Gardening


During the spring, many homeowners notice changes or problems arising in their gardens and landscapes. Throughout May, the Plant Diagnostic Lab received many samples and emails of evergreen plants such as junipers, arborvitae, cedars, and boxwoods for diagnosis. Phomopsis Tip Blight on conifers and Volutella Blight on boxwood are two common diseases seen this time of year. Homeowners tend to notice symptoms in the spring and early summer when conditions are wet and damp and conducive for disease development.

Phomopsis blight is caused by the fungal pathogen Phomopsis juniperovora. Plants that are commonly affected include juniper, cedar, cypress, and arborvitae. Most infections occur in April through early June and in the fall but can occur throughout the growing season on young foliage during wet and humid conditions. Symptoms first appear on immature tissues about 3-5 days after infection. Older, mature branches are resistant. After infection, small yellow spots can be seen on the foliage. Eventually, shoot tips will turn a reddish, brown color after the fungus has entered the xylem.

B1 phomopsis juniper Bruce Watt bugwood.org

Infected branch tips on juniper. Bruce Watt UMaine. bugwood.org.

Over time, cankers will form at the base of the blighted shoots, appearing as a gray band. These cankers can girdle stems less than 1 cm in diameter. Black pycnidia, or tiny fruiting structures, form on killed tissue 3-4 weeks after infection. During wet weather, yellowish conidia, or spores, are extruded from the pycnidia and spread by wind and rain splash. The pathogen can remain on the host and continue to spread spores for up to 2 years when environmental conditions are favorable.

Volutella blight on boxwood hosts is caused by the fungal pathogen Pseudonectria buxi. Symptoms begin in spring as poor vigor and leaves turning light green to straw or tan colored. Leaves turn upwards and tend to remain attached to the branch. This key observation can help distinguish Volutella from boxwood blight, which causes rapid defoliation. Additionally, distinctive black stem streaking and cankers are signs of boxwood blight. Volutella can cause sunken lesions on the stems and plants may eventually lose bark.

B2 Volutella blight L. Borbas

Volutella blight symptoms. Photo by Lillian Borbas, UConn 2021

B3 Straw colored leaves stem lesions L. Borbas

Straw-colored leaves attached to branches. Sunken stem lesions. Photo by Lilian Borbas, UConn 2021

B4 Black stem streaking Mary Ann Hansen bugwood.org

Black stem streaking on a boxwood diagnosed with Boxwood Blight. Mary Ann Hansen. VPI & State University. Bugwood.org

On the undersides of leaves, Volutella will form distinctive orange to salmon-colored sporodochia (fruiting bodies) in moist and humid conditions. The pathogen is spread through rain splash or contaminated tools and is commonly associated with plants that are stressed. Maintaining plant vigor and utilizing the cultural controls outlined below can help manage this disease.

B5 Sporodochia boxwood Bruce Watt bugwood.org

Sporodochia on boxwood leaf. Bruce Watt, UMaine. Bugwood.org.

Management recommendations

For both Volutella and Phomopsis blight, control options are similar. When growing plants susceptible to these diseases, preventative methods, proper planting practices, and cultural controls are important for management. Proper site selection can discourage infection, for example, well drained sites with proper light exposure and air circulation. Ensuring that plants are properly spaced will reduce humidity and moisture around the foliage. Make sure the plant’s mature size is considered when planting. Properly irrigate and fertilize based on the needs of the plant and planting site. Do not water with sprinklers or overhead irrigation as this will encourage prolonged leaf wetness. Avoid letting weeds or other vegetation grow close to the plants. Excessive watering or fertilizing can make the plants more susceptible to infection. Avoid shearing, wounding, or pruning plants in wet, humid weather as this will aid in disease spread.

Regularly check your plants for signs of the symptoms described. If these symptoms are observed, cultural practices should be implemented first. Remove all infected tissue during dry weather, cutting 3-4 inches back from the damage. Disinfect tools between plants and cuts with 10% bleach or 70% isopropyl alcohol. Discard or burn the infected branches as they can be a source of disease. If the plant is heavily infected, it may need to be removed. Consider choosing plants that are more resistant or not susceptible to the disease.

Fungicides may need to be applied if infections become severe and these cultural controls are exhausted. However, many fungicides are used preventatively and should only be used after cultural controls have been tried. They are often only effective if followed by this management and applied before new growth begins in the spring. Whenever using fungicides, always read and follow the label for information on proper rates and application times.

Lillian Borbas

Everyone loves the summer, but it is even more special for a gardener as we get to grow the plants we love! Times of excessive heat like we are experiencing now can make things very difficult not only for the gardener, but also for the plants. Although intense heat is detrimental to many of our crops, excessive heat early in the season can make it particularly hard to start a garden.

