Venus looking glass II

Venus’ Looking glass

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

Al Bernstein

 

This spring took forever, it seemed, to warm up, but it did, and just in time. Rains provided a boost to plants that suffered during the drought of last year, and dogwoods, crabapples, azaleas and rhododendrons had fabulous flowers this spring. But now June is here, and yesterday marked the first day of summer, and so we move on to the warmer weather and all it brings with it.

elderberry blossoms 2011

Elderberry flower head

Native elderberries are in full bloom right now and many bushes are covered with the large, white flower clusters. Later on, the dark purple fruits will provide food for many birds and mammals. While edible for humans, and high in vitamin C, most people do not care for the raw fruits, but may make jam or pies from them. And mountain laurels are still in bloom now as well. Some cultivars, such as ‘Kaleidoscope and ‘ Firecracker’ have striking red flowers. Dewberry, a native berry that forms mats sometimes as it creeps along the ground, is in bloom now, and its flowers are important food sources for many native bees and butterflies. Soon to come into flower are the native Canada lily, Indian pipe and native wood lilies. Venus’ Looking- glass, Triodanis perfoliata, is a native purple wildflower that has its flowers along the stem at the leaf axils. Poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, should be blooming now. This native milkweed grows well in wooded, shady areas. Flower heads dangle down, unlike those of most milkweeds. The white flowers are attractive to several moth pollinators.

poke milkweed.JPG

Several insect pests are making their presence known. The infamous 4-lined plant bug, a lime green adult with 4 black lines down its back, leaves behind diagnostic feeding damage that later on will look like black angular leaf spots. They are cosmopolitan in plants they will eat. This year they have been reported feeding on many herbs, dandelions (who cares?!), sunflowers, sedum, and the list goes on. Also, both the Colorado and false potato beetles are mating as we speak, and they seem to be heading for a banner year, population –wise. So crush the eggs as you may find them on any of your nightshade family plants like tomatoes and peppers. Be careful not to crush any lady beetle eggs, though, as the larva will feed on those of the potato beetles.

moutain laurel

mountain laurel cultivar

Colorado potato beetle June 2017pg

Colorado Potato Beetle laying eggs

On a walk along a power line yesterday, I was delighted to see two visitors from the south- common buckeye butterflies. I have not seen these occasional visitors since Hurricane Sandy, so this a good butterfly to keep on the look-out for. Red- spotted purple, viceroys and American lady butterflies should be in the process of laying eggs now, if they haven’t already. I found several tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars also this week. Check out your dill, fennel or parsley, because the black swallowtail butterfly may have laid an egg or two on them, and the caterpillars may have hatched out.

common buckeye June 21 2017 Coldbrook

A visiting common buckeye butterfly

Swamp milkweed leaf beetles are easy to spot with their red and black elytra. Not pests, these chunky beetles are just a colorful splash on a green background. Pine sawyers, longhorn beetles commonly mistaken for the invasive Asian long-horned beetle, are active now. They will often visit newly stained decks until the stain dries out. Dogwood calligrapha beetles, striking in their spiffy black markings on a white background, are out and about on native dogwoods now.

calligrapha

dogwood calligrapha beetle

There are many birds that are now fluttering around trying to keep up with newly fledged young.  Catbirds, robins, red-tailed hawks, Carolina and house wrens, Bob-o-links and some sparrows have a clutch early and some species, like the ubiquitous robins have a second brood. Fledglings are often very loud as they beg for food, and get louder still as mothers withhold food briefly, to teach them how to fend for themselves.

chipping sparrows just hatched 6-6-14

Chipping sparrow nest

we recently had a visitor to our office. A green bullfrog somehow landed in our window well and could not escape. So we managed to catch it and Joan Allen walked it to a nearby pond. Another bit of excitement at work.

