This has been a banner year for the weeds in our yard as the excessive rain has not only nurtured their growth but also kept me out of the yard on too many days when I could have been staying on top of weeding. Some weeds submit easily to pulling while others will put up quite a fight. Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, has ridiculously sharp spinose teeth on its stems and leaves so that any attempt to grab its rosette of leaves and pull results in a bit of pain. Appropriately also known as spear thistle, bull thistle’s basal rosette can grow up to 3 feet in diameter with a fat taproot that further aids in the difficulty of hand-pulling it. It reproduces from seed so if you can manage to extract it before it sets seeds from its purplish, globe-shaped flower in its second year then you can break the cycle. It is supposedly not only edible but tasty once the spinose teeth are removed, a fact which must have been discovered by an extremely hungry person or else someone wearing chain mail gloves.

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare crop

Bittersweet nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, is easy enough to pull out when it’s young, before it becomes semi-woody. Its threat lies in the fact that it flowers from May to September, each star-shaped purple flower producing a bright red berry and each berry containing up to 30 seeds. As the berries are eaten by birds these seeds are dispersed far and wide. Once it starts to grow this perennial vine sends out suckering roots and prostrate stems that can climb to 30 feet. This is a plant that loves the deep shade of the understory, where it’s unusual arrow-shaped, 3-lobed leaves thrive.  A member of the Connecticut Invasive Plant list, bittersweet nightshade is prohibited from sale, movement, or distribution by state statute.

Common yellow woodsorrel, Oxalis stricta, and its cousin, creeping woodsorrel, Oxalis corniculata, appear everywhere in our yard: under trees, in the lawn, and in the flower and vegetable beds. With its trifoliate leaves it bears a resemblance to clover except that its blossoms are delicate 5-petaled yellow flowers. All parts of woodsorrel are edible and its high in vitamin C but eating large quantities can inhibit the body’s absorption of calcium. These creeping weeds pull out easily.

Common blue violet, Viola papilionacea, may be considered a weed or a wildflower, depending on where it is growing in your yard. I don’t mind that it runs rampant beneath several Norway spruce trees in our yard. The almost full shade area is a great habitat for this low-growing perennial which prefers a shady, moist area. These pervasive plants tend to grow in basal clumps of heart-shaped, toothed leaves that have violet flowers in May and June. Supposedly the common blue violet will adapt to being repeatedly mown in a lawn by growing smaller leaves on shorter stems. The clumps are easy enough to pull out by hand but you may not get the entire underground rhizome by which it easily spreads.

Another ‘weed’ that I don’t mind is Lady’s thumb, Persicaria masculosa. Although it is a member of the same family as knotweed, Polygonaceae, Lady’s thumb is a delicate summer annual. The tiniest pink flowers bloom on raceme-like spikes that may reach up to 2 feet high but are generally around 12 inches. Unfortunately, each of those tiny flowers becomes a seed that will germinate the following spring. I only recently found out why the common name for this plant is Lady’s thumb. A close-up look at the leaf will reveal a triangle-shaped smudge midway down the leaf which is the lady’s ‘thumbprint’.

But the weeds that I dislike the most are the seedlings of trees and shrubs. I find that they are the most pervasive and simply ridiculously difficult to eradicate. First is autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, another card-carrying member of the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group. Unlike perennial weeds, the seedlings of woody plants are not so easily disturbed. Even cutting back autumn olive as soon as growth is seen, which I admit to having done, is a bad idea as this may just promote more growth. Late September and October is the best time to treat with an herbicide applied to freshly cut stems, not to the foliage as is commonly done.


Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis, although not listed as an invasive species in Connecticut, can become an issue in a home landscape. I take full responsibility for this being in our yard though as I planted a wisteria many years ago, wanting those delicate drooping purple flowers to grace our deck, long before I knew about its potential. I never knew that you could purchase a ‘bad’ plant from a reputable nursery. The main plant sends out suckers from its base all season but I just break them off. It’s the seedlings that establish themselves in other areas before I notice that they are there that are an issue. Some control can be achieved but cutting the plant back over the entire season or even removing it entirely. However, small pieces of the roots left in the ground cam send up new growth. Foliar or cut stump applications of an herbicide in the spring or summer when the plant is actively growing is recommended.