ML 21 Sprinkler

During heat waves, watering regularly becomes much more important. Photo by mrl2021

At this time of year, most plants do not have a very well-established root system. Many people do not plant their gardens until after Memorial Day here in Connecticut, even though mid-May is generally the last frost free day. Newly transplanted plants cannot handle intense heat – even if you are watering them. They simply do not have the established root system needed and wilt in the hot sun. The top layers of soil dry out rather quickly, and deeper roots are necessary to find the moisture. 

Seed starting can be particularly problematic at this time as well. Remember that seeds need not only proper temperature, but proper moisture. Seeds are generally planted within the first few inches of soil at most. This layer dries out rather quickly, so keeping the seed bed consistently moist during germination is a daunting task. With both transplants and seed starting, I will generally wait until after a heatwave has passed.

There are a number of crops that do not do well in hot summer heat. Most of the Brassicas despise the heat. These crops include cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, etc. Peas and lettuce also do not like the heat. The best thing to do is keep these plants watered (more on this below), or planted in partial shade. Another option is placing a shade cloth over these plants to reduce the sun and lower the temperature. Some light does pass through, but they are not out in the intense sun.

Some garden victims are our planters, flower pots, and hanging baskets. Any type of container generally dries out rather quickly. They are above ground and many times dark colored. Both contribute to rapid drying out of the soil inside. Sometimes you can buy special soil or add components to the soil to prevent this rapid dry out, but you can expect to give more watering attention to containers during heat waves. Once a day watering may be necessary, though time consuming. Many of the commercial nurseries have automatic watering systems to take care of their stock while it waits to be sold. Containers should be watered until you see water flowing out the bottom. Be careful as severely dried pots will have soil pulled away from the sides and water will flow out the bottom immediately. In this case, a slow hose drip for an extended period of time may help, as will additional soil added to the pot.

ML 6-21 Flower pot

Containers of all kinds are particularly prone to drying out. Photo by mrl2021.

Although we normally think of it as a weed preventer, one of the easiest ways to prevent our soil from drying out is a good layer of mulch. You will need to put on a decent layer because a thin little layer does not do much. I put on at least three inches of mulch or more. People wonder what type of mulch is best, but I say use what you have available. Mulched areas tend to need to be watered less due to the moisture retention so make sure to take this into account when you are watering.

ML 21 Rhubarb

A well-m.ulched rhubarb plant. Photo by mrl2021

Regular water in is essential to keep our crops in good shape. This can be harder to do than you think. One trap I have been caught in in the past was believing the weather forecast. I remember one year where we were supposed to get significant rain each day. I thought, “Why water when it is going to rain?”  Well it did not. The next day it was the same story, and this went on for almost a week. My poor plants were wilting and miserable by this time. It is not good to stress the plants like this. And if you are not paying enough attention, it can be too late to fix! My rule is to water when the plants need it regardless of the forecast (unless 100% rain is predicted). Our plants need about one inch of water per week. Too much can contribute to rot and fungal diseases. Too little and our plants will languish. You can measure the amount of water being put down with a good rain gauge.

ML 21 Rain gauge

One of author’s rain gauges. Photo by mrl2021.

It is best to water in the morning. Evening watering keeps the plants wet and can invite fungal problems, and slugs love the moisture! Watering in the hot mid-day sun can cause water droplets to form on our plants and burn them when the sun’s rays hit. I have found this is particularly problematic with cabbage. In the early morning, before the heat of day, is best. The problem is that many of us go to work at that time! I set the hoses up the night before and then turn on the spigot when I wake up, and turn off before I leave. Another option is using a timer. There are many manual and digital timers out there. I generally get a bit nervous with these as your water must remain “on” for them to work. Should something fail, water will be gushing all over until you come home. I do know many people who use and like them, so I guess I am just being paranoid. 

I am going take this time to remind everyone to get a good soil test. Not only will you be able to dial in your nutrient requirements, but you should be able to find out what type of soil you have.  You will need to adjust your watering based on your soil type. Sandy soils will tend to dry out much quicker than any other type. Clay soils tend to hold water and can become water logged.  Adding humus will improve the quality of both soils.  

My last bit of advice is to not forget about you! Drink water throughout the day when it is hot.  Too many times I have come in feeling great about the work that was done, but not feeling very good physically as I did not drink enough. It is easy to focus on the work and forget about ourselves. Take frequent breaks! Try to minimize the time spent outside at the hottest part of the day (afternoon around 2pm). Try and follow the shade and work on that part of your garden if possible. The early morning and the late evening are generally much cooler, although you won’t have as much time. Wear sunscreen and/or protective hats and clothing. Above all, find a nice comfortable chair placed in the shade and in view of a beautiful flower garden. Add a cup of lemonade or iced tea and you are all set! 

