Gardening


As the sultry air of late July passes into August, many plants in my perennial gardens are starting to fade. Day lilies are showing their last blaze of color, catmint flowers (Nepeta spp.) no longer offers nectar to bumble bees, the early astilbe flower spikes have become fluffy plumes, and the red flowers of the bee balm Jacob Cline (Monarda didyma)  are forming seed heads as their tubular flowers fade.

Other pollinator friendly perennials are now taking center stage. Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), flowering chives (Allium schoenoprasum), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), ground covering stonecrop (Sedum varieties), big-leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) , Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), and  Virgin’s Bower clematis (Clematis virginiana) are replacing mid-summer bloomers to feed the pollinators and hummingbirds.

The perennial cardinal flower adds a pop of color to the native plant garden attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds. The tall spikes of these clump-forming plants have multiple tubular flowers that open one after another along the top of the flower stalk. While the flowers are short-lived, they stand out among other faded foliage such as catmint. Deer don’t usually bother cardinalis, but this year’s droughty weather had the thirsty browsers try a taste of the new growth. The plants recovered by sending out shorter stems that have produced even more flowers. The Missouri Botanical Garden notes that “cardinal flowers do best in shady areas with uniform moisture” but they bloom well in my pollinator garden where they get late morning and afternoon sun, and occasionally get extra water.  Their name comes from the red color of the garments worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.

The striking red flowers of the Lobelia cardinalis attract hummingbirds and add a pop of color to the summer perennial bed

Flowering chives can be grown for both ornamental and culinary use. The contrast between their pinkish-lavender globes and delicate green foliage makes a nice statement in the pollinator garden where it is a good companion to the gray foliage of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina).  The chives generally grow in clumps to about 12-15 inches tall making them a nice mid-garden plant. They do have a pungent oniony-garlicky odor so they aren’t attractive to either deer or rabbits, and are generally disease free. They need well-drained, fertile soil, in full sun to part shade and are drought resistant. You can harvest the leaves for a garnish in soups and salads.

Flowering-chives attract pollinators, add crisp green color to the August perennial bed and tangy flavor to summer salads

Goldenrod also makes its appearance in early to mid-August in both pollinator gardens and fields. There are over 100 species of goldenrod and most of them are native to North America, with 25 identified as native to New England. I find goldenrod showing up in all garden beds since it is a persistent self-seeding plant. I let it naturalize in the pollinator gardens among faded day lilies, mountain mint and Monarda, and between the blueberry bushes. After a few years when the plant has formed large clumps among the other perennials I thin it to manageable groups in its own areas where the bees and other pollinators can congregate. Goldenrod gets a bad rap as causing nasal allergies in the fall. But it is the ragweed (a member of the Daisy family) that blooms at the same time as goldenrod that is the cause of the allergies.

Mountain mint plants are a fragrant addition to the pollinator garden. Rubbing a leaf between my fingers reminds  me of peppermint candies – the result is a refreshing scent. Any sunny afternoon in this part of the garden finds an assortment of insects on the flower heads of this plant. However, after finding Ripiphorid beetles on several plants last week, I have been more closely monitoring these plants. These beetles parasitize two families of bees. They lay their eggs on an unopened flower head, and when the flower opens, the beetles’ eggs hatch. The larva waits until a bee comes along and attaches itself to the bee’s abdomen. The bee unknowingly carries the beetle larva back to its nest, where the larva rests on a bee pollen nest.  A bee egg laid on the pollen nest hatches, the beetle larva enters the growing bee’s body and proceeds to slowly consume the growing bee. The beetle then goes through its developing life cycle. I found only two adult beetles over several days of observation so it doesn’t seem that the bees that use these mountain mint plants for nectar and pollen will be severely threatened this season.

Mountain mint flowers attract bees and butterflies. The flowers also attract Ripiphorid beetles that can parasitize two families of bees.

Mountain mint spreads readily by rhizomes and is somewhat aggressive but not invasive and it is easily controlled by digging up sections that go beyond the desired area. It does best in full sun but will tolerate some shade, likes well-drained, somewhat fertile soil and is drought tolerant. The flat-topped flowers attract bees and small butterflies and moths but not deer. I let the plant grow for a couple of years and when it gets too close to the goldenrod and Monarda areas, dig up a section and give it to friends who are looking for more plants for their pollinator gardens.

While the taller cardinal flowers, goldenrod and mountain mint dominate the back and center of the pollinator areas, I use the creeping stonecrop varieties of sedum as ground cover.  Some varieties of the low growing stonecrop produce tiny flowers favored by pollinators. Stonecrop plants thrive in rock gardens or open areas. Some varieties produce flowers in early summer, others in the heat of July and August. They all prefer sunny locations in almost any type of well-drained soil, but they will tolerate some shade. They do well under drought conditions, don’t need fertilizing and aren’t bothered by disease or deer or rabbits. If they are over-watered they can rot, so they do best when ignored – the perfect late summer plant.

