tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

 

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

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Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracillis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

 

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

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There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

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Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

Just as the addition of a colorful bow dresses up a gift, both mulch and perennial ground covers can add the finishing touch to garden beds. When used to cover bare soil, both mulch and living ground covers discourage weeds, control soil erosion, and stabilize soil temperature and moisture. The advantage of one over the other comes when considering that mulch must be reapplied regularly, and ground covers, once established, reproduce themselves and need only periodic attention to thin or control some that wander. Often, it’s the final vision the gardener has for the landscape that  will determine which to use.

Ground cover types range from slow growers to ones that are true invasives. Slow growers include several varieties of shade tolerant phlox such as the creeping phlox (Phlox stolinifera), and the woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).  The moss phlox (Phlox subulata) enjoys sunny spots as does candytuft (Iberis sempervirens).

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Moss phlox-bugwood.org photo

Candytuft John Ruler University of Georgia Bugwood.org

Candytuft photo by John Ruler University of Georgia Bugwood.org

If you are an impatient gardener, moderately speedy popular plants include sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), and Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila).  Each of these plants prefers shady areas for best growth, and they generally do well in moderately moist, fertile soil.

Other moderate creepers that do well in part-shade to sunny locations include bugleweed (Ajuga reptens), low growing sedum, such as Sedum rupestra, periwinkle/myrtle (Vinca minor), and creeping thyme (Thymus praecox). These plants prefer moderately moist soil except for the thyme, which prefers a somewhat dry soil.

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Ajuga

This group of plants also includes the familiar pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis). It grows by rhizomes that form stems that spread underground, producing roots that send up new plants. In ideal growing conditions it can be aggressive but can be controlled by removing the roaming underground rooted stems by hand.  It grows in partial and full shade as well as partial sun, but full sun causes poor growth. It needs a moist, well-drained soil and does not tolerate drought.

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Pachysandra under trees and shrubs

A group of plants that should be avoided in home gardens includes those that are very aggressive growers. One in this group, goutweed/bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), is on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List. It is said to need a mechanical barrier surrounding it to prevent it from wandering beyond its intended space.

goutweed, varigated

Variegated goutweed

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Goutweed- green leaves

A plant of similar aggressive habit, gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), required hours of work to remove a mature patch –  little volunteers are still popping up weeks later! While attractive when massed in open spaces, it is so aggressive that “Perennial Gardens” author Allan Armitage wrote that the right place for this plant “happens to be an island bed surrounded by concrete.”  Two plants also bearing the loosestrife name, garden yellow loosestrife (Lysmachia vulgaris), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria,), are included on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List and cannot be sold in the state.

Sometimes mulch is the preferred ground cover. If a perennial bed has plants with attractive foliage or flowers that deserve attention, or where it would be hard to provide needed moisture, mulch can be a good option.

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Natural cedar mulch

Mulch can be organic, from shredded tree products, straw, salt march hay, dried grass clippings, compost, or pine needles. To be effective at slowing weed growth, helping retain soil moisture and moderating soil temperature, organic mulch must be replaced regularly.  However, it is not necessary to remove older mulch before adding a new layer. Often older mulch develops a crust-like surface so it should be loosened with a rake or other pronged tool so water will penetrate the surface. Some prefer using a color-treated mulch, which is not harmful to plants since the color comes from vegetable dyes.

Some problems that can come from using organic mulch include making the layer thicker than 3 inches, which prevents water and oxygen from penetrating the soil, and putting the mulch too close to the base of shrubs and trees, which encourages snails, slugs, burrowing animals and wood boring insects to settle in.

Inorganic mulch includes crushed stone, gravel, black plastic or landscape fabric. Depending on the choice of material, inorganic mulches have various advantages and disadvantages. Some allow water and oxygen to penetrate the barrier and keep weeds from breaking through. Some last for many years but some break down when exposed to sunlight and don’t allow water and oxygen to penetrate. Some are inexpensive, and others are expensive.  Budget can be a deciding factor.

When it comes to choosing between use of a living ground cover or a type of mulch, the final decision depends on the reason for using the ground cover, how much energy the gardener has to maintain the ground cover and even what image the gardener wants to project for the garden beds. In the end, the choice should consider how the ground cover will benefit the plants that are growing in the garden.

Jean Laughman, UConn Home and Garden Education Center

Was your apple or crab apple tree defoliated last year, with nothing but the apples left on the naked tree? Chances are, it was apple scab. I have seen many, many apple trees infected with scab this year as well, and I’m predicting we’ll see many more naked trees this fall.

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Initial apple scab lesion. Photo by A. Beissinger

Caused by the fungus Venturia inequalis, you’ll see apple scab infections start in late May/early June in Connecticut. Other species of Venturia fungi infect pear and willow as well (Venturia pirina and Venturia saliciperda, respectively), and cause similar symptoms. It is important to note that though Venturia fungi cause similar symptoms, each species is very host specific and will not infect if their host is not present.

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Apple scab lesions spreading on the leaf surface. Photo by A. Beissinger.