And finally to my least favorite weed, the bane of our landscape. White mulberry, Morus alba. Also known as Russian mulberry (even though it is native to China) or silkworm mulberry, it was introduced to North America by the British who thought that they could use it to establish a silkworm industry. In fact, the Virginia assembly passed acts between 1656 and 1669 to penalize the non-planting of mulberry and offered bounties for its production and for silkworm cocoons. By the 1830s Connecticut was the epicenter of raw silk production in the United States with Mansfield producing raw silk with a value of $60,000 in 1834 and Windham County producing 5 tons of silk cocoons annually. It became a cottage industry where many families produced 5 to 50 pounds a year. The Cheney Silk Mills in Manchester also played a large part in this field. (Silkworm image, Cheney Brothers, circa 1900, Connecticut Historical Society)

Silkworms, Cheney Brothers, manchester, circa 1900, CT Historical Society

The rearing of silkworms was very labor-intensive, I won’t go into the process here but you should check it out at Connecticut’s Mulberry Craze. Why isn’t this still an important industry in Connecticut? As it so often is, the answer is money. Over-inflation by speculators devalued the market and then this was followed by a harsh winter which was the demise of many trees. The final blow was the development of man-made fabrics.  But enough white mulberry trees survived to become popular ornamental specimens that have naturalized into our urban landscapes. (Image by T. Davis Snydor, the Ohio State University,

T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,

The deciduous leaves of white mulberry come in a variety of shapes and can be un-lobed or divided into 3 to 5 lobes, all on the same branch. It has edible purple drupes that can be messy and stain decks and pavement.

White mulberry can grow to 50 feet but because it is often cut down as a seedling it ends up looking more shrub-like. If I’m lucky I catch it shortly after it has come up in which case the roots will easily come up. I cut it down continually where it is unwanted and cut stumps can be painted with a non-selective herbicide. White mulberry will survive in any kind of soil and any kind of drainage and tolerates conditions from flooding to near-drought. It prefers full sun, in which case the leaves will be more pronouncedly lobed than those that grow in shade. I have to give it credit for its tenacity. But not in my backyard, please.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center

One of the most common plant-problems we see in the lab is interveinal chlorosis. This issue can affect house plants and garden vegetables, to landscape trees and shrubs. We often get inquires about the plant-tissue analysis we offer in the soil testing lab as a means to identify various problems. While this is an extremely useful tool for diagnosing nutrient deficiencies, when we see a plant showing interveinal chlorosis, we usually check the soil test results first.

What is interveinal chlorosis? A good place to start is defining what chlorophyll is. Greek for green leaf, chlorophyll is the pigment in plants that gives them their green color, and traps the light necessary for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process in which plants produce sugar from light energy. The chlorophyll molecule is held together by a central Magnesium ion. Interveinal Chlorosis is a yellowing of the tissue between the veins of a leaf due to the decline of chlorophyll production and activity. A give-away tell of interveinal chlorosis is that the veins generally retain their green color, hence the name, inter-veinal. When a plant cannot produce chlorophyll it loses its green color and could face stunted growth, fail to produce fruit and flowers, and eventually die.

What causes interveinal chlorosis? The quick version is nutrient deficiency. We already know that Magnesium is a central part in chlorophyll, but there are other essential elements like Iron, Manganese, and Molybdenum that are necessary in many enzyme activities, and a deficiency in one of these nutrients can lead to interveinal chlorosis. In our lab we most commonly see interveinal chlorosis caused by a lack of Iron or Magnesium. When thinking about a nutrient deficiency, it’s important to remember that there are other factors to take into account than just whether the nutrient is present in your growing media. Interveinal Chlorosis brought on by a nutrient deficiency can be caused by a pH imbalance, injured roots or poor root growth, and excessive amounts of other available nutrients in your growing media.

How can you get rid of interveinal chlorosis? We are available in the lab, and in the Home & Garden education center to help you figure out what’s causing your interveinal chlorosis. Once you determine what the cause is, fixing the problem shouldn’t be too difficult. Most of the time it’s a pH issue. If your soil is too alkaline, generally having a pH value of over 6.7, iron becomes more insoluble and less available for absorption. Soil pH can be corrected using a few different approaches, the most common method for acidifying soil is adding Sulfur. Generally, 1 lb Sulfur/100 sqft will lower pH ~ 1 unit. Nutrient deficiencies can also be remedied using foliar and trunk applications, as well as soil treatments amendments.