Joe Pye weed is a native “weed” that is familiar to most New Englanders as it appears in fields, road side drainage ditches and manicured perennial beds. There are several botanical names for this tall plant that feeds a variety of pollinators. The two varieties can be distinguished from each other by looking at their leaves. The leaves of Eutrochium purpurpeum has 3-7 leaves arranged in a whorl around the main stem. Eupatorium maculatum has leaves that are paired opposite each other on the stem. The flower heads on both of these plants are very similar and their preferred growing conditions are almost identical: full sun to part shade, moderately fertile, well-drained, moist to dry soil.  Most descriptions of this plant say it isn’t bothered by deer but this year our bed of Joe Pye has been “pruned” several times by the neighborhood deer and her offspring.

Joe Pye weed is an easy-to-grow favorite of pollinators and is not usually bothered by browsing deer

The Virgin’s Bower clematis has become the monster plant of this year’s pollinator garden because I underestimated its final size. It has outgrown the structure that I used for its support and now looks like it will attack anyone that comes near with its outstretched vines. The perky white flowers are fragrant and cover the tall and spreading vines. It too is an ideal August bloomer that prefers rich, moist soil but can do well in both moist and dry soils. It isn’t picky about sun – it does well in shade, part shade and full sun. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the long-lasting flowers. It has few serious insect, disease or other plant problems but it is an aggressive grower. Deer may nibble at the leaves but they won’t decimate the plant.

The leaves of Virgin’s Bower are toxic to humans, dogs, cats and horses. It can cause severe mouth ulcers and pain. In humans, symptoms range from dizziness, fainting, confusion and convulsions. Because of the body’s rapid oral response to its toxicity, fatalities are rare.

The prolific flowers of the Virgin’s Bower clematis cover the vines, and provide a long-lasting attraction for bees

 There are other flowering plants that come into their own during August, including coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and many varieties of mums and native asters. The selection of flowers to keep the garden blooming as summer winds down is limited mostly by the available growing space, the size of your budget and the energy left from the July heat and humidity to care for these plants. When planning the perennial garden, it is good practice to add plants that flower from spring through fall to ensure nectar and pollen are available for a variety of pollinators throughout the growing year.

-Jean Laughman

I have to admit I get somewhat excited when I see the first fuzzy powdery mildew spots of the season appear. It’s almost like playing the plant pathology lotto, betting when the environmental conditions (warm, dry days followed by cool, humid nights) are just right for the fungi to cause disease. This year, I saw the first spots on roses in mid-June. I had just received a photo from a client with a strange white growth on her rosemary transplant, and I initially thought it was too early for a powdery mildew diagnosis. But alas, I was wrong.

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Powdery mildew on rose. Photo by A. Beissinger.

Powdery mildew is a disease caused by several different species and genera of fungi. Though you may see powdery mildew on herbaceous perennials, vegetables, and woody ornamentals, each species of powdery mildew fungi is usually host specific. The powdery mildew on your cucumber plant is not causing powdery mildew on your maple tree. Instead, you hit the powdery mildew jackpot and happen to have more than one species in your yard. In the lab, we identify the fungus to genus based on characteristics of their chasmothecia, or overwintering structures.

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Black chasmothecia, overwintering structures on English oak. Photo by A. Beissinger

 

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Powdery mildews are identified based on the morphology of chasmothecia. Pictured here is Microsphaera sp. Photo by A. Beissinger.

One of the most common questions we get in the Home & Garden Education Center is about chemical treatments for powdery mildew. Due to the biology of powdery mildew fungi, we don’t usually recommend spraying anything for woody and herbaceous perennials and here is why: powdery mildew only causes aesthetic damage and will not jeopardize the health of your plants. The fungi are obligate parasites, meaning they require a living host plant to grow, obtain nutrients, and thrive. As such these fungi have a biological incentive to keep their host plant alive; if they kill their host plant, they would not survive. It’d be more useful for you to save money and not spray a product  into the environment that will have very little success at controlling the disease.

The answer about chemical controls is a bit different for fruit and vegetable crops such as apple, grape, and cucurbits. While powdery mildew doesn’t necessary kill the host plants, the disease can present challenges for fruit quality, consistency, yield, and taste. Fruit can be deformed, have blemishes, or other markings that render them unmarketable, and produce far less than normal. In these cases, we may recommend a sulfur, neem oil, triforine, or potassium bicarbonate product. Always read the pesticide label before applying any product, and please note that chemical controls are usually only effective when appropriate cultural controls are taken as well.

Apple (Malus spp.)-Powdery Mildew | Pacific Northwest Pest ...

Apple powdery mildew. Photo by J. Pscheidt

So, what are these cultural controls?