On apple and crab apple, infection first occurs at bud break, but is not usually detectable at this stage. Trees flower well. Spores are spread by rain-splash and wind. The first signs of infection are olive green to black lesions on susceptible leaves, and these lesions are actually the fuzzy spores of the fungus. As the fungus develops, the lesions grow in size and the infected leaves begin to yellow. Leaves will prematurely drop from the trees, and the colonized leaves will still be able to emit spores that continuously infect the tree throughout the season. When the trees set fruit, black, scabby raised spots will appear on the skin.

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Magnified lesion on the leaf. Note the velvety appearance of the spores. Photo by A. Beissinger

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Spores of Venturia pirina. Photo by A. Beissinger

Usually scab is more of a concern to commercial apple and pear growers because it reduces fruit yield and fruit quality. As a result, most apple orchards have either a regular spray program or other means of preventative apple scab management. This is especially important because apple scab is a polycyclic disease, meaning that there are multiple infection periods per season. If an orchard treated just once for apple scab, the infection could easily reemerge only a few days later, wasting time, money, and apples! Over several years, repeated defoliation can eventually lead to death of the tree if apple scab goes unmanaged.

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Apple scab infected leaves beginning to yellow. Photo by A. Beissinger

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Leaves will often completely yellow before dropping. Photo by A. Beissinger.

In a home setting, one of the most important things you can do is rake up your fallen leaves. The fungi overwinter in leaves and fallen debris. A fall application of urea around the base of the tree can be helpful as well. If your tree is already infected this year, a fungicide application will not help. Only consider fungicides in the spring of your 3rd year that the tree has been completely defoliated.

-Abby Beissinger

After finally getting the vegetable and herb gardens planted and mulched and all the container plants in their proper homes, it’s time to turn my attention to the flower and ornamental beds. Annuals were added to some garden beds as I do so appreciate their cheery, season long color.

herb garden 6-20

Herb garden all weeded, planted and mulched. Photo by dmp, 2020

In the cellar door bed, 3 ‘Sunfinity’ sunflowers were planted. These are new, dwarf hybrids reaching only 3 to 4 feet tall and producing several stems, each with multiple flowers reputedly over the whole summer. We shall see. No deadheading required was on the label but I find that they look much better with the spent blossoms removed as the flowers are several inches across and the ones gone by are pretty noticeable. Their only downside so far is that they are pollenless but to make up for that I have them surrounded by sweet alyssum, a pollinator favorite, and have several rows of pollen bearing sunflowers started from seed in the vegetable garden.

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Sunfinity, dwarf sunflower. Photo by dmp, 2020

Salmon colored salvias in one of the front beds harmonize nicely with the orange, blue and white blossoms in the window boxes above it. All was well for the first few days after setting out the transplants and then holes began to appear in the leaves. The culprit – slugs! Since it has been so dry, one wouldn’t think there would be much of a problem with them but all of the newly planted beds have been receiving copious amounts of water so the new plants could become established.

slug damage on salvia

Slug damage on salvia. Photo by dmp, 2020

The reason slug damage was suspected was two-fold. The holes on the leaves were irregularly shaped, typical of slug damage plus a slight slime trail was noticed in the morning. These soft-bodied, shell-less mollusks tend to feed at night and rest in a shaded, moist site during sunny days. One reason they always seem so plentiful is that they are not picky about what they eat. Meals may consist of your more tender plants as well as fungi, lichens, worms, animal droppings, insects and carrion. Often, they consume many times their own weight on a daily basis. Imagine our grocery bills if we needed to eat that much?

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Slug. Photo by dmp, 2020

Slugs produce slime to help them move and for moisture control among other reasons. To tell if your plants are being feasted on by these voracious critters, look for dried slime trails on leaves or on the ground around affected plants in the morning. Since I typically find slugs mostly in beds that are presently being regularly watered, I just use some diatomaceous earth on the mulch around plant groups and try not to get water on the DE as that lessens its effectiveness. As plants become established and watering is less often, slugs are not a serious problem for me except during rainy summers.

Next on to the holly hedge. Probably close to 25 years ago, I planted a 20-foot hedge of ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ hollies. It has grown mightily and even with regular pruning it is about 6-foot high and wide and a handsome barrier between ours and the neighbor’s house. There were many distractions last year and I really did not start noticing something was wrong with the hedge until a large bare patch appeared over the winter.

scale damage to holly

Scale damage to holly. Photo by dmp, 2020

Finally having a bit of time to investigate further, it appears sadly that my plants are infected with cottony camellia scale. These insects feed on a number of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. As adults, scale insects are immobile but the females lay egg masses and after hatching, the young scales, known as crawlers, move to other locations on the plant and then proceed to cover themselves with their protective armor. This makes them challenging to control as adults. Crawlers typically hatch in June but are small and not easily seen. I used a hose end sprayer to apply a horticultural oil this past weekend and will probably do this several more times over the summer. With scale, persistence is key.

scale on holly

Cottony camellia scale on holly. Photo by dmp, 2020

While I love roses, I only have a handful growing in my gardens now including some old fashioned, own-root roses, a rambler, 2 miniatures and 2 hybrid teas. My favorite hybrid tea is ‘Peace’ as not only is it a gorgeous pale yellow flushed with pink rose with quite the history, but it also was my grandmother’s favorite and it was time spent with her that gave me my love of gardening.