froggie in the window.jpg

froggy in the window

As you venture out into the landscape, I hope curiosity will get the best of you, causing you to turn over leaves looking for insects, watching birds as you see and hear them, and bending over to see what is lurking on the ground by your feet. In such a way we become more interactive with the environment and thus, less frightened or at least dismayed by new discoveries. Look stuff up when you find it. Curiosity did not kill the cat, nor will it do likewise to people. Nor has asking questions ever done any harm, at least as far as I know…

P1220437.JPG

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

Like many landscaped yards in Connecticut our property has boxwood adorning our front yard, planted more than 30 years ago. This shrub is usually a minimal maintenance woody ornamental plant. It requires a bit of shaping once a season even though its slow growth habit doesn’t send out the random foot-long shoots that its neighboring Japanese maple does. In fact, the amount that is trimmed off is more like a ‘shaving’ of its foliage and the easiest way to collect the clippings is to place a tarp beneath the shrub (the tiny pieces of leaf are almost impossible to rake it up). We tend to do the shaping of the shrubs in the landscape somewhere near the end of June and beginning of July. I remember one year (and I’m sure that my daughter will never forget) trimming them on a hot humid day where we ended up wearing bits of foliage that stuck to our damp skin!

Over Memorial Day weekend this year as I walked past the boxwood that borders our driveway I was surprised to see it covered in a white fuzz. I stopped in my tracks for a closer look. Up and down the stems and in the leaf axils was a fluffy white coating that dispersed like a powder into the breeze when I touched the shrub.

IMG_20170530_074456085

Using a macro lens, I took successively closer images until what looked like just white fuzz became individual clumps and then minute insects. These are the nymphs of the boxwood psyllid and the white fuzz was waxy strands of their crystallized honeydew secretions that is also called ‘lerp’. Yes, that is a real word. Boxwood psyllid (Psylla buxi) are in the family Homoptera, a suborder that also includes aphids, scale insects, cicadas, and leafhoppers.

The tiny orange eggs of the boxwood psyllid overwinter in the bud scales of the boxwood and will hatch when the temperature reaches 80 degree days, around the same time that the buds open. Degree days are an accumulative measurement that allow the prediction of insect appearances and plant blooming. For more info on degree days, visit the Cornell University site: Network for Environment and Weather Applications.

Enfield, CT reached 80 degree days on May 18th this year and between then and mid-June when we accumulate 300 degree days the psyllid nymphs will go through 5 instar (nymph) stages. They mature into winged adults as they finish their incomplete metamorphosis. It was a bit slower this year due to the cooler temperatures. The adults will mate and lay their eggs under the bud scales, there is only one generation a year.

Most of the damage from the boxwood psyllid is in the leaf cupping that happens as the larvae feed. They have sucking mouthparts and the leaves curl around the nymphs as they feed, a rather tell-tale sign of their presence. The psyllid doesn’t do any substantial damage.

IMG_20170530_074410382

Meanwhile, another pest also made its appearance. A beautiful Goldflame honeysuckle, Lonicera x heckrottii that adorns our deck was getting its yearly aphid visit.

IMG_20150609_114321860

As a relative of the boxwood psyllid the feeding damage of this aphid (Hyadaphis tataricae) is very similar. They love the flower buds and can feed inside the bud before you can even know that they are there. Aphid damage will stunt the growth of the flower buds and prevent the honeysuckle flowers from blooming.

And that would keep us from one of the pleasures of outdoor dining on a summer evening: watching the hummingbirds visit the showy pink and yellow tubular flowers as they search for nectar. The hummingbirds dart in and out so quickly but they occasionally stop for a brief respite, barely bending the vining stem as they weigh so little, often less than 1/10th of an ounce.

Bees and other pollinators such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) also spend lots of time going from flower to flower on the honeysuckle. It’s important to keep these visitors in mind when dealing with pests such as the aphids. A systemic insecticide should never be used during the period when a plant is flowering. These pesticides will target all insects that feed on the plant’s sap, drink the nectar, or gather the pollen regardless of whether they are beneficial or not.