  • Start off with resistant cultivars. Selecting plant varieties that have resistance to powdery mildew is one of the most important strategies to help prevent infection. There are many options to choose from, and require you to plan ahead before you begin planting. Garden centers and seed catalogues can be very helpful.
  • Space plants adequately. Dense plantings can increase humidity, which can in turn increase disease development. Remove plants to improve airflow.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Using a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or watering plants only at the base can help decrease humidity in the planting.
  • Thoroughly clean up all infected plant parts at the end of the season. Many herbaceous perennials are left by gardeners to maintain fall habitat for pollinators. However, removing all infected plant parts at the end of the season will decrease the inoculum able to overwinter and infect plants the following year. Do not compost infected plants as at-home compost systems do not reach temperatures high enough to kill the fungus.

One other note about diseases in the garden: powdery mildew mycellium (a mat of fungal growth; the “fuzzy” growth you see) typically grow on the upper leaf surfaces of plants, and unlike other fungi, will not grow when a film of water is present on the leaves. Occasionally mycelium will grow on the lower leaf surface, but that is less common. If you’re seeing powdery white-grey spots only on the lower leaf surface, more than likely you’re seeing downy mildew, which is a far more serious disease. These diseases are often confused for each other because of their name and appearance. Downy mildew is caused by an oomycete rather than a fungus, and spreads when water is present. Early action is required to save your plants.

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Downy mildew on grape. Note the spores are present only on the lower leaf surface. Photo by A. Beissinger.

For more information on powdery and downy mildew, visit our website for fact sheets.

-Abby Beissinger

I have a love/hate relationship with blue hydrangeas. One has to admit that few sights are as beguiling to gardeners as mature bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) covered with huge clusters of sky blue flowers. Because blue flowers are so rare and beautiful, many of us (including myself) were lured into believing that we could recreate this heavenly vision in our USDA hardiness zone 5 yards. And occasionally, we are rewarded with gorgeous blue flower heads in June and July.

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Blue hydrangea. Photo by L. Rivers

More often than not come spring and I, along with a fair amount of other gardeners judging from our phone calls, end up with a bunch of dead, leafless stems sticking out of the ground.

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Hydrangea with dead stems. Photo by dmp.

Because this scenario was repeated time and time again with older bigleaf hydrangea cultivars, excitement mounted when repeat blooming mophead hydrangeas such as ‘Endless Summer’ and the ‘Let’s Dance’ arrived on the scene. These produce flower buds on both the previous season’s growth (old wood) and on current season’s stems (new growth). So supposedly, even if the old wood is injured or killed by harsh winter weather, the plants would flower at the end of the season from buds on new growth.

I thought they would look perfect under my living room windows and brought home a couple of ‘Endless Summers’ a few years ago. Some years they did okay producing midsummer blooms on at least a few older stems that survived the winter while sending up new stems that would bloom later in September.

Front planting

Front planting. Photo by dmp.

As our winters became more unpredictable with fluctuating temperatures, lack of consistent snow cover, sudden periods of bitter cold following a warmer than normal fall and so on, both the leaf buds and flower buds on last year’s stems were killed. The new growth that was pushed out from the roots would easily stretch up 5 feet, covering the front window boxes. And, after waiting all summer, it still did not bloom or if it did, maybe one lonely blossom would tower above the foliage mocking me. I guess I could have paid more attention to winter protection and perhaps siting these plants where they were constantly pelted with hot afternoon sun was not such a wise idea. So, I decided to move them to a shrub border where I gave them 3 more years to strut their stuff with not much better results.

Last year I dug up the hydrangeas and planted some arrowwood viburnums in their place. True, the flowers are not that showy but the birds do enjoy the berries and as wildlife needs our support, I’ve been trying to replace plants that do not make me happy with those that will benefit wildlife. The hydrangea just got tossed into our dump pile and wouldn’t you know it, it has beautiful blue blossoms now! I’m just leaving it there, however.

Hydrangea in dump pile

Hydrangea blooming in dump pile. Photo by dmp.

Hydrangeas are a hot commodity right now with exciting new cultivars like ‘Cherry Explosion’, ‘Seaside Serenade’ and ‘Blue Enchantress’, but I am sticking to just my two tried and true hydrangeas.

Most hydrangeas are not attractive to pollinators but climbing hydrangeas are lacecaps meaning that they have fertile flowers in the center surrounded by sterile ray flowers. This is a wonderful woody, clinging vine that needs a wall or strong tree or other structure to grow on. Plants can reach 75 feet in height so pay attention to where you plant it. Mine is on a cherry tree next to our swing. The creamy white flowers practically glow on cloudy days illuminating this woodland setting.

Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea on porch in Barre. Photo by dmp.

