Gardening


If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.

  • Alex Trebek
cecropia day of eclose

Cecropia moth made it to maturity from caterpillar raised in a sleeve

Sometimes, in the course of our lifetime, we may find ourselves in the right place at the right time to make a difference in the life of some living thing. Maybe it is just the simple act of putting a nestling bird back in the nest from which it has fallen. Or we may be able to transplant a native plant to a safe location just a few feet away from the reach of a roadside sickle bar. Once I had to scoop up with a towel a baby fox that had fallen asleep in a dangerous place on the golf course and put it back with its brothers (or sisters!) who had chosen their resting place wisely. While it may not always be a good thing to interfere, sometimes it may be the best thing.

box turtle crossed road day after rain 5-30-16 Pamm Cooper phot copyright 2016

Box turtle was helped across busy road

Where I work, we often have a surprise when mowing early in the morning. This year when I was mowing a green with lights on just before sun-up, I noticed something that I thought was an earthworm moving in the path of the mower. At the last second before running it over, the creature starting running on little legs and I stopped in the nick of time. It was a tiny salamander. I put it in a plastic cup with a lid I always have with me and later on I put the little guy in the woods near a vernal pool.

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tiny salamander saved from a mower

In a similar way, the eft form of red-spotted newts often end up on greens or fairways the day after a rain. Being so small, they are often unable to make it back to the woods where they belong. So placement in a plastic cup keeps it safe until the opportunity comes to set the little eft on the forest floor. Like Shakespeare wrote- ‘all’s well that ends well’.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

Our giant silkworm moth caterpillars have a high percentage that are killed by introduced parasites meant to control the gypsy moth caterpillars. When I find young silkworm moth caterpillars in the wild, I like to raise them so prevent parasitism. When they form cocoons, I take them back from whence they came. Cocoons can be attached to twigs of the host plant with a bread tie or put in leaf litter below.

cecropias just before second instar

First instar cecropia caterpillars found on alder and raised in captivity safe from introduced parasitic wasps

Turtles often are the recipients of human kindness, especially when they attempt to cross roads. Box turtles are frequently seen crossing roads the day after a summer rain, and many have been helped across by kind people. Some turtles travel great distances to lay their eggs and encounter similar hazards. Once we found three spotted turtle eggs while renovating a bunker. Carefully marking them to keep them right-side up, they were transferred to an aquarium and placed under sand. Within two months they hatched and were released on the banks of the pond where the eggs where originally laid. If it were possible for turtles to leap for joy, they would have.

spotted turtle one week old 2012

Spotted turtle hatched from egg just before release

spotted turtle saved from the mower

Another spotted turtle removed from harm’s way

If a baby bird is found on the ground, it is important to note whether it is a nestling, which has fallen from the nest prematurely, or a fledgling, which should be out of the nest. The cedar waxwing shown below was a fledgling found on the ground on a cart path. It was moved out of harm’s way to a low branch nearby where the parents easily found it. Unlike many other animals, parents will still feed and care for baby birds even after human handling.

cedar waxwing fledgling

Cedar waxwing fledgling moved from a cart path to a low branch

There are walking sticks I find every year on certain plants on a particular power line right- of- way. A lot of tree and shrubs were marked to be cut down to clear the lines including a small clump of filbert and viburnum that are the host plants for these insects. I wanted to try to save a few before the chain saws arrived, so I took my beating sheet and was able to find several tiny walking sticks that probably had hatched that week. They were raised that summer until work along the lines was complete. Since the host plants were left standing, the walking sticks were returned.

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Power line right-of-way after drastic tree removal. Walking stick host plants escaped the saw

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Walking stick just hatched removed from power line area, raised and released back after tree removal work finished

This year we had an interesting incident involving honey bees. Since it was late in the year and many flowers were no longer available, honey bees were very busy on black and blue salvia in a large planter outside the clubhouse. The problem was, someone had fallen into and smashed the salvia and it had to be removed. Our gardener noticed that over fifty honey bees were still swarming around where the plant had been, and they were even trying to get nectar from the petals remaining on the ground. Since a planting nearby along a stone wall also had the same salvia, we took small branches with the flowers and held them over the ground where the bees were. The bees immediately went for the flowers on the stalks and stayed there, or flew with them to the front planting. We shook the bees off, and they found the new flowers right away. We were able to get all the bees over there in this way. They probably would have found the other salvia on their own, but it was something to do…

karen transporting honeybees

Transporting honeybees on a branch of black and blue salvia flowers

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Honey bees inside flowers and following branch as they are moved to a new nectar site