More information on diagnosing and remedying interveinal chlorosis can be found through the UConn Home & Garden Education Center and the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab. Information on foliar fertilization can be found here: Happy Gardening!



The 4th of July celebration and tea may not seem to have much in common until we remember how the Revolutionary War got started. ‘Taxation without representation’ was the cry of the early colonists upset first with the Stamp Act and then with the tariffs England levied up them for consumer goods, including their much beloved beverage, Chinese tea. On December 16, 1773, the famous Boston Tea Party took place and containers of imported tea were tossed into Boston Harbor in retaliation against England’s actions.


Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor by N. Currier circa 1846 from

Needless to say, this limited the supply of tea to the American colonists and they had to search for alternative ingredients to brew their own teas. This wasn’t too difficult as herbal teas had been used as beverages and for medicinal and other purposes for thousands of years. Early settlers to this country brought favorite herbs and seeds with them.

Being resourceful and with some guidance also from Native Americans, the colonists quickly found plants, both native and cultivated that could be used for flavorful drinks. These beverages were called ‘Liberty teas’, and many of the flavorful ingredients are still favorites today. You too can create your own Liberty tea garden whether as an interesting addition to the landscape or perhaps, as a way to teach your children about early American history.

Many plants used to make tea are growing in your backyard gardens and in the wild. Pick leaves of wild or cultivated strawberries to use in your tea. Leaves are thought to be most flavorful when the plants are in bloom. Blackberry and raspberry leaves are also excellent in teas. Often the colonists would add some lemon balm or other lemony flavored herbs for a tasty concoction.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm by dmp, 2019

The herb garden was a source of many Liberty tea ingredients. Members of the mint family, chamomile, sage and rosemary were grown for their unique and varied flavors. The colonists sometimes mixed flower petals from such edibles as calendulas, roses and violets. Flowers collected from herbs like borage, lavender and sage could also be added to teas.

Calendula & Chamomile

Calendula and chamomile blossoms, dmp, 2019

Most of us are familiar with the plant, Oswego tea, although we commonly call it beebalm. The native, lavender flowered species (Monarda fistulosa) can be found in moist areas from Georgia to Ontario. It is a member of the mint family, which you can tell pretty quickly because of its square stems. Tea from its leaves became a favorite as it resembled the flavor of Chinese tea. Both blossoms and leaves give a hint of citrus flavoring. Most often the beebalm in our gardens in a cultivar of another native beebalm species, Monarda didyma. Flowers are usually bright red but pink, blue and white cultivars are available and the leaves and flowers of this species can also be used in teas.

Bee balm

Red beebalm, Monarda didyma, by dmp, 2019

Sweet or anise scented goldenrod leaves were also quite popular Liberty tea ingredients. When crushed the narrow, lance-shaped leaves give off a slight licorice fragrance. These native plants can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and have warm, golden-yellow flowers. The leaves are dried for use in teas.

Other plants used by the colonists were elderberry and Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum), both shrubby plants inhabiting moist areas. Sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) with its heavily scented serrated leaves is typically found in drier, upland areas.

sweet fern 3

Sweet fern by dmp, 2019

Leaves from New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) were also favored for beverage making as was the bark from sassafras. I remember making sassafras tea as a Girl Scout and now come to find out that the FDA banned sassafras oil as a food additive because of cancer concerns.

This brings us to a very important point regarding both the collection of plant materials and the consumption of herbal teas. First, be sure that you have positively identified the plant. There are several dozen species of goldenrod, for instance, and while I believe none are poisonous to humans, only the sweet goldenrod makes for good tea.

Second, do realize that some plants may cause an allergic reaction in some people. For instance, people that are allergic to ragweed, might also express a sensitivity to chamomile. Talk to your physician, an herbalist and/or read up on plants to discover both their positive attributes and any potential negative effects.

Dry herbs for tea as you would culinary ones – in a desiccator, microwave or by air on drying racks. Always be sure plant parts are healthy, clean and free from disease. Store in air-tight containers.

As you celebrate the 4th of July this year, do remember to lift a glass of herbal tea (iced, of course) to commemorate the brave early colonists who fought hard to win this country’s independence.

