November 2021


As the late fall days get shorter and the woody plants shed their colorful autumnal wardrobes, any touch of color is a welcome sight in tour mostly brown landscape. While we can’t slow the coming of winter, we can brighten our yards by using plants that produce interesting fruits. Aside from adding color to a rather drab landscape, many berry producing plants also lure avian visitors.  

On the way to work each morning, I pass mass plantings of several species of viburnum; their branches loaded with bright red berries, technically called drupes. Most likely they are either the European (V. opulus) or American (V. trilobum) cranberrybush viburnum. Both are somewhat upright in form with lovely white flowers in the spring and brilliant, small but plentiful red drupes. They have 3-lobed, maple-shaped leaves that redden come fall. The fruits hold well into the winter and are sought by many birds and other forms of wildlife. They can even be made into jams.

Cranberry viburnum. Photo by dmp2021.

Two other viburnums with red fruit have similar characteristics, but one may exhibit some invasive characteristics according to the UConn Plant Database (https://plantdatabase.uconn.edu/). Both the linden (V. dilatatum) and the Wright viburnum (V. wrightii) are multi-stemmed shrubs reaching up to 10 feet in height with clusters of creamy flowers in the spring, handsome, toothed, green foliage in summer changing to shades of red in the fall and persistent red fruit in the fall. Linden viburnums have been found to spread both from seeds as well as by layering, naturalizing on sites from the mid-Atlantic region into New York and Connecticut outcompeting native plants.  

Wright viburnum at UConn. Photo by dmp2009.

The wayfaring tree (V. lantana) and the nannyberry (V. lentago) produce bluish-black berries. While blackish berries may sound rather drab, the fruit undergoes a beautiful color change from yellow to pinkish before realizing their final color. Often all colors are present at one time making for a great show.

Both deciduous and evergreen hollies are also at their best this time of year. Many excellent cultivars of deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata) are available in compact and heavily fruited forms. You will notice their native parents in wet areas with their red berries, attractive but less abundant and not as compact as the cultivars. While red berried forms are most common, orange and yellow berry cultivars are also available.

Winterberry. Photo by dmp2010.

The Meserve blue hollies and the China hollies are reliably hardy evergreen varieties with spiny leaves and red berries. Our native American holly (I. opacum) is not as cold hardy but does well in protected areas and in the southern part of the state. The species reaches 15 to 30 feet tall but numerous cultivars including dwarf and columnar forms might be a good match for your site. Keep in mind when purchasing hollies that males and females are separate plants. One male can pollinate 3 to 10 females depending on the species. Be sure to purchase both sexes if you want berries.

Blue Princess holly berries. Photo by dmp2021.

Cotoneasters are plants for all seasons. They have neat, oval leaves of a glossy green, white or pinkish flowers in spring, and lots of colorful red berries that last well into winter. Especially notable is the rockspray cotoneaster (C. horizontalis) with its arching branches. Cotoneasters are useful in foundation plantings and look lovely when their branches cascade over walls. The only downside to cotoneasters is the time it takes each spring to pluck wind blown leaves from their grasp. 

Cotoneaster berries at UConn. Photo by dmp2021.

Hawthorns are often overlooked in the landscape. Many species and cultivars are available with not only persistent, bright fruit but attractive flowers and foliage as well.

The red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is native to the U.S. and produces a great crop of red or in the case of black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa) – blackish purple berries that last well into winter. As the name suggests, they are rather astringent, but also high in polyphenols, which have been shown to have beneficial health properties. One can purchase numerous over the counter products containing aronia compounds. These plants are tough, adaptable plants that grow well from full sun to part shade and form 3 to 5-feet tall colonies as they spread by suckering. Birds will feed on berries as they soften over the winter. Fall color is notable in burgundy, orange and crimson shades.

Red chokeberry. Photo by Mark Brand, UConn.

Another intriguing plant is the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) which bears large clusters of iridescent purple berries on the tips of arching stems. This more southern native fruits best in USDA hardiness zones 6 – 10 or in more sheltered areas of zone 5. Plants are 3 to 8 feet tall and wide and work well in mixed borders. They tolerate heat and humidity well. Stems often die back over winter, much like butterfly bushes, so cut back when new growth is noticed in the spring. Berries are attractive to birds and other wildlife.