To help wildlife on your own property, include water dishes for toads, chipmunks, and other animals, birdbaths and perhaps bird and bee houses. Provide shelter for  birds such as small trees and shrubs, which may also double as food sources and nesting places.

bee nest house using bamboo tubes

Bee nesting house using bamboo tubes that should be sealed on one end with mud or another substance

When you are out and about enjoying  nature in the wild or in your own back yard, it is always satisfying and cheering to one’s own little self to see something else become better off because of what we may be able to do. Just think- you don’t have to be a nature expert to become, at least for a little while, a bee whisperer.

Pamm Cooper                                              all photos by Pamm Cooper

Every growing season brings a variety of inquiries into the UConn Home & Garden Education office, either by snail mail, email, or in person. This year was no exception and I would like to share some that I found particularly interesting.

As we are entering the Christmas season I will start with an image of a Christmas cactus with raised bumps on its leaves. Although they were the same color as the leaf they had a translucent appearance when viewed with the light from behind. These blisters are edema (oedema)are the result of a disruption in the plant’s water balance that causes the leaf cells to enlarge and plug pores and stomatal openings. Moving the plant to a location with more light and watering only when the soil is dry can control edema.

Edema on Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus with edema symptoms

The cold of winter can cause problems that sometimes aren’t apparent until later in the year. Tree trunks that are exposed to southern light during the winter can suffer from sunscald and frost cracks. Sunshine and warm daytime temperatures can warm a tree enough so that the sap begins to run but the nighttime temps will cause the sap to freeze and expand, weakening the bark and resulting in vertical cracks. Dogwood with sunscald (on left) and willow with frost crack (on right) are among the susceptible species.

 

There were several incidences of huge populations of black cutworm larvae emerging in the spring including a group that appeared to be taking over a driveway! The Noctuidae moth can lay hundreds of eggs in low-growing plants, weeds, or plant residue.

The wet spring weather that helped to alleviate the drought of the past two years also had an effect on the proliferation of slime molds, those vomitus-looking masses that are entirely innocuous. The dog stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus) is another fungus that made several appearances this year.

Hosta plants exhibited several different symptoms on its foliage this year and the explanations were quite varied, from natural to man-made. The afore-mentioned wet spring and summer or overhead watering systems can cause Hosta to have the large, irregular, water-soaked looking spots with dark borders that may be a sign of anthracnose (the below left and center images). In the image below on the right the insect damage that shows up as holes that have been chewed in foliage may be caused by one of Hosta’s main pests, slugs.

But one of the more enigmatic Hosta problems presented itself as areas of white that appeared randomly on the foliage. Several questions and answers later it was determined that the Hosta in question was very close to a deck that had been power washed with a bleach solution! Yeah, that will definitely give you white spots.

Bleach damage 3

That bleach bath also affected a nearby coleus (below on left). Coleus downy mildew (Peronospora sp.) also likes the cool the cool temperatures and humidity of spring (below on right). The gray-purple angular blotches of this fungal disease were first observed in New York in 2005. Fungicides can be helpful if used early and thoroughly, and overcrowding and overhead watering should be minimized.

The grounds of the residence where my in-laws live have a lot of flowering plants in the landscape and as we walked one evening I noticed that the white roses had spots of red on them. These small, red rings are indicative of Gray mold (Botrytis cinerea), a necrotrophic fungal disease that is also a common problem in grapes called botrytis bunch rot. The disease is a parasitic organism that lives off of the dead plant tissues of its host.

The fungus Gymnosporangium clavipes, cedar-quince rust, on Serviceberry warranted several calls to the center due to its odd appearance. The serviceberry fruit gets heavily covered with the aecia tubes of the rust which will release the aeciospores that infect nearby members of the Juniper family, the alternate host that is needed to complete the cycle of the infection.

Two other samples that came in, goldenrod (below on left) and sunflower (below on right), shared unusual growths of foliage. Sometimes plant aberrations can be the result of a virus (such as rose rosette disease), fungus (such as corn smut fungus), or, like these samples, phytoplasma. Phytoplasma is the result of bacterial parasites in the plant’s phloem tissue and can result in leaf-like structures in place of flowers (phyllody) or the loss of pigment in flower petals that results in green flowers (virescence). Phytoplasma parasites are vectored by insects.

