March 2018


To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
 One clover, and a bee, And revery.
 The revery alone will do, If bees are few      – Emily Dickinson
bee on gold sedum late June - Copy

Tiny native bee on gold sedum

When I first moved in to my present residence, there were neglected flower gardens and poorly maintained landscapes that did not seem to attract nor support many insects or even birds. The expression “out goes the old and in comes the new” is an appropriate aphorism for what needed to be done. The not so modest enterprise my sister and I undertook was to establish a more useful environment for pollinators, butterflies and birds. The emphasis would be mostly on pollinators, as the birds already there seemed happy enough. As butterflies often share the same flowers with bees we assumed we would attract them as well.

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Out with the old…

We were able to rip out most of the plants, whether shrubs or perennials, that were really not important food sources for most pollinators, and we concentrated the first year on putting a majority of native plants like elderberry, currant, Joe-pye weed, boneset, blue curls, bloodroot, May-apple, trillium, blueberry, winterberry, Asclepias, Aronia (chokeberry), mountain mint, goldenrod and turtlehead. We also included non-native perennials that bees love like blue giant hyssop, Caryopteris (bluebeard) obedient plant, Veronicas, and yarrow.

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…in with the new

The first year we saw quite a few species of bees, especially sweat bees and all kinds of bumblebees. We also had the handsome Colletes inaequalis bees, who visited the early spring flowers like dandelions, henbit, willow and maple. They actually built their solitary ground nests in the neighbor’s sandy soils, but stopped by our nearby flowers. We also had honeybees, from who-knows where. Since bees active in the fall were already there, a couple of native witch hazels were also added.

Bluebeard caryopteris

Bluebeard, or Caryopteris, attracts all kinds of bees

native bee on blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum

Native bee on blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum

 

frittlary and bumblebee on white swamp milkweed

Fritillary and bumblebee on swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata

The second year we put in some annuals that flower from early summer through fall. Lantana, cosmos, Euphorbia (‘Diamond Dust’ and ‘Diamond Frost’ are really good cultivars), petunias, sweet alyssum, salvias (pink and black and blue varieties that really attract lots of bee species as well as hummingbirds) and zinnias. Non-native perennials yarrow, coreopsis and Echinacea were also added. Perennials are even better the second year, and many more species of bees were seen throughout the second season.

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Bombus ssp. on common milkweed

It is often difficult to tell native bee species apart. For instance, the tiny Halictidae family sweat bees that are metallic green can be hard to sort out. A good reference book for identifying bees and learning about the flowers they like and nesting sites they need is “ The Bees in Your Backyard” by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril. There are good photographs of the bees, and also maps showing where they can be found in North America. Good anecdotes are also a feature of this book. Douglas W. Tellamy wrote “Bringing Nature Home’, a must-read for anyone concerned about supporting wildlife through thoughtful native plant selection.

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excellent resource books

Here is a link to the University of Maine’s bulletin on “ Understanding Native Bees, the Great pollinators; Enhancing Their Habitat in Maine ” https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/7153e/. This is suitable information for those of us who live in Connecticut, as the same native bees are found here as well.

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bumblebees and American lady butterfly on purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Many bees are important keystone species who have an essential role in maintaining diversity in ecosystems. This is because they pollinate the flowers they will later bear fruits that will support other fauna in the system. And whatever is not eaten will fall to the ground, where the seed will produce more plants, allowing a landscape that is sustainable(as long as there is no human interference to its natural continuation). If you can provide nesting and food sources for bees that are nearby your property, that will help the birds and other fauna that share the same territory.

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Fabulous pollinator plant combination- summer phlox, daisies, Rudbeckia

It has been four years since the renovations in my own gardens, lawn and landscapes. Perennials are now well established, native cherries have been planted to support both bees and other creatures, and a few more plants are popped in as we see what bees we have and what flowers they may also like. There are pollen and nectar sources from spring to fall, so many bee species that are active at different times of year will find what they need. This last summer, there were many species of bees that seemed to be new- at least we had never seen them. We had leaf-cutter and mason bees, all sorts of bumblebees and sweat bees, Hylaeus masked bees, and others.