Matt Lisy

If you are looking to continuously supply your kitchen with a variety of interesting and healthy fresh vegetables then succession planting definitely has a place in your garden. In its simplest form, succession planting is just growing the same or different crops one after another in the same spot. So, for instance, after your quick-maturing radishes are harvested, one could plant bush beans and after their harvest, a late summer crop of lettuce.

radishes

Harvest radishes then plant a crop of beans or other quick maturing vegetable.

Another succession planting technique is to make several sowings of the same vegetable at regularly timed intervals. Typically salad greens are planted this way because realistically it is not that easy to use up 30 heads of lettuce in a single week so it would probably make more sense to have smaller, more manageable harvests maturing every week or two. I also use this method with my pickling cucumbers. Try as I might, I cannot seem to thwart those nasty, bacterial wilt-carrying cucumber beetles so I plant more cucumber seeds every 3 weeks or so and keep the newly germinated seedlings under a row cover until they start blossoming.

squash-4

Row covers are set over newly planted cucumber seeds and left on until blossoms form.

To make the most of space and increase yields, two or more crops can be planted simultaneously in the same bed. This works well with crops of different heights and maturation dates. Baby beets or early turnips can be planted in beds with Brussels sprouts; quick maturing lettuces or other salad greens with corn, or even at the base of trellised peas or beans.

Single plantings can be made of the same crop with different maturity dates. For instance, one can plant early, mid, and late season varieties of corn, potatoes or cabbages at one time for a longer, extended harvest.

Succession planting can be as easy or as intricate as you want it to be. For more complex plans, it is important to become familiar with the cultural requirements and varietal characteristics of the vegetables or herbs to be grown. When coming up with a plan, first make a list of all the crops you want to grow. Use gardening catalogs, books, websites and seed packages to find out important plant information like how early in spring the seeds or plants can go into the ground, the number of days from seed sowing or transplanting until harvest, space requirements, and the plant’s tolerance to frost.

Another consideration is how long the plants produce for. Are they plucked out of the ground, like carrots, providing an empty space to plant another seeding or transplants into? Will a secondary crop be produced after the main harvest? For instance, some species of broccoli will continue producing side shoots well into the fall. Kale and Swiss chard will continue to grow new leaves throughout the growing season.

kale & chard

                                            Kale and chard can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Indeterminate types of tomatoes will continue producing after the determinate ones are spent. Another consideration when growing tomatoes is how you plan to use them. Determinate varieties stop growing once they set flowers while indeterminate ones continue to grow foliage and produce flowers until stopped by frost or disease. So the determinate varieties will produce fruit that ripen all at once and this is very useful if the harvest is to be canned or frozen.

Tomatoes mulched with grass

Grow a selection of tomato varieties for a longer harvest window.

One also needs to take into account about when the soil can be worked in the spring, the approximate dates of the last and first frosts of the season, and about when the soil freezes and the harvest season comes to an end. Despite its relatively small size, there can be a two week or more difference in seasonal variation between southern and northern Connecticut. Typically, last frost is anticipated around mid-May and the first frost can occur anytime after mid-September. Most of us experience a growing season of at least 120 days.

It is a really good idea to compile this information into a planting chart or notebook. Then you can come up with initial planting dates, harvest times, and dates for planting your successive crops. Leave room for notes as pests and weather conditions may alter even the most carefully made plans. Also, comments from previous growing seasons are useful both when deciding what to grow again and also deviations from stated days to harvest.

notebook

                                                    Keep notes on varieties, planting dates and harvest times.

Keep in mind that the dates to anticipated harvest assume that seeds are sown or transplants set in the ground at the recommended planting time. With succession planting, seeds and plants are added throughout the growing season. Weather conditions and the angle of the sun greatly affect the rate at which vegetables grow and mature.

During cooler springs, pea seeds planted two weeks apart may mature within a week of each other because plants grow faster as the weather warms and the days lengthen. The opposite is true at the end of summer with cooler weather and shorter days. Cabbages which would typically mature in 50 or 60 days, may take 70 days to form a head as the number of hours of sunlight each day decreases. This is one reason why keeping records is important.

A few crops like radishes, carrots and spinach are always direct seeded into the garden but others like summer squash, cucumbers, lettuces, Chinese cabbages and kale can be either directly seeded or started in pots and transplanted into the garden. I have noticed a few local garden centers have been selling young transplants in late summer for second plantings. Why not try your hand at starting a few seeds in early August for transplanting into the garden to fill any areas left bare from harvest or mishap?