There is an oak leaf hydrangea that a friend gave me at the entrance to my white garden. It’s a sizable plant, reaching 6 feet or so, but I hear there are smaller cultivars out now. The huge creamy blossoms look fresh for weeks. Even as they fade to a soft, dusty brown, they remain attractive well into the autumn. The oak-shaped leaves take on a burgundy hue come October. While I have not seen any pollinators on this plant, it is native to southeast U.S. and tolerates the dry, partially shaded spot it got planted in 25 or so years ago so it’s a keeper.

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Oak leaf hydrangea in white garden. Photo by dmp 2020.

Stay cool!

Dawn P.

Japanese Beetle

Beetle control in the garden is a constant battle during the month of July. They appear in large numbers seeming to eat everything in the vegetable and flower garden. Daily scouting for damaged plants and adult beetles helps win the war against them and salvage the plants. The first line of defense is to identify the enemy. Just which beetle is eating the specific species and is it eating different plants is clue to controlling the different beetles.

The life cycle of all beetles have four stages: egg, larva, pupa and the adult beetle. Japanese, Asiatic garden and Oriental beetles lay eggs on the soil, where they hatch into white grubs and feed on plant roots. Pupation takes place under the soil, too. The adult beetles emerge after pupation, rising out of the soil in large numbers, looking to feed and mate, and then females will lay the next generation of eggs back on to the soil. There is one generation per year for most of the garden pest beetles. The most common garden pest beetles are also lawn pests as white grubs feeding on grass roots, but grubs can also be found in the vegetable and perennial gardens. Control grubs in the lawn by using conventional grub control. Organic options are parasitic nematodes and Bt galleria. Milky spore disease will only kill the Japanese beetle grubs. Bag traps to catch and contain adult beetles are available. They are specific to each variety of beetle and use a pheromone lure as an attractant. Place the trap away from the garden to keep the beetles from finding your plants. The organic options are a good choice for the soils in a vegetable garden. Other natural control measures are already in the environment. Tiphia wasps feed on the grub stage killing them. Hand pick beetles and drop into a container of soapy water. Attract birds to the garden to feed on the beetles by providing lots of perching spots with sticks and plant supports. Place a saucer of water or birdbath in the garden to invite them for a visit and meal. Floating row covers can be used to keep beetles off until plants flower and need pollinators to reach the flowers.

Japanese Beetle in hand

Japanese Beetle

Japanese beetles are cosmopolitan feeders. They have over 300 different host plants, but prefer some over others. Roses, sunflowers and beans are favorites of this metallic green and cooper colored winged beetle. The white grub is C-shaped with a tan head. The adults are active during the day and hide nearby at night.  Japanese beetles were brought to New Jersey accidentally in 1916 from Japan, and have spread up and down the eastern states. They are steadily moving westward. Japanese beetle feeding results in ragged foliage and distorted flowers. They are even known to chew on fruits and vegetables. Their damage can be extensive, especially when there is a large population.

Oriental beetle retry

Oriental Beetle

Oriental beetle is a mottled tan and dark brown beetle, active during the day also. They are native to Asia and are in many eastern states. They feed on a wide range of plants, especially the blossoms. Oriental beetles are most active in the afternoon and early evening before it gets dark.

Asiatic Garden Beetle 2

Asiatic Garden Beetle

Asiatic garden beetle are cinnamon brown in color and a little smaller than Japanese beetles. As the name implies, they are native to Asia, brought here around 1920. These beetles feed at night and hide in the soil below plants during the day. Scraping through the soil below night damaged plants will reveal the sleeping beetles. Flooding the area with a good soaking will also bring them to surface for capturing and killing.

Favorite plants for Asiatic garden beetles  are basil and roses.

 

Squash beetle and damage

Squash Beetle

Squash beetle eggs

Squash Beetle eggs.

Squash beetles are another big pest in my garden. They are yellowish-orange with 14 black spots. Their life cycle is different than the other three beetles mentioned above.  Adults overwinter in leaf litter and under loose tree bark, flying to the garden during the end of June. Squash beetles lay their eggs on the underside of squash, pumpkin and cucumber leaves and hatching out into a yellow, spiny larval grub to feed directly on the leaves. The adult and larval stage can destroy a crop quickly. Monitor daily for adults and turn over leaves to look for eggs which can be crushed or removed with sticky tape. I find clear packing tape and blue painters tape wrapped around my hand with sticky side facing out works well without ripping the leaves. Less eggs means less larva and adults eating the plants.

-Carol Quish

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Frass left on leaf after beetle feeding. Frass is insect poop!

 

 

 

 

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

 

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

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Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracillis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

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Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

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Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

 

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

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Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

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There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

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Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

Just as the addition of a colorful bow dresses up a gift, both mulch and perennial ground covers can add the finishing touch to garden beds. When used to cover bare soil, both mulch and living ground covers discourage weeds, control soil erosion, and stabilize soil temperature and moisture. The advantage of one over the other comes when considering that mulch must be reapplied regularly, and ground covers, once established, reproduce themselves and need only periodic attention to thin or control some that wander. Often, it’s the final vision the gardener has for the landscape that  will determine which to use.

