Gardening


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“He who bears chives on his breathe, Is safe from being kissed to death.” Marcus Valerius Martialis in his “Epigrams”, 80 A.D.

Rather than bring tears to my eyes, all the alliums (members of the onion family, Alliaceae) in my herb and vegetable gardens bring a smile to my face. Garlic and curly chives are in full bloom, Egyptian walking onions are attempting to escape from the herb garden, second year leeks are going to seed and my ‘White Sweet Spanish’ onions are huge, sweet and juicy.

A pungent favorite of mine is garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). I grow it not only for its charming white flowers that are always useful in arrangements for our garden club’s Olde Home Day Flower Show Labor Day weekend but also for its very garlicky-flavored foliage. The bluish-green, flattish leaves are a tasty addition to stir fries, soups and other culinary dishes where a touch of garlic is nice. A former co-worker from China used to make most delicious Chinese dumplings using garlic chives as part of the stuffing.

garlic chives flowers

White flowering garlic chives by dm

Garlic chives, like most alliums, is a pollinator magnet with hordes of bumblebees and others busily collecting pollen from the round, white umbels of flowers. The flowers reach about 18 inches high. The flowers are also edible but a bit tough. Use them for that finishing touch to dress up salad plates. The one bad habit that garlic chives have is to self-seed everywhere so unless you want tons of plants, deadhead plants as blossoms start to fade.

Curly chives (A. senescens var. ‘Glaucum’) is also in full bloom right now. This plant also has bluish-green foliage but it is only 6 to 8 inches high and there is a nice wave to it. The flowers are small, one-inch umbels of a pinkish mauve color. Curly chives has a strong onion flavor to the leaves and I have never found any seedlings around it. Plants grow slowly, hold their foliage well, and would be useful in perennial beds and even as a border plant.

curly chives

Curly chives by dmp.

About 20 years ago, I planted seeds of ‘Evergreen Long White’ bunching onion (A. fistulosum) and I am still harvesting from the same patch. Also called scallions or green onions (although there are red bulb varieties), one could harvest the whole plant but I just cut the green stems and the plants continue to grow and multiply. If they get a bit too crowded, I will harvest whole plants. They are easily started from seed in the spring and like the garlic chives, their large flower umbels attract lots of pollinators but they self-seed very readily so as soon as the bees stop buzzing around the fairly nondescript flowers, I cut them all down. The green stems can be harvested from early spring until late fall once established.

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Green onions towards end of season by dmp.

Egyptian walking onions (A. cepa var. proliferum) are rather curious plants. Strong, large diameter green shoots emerge each spring and stand tall most of the summer. Unlike most allium species that form bulbs at their base, walking onions form a cluster of small bulbs at the top of their shoots. As these topsets reach maturity by the end of summer, they become heavier and heavier and finally the stalk can no longer bear their weight and down they go. This is why they are called walking onions.

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Egyptian walking onions leaving the herb garden – time to thin? photo by dmp

You can harvest the little onions at the end of the season and use them like I do in chicken pot pies – so much better than those squishy, frozen pearl onions – or in other dishes. Or, you can let them take root in place. Note they need to touch the bare mineral soil so remove any mulch from underneath them and tuck them into the soil slightly. If there are too many bulbs in the clusters, you may choose to harvest some and only leave a few to root. Or, you can separate the bulbs and plant them 2 inches deep for bigger topsets next harvest. Typically, it will take 2 years after planting for a topset to form.

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Egyptian walking onion topset. Photo by dmp.

A few years ago, I did not harvest all my leeks and a couple of them overwintered and bloomed the following year. I left them as pollinator plants and when the seed heads ripened, one keeled over and I left the seed head on the ground over the winter not having enough time to finish cleaning the garden before winter. Lo and behold, leek seedlings next spring! Since then I always leave a few leeks to overwinter and a few usually do so I get no work leek seedlings that I just have to transplant with good spacing between the plants every year since. The original leek that I planted was ‘King Richard’.

leek seed heads

Leek seed heads. Photo by dmp.

Finally, my late onions ‘White Sweet Spanish’ are remarkably large this year. This is a mild and sweet variety that stores only moderately well so I just leave them in the garden and pull as needed. They are needed quite often for everything from kebobs on the grill to warm tuna salad to lemony shrimp orzo to pepper and onion pizza so they should all be used up by the end of the month. Onions are ready to harvest when the tops fall over although you can harvest them any time you want. When I started gardening at first I purchased onion sets. These were available locally but the varieties were often limited. Then I started growing my own onions from seeds but like leeks they needed to be started in February. Now I just purchase onion plants. There is a decent selection of varieties to choose from that are suited to the northeast and it frees up the limited space under my plant lights.

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Onions ‘White Sweet Spanish’. photo by dmp.

Alliums are remarkably easy and fun to grow. They are great for both culinary and ornamental purposes. Try some, you’ll like them!

Dawn P.

Germander

Germander Plant, CQuish photo

Germander is an unusual perennial herb which makes a great edge of the border plant. Its Latin name is Teucrium chamaedrys. Germander takes well to shearing to form a garden border or knot garden, making it a good alternative to boxwood plants. Size of each plant will be about 10 inches tall with equal spread. It has also been used as a bonsai plant with great results.