Peace

‘Peace’ rose. Photo by dmp, 2019.

Leaves on several of the roses were skeletonized and checking underneath the leaves was lurking the rose sawfly larvae, more commonly called rose slugs because they secrete a slimy substance over their bodies that makes them somewhat resemble small slugs. The larvae of rose sawflies are about ½ to ¾ inch long and yellowish-green in color.

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Rose slug on underside of leaves. Photo by dmp,2020

The rose sawfly emerge from soil after overwintering as larvae in early spring. They mate and eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves. After hatching, the larvae feed for a month or so and then drop to the ground to pupate. Luckily the species that is attacking my roses only has one generation per year. Since I only have a few plants, I just inspect the undersides of the leaves and crush the larvae with my fingers. If large populations were noticed, I could enlist the help of some insecticidal soap or neem oil.

rose slug damage on Peace

Rose slug damage on ‘Peace’ rose. Photo by dmp,2020

I’m sure there will be many more insects to battle this gardening season, but I’ll start with these.

 

May your gardens be relatively pest free.

 

Dawn P.

mountain laurel

Native mountain laurel blooms in June

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

–  Al Bernstein 

June is the month where green has become the main the landscape color with flowers and some early fruits sprinkling a bit of color in gardens and wild landscape. It is a cheery time for me as the best is yet to come. Butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other insects are everywhere now and provide a little bit of interest as they go about their daily lives. I stop by the woods early in the morning to listen to wood thrushes, veerys, vireos, grosbeaks, catbirds, tanagers and so many other birds of the forest that sing so sweetly at this time of year.

veery

Veery

common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat carrying an insect to its young

Wandering in my yard this week I found a little surprise- an enchanting Clytus arietis wasp beetle resting its little self on a fern. This diminutive, long-horned beetle has striking yellow markings on a dark brown to black narrow body and it has cricket-like back legs. Its larvae live in warm, dry, dead wood, favoring birches and willows. Adults can be found during the day from May- August resting in the open on low vegetation.

clytus arietis wasp beetle

Colorful Clytus arietis wasp beetle

Maple eyespot galls are brightly colored circles of red and yellow that appear on the surface of red maple leaves in early June. Caused by the ocellate gall midge Acericecis ocellaris, this tiny fly deposits eggs on the underside of red maple leaves, which causes a chemical response in the leaf at each spot an egg was laid. The larva hatches and feeds on leaf tissue within the small disk- shaped gall that was formed.

maple eyespot gall on red maple

Maple eyespot gall

Ebony jewelwing damselflies Calopteryx maculate are easily identified by their  metallic iridescent green/blue color and totally black wings. They can be found near streams and rivers, but are especially common found near shallow streams in forests. This damselfly is unlike other jewelwings because it is the only one that sometimes rambles far from water.

green damselfly Ruby fenton

Ebony jewelwing damselfly

White-tailed deer fawns are generally born from late May to June and can sometimes be seen trying to keep up with their mothers early in the morning. They often get exhausted doing so and collapse to rest, sometimes in unusual places. Fawns are generally left alone during the day and the doe will return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn and sometimes move it along to a safer place.

fawn lying in grass beside a brook 6-3-2020

fawn tired from following its mom

Blue-eyed grass and orange hawkweed are blooming in the wild now, as are wild geraniums, beautybush, viburnums, bearded irises, Carolina spicebush, mountain laurels, tulip trees and raspberry. Grape should be flowering soon as will catalpa trees. Catalpa flowers are pollinated by several species of sphinx moths, who visit flowers mostly during the night.

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Blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium albidum is not a grass but a member of the iris family

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Orange hawkweed

Butterflies and moths are more abundant now as we have warmer weather and plants that have leafed out. Giant silkworm moths like the beautiful luna moth emerge from mid-May through summer. Many are strongly attracted to lights and are often found resting on the sides of buildings where lights are left on all night. These large moths do not feed, but live off of stored food until they mate, perishing soon after. Red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails are just a couple of butterflies that visit my property and lay eggs on some black cherries planted a few years ago.

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The fabulous Luna moth, one of our native giant silkworm moths

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Red-spotted purple butterfly seen June 5 2020- the first of the year for me

Walking through a woodland path at a nature preserve I heard a buzzy high-pitched call above me and saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher sitting on her eggs in a nest. The nest was well camouflaged with a coating of lichens so it blended in perfectly with the lichen encrusted branches all around it.

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A blue-gray gnatcatcher nest is barely visible in the crotch of this tree

There is so much going on in the outdoors now wherever you happen to go. There are so many flowers yet to bloom, and so many young animals and birds just getting to know the world around them. As I watch bees and butterflies, and listen to the birds sing and the tree frogs trilling away day and night, I think Aldo Leopold got it just right when he wrote “ In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.”

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A little surprise

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

Invasive species out-compete native plants.