Ground cover types range from slow growers to ones that are true invasives. Slow growers include several varieties of shade tolerant phlox such as the creeping phlox (Phlox stolinifera), and the woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).  The moss phlox (Phlox subulata) enjoys sunny spots as does candytuft (Iberis sempervirens).

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Moss phlox-bugwood.org photo

Candytuft John Ruler University of Georgia Bugwood.org

Candytuft photo by John Ruler University of Georgia Bugwood.org

If you are an impatient gardener, moderately speedy popular plants include sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), and Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila).  Each of these plants prefers shady areas for best growth, and they generally do well in moderately moist, fertile soil.

Other moderate creepers that do well in part-shade to sunny locations include bugleweed (Ajuga reptens), low growing sedum, such as Sedum rupestra, periwinkle/myrtle (Vinca minor), and creeping thyme (Thymus praecox). These plants prefer moderately moist soil except for the thyme, which prefers a somewhat dry soil.

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Ajuga

This group of plants also includes the familiar pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis). It grows by rhizomes that form stems that spread underground, producing roots that send up new plants. In ideal growing conditions it can be aggressive but can be controlled by removing the roaming underground rooted stems by hand.  It grows in partial and full shade as well as partial sun, but full sun causes poor growth. It needs a moist, well-drained soil and does not tolerate drought.

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Pachysandra under trees and shrubs

A group of plants that should be avoided in home gardens includes those that are very aggressive growers. One in this group, goutweed/bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), is on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List. It is said to need a mechanical barrier surrounding it to prevent it from wandering beyond its intended space.

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Variegated goutweed

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Goutweed- green leaves

A plant of similar aggressive habit, gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), required hours of work to remove a mature patch –  little volunteers are still popping up weeks later! While attractive when massed in open spaces, it is so aggressive that “Perennial Gardens” author Allan Armitage wrote that the right place for this plant “happens to be an island bed surrounded by concrete.”  Two plants also bearing the loosestrife name, garden yellow loosestrife (Lysmachia vulgaris), and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria,), are included on the Connecticut Invasive Plant List and cannot be sold in the state.

Sometimes mulch is the preferred ground cover. If a perennial bed has plants with attractive foliage or flowers that deserve attention, or where it would be hard to provide needed moisture, mulch can be a good option.

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Natural cedar mulch

Mulch can be organic, from shredded tree products, straw, salt march hay, dried grass clippings, compost, or pine needles. To be effective at slowing weed growth, helping retain soil moisture and moderating soil temperature, organic mulch must be replaced regularly.  However, it is not necessary to remove older mulch before adding a new layer. Often older mulch develops a crust-like surface so it should be loosened with a rake or other pronged tool so water will penetrate the surface. Some prefer using a color-treated mulch, which is not harmful to plants since the color comes from vegetable dyes.

Some problems that can come from using organic mulch include making the layer thicker than 3 inches, which prevents water and oxygen from penetrating the soil, and putting the mulch too close to the base of shrubs and trees, which encourages snails, slugs, burrowing animals and wood boring insects to settle in.

Inorganic mulch includes crushed stone, gravel, black plastic or landscape fabric. Depending on the choice of material, inorganic mulches have various advantages and disadvantages. Some allow water and oxygen to penetrate the barrier and keep weeds from breaking through. Some last for many years but some break down when exposed to sunlight and don’t allow water and oxygen to penetrate. Some are inexpensive, and others are expensive.  Budget can be a deciding factor.

When it comes to choosing between use of a living ground cover or a type of mulch, the final decision depends on the reason for using the ground cover, how much energy the gardener has to maintain the ground cover and even what image the gardener wants to project for the garden beds. In the end, the choice should consider how the ground cover will benefit the plants that are growing in the garden.

Jean Laughman, UConn Home and Garden Education Center

Was your apple or crab apple tree defoliated last year, with nothing but the apples left on the naked tree? Chances are, it was apple scab. I have seen many, many apple trees infected with scab this year as well, and I’m predicting we’ll see many more naked trees this fall.

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Initial apple scab lesion. Photo by A. Beissinger

Caused by the fungus Venturia inequalis, you’ll see apple scab infections start in late May/early June in Connecticut. Other species of Venturia fungi infect pear and willow as well (Venturia pirina and Venturia saliciperda, respectively), and cause similar symptoms. It is important to note that though Venturia fungi cause similar symptoms, each species is very host specific and will not infect if their host is not present.

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Apple scab lesions spreading on the leaf surface. Photo by A. Beissinger.

On apple and crab apple, infection first occurs at bud break, but is not usually detectable at this stage. Trees flower well. Spores are spread by rain-splash and wind. The first signs of infection are olive green to black lesions on susceptible leaves, and these lesions are actually the fuzzy spores of the fungus. As the fungus develops, the lesions grow in size and the infected leaves begin to yellow. Leaves will prematurely drop from the trees, and the colonized leaves will still be able to emit spores that continuously infect the tree throughout the season. When the trees set fruit, black, scabby raised spots will appear on the skin.

