Gardening


A long time ago when I was in high school, we read and studied literature from Shakespeare to Bronte to Melville. One of my teachers was fond of having us memorize literary stanzas and as the topic being covered at the time was poetry, we all were to memorize a poem. Always being a flower lover, I chose the poem, ‘The Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850).

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/daffodils (Read entirety)

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Tete a tete with cat statue

Even today when I see a naturalized planting of daffodils, some of the words (albeit not as many as I’d like) come back to me. I don’t know if it was Wordsworth’s poem or the rather large yard that inspired me but I planted dozens of daffodils when I first moved into our present home. There are now I bet close to a thousand!

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Daffodils in the shrub bed.

Daffodils are members of the Amaryllis family and belong to the genus, Narcissus. All daffodils are narcissus but not all narcissus are called daffodils. The genus is divided into about a dozen divisions depending on flower type. There are a large number of hybrids as well. Daffodils refer to flowers with the large coronas or trumpets. These bulbous plants have also been referred to as jonquils, Lent lilies and daffadown dillies.

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Trumpet daffodil

Plants of the narcissus genus have been around since ancient times. They are native to parts of southern and western Europe and neighboring countries. In some parts of Europe they have naturalized. Daffodils symbolize different sentiments in various places. They represent vanity to some, and wealth and good fortune to others. Some cultures consider them unlucky because the flowers tend to bend like heads held in shame. White flowered varieties have been associated with graveyards perhaps because they were said to be the flower that carpeted Elysian Fields, the legendary Field of the Dead.

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White narcissus

I can’t say that I have seen very many white daffodils in local cemeteries but I have seen clumps of yellow daffodils lingering on old house lots. European settlers brought the bulbs to the new land with them. Anyone who has grown daffodils knows they are quite long-lived and some species, especially the yellow trumpet ones, have a tendency to self-seed as well as to produce offsets. While I doubt the plants blooming today were planted several hundred years ago by the early settlers, it is romantic to think about the bulbs crossing the ocean and lovingly being planted next to their new home. Each spring when they bloomed, they would serve as a reminder of what was left behind as well as hope for a brighter future.

Daffodils are not only beautiful, cheerful and often fragrant but they are among the toughest plants I have grown. Never are they bothered by insects or diseases and the deer do not eat them. Actually, the leaves contain various alkaloids that serve to protect the plant from nibbling.

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Daffodils in birdhouse and white gardens.

Most of my daffodils are the bright, golden yellow trumpet narcissus and they all bloom pretty much at the same time. Because there are so many species, cultivars and hybrids, real daffodil aficionados could select ones that bloom from early to late spring providing a 6 week or so show depending on the weather. The cooler the spring, the longer the blooms of spring flowering bulbs last.

While I am quite fond of my daffodils when they are in bloom, I do wish the foliage would ripen and turn brown quicker than it does. A good number of daffodils are in flower beds and as the foliage turns yellow and then brown it is a bit of an eyesore and hard to mulch around. One needs to leave the foliage to photosynthesize and send back carbohydrates to the bulbs so they have enough energy and food to survive the summer, fall and winter to send up their cheery flowers the following year. I will admit to braiding the foliage in some of the closer beds even though you are not supposed to do that.

Many of the daffodil flowers are pollinated and go on to produce seed heads containing dozens of viable seeds. It was becoming challenging to weed out all the little sprouts the following year so I do my best do clip any seed heads I find before they ripen.

As the bulbs multiply, clumps of daffodils form and after a few years, fewer flowers are produced because the clumps need to be divided. This is sometimes easier said than done as the bulbs have contractile roots that pull them deeper and deeper into the soil.

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Plantings increase in size each year.

Those with a fervent interest in daffodils might want to consider joining the American Daffodil Society (http://daffodilusa.org/). If you live or plan on visiting the Litchfield, CT area, the Trustees of Laurel Ridge Foundation invite folks to visit their daffodil planting from April through mid-May on Wigwam Road. Their website is http://www.litchfielddaffodils.com/.

Enjoy the cheery, fleeting blooms of daffodils. They signal the return of spring.

Dawn

Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinal)

Crabgrass is the bane of many people seeking a ‘nice’ lawn. It is a weedy grass which will out-compete desirable grass species and take over in a short time. Crabgrass has a wider blade, is lighter in color and grows faster than the lawn making it obviously stand out as a weed. Its seed germinates earlier and at lower ground temperatures than other desirable turfgrasses giving it a jump in growing time.