A frequent question revolves around ‘growths’ of a different kind, in particular the white projections that can cover a tomato hornworm. These are the pupal cocoons of the parasitic braconid wasp. The female wasp lays its eggs just under the skin of the hornworm and the newly hatched larvae will literally eat the hornworm to death. As the larvae mature they will chew their way to the outside where they will spin their cocoons along the back and pupate. As the hornworm is effectively a goner at this point they should be left undisturbed so that the next generation of wasps will emerge to continue to help us by naturally controlling this tomato pest.

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Tomato hornworm with braconid wasp pupal cocoons

 

Another wasp that was caught in the act was the cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus), a large, solitary, digger wasp. Cicada killers, also called cicada hawks, are so called because they hunt cicadas to provision their nests. It is the female cicada killer that paralyzes the cicada and flies it back to her ground nest. The male cicada killer has no stinger and although its aggressive nature can seem threatening to humans, the male spends most of its time grappling with other males for breeding rights and investigating anything that moves near them.

Cicada killer wasp

A cicada killer wasp paralyzes a cicada

 

Speaking of noticing what’s going on around you, as my husband was walking past a False indigo (Baptisia australis) in July he heard a strange cracking sound and called it to my attention. The plant in question was outside of a gym on the Hofstra University campus where our son’s powerlifting meet had just ended. As many lifters exited the building amid much music and commotion we stood their staring at the Baptisia, heads tilted in that pose that is more often found on a puzzled dog. The bush was indeed popping and cracking as the dried seed pods split open!

 

But none of our inquiries approach the level of oddity reported by a retiree in Karlsruh, Germany, who thought that he had found an unexploded bomb in his garden in September. Police officers called to the scene discovered not a bomb but in fact an extra-large zucchini (11 lbs.!) that had been thrown over the garden hedge.

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This is not an unexploded ordnance!

 

I look forward to next year’s growing season with great anticipation!

Susan Pelton

 

Living in a developed nation, we have a tendency to take too many things for granted. We can just turn on the faucet and fill a glass with water. When illness occurs, antibiotics are often prescribed. Looking for a warm weather gift – what about cotton flannel pajamas or a wool cap? Drive down to the nearest store and a near mind-boggling array of food products greets you.

What do all of these things have in common? They are all affected by the soil and its properties. Among its functions, soil regulates the flow of water. Will it soak in and replenish groundwater tables or run off carrying valuable topsoil and nutrients? Many do not know that the soil contains millions of species of microbes that produce many unique substances including the antibiotic, streptomycin. Cotton and flax plants are used to make clothing. Sheep and alpacas graze on forage plants growing in the soil. Their fleece is spun into wool yarns. Whether vegan or omnivore, the vegetables, fruits and grains we consume, or feed eaten by livestock raised for meat or dairy products are grown in soils.

Winter squash in basket

Winter squash. Photo by dmp.

Soils not only sustain life both above and below the ground but they store and recycle nutrients. As plant or animal debris falls to the soil surface, microbes decompose these remains releasing essential elements for themselves and other organisms. Soil plays a large role in the nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur nutrient cycles. These nutrients are held on both organic and inorganic soil particles, and in the bodies of soil dwellers and eventually made available to both plants and animals.

While the uninformed may think of the soil as an inert substance, those familiar with working the soil and getting their hands ‘dirty’ can almost feel and often smell the life in every handful of healthy soil. That earthy odor that emulates from soil stirred or walked upon after a rainstorm is that of geosmin. It is a volatile organic compound produced mostly by soil organisms called actinomycetes. Scientists do not know what purpose it serves other than to clue us into the fact that the soil smells healthy.

Soil is a complex, dynamic living ecosystem. It is the soil organisms that give the soil life and upon which we also depend, whether we realize it or not. These tiny creatures have co-evolved with plants over billions of years and formed symbiotic relationships. In its simplest sense, plants feed the microbes and the microbes feed the plants. It is hard to fathom but in the top 6 inches of an acre of healthy soil, there may be anywhere from 1000 to 5000 pounds of soil organisms!

bare soil

Bare soil is subject to loss by erosion. Photo by dmp.