Brilliant purple callicarpa berries. Photo by dmp2009.

`Don’t over look our native bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). Berries are silvery white with a delicious fragrance – no match for those artificially scented candles. Bayberries tolerate sandy, infertile soils but will thrive when given a choicer location. Like hollies, bayberries are also dioecious meaning that plants are either male or female and both sexes are needed for berries to be produced. Purchase plants in the fall so you can see which ones produce berries. Typically, males are taller plants, reaching up to 12 feet in height while females top out at 5 to 6 feet. Plants tend to sucker and either should be placed in a dry, sunny area where they can spread or make a note to remove unwanted sprouts a couple of times a year.  

Dawn P.

Thanksgiving is a time when family and friends gather to give thanks and share the bountiful feast of turkey with all the trimmings. For many families, it’s also time to share another tradition, seeking, choosing and purchasing the perfect Christmas tree.  Nothing symbolizes the start of the holiday season better than seeing vehicles of all kinds carrying home their prized Christmas trees.

“Christmas Tree 2008” by Brent Flanders CC BY NC-ND-2.0 .jpg

Whether artificial, precut, fresh cut or living, there’s a type of tree for every taste. But is there one variety of tree that stands out as the perfect Christmas tree? Kathy Kogut, president of the 235 member CT Tree Farmers Association, who’s members sell on average 150,000 holiday trees every year, says each variety of evergreen has its particular strengths. 

For that long Christmas tree fragrance, for example, the Balsam Fir is a popular choice. Douglas Fir has light green and soft needles and is a good choice for the budget minded. but not a good choice for heavy ornaments. White pine has dense soft needles and is a good choice for those with tree allergies. Spruce trees are not as popular due to their poor needle retention. Blue spruce has the best needle retention of all spruce trees, but its stiff needles come with an ouch factor. 

Outdoor evergreens can also be decorated for the holiday season. Photo by dmp2017.

Before purchasing a tree, Kogut recommends measuring the space where you plan to place your tree and taking those measurements to the tree farm along with a tape measure. This will help you avoid a common mistake, buying too big a tree. When choosing your tree, inspect all sides so the best side is displayed and make sure the base of the tree allows for 6-8 inches to fit into the stand.

Once home, before bringing your tree into the house, make a fresh cut one inch above the butt end, and place the tree in a stand that can hold at least one gallon of water. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your tree stand can hold one quart of water for each inch in diameter of trunk.

“Martin Family CHristmas Tree 2013” by C J Martin CC 2.0

Inside the house, make sure you choose a location for the tree away from heat sources like TV’s, fireplaces, radiators and air ducts. Maintain the water level above the tree base at all times. The tree will take up at least one quart of water a day, so checking for water daily is important to keep the tree fresh. No additives are needed. Plain water is completely adequate.

Kogut suggests that if you decide to purchase a precut tree from an urban lot, the same advice applies to measuring, and cutting before placing it in the tree stand. However, buyers should be aware that those trees may have been cut down weeks earlier, come from out of state and may have been. exposed to drying winds in transit. This may shorten the trees’ freshness and result in premature dropping of needles. 

Living trees, though beautiful, are, Kogut says, not good choices as a Christmas tree.  But, if you decide to use a living tree, don’t leave it in the house for more than a few days. Otherwise the warmth of the house could bring on new tender growth, which might kill the tree when brought outside to the harsh winter environment after the holidays.

“Wildlife – Recycled Christmas Tree” by danielle.brigida is licensed under CC BY 2.0.jpg

Lastly, consider recycling your Christmas tree. Many transfer stations will take the tree at no charge and turn them into chips. Or, consider placing your tree in the backyard and place suet and peanut butter covered pine cones, or bread in it for birds.

To learn more about Christmas trees, (https://ctchristmastree.org/) or contact UConn Home and Garden Education Center, (http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/).

Marie Woodward

November sunrise on Horsebarn Hill UConn

November comes and November goes with the last red berries
and the first white snows.
With night coming early, and dawn coming late, and ice in the bucket
and frost by the gate.