2012-07-26_13-27-04_844

A strong spray of water may dislodge aphids and psyllids or an insecticidal soap may be used. An insecticidal soap works as a contact pesticide and as such there is no residual insecticidal activity once the solution has dried. It must sprayed directly on the soft-bodied insects that it effectively controls. It also degrades quickly and will wash off leaf surfaces so that it won’t affect non-target insects, especially pollinators, or the lady beetles that consume the aphids in large quantities.

IMG_20170530_062842848

If you see (or have seen) psyllids or aphids you may want to do as I do and make a note of it in your calendar or your garden journal so that you can keep an eye out for them next year. Knowing when the aphids may show up on the honeysuckle gives me a bit of an edge in controlling them and allows the most blooms to come to fruition much to the enjoyment of humans, animals, and insects alike!

Susan Pelton

(all images and videos ©Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center)

It’s the very beginning of June in Connecticut.  Since mid May or so, gorgeous patches of pink, purple and white ‘wildflowers’ have appeared along roadsides.  A few years ago, my mom was visiting from Michigan around this time for a graduation.  She has been an avid gardener for many years and when she saw these flowers, she exclaimed, “oh, those wild phlox are just beautiful!”   So even a seasoned gardener can mistake this invasive plant, Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) for wild or garden phlox.

DamesRocket.GarlicMustardJAllen  J. Allen photo

Relatively speaking, Dame’s rocket (other common names include dame’s violet and mother-of-the-evening) is a newcomer to the status of invasive plant so its impacts on native species are not well studied.  It is known that it effectively forms monocultures where it has escaped from cultivation, is a prolific seed producer, and is not kept in check by pests or diseases in North America.  It is still readily available as seed commercially but is banned as an invasive in some states including Connecticut and Massachusetts. This means it cannot be bought, sold, cultivated or moved within these areas.   Unfortunately, it is still commonly included in ‘wildflower’ seed mixes for gardens in other parts of the United States.  According to a USDA distribution map, it is found throughout the continental U.S. except for the most southern parts and much of Canada.

Where did it come from?  It was introduced as an ornamental from Eurasia in the early 1600s so it’s had plenty of time to become established.  Dame’s rocket is in the plant family Brassicaceae so is related to the mustards, cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.  The leaves, oil and seeds are edible and the plant is cultivated for its oil which is used in perfumes. Young leaves are a good source of vitamin C and they can be used in salads.  Speaking of perfume, it’s reported that the flowers of this plant produce a stronger scent in the evening.

DamesRocketLeavesJAllenDamesRocketFlowersJAllen J. Allen photos

Characteristics that can help identify Dame’s rocket include branched clusters of white, pink, and purple flowers that are about 3/4-1″ across and have four petals.  True phlox flowers have five petals. In addition, true phlox (wild) flower later in the season.  The leaves of Dame’s rocket are alternate, lance shaped and have serrated or toothed edges as shown above. In addition, leaves (except for the lowest on the stem) are directly attached to the stem and have no petioles. In contrast, true phlox have opposite leaves.  I’ll pop in a photo of true phlox below so you can see the leaves and flowers together.

 Wild blue or woodland phlox (Phlox divaricatahttps://en.wikipedia.org photo. This species is native to eastern North America.

Another distinctive feature of Dame’s rocket is the long, spindly seed pod (silique).  These form from the bottom of the flower cluster upward, so the youngest flowers (formed over a 4-6 week period) are at the tops and produce seed pods last.  Seeds and pods mature over the summer and when dry they split open releasing seeds into the soil.  Some are eaten by birds allowing for longer distance dispersal.  Each plant can produce hundreds of seeds which can remain viable in the soil for many years.

Dame’s rocket seed pods (siliques) on the left (Mark Frey, The Presidio Trust , Bugwood.org.  First year rosette on the right (Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org).