The best defense against all weeds of lawns is to maintain a healthy stand of turfgrass by having soil pH and nutrients at the correct levels. Healthy soil supports healthy grass. Lawns mowed at a height of three inches or taller has less crabgrass and other weeds as the soil it shaded, excluding light from reaching the seeds which initiates germination. Crabgrass is an annual growing new plants from seed each year. None of last year’s crabgrass lived through the winter.

Low cut grass invaded by crabgrass.

 

 

Chemical control against crabgrass is applying a pre-emergent herbicide. They attack the newly produced tissue from the germinating seed up to young plants with a couple of leaves. Pre-emergent herbicides have no effect on seeds in the soil that do not break dormancy and start to grow, only the seeds which start to grow. Timing of application is before the crabgrass seeds start to germinate when to the soil temperatures are 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same time the forsythia is just past its full bloom stage and starting to but out some green leaves.  The germination period ends when the lilacs begin to bloom. Just remember to apply after forsythia and before lilac flowers. Forsythia and lilac make a great plant indicator for applying the pre-emergent herbicide against crabgrass.

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Forsythia bush.

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Lilac, photo (psu.edu/lilac)

There are several different pre-emergent herbicide active ingredients with varying rates of how long they last in the soil. Products containing pendimethalin will last about four months out in the environment. Other active ingredients, dithiopyr, benefin+trifluralin, prodiamine, will last a shorter period of time. Read the labels for the residual rate for each formulation’s time it will last. Most pre-emergent herbicides will stop all seeds from continuing to grow after germinating. This means you will not be able to plant desirable grass seed after applying it. Products containing Siduron are the only pre-emergent herbicide that will allow cool season grass seeds to grow while eliminating crabgrass.

-Carol Quish

 

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Bloodroot

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still…”

Robert Frost

After an extremely dry 2016, spring is already bringing abundant showers here in Connecticut. Vernal pools in most areas have reached their full capacity of rainwater and snow melt. Streams are running strong and ponds that were so low last year are filling up. The warm February weather almost tricked some plants into budding out too early, but the snow and cold that came in early March nipped that process in the bud. Phoebes who had returned in early March were greeted with a foot of snow and freezing temperatures. But they survived. Now we are seeing April return once again, and with it should follow the heralds of warmer weather and longer days.

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Trout lilies in open woods in April

Native willows and maples, such as the red maples, are blooming now and early native bees are availing themselves of the pollen and nectar they provide. Colletes inaequalis– small, handsome ground-nesting bees- are emerging from their winter pupation homes in the soil, where they have lived all their pre-adult lives. They are important pollinators of many early- flowering native plants and often form large colonies in open areas of lawns with sandy soils. They seldom sting, and by the time grass is mowed for the first time, these bees are usually no longer flying in lawn areas. Females dug holes, bring in pollen and nectar they put in a “cellophane “ bag they make, and lay an egg on top. The larva feed on that supply until they pupate, and will emerge as adults the next spring. Queen bumblebees should be out and about any time now as well.

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Native Colletes inaequalis bee foraging on a willow flower

Spring peepers, out in late February for about a day just prior to a snow and freeze, have been giving a nightly chorus now for a couple of weeks. Wood frogs are singing and should be laying eggs any time now, along with spotted salamanders and the American toads.  Check out vernal pools for the floating egg masses of the wood frogs and the rounded masses of the salamander eggs stuck to twigs, stems and leaves under the water surface.

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Reflections on a vernal pool- with wood frog and spotted salamander eggs and young spotted salamander larvae swimming on right

Red trillium, Trillium erectum, should bloom around mid- April, if not before.  Tiny bluets, bloodroot and trout lilies also bloom April to May here. Bluets are also an important source of pollen and nectar for many pollinators and spring- flying butterflies such as the spring azure and tiger swallowtail. Dead nettles bloom by late April and receive visits from nay pollinators including honeybees, bumble bees and other native bees, syrphid and other flies and some butterflies.