Aside from providing plants with nutrients and other essential life substances, certain microbes exude a sticky substance called glomalin. This substance is key to good soil structure as tiny particles of sand, silt, clay and organic materials are bound together to form soil aggregates. The aggregates give soil a granular or crumb structure with spaces for air and water and roots to travel. Well-aggregated soils allow more water to infiltrate them, are less compacted, have less runoff and erosion and encourage plant growth.

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Exudates from roots and microbes result in soil aggregates. Photo by dmp.

For microbes to do their jobs, they need food just like we do and microbes love organic matter. Our soils in many situations need organic matter too. Several sources have documented world soil organic matter levels declining over the years due to poor soil management. Not only is organic matter essential for soil microbes but it benefits the planet as it serves to sequester carbon. As some of the organic matter is processed by microbes, it is turned into complex, humus compounds that are very resistant to decay so carbon can be stored in them for years.

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Bark mulch on perennial bed. Photo by dmp.

Carbon is at the forefront of many discussions and research projects in regards to its contribution to climate change. As most people are aware, carbon and oxygen together form carbon dioxide (CO2) which is known to be a greenhouse gas meaning it has the ability to hold heat. The more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the more heat it can hold with the result being changing weather patterns often bringing with them unprecedented weather events such as hurricanes and droughts.

The carbon cycle is fairly simple. Carbon cycles through the atmosphere, the soil and living creatures be they plants, animals or humans. We can’t make more carbon. There are the same number of carbon atoms on the planet now as there was when it was formed. Carbon just moves through these three storehouses. The reason there is more carbon in the air is because it is being removed from the ground by the burning of fossil fuels (the remains of carbon containing plants and animals), deforestation, the conversion of solid carbon in the soil into gaseous carbon dioxide because of poor soil husbandry and other land management practices or decisions.

Increasing the amount of organic matter in soils, whether they be in your backyard or a farmer’s field or on natural sites, is one way to keep carbon where it belongs – in the ground. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn, use mulch or cover crops in garden beds, compost kitchen and yard wastes and consider using natural fertilizers. Yes, these are tiny efforts when compared to what is needed on a global scale, but every measure helps. Support larger scale initiatives to manage soils sustainably.

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Keep soil covered. Straw mulch in vegetable bed. Photo by dmp.

The Earth has 58 million square miles of land area but only about 11 percent is considered arable. When this is divvied up by the number of people living on this planet now, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7.5 billion, it means that there is about one-half an acre of arable land per person. Think about that for a moment. Perhaps this realization will find more people wanting to learn about creating healthy soils. It really is time to stop treating our soils like dirt!

Dawn P.

Some of my most cherished plants came to me as gifts of seeds from friends. A rosy throated, creamy white foxglove originated in a friend’s garden in Brookfield, a floriferous tall, pink balsam is from another’s in Southbridge and a deliciously scented lilac tinged datura came from Leicester. I enjoy all these plants not only for their beauty but also for their memory of times spent in good company.

Balsam from Rocky

Old-fashioned pink balsam. Photo by D. Pettinelli

About this time I start collecting seed for next year’s gardens. Saving seed doesn’t require that much effort for most plants and I personally like the feeling of truly self-perpetuating garden.

Not all seeds can be successfully saved. Hybrids, for instance are a carefully controlled cross between two different parents. If you collect the seeds and sow them, they may resemble one of the parent plants or if another cross was made, say by a bee during pollination, they may be something completely different. This is why you find odd looking squashes coming out of the compost pile. While you can plant your saved hybrid seed, you just won’t know what you’re getting.

Non-hybrid or open-pollinated plants will come true from seed. These are generally older varieties of flowers and vegetables that were often grown in our grandparents’ gardens and usually are referred to in this day of modern hybrids as heirlooms. Some excellent sources for heirloom flower seeds are Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com), Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseed.com) and Select Seeds (www.selectseeds.com).

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Browallia from Select Seeds. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Numerous garden flowers offer seed saving opportunities. Vigorous self-seeders like nicotiana, calendula, cynoglossum, bachelor buttons, ammi, sunflowers, celsosia, nigella, snapdragons, tall verbena and cosmos, I just let do their thing in the garden and transplant wayward seedlings each spring. These are hardly annuals whose seeds can survive the winter. The ones to collect are the half hardy and tender annuals that would never make through on their own.