This plant is considered a biennial or short term perennial.  The first season of growth from seed produces a low-growing rosette of leaves which survive and remain green through the first winter.  The next season a 2-4′ flower stalk is produced as shown above.  This will dieback in the fall and some plants will produce new flower stalks in the third year.   The plant appears perennial where established in part due to the large seed supply that is produced annually.

It’s hard to want to destroy such a beautiful plant but if removal is required the methods include mechanical (pulling), burning, or herbicide applications (useful for large populations).  The best time to pull plants is in spring before seed pods mature.  Seeds can still ripen on plants pulled at this time using nutrients from the stems and leaves so for effective eradication, bag or burn the plants and remove them.  If not feasible, pile the plants in the center of the area where there is likely to be a lot of seed in the soil already.  The pile can be covered with black plastic to heat the pile and kill some of the plants.  A good approach for herbicide use is to apply to rosettes in early spring or fall to avoid injuring desirable plants nearby.  In early spring they will not have germinated yet.  Temperatures should be at or above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

J. Allen

 

 

Having just returned from a trip to Sicily, I was struck by both the loveliness of the sloping, open landscapes and, the familiarity with many of the plants I encountered. Yes, being a tourist with a tour group took you to more scenic, touristy locations but it was awesome to see so many potted plants adorning rooftops, balconies, alleys and wherever else possible for plants to grow.

Taormina17

Pot and window boxes filled with flowers in Taormina

There were several plants that I had never met in real life. One of them was capers. I thought capers were from a plant in the nasturtium family. As it turns out, nasturtium seeds are pickled and used as ‘Poor Man’s Capers’. I grow deck-railing containers of nasturtiums every year for their fragrance, color, and for the hummingbirds. One of my sisters, who is much more into medicinal and culinary plants than I, munches on a blossom or two whenever she visits. The capers you and I purchase at the store are from the caper bush (Capparis spinosa) which is a perennial plant that has rounded leaves and white to pinkish flowers and grows prolifically in Sicily and other parts of the world with a more Mediterranean-like climate. The flower buds are hand-picked, pickled and used as capers. The fruit is also harvested, pickled and used as a seasoning.

Messina plant capers

Capers plant growing in crack in wall

If the architecture of ancient civilizations was covered in your history classes, you might remember the term, acanthus. Plants from the acanthus species were used by Romans and Greeks as medicinal and ornamental plants. Images of the leaves decorated the capitals of Corinthian columns as well as furniture, jewelry and other items.

Villa Romano acanthus leaves

Corinthian column decorated with Acanthus leaves

I think the species of acanthus growing in the parts of Sicily we visited was Acanthus mollis. Most of us New Englanders cannot grow this plant as it is hardy only to zone 6. The flowers are most curious. The ones we saw were white and 3-lobed and topped with a purplish bract. The foliage is prickly (acanthus is derived from the Greek word for thorns) and while it was delightful to meet this plant in person, under the right conditions it looks like it could claim a good chunk of garden space spreading via underground roots.

Syracusa Arch Park 14 Acanthus

Acanthus near ancient ruins in Syracusa

Oleanders lined many of the roadways with lantanas planted in the medium strips. The foliage of both are toxic to herbivores although birds eat the lantana berries and this plant can be spread from seeds in their droppings. Lantana camara is native to the American tropics. In some areas of the world it is considered a noxious weed. We grow this species mostly in containers to attract butterflies.

Lantana

Bright colored lantanas

Oleanders are so widespread worldwide that their region of origin is somewhat murky – perhaps southwest Asia. I had one as a potted plant for years. It was pink and smelled delicious. I sniffed every oleander I cane close to in Sicily but could not detect any with scent.

Flowers3

Red oleanders and pink bougainvillea

Almost everywhere we went, there were fig opuntias. The large cactus pads had few visible spines and large reddish fruits. This cactus is useful for erosion control and for its fruits that are made into jams and other items. There is a Sicilian liqueur called ‘Ficodi’ made from this plant and sold as a medicinal tonic or aperitif.

