Gardening


In my blog of October 11, 2018, I shared images and some information on various flora that are found on Bermuda and promised to talk about some of the species that have become invasive. You may wonder why invasive species on Bermuda might be relevant to us in Connecticut. Islands as small as Bermuda or as large as Australia may have species that are unique to their location and that have fewer defenses against introduced plants, animals, fungi, or microorganisms. These places are great concentrated studies in the effects of introduced species.

We have seen many invasive species become hot topics as they moved from other parts of North America or even other places on the planet into non-native locations in the Northeast. The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group lists over 80 plants that are currently problems, some of which moved into our region in just the course of a decade. Transported wood that is infested with the Emerald ash borer or the Asian longhorned beetle has enabled these insects to move easily from state to state.

Japanese barberry image, UConn Plant Database, EAB image, CT DEEP

The isolated volcanic islands of Bermuda were not subject to invasive species for most of its history. There were only 165 species of vascular plants, 5 species of bats, a species of skink and another of turtle on the islands when Bermuda was discovered. Over the next several hundred years thousands of plant and animal species were brought by ships to the islands, sometimes intentionally but more often not. Some came as stowaways as seeds in hay or soils, on ocean currents, as insects in food stores, or in the bilge water of the ships themselves.

Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana), Bermuda maidenhead fern (Adiantum bellum)

Until Bermuda was visited by the first Europeans in 1505 there had been no human-related importing of flora or fauna to the archipelago so it is a great microcosm of the effects of species introduction. When settlers come to a new place the first thing that they attempt is to make it ‘home-like’. The introduction of rabbits to Australia in 1788 by British penal colonies. Within ten years they numbered in the millions and ate enough vegetation to cause widespread erosion issues.

5 Rabbits Australian National University

Rabbit around a waterhole, image from 1938/Australian National Museum

One of the first species introduced to Bermuda were the pigs that were released on Bermuda in the late 16th century. By the time a European settlement was established in the early 17th century the pigs had become abundant and feral. You may wonder why pigs were released in the first place. It was because the islands were used a place to replenish food and water, kind of a 17th century truck stop by ships. The pigs did untold damage to seabird and turtle breeding colonies.

Cockroaches, Periplaneta americana, came to Bermuda as egg cases in the bilges of a ship in 1621. Wireweed, Sida carpinifolia, was already a rampant invasive in 1669 when then-governor John Heydon was calling for tenants to pull it up by hand.

6 Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org

American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) egg case image

Many of the introduced species were brought in to control other species. The Jamaican anole, Anolis grahami, arrived in 1905 to control the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, and has since become naturalized. A beneficial introduction came in the form of honey bees, Apis mellifera. A beekeeping record dated May 25, 1617 stated that “The bees that you sent doe prosper very well.”. The Bermuda palmetto (Sabal bermudana), a native plant, is one of the main nectar sources for these bees. The giant Cane toad, Bufo marinus, an introduced species, was brought in to control garden pests but unfortunately consumes a lot of bees.

Honey bee, Bermuda palmetto, Cane toad

The Indian laurel, Ficus microcarpus, an ornamental garden tree was not considered an invasive species until the 1980s when a pollinating wasp was introduced to the island. Known as a strangler fig like its cousin the banyan, Ficus benghalensis, the Indian laurel can crack through walls and water tanks. It is a primary food source for the starling, an introduced species that does a lot of damage as they spread invasive seeds from the Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolia, the asparagus fern, Asparagus densiflorus, and the Indian laurel.

Indian laurel &  banyan trees

Casuarina, Casaurina equisetifolia, over-shades native plant species and causes soil erosion. It was introduced from Australia in the 1940s as a windbreak but no plants grow beneath it. Kudzu, Pueraria montana, is familiar to Connecticut gardeners as it is also on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group list.