Maintaining a fertile garden soil and supplying plants with adequate water is crucial for successful succession plantings especially if tighter spacings and double croppings are being used. Any plants or seeds being planted during the heat of the summer will require extra watering.

Succession planting is a great way to make the most efficient use of garden space and also to provide a delicious, varying menu of vegetables for the dinner table. Give it a try and I am willing to bet it will open a whole new way of planning your home vegetable garden.  

Dawn P.

This week I was driving a local highway with the windows open in the car and was overcome with the sweet scent of flowers invading the car. Scanning the sides of the road revealed tall trees draped in white panicles of full flowers of black locust trees.

Black Locust Tree in Flower

Robinia pseudoacacia is the Latin name for this once a year proliferation of beauty and fragrance. Its bark is handsomely striped with interlacing furrows and rope-like ridges along its mature 50 to 70 feet tall trunk. Black locust is native to the central and southeastern United States, and not native to the northeast, but has happily made itself at home here. It spreads into colonies via underground roots and by seed, becoming naturalized in minimalized care areas. It is not a recommended tree to plant here due to its aggressive spread and its sharp spines. Black locust is considered an extremely aggressive spreader here and not recommended to plant in our area. It is listed on many states’ invasive plant lists, including Connecticut. I will slow down a little on the highway to take in the olfactory pleasure during this one week of the year it provides beauty while recognizing its negative attribute of invasiveness.

Another pleasant surprise was finding three native wildflowers while tending to grandchildren right in their own backyard. The flowers were going unnoticed next to the climbing gym and at the edge of the lawn in a wetter area of the yard. A teaching moment was offered to the children to look and love, but not pick the flowers, allowing them to completely their life cycle and find again next year.

The Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), is a wildflower of special concern as its numbers are dwindling due loss of habitat and deer finding them a tasty treat. It is not illegal to pick them, but highly discouraged as they take many years to grow to a mature plant from a seed. Pink Lady’s Slipper needs a certain species of Rhizoctonia fungus to break the seed coat before germination can happen. This same fungus is needed it the root zone for the plant to survive, making transplanting to a new spot unsuccessful. It is a look and enjoy and leave it where you found it situation.

The second native find was a Jack-in-the Pulpit flower shooting up above the poison ivy. We did not get a close look due to the hazard of reaching it. Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is so named as it resembles a person covered with a hood. The maroon and green stiped spathe is held up and over its dark colored spadix covered with tiny flowers, once pollinated will turn into bright red berries in the fall.

Canada Mayflower

The final find of the day was a patch of Canada Mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense). They are a low-growing native wildflower with a spike of dainty white flowers. It spreads via root rhizomes into large colonies on roadsides and at the edges moist forest floors. It has a pale, red fruit in the fall eaten by a few species of birds.

Back at home in my garden I found the peonies had opened just in time for the much needed rain, which always seems to be the case every year. I chose to cut some and enjoy these beauties inside before the weather trampled them.

-Carol Quish

Juvenal’s duskywing on native Geranium maculatum

“The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.”
― Ponce Denis Écouchard Le Brun

May is a harbinger of things to come and the herald of things that are already here. Each May I look forward to the appearance of certain ephemeral wildflowers and butterflies that are worth the effort often necessary to search for them. For instance, small butterflies often have a limited flight range, and to find them, you need to know when they start to fly, what flowers they visit, and what the host plants are for their caterpillars. Some wildflowers can be hidden by taller plants surrounding them and a surprise when come across.

Eastern pine elfin on a blade of grass

The Eastern pine elfin, Callophrys niphon, is a tiny hairstreak butterfly  that has only one brood and a flight time that may go from mid-April- June, but is more likely to be found in  flying about in mid-May. Small enough to fit on your fingernail, this elfin is often seen nectaring on blueberry, huckleberry and wild strawberry near its caterpillar’s host plant, white pine.

Eastern pine elfin

Henry’s elfin, Callophrys henrici, is another small hairstreak with an early spring flight time. Mid May is a good time to look for males perching on host plants like redbud, huckleberry, blueberry and viburnums during the day. Nectar sources include willows, hawthorn and pussytoes. Where both species are found, you may come across both the eastern pine and Henry’s elfins in the same stand of wild blueberries or huckleberries.

Henry’s elfin

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatiu,s is another small butterfly found in dry fields near oaks, which is the host plant of its caterpillar. Often confused with Juvenal’s duskywing which flies at the same time, Horace’s  has several larger glassy spots on the forewings. They have a rapid, darting flight and feed and perch with wings outstretched.