Red trillium April Pamm Cooper photo

Red trillium

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs for a while, and the one that sings the most- all day- is the song sparrow. Males sit on the tops of small trees and shrubs, singing to announce their territory and to find a mate. The wood ducks are here now. Look for them in woodland ponds where there is good cover from shrubs and small trees along the water’s edge. These are very shy ducks and often take flight at the tiniest snap of a twig, so stealthy moves and quiet are the way to see them. Check out the trail behind the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park in late April. You may get to see small flocks of glossy ibis in the salt marsh area as they migrate through on their way north.

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Song sparrow with its rusty breast patch

Mourning cloak butterflies may been seen now, especially where trees have sap flows from splits or wounds to the bark. They are seldom seen on flowers, but will obtain nutrients from dung, sap, mud and fermenting fruits. Eggs are laid in rings around twigs of willow, elm and poplars among other woody trees.

Mourning cloak on sap flow from freshly cut tree stump in early April

Mourning cloak butterfly obtaining sap in April from a freshly cut tree stump

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Bumblebee on dead nettle flower

When you go out, listen for the raucous calls of pileated woodpeckers as they find mates and establish territories. Don’t forget to look down occasionally and you can find all sorts of insects and plants that might be missed otherwise. And check out the flowers of skunk cabbages for the insects that pollinate them. Stop, look and listen whenever and wherever you go, even if it is in your own backyard. Maybe you will agree with Albert Einstein-

“ Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.”

 
Pamm Cooper                                 All photos copyrighted by Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees and shrubs are showing signs of life as they swell in preparation of budding out. Let’s hope that they have survived the extreme cold that followed some unseasonably warm weather in February when they started to appear. Although we are still weeks away from seeing canopies of leaves and flowering shrubs the weather is becoming nice enough to enjoy a walk through the landscape. And without leaves and flowers to attract our attention our sight is drawn to other details that might normally go unnoticed.

As I was walking around the yard looking at the pussywillows and the lilac buds I noticed lichen growing along the side of the lilac trunk. We get many calls at the Home & Garden Education Center regarding grey-green growths along trunks and limbs of woody ornamentals. Most lichen are so unworldly-looking that the common misconception is that they must be causing harm to the host plant, especially since they are commonly first noticed when a tree is in distress. But a sparse canopy simply lets in more sunlight which is beneficial to the lichen.

Lichen on lichen

The truth is so different. In fact, lichen may be a benefit to the host plant by bringing extra moisture and environmental protection as the lichen take root. Further, removal of lichen may damage the underlying bark may create open wounds that would allow pathogens to enter. It is best left alone.

What are lichen, then? They not only live symbiotically with host plants, they can be found on soil and on rocks. Lichen are composite organisms and although they sometimes appear plant-like, they are not plants. They are algae (or cyanobacteria, a name that reflects their blue-green hues) that live among the filaments of fungi. They do not have roots to absorb water and nutrients but they can produce food through photosynthesis by the algae component. Lichen are sometimes called moss and may grow amongst them but they are not related. This image shows them on the same tree:

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Lichen can be correctly called an epiphyte though. Epiphytes grow harmlessly on other plants, only relying on the physical support for its structure and getting moisture and nutrients from the air and rain. Orchids are a beautiful example of an epiphytic plant and more can be read about them in the Ladybug Blog: A Visit to the Bahamas.

As lichen grow the forms that the thallus take determine the grouping that they fall within. The thallus are the obvious vegetative body parts and they can grow in a variety of ways and colors. On the left is the Parmotrema sp. in a foliose growth form. On the right is the Caloplaca sp. in a crustose growth form.

Lichen are long-lived but can have slow growth rate, as little as 2/100” in a year although there are varieties that can measured at 1 ½’ per anum. Lichen can be the first species to colonize freshly exposed rocks and can survive under the harshest conditions, such as arctic tundra and desert. It can survive a complete loss of water and then rehydrate when it becomes available. This moss has been growing on this rock for years. The cup-like structures are the apothecia, the fungal reproductive structure that produces the spores. While these spores will produce new fungi it won’t lead to new lichen. New lichen are formed when soredia are dispersed. Soredia are  clusters of algal cells wrapped in fungal filaments.

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So there is no need to panic when you see lichen. If the host plant does seem to be in decline, look for another cause. It could be due to an insect infestation (have Gypsy Moth caterpillars defoliated the canopy?), a vascular disease that has caused a general decline in vigor, or uneven watering practices. Check with the UConn Home & Garden Education for verification of any of these possibilities.