Taormina12

Fig opuntia along side of road in Taormina

The landscape was dotted with olive, almond and citrus trees. One olive tree at Agrigenta is believed to be the oldest in Sicily with its age pegged at about 500 years. The olives and almonds weren’t ripe yet but the lemons and oranges were just begging to be picked.

Orange Tree

Orange and lemon trees were everywhere

Colorful geraniums and petunias spilled from pots, planters and window boxes. They just added to the Mediterranean charm of these Old World ports and cities. So, this summer as I deadhead and groom my containers filled with geraniums and other plants, I can perhaps transport myself back to my idyllic week in Sicily – even if only in my mind.

Flowers2

Geraniums in urn

Dawn P.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” -Greek Proverb

 

Two of my favorite shade trees are real beauties: Horse Chestnut and Copper Beech. Both trees are large, making a commanding presence in a landscape. You will need a fairly open spot not too close to the house to give each plenty of room. Planted on the south-west side of a home will provide cooling shade during the summer. Both are deciduous, shedding their leaves for the winter, allowing the sunlight to warm the house in the winter.

Horse Chestnut, (Aesculus hippocastanum), is a stately 50 to 75 feet tall and 40 to 70 feet wide at maturity. The large, palmate leaves have an opposite leaf arrangement, and are a pretty dark green. Soon after the leaves emerge the tree produces large, white panicles around mid-May. Panicles are made up of individual white, perfect flowers with a yellow blotch at the base. This yellow blotch changes to a pinky-red as the flower ages. The flowers are very showy, and I think, the best features of a magnificent tree. And the bees love it.

Horse chestnut flower 2017 closeup

Horse chestnut is not a true chestnut as it is in a different genus. The nuts of Horse chestnuts are not edible due to their toxic levels of glycoside and saponin. The nuts are enclosed in a green, smoothed shell with some pointed warts. The American and Chinese chestnuts have spine covered shells. Nuts left on the ground through the will break dormancy in spring and start to grow mid-April. Dig the baby trees to move them where you would like them to grow.

 

Horse chestnut nuts May 2017

Horse chestnuts in spring ready to germinate.

Copper Beech trees are not really a copper color. More of a mahogany, but that name was already taken! Whatever you call it, it is strikingly gorgeous. The Latin name is Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’ group. There are quite a few named varieties of with the different shades of purple leaves. Popular ones are ‘cuprea’, ‘Brocklesby’ and Purpea Nana’. ‘Purpurea Pendula’ is a weeping cooper beech.

copper beech 2017 very close up

Copper Beech Flowers

Size varies with the many varieties. Some can reach 60 feet tall and 45 in width. Overall shape is an oval to more rounded with age. Flowers are small, not showy and a yellowy green in color. The male flowers hang down while the female flowers are held close to the twig. Flowers are wind pollinated. If female flowers do become fertilized, a spiny husk covering a triangular nut develops. Nuts are edible, but small. It will take ten years for trees to reach maturity before flower and nut production begins lightly and 30 years for a full harvest. It is best to purchase a balled and burlapped or potted tree to make sure the leaf color is to your liking. Seedlings can vary widely in their coloring.

-Carol Quish

“ The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

-Edwin Way Teale

crabapples along driveway route 85 May 7 2017

Crabapples along a fence highlight a driveway on Route 85 – May 2017

 

May is usually the time of warmer weather and sunny days that brighten the landscape again with flushes of green leaves and splashes of color from flowers. We look forward to another season of gardening and other outdoor activities, and the encounters with nature that are unavoidable as one ventures outside.

