Environment


praying mantid 2

Praying mantids have hatched and are busy staking their claim in all areas of the garden looking for any insect to eat. They are fun to watch and photograph. So glad I noticed their egg masses and relocated them when cutting back the garden last fall.

clove current berries

The clove currant is producing berries, first green then ripening to black. The birds are eating them faster than I can take a photo them almost. Good plant for wildlife, and a hand-me-down plant from my husband’s grandmother’s home. The Latin name is Ribes odoratum for those doing a search to find one.

swallowtail butterfly

This swallowtail butterfly was very busy feeding on the nectar of the very floriferous bottlebrush buckeye blooming on campus. Bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, is a fabulous, large shrub which sends up panicles of white flowers with red anthers and pinkish filaments.

spinach bolting 2

The summer’s heat is causing the cool weather crops of the spring to bolt and go to seed. Once this happens, the leaves become bitter and plants should be pulled and composted. Planting fall crops of carrots, beets, peas, kale or beans make good use of then now available space in the garden.

Robber fly

This robber fly was resting in the garden, probably waiting for an easy insect meal. They are predatory on all types of insects and considered a beneficial insect.

cross striped caterpillar on cale

If your kale or other cole crops are being eaten and showing a lacy appearance of holy leaves, look for the cross-striped cabbage worm. One caterpillar can eat quite a lot. Bt is a good control measure when they are small, or insecticidal soap. Rotate where brassica plants are located next year, and grow under a row cover to keep the adult moth from laying her eggs on the leaves.

garlic

Garlic is ready to be harvested during July, once half of the leaves have turned brown. After carefully loosening the soil with a spade, pull the garlic bulbs by the stems and dry on an open rack in out of the sun and under cover for three weeks. A shed or garage are best for the drying. After they are dry, brush off the dirt, cut off the roots close to the bottom of the bulb, and cut back the stem end leaving about one inch. Store in the home in a dry, dark spot. Save the largest bulbs for planting next October through November.

gypsym moth females and egg masses

Gypsy moth adults are busy mating. Females do not fly, only able to crawl. The males are flitting around, flying to females to mate. Females will lay the buff colored egg masses which will last through the fall, winter and spring, to hatch next summer. Egg masses can be  crushed or scraped into a container of soapy water.

-Carol Quish

All photos are copyrighted by Carol Quish, UConn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_20170704_084839720_HDR

“Fortunate is the man who knows how to use yarrow in the last days”
Attributed to Brigham Young

Brigham Young was born into a farming community in Whitingham, Vermont in 1802. Like many people at that time he would have been well-acquainted with the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Yarrow in particular has many medicinal and culinary purposes that have used for centuries. Its astringent properties led to it being used to reduce the flow of blood from wounds and the names herbal militaris, staunchweed, allheal, and bloodwort. In fact, legend says that it was used by Achilles’s soldiers on the battleground of Troy. It is that legend that gave us the Latin name for yarrow: Achillea millefolium.

It interested me to learn that since the second century BC yarrow has been used by the Chinese for divination of the I Ching. Diviners prefer dried stalks from locally gathered yarrow as they feel they will be more in-tune with it. Even better are stalks harvested from spiritually important sites such as a Confucian temple. This practice of divination is still widely used today.

In North America yarrow was used by many Native American peoples. The Navajo chewed it to relieve earaches, the Cherokee made a tea to reduce fever and aid sleep, and the Ojibwe, in addition to those uses, burned it for ceremonial purposes. They also gave it to their horses as a stimulant although the ASPCA says that yarrow is toxic to horses, dogs, and cats. For a small number of humans, it occasionally causes allergic skin irritations and photosensitivity.

For the rest of the population, yarrow has so many diverse uses. Let me start with its attractiveness to pollinators. As an umbrellated plant, that is one that has a flower head that is in the form of an open, flat-topped cluster, it is a convenient landing pad for many insects.

These white, yellow, or pink flower heads contain masses of minute, 5-petaled flowers. It is this that gives yarrow the second part of its Latin name, millefolium, or thousand-leaf or petal.