Dawn P.

None so pretty

None So Pretty.

Lots of things are happening in the yard during the month of June. Plants are finally growing and blossoming after the cooler spring and a multitude of rainy days. It seems one sunny day and bit of heat made plants jump in growth. One plant I love to see pop up in random spots around the yard is None So Pretty. The Latin name is Silene armeria. It is a reliable reseeding annual with quick germination. Twenty years ago a elderly garden friend shared a different plant from her garden and the seeds of none so pretty hitched a ride in the soil. Every since I have spotted  it traveling around the yard, happily blooming and providing its soft pink color to areas it thinks need a bit of color. It never becomes weedy for me, it just makes me smile when I find one.

Some other appearances in the yard are not as welcome. Gypsy moth caterpillars do not seem as bad as the two previous years, but they are making their presence known in my perennial garden. I see a few and their chewing feeding damage on my roses. More were found in the coral bells. I just pick them off and step on them when I see them. Their caterpillar stage should be done in the next three weeks, at which time they will pupate. Moths will emerge after 10 to 14 days, mate and lay egg masses to ensure next year’s population.

Gypsy moth caterpillar on coralbell stalk

Gypsy Moth on Coral Bells

Another insect causing damage makes holes in the morning glory leaves and is really rather stunning. The golden tortoise beetle looks like a drop of wet gold and can change its color to reddish if threatened. It does this by forcing liquid out of the grooves of its ‘shell’. The damage is minimal on this ornamental plant, so I leave it to admire.

golden tortoise beetle 6-18-19 holding morning glory leaf

Golden Tortoise Beetle

golden tortoise beetle 6-18-19

Golden Tortoise Beetle

The roses have been especially hard hit with black spot, gypsy moth and sawflies. I do not treat them with insecticides or fungicides as I kind of like seeing what attacks them which gives me subject matter to write about! Black spot is a common  disease caused by the fungus Diplocarpon rosae. It starts with a small black spot which enlarges and the leaf then turns yellow and eventually drops from the rose bush. Black spot disease weakens the overall health of the plant. To control it, if you wish, use a fungicide labeled for roses and black spot when leaves fully emerge and throughout the summer on a 7 to 14 day schedule as label directs. Good sanitation practices to clean up all infected plant parts and fallen leaves helps prevent reinfection.

Insects on my roses this year are the usual gypsy moth, which I hand remove. Sawflies also attack leaving skeletonized leaves from the larval stage feeding on only the top layer of leaf tissue which creates a wax paper appearance. There are three main species of sawflies that attack roses, also commonly called roseslug, the bristly roseslug, the roseslug, and the curled roseslug. The adult stage resembles a wasp and is about 1/4″ long. Control measures include Spinosad, insecticidal soap or a summer oil.

rose black spot and sawfly larva

Rose with rose sawfly, black spot and gypsy moth chewing damage.

The common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is host to insect species. The genus Asclepias is the only genus monarch caterpillars use as a food source. I have let them overtake a side garden at the expense of a well manicured area. I see chewing damage indicating somebody has been there eating the leaves, just not sure who did it as I did not find any insect. I am hoping it is a desirable caterpillar, maybe even a monarch if I’m lucky.

milkweed, common, feeding damage

Milkweed with feeding damage.

In the vegetable garden, I have been squishing the larval stage of asparagus beetles. It is a messy job, but somebody has to do it if I want asparagus next year! Spraying neem oil is an alternative.

asparagus beetle larva quish

Asparagus Beetle Larva

Chores are never ending in the vegetable garden as well. Indeterminate tomato plants need suckering. This consists of removing the ‘sucker’ stem which grow out of the crotch of the main stem and a leaf. If left in place, it will grow another main stem. If many are left a very crowded and bushy plant with lots of foliage will result at the expense of fruit production. Determinate types are best left unsuckered so many stems can produce more fruit to ripen all at once.