Horace’s duskywing

One flowered cancer root is an interesting parasitic wildflower that has no chlorophyll and depends upon a host plant for nutrients. An annual, once the seed germinates, a host plant must be found within a day. Hosts include the genus Sedum and members of the families Saxifragaceae and Asteraceae. The plant consists of a 3-10 inch stem with a single purple to white flower which is covered in hairs and looks like sugar crystals have been sprinkled on it. Look for this plant in May in wet fields or meadows among tall grasses with host plants nearby.

One-flowered cancer root

Garlic mustard, while an invasive plant and worthy of being pulled up, is still useful to bees as a pollen and nectar source. While of use to native pollinators, I still yank out any garlic mustard I can and hope native plants like Geranium maculatum will take its place.

Tiny bee on garlic mustard flower

Columbine and Geranium maculatum bloom for a long period of time and are visited by many pollinators, with columbine a favorite of hummingbirds as well. These plants are often found together along country roadsides and ditches, as well as power line right-of-ways. If at the edge of woods, nodding trillium may also be found nearby. This trillium has very large leaves which hide the drooping flower beneath them.

Columbine and Geranium maculatum

Fringed polygala, a diminutive wildflower that is no taller than 6 inches and has tiny pink airplane- like flowers is a personal favorite. Two of the flower petals unite to form a tube, with the third keeled with a pink fringe. They can be found along dappled wood lines in May or under pines.

Fringed polygala

Shrubs and small trees also can have striking flowers, and one is the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago. Tiny white flowers occuring downward curved panicles that can be 5 inches across. Flowers attract many native pollinators and later on the fruits are eaten by many bird species.

Blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum

The native pinxter is another shrub or small tree that makes itself known through its display of showy pink flower clusters that appear before its leaves and linger well after its leaves are fully out. Hummingbirds visit the flowers of this wetland plant.

Pinxterflower near a woodland swamp

This spring has had a good display of both native and ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and early perennials. Butterflies are already more abundant than last year, and hopefully that will continue throughout the year. Spring is the forerunner of better things to come, but for right now, spring has enough for those of us who are wildflower and butterfly enthusiasts.

Pamm Cooper

Swallowtails like this spicebush swallowtail are in flight in May

Weeds are the bane of every gardener and farmer. Unfortunately, it is our cultural practices that often make a very inviting home for the weeds. So many times, people think about weeds during the peak of summer, when they are up to their ears in them. I spend very little time weeding, yet I grow a large array of crops. It all starts before one sets foot in the garden. With a little planning and forethought, you can spend more time enjoying your hobby, and less time weeding!

A nicely mulched garden bed that will almost totally eliminate the need for weeding. Photo by mrl2021

At the beginning of the season, we are very eager to get out there and clean things up. This is probably the most important time of the year, and instead of thinking of your crops, you should be thinking of weeds. Before I do anything, I think about how my actions will favor or discourage weeds. Many people like to rototill the ground. It makes the ground soft and airy, and very easy to work with afterwards. There are some down sides to this, however. The layer immediately below the tilled portion of soil can become compacted over time making it difficult for plant roots to penetrate. This is called a plow layer. Tilling also makes our soils vulnerable to erosion. The smaller, lighter tilled soil particles can be easily blown away in the wind. Also, heavy rains, which generally occur in the spring when the tilling is done, can also wash away our soil. These two actions rob the gardener/farmer of valuable topsoil – the layer that contains our nutrients.  The action of tilling also brings up weed seeds. The soil contains a seedbed of weed seeds just waiting for conditions to change. Tilling action brings them closer to the surface where they will now germinate.

A garden bed in bad need of rehabilitation. This will get tilled in the spring. Photo by mrl2021

Now I am not saying that I never till. If I have a grass area that I want to convert into a garden bed, I usually till it up. At that time, I amend the soil with limestone per recommendations on my UConn soil test results. Limestone is best incorporated into the soil, rather than simply left on the surface. This can also be a time to incorporate fertilizers (I prefer organic), compost, or any other soil amendments you choose. 