Millefolium can also refer to the many very fine, feathery leaves that adorn the yarrow plant. These lacy alternately arranged, fern-like leaves, can be dried and then steeped in hot water for a ‘tea’. The stripped stems can be boiled in water for 20 minutes and then sautéed in butter as an addition to a salad.  Yarrow leaves and flowers were part of an herbal mixture called gruit that was used as a substitute for hops in the production of beer during the Middle Ages, mostly in the Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany.

Leaf close-up

In researching yarrow, I came across several mentions of yarrow jelly so of course I needed to make it. I harvested 2 cups of flower heads early one morning, rinsing them and then placing them into a steeping carafe along with freshly boiled water.

I let the mixture brew for an hour before draining it through two layers of cheesecloth. No need for any little insects to be involved in the jelly-making process.

The jelly-making method that I use calls for adding lemon juice and calcium water to the strained liquid. To my astonishment, as I stirred in the lemon juice into the yarrow ‘tea’ the color changed from a dull amber to pink! It turns out that the acid in lemon juice will turn pink when a molecule called an anthocyanin is introduced to it.  Anthocyanin is present in red, blue, and purple flowers including the deep pink yarrow that I used.

Unfortunately, the resulting cooked jelly did not retain that pink color that I love in the blossoms and that is so attractive to insects like the drone and hover flies that recently visited.

A tiny grasshopper nymph  in the species Melanoplus let me get very close to capture his image, jumping away only at the last second.

Grasshopper nymph

Looking a bit lower and deeper into the foliage I saw the tiniest of field ants moving among the feathery leaves. He was not alone.

Field ant (Formica spp).

Nestled in the leaf axil was a spittlebug. No bigger than the head of a pin, the adult Clastoptera lineatocollis was well hidden.

Spit bug 3

The video is of a spittlebug nymph feeding on another plant, covering itself with the foamed-up plant sap.

The foamy ‘spit’ not only hides the nymph from predators and parasites it provides a unique protection from the light that might dry it out.

Further up, an Eastern harvestman spider, Leiobunum vittatum, lay in wait for an unsuspecting red spider mite, Tetranychus urticae. I hope that the harvestman enjoyed his lunch for although one spider mite won’t do too much damage as it sucks out the contents of individual plant cells, an infestation of hundreds can seriously affect the vigor of a plant. Its good to see that a beneficial spider is taking care of that for me. Other beneficial insects that are attracted to yarrow include lady beetles and parasitic wasps such as the Braconid wasp.

If you don’t have yarrow in your flower beds yet I recommend it as a lovely, delicate-looking perennial that brings a touch of antiquity to any site. And here is one more thought from Brigham Young that speaks to the gardener in all of us:

“Beautify your gardens, your houses, your farms; beautify the city. This will make us happy, and produce plenty.”

Susan Pelton

According to the language of flowers, the rose belongs to the month of June symbolizing love and passion, gratitude and appreciation. Well I am passionately in love with and greatly appreciate all of June’s flower blooms, including roses.

Rose, red climbing-1

Roses can be found in home gardens, public gardens and even commercial parking lot plantings, usually as tough shrub rose varieties needing little care. Hartford is the proud location of Elizabeth Park, the oldest municipal rose garden in the United States established in 1904. Within its boundaries are beds and arches filled with hundreds of rose plants loving tended by professionals and volunteers, all taking pride in creating a beautiful and scent filled space for all to enjoy. http://elizabethparkct.org/gardens-and-grounds.html

 

Check rose plants carefully as gypsy moth caterpillars are feeding on leaves currently. Hand pick off and kill the little buggers by squishing or dropping in a container of soapy water. Signs they were there and left are shown by them leaving their shed exoskeleton after they molt.

gypsy moth caterpillars and rose

Gypsy moth on rose leaf, C.QuishPhoto

gypsymoth molted exoskeleton

Gypsy moth caterpillar shed exoskeletons. A sign gypsy moths were here. CQuish photo

Not all roses are a considered a ‘bed of roses’ or a good thing. The multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, is an invasive species of rose, overtaking and displacing native plants. It was introduced to the U.S. from Asia in 1866 for use as rootstock and later widely planted as hedgerows and living fences.  Due to its very thorny nature, animals did not attempt to cross. Multiflora roses can be identified by its fringed petioles which differ from most other rose species. When in mass  blossom, the make the June air incredibly sweet.