There are two patterns of growth habits for all tomato plants: determinate or indeterminate. Determinate means the plants will grow to a specific height, then put out all of their flowers, then the fruit all ripens around the same time. Indeterminate plants grow to an undetermined height, putting out flower branches continually along the main stem as they keep growing taller until the plant is killed by frost or possibly disease. Indeterminate types are best to only let one main stem and one or two suckers grow to produce more fruit over a longer period of time. Which type you grow depends on how you like to harvest. If you want all tomatoes ripening at one time to make sauce or freeze or can tomatoes, determinate would be best. If you like a few fresh tomatoes to harvest each day, indeterminate is the way to go.

tomato plant sucker

Tomato sucker

Lemon thyme is growing over the stone wall and under the peonies. It makes a great ground cover and releases a fabulous lemon scent when stroked. It is also a wonderful addition to chicken soup.

Lemon Thyme

Lemon Thyme used as a ground cover.

Speaking peonies, they need dead heading now. When plants flower, their next function is the production of fruit and/or seed, using a lot of energy from the plant. Removing the production and stopping the seed formation helps keep the original plant strong. Use pruners to remove flower/seedhead stalk back to the point of a leaf or main stem. Never leave a long, unsightly stem which will just turn brown and die.

peony deadhead

Peony Seed Pod

One perennial I do not cut back until after it produces seed pods and they ripen, is columbine. I wait until the seed pods turn brown and open, then I empty the seeds into a container and spread them wherever I want new plants to grow. I find the new plants all revert to a purple color no matter the color of the mother plant from which I took the seeds. They are still a nice color and worth doing.

columbine seed pods

Columbine Seed Pods

Take time to really look at your plants. Enjoy them from a different angle, not the usual view point- maybe a different spot in the yard. Below is a close up from the top of an oriental poppy seed pod, just striking with its pattern.

Oriental Poppy seedhead

Oriental Poppy Seed Head

-Carol Quish, UConn Home and Garden Education Center

There are many historic garden sites in Connecticut which can be seen on the annual Connecticut Historic Gardens Day on Sunday, June 23rd, 2019 from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. From the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme to the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock there is one near you. Of the several that are located in Hartford County, one of particular note is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center historic garden, home to the late author in the last 23 years of her life, located at Nook Farm on Forest Street in Hartford.

Harriet Beecher was born in 1811 in Litchfield, CT, the daughter of a prominent Congregational minister, the Reverend Lyman Beecher. Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, an ardent anti-slavery proponent, in 1836 in Cincinnati, Ohio. While in Ohio, Harriet and her husband supported the Underground Railroad, actually housing several fugitive slaves temporarily in their home. Cincinnati is located on the northern side of the Ohio River, just opposite the then-slave state of Kentucky, making it a popular stop on the Underground Railroad. These circumstances led to Harriet writing the novel for which she is the most remembered, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, although she wrote more than 10 other novels, a book of poetry, and many works of non-fiction.

Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).

Do you remember that Uncle Tom was a man who kept a good garden with fruits, vegetables, begonias, roses, marigolds, petunias, and four-o’clocks? Here is an excerpt from the book: In front it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors, and were the delight and pride of Aunt Chloe’s heart.

cabin Image by Charles Howland Hammatt Billings (1818-1874) for the expanded 1853 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In 1873, Harriet and her husband Calvin purchased and moved into a 5000 square foot painted brick Victorian Gothic ‘cottage’ at Nook Farm. Her fellow author, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, moved in next door a year later. Harriet would spend the last 23 years of her life at Nook Farm. Also part of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is the home owned by Harriet’s great-niece, Katharine Seymour Day.


Harriet was an enthusiastic flower gardener and her passion was shared by her great-niece. The gardens around the homes reflect their fondness for and knowledge of the plantings of the Victorian era. Nook Farm contains eight distinct gardens including the woodland garden, the blue cottage garden, the wildflower meadow, a high Victorian texture garden, antique rose garden with award winning roses, formal color-coordinated or monochromatic gardens, and more.

The site includes Connecticut’s largest Merrill magnolia tree, a specimen that towers over and dominates the landscape. It blooms in early spring and had unfortunately gone by when we were there in early June so that we missed its large, fragrant, white blooms. However, the Collections Manager at the Center was kind enough to send this great image of the tree in full bloom as well as one of the Stowe dogwood which had also already bloomed.


Merrill Magnolia image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

The 100-year or older Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood™, Cornus Florida rubra, is believed to be from Stowe’s time, and saplings grown from cuttings are planted from Canada to Japan and even at Harriet’s home in Cincinnati.


The Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

In the Victorian era the dogwood symbolized endurance and sprigs were presented to unmarried women by male suitors to show interest. Should the woman return it to the suitor it meant that she was indifferent to him, if she kept it was a sign of mutual interest, the 19th century equivalent of “swiping right”.

It is fitting that these saplings are finding homes outside of Connecticut as Harriet was a proponent of trading plants with family and friends, bringing cuttings and seeds with her when she moved to a new home, and pressing blossoms into sketchbooks, a common practice during the Victoria era.


Harriet’s gardens gave her ample opportunity to paint out of doors, a practice known as en plein air, with other local artists. Thematic and single-color gardens provided inspiration to artists then and they still do. Shade areas are filled in with hosta, Solomon’s seal, and meadow anemone, all in cool greens and whites.

Just a bit further down the walk are white-themed peonies, iris, rose, and bridal-wreath spirea.

Two plants are listed in the self-guided tour but were not in evidence as we strolled the grounds: the Elephant ears and the castor bean plants. Elephant ears have dramatic foliage that can measure up to 2 feet across can grow in sun if they get some afternoon cover or shade.

The castor bean, Ricinus communis, is a highly toxic annual herb and as such, may seem like an odd choice for a garden that receives so many visitors. Reaching a height of 8 feet, it can tower over every other annual in the garden with its reddish-purple stems, large, palmate, lobed leaves, and red, prickly fruit capsules. It is within these unusual fruits that the toxic part of the castor bean lies. The seeds contain ricin, a phytotoxalbumin which can cause a fatal reaction. In fact, the broken seeds can cause a severe allergic reaction just by coming into contact with the skin. After all of that you wouldn’t think that anyone would want a castor bean plant around but it is called an ornamental annual. And yet, once it has been heated during extraction, the toxicity is deactivated and the castor oil is used in a variety of coatings, lubricants, and medicines. The image below is by Dawn Pettinelli but is not from the Harriet Beecher Stowe gardens.Castor Bean SB07

Roses are in evidence throughout but it is the lined drive with its hedges of lovely fragrant roses that is just stunning.

Here is a video tour of the rose hedges:

The side garden of the Katharine Seymour Day house has a romantic Victorian garden that boasts peonies, roses, and moth mullein with its vintage dusty peach shades.

Behind the Day house are massive examples of mountain laurel, rhododendrons and a pawpaw tree. A National Champion tree, the common pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is a native deciduous tree that produces an edible fruit with a banana-like taste leading to it also being known as the West Virginia banana or the Custard apple.

As we walked around we could also see the home of Mark Twain and I couldn’t resist a peak at the conservatory, my favorite room there.

Should you choose to visit any of the gardens on the historic tour please visit their website: Connecticut Historic Gardens.

Susan Pelton. UConn Home & Garden Education Center


Now that Spring is upon us and we are just about caught up in the Soil Lab, many of you and us have been working on our gardens. Regardless of what you are planting, there is a persistent issue that reduces growth and yields, pests. There are a few beds surrounding our lab that we maintain to make dropping off soil samples a little more pleasant (the Depot Campus where the Soil Lab is located is haunted by the way). This spring we had a Master Gardener, Rolland, working with us, and he really helped spruce up the beds.


Soil Lab. J.Croze


Soil Lab. J.Croze

While working on the beds, Dawn and Rolland has noticed that a few of their recently planted Asters, Dusty Millers, and Black Eyed Susans had all but been pretty much destroyed. The leaves and steams had all been chomped on by what we believe to be a hungry rabbit. We also constantly see chipmunks running around, and the occasional deer droppings.

Black eyed susan

B.E.S. J.Croze

Black eyed susan2

B.E.S. J.Croze

Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller. J.Croze


M.B. Aster. J.Croze


Perp. J.Croze

Everyone has their own way of dealing with pests, some more humane than others. We decided to try out a Deer and Rabbit repellent called Liquid Fence. This is a humane spray derived from putrefied eggs; I would not recommend spraying this on any plants you were planning on eating! Hopefully this helps.


