May 2019


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.

The gorgeous flowers of the  horse chestnut are blooming this week. Aesculus hippocastanum is commonly called European Horsechestnut or Common Horsechestnut. The massive trees are fast growers and need plenty of room to spread out and reach high. Never plant one near or under power lines. The panicle flowers are normally white with parts of pink and yellow. There is another variety with pink flowers as shown below. Horsechestnut fruit is not edible for humans and are called conkers. The shiny nuts look nice displayed in a dish for nature lovers, just don’t try to crack and eat them!
red horse chestnut.jpg

Red Horsechestnut Flower

Luna moth sighting have been reported around the state this week. They are a strikingly large and beautiful, with only a brief seven days of life in its adult stage. They are nocturnal spending the night seeking a mate with females laying eggs for next year’s generation. Occasionally they will fly towards a light even landing on a screen door with lights on inside. Host trees providing leaves for caterpillars to eat are walnut, hickory, sweet gum, and paper birch.

Luna moth A.Saalfrankphoto 6-4-2017 - Copy

Luna Moth

In the vegetable garden asparagus beetles are very active, feeding, mating and laying eggs. As can be seen in the lower photo, eggs are laid on on point sticking horizontally at a 90 degree angle to the stem and off of the flower bud stem. Crush all eggs by running you hand up and down each stalk. Catch adults beetles and crush or drop into a container of soapy water to rid them from the asparagus patch.

asparagus beetle May 19 2019 Pamm

Asparagus Beetle

asparagus beetle eggs May 20 2019

Asparagus Beetle Eggs

Another oddity was sent to my office this week. This is an Apple Oak Gall produce by a developing tiny, cynipid wasp. The adult female wasp injects the egg and a chemical into leaf tissue, causing the leaf to distort and makes a home and food for the newly hatched larva. Once the larva is big enough, it pupates inside the gall, only coming out once the gall is empty and dry. There are not enough wasp and galls to cause harm to the tree, so they are only considered cosmetic not a pest.

apple oak gall 2, RZilinski photo

Apple Oak Gall

Another gall I found this week was the Wool Sower Gall on a white oak tree.  The gall is caused by secretions from the developing wasp larva, secretions of , (Callirhytis seminator). These galls and wasp damage are also not harmful to the tree. The wasps are not dangerous to humans as they do not sting.

wool sower gall 2 - Copy

Wool Sower Gall on white oak.

Other galls we have seen in past made by insects are the grape tube gallmaker galls on grape leaves, (Schizomyia viticola). Grape tube gallmaker is a species of mite that forms a gall on New World grape leaves. Larvae feed inside the tubes and are free from predators as they feed on the deformed plant tissue. Again only cosmetic to the plant.

grape tubemaker gall

Grape Tube Galls on grape leaf.

Finger galls form on a cherry leaf below. Eriophyid mites are the gall makers here. They are microscopic mites developing inside the raised, malformed tissue. Mites can be identified by the structures they create on their host plant.

finger galls on small cherry

Finger Galls on a cherry leaf.

Velvetleaf galls on sweet birch develop from the feeding of the  velvet eriophyid gall mite.  Reddish-patches are called an erinea, can also occur on silver maple. (JLaughman photo).

velvet gall on birch,Jean Laughman photo, 6-8-18

The soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, can cause galls, tumors in this case, on the crown, roots and sometimes branches of susceptible host plants. Euonymus is commonly infected. The bacterium can enter a plant via any tissue damage that normally happens during pruning or transplanting. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is also used as a tool in the laboratory in genetic engineering to introduce genes into plants in a natural way.

crown gall - Copy

Crown Gall, Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

-Carol Quish

tulip tree bloom

Tulip tree in flower

 

“ The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

  • Henry Van Dyke, Fisherman’s Luck

 

The first day of spring was in March and I feel like we have been gypped so far in 2019. The expected arrival of warm weather, or just sunny days for that matter, has not come upon us yet. The almost daily rains of April and May so make Seattle look dry by comparison. But enough griping about the weather. May is here and with it come the birds, flowers and butterflies that winter had kept at bay.

red bud flowers May 6 2019

Eastern redbud trees flower in early May

Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides, is a native rhododendron that has tubular pink and white fragrant flowers that appear just before the leaves expand. It is found in moist soils along stream or pond banks. Pinxters sometimes have a juicy, sweet “apple” gall formed by the fungus  Exobasidium vaccinaii.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton - Copy

Pinxter azalea flowers

pinxter apple (2)

Pinxter apple is really a gall

Native tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera,  bloom in May, and when they do, it is apparent how they received their common name. Yellow and orange flowers resemble tulips, standing upright among the flat-tipped leaves. This tree is sometimes called yellow poplar and is one of the largest trees in North America, sometimes reaching a height of over ninety feet.