Rose, multiflower, C.Quish

Fringed petiole of multiflora rose, C.Quishphoto

A few other fabulous flowers caught my eye and camera lens this month so far. Lunchtime walk on the Storrs campus I found an unusual shrub in front the Castleman building. False indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, was sporting spires of purple and orange flowers similar to butterfly bush. I had never seen it before, and after researching its identity, I am glad I haven’t as the CT Invasive Plant Working Group has it listed as ‘Potentially Invasive’. It seems well behaved in the restricted spot surrounded by buildings and pavement, but pretty still the same.

False indigo bush cquish

False indigo, CQuish photo

The perennial Helen Elizabeth Oriental poppy is a lighter pink, eschewing the brazen orange color of traditional oriental poppies. Helen Elizabeth is softer on the eyes and blooms a little bit later than the orange one.

 

Annual poppies are just beginning to bloom in my garden. If you let them go to seed and collect the seed once the pods go brown, dry and rattle, you will have an incredible amount of seed to save, share or spread the beauty in other areas.

 

Foxgloves, Digitalis sp, are shooting up their towers of flowers in different colors. Some species are biennial and others are perennial. The spots on the throats of the flowers are believed to be nectar guides showing the bees and other pollinators the way in to find the location of the nectar.

Visit local, independent garden centers and nurseries for unusual plants not found in the big box stores or chain centers. I found the annual Popcorn Plant, Cassia didymobotrya, whose leaves smell like buttered popcorn when stroked, at Tri-County Greenhouse on Rt. 44 in Storrs Mansfield. A treasure trove of unknown annuals and surprising perennials, and large variety of tomatoes and vegetables were all over the sales yard. I especially love the philosophy of the place hiring very capable people with intellectual disabilities along with some great horticulturists.

June also brings disease and insects to the garden. A few of the things we are seeing from submissions for diagnosis to our office are shown below. Azalea galls were sent in from South Windsor and are being reported around the state. The fungal disease, Exobasidium vaccinii, develops from an overwintering infected plant part of azalea leaf, twig or flower, and malforms the plant tissue into a curled and thickened gall.  As the gall ages it turns white releasing more spores to infect fresh tissue. Control should be to hand cut off and destroy galls before they turn white.

Azalea gall, b.zilinski 2

Azalea gall, B.Zilinski photo

Another sample image sent in were sweet birch leaves with bright red growths called Velvet Galls. These red patches are soft felt-like growths made by the plant in response to  to wall off the damage by a tiny eriophyid mite feeding on the leaves. The red patch is called an erinea. Unsightly while still being pretty, the damage is considered only cosmetic and causes no lasting harm to the tree. Thanks to Jean Laughman for her photos.

velvet gall on birch 2 Jean Laughman photo

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

Another great photo was sent in by Shawn Lappen for insect identification. The Dusky Birch Sawflies were striking a classic pose while eating the heck out of the leaves of a birch tree. Sawflies are stingless wasps whose larvae are plant feeders. The larvae are not caterpillars as this insect is not in the butterfly and moth order of Lepidoptera. Feeding damage usually does not cause much damage to a tree in good health. If control is needed, insecticidal soap will suffocate the larvae when sprayed on them.

Dusky Birch Sawfly, from Shawn Lappen

Golden tortoise beetles are attacking morning glory and sweet potato plants. They look like a little drop of gold but their beauty belies their destructive nature. Hand picking and dropping into a container of soapy water will kill them quickly.