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Magnified lesion on the leaf. Note the velvety appearance of the spores. Photo by A. Beissinger

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Spores of Venturia pirina. Photo by A. Beissinger

Usually scab is more of a concern to commercial apple and pear growers because it reduces fruit yield and fruit quality. As a result, most apple orchards have either a regular spray program or other means of preventative apple scab management. This is especially important because apple scab is a polycyclic disease, meaning that there are multiple infection periods per season. If an orchard treated just once for apple scab, the infection could easily reemerge only a few days later, wasting time, money, and apples! Over several years, repeated defoliation can eventually lead to death of the tree if apple scab goes unmanaged.

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Apple scab infected leaves beginning to yellow. Photo by A. Beissinger

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Leaves will often completely yellow before dropping. Photo by A. Beissinger.

In a home setting, one of the most important things you can do is rake up your fallen leaves. The fungi overwinter in leaves and fallen debris. A fall application of urea around the base of the tree can be helpful as well. If your tree is already infected this year, a fungicide application will not help. Only consider fungicides in the spring of your 3rd year that the tree has been completely defoliated.

-Abby Beissinger

After finally getting the vegetable and herb gardens planted and mulched and all the container plants in their proper homes, it’s time to turn my attention to the flower and ornamental beds. Annuals were added to some garden beds as I do so appreciate their cheery, season long color.

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Herb garden all weeded, planted and mulched. Photo by dmp, 2020

In the cellar door bed, 3 ‘Sunfinity’ sunflowers were planted. These are new, dwarf hybrids reaching only 3 to 4 feet tall and producing several stems, each with multiple flowers reputedly over the whole summer. We shall see. No deadheading required was on the label but I find that they look much better with the spent blossoms removed as the flowers are several inches across and the ones gone by are pretty noticeable. Their only downside so far is that they are pollenless but to make up for that I have them surrounded by sweet alyssum, a pollinator favorite, and have several rows of pollen bearing sunflowers started from seed in the vegetable garden.

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Sunfinity, dwarf sunflower. Photo by dmp, 2020

Salmon colored salvias in one of the front beds harmonize nicely with the orange, blue and white blossoms in the window boxes above it. All was well for the first few days after setting out the transplants and then holes began to appear in the leaves. The culprit – slugs! Since it has been so dry, one wouldn’t think there would be much of a problem with them but all of the newly planted beds have been receiving copious amounts of water so the new plants could become established.

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Slug damage on salvia. Photo by dmp, 2020

The reason slug damage was suspected was two-fold. The holes on the leaves were irregularly shaped, typical of slug damage plus a slight slime trail was noticed in the morning. These soft-bodied, shell-less mollusks tend to feed at night and rest in a shaded, moist site during sunny days. One reason they always seem so plentiful is that they are not picky about what they eat. Meals may consist of your more tender plants as well as fungi, lichens, worms, animal droppings, insects and carrion. Often, they consume many times their own weight on a daily basis. Imagine our grocery bills if we needed to eat that much?

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Slug. Photo by dmp, 2020

Slugs produce slime to help them move and for moisture control among other reasons. To tell if your plants are being feasted on by these voracious critters, look for dried slime trails on leaves or on the ground around affected plants in the morning. Since I typically find slugs mostly in beds that are presently being regularly watered, I just use some diatomaceous earth on the mulch around plant groups and try not to get water on the DE as that lessens its effectiveness. As plants become established and watering is less often, slugs are not a serious problem for me except during rainy summers.

Next on to the holly hedge. Probably close to 25 years ago, I planted a 20-foot hedge of ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ hollies. It has grown mightily and even with regular pruning it is about 6-foot high and wide and a handsome barrier between ours and the neighbor’s house. There were many distractions last year and I really did not start noticing something was wrong with the hedge until a large bare patch appeared over the winter.

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Scale damage to holly. Photo by dmp, 2020

Finally having a bit of time to investigate further, it appears sadly that my plants are infected with cottony camellia scale. These insects feed on a number of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. As adults, scale insects are immobile but the females lay egg masses and after hatching, the young scales, known as crawlers, move to other locations on the plant and then proceed to cover themselves with their protective armor. This makes them challenging to control as adults. Crawlers typically hatch in June but are small and not easily seen. I used a hose end sprayer to apply a horticultural oil this past weekend and will probably do this several more times over the summer. With scale, persistence is key.

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Cottony camellia scale on holly. Photo by dmp, 2020

While I love roses, I only have a handful growing in my gardens now including some old fashioned, own-root roses, a rambler, 2 miniatures and 2 hybrid teas. My favorite hybrid tea is ‘Peace’ as not only is it a gorgeous pale yellow flushed with pink rose with quite the history, but it also was my grandmother’s favorite and it was time spent with her that gave me my love of gardening.