Sometimes plants entice us to enjoy them with an abundance of flowers, brilliant colors or sweet fragrances. They use these lures to keep us from noticing the stealthy way they overtake more subtle but productive native species.  Several examples of this invasive style of growth are showing up in wooded areas and back yards this time of year.

 Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate)

Originally introduced from parts of Europe and Asia for food and medicinal purposes in the mid-1800s, this flowering plant has become extensively invasive in most parts of the US. It appears in early spring in the undergrowth of woodlands, forests, along roadways and anywhere there is a bare, moist or dry open area. Its presence overtakes many native plants.

garlic mustard

Garlic Mustard

It is a biennial that takes 2 years to mature enough to produce flowers that provide seeds.  During its first year of growth seeds germinate while the low-growing plants develop rosettes of leaves that can be hard to identify as an invasive. Its distinguishing fragrance of garlic when the leaves are crushed makes it easy to identify. A stalk appears the second year with small, white 4-petaled flowers atop the stalk. By the end of May seed pods that are dark and 4-sided develop and may each contain 22 or more seeds. The plant dies back by the end of June and the seeds are dispersed by humans or wildlife. The two-year cycle of germination and seed production continues as the plant spreads into new areas. Some research suggests that garlic mustard prohibits the growth of other plants in nearby areas. Seeds can survive as long as 5 years in the soil.

Management requires long-term  persistence. Hand- pulling to remove roots before seeds develop can be effective for small infestations. Removing plants with flowers and/or seed heads should be bagged and disposed of in the trash,  not in wood piles or compost areas. Chemical control can be effective but must be repeated due to the presence of seeds surviving in the soil.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) 

Honeysuckle plants were likely introduced into North America as ornamentals from Asia beginning in the 1750s. Some varieties arrived through the 1800s, and as late as the mid-1900s some varieties were still sold for various purposes such as arboretum specimens, for soil erosion control and for wildlife cover and food. Some varieties are still sold in nursery centers in some states; they are all prohibited for sale in Connecticut. They have all escaped cultivation and the seeds are spread by birds and wildlife.

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group lists 6 types of honeysuckle on the state’s list of invasive or potentially invasive non-native species. They include the vine Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and the shrubs Amur honeysuckle (L. maackii ), Morrow’s honeysuckle (L. morrowii), and Belle honeysuckle (L. x bella). These are all considered invasive. The two potentially invasive varieties include the shrubs Tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica) and Dwarf honeysuckle (L. xylosteum). Plants that appear on this list are prohibited from importation, movement, sale, purchase, transplanting, cultivation and distribution under CT General Statutes §22a-381d.

lonicera morrowii early spring buds

Morrow’s honeysuckle with flower buds in early spring

Honeysuckle shrubs are leggy, have an open form and range from 8-12 feet high. The vining variety can grow to 30 feet or more. Leaves typically are opposite, oblong and have smooth edges. The leaf upper and underside of some varieties are smooth, other varieties are hairy. Green berries appear in early spring. Small tubular flowers appear within the leaves in May and June and can be white, creamy, yellow or pink. Often several petals cluster to form a tube. If sliced open, stems on non-native varieties will have a brownish hollow center. Stems on native species will have a solid center. Depending on the species, berries can be orange to dark red and ripen in mid-summer until late fall.

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Morrow’s honeysuckle blooming

True to their classification, these plants can form populations that out-compete and suppress the growth of native species.  They can deplete the habitat of moisture, nutrients and sunlight. In addition, the nutrients in the berries of invasive species are lower than native varieties. This requires birds to spend time eating large amounts of less nutritious food and could affect their migration.

While honeysuckle population numbers are low in an area, hand removal of seedlings or young plants is best before berries ripen and birds begin to spread them while feeding. Controlled application of herbicides might be required for areas of large infestation. A biological control is not known.

Native deciduous plants such as chokeberry (Aronia ssp.), spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and dogwood  (Cornus ssp.) will all provide food and cover for wildlife as alternatives to honeysuckle.

 Winged Euonymus  Euonymus alatus

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus), also known as winged euonymus, was introduced in the 1860s from Asia as an ornamental landscape plant. It is used extensively along roadsides, in parks and residential plantings and to beautify industrial parks all along the east coast and southern areas of the US.

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Winged Euonymus

It is a multi-stemmed, branching shrub that usually grows 8-10 feet but when mature can grow to 20 ft. It is called “winged” because of the shape of its stems. Small, greenish flowers appear in spring, followed by a hard fruit which matures to a reddish purple in the fall. The leaves of the bush become a brilliant red, giving it the popular name “burning bush.”

It is on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group list of invasive species but its sale is not prohibited. It produces hundreds of seeds annually which generate many seedlings under the parent plant as well as in areas removed from its parent, such as surrounding woodland areas and neighbors’ yards. It seeds are spread by wind and birds.

Its spread can be controlled manually, mechanically or chemically.

Jean Laughman

 

A quick review of our soil tests from the 2020 spring season so far saw a greater than 10 percent increase in samples submitted for vegetable gardens. Perhaps it is just coincidental but this may also reflect a way many of us are dealing with these tough economic times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For whatever reason, be assured that the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab remains open to accept your soil samples.