Golden Tortoise beetle

Be on the lookout for Luna moths during the month of June. It is one of the largest silk moths and is attracted to lights at night. After mating, the female will lay her eggs on one of the host plants for the caterpillars including white birch (Betula papyrifera), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), and sumacs (Rhus). The photo below was sent in to us last June 4 by A. Saalfrank.

Luna moth A.Saalfrankphoto 6-4-2017

Leave the light on to attract Luna Moths

-Carol Quish

This year I had the opportunity to work in the UConn Soil and Nutrient Analysis Laboratory during the ‘spring rush’. During this time the Soil lab can get up to hundreds of samples a day. These samples may come in one at a time from homeowners with established lawns or garden beds who are looking to maintain their plantings or from new homeowners who have never planted or cared for a landscape before, or dozens of samples from commercial landscapers on behalf of their clients, or from commercial growers.

For over 50 years farmers, greenhouse growers, and homeowners have been served by the UConn Soil Lab. With more than 14,000 samples coming in on an annual basis, that is a lot of soil! Soil fertility is the first building block of plant health. If a plant is not growing in soil that has the proper proportion of available nutrients then it will not grow as well as it could. Poor soil health leads to stressed plants with stunted growth and stressed plants are vulnerable to insect and disease issues.

Iron deficiency on buddleia

Buddleia with iron deficiency

There are a minimum of 16 elements that have been deemed necessary to vigorous plant health. In order by atomic weight they are: hydrogen, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, and molybdenum. Some other elements that may not be used by all plants are sodium, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt. The big 3 are, of course, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Represented by their symbols from the periodic table as N-P-K, they are the prime ingredients in most fertilizers. The seedlings below show signs of nutrient deficiency and are in need of a weak solution of a balanced fertilizer.

 

Also essential to healthy plant growth is the pH of the soil. It won’t matter how much fertilizer is applied if the soil pH is not in the correct range for the host plant. pH stands for potential of Hydrogen and is represented by a scale that runs from 0-7 for acidic solutions and from 7-14 for the alkalis. The higher the concentration of hydrogen ions, the more acidic the sample is. All soil test results will recommend the addition of either limestone to raise the pH, sulfur to lower the pH, or no action required if the pH falls into the acceptable range for the plant/crop.

All standard nutrient analysis tests begin their journey in the same way. For each area to be tested one cup of soil is sent or brought to the lab along with the soil sample questionnaire. The standard test will provide soil pH, the macro and micro nutrients, the total estimated soil lead, and basic texture and organic matter content. Many homeowners and growers request additional tests or only require specific information in the form of textural analysis, organic matter content (measured by Joe in the images below), soluble salts, a pH only test, saturated media analysis (for soil-less potting media for greenhouses), or nitrate testing (for commercial growers).

 

This spring was very cool and wet, as we all know. Many samples were sent in later than usual and a good many were very much wetter than usual. It is important then that the first step requires that soils be spread onto paper toweling and allowed to dry.

1. Spread soils on drying rack

Once the soil has adequately dried out it must be sieved so that any rocks or bits of organic matter are removed. This step may also involve some pounding to break up any chunks of soil as shown by Skyley.

 

From there a small amount of each sample is placed in a paper cup by Louise to be tested for its pH. It is mixed into a slurry with a small amount of distilled water, the calibrated testing meter probe is placed in the mixture and the pH level is stored in the computer program for later retrieval.

 

In a manner similar to a coffee pour over, some of the soil is placed in filter paper that is resting in a test tube in preparation for the nutrient analysis. A Modified Morgan solution is the liquid used for this extraction method.

 

The nutrient analysis is done by a machine called the ICP which stands for Inductively Coupled Plasma. This machine would be right at home in Abby’s lab on NCIS! When I was in school back in the 70’s we were taught that matter existed in three states: solid, liquid, and gas. But matter has a fourth state and it is plasma. It doesn’t exist on Earth under normal conditions but we do witness it every time we see a lightning strike.  Plasma can be generated by using energy to ionize argon gas.