This May has been colder than I would prefer, but at least it has seen more rainfall than last spring. The reason this is especially good news is that the gypsy moth caterpillars have recently hatched, and the rains bring hope that the fungal pathogen, Entomophaga maimaiga, will help diminish populations of this pest. Last year they went unchecked for most of their caterpillar stage as drought conditions kept fungal spores from germinating.

wilsons warbler May 12, 2014

A Wilson’s warbler stopped by on its way north

Ferns are opening up now and their graceful forms are a welcome decoration wherever they appear. My personal favorites are the scented fern, cinnamon fern and the diminutive polypody which are often found growing together on rocks with mosses. Polypody work well in dish gardens coupled with moss and partridgeberry, and can be brought indoors for the winter, or left outside if that works better.

sensitive ferns

Sensitive ferns in a wetland area

 

Most trees have leafed out by now, with the pokey sycamores and hickories lagging behind, as usual. With the flush of leaves come the migrating warblers. Caterpillars are now found eating leaves in the tree canopies, and this is where many of the warblers find some protein for their return to northern breeding grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, and thrushes are all back and they have transformed the woodlands to a symphony of birdsong. Also, barred and great horned owls born in late winter and early spring have left their nests, and parents can often be heard calling to their young. Many robins have already hatched their first brood as of two weeks ago, so it must be true that the early bird gets the worm…

mother and two baby great horned owls Pamm Cooper photo 2017

These young great horned owls left the nest days after this picture was taken.

 

Dogwoods have had spectacular blooms this year, and crabapples and viburnums as well. Yellow water lilies, Nuphar lutea, are beginning to bloom. This plant closes its flower late in the day, trapping beetles or flies overnight who will pollinate it as they try to escape.

Yellow pond lilies Nuphar luteum Airline 5-14-16

Limber honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a native vine-like shrub that is infrequently encountered, is also starting to bloom. The tubular red flowers have distinctive yellow stamens and attract hummingbirds and native bumblebees. Fringed polygala, a small, pink native wildflower with flowers that make me think of Mickey Mouse with an airplane propeller, are just beginning to bloom and are often found together with stands of the native Canada Mayflower. Native columbine are also blooming now and native Pinxter azalea should be following shortly.

limber honeysuckle May 7 2017

limber honeysuckle

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Interesting galls are forming on the young leaves on wild cherry. Spindle galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes emarginatae, are red spindle-like structures of leaf materialcaused by the mites feeding within. These tiny mites begin feeding as soon as cherry leaves expand in the spring. Although they can occur in large numbers, the galls will not stop leaves from photosynthesizing, and the trees will put out new leaves after mites are inactive.

spindle galls on cherry

Spindle galls on a small black cherry

Giant silkworm moths such as Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna have been overwintering in cocoons and should be eclosing any time from mid- May to June. These spectacular moths usually fly during the night, but are often attracted to lights. Since they cannot feed, if you find any lingering about in the daytime, don’t worry about what to feed them- just enjoy their company!

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13

Female Cecropia moth

Swallowtail, Painted Lady, American coppers, Juvenal’s duskywing and many other butterflies are out and about. Wherever you see them, check out larval host plants for caterpillars. Sometimes they are as close as your own backyard.

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Here’s hoping for timely rains during the summer, warmer days to get our blood moving and an abundance of fruits, flowers and birds that to follow May’s fore-running to summer.

 

Pamm Cooper

One of the joys of the return to warm weather is seeing the plethora of flowering plants that suddenly spring up. From early flowering shrubs such as forsythia and azalea to the daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and crocus it seems that we are suddenly inundated with color. I love to fill my window boxes and planters with the happy pansies and petunias that are able to withstand some of the cool temperatures that we can expect at this time of year.

 

IMG_20170415_092919161_HDR

Pansies

 

These first selections of annuals are just the beginning of the possibilities that lay before us when it comes to choosing varieties for window boxes, planters and hanging baskets. Container plantings allow us select plants that may not be native to our location due to the severity of our winters, to try out new varieties and combinations, and to easily relocate colorful blooms from one spot to another in our yard.

It is not unusual for the window box planting to be delayed as we are compelled to allow nature to take its course. Female doves often set up their nests in our window boxes or empty hanging planters and what can you do other than wait it out?