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White and lavender nicotiana. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Some to consider are marigolds, zinnias, four o’clocks, morning glories, salvias, petunias, nasturtiums, sweet William, thunbergia, celosia and balsam. Finding the seeds may be the hardest part of the task for novices. If you started them from seed you may remember what it looked like – tiny black beads, large and rounded, long and flat, or thin and papery. Take apart a few dead flowers and look for the same type of seed you planted.

marigold seeds

Marigold seeds. Photo by D. Pettineli

Ideally, seeds should mature on the plant. If frost threatens, cover the plants or pull the whole plant up and hang it in the basement until seed heads have dried. Collect your seeds and let them air dry for a few days before storing in coin envelops or even better, airtight containers like small zippered-lock bags or clean pill bottles. Remove as much of the chaff surrounding the seeds as possible as it may hold moisture and cause your seeds to mold. Be sure to label them and keep in a cool, dry place until ready to sow next year.

coin envelopes

Seeds can be stored in labelled coin envelops. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Seeds from tomatoes need a wet processing. Let the tomato thoroughly ripen, then cut it open and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Add a little water and stir. Let set a few days but add more water if necessary to cover seeds. Viable seed will sink to the bottom. Pour off the debris on top and check to see that the gel that surrounds each seed is dissipated. If not, repeat the process. When ready I just stick the seeds on waxed paper to dry and store in labeled airtight containers. Serious seed savers might want to check out books like Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. There may be newer books out there but I have found her advice to be helpful and accurate.

Dawn P.

As the gardening season is winding down, produce is piling up in the kitchen. Potatoes have been dug, peppers are picked and squash is in a basket. Now is the time to store the rewards of your hard won labors.

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Photo from PSU.edu

When I was a child, my grandmother’s home had a root cellar with a dirt floor and field rock walls. It was the ‘room’ between the wooden stairs up to the outside and the cellar, which was filled with scary, old things that made loud noises,  smelled of kerosene and musty clothing, and housed the occasional snake.  I did not like the cellar, but loved going into the root cellar. It smelled of the earth, like soil and the hay bales we placed to hold wooden boxes off of the floor. The boxes were filled with clean sand for the keeping of carrots, beets and turnips buried in the damp sand. None of vegetables where supposed to touch each other to prevent a rotten spot from occurring or spreading to the adjacent root vegetable.  Cabbages were laid on other hay bales, up off the floor, as were wooden boxes of winter squashes and pumpkins. Onions were braided together hand hung from nails on the beams overhead or put into burlap grain bags repurposed. The root cellar was dark and moist, perfect for holding vegetables. Yes, we had a refrigerator but it wasn’t as large as today’s, nor did it provide enough room for all the garden excess intended to get us through the winter. The root cellar was a form of primitive refrigeration using the cool and constant temperature of below ground to store food. Our modern day homes don’t come equipped with root cellars, but we can still store the bounty of our gardens.

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Photo from University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Winter squash and pumpkins need curing for long storage of several months. Squash will last longer is the stems are left on. After picking, let them lay in the sun off the ground, on a picnic table perhaps, for about a week. Turn them over every couple of days to make sure all sides are exposed to the sun. Curing hardens the skin of the squashes, making them less likely to rot in storage. Once cured, brush off any remaining dirt, then wash the squash with a 10 percent bleach and water solution, or a 50/50 vinegar and water mix. Either mixture will disinfect any fungi or bacteria which harm the squash once stored. Wrap each squash in newspaper and place in a basket or box with slats or openings on the sides to promote ventilation. The newspaper will create an air space between each squash. Store in a cool, dry area of the home that will not go below freezing. 50 degrees F is optimum. I put mine on the bottom step of my basement hatchway.

winter squash storage

hatchway storage

Potatoes must be cured also. After the foliage has died back, dig up the potatoes. They need to cure and be stored in the dark, out of the sun or they will develop green spots on the skin that can have toxic properties. A dark tool shed or garage without windows will work well. After digging, lay tubers on newspaper in the dark space for about two weeks at 50 to 60 degrees F. Potatoes should not touch during the curing process. After the two weeks, wipe off any dirt without washing at all. Remove any tubers with spots or damage to eat first as they will not store well. Place storage potatoes in a bushel basket or cardboard box. Cover with newspaper or burlap to exclude any light. Place in a space that will not freeze and not get above 50 degrees F for longest keeping quality.

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Potatoes, photo by Carol Quish

 

Onions can be dug and laid right on top of the ground for about a week as long as there is no danger of frost or rain. If rain is threatened, move them to a shed, porch or garage with good ventilation.  Necks will dry and brown. They can then be braided together or kept in mesh bags or bushel baskets as good airflow is needed. Keep them out of the light and a cool, 35 to 35 degree F location.