The plasma flame is hot. Really hot.  6000 Kelvin.  For some perspective, the surface of the sun is approximately 5,800 K.  The solution from the individual tube samples is passed through a nebulizer where it is changed to a mist that is introduced directly to the plasma flame. A spectrometer is then able to detect the elements that are present in the soil sample.

 

Additionally, the testing for phosphorus is done with this machine shown below, the Discreet Analyzer.

 

Some soil samples come from outside of CT and those may present a particular set of problems. The USDA has quarantines in several states to limit the spread of certain invasive insect pest species such as the imported fire ant, golden nematodes, and even a few plant species. For more information visit the Federal Domestic Soil Quarantines site.

Working at the UConn Soil Lab has been a great experience and quite an eye-opener. Who knew that there was so much behind a soil test?

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton, 2108

daffodil, stone wall

Last year was the year of the daffodil as declared by the National Gardening Bureau which inspired me to plant more of the yellow flowered bulbs in the fall. I am reaping the benefits of the work with sunny blossoms nodding ‘spring is here’ all over the yard.

daff clump

Daffodils are in the genus Narcissus, perhaps named after the Greek character that fell in love with his own refection in a pool of water. While the flower is a beauty, I am not sure it is so conceited. They are usually yellow, with trumpet shaped flower sitting atop a long stem. Other varieties come in white, cream and pink. Some have single blossoms and other double. Technically the genus Narcissus is divided into 13 main division, defined by number of flowers to a stem, cup shape and length, and length of perianth segments. These classifications are important to botanist or exhibitors of Narcissus, and can be found at The American Daffodil Society. Daffodil is a common name, Jonquil is another common name of one of the divisions.

daffs, back yard

Daffodils are considered long-lived perennials lasting many years and produce larger clumps annually if proper care is given. They are a bulb, best planted from late August through Thanksgiving. The sooner the bulb gets in the ground, the larger its root system will be the following spring. This lazy gardener planted daffodil bulbs during a January thaw on year, with moderately successful blooming results. Potted daffodils are commonly sold in spring as Easter plants. It is best to plant these outside once the flowers pass and the soil is workable in the garden. No need to wait for fall.

Stunning displays are created when mass planted in drifts. Avoid planting bulbs singularly. Mark areas of fall planted bulbs with golf tees to avoid planting other plants over them. Daffodils are deer and rodent proof because all parts of the daffodil plant are toxic if eaten. Squirrels may dig and relocate freshly planted bulbs, but they will not eat them. Sprinkle hot pepper flake over the area of newly planted bulbs.

daff, white and yellow 1

When planting bulbs, chose a site with half to full sun and good drainage. Water logged sites will rot bulbs. The pH preference for daffodils is slightly acid. Loosen the soil to a depth of one foot. Enrich the soil with compost or well-rotted manure, and a few tablespoons of bone meal to add phosphorus. Make a hole two times the height of the bulb, and several inches wide.  Example: for a three inch tall bulb, plant it so its bottom root end is six inches deep. Place the bulb so the pointed end is up. If in doubt plant the bulb sideways; the root will grow down and stem will grow up. Well after planting and until the ground freezes to help the roots develop. In the spring when first leaf tips emerge, fertilize with 5-10-10. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers on bulbs. Resume watering in spring if rains are not adequate.

After the flower fades, the plant will want to make seed, but don’t let it. Spending excess energy on seed production will reduce the flower size and production of next year’s flower. It is better to cut only the flower stalk back. Leave the leaves to grow and die back on their own. The leaves are where photosynthesis happens, creating energy to store in the bulb. The practice of tying the leaves together is discouraged as it blocks the leaves ability to sunlight. Only cut back the leaves once they yellow or brown. Notice the golf tee marking the spot and plant annuals around them to cover the now open spot in the garden.

daff seed pod forming

After five years clumps may need to be divided and the soil rejuvenated. Lift the entire clump, and separate the bulbs. There should be many smaller bulblets produced surrounding the large mother bulb. These can all be replanted in new place in an enriched bed.