My grandparents (may they rest in peace) lived through the Great Depression years of 1929 into the 1930’s. When they came to this country as European immigrants they brought with them, among other items, basic food growing skills. Despite the relatively small lots in their Buffalo, NY backyards, they managed to grow a magnificent harvest of fruits and vegetables which were used fresh and preserved, and distributed among family and neighbors alike. I thought it might be interesting to review some other economically challenging times Americans have been faced with over the past century to see how local food gardening figured into coping with financial hardship.

As citizens left the agriculturally-based countryside and moved into urban areas, less food was grown by individual persons and instead they frequented the neighborhood grocery store for their fruits and vegetables and other staples. In times of good fortunes, their urban wages covered the cost of groceries. During economic downturns when unemployment became more widespread, many became impoverished and unable to buy enough food to feed their families. One such time in this country was during the 1890’s. It was during this period that ‘Pingree’s Potato Patches’ came into being.

Haze S. Pingree was the mayor of Detroit and requested that owners of vacant lots allow the unemployed to grow vegetables on their land. This saved the city money because less city aid was necessary to help the unemployed. It saved the taxpayers money because their taxes didn’t go up as high as they would have if they had to purchase food that wasn’t being produced locally. But the real benefit was to the unemployed who now had, at least temporarily, a feeling of self-respect and accomplishment, not to mention the fresh produce and opportunities for exercise and to socialize with other city residents.

Planting a ‘Liberty Garden’ was the patriotic thing to do during the First World War. Food production in Europe had dropped off precipitously because the farmers had left their fields to go to war and also, growing crops was not easy to do in war zones. It fell to the Americans to grow and supply food for the 120 million residents of the Allied countries. In 1917, the National War Garden Commission was founded by Charles Lathrop Park and there were more than 3 million garden plots by the end of that year. Americans were encouraged to plant gardens to feed ourselves and our allies, reduce fuel and transportations costs and share in this tremendous burden of war. Posters, cartoons, press releases and pamphlets served to educate gardeners on growing and preserving the harvest, and foster national interest in growing food.

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Dig for Victory by artist Peter Fraser from Wikipedia.org

President Woodrow Wilson further encouraged the ranks of the food growing public saying, “Everyone who creates or cultivates a garden helps…..This is the time for America to correct her unpardonable fault of wastefulness and extravagance.” By 1918, there were over 5 million garden plots!

The 2009 economic crisis had many likening it to the Great Depression, which started in1929 and lasted well into the late 1930’s. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs in America but it too had worldwide financial repercussions. Relief gardens, sometimes referred to as welfare gardens or subsistence gardens were set up with governmental assistance to provide food and work opportunities. The greater governmental involvement probably sprung from the fact that it wasn’t the individual who was responsible for this massive economic failing but rather the inadequacies of the system as a whole.

Victory Garden SB207

Recreated Victory Garden at Strawberry Banke. Photo by dmp, 2007

It took several years to set up the gardening programs during the Great Depression but by 1933, most were resolved. Also non-governmental organizations participated in the war to combat hunger. Those who owned their own plot of land were encouraged to use it for food production and leave the community garden spots for those less fortunate. Both seeds and gardening supplies were distributed to the gardeners. Some farmers criticized the program believing that it was contributing to overproduction.

With President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ policy in 1933, over 3 billion dollars of aid was given to work garden programs being distributed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Increased relief dollars, not surprising, came with stricter eligibility restrictions and not everyone in need was able to obtain assistance through these gardening programs. Finally, in 1935, funding was cut for these relief garden programs although some gardens, for example, those in New York City, continued to be cultivated. Working in the relief garden programs was no longer seen as an opportunity to improve one’s circumstances but simply as a food source for those less fortunate.

Victory garden w red orach SB07

Recreated Victory Garden at Strawberry Banke, Photo by dmp, 2007

Just a few short years later, with the start of World War II, ‘Victory Gardens’ began sprouting up in response to the War Food Administration’s National Victory Garden Program. Some of these gardens were vestiges of WWI or depression era gardens but many were recent arrivals. Goals for these gardens included lessening the demands on commercial vegetable growers and processors so more food would be available to feed our troops, reducing food transportation needs to conserve energy for war efforts, increase self-sufficiency by preserving food for future needs, and to boost American morale by participating in healthy exercise and nutritious eating.

victory garden sign

Victory garden sign, Photo by dmp,2020

Even Eleanor Roosevelt rallied to the cause having a Victory Garden installed on the grounds of the White House although apparently it was, at first, a source of distress to the USDA as they feared is would have a negative impact on the food industry. Nonetheless, the USDA did come round and ended up distributing information about food gardening in their public services booklets.

Efforts to cultivate Victory Gardens were enormously successful with 5.5 million gardeners participating in 1942. Seed companies had been remarking about the increase in vegetable seed sales this past year but it was nothing compared to over 300 percent increase they saw back then! Estimates by the USDA are that the Victory Gardens were producing 9 to 10 million pounds of produce which is about 44 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed at that time!

The war ended. Growing one’s own food was not high on the list of priorities as attention turned to rock and roll, teen idols like Elvis Presley, blue collar jobs, poodle skirts, drive ins, Betty Crocker casseroles and production of Baby Boomers.