So, there are two options left to the gardener at this point – hoe or mulch. After my crops are planted, I like to put down a thick layer of mulch if possible. People debate what material is best, but I say use what is available to you. It beats pulling weeds all summer! For garden beds where I am going to do short growth crops like lettuce, I do not mulch. The lettuce will be pulled and eaten in a short amount of time and then replanted. I just don’t want to take the time to mulch around all those plants. In beds like these I like to periodically hoe up the ground. I use a stirrup hoe, which gently glides across the surface/subsurface of the soil and cuts off the weeds that start to grow.  You must be diligent, however, because if the weeds get too big, the hoe will not be easily able to cut the weeds down. Now you are back to pulling weeds (I try to avoid this at all costs).  I find with this set up, I hoe the area every two to three weeks depending on weed pressure. Other growers may recommend more frequent hoeing, but I find I am always pressed for time and this method seems to work fine for me. There are many other different styles of hoes which are meant to disrupt weed growth early on. There is no right or wrong one, but find one that works for you and most importantly, feels comfortable to use!

The author’s trusty stirrup hoe. Photo by mrl2021

For other beds that I limed and mulched heavily the year before, many times I will skip the tilling process. The mulch is still good at suppressing weeds, and also is breaking down and adding nutrients to my soil. I will go and spot weed where occasional weeds appear. In this case, you must be careful as now you have a space that is bare soil. That area should be re-mulched to prevent new weed growth. Although this does require some manual pulling of weeds, it is minimal and relatively easy if done in the spring.

A garden bed that needs only a little weeding but no tilling. Photo by mrl2021

The last trick is to tarp an area you want to convert into a garden. Silage tarps are great for this.  They generally are black on one side and white on the other. Face the black side up and leave it to cook in the sun. The vegetation below it is then killed by the heat. This can take some time, so don’t expect this to work in a few short weeks. I like to give it a few months. Also, if you need to incorporate some limestone, compost, and/or other soil amendments, you should do so at the beginning of the process, or after the vegetation is killed. Remove the tarp and till in your amendments, then re-tarp for at least a few weeks (longer is better). Remember tilling brings up those weed seeds. The tarp will keep the surface moist and warm which favors germination. The lack of light will then kill off those newly germinated seeds leaving you with clean ground when you are ready to plant.

A tarped ares that is the site of a future garden. Photo by mrl2021

The final trick is to plant cover crops after you harvest your main crop. Many times, the cover crops prevent weed seeds from taking over due to allelopathy (plant chemical warfare), or simply by occupying the space needed to grow and subsequently shading the remaining areas. Cover crops hold on to your nutrients so they are not washed away by rain, and protect your valuable top soil from erosion. Annual cover crops will winter kill and many times degrade sufficiently by spring. Perennial crops generally need to be mowed and/or tilled under in the spring. You could also tarp the area instead. Cover crops positively increase the amount of organic matter and nutrients in the soil. Certain cover crops can even be deep rooted and break up hardpan that has been created. By adding in organic matter once they are done growing, cover crops also work to break up heavy clay soil as well. 

So, there are my tricks for outsmarting the weeds. I hope this helps you spend more time enjoying your garden and less time working in it. Don’t forget to get a soil test to help dial in the proper growing parameters so all your efforts turn into time well spent!   

Matt Lisy

So, its not just me admiring the spectacular tulip displays this year. It’s not that I’ve been traveling by more of them; the flowers are just so vibrant, cheery and beckoning. And, they have been so duly noted by the New York Times and Boston Globe. Perhaps it is a sign of new hope after a long, long year of illness, anxiety and isolation. Whatever the reason, do slow down and enjoy the short but glorious tulip prime time show.

Cool hued tulips. Photo by dmp, 2019

Few flowering bulbs put on as spectacular a spring display as tulips. Most species are native to Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran where they have been cultivated for more than a thousand years. According to Persian legend, tulips sprang from the blood of a distraught lover who took his own life. About 400 years ago, bulbs from Central Asia were sent to Holland to the Flemish botanist, Clusius and planted in the botanical garden at the university at Leiden. The precious bulbs, that he was both displaying and doing research on, were stolen, twice, and were distributed throughout Holland. Clusius was trying to determine the reason for distinctive stripes or ‘breaks’ in the petals of some of the tulips. The craze that followed was dubbed ‘Tulipomania’ and finally the government was forced to put an end to this expensive obsession. Towards the latter part of the eighteenth century the Dutch began hybridizing tulips and created the majority of varieties planted today.

Tulip Carnival de Rio sports a flamed bicolor pattern not caused by a virus. Photo by dmp, 2019

Tulips are divided into two main classes. Species or botanicals are derived from the wild forms and are best for naturalizing as they are usually true from seed. Hybrids, which are most commonly purchased here, have been bred specifically for color, bloom time and other desired characteristics and are propagated by offsets. While hybrids are bold and beautiful and hard to resist, please try to find a place for their wilder and often more dainty or whimsical looking ancestors. A recent news thread was entitled, “Who Cares About Kyrgyzstan’s Threatened Tulips?” Many of the 27 tulip species in this country are at risk from overgrazing, over harvesting, mining and urbanization, not to mention climate change. Animals may be able to move to more amenable environments as their habitats are affected by climate change; plants move on a much slower scale that puts many species in imminent danger of extinction. Two Connecticut bulb companies that do offer nice selections of species tulips are www.vanengelen.com and www.johnscheepers.com.    