-Elizabeth Coatsworth

While driving along country roads, walking in the woods, or simply getting up early in the morning and stepping outside, any day can offer an opportunity to come across interesting or unusual sights. Fall is the time of bird migrations, splashes of leaf color and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. November seems like a last hurrah with some lingering warm days before the cold settles in for the winter. On a recent morning bare treetops in the pre-sunrise light looked like they were full of leaves, but it was actually thousands of blackbirds. One bird must have started something because the whole lot of them began at once to make a terrific noise, and then they took off in unison. I remeber the day when it could take several minutes for these flocks of blackbirds to pass over the morning sky.

Blackbirds taking flight just before sunrise

This November has been unusually warm, but leaves have finally fallen or changed color as in the case of our dawdling oaks and dawn redwoods. Fallen leaves can cover the ground for a while to restyle a scene with winsome texture and color. Things hidden by foliage in the summer are now revealed- wasp and bird’s nests, fruits and other things.

Dawn redwood fall color before needle drop

Sometimes something that was dull can suddenly get interesting when light and visibility change in what seems like an instant. This happened when a dingy looking shelf fungus growing on a sugar maple had the sun strike it just as I was driving by. Getting my attention, I got out and took a closer look. It turned out to be a stacked tooth fungus, a mushroom new to my experience. They form a tight stack like pancakes and instead of pores or gills, they have fine teeth from which spores are released.

Climacodon septentrionalis stacked toorh fungus
Underside showing the teeth, or spines, of the stacked tooth fungus

On the same ride where I saw the amazing tooth fungus, there was an old Lincoln Zephyr on display in someone’s front yard. Down the same street was an old farmhouse with an impressive front porch and a remarkable sugar maple whose leaves covered the ground around it. In the same area was a grain storage building with old trains and their cars cluttering the tracks, perhaps some still used for transport, and some obviously no longer in service.

Lincoln Zephyr
Old Lincoln Zephyr

Old Farmhouse
Trains at a grain storage facility
November is also the time of final hay cutting and baling operations

There is a home in Glastonbury or Portland that has the most bee hives I ever saw in one place in Connecticut. According to the owner, the hives near the house were requeened this summer and will form a new colony. When queens no longer produce enough eggs, a new queen is introduced and the old is, sadly, released from her earthly duties. Some of these hives are used at a local orchard in the spring, while a majority are placed along the Connecticut River where food is very abundant.

On hike through a nature preserve woods early this month there was the remains of an old car which was probably from the 1930’s and dragged here when the area was a field. This car was almost 20 feet long and had a folding luggage rack on the trunk. Headlamps must have been the size of dinner plates.

On the trunk of a dead aspen along the side of a country road, it was clear what had killed this tree. On the trunk were false tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi . No other fungi with this characteristic fruiting body are found on aspen. The woody conks are hoof-like, brown to black, and have a cracked upper surface. Pores are tan or white. The spores of P. tremulae are blown through the air and can enter fresh wounds on aspens, where the fungus attacks the heartwood and causes white trunk rot.

False tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi

Still out and about are praying mantids and some dragonflies and bees. This female mantid was on a sidewalk near a flower garden. Her eggs have been laid, so she will perish shortly.

t is the time of warmer jackets, bleaker vistas, perhaps, and chilly days. I am not by nature a puddleglum, so all this is not a deterrent to enjoying the shorter days and the coming cold. There will still be spectacular sunsets and sunrises, snowy landscape coverings and bluer skies that will cheer my heart on occasion. Now is a also good time to read all those books that there was little time for when the outdoors beckoned strongly for all the attention. Maybe I’ll put on a colorful scarf or something…

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

-Emily Dickinson

Maybe I’ll just light a sparkler.

Pamm Cooper

Boxwood (Buxus spp.) shrubs are slow-growing, evergreen plants with dense wood and small, rounded leaves. They are frequently cultivated in the home garden due to their attractive appearance and ability to be pruned into formal shapes, including small hedges and topiaries. They are very common here in New England and you have probably seen them in your friends’ and neighbors’ yards if you do not own a few yourself!

Despite their popularity, boxwood have more than their fair share of issues with pests and diseases. Although we published an update on the invasive and highly destructive box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis) at the end of August, 2021 (please read it if you haven’t already), there are some other common nuisances of boxwood to also be aware of.