Some native wildflowers are putting in their appearance now. One of my favorites is the diminutive gaywings or fringed polygala-Polygala paucifolia. Usually no taller than 6 inches, these plants may go unnoticed along woodland edges or peeking up out of needles lying under white pines in open woods. The magenta flowers have three petals, one of which is keeled and ends in a pink fringe.

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Solomons’s seal is a native wildflower that is a good choice for use in woodland gardens. Its dangling white flowers along graceful, arching stems produce blue- black berries later in the fall. Hummingbirds will visit the fragrant, sweet smelling flowers. Geranium maculatum is another native wildflower that can be used in shade gardens.

variegated Solomon's seal

Variegated Solomon’s seal

Swallowtail and other butterflies are seen regularly now that temperatures (rising at a glacial pace!) have warmed up and plants have leafed out. Painted ladies and red admirals have arrived from their southern wintering areas, and other butterflies should eclose from their chrysalises as the weather warms up. The gray hairstreak, one of the first hairstreaks besides the spring azure to make its appearance in May, should be out in warmer areas of Connecticut.

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 may

Gray hairstreak butterfly in May

Migrating birds have been a little slow to return, but thrushes, Orioles, tanagers and veerys arrived at their usual time when oaks are in flower. Warblers are pushing through on their way to their northern breeding grounds. Magnolia warblers arrive as crabapples are blooming and may linger around until it warms up. Listen for bird songs of warblers on Cornell’s allaboutbirds.org website, and then see if you can spot them with a pair of trusty binoculars.

Wilsons 5-12-14

Wilson’s warbler passing through on its journey north

Green tree frogs have been trilling during the day and turtles may be seen as they begin to look for mates and afterward for suitable nesting sites. Efts and salamanders may be seen on rainy days, or on sunny days following rains, and box turtles often are seen as they cross roads during or after rainy days. Things always perk up a little for me I see my first eft of the red-spotted newt out and about, usually in mid-May.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

 

Of course, spring is not always a jolly time for gardeners. Lily leaf beetles, rose slug sawflies, asparagus beetles and gypsy moth caterpillars are here and carrying on with their plant damaging specialties. Check plants regularly to stop some of these pests in their tracks.

lily leaf beetle GHills mid- MAy 2018

The harbinger of doom for true lilies and fritillarias- the lily leaf beetle

T

 

But it is May. And May is not, by nature, a limpid herald of doom, but rather a forerunner of the warm, sunny days to come. Cheer up, little buttercup! The best is yet to come.

Pamm Cooper

 

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

wild columbine and wild geraniums by a country roadside

One of the best things about spring is seeing all of the new varieties of plants that appear in gardening magazines, on websites, and at nurseries. One of the bad things is realizing that you may not have room for any more new perennials in your yard! Fortunately for me, both my daughter Hannah and my future daughter-in-law Jamie share my love of plants and are more than willing to accept any donations.  Hannah’s home does have lovely established areas but we can always find a nook for another flowering plant.

Lets-Dance-Diva-Hydrangea-compressor__37886.1517166509Three years ago I gave Hannah a lovely hydrangea, ‘Let’s Dance’, in honor of her upcoming wedding. This variety of Hydrangea macrophylla bears beautiful, pale pink lace-cap flower heads where an outer ring of open florets encircles a center of tiny florets. We planted it into a large oak barrel tub that had to weigh in at 25 lbs. and placed it near her front walk where many other plants in various size containers also had residence. But one night, quite unexpectedly, the hydrangea and its tub mysteriously disappeared! I can’t imagine that someone thought that we were getting rid of it but we can only hope that it went to a happy home.