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Halictidae sweat bee on aster

If you are looking to add some plants to your own landscape, consider choosing something that will be enjoyable for you and then useful the native bees. Sort of a dual purpose, double-for-your-trouble investment. Itea virginica, ‘Henry’s garnet’, is a beautiful sweetspire shrub with cascading white flower spikes that are very attractive to all kinds of bees and butterflies. Tree hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, are a great late summer pollen and nectar source for native bees, and Rose- of Sharon is another. They are beautiful to look at and serve a good purpose for our little native heroes of the natural world.

Pamm Cooper

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester 2017

Hydrangea paniculata -tree hydrangea

‘An herb whose flowers are like to a Lions mouth when he gapeth.’
Copious Dictionary in three parts by Francis Gouldman

After the 5th mildest February in Connecticut on record for the past 113 years it felt as if we were going to just saunter into spring this year. Walking around the yard on the first day of March I saw the usual signs of late winter including the new buds of Hellebore peeping through last year’s old foliage and even a brave little slug that had emerged from the soil.

But the next day March came in like a lion with winds gusting to 74 mph at the Ledge Lighthouse in Groton courtesy of a Nor’easter that also brought snow and drenching rains, days later we had 12-18” of heavy, wet snow across the state and today, another 6-10”. Fortunately, hellebore is able to withstand a little bad weather.

Helleborus is known as winter rose, Christmas rose, and, most familiarly to me because of when it blooms, Lenten rose. Its scientific name was given by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and comes from the Greek ‘helléboros’ which breaks down into heleîn ‘to injure’ and borά ‘food’ due to the toxic nature of all parts of the plant. Two kinds of hellebore were known before 400 BCE:  the white hellebore of the Family Melanthiaceae was believed to have been used as a laxative by Hippocrates and the black hellebore, melanorrhizon (black-rooted), a member of the Ranunculaceae family. It is the latter group that most garden hellebore belongs to, one that also gives us Delphinium and Clematis (below), Buttercups, Ranunculus, and Anemone.

Hellebore originated in the mountain areas and open woodlands of the Balkans but some species also come from Asia (H. thibetanus) and the border of Turkey and Syria (H. vesicarius). In the centuries since hellebore has found its footing in gardens around the world where it continues to be a favored choice as a ground-cover with dark, shiny, leathery leaves.

It is so popular that Helleborus x hybridus was chosen the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year from up to 400 nominations by the Perennial Plant Association. Plants are chosen by the PPA for their low-maintenance, wide range of growing climates, multiple season interest, availability, and relatively pest and disease-free care. It’s no surprise that Hellebore made the cut.

Helleborus by Dawn Pettinelli

Image by Dawn Pettinelli

It grows in USDA zones 5a to 8b which makes it very well-suited to Connecticut even though it is not native. It can tolerate shade to part-shade and does well in moist, well-drained soil with a pH range of 5.7-7.0.  Lower pH levels can lead to calcium and magnesium deficiencies. Interestingly, once established, hellebore is very drought-tolerant and even drooping leaves will bounce back unharmed when they are re-hydrated. Due to the fact that its leaves contain nasty-tasting alkaloids it does not get eaten by deer or rabbits and is considered toxic to humans and animals when ingested.

Helleborus orientalis late winter

 

Those same alkaloids can be a problem for people with sensitive skin so it is wise to wear gloves when working with hellebore. I trim the foliage back in late winter, at the start of March if there isn’t any snow cover, so that the emerging flower buds aren’t hidden by the old growth.

If Botrytis cinerea, a grey mold, was a problem on hellebore foliage then infected plant material should be removed in the fall so that it doesn’t overwinter.  Late winter is also a good time to apply a slow-release, balanced fertilizer that will ensure ‘blooms’ that will last for a month or more.

 

I say ‘blooms’ because what appears to be petals are actually tepals that protect the small, barely noticeable flower buds. Sepals are usually green but when they are similar in appearance and color to petals they are called tepals. Other plants that have colored tepals are Orchids, Day lilies, Lilies, Lily of the valley, Tulips, Magnolia and Tulip poplar.

On the hellebore the vintage-looking colors of the tepals range from a pure white to a dusky rose to a deep, almost black, plum. Most tepals become green-tinged as they age and many are veined, spotted, or blotched with shades of pink, purple, or red. The 2-3” ‘blooms’ generally hang or droop down so it is sometimes hard to see the nectaries that provide food for the early pollinators.