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Photo from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

The root crops of carrots and beets can be dug, wiped clean and stored in airtight freezer bags in the refrigerator. Leave an inch of the green tops on the vegetables and do not cut off any root material from the base. Cutting into the flesh gives fungi and bacteria a place to enter. An alternative method of storage is in damp sand just like in the root cellar with a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F. Some people leave them right in the ground, only digging up what they need before the ground freezes. Covering the in-ground crop with a thick layer of hay or straw will delay the ground from freezing until it gets really cold.

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Carrots, photo by Carol Quish

Green tomatoes can be gathered before the first frost. Select only fruit with no bad spots. Get out the newspaper once again, to wrap each tomato for protection and airflow. Alternatively, lay tomatoes in single layers separated with layers of newspapers. Keep out the light and keep in a cool spot below 50 degrees F. Check them all once per week to remove any that develop rot. Hopefully they will ripen by the New Year.

tomatoes end of season

Tomatoes not ripe yet, Photo by Carol Quish

One crop I gather to remind me of years gone by and out of style is Quince. My local orchard has a quince tree as most farm houses had outside its kitchen. Quince fruit has a very high pectin content which was commonly boiled along with any fruit to make a jelly or jam before powdered or liquid pectin was commercially available.

Surejell and Certo has made the backyard quince tree fall out of favor. I admit I don’t use the quince fruit to make my jellies and jams anymore, but at least I am still preserving the harvest in an updated manner.

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-Carol Quish,  photos copyright, Carol Quish

Viceroy butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush September 2017

Viceroy butterfly on ‘Miss Molly’ butterfly bush

“By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer.”
–   Helen Hunt Jackson, September, 1830-1885

September brings a wealth of inspiration to the senses. Leaves of Virginia creeper are red already, there is the intoxicating scent of wild grapes in the pre-dawn foggy mornings, asters and goldenrods bring colorful splashes to the landscape and sunsets may fill the cooling sky with brilliant deep reds and oranges. Tree Hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, had a great year, and many still have panicles of colorful flower heads. While many plants and insects are winding down to an early retirement, there is still a lot going on in the great outdoors.

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester Pamm Cooper photo 2017

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park

It may be the time of year for oddities, now and then. For instance, there is a horse chestnut outside our office on the Storrs campus that has several flowers in full bloom this week. While many shrubs and fruit trees, like cherries and azaleas, may have a secondary bloom in the fall after rains, cool weather with a late autumn warm spell following, a chestnut blooming at this time of year is a more remarkable event. A bumblebee spent time visiting the flowers, so a second round of pollen and nectar is a bonus in that quarter.

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Horse chestnut with visiting bumblebee – an unusual bloom for September

Red-headed crickets are a first for my gardens this September. These small crickets have a distinctive red head and thorax, iridescent black wings, and yellow legs.  At first glance, they really do not appear to be crickets because of how they move around vegetation. They also have large palps with a paddle-like end that they wave around almost constantly, giving the appearance of mini George Foremans sparring in the air before a fight. Found mostly only three feet above the ground, they have a loud trill and are usually more common south and west of Connecticut.

red headed bush cricket backyard garden 2017

Red-headed bush cricket

While visiting Kent Falls recently, I came upon a few small clumps of American spikenard. Aralia racemose, loaded with berries. Highly medicinal, this native plant is found in moist woodland areas such as along the waterfall trail at Kent Falls. Roots are sometimes used as a substitute for sarsaparilla, another Connecticut wildflower.

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American spikenard berries ripen in September

Many migrating butterflies like monarchs and American Ladies are on the move now and may be found on late season flowers like butterfly bush, zinnias, Tithonia, Lantana, cohosh, goldenrod, asters and many other flowers. In annual plantings where I work, honey bees are especially abundant on Salvia guaranitica  ‘ Black and Blue ’  right now.  And while many butterflies and bees can be found on various butterfly bush cultivars, the hands on favorite seems to be the cultivar ” Miss Molly” which has deep red/pink, richly scented flowers that attract hummingbirds, flower beetles, fly pollinators, people and bees galore. This is a great addition to a pollinator or butterfly garden. Other late season bloomers for our native insects and butterflies are black cohosh and Eupatorium  rugosum, (chocolate Joe-Pye weed), as well as asters and goldenrods.