Liquid Fence from Mansfield Supply Co. J.Croze

For those of you with your own pest problems, the UConn Home and Garden Center provides numerous facts sheets for dealing with an array of insects and vertebrate pests. Those can be found if you follow this link: and click on the topic concerning to your needs. If you cannot find what you are looking for through the Home and Garden Center, the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture offers the Connecticut Integrated Pest Management Program. The IPM is a sustainable approach based off different eco-system derived strategies for helping with long-term pest management. The IPM can help you construct a pest management program that caters to your specific situation. There is an array of different program areas (fruit, vegetables, turf, greenhouse, etc…) and resources including publications and webinars. More information on the Connecticut Integrated Pest Management Program can be found here: Happy Gardening!



When it comes to naming my favorite flower, I’m pretty hard-pressed to do so but irises rank near the top. Right now, they are out in their glory with both diminutive and understated blooms as well as those adding confirmation to the Big Bang theory with blossoms big enough to bowl one over.

Legend claims Iris to be the messenger of the gods and the rainbow linking the earth to other worlds. Throughout recorded history, the iris has appeared in myths, legends, heraldry, tapestries and as a religious symbol. It was the flower of both priests and princes and white irises were once planted on the graves of ancient soldiers.

Of the 200 plus species, three are most commonly grown in New England gardens. They are the tall-bearded, Siberian and Japanese irises. Iris flowers vary greatly in shape, color and size but their overall structure is similar. Each flower consists of three upper petals called standards and three lower or outer sepals referred to as falls. Irises are divided into two major groups, those which arise from rhizomes, which are horizontal stems growing at or slightly below the soil surface, and those growing from bulbs.

Iris peach

Peach iris. Photo by dmp, 2019

Some gardeners lament the relatively brief annual flowering period of irises. And it is true that even in good years weather-wise you cannot expect more than two or three weeks of a spectacular show. These folks can be comforted to some extent by choosing early, mid-season and late species and varieties of irises so the blooming period is prolonged. I like to think about it more like a special holiday one looks forward to each year. It just wouldn’t be appreciated as much if it occurred more often. And, irises are just too magnificent to be taken for granted.

Iris bearded

Bearded irises at UConn. Photo by dmp, 2019

Bearded irises are fairly adaptable to soil type but demand a well-drained site and full sun for most spectacular bloom. They prefer soils amended with organic matter and with a pH of around 6.5 so add limestone if your soil is acidic. Contrary to popular belief, the bearded iris is a heavy feeder. Provide them with ½ cup of an all-purpose organic or chemical fertilizer per large clump in early spring and half as much in mid-July after their dormant period. They can be divided any time from July 4th until Labor Day. Growth from new fans will be from the leaf side so set them in the direction you want them to grow. Rhizomes can be covered with soil but never more than one inch deep. Leave the tops of the rhizomes exposed on the surface if a thin layer of mulch will be applied.

Iris Cinnamon Girl

Iris ‘Cinnamon Girl’ with amsonia and lupines. Photo by dmp, 2009

Siberian irises are native to Central Europe and Manchuria, not Siberia as the name may imply. These plants produce a multitude of tiny rhizomes forming very dense clumps of slender grass-like leaves. Because the rhizomes are so small, iris borers are not tempted by them. Siberian irises can go a long time without division but you will get more flowers if you divide every 3 to 4 years.

Siberian irises

Siberian irises, Photo by dmp, 2018

Japanese irises look finicky but are quite easy to grow. They prefer a rich, organic, acidic soil. Rhizomes are set 2 inches deep. Japanese irises also need good drainage but they are not drought tolerant. A moisture retentive soil or supplemental irrigation during dry periods will give you best results.

Jap iris

Japanese irises in white garden with beauty bush in the background. Photo by dmp.

The petite crested iris (I cristata) is named for the raised crest along the centerline of each fall. This species tolerates part shade and should be fertilized regularly because it only produces short feeder roots. Give it a rich soil and it will thrive.

iris cristata 3

Iris cristata with sweet woodruff. Photo by dmp, 2019.

Bulbous I. reticulata in blue and violet shades along with sunshine yellow I. danfordiae are planted in the fall for very early spring blooms. A well-drained soil and protected site will provide you with earliest color.

iris reticulata

Iris reticulata blooms in early spring. Photo by dmp.

While their season of blooms is not long, irises can be quite spectacular and are a colorful and eye-catching addition to any perennial planting.

Here’s to a great gardening season,

Dawn P.