 

Mourning dove

If you have containers that are family-free you can certainly get them ready for the season. Any planters that did not over-winter well, such as cracked or split pots, should be disposed of and replaced. Empty out any plant debris or soil that is left from last year and sanitize the containers with a 10% bleach solution. Rinse them thoroughly and allow to dry in the sun. I find that coco fiber coir liners do not last more than a season or two so this is a good time to assess and replace those also. Although this spring I have spotted sparrows and mourning doves pulling out the fibers for use in their nests so I may leave one or two liners where they can get to them.

 

IMG_20160818_085918268_HDR

Vinca, evolvulus, lobularia

When selecting new containers keep their location in mind. Larger containers that contain a fig tree, a wisteria and a bi-color buddleia are placed on our ground level patio where it is easier to bring them into the garage for the winter. These plants don’t require much attention through the winter although I will water them every few weeks. Ok, I say that I water them but what I mean is I will dump the ice cubes from a depleted iced coffee into them as I walk by! They have started to show emerging greenery so I have pulled them into a shady area outside and will slowly bring them back into the full sun where they will spend the rest of the season.

 

2012-10-06_14-29-06_972

Bee visiting a bicolor buddleia

 

Hanging planters and railing planters can bring color and interest while not taking up valuable floor space on decks. Dining outside in the early evening is great when the hummingbirds and pollinators are so close by that we hold our breath lest we disturb them as they visit the flowers!

 

_20140807_184545

Hummingbird moth on a petunia

Selecting the plants that will go into your containers is limited only by your personal preferences and by the sun requirements for the given plant. Containers give us an opportunity to bring some non-native plants into our yard, especially those that are not suited to our winters. I find mandevilla to be a lovely container plant. As a tropical species it loves the full sun location of our front porch, produces striking blossoms all summer long, and will overwinter in the house.

 

These plants are about as large as I will choose but there are so many options for really large planters. I love seeing what the landscapers on the UConn campus come up with each season. Coleus, Vinca, sweet potato vine, geranium and petunias will profusely fill out many containers.

Of course, most of us don’t have a team of landscapers at our beck and call so once you have made your container and plant selections the next step is maintenance. The sun and wind will dry out most container plantings more quickly than if the same plants were in the ground, especially when in porous containers such as clay pots. Plastic vessels will retain water a bit better but its best to check all pots on a daily basis.

It’s no longer recommended that rocks or stones be placed in the bottom of containers for drainage. This procedure actually prevents excess water from draining from the soil layer and may keep the roots too wet. A piece of screen or a coffee filter placed in the bottom of the planter is sufficient to prevent soil from washing out.

Copy of IMG_20160608_081451273

Removing spent blooms and pinching back leggy plants will encourage plants to produce more flowers. Also, their fertilizer needs are different from the same plant in the landscape. Using a teaspoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water will help prevent the buildup of excess salt that can afflict container plantings (you know when you see that white crust forming on the surface of the soil or on the rims of clay pots). If it does appear just flush water through the soil until it drains out the bottom.

Container grown plants don’t have to be limited to flowering annuals. Using them for vegetables and herbs is a great option. A planter of herbs near the kitchen door provides really fresh additions to our meals and beverages in the form of rosemary, thyme and mint. It’s also a great way to contain mint which can easily take over a garden bed.

IMG_20160804_082808434

Another edible planting from last year included mint in a container which had eggplant and the non-edible tourenia. The purple flowers and the deep aubergine of the mature eggplant complimented the stems and leaves of the mint and the purple of the tourenia.

IMG_20160719_075428760

I have also grown the typical patio tomato plants and the not-so-typical potato plants in containers. It’s a great way to easily harvest the potatoes as you just dump the whole container out onto a tarp and ‘pick’ the potatoes. Controlling the insects and diseases that plague these plants is aided by the fact that you start out with a sanitized container and fresh soil each year. So, as you can see, there is no reason to contain yourself when it comes to container gardening.

Susan Pelton