While no governmental figure, that I am aware of, is encouraging growing one’s own food, the increased demand for seeds, fruit plants and chicks seems to indicate a real concern that food items may be limited as this pandemic eludes control. Folks with plant cultural or pest questions are welcome to contact the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu. We’re here to help you grow.

Stay safe.

Dawn P.

Lilac in snow 3

These are some crazy times lately. Snow in the second week of May just adds to the disruptions in our lives right now. Folks are looking to their yard and gardens to bring stability to the upheaval in their lives, and snow and cold weather does not ease the mind. However, mother nature has a way of healing the plants and in doing so, shows us we will heal, too.

Some blossoms will sustain damage without the entire plant being lost. Some plants will succumb to the freeze, but these plants are ones that grow naturally and natively in much warmer areas which would not experience snow or freezing weather. If tomatoes or marigolds were planted out in the garden, they most likely were killed from the freeze. See packets and transplant labels state to wait to plant after all danger of frost has passed. For us in Connecticut, May 15th is the average last frost date. I err on the side of caution, waiting until Memorial Day when the soil as warmed considerably before planting cucumbers, peppers, petunias, squash and tomatoes. Putting these plants into cold soil will shock and stunt them for the rest of the growing season.

Perennial plants in our area are like old friends, returning home after a long absence. The familiarity of finding them in walk abouts, makes the world seem normal. Even some stalwart rhubarb laden with snow gives me hope we will weather  our storms. Rhubarb is a hardy perennial vegetable, providing pies and baked goods from its leaf stalk. Don’t eat the leaves as they contain a high level of oxalates the body doesn’t handle well. Better to use the leaves in the compost or lay them on the ground in the vegetable garden to keep the weeds down. They cover a lot of area.

Rhubarb in snowEarlier in the week, I removed a flowering stalk from the rhubarb plant, to conserve the plant’s energy by not producing seed. Removal of the flower helps the clump grow bigger and get stronger.

rhubarb flower stalk

Cut the rhubarb flower stalk at the base of the plant and compost it or use it in a flower arrangement.

Lilacs are a long-lived, woody shrub capable of with-standing freezes and snow. The flower buds were encased with ice and snow, but should bounce right back; only time will tell. The plant itself can live for over 100 years!

Lilac in snow one bud open

Magnolia is  another woody tree that lives a long time, but its flowers are often damaged by frost and cold weather. The photo below was taken before the snow  but after a frost, of Magnolia x soulangeana, showing the damage to the open blossom and the newly opened flower that was in bud at the time of the frost. After today’s snow, the petals have all fallen.Magnolia flower and cold damaged one

Flowering quince is a hardy shrub tolerant of late freezes. Its scarlet flowers didn’t blink with a covering of snow, shaking them off to shine brightly by noon once the sun came out. Each blossom should be appreciated up close for its rose like shape. Unfortunately, it is a pretty scraggly and unkempt specimen the rest of the year. She reminds of a  disheveled  and gangly teenage boy that cleans up nicely for prom, but only once a year.

quince flowering

Clove current is blooming, and before the snow released its spice scented aroma to soft wind. Hopefully, once the warmer weather returns so will the shrub’s offering to those in backyard.

 

Clove current flower

I spoke of plants returning like old friends, expecting nothing from you except your company. They don’t try to change you or bring you around to around to their new found way of processing the world. Plants would never talk politics with you. They are just happy with your company. I think people could take a lesson or two from plants. Even weeds are consistently reappearing, each in their own time bringing a sense of comfortable familiarity. Chickweed has arrived, budded up with blossoms open in sunnier spots.

Chickweed

Bedstraw aka catchweed is entwining the old-fashioned shrub roses rescued from a 1600’s cemetery on Cape Cod. The paving truck was laying an asphalt walkway right over the rambling mass of thorny branches. I had to at least save a few in the way of its destructive path. The bedstraw always appears only in these bushes, making me think they must be old friends, too. I pull a few but don’t have the heart to remove them all, plus I like their airy foliage mixing with the deep pink roses once they bloom in June.

bedstraw at rose base

Milkweed shoots are up, promising a food source for many caterpillars and other insects. The monarch butterfly used milkweed species exclusively on which to lay eggs and for its larva. Common milkweed can become weedy as it spreads via seed and root, enlarging its colony each year.

Milkweed shoots

 

I hope you find the return of old friends in the garden and maybe add a few new ones this season.

-Carol Quish

columbine Ruby Fenton May 12.2012

Native columbine

“Do you know why wildflowers are the most beautiful blossoms of all, my son?”