Boxwood Psyllid

The boxwood psyllid (Psylla buxi) is the most common insect pest of boxwood. This insect is in the family Hemiptera, like whiteflies and aphids, and all life stages cause feeding damage. The nymphal (juvenile) stage of the insect is wingless and produces a characteristic white, waxy exudate on the leaves. Another identifiable symptom of boxwood psyllid feeding is cupping of terminal leaves at the end of the shoot. Although the feeding damage can be noticeable and managing the pest can be troublesome, the boxwood psyllid does not cause significant damage to the plants they feed on and nearly all rebound well after the pest is managed. Prune away heavily-infested branches and treat with an approved insecticide (according to the label) or a mixture of neem oil (1 tbsp), castile soap (1 tbsp), and warm water (1 cup).

Figure 1. Photo of Boxwood Psyllid damage recently shared with the UConn PDL. Damage is characterized by cupped terminal leaves and waxy nymphal exudate. Photo credit: Suzanne Rinaldi.

Volutella Blight

Volutella Blight is a significant fungal disease of boxwood (and pachysandra)  caused by Volutella buxi (aka Pseudonectria rouselliana). The disease is sometimes called Pseudonectria Canker for this reason. Symptoms include poor vigor and yellowing leaves that turn tan and remain attached to the stem. On the undersides of leaves, orange to salmon-pink colored sporulation will form in moist and humid conditions. Spores are spread by rain splash or contaminated tools. Volutella blight is commonly associated with plants that are stressed.

To manage, prune away all infected tissue during dry weather. Make cuts 3-4 inches below the point where symptomatic tissue ends. Disinfect tools between plants and cuts with 10% bleach solution or 70% alcohol. Discard or burn all pruned tissue and fallen debris as the disease can overwinter in plant material. Do not compost. Remove and destroy fallen leaves whenever possible. Plants that are heavily infected will need to be removed. Prune interior stems of nearby healthy plants to increase airflow. Avoid overhead watering or only water in early morning to minimize periods of leaf wetness. The most effective preventive fungicides include those with the following active ingredients: Chlorothalonil, Chlorothalonil + Thiophanate-methyl, Copper hydroxide, Copper sulfate pentahydrate, Propiconazole, and Mancozeb. Begin spraying in spring, before or at first sign of disease, always following label rates and instructions. Rotate to compounds with a different FRAC code after every third application to minimize resistance.

Figure 2. Salmon-colored sporulation on the underside of a boxwood leaf with Volutella Blight. Photo credit: Nick Goltz, DPM, UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab.

Boxwood Blight

Boxwood blight is another significant fungal disease of boxwood caused by the pathogen Calonectria pseudonaviculata. Disease severity can vary, but is often costly and hard to control, particularly in nursery settings. Symptoms of this disease are dark leaf spots, black stem lesions, sporulation on leaves and twigs, and significant defoliation. The fungus overwinters in infected tissue and fallen debris. It can also survive in the soil for up to 6 years, further complicating management.

To manage, prune away all infected tissue during dry weather. Make cuts 3-4 inches below the point where symptomatic tissue ends. Disinfect tools between plants and cuts with 10% bleach solution or 70% alcohol. Discard or burn all pruned tissue and fallen debris. Do not compost. Remove and destroy fallen leaves whenever possible. Plants that are heavily infected will need to be removed. Prune interior stems of nearby healthy plants to increase airflow. Avoid overhead watering or only water in early morning to minimize periods of leaf wetness. The most effective preventive fungicides include those with the following active ingredients: Chlorothalonil, Chlorothalonil + Thiophanate-methyl, and Mancozeb. Begin spraying in spring, before first sign of disease, always following label rates and instructions. Rotate to compounds with a different FRAC code after every third application to minimize resistance. Fungicides are only preventatively effective. If symptoms are observed, destroy or discard plants immediately to prevent spread to healthy plants nearby.

Figure 3. Symptoms typical of Boxwood Blight. The dark lesions along the stem are a characteristic symptom. Photo credit: Nick Goltz, DPM, UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab.
Figure 4. Unique cylindrical spores of Calonectria pseudonaviculata. Photo credit: Nick Goltz, DPM, UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab.

There are some other pests and diseases of boxwood that one should be on the lookout for in Connecticut, such as the boxwood leaf miner and various root-rot pathogens. If you are ever in doubt about what may ail your boxwood, or if you would like confirmation (essential for proper fungicide or insecticide application), you may send a sample to the UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab for assistance. Submission guidelines and instructions are detailed on our website: plant.lab.uconn.edu

Nick Goltz, DPM