There are few insects that bother hellebore but one is the Hellebore aphid which will feed on sap from the flowers and foliage, excreting the honeydew that may lead to the growth of sooty mold. Cucumber mosaic virus can be vectored by feeding aphids and shows itself in light and dark green mottling on Hellebore foetidus.

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Image by RHS

 

 

H. foetidus, also known as stinking hellebore or dungwort is found in the wild in southern and western Europe in addition to cottage gardens. Its foliage gives off a pungent smell when crushed and it has another insect pest particular to it, the Hellebore leaf miner, which, as its name suggests, will tunnel into the foliage creating the damage shown to the left.

 

 

There are many commercially available varieties of hellebore and hybridizing has created a color palate that now includes reds, grays, yellows, and greens. The Picotee variety have narrow margins of a darker color. Semi- and double-flowered hellebore have two or more extra rows of tepals and the anemone-centered variety have a ring of shorter curved petals closer to the center which drop off after pollination. A visit to your favorite nursery or garden center is sure to provide you with many selections.

Helleborus by Lisa Rivers

Image by Lisa Rivers

You can put them into the ground as soon as it is workable. As Hellebore do not grow more than 18” high and have flowers that hang down they are best appreciated when viewed from close proximity. Plant them in an area that you walk past often and enjoy them for years to come.

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton unless noted

Did you notice off-color leaves on your broadleaved evergreens, such as azalea, rhododendron or Andromeda last year?  These popular landscape shrubs are sometimes attacked by lace bugs and their feeding damage results in small, yellow to brown flecks on the leaves. When there are many of these, the whole leaf, and even the whole shrub, can look off color from a distance.

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Leaf discoloration caused by the feeding of lace bugs. Photo credit: William Fountain, University of Kentucky, Bugwood.org

What are lace bugs? They’re insects in the family Tingidae and have piercing and sucking mouth parts. They are small – the adults are only 2-3 mm in length. They are quite distinctive looking. Adults have flattened bodies with lacy looking wings that give them their common name. The species on broadleaved evergreens appear black and white. Nymphs are quite dark in color, up to about half the size of the adults, depending on their growth stage (instar) and are covered with dark spines.

 

It’s easy to miss these pests as the cause of leaf discoloration because the feed and reproduce on the lower leaf surfaces. They pierce leaf cells and suck out the juicy contents, resulting in cell death. So a lot of this type of injury due to a high population can result in reduced photosynthesis that in turn leads to poor plant health, leaf drop and reduced flowering.

Lace bugs that attack broadleaved evergreens overwinter in the egg stage. Eggs are laid in the leaves of the veins, mostly on lower leaves, and then covered by the female with a cement or varnish like material. Spring hatch occurs typically in May in the northeast. Nymphs begin feeding immediately and go through five nymphal stages or instars before becoming adults. Under favorable conditions, the entire life cycle may be completed in one month. Depending on lace bug species, there may be 2-4 generations per year in Connecticut.

To protect plant health and also to prevent unsightly discoloration of the leaves, monitor for lace bugs early in the season on susceptible plants, especially if they have evidence of injury from the year before. Nymphs and adults can be sprayed off plants with a strong stream of water or they can be treated with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Both of these products must coat the pests to kill them so thorough coverage of the leaf undersides is required. Inevitably, some individuals or eggs will survive so a second application may be necessary. Prevention of damage before it gets too severe is important because leaf discoloration will persist for a year or more.

Both azalea and rhododendron lace bugs are more likely to build up to high, damaging populations on plants in sunny locations. The Andromeda lace bug can cause a lot of trouble in both sunny and shady sites.

As mentioned above, there are a number of susceptible plants found commonly in northeast landscapes. The lace bugs have quite narrow host ranges as shown below:

               Lace bug species                                                          Host plants

Andromeda lace bug Japanese Andromeda, Leucothoe
Azalea lace bug Azalea and mountain laurel
Rhododendron lace bug Rhodendron and mountain laurel
 

By J. Allen

The recently held Connecticut Flower & Garden Show was a welcome late winter event with its lovely landscapes, exquisite floral arrangements and unique vendors. All the landscapes were delightful to view but I thought that the Earth Tones Native Nursery with its lighted recycled beer bottles and Aqua Scapes of CT both had especially creative exhibits.