Susan Pelton

 

A common and potentially significant problem on a variety of houseplants, including both indoor ornamental and vegetable plants, is the two-spotted spider mite. Spider mites get their name from the wispy webbing they produce on infested plants.  Like spiders, they have eight legs so are not insects.

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Spider mite infestation on indoor pea plant. Note ‘stippling’, the tiny leaf spots which are mite feeding sites and the webbing (full of mites!) in the upper part of the photo. UConn photo.

Adult two-spotted spider mites, a common species both indoors and out in the northeast, are quite tiny at only about 1/50th of an inch long.  Because of this and their habit of feeding and reproducing on the undersides of leaves, they are often overlooked until populations are high and plants have sustained significant (easily visible) damage.

Both adults and the smaller, but similar nymphs feed on plant tissues by piercing cells with needle-like mouthparts and sucking out the contents. This results in cell death and a tiny yellow spot on the leaf. Once there are many spots, the leaf begins to look ‘stippled’ or off color and may die and fall from the plant. Many spots are bound to happen if conditions are warm and dry and the mites are not noticed early because they have a high rate of reproduction under these conditions.

If you see what could be early symptoms of a spider mite infestation, ie, leaves with a light amount of spotting or discoloration or a bit of webbing on the plant, check for mites by tapping symptomatic leaves over a sturdy white paper surface (a paper plate works great).  Mites will fall onto the plate and will crawl slowly allowing you to see them.

Where do spider mites on houseplants come from?  When it’s warm outside, they can easily hitchhike in on you, your pets, or even a breeze.  They may come in on any plant material brought in from outside or a newly introduced houseplant.  Because of their small size and the webbing they produce, they are easily picked up and moved around by air currents.

What can you do about them?  If you have an infestation as bad as the one pictured here (on indoor pea plants), the best solution is to dispose of the plants to protect others.  For a lighter or moderate infestation options for indoor plants include a spray of water in the tub or shower (a hand held water bottle can be used if the shower spray is too strong for the plant), insecticidal soaps, neem products or botanical oils.  Some soaps and oils can cause injury to sensitive plants.  If circumstances allow time, do a spot treatment on a few leaves and observe for injury (dead, browning or curling leaves) for a few days before treating the entire plant.  It’s important to get thorough coverage on the lower leaf surfaces, as that’s where many of the mites are.  Soaps and oils must coat the pest to be effective.  Typically, additional treatments must be made at approximately weekly intervals to clean up an infestation.  To avoid spreading mites to uninfested plants, avoid handling them after infested plants without washing your hands, gloves, tools, watering cans, etc. Note: If a plant must be treated in place (ie too large or delicate to move to the shower), protect nearby furniture, drapes and carpets with a covering.

When using pesticides, even organic or relatively safe products, always read and follow label instructions carefully.  Do not use products intended for outdoor use indoors.

By J. Allen

Last week the 2017 Rhode Island Compost Conference & Trade Show was held at Rhode Island College in Providence organized by Greg Gerritt of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island and Jim Murphy, the Director of Sustainability at the college. I suspect that when most people think of composting, they think about that pile in the backyard or perhaps a larger bin at the community garden or school year. Some of the workshops and exhibitors at the conference did focus on small scale composting but the takeaway theme was the need for a larger and more regionalized compost infrastructure.

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Sponsors of 2017 RI Compost Conference & Trade Show along with RI College Office of Sustainability

That does not necessarily mean larger composting operations but rather a larger network for moving compostable items to places where they can be composted and either used by the composter or distributed in some other manner.

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Greg Geritt welcoming folks to the conference

According to Rhode Island Food Strategy, about 35% of waste in that state consists of food and other compostables. Similar numbers have been cited nationwide. If not diverted from the waste stream, these items will end up in landfills or incinerators. Compostable trash not directly buried, may be incinerated first but then the ash is landfilled. Since the cost of hauling trash away depends on weight and food wastes are especially heavy, we as individuals or as a society are spending a lot of money burning and burying what really is the basis for an excellent soil amendment. Plus many landfills in New England are reaching capacity and the problems associated with them often makes them unwelcome neighbors. To this end, New England states including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have all passed legislation in an attempt to divert organic materials from landfills to composting facilities.