Tulipa tarda, a species tulip. Photo by dmp, 2020

Early blooming tulips include Kaufmanniana, also known as waterlily tulips, Fosterana tulips, and single and double early tulips. Kaufmanniana tulips are generally bicolored and grow only 6 to 9 inches tall. Many have lovely mottled or striped foliage. The Fosteranas are the tallest of the early tulips reaching up to 20 inches. They are noted for their beautiful cup-shaped flowers and wide assortment of colors.

Kaufmanniana tulips with mottled foliage. Photo by dmp, 2021

Both single and double early tulips last longer than other early blooming varieties with the singles being quite fragrant and suitable for forcing.

Single early bloomers were crossed with late bloomers to create the midseason triumph tulip. “Apricot Beauty’ with its rosy, peach blossoms on 14 inch stems is one of my favorites, doubling as an excellent cut flower. Greigii hybrids are shorter midseason tulips known for their mottled or striped foliage. A recently developed midseason variety are the Darwin hybrids, a cross between late blooming Darwins and early Fosteranas featuring extremely large, colorful blooms. Rembrandt tulips are related to the Darwins and are grown for their vivid stripes and blotches caused by a nonpathogenic virus.

Late season Darwins are perhaps the most popular of tulip varieties. Colors range from pure white to almost black. Tall cottage tulips with their 3 foot stems and delicate looking lily-like flowers are also late bloomers. An interesting subdivision of the cottage tulips are the viridiflora, distinctive because of their bright green flares dividing the center of each petal.

Except for the species, tulips are not notably long lived plants and in formal beds they are best treated as annuals and discarded or placed in a less conspicuous spot after bloom. The bulbs break down into smaller bulblets and the flower size is reduced after a year or two. Varieties touted as perennial are usually jumbo Darwin hybrids and will provide you with 3 or 4 seasons of top quality blooms although I have had some coming back for 15 years now.

Some of these tulips planted 15 years ago still come back each spring. Photo by dmp, 2006

Plant tulips shortly after purchasing in the fall to ensure good root establishment. Planting at 8 to 10 inch depths is said to prolong the life of the bulbs. Tulips look best planted en masse so use at least a dozen of each color and limit yourself to 2 or 3 colors per bed for a nice effect. Underplanting with pansies, alyssum, or low growing spring flowering perennials like rockcress or silver mound artemesia will help camouflage the dying tulip foliage.

For a real treat to the senses, visit Wicked Tulip Flower Farms (www.wickedtulips.com) in Exeter, RI or Bantam, CT. Walk through their acres of tulips, pick your own bouquet or order online for curbside pickup. Regardless of where you are or traveling to, be on the look out for vibrant, colorful tulips to bring some cheer into your spring and brighten our year to come.

Wicked Tulips Flower Farm, Photo by dmp 2019

Happy spring!

Dawn P.  

Star Magnolia

The return of spring bring flowering trees and bulbs to rejuvenate the human spirit. The bluebirds are nesting in my yard, but too fast and cautious for me to capture with the camera. I love this time of year, even though it brings the return of weeds and some plant diseases year after year.

A favorite flowering tree of mine are magnolias. The star magnolia flower is pictured above and the tree below.M. stellata was introduced to the United States in the 1860’s originated from Japan.

Star Magnolia Tree.

The saucer magnolia, Magnolia × soulangiana, is a hybrid cross between M. denudata and M. liliflora developed in France in 1826.

Flowering Quince

This is a close up the beautiful blossoms of a flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Scarlet Storm’ and tends to only look good while flowering. It is a messy shrub, gangly and awkward looking the rest of the year. I find it also sends up shoots a few feet away from the plant needing removal attention unless you want a loose, erratic hedge.This native to Asia.

The peonies are about a foot tall already with tiny buds atop insuring June flowers will be here. The red tinged foliage produces dark red flowers in my garden. The green leafed one is a light pink variety. I do not know the names as these were shared from my aunt’s garden. Peonies can live for decades in the same spot! Peonies are native to China.

Grape hyacinths, (Muscari armeniacum,) are delightful little spires of blue bells emanating from a bulb below ground. They certainly brighten up the landscape, but can become a nuisance if allowed to go to seed and spread. I have them popping up in the lawn and garden where they did not start out. Their native range is western Asia and southeastern Europe. Best to plant in the fall at same time as daffodils and tulips.