American lady on Tithonia sunflower

American Lady on Tithonia sunflower

Black and blue salvia

‘Black and Blue’ salvia is great for attracting hummingbirds and honey bees

Snapping turtles are hatching now.  The other day while mowing fairways, I spotted long dew tracks and there at the end were two little snapper hatchlings. Very soft upon hatching, they are often heron chow, and these little turtles will travel long distances to find a good habitat.

newly hatched snapping turtle 9-25-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Newly hatched snapping turtle

Every day at my house, we engage in a “Where is Waldo?” type hunt in the backyard gardens. What we are looking for are the tiny gray tree frogs that are hanging out on certain plants during the day. Snapping up any insects that get too close, these guys are a lot of fun to watch and look for. Most of ones we are finding are green, and are slightly larger than a thumbnail right now.  It gives us all some free entertainment before the leaves fall and we move on to- raking leaves…

two thumbnail size gray tree frogs Pamm Cooper photo

Two tiny gray tree frogs in my garden

Katydids, crickets and sometimes tree frogs are making a racket at night. Although really not unpleasant, to me, they are loud. But more enjoyable to listen to than the neighbor’s barking dog…I found a katydid eating a hyssop flower recently, but who cares about that this late in the year?

katydid eating hyssop flowers in September

katydid eating hyssop flwer

Bees are having their last hurrah now as the blooming season winds down. While native goldenrods and asters are important food sources of food for late season bees and wasps, there are many garden plants that are important nectar and pollen sources as well. In my own garden, I have two hyssops- anise and blue giant hyssop. There were bumblebees and honeybees that went on both, but there were small bees that preferred only the anise hyssop. These bees were very noisy, and hovered near flowers before landing, behaving like hover flies. Most likely these bees were in the Megachilid genera- the leaf-cutting bees. Abdominal hairs collect the pollen in these species and may take on the brilliant colors of pollen from the flowers they visit.

Megachilid leaf cutting bee on aster Belding September 2017

Megachile family leaf-cutting bee on aster

As the season winds down, there are still some caterpillars to be found, like the beloved wooly bears and other tiger moth cats like the yellow bear. A spotted Apotelodes was a good find. A robust, densely hairy caterpillar, this large fellow is notable for three sets of long hairs called “pencils” along the dorsum, and for its equally conspicuous red feet, making it look like it is wearing five pairs of little red shoes.

spotted apatelodes on honeysuckle Cohen Woodland field 9-12-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar showing its little red feet

And just for fun, next year consider planting a candy corn vine, Manettia inflate, on a small trellis.  An annual vine, flowers last well into the fall before the first killing frost. This South American native has tubular flowers that resemble candy corn, and they are a favorite of the hummingbirds (and myself!) in my backyard.

candy corn vine an annual fun plant Pamm Cooper photo

Candy corn vine

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo by Joan Allen, UConn

 

Chrysanthemum season is upon us. This traditional and beautiful fall flower adds a splash of color when most other garden plants are fading for the season. Chrysanthemums have a long list of potential pest and disease problems but, most often, they are free of problems during their short reign of glory in the fall. This article will cover some of the most common problems, their symptoms and what to do to prevent or minimize them.

Several fungi can cause damage to leaves, flowers, and stems. They can cause spotting of leaves or petals and sometimes dieback of plant parts. The fungal disease ray blight results in spotted or killed leaves and stems along with flowers that may be blackened and deformed on one side. Fungal spore production, spread and new infections are all favored by moist conditions. Practices that minimize humidity and leaf wetness will in turn reduce these diseases. If possible, avoid overhead irrigation by watering at the base of the plant.  If this is impractical, water early in the day to promote rapid drying.  Space plants to allow for good airflow between them. Remove diseased plant parts or severely diseased leaves to protect those remaining. While fungicides are not typically necessary, they may be applied as directed on the label in severe cases to protect other plants.

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Symptoms of ray blight including aborted and damage flowers. Photo credit: Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden , British Crown, Bugwood.org

There are two important rust diseases of chrysanthemum. Symptoms on the upper surface of the leaves are quite similar for the two of them and consist of pale yellow leaf spots. To check for rust, flip the leaves over and look for sporulation.  Brown rust, the most common, will have small mounds of dark brown spores on the underside and white rust would have pale beige to peach colored spore masses.  White rust is important to report to state plant pathologists because it is an introduced and regulated disease.  The objective of these regulations and responses (plant destruction/quarantines) is to prevent this disease from becoming established in the United States. While this disease is primarily found in greenhouse and production facilities, it has been found in the landscape in Connecticut before. To inquire about a possible case, contact the UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab (email: joan.allen@uconn.edu, phone: 860-486-6740).