-Carol Quish

daffodil

Cornus mas flowers April 24 2018

Cornus mas flowers- Cornelian cherry dogwood flowers in April before leaves appear

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

This spring has arrived at a plodding, glacial pace. Several snows in April and chilly, gray days which far outnumber the anticipated sunny, warmer ones seem to have put nature into a low gear. Birds that normally would have arrived in early April, like chipping sparrows, were late arrivals. Forsythia bloomed later than it did the past few springs, and soils have remained cold enough to hold back lawn grass growth. But the cold weather can’t last, and we finally have seen a few sunny days this week.

colletes at hole 4-14-2018 Pamm Cooper photo for Facebook

Native Colletes inaequalis ground nesting bee at entrance to her nesting tunnel- one of the earliest spring flying bees

Tree swallows arrived a couple of weeks ago, and barn swallows followed a week later. I always check out a nice swampy area along a road every spring when false hellebore is about a foot tall. This is when many migrating warblers start to come through on their way north. Two of the earlier arrivals are the yellow-rumped warblers and the palm warblers, which can often be seen together in good numbers as they catch insects on the fly. The loud drumming of pileated woodpeckers can be heard and barred and great horned owls should have nestlings by now. Canada geese should be sitting on eggs, with young hatching out in a week or so.

Pileated woodpecker pamm Cooper photo

Pileated woodpeckers

Bloodroot is now blooming, and before it is done, red trillium should also be blooming. Trout lily leaves are up, and its flowers should appear in a week or so. The early flowering azalea, Rhodendron mucronulatum, is flowering now with its welcome pink flowers. Bees were all over several plantings of this shrub on the UConn campus this past sunny Tuesday. Pieris japonica, or Japanese andromeda, Cornus mas and star magnolias are also in full bloom. Ornamental cherries are just beginning to bloom now and as the native black cherries begin to leaf out, look for tents made in the forks of branches by the Eastern tent caterpillars. Native bluets began blooming this week, and many native and honey bees, as well as early flying butterflies avail themselves of the nectar these tiny blue flowers provide.

purple trillium Pamm Cooper photo

Purple trillium blooms shortly after bloodroot

Rhododendron mucronulatum. Azalea Pamm Cooper photo (2)

Rhododendron mucronulatum azalea in bloom in late April. Note that this azalea does not retain its leaves through the winter

Spring peepers have been singing like a glee club, and are a welcome white noise in early spring for those of you who live near ponds. In vernal pools, egg masses of wood frogs, spotted salamanders and American toads can be found now. Diving beetles and water striders are also active now. Our vernal pools support life stages of many kinds of insects and amphibians, and provide water sources for many animals and birds as well.

spotted salamander nymph among frog eggs April vernal pool

Gilled larva of the spotted salamander swims among wood frog eggs in a vernal pool

Red, or swamp, maples are already dropping flowers, while spicebush are just starting to bloom.  Snowball viburnums are leafing out and new leaves seen curling are probably signs of snowball aphid feeding. Look inside the curled leaves for these aphids. While not a cause of alarm for the health of the plant, it is a cosmetic issue. Redbuds are showing deep pink flower buds as are the larger ornamental cherry varieties like Prunus subhirtella, the weeping Higan cherry. When these bloom, crabapples are not far behind.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese Andromeda, Pieris japonica, can bloom in March. This year it has remained in bloom through late April. Many bees visit its flowers.

More insects are becoming active now with the warmer weather. Look for the striking six- spotted tiger beetle along open woodland trails. Cabbage white butterflies are also arriving, and will lay eggs on native mustards and the invasive garlic mustards. The second generation may end up on your brassica later in the year. Mourning cloak and comma butterflies are out now, and look for swallowtails and the spring azure butterflies. Migrating red admirals and painted ladies usually arrive around the time of crabapple and invasive honeysuckle bloom. I can hardly (but must!) wait to see a swallowtail butterfly. To me this is a certain harbinger of steady, warm weather.