Hannah’s yard has that fairy garden-like feel; it is a snug, L-shaped yard that is surrounded by a sufficiently aged, unfinished fence where all manner of trees and shrubs grow.

Although the side of the yard that runs along her 1920s home is in the sun for a good part of the day, most of the yard is in some level of shade for most of the day. Patches of phlox, bellwort, and vinca share dappled sun along with heuchera and bleeding heart in the shade of the dogwood and Japanese maple.

Primrose makes an appearance at the base of the dogwood.

IMG_20190509_143909386

Her ‘front yard’ consists of a 4’ by 8’ bed between the sidewalk and her porch and another 6” by 15’ wide swath that runs along the fence, both of which receive very little direct sunlight.

IMG_20190509_160819622

It becomes quite apparent as the daffodils in the yards on the other side of the street bloom a week or two earlier. That front fence is a great place for hanging bags of impatiens and trailing ivy that don’t mind being in shade for most of the day. Columbine, painted fern, and a variety of tulips have also naturalized along that area.

Selecting herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs that do well in so much shade just takes a bit of forethought; there are many species that love to be in a woodland setting.  The term ‘shade’ itself can be confusing. Is it shade? Partial shade?  Part sun?  Full shade? Morning or afternoon shade? Partial sun means a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight a day while partial shade is 3-6 hours of morning or late day sun with coverage during the hottest and brightest times of the day.  Many hydrangea will bear partial to full shade and the climbing hydrangea that has taken over her back steps is proof of that.

IMG_20190509_160845408

Filtered sun, similar to partial shade, is great for woodland or under-story plants. Bear in mind that this can change over the course of the season as trees leaf out to a denser canopy and create more shade. Study the light in your yard throughout the growing season to determine the light situation. Shade plants may also like a moister soil that emulates the rich, humus environment of a forest floor.

Deep shade, also called full shade, does not mean a complete lack of sunlight. Think of the areas beneath evergreens or the northern side of a home. These areas will receive 3 hours or less of sunlight per day with little reflected or indirect light. We have just such a spot on the northern side of our home. The early morning is when this area receives its daily dose of somewhat dappled sunlight but from 9:00 a.m. on it is in full shade.

The plants that thrive in this area in our yard include clematis, hosta, astilbe, forget-me-not, and more Solomon’s seal. These beds are also where toadflax, lily-of-the-valley, and anemone are happy.

Shade tolerant plants may have thinner leaves that are more sensitive to light and perform photosynthesis at lower light levels. Over-exposure to sunlight can cause leaf margins to scorch, this sometimes can happen when a larger, shade-producing tree is removed and plants are suddenly exposed to more light than they are accustomed to receiving. Additionally, plants that are placed to receive less sunlight than they fully require may thrive but will often produce fewer blooms.

There are many varieties of shade perennials and annuals that can fill in a small space or a large bed, just visit a local nursery and take a stroll through their selection to find one (or two or three!) that catch your fancy.

Susan Pelton (all images by S. Pelton)

As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

sample1

The current line of samples waiting for analysis. J.Croze

We often recommend that customers take and submit soil samples in the Fall! Soil sampling and testing in the Fall is better for all parties involved. For starters, we offer a discount on the Standard Nutrient Analysis, if you submit 10 or more samples we only charge you $8 per sample opposed to $12. However, there are more practical reasons to submit a Fall soil sample. It’s easier! The soil is generally going to be easier to work with in the Fall than after a wet Winter during the first few weeks of Spring. This will help you obtain soil samples that are a more accurate representation of the area you are interested in. Every year around this time we get dozens of zip-lock bags that are filled with soaking wet soil, dripping everywhere. A Fall soil test also allows you more time to think about what amendments you might want to use, and is the perfect time to apply limestone and fertilizers in preparation for a busy and productive growing season. Applying limestone in the Fall ensures that it has enough time to raise your soil pH to whatever the optimum range is for what you plan on growing. My personal favorite reason for submitting a Fall soil sample is that we are less busy! You’ll be happier because your results will only take a few days, and we’ll be happier because the phone won’t be ringing off the hook with customers wondering where their results are! You can obviously submit a sample whenever your heart desires, but I advise you to consider sampling in the Fall. For those of you currently waiting on results, I appreciate your patience! Happy gardening!

-J.Croze