― Micheline Ryckman,  The Maiden Ship 

Why are wildflowers the most beautiful of flowers? Perhaps it is because they are untamed by mankind and often appear when one is not even looking for them. In spring, one of the pleasures of getting out on nature trails or trekking through the woods is coming across some of Connecticut’s spring blooming wildflowers. These colorful and interesting signs that warmer weather has arrived are a welcome distraction to the events around us. Whether found on purpose or by a happy coincidence, these wildflowers are interesting in their own ways.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton

Native pinxter azalea shrub in bloom along the edge of a steam

Canada lousewort Pedicularis canadensis, also called wood betony, is a native plant in the broomrape family that is found in open woods, clearings and thickets. It has small, 2-lipped yellow flowers in a tight spike. Flowers open from the bottom and progress upward. Plants can range from as low as 5 inches in height to 14 inches. Leaves are fernlike and form a basal rosette. It is a hemiparasite that attaches to the roots of other plants while still producing chlorophyll of its own. Look for these wildflowers as early as April- June. Bees will pollinate wood betony.

lousewort 5-23-15

Canada lousewort- Pedicularis canadensis– wood betony

Asarum canadense, wild ginger, is native to eastern North America and can create a slow-growing groundcover in shady deciduous forests and can be found in the rich soils of shady deciduous forests. Flowers are seldom seen unless one knows where to look. Lifting the leaves reveals the bell-shaped flowers at the base of the plant close to the ground. Flowers have three triangular reddish- brown petals that fold back to reveal with an attractive red and white pattern that reminds me of looking into a kaleidoscope.

Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense) May 20 2018

Flower of wild ginger Asarum canadense

Limber Honeysuckle Lonicera dioica is a native honeysuckle vine that blooms from May-June. Found in bogs or other wet areas, this plant has leaves that clasp the stem much like native boneset. The flowers of this honeysuckle are very attractive to bumblebees.

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber vine honeysuckle

 

May apple, Podophyllum peltatun, is an interesting native plant that will have two leaves when a flower is produced, but only one leaf if no flower is produced. The large palmately lobed leaves are on the ends of long upright stems and resemble umbrellas. Flowers occur one to a plant, never more, are white with prominent yellow stamens, and are hidden under the leaves at the junction of the two leaf stems.

May apple plants

May apple colony

Violets seem to be everywhere- in lawns waste areas, woodland edges and trails. Over twenty species of violets are found in Connecticut, among them the bird’s foot violet, Viola pedata, distinguished by its finely cut leaf lobes that resemble the foot of a bird.  The petals are flat, with the upper two slightly folded back, and together with the prominent orange stamens it looks to me like it is sticking out its tongue at the observer.

birds foot violet May 2013

Bird’s foot violet Viola pedata

Common Blue Violet Viola sororia

Common blue violet Viola sororia

Trailing Arbutus is a low-growing shrub, usually under three inches tall. As the name implies, it forms a creeping mat, with trailing stems. A good feature for identification of this plant are the stems- six to 16 inches long and covered with bristly, rusty hairs. Leaf edges are toothless, but may also have the same stiff, brown hairs, as do the sepals. The tubular pink to white flowers will appear from April through May here in Connecticut.

trailing arbutus showing hairs on stems and leaf edges April 2020

Trailing arbutus with bristly hairs on leaf edges, sepals and stems

Purple  trillium Trillium erectum

Purple trillium Trillium erectum

Trillium begin blooming in late April or very early May, with different species flowering as late as early June.  The flower of nodding trillium, Trillium cernuum, may be overlooked as it dangles directly below its rather large leaves and is found in damper, shadier woodland areas than the more common purple trillium.

nodding trillium 5-21-16

Flowers of nodding trillium Trillium cernuum are hidden underneath broad leaves

There are so many wildflowers appearing in spring now that it is impossible to include them all in an online journal which is of little importance except to the writer. We all have our favorites, though, and the one I look forward to finding the most is the diminutive fringed polygala. A pink cross between a tiny airplane and Mickey Mouse, it one of nature’s adorable, delightful jewels.

fringed polygala May 13,Pamm Cooper photo

The exotic flower of fringed polygala

 

Pamm Cooper

 

   

blood root

Developing buds on bloodroot with its first flower

Spring 2020 generally arrived on time in Connecticut, but with some hesitation. A few bright, warm days have been sprinkled between cool or rainy, windy days and some localized snow showers.  Those warm days brought out the rakes, pruners, shovel, and a pop-up yard bag to clear the debris that accumulated since the fall clean up in the shady perennial beds and sunny pollinator garden. Tiny shoots of the ephemeral  bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia sp) were buried under still-soggy leaves and had to be uncovered carefully by hand to prevent damage to the delicate new shoots.

                           Mertensia emerging

Mertensia emerging

mertensia in flower

By mid-April, flowers start to appear on Mertensia

Ephemerals are plants that pop up in early spring, produce leaves, flowers and seeds but then disappear when the summer perennials are at their peak of display.  The ephemerals take advantage of the short period between when snow cover disappears and trees start to leaf out. Usually found in cool, moist, rich soil in shady woodland areas, they produce their flowers for a short time, are pollinated, produce seeds then disappear underground until the following spring. Ephemerals provide essential nectar and/or pollen for early foraging bees and flies.

bleeding heart

Bleeding Heart

trout lily

Trout Lily

 Areas around the home that are in dappled shade are perfect spots to grow ephemerals.  The best way to add these early bloomers to home beds is by purchasing root stock from a trusted supplier. Plant the bare roots or corms 2-3 inches deep in moist, humus-rich acidic soils (4.5-6.5 pH) that drain well and are sheltered from all-day summer sun. In the fall, keep the area with the new plantings moist so they develop a good root system.  A light winter cover of shredded leaves will make it easier for the new growth to emerge in the spring. Eventual cold temperatures will force dormancy. The plants will start to develop roots and shoots after about 3-4 months when soil temperature starts to rise. Divide mature plants in the fall being careful to provide roots for each new section. A light scattering of balanced fertilizer (such as 5-5-5) can be added to each new planting area.