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Aqua Scapes of CT landscape at 2018 CT Flower & Garden Show

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Earth Tones Native Nursery display at 2018 CT Flower & Garden Show

Another great feature of the flower show are the thousands of plants, bulbs and seed packets available for purchase. Several of the vendors were offering various species of tillandsias, commonly called air plants.

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Tillandsias for sale

They are quite popular because not only do they look interesting and quite different from other houseplants, but they do not need soil or potting mix to grow in. So, they can be grown almost anywhere light and temperatures allow. According to Yumi Chen of Yumi Jewelry & Plants (www.yumiplants.com) air plants are a favorite of apartment dwellers and college students as they do not take up much space nor do they require a lot of care.

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Tillandsias on display at Yumi Plants

Tillandsias are a genus in the Bromeliad family. They are epiphytes which is a fancy way of saying they are plants that typically grow on other plants, often in the crotches of trees and shrubs. They may also grow on rocks, cacti and even on the ground. Tillandsias are native to parts of the southern U.S., Central and South America.

Unlike most plants that we are familiar with, tillandsias only use their roots to anchor themselves to a living or non-living object. Water and nutrients are not taken up by the roots but rather by the leaves. As a general rule of thumb, those with thicker leaves are native to drier areas while those with thinner leaves grow where there is more rainfall and humidity.

There are over 650 different species of air plants. Many have slender or strap-shaped leaves but a few larger ones have more triangular-shaped leaves. While they are grown primarily for their curious mop-like shapes, they do have interesting tubular or funnel-shaped flowers often in bright colors.

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Tillandsia flowers at KC Exotic Air Plant Booth

Caring for tillandsias is not difficult as long as their basic cultural needs are met. Providing air plants with the water and nutrients they need is the key to healthy plants. Their leaves have specialized microscopic structures on them called trichomes that are hollow tissue cells that absorb any moisture they come into contact with. They also give many species of tillandsias their lovely silvery blue sheen.

Suggested watering regimes vary depending on who you talk to and which websites are visited. Keith Clark of KC Exotic Air Plants (www.airplants.biz) recommends soaking plants 3 to 4 hours every 2 weeks while Ms. Chen suggests a 30 minute weekly soaking. Other regimes include misting or placing them under a faucet of running water. Like most plants, how often they are watered depends on the species of plant as well as climate conditions. During warmer, drier periods because of home heating or summer sun, plants probably need to be watered more frequently. Also, if they are kept in humid bathrooms and kitchens, they may need less water. Since I just purchased my first air plant, I will see how it fares with a once a week half hour soaking.

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Watering tillandsia by placing in a bowl of water

Both vendors as well as Tillandsia International (www.airplant.com) do stress the need to let the air plants dry out before putting them back in their pots, bowls, globes or other containers. If your tap water is chlorinated, consider using bottled, well or rain water instead.

Air plants do not require a lot of nutrients and respond well to a bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22). The easiest way to fertilizer according to Ms. Chen is to mix a quarter teaspoon of fertilizer into a gallon of water and use this solution to soak your plants in once a month from spring through fall. Plants typically are not fertilized during the winter months.

Tillandsias need bright, indirect light but few do well in full sun. Place in an east or north window or 3 to 5 feet away from more brighter southern or western exposures. They can also be grown using artificial light.

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Tillandsia in a glass globe makes a nice hanging plant

Plants will develop roots but since these are only needed to anchor the plants to trees and other objects, they are often trimmed away before plants are sold. As the roots grow back, they can be left on the plant or cut off depending on how it is being displayed. Because of their unique shape and growth habits they can be placed in hanging glass globes, used to fill decorative bowls or other containers, included in succulent dish gardens or attached to wall hangings. Because they need good air circulation, they might not do well in enclosed terrariums.

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Tillandsias in open terrariums.

When an air plant finally matures, which takes about 9 to 12 months for the smaller species according to Mr. Clark, it blooms and then produces offshoots, generally referred to as pups. When these reach about one third of the size of the parent plant, they can be separated but often they are left intact creating colonies of air plants, which are more vigorous than individuals.

Cut off any dead leaves and if the plant develops brown tips, they can be trimmed off. Tillandsias are pretty tough plants but sometimes are forgotten about. Shriveled plants may be regenerated by soaking for 24 hours. Provide your plant with adequate light, water and temperatures above 45 F and these delightful plants can be employed in a variety of scenarios around the home and at the office.

Happy Spring – Almost!

Dawn