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‘Peace’ rose. Photo by dmp, 2019.

Leaves on several of the roses were skeletonized and checking underneath the leaves was lurking the rose sawfly larvae, more commonly called rose slugs because they secrete a slimy substance over their bodies that makes them somewhat resemble small slugs. The larvae of rose sawflies are about ½ to ¾ inch long and yellowish-green in color.

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Rose slug on underside of leaves. Photo by dmp,2020

The rose sawfly emerge from soil after overwintering as larvae in early spring. They mate and eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves. After hatching, the larvae feed for a month or so and then drop to the ground to pupate. Luckily the species that is attacking my roses only has one generation per year. Since I only have a few plants, I just inspect the undersides of the leaves and crush the larvae with my fingers. If large populations were noticed, I could enlist the help of some insecticidal soap or neem oil.

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Rose slug damage on ‘Peace’ rose. Photo by dmp,2020

I’m sure there will be many more insects to battle this gardening season, but I’ll start with these.

 

May your gardens be relatively pest free.

 

Dawn P.

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Native mountain laurel blooms in June

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

–  Al Bernstein 

June is the month where green has become the main the landscape color with flowers and some early fruits sprinkling a bit of color in gardens and wild landscape. It is a cheery time for me as the best is yet to come. Butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other insects are everywhere now and provide a little bit of interest as they go about their daily lives. I stop by the woods early in the morning to listen to wood thrushes, veerys, vireos, grosbeaks, catbirds, tanagers and so many other birds of the forest that sing so sweetly at this time of year.

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Veery

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Male common yellowthroat carrying an insect to its young

Wandering in my yard this week I found a little surprise- an enchanting Clytus arietis wasp beetle resting its little self on a fern. This diminutive, long-horned beetle has striking yellow markings on a dark brown to black narrow body and it has cricket-like back legs. Its larvae live in warm, dry, dead wood, favoring birches and willows. Adults can be found during the day from May- August resting in the open on low vegetation.

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Colorful Clytus arietis wasp beetle

Maple eyespot galls are brightly colored circles of red and yellow that appear on the surface of red maple leaves in early June. Caused by the ocellate gall midge Acericecis ocellaris, this tiny fly deposits eggs on the underside of red maple leaves, which causes a chemical response in the leaf at each spot an egg was laid. The larva hatches and feeds on leaf tissue within the small disk- shaped gall that was formed.

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Maple eyespot gall

Ebony jewelwing damselflies Calopteryx maculate are easily identified by their  metallic iridescent green/blue color and totally black wings. They can be found near streams and rivers, but are especially common found near shallow streams in forests. This damselfly is unlike other jewelwings because it is the only one that sometimes rambles far from water.

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Ebony jewelwing damselfly

White-tailed deer fawns are generally born from late May to June and can sometimes be seen trying to keep up with their mothers early in the morning. They often get exhausted doing so and collapse to rest, sometimes in unusual places. Fawns are generally left alone during the day and the doe will return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn and sometimes move it along to a safer place.

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fawn tired from following its mom

Blue-eyed grass and orange hawkweed are blooming in the wild now, as are wild geraniums, beautybush, viburnums, bearded irises, Carolina spicebush, mountain laurels, tulip trees and raspberry. Grape should be flowering soon as will catalpa trees. Catalpa flowers are pollinated by several species of sphinx moths, who visit flowers mostly during the night.

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Blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium albidum is not a grass but a member of the iris family

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Orange hawkweed

Butterflies and moths are more abundant now as we have warmer weather and plants that have leafed out. Giant silkworm moths like the beautiful luna moth emerge from mid-May through summer. Many are strongly attracted to lights and are often found resting on the sides of buildings where lights are left on all night. These large moths do not feed, but live off of stored food until they mate, perishing soon after. Red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails are just a couple of butterflies that visit my property and lay eggs on some black cherries planted a few years ago.

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The fabulous Luna moth, one of our native giant silkworm moths

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Red-spotted purple butterfly seen June 5 2020- the first of the year for me

Walking through a woodland path at a nature preserve I heard a buzzy high-pitched call above me and saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher sitting on her eggs in a nest. The nest was well camouflaged with a coating of lichens so it blended in perfectly with the lichen encrusted branches all around it.

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A blue-gray gnatcatcher nest is barely visible in the crotch of this tree

There is so much going on in the outdoors now wherever you happen to go. There are so many flowers yet to bloom, and so many young animals and birds just getting to know the world around them. As I watch bees and butterflies, and listen to the birds sing and the tree frogs trilling away day and night, I think Aldo Leopold got it just right when he wrote “ In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.”

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A little surprise

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

Invasive species out-compete native plants.