Other native ephemerals that will grow in Connecticut gardens include several varieties of trillium, Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria ), trout lily (Erythronium americanum), and spring beauty (Claytonia virginica). In Connecticut, common bleeding heart Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis), is an introduced, non-native ephermal that will do well in rich, moist, shady soil.

mountain mint emerging

Emerging mountain mint

mountain mint in flower

Mountain Mint in flower  (Pycnanthemum muticum)  photo: ces.ncsu.edu

While clearing leafy debris from areas in the yard where ephemerals are planted requires a light touch, clean-up in the pollinator garden needs less careful raking and is more about removing the spent seed heads, stems and stalks that were left standing for over-wintering insects and birds. One of the first perennials to emerge through the leaf litter in the pollinator garden is mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) . Even a light brush of the young leaves with the rake produces a bright spearmint-y fragrance. By late May the blue-green foliage of the mature plant will be covered with 1.5-inch buttons of flowers that attract many bees.

monarda

New Mondara growth appears by mid-April 

monarda in flower

Flowering Monarda didyma, Jacob Cline.   photo: https://mtcubacenter.org/

Another pollinator favorite that is a must for the pollinator garden is Monarda or bee balm. There are several varieties that are popular with Connecticut gardeners including the native Monarda fistulosa  (wild bergamot),  which has a bluish-purple flower, and the bright red Monarda didymaM. didyma is a native in many parts of eastern North America but is not native to Connecticut. One of the most popular of the M. didyma species is the variety “Jacob Cline.”

Newer bee balm cultivars have been introduced that are a cross of the M.  fistulosa and M. didyma. The newer varieties aim to reduce the plant’s susceptibility to powdery mildew, a foliar disease that doesn’t usually harm the plant but is unsightly. At worst, a severe case of the powdery mildew causes severe discoloration and early leaf drop.  Ruby throated hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the bee balm section of the pollinator garden. A variety of bees and wasps also are frequent feeders.

Other plants in the pollinator garden that emerge at the same time as the bee balm and mountain mint include the low bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and the “Showy Lantern” variety of Enkianthus campanulatus. Both bushes have similarly-shaped buds and flowers and appeal to nectar-seeking bees.

A plant that is slow to emerge in the spring is the Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum), a favorite of butterflies and bees. Often considered a road side weed, it is susceptible to powdery mildew but is still a nice spreading addition to the pollinator garden. It provides seed heads for winter birds, making it a beneficial “weed.” Another weedy plant that grows easily everywhere, and is often wrongly-blamed for causing seasonal allergies, is the goldenrod (Solidago sp.). Its young leaves also emerge early. When in full bloom, goldenrod is a bee and fly favorite. There are more than 100 species of this plant, which is native to the mid-and eastern United States. Solidago canadensis is a variety native to New England and is found throughout Connecticut. It has a long-lasting bloom and is a bright yellow addition to the late summer garden.

Another plant that can be added to any pollinator garden that has lots of room is the assertive and suckering flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus). It can grow from 3-6 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide and produces pinkish-purple flowers followed by large ruby-colored fruit. The fruit is edible but most say it is not very tasty. It is low maintenance, can tolerate some shade. The flowers develop over the summer and are a favorite of birds.

Plants that do best in the pollinator garden need full sun, can tolerate some drought and prefer average, well-drained, acidic soils (5-6.5 pH).

golden rod

A new patch of new goldenrod plants emerge

raspberry branch

New leaves on raspberry cane.

A deciduous shrub that has emerged as a volunteer at the edge of the pollinator garden is the Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Since it produces flowers in the spring before the leaves appear, it is easy to identify in the woods and at the back of the garden.  This plant can grow into a small tree (6-12 feet for width and height) but may be pruned to fit into a smaller space.  Its leaves and fruit, when crushed, produce a distinctive fragrance. The plant is dioecious – it needs both a male and female plant to produce the bright red, oval fruit on the female plant.  Leaves of the Spicebush plant are a preferred food source for the caterpillar of the Spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus).

Spice bush will thrive in average, well-drained soil in both shady and sunny locations. It takes a more open shape when in shade.  The leaves turn a bright golden yellow in the fall, giving it an all-season appeal.

spicebush

Clusters of flowers appear early on Spicebush  

spicebush swallowtail

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly wikipedi: (Papilio troilus)       

Every season has its own personality in the garden. Perennial ephemerals are the ring master that announces what’s to come throughout the year. They start the show in spring and depend on other plants to finish with a spectacular show of color in the fall. Try some of these plants in your perennial beds for an all-season variety of delights.

Unidentified photos: J. Laughman