. They are grayish-olive above, lighter underneath, have black spots on their wings and a black cheek spot. Mourning doves have a long, tapered tail that comes to a point. Mourning doves are present in our yard in northern Connecticut all winter, feeding on the ground from seeds that have been dropped by other birds at the feeders. They are actually known to become tamer during the breeding season which can explain why they are not bothered by our presence as we look out of the window at them and marvel at the sight of them.

Susan Pelton

Some spinach cultivars are expected to have pretty bumpy, puckered leaves.  If your plants are not that type, but the leaves look like that or have small holes in them when they expand, crown mites (Rhizoglyphus sp.) are a possible cause.  Conditions that favor mite activity and damage are a soil high in organic matter and a cool, moist environment.   Mites can be found in both soil and within the smallest, just-opening leaves in the crown of the plant.

Puckered leaves on spinach cultiver 'Tyee' caused by crown mite feeding.  J. Allen photo.

Puckered leaves on spinach cultiver ‘Tyee’ caused by crown mite feeding. J. Allen photo.

Magnification is required to see these tiny, nearly transparent mites.  Transparent, spherical eggs are laid in the inner folded leaves and mites of all stages of development can be found together.  They feed on germinating seeds, seedlings and young plants.  Damage is reported to be less significant as the plants increase in size.  The mites are characterized by having long hair-like setae attached to their posteriors as seen in the magnified image.

 

Magnified spinach crown mite showing setae on the posterior end.  J. Allen photo.

Magnified spinach crown mite showing setae on the posterior end. J. Allen photo.

Masses of spherical, transparent eggs inside folded immature crown leaves. J. Allen photo.

Masses of spherical, transparent eggs inside folded immature crown leaves. J. Allen photo.

This pest was first described in the U.S. in California in 1949, so it’s familiar to spinach growers there, but it’s pretty new to us in New England.  There was a report of this pest from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2013.  Definitely something to be aware of if you grow spinach.  The occurrence reported here was from New London County, Connecticut.  The spinach was being grown in a high tunnel and about 75% of the young plants were affected with symptoms as pictured above.

Recommendations for this pest include good sanitation (removal of infested plants) and crop rotation.  Efforts to promote warm temperatures and reduced humidity may also be helpful.  For additional information, this is a good fact sheet from University of California.

By J. Allen

 

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