6-spotted tiger beetle

The 6-spotted tiger beetle is hard to miss

Mourning cloak early spring

The mourning cloak butterfly survives winters here in the north as an adult. Often it is seen imbibing at sap flows or on animal dung

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bluets Pamm Cooper photo

Tiger swallowtail on native bluets

As you venture out this spring, listen for the songs of newly arriving birds, observe  insects as they go about their daily activities and enjoy the flowers that join together to make spring a poetic response to winter. Definitely a more charming repertoire in answer to winter doldrums than my own seemingly useless “ hurry up spring” song and dance…

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

ringneck pheasant in early springIt has been a very long winter with little sight of spring even though it is the end of March. Normal spring garden chores are difficult to get done as the garden is under snow or still has frozen soil. Although the snow provided a good back drop to see a ring necked pheasant wandering through my yard this past week. They are non-native game birds that are sometimes released for hunting purposes, but flocks rarely survive to create sustained populations, it looks like this male made it through the winter just fine.

Some of my garden perennials were not so lucky this winter. It appears the voles and chipmunks have been busy feeding and tunneling their way through parts of the garden. The moles have created lots of heaved up tunnels in the lawn which sink when step on or tripped over. The heuchera below will need to be dug up and replanted. Fill in any tunnels such as the one on the right. Mouse traps sent in the runs might as a control measure. Cover the trap with an up-side-down bucket to keep out birds and cats.

Antsy gardeners can do much harm to the soil by working the ground if it is frozen or wet. Compaction will result and soil structure will be ruined. Soil structure is the way the soil parts are arranged and adhered together. Soil parts do not stack neatly like Legos or Lincoln Logs. They are non-uniform shapes with needed air spaces in between the particles to provide spaces for oxygen and water to hangout that are necessary for roots to access. Working wet or frozen soil squishes out those spaces, cramming the soil particles tightly together resulting in compaction. Once compacted soil dries, it is like a lump of cement. Plant roots have a very hard time breaking through compacted soil. Lightly rake to remove last year’s foliage, taking care to not damage new emerging shoots can satisfy the need to be outside and work in the garden.

daffodil foliage emerging

Daffodil foliage emerging.

crocus

Crocus

If you do have an area of compacted soil, deep tap-rooted plants are a great natural way to break it up. Plants with deep tap roots are strong and thick, working their way down to access nutrients deeper in the soil. Nutrients are moved through the plant up to the leaves, stems and flowers which will eventually senescence, dropping dead above ground parts on the top of the soil. Those plant parts will decompose leaving their nutrients in the upper range of the soil where weaker rooted plants will be able to reach them. Kind of like a natural rototilling moving soil nutrients. Plants with deep taproots are dandelions, comfrey and horseradish.

dandelion 1

Dandelion helps break up compacted soil.

Rhubarb is the earliest of the three perennial vegetables to awake in the spring. Horseradish follows shortly after, and asparagus takes at least another four weeks to send up shoots. Make each of these areas to avoid damage to their crowns. Better yet have designated beds for each crop. Horseradish can be an aggressive traveler so planting it away from other crops is recommended.

rhubarb emerging 2018

Rhubarb emerging March 30, 2018.

There is still time to remove, crush and kill gypsy moth eggs from tree bark. Hope for a wet spring to develop the fungus that infects the young caterpillars after they hatch from any egg masses which were left.

 

Gypsy moth egg cases, p.cooper photo.jpg

While cleaning up garden debris, watch for beneficial insect overwintered eggs like the praying mantid’s egg case below. Carefully remove the stem and egg mass to a safe place outside so it can hatch naturally when the weather warms. Do NOT bring it into your home unless you want it to hatch inside your heated house!

praying mantis egg mass

Praying Mantid Egg Case

Another spring chore can be done inside the home. Cut the top six inches off of leggy houseplants to give them a good pruning. Repot any that need it to get them ready for another year of growing. Stick some cuttings in a vase of water to get them to produce roots. Some plants do respond better than others and it is worth a try to produce new, free houseplants to share with friends.

roots in water

Pothos cuttings rooting in water

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

 

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