Sometimes plants entice us to enjoy them with an abundance of flowers, brilliant colors or sweet fragrances. They use these lures to keep us from noticing the stealthy way they overtake more subtle but productive native species.  Several examples of this invasive style of growth are showing up in wooded areas and back yards this time of year.

 Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate)

Originally introduced from parts of Europe and Asia for food and medicinal purposes in the mid-1800s, this flowering plant has become extensively invasive in most parts of the US. It appears in early spring in the undergrowth of woodlands, forests, along roadways and anywhere there is a bare, moist or dry open area. Its presence overtakes many native plants.

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Garlic Mustard

It is a biennial that takes 2 years to mature enough to produce flowers that provide seeds.  During its first year of growth seeds germinate while the low-growing plants develop rosettes of leaves that can be hard to identify as an invasive. Its distinguishing fragrance of garlic when the leaves are crushed makes it easy to identify. A stalk appears the second year with small, white 4-petaled flowers atop the stalk. By the end of May seed pods that are dark and 4-sided develop and may each contain 22 or more seeds. The plant dies back by the end of June and the seeds are dispersed by humans or wildlife. The two-year cycle of germination and seed production continues as the plant spreads into new areas. Some research suggests that garlic mustard prohibits the growth of other plants in nearby areas. Seeds can survive as long as 5 years in the soil.

Management requires long-term  persistence. Hand- pulling to remove roots before seeds develop can be effective for small infestations. Removing plants with flowers and/or seed heads should be bagged and disposed of in the trash,  not in wood piles or compost areas. Chemical control can be effective but must be repeated due to the presence of seeds surviving in the soil.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) 

Honeysuckle plants were likely introduced into North America as ornamentals from Asia beginning in the 1750s. Some varieties arrived through the 1800s, and as late as the mid-1900s some varieties were still sold for various purposes such as arboretum specimens, for soil erosion control and for wildlife cover and food. Some varieties are still sold in nursery centers in some states; they are all prohibited for sale in Connecticut. They have all escaped cultivation and the seeds are spread by birds and wildlife.

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group lists 6 types of honeysuckle on the state’s list of invasive or potentially invasive non-native species. They include the vine Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and the shrubs Amur honeysuckle (L. maackii ), Morrow’s honeysuckle (L. morrowii), and Belle honeysuckle (L. x bella). These are all considered invasive. The two potentially invasive varieties include the shrubs Tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica) and Dwarf honeysuckle (L. xylosteum). Plants that appear on this list are prohibited from importation, movement, sale, purchase, transplanting, cultivation and distribution under CT General Statutes §22a-381d.

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Morrow’s honeysuckle with flower buds in early spring

Honeysuckle shrubs are leggy, have an open form and range from 8-12 feet high. The vining variety can grow to 30 feet or more. Leaves typically are opposite, oblong and have smooth edges. The leaf upper and underside of some varieties are smooth, other varieties are hairy. Green berries appear in early spring. Small tubular flowers appear within the leaves in May and June and can be white, creamy, yellow or pink. Often several petals cluster to form a tube. If sliced open, stems on non-native varieties will have a brownish hollow center. Stems on native species will have a solid center. Depending on the species, berries can be orange to dark red and ripen in mid-summer until late fall.

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Morrow’s honeysuckle blooming

True to their classification, these plants can form populations that out-compete and suppress the growth of native species.  They can deplete the habitat of moisture, nutrients and sunlight. In addition, the nutrients in the berries of invasive species are lower than native varieties. This requires birds to spend time eating large amounts of less nutritious food and could affect their migration.

While honeysuckle population numbers are low in an area, hand removal of seedlings or young plants is best before berries ripen and birds begin to spread them while feeding. Controlled application of herbicides might be required for areas of large infestation. A biological control is not known.

Native deciduous plants such as chokeberry (Aronia ssp.), spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and dogwood  (Cornus ssp.) will all provide food and cover for wildlife as alternatives to honeysuckle.

 Winged Euonymus  Euonymus alatus

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus), also known as winged euonymus, was introduced in the 1860s from Asia as an ornamental landscape plant. It is used extensively along roadsides, in parks and residential plantings and to beautify industrial parks all along the east coast and southern areas of the US.

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Winged Euonymus

It is a multi-stemmed, branching shrub that usually grows 8-10 feet but when mature can grow to 20 ft. It is called “winged” because of the shape of its stems. Small, greenish flowers appear in spring, followed by a hard fruit which matures to a reddish purple in the fall. The leaves of the bush become a brilliant red, giving it the popular name “burning bush.”

It is on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group list of invasive species but its sale is not prohibited. It produces hundreds of seeds annually which generate many seedlings under the parent plant as well as in areas removed from its parent, such as surrounding woodland areas and neighbors’ yards. It seeds are spread by wind and birds.

Its spread can be controlled manually, mechanically or chemically.

Jean Laughman

 

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