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Chrysanthemum brown rust spores (left) by Penn State Department of Plant Pathology & Environmental Microbiology Archives, Penn State University, Bugwood.org and white rust pustules (right) by Joan Allen, UConn.

Other problems that can affect the leaves and sometimes other parts include a bacterial leaf spot, foliar nematodes and a number of virus and viroid diseases. Symptoms of bacterial leaf spot of chrysanthemum are tan to dark brown areas that may be bordered by yellowing. Brown areas may be delimited by major leaf veins, giving the spots an angular appearance. Spotting may be associated with wilt or dieback. Spread is via splashing water, infected plant debris, or contaminated tools, hands, etc. Avoid working among wet plants and overhead irrigation. Remove and discard infected plants.

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Bacterial spot of chrysanthemum. Photo credit: R.K. Jones, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org

Foliar nematodes are microscopic worm-like organisms that move in a film of water on plant surfaces. They enter leaf tissue through the stomates (pores) and feed and reproduce within the leaves. Their movement within the leaf is restricted by the veins so that damage appears as a patchwork of angular leaf spots. Minimizing leaf wetness will reduce spread. Remove symptomatic leaves if there are only a few; if there are many, it’s best to discard the plant.

Foliar nematode injury on Chrysanthemum. Photo credit: Penn State University, Bugwood.org

Virus and viroid symptoms can include yellowing, stunting, rings or mottled patterns on the leaves, or plant deformity. Many of these pathogens are spread by insects that feed by piercing and sucking sap from the plant. Infected plants should be discarded.

In addition to this already somewhat long list, chrysanthemums may succumb to vascular wilt diseases caused by the fungi Fusarium and Verticillium.  These soil-borne fungi infect via the roots and grow within the plants xylem (conductive tissue) resulting in impaired movement of water and nutrients from the roots to the upper parts of the plant. Symptoms include leaf dieback, often on one side of the plant and sometimes beginning with the lower or older leaves first, wilt, and brown discoloration of the vascular tissue within the lower stem. Because both of these can survive without a suitable host plant in the soil for several years or more, alternative and non-susceptible plants should be planted in affected areas. Many cultivars are resistant to both diseases.

Root rot can affect chrysanthemum and can be caused by both fungi and water molds. Healthy roots should be creamy white and crisp or firm. If the plants are wilting or dying back, a check for brown, soft roots can be done by pulling the plant and inspecting them. Excess soil moisture due to poorly drained soil or overwatering promotes root rot. Avoid planting in poorly drained sites and avoid overwatering.

Quite a few insect and mite pests can occur occasionally on mums, too. Several aphid species are attracted to them and high populations can cause yellowing, stunting or deformed new growth. Many aphids can be removed with a strong spray of water. Other alternatives include insecticidal soap and horticultural oil.

If chewing injury is observed, that could be caused by beetles or caterpillars. For beetles, neem products may repel them from feeding. Caterpillars can be killed using products containing the biocontrol agent Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Four-lined plant bug nymph and typical feeding injury on a leaf.  Photo credit: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects

 

Several true bugs including the four-lined plant bug and tarnished plant bug feed on mums and many other plants by inserting piercing and sucking, straw-like mouthparts into leaves or stems and withdrawing sap. Tarnished plant bugs sometimes feed just below the flower buds, resulting in wilt of the stem.

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Chrysanthemum leafminer tunneling. Photo credit: Gyorgy Csoka, Hungary Forest Research Institute, Bugwood.org

 

Winding, irregular tunnels or blotches in the leaves are caused by the chrysanthemum leafminer. This pest is the larval stage of a fly. Insecticides are not generally recommended. Remove affected leaves or squash the miner within the leaf to kill it.

While this may seem like a daunting list of potential problems, I should restate that chrysanthemums in the landscape are usually pretty free from problems. The best ways to minimize the likelihood of trouble are to purchase healthy, vigorous plants free of any evidence of problems and to provide adequate water and an ideal site for the new plants. Once they’re in place, check on them regularly. Spotting signs of a problem early will give you the best chance of stopping it before it does serious damage.

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