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Germander Border Edge, CQuish photo

 

Germander is native to Europe, Syria and the Greek Islands. It likes a pH of 6.3 and well-drained soil. Plant will produce pink blooms sporadically from mid-summer through the fall. Leaves have a strong unusual scent when crushed, and have traditional been harvested for medicinal properties to treat a variety of ailments in times before modern medicine. Although some folks still practice herbal remedies, we cannot recommend them in this forum as we are not doctors. Cut branches make a lovely wreath for decoration and freshen the air inside.

germander up close

Germander leaves close up. CQuish photo

Leaves are dark green, tiny and have serrated edges giving a fine overall texture to the plant. Germander is in the mint family, but behaves well in the garden, not spreading much. It also is not liked by deer due to its scent, and insects and diseases rarely attack adding to its attributes. Prune before new growth starts in the spring.

-Carol Quish

groundnut August 13 2017

Groundnut flowers

“The brilliant poppy flaunts her head

Amidst the ripening grain,

And adds her voice to sell the song

That August’s here again.”

–  Helen Winslow

 

August means summer is heading for a subtle change. Evenings begin to get cooler, skies are less hazy, most birds are getting a break from chasing fledglings all over creation, and the sounds of crickets and katydids during the night have replaced the trilling of the tree frogs. Bats are seen more frequently now as many moths and other late summer night- flying insects are abundant. Trees and shrubs have ripening fruit, deer are eating acorns already and, to top it all off, we just had a solar eclipse. Now is a great time to get outside and see what is happening in the garden and in the wild.

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks are on their own now

The tiger bee fly, Xenox tigrinis is a very large fly that can be seen flying about now. About the size of a quarter, this fly may fly low over lawns and can be mistaken for a wasp. It has large white markings at the end of its abdomen and they really stand out against the black color of the rest of the abdomen, resembling a bald faced hornet somewhat as it flies around, , apart from its size. Female tiger flies lay eggs near carpenter bee tunnels, and its larvae will eat the bee larvae that are developing within.

tiger bee fly 8-21-2017

Tiger bee fly

One of our larger spiders is the black and yellow orb weaver, Argiope aurantia. Commonly known as garden spiders, orb weavers are frequently found in gardens, meadows and fields. Their web has a zig-zag pattern at the end of a  thickened strip of silk that and may signal birds so that they see it and avoid flying through the web, thus saving the spider from major repair work. Who knows? Other creatures seem to miss that cue and end up as little morsels in the food “web”.

orb weaver spider

yellow and black orb weaver

Another orb weaver, the arrow spider (Micrantha sagittata), is much smaller the black and yellow one, and is one of only three Micrantha species found in North America. It has an interesting web composed on a rather permanent frame structure and then the orb section is built inside the frame at dawn every day. In the evening, the spider will consume the orb part of its web and have to start anew the next morning. The whys and wherefores of this behavior is one to be marveled at, if not at all understood by mere mortals.

Arrow spider Micrathena sagittata PAmm Cooper photo

Arrow spider

Butterflies are having a banner year- even giant swallowtails are being seen in northern Connecticut as of late. I just peeked inside the old stinging nettles leaf shelter of a red admiral butterfly caterpillar and found its chrysalis inside. One way to avoid predators is certainly to make oneself scarce. Monarchs, spicebush and tiger swallowtails and American ladies are abundant in numbers this year. Good plants for late season butterflies, especially migrators, are boneset, Joe-pyes, goldenrods, mountain mint, lantana, petunias, impatiens and bluebeard (Caryopteris). Mints and bluebeard are excellent for late summer pollinators as well. My gardens are humming with bee and butterfly activity right now as I have most of these plants in flower.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

Red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a nettle leaf shelter

Venturing out where forbs and small shrubs abound, you may run across the groundnut, Apios americana a native perennial vine that right now is in flower. The sweet- scented flowers are wisteria- like in form, appearing in small clusters along the vine. Found climbing among small shrubs and perennials like dogwoods, goldenrods and ferns, this plant is sometimes only noticed because its flowers are so striking in both color and clustered among a green background form the plant derives its name from the edible tubers that were consumed by native Americans and early settlers.

Cardinal flowers are also in bloom along watercourses now, and their brilliant dark red blooms and rich nectar attract hummingbirds. Along with jewelweed, cardinal flower is a great source of food for these energetic little birds. If you wait long enough when these plants are flowering, a hummingbird or two should make an appearance.

cardinal flower in stream

cardinal flower

Giant silkworm moths are putting in a second appearance this year, meaning a second or partial second generation of caterpillars will soon hatch. Over the last three weeks, Polyphemus and Luna moths have been seen, and there are fourth instar Promethea caterpillars out. Since the giant silkworm caterpillars take so long to reach the pupal stage, they may run out of foliage as many of the trees they feed on may shed their leaves before they can form cocoons.

exhausted Polyphemus moth on leaf litter Pamm Cooper photo

Polyphemus moth

And be careful out there! This past weekend I found two saddleback slug moth caterpillars in two different areas of the state, both on foliage not far off the ground. Though small, these caterpillars have many urticating spines that can cause a sensation like being stabbed with hundreds of tiny red-hot hypodermic needles.

saddleback found on small black cherry 8-19-2017

Saddleback caterpillar

As we move into the end of summer, sunrises and sunsets should be more colorful as the skies get cooler and particles high in the atmosphere scatter the blue light to our west and east as the sun sets or rises. To the early bird, then, may you see a spectacular sunrise.  And to the observer at eventide, may you be rewarded with an equally breathtaking sunset.

August dawn GHills from 8 8-18-13

August dawn

 

Pamm Cooper          August 2017

 

 

 

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