Casaurina & kudzu

With 23 of the top 100 invasive species in the world, Bermuda is still at risk of additional invasive species as most of their food and consumer goods are brought in by ship. Visitors or traveling Bermudians also bring plants, fruits, and seeds on to the islands. When you travel anywhere in the world and see warnings about bringing back fruits and plants or prohibitions against moving wood, visiting farms, or petting livestock it is for the good of all to heed that advice.

Susan Pelton

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient required for the production and growth of all plants, vegetation, and living organisms. It makes up 78% of our atmosphere; however, that only accounts for 2% of the Nitrogen on our planet. The remaining 98% can be found within the Earth’s lithosphere; the crust and outer mantel. The Nitrogen found within the nonliving and living fractions of soil represents an unimaginably low fraction of a percentage of all the Nitrogen on our planet. That tiny percent of all total Nitrogen found in our soils is what we can interact with to help or hinder plant production.

To be considered an essential nutrient, an element must satisfy certain criteria:

  1. Plants cannot complete their life cycles without it.
  2. Its role must be specific and defined, with no other element being able to completely substitute for it.
  3. It must be directly involved in the nutrition of the plant, meaning that it is a constituent of a metabolic pathway of an essential enzyme.

In plants, Nitrogen is necessary in the formation of amino acids, nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), proteins, chlorophyll, and coenzymes. Nitrogen gives plants their lush, green color while promoting succulent growth and hastens maturity. When plants do not receive adequate Nitrogen, the leaves and tissues develop chlorosis. However, over-application of Nitrogen can cause even more problems, including delayed maturity, higher disease indigence, lower tolerance to environmental stresses, reduced carbohydrate reserves, and poor root development.

N1

Chlorotic corn. Image provided by T. Morris, 2018

The Nitrogen Cycle describes the movement of Nitrogen through a landscape. Nitrogen undergoes numerous changes that affect its availability to certain plants and organisms.

N2

The Nitrogen Cycle. Image provided by T. Morris, 2018

Nitrogen undergoes numerous transformations within a landscape; each transformation represents a distinct chemical reaction or process that acts to further Nitrogen within the cycle. The different transformations are shown in the image provided, but some important ones to keep in mind are Mineralization (organic N -> NH4+), Immobilization (microbial), Denitrification (NO3 to a gaseous form), and Leaching (the loss of dissolved Nitrate into groundwater). There are factors that determine the rates and occurrences of all Nitrogen transformations including pH, temperature, saturation, etc… All of these transformations determine how much Nitrogen is available in your soil for plant uptake. Leaching poses a big problem, when too much Nitrogen is applied via fertilizer, NO3 can be transported in the soil water. Excess leaching can lead to Eutrophication.

Most plants take in Nitrogen as Nitrate, NO3, and Ammonium, NH4+. Generally, Nitrate is absorbed much more than Ammonium, but it is all plant-specific. The combination of both of these forms of Nitrogen can help to improve over-all plant growth when compared to intake of just one. Some plants use symbiotic N2 fixation, where they supply C for fixed Nitrogen from bacteria, actinomycetes, and cyano-bacteria (blue-green algae). This process involves the transformation of N2 to NH3. For instance, Legumes use Rhizobia inside their root nodules to convert N2 to NH4.

N3

Nitrogen Fixing Nodules. Image from NC State University

Applying the correct amount of Nitrogen is key in reducing leaching, and ensuring your plants are getting the perfect amount for maximum yields. Nitrogen testing proves to be difficult because of the constant transformations it undergoes. Getting your soil tested for other micro and macro nutrients can help provide information on overall soil health, and from there, proper Nitrogen fertilizer recommendations can be made. Talk to anyone from the UConn Soil Nutrient Lab or Home & Garden Education Center for more information on Nitrogen fertilizers and soil testing.

An alarming piece of new research shows decreasing Nitrogen availability with continued global warming. As CO2 levels increase in the atmosphere, essential nutrients are becoming less available to plants. As essential nutrients become less available, forests and ecosystems that usually absorb CO2 would be unable to do so, further increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere. Oligotrophication is the term coined to describe the decreasing productivity of a forest due to the unavailability of Nitrogen. You can read more about this process in the paper “Isotopic evidence for oligotrophication of terrestrial ecosystems” in Nature Ecology & Evolution by Andrew Elmore and David Nelson from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Joseph Crain of Jonah Ventures.