Our two morning plenary speakers were from SCS Engineers, a national environmental consulting firm. They gave us an overview of some compost technologies from open windrow to aerated static pile to in-vessel. Depending on the technology used, composting can be quite controlled and operations can be successfully sited in more urban locations. A most engaging concept promoted by this company was sharing. Expensive equipment like windrow turners and mixers were purchased by SCS and contracted out to multiple mid-sized compost operations which greatly benefited by using this equipment but would not have the funds to purchase them.

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Aerated static compost bins. Covered bins keep pests out and odors contained.

One version of community composting was covered by Michael Bradlee of Earth Appliance who set up a Compost Depot at Frey Gardens. Using those large (65 gallons I think) lidded trash bins, he set up a composting system in a small community garden designing a pipe system to aerate the bins so they could stay closed. As part of an urban initiative, folks were encourage to bring their food scraps to the compost site in covered 5 gallon buckets. They could exchange their full one for an empty one. Michael mixed the food wastes with leaves and would aerate the bins with either a hand aerator or power auger on a weekly basis. He kept records of the temperatures and adjusted his aeration system to keep the composting process active year round.

Karen Franczyk, the Green Mission Coordinator for the North Atlantic Region gave a presentation on how Whole Foods manages food scraps and I must say I was quite impressed and wished there was a store in my area. First, they work with other agencies in the community and donate any leftover food items pretty much on a daily basis. I don’t know what the numbers are in other states but in Rhode Island, 12% of the population is food insecure which means that these people do not know where there next meal will come from.

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Whole Foods Grind2Energy holding tanks.

All discarded items are sorted according to whether they can be recycled, composted or put into the trash stream. Employees are educated about their disposal systems and the company has been participating in a zero waste day each year.

Some of the more urban stores have limited areas for storing compostables until they can be picked up so a Grind2Energy system is employed instead. All compostable food items are put through a large grinder, water is added when necessary and the slurry is stored in tanks outside the building. The slurry gets picked up and trucked to a dairy farm in Rutland, MA which uses it to produce methane to heat their operation and also as fertilizer.

The closing speaker was Lorenzo Macaluso from the Center for EcoTechnology. This private, nonprofit provides free assistance to help businesses and institutions implement programs to divert waste food from disposal. He noted that for food waste diversion programs to be successful they depend on policy, infrastructure, education, technical assistance and regulation. All these pieces need to be on the same page and working towards that goal.

If you are interested in learning more about food waste in America, check out the UConn Science Salon’s offering on April 6 at the Spotlight Theater in Hartford. The topic is ‘Throwing it All Away: America’s Food Waste Epidemic’. Find out how the excessive amount of food waste from production to consumer affects food security, resource conservation, climate change and more. Find out more at: http://sciencesalon.uconn.edu/upcoming-events/

Those interested in spreading the word about composting might want to consider enrolling in the UConn Master Composter Program held each fall. Information about program location, instructors and registration will be available in July at www.ladybug.uconn.edu.

Compost rules!

Dawn

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Black Knot Fungal Gall

Black knot of wild cherry and plum trees can easily be seen this time of year without leaves on the trees. The fungal disease manifests into large, black distorted growths called galls on the branches. The galls start on young, green tissue when an airborne spore lands on the newest branch tissue. A green swelling will enlarge the branch as the parasitic fungus develops inside, malforming the branch. By summer’s end, the swelling turns black, and can eventually girdle and kill any new growth beyond the site of infection. Black galls can enlarge and grow over several years. Young trees can be killed in a few years, while older trees can survive as long as some branches are not affected.

Black know by John Kehoe

Black Knot galls, photo by John Kehoe.

 

Black knot is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa. Spores are discharged from the mature, black knots during spring rains. Optimal temperatures for spores to infect trees are 55 to 77 degrees F. This usually is the same time of bud swell. It can take two years for the gall to reach maturity and produce more spores.

Black knot

Domestic  flowering and fruiting cherry and plum species are common host plants, as are  wild Prunus species. Some varieties are labeled with some resistance; none are immune. Check any woods and forest nearby for possible wild sources to be removed to protect plants in your yard.

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Control measure are to cut out any knots or branch swellings at two to four inches below the infection site. Burn or put in the household garbage any pruned material to reduce amount of innoculum on site. Do not compost gall as they can continue to release spores which might cause reinfection. Fungicide can be used as a protection layer and should be applied at bud swell and stopped two weeks after full bloom. Follow label directions for number of times to use during the duration of susceptibility.

-Carol Quish

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