Bluets.

Bluets, (Houstonia), is a native wildflower often found in wetter areas of lawns and around streams and ponds. These were battling for space in the lawn untreated with herbicides. They appear around the same time as the pollywogs in the nearby stream. Both wonderful signs of spring.

In the vegetable garden the kale made it through the winter and is growing well. Spring greens for supper!

Kale overwintered on its own.

The asparagus is coming up, although this spear is curled indicating asparagus beetles fed on the developing stalk under ground. Thankfully others were fine. Be on the look out for striped and spotted asparagus beetles on the stalks.

Curled asparagus stalk from beetle feeding.

Along with the good comes some bad: weeds. Hairy bittercress had a great year this spring. It is a cool weather annual that will die out with heat. The elongated seed pods shoot its seeds out to make new plants next year. Hand pull or mow if in the lawn.

Today’s rain spurred cedar apple rust galls to awaken and grow. They look like an orange jelly ball with tentacles. They will dry and release spores that will float on the wind to infect new apple tree leaves with cedar apple rust spots. Those apple leaves will yellow and drop leaving a bare tree. If you can reach the orange galls at this stage, cut them off and put them in the garbage to interrupt the lifecycle of this two host disease.

Spring often bring good winds. Great for wind power and kite flying!

Enjoy!

-Carol Quish

Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands

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Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

Figs are a delicious, exotic tasting fruit that many people don’t know can be grown right here in Connecticut. Yes, our winters are too harsh for this warmer climate plant but with a little know how and some effort, you can grow a successful fig crop year after year.

Violette de bourdeaux is a popular variety of purple fig Photo: C. Johnson

Selecting a variety

While no one variety is completely resistant to the cold temperatures we experience as New Englanders, there are some varieties that are more resilient than others. Chicago hardy, Brown turkey, Celeste, and White Marseilles are just a few examples. Flavor preference is another factor to consider after cold hardiness. Figs range from light green, to brown, to dark purple, with some variation in size between varieties. If you’re not sure what you like, you might try looking in the produce aisle of your local grocer and see if there’s a range to sample from there. Although this is rarely the case, most grocery stores in New England will only carry figs seasonally and even then, it is a narrow selection. This only adds to the appeal for home gardeners wanting to produce their own crop. There is a large market for purchasing pre-established plants of all different fig cultivars. However, many fig enthusiasts choose to share cuttings among each other as this plant propagates so easily.

A semi hardwood cutting showing root proliferation.
Photo: C. Johnson

Propagation

Figs can be propagated via vegetative cutting with relative ease. Green cuttings tend to be less successful than woodier cuttings with the sweet spot being at about 1 year old. At that age, the propagule will have some woodiness to it but not so much that it is no longer pliable. Cuttings can be taken almost any time of year but semi dormant to fully leafed out branches are ideal. Some rooting hormone and placing shallow wounds on either side of the stem can go a long way towards rooting (as seen in the photo).

Growing conditions

Figs do best in a hot, full sun location. If you are planting in the garden or placing in a container, be sure to give them as much sun and warmth as possible. A relatively fast draining media will also go a long way towards producing a healthy fig crop as figs prefer not to remain wet for extended periods of time. Figs do well in moderately fertile soils with minimal need for fertilization in the garden. Plants grown in containers will experience a higher rate of nutrient leaching and therefore will require some fertilization during the growing season.

A spring breba crop on Ficus carica ‘Ischia’. Photo: D. Nordby

Overwintering

Figs are not adapted to our cold winters so measures must be taken to protect these plants during the cold season to ensure they survive to see spring again. Techniques for overwintering figs range in difficulty and complexity. The simplest option, which mainly applies to container plants, is to simply move them into a semi heated structure such as a garage or basement. This can be done with plants that are in the ground by digging them up and wrapping the root ball. There are also several methods of mulching and wrapping that have been proven to be successful. Overwintering methods have been covered in depth by Dr. Charles R Vossbrinck at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. See his article here.

Symptoms of mosaic virus showing on Ficus carica ‘letizia’. Photo: D. Nordby

Pests and diseases

The two most common diseases of figs in Connecticut are rust and fig mosaic virus. Rust can be prevented through good moisture management practices. Pruning and spacing plants to increase air flow as well as careful watering to keep foliage dry will go a long way towards preventing rust. Mosaic virus can cause some decline in overall plant health and appearance, but healthy plants often outgrow this virus. Be sure to clean pruners with rubbing alcohol in between cuts to prevent the spread of this virus.

C. Johnson

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