June 2020


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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Veery

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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