Joe C.

This past Saturday I was fortunate to be a part of the CT Envirothon Soils Workshop team coordinated by State Soil Scientist, Deb Surabian, from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Our mission was to share our soil science knowledge with the high school students and their teachers or advisors enrolled in the CT Envirothon program. Students gain an appreciation and understanding for the vital ecosystem roles soils play and learn how to classify and describe them. They will then go on and use this knowledge for the annual State Envirothon Competition to be held May 16, 2019.

IMG_3703

CT Envirothon Banner. Photo by dmp.

For those unfamiliar with the Envirothon, it was first conceived in the late 70s in Pennsylvania by the state’s Conservation Districts. They believed in the importance of a statewide environmental program aimed at high school students and focused on key natural resources including soils, aquatics, forestry and wildlife. Within a few years, Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Ohio had started Envirothon programs and the first National Envirothon Competition was held in 1988 in Pennsylvania. By the time 2000 came along, more than 40 states as well as several Canadian provinces were competing in the national contest.

Connecticut’s first statewide competition was held in 1992 and 15 schools participated. That number climbed to 46 schools in 2000 and over the past 2 years there was about 25 schools competing. Several high schools have multiple teams, however. The CT Envirothon is open to public, private, vocational and home-schooled students.

Soil pit 2018 Topsmead St Forest 2

Envirothon participants describing soil pit at 2018 CT State Envirothon Competition at Topsmead State Forest. Photo by dmp, 2018

Typically, a high school teacher, advisor or other student advocate will gather a team of 5 environmentally enthused students (plus 2 alternates). Once registered in the CT Envirothon, teams will receive study guides, curriculum materials and notice of the 4 training sessions – one on each of the natural resources areas of interest mentioned above. These training workshops are presented by professionals in their respective fields including soil scientists, wildlife ecologists, aquatics biologists, foresters and others. Both students and teachers benefit by interacting with these professionals by gaining knowledge, networking and exploring career opportunities in the natural resources fields. Students keep us professionals current (and on our toes!) and truly it is invigorating to feel that the time we take to share our knowledge is valued and will be put to good use.

The CT State Envirothon Competition is held each May in varied locations throughout the state. Teams compete in all 4 natural resources areas plus in a short oral presentation on the year’s current issue. This year’s current issue is ‘Agriculture and the Environment, Knowledge and Technology to Feed the World’. After morning competition, all gather for a luncheon cookout and then the award ceremony. Winners are announced in each of the 5 categories as well as the overall winning team who will go on to represent Connecticut in the national North American Envirothon. The winners will go up against approximately 60 teams from the U.S. and Canada and the 2019 competition will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina from July 28th through August 2nd.

This year’s Soils Workshop was held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon and consisted of 4 hands-on stations plus a presentation by USDA NRCS Soil Conservationist, Bill Purcell. Bill tackled the current issue and talked about the importance of soil health in agricultural systems and management practices like no-till, cover cropping and conservation tillage that keep our farmland soils healthy and productive.

Bill Purcell

USDA NRCS Soil Conservationist, Bill Purcell. Photo by dmp 2018

Deb Surabian was charged with familiarizing students with map reading and interpreting soil data. In recent years, the old soil survey manuals were converted into an electronic Web Soil Survey. According to the USDA NRCS, it provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the work with soil maps and corresponding data available for 95% of the counties in the U.S. at this time with a soon to be reached goal of 100%. After selecting your ‘area of interest’, one can find out information about what soil series are present in the area, their characteristics, land use suitability and more. And, there’s an App for that – free for Android or iPhones.

Deb Surabian, CT state soil scientist

Deb Surabian, USDA NRCS State Soil Scientist CT/RI demonstrating how to use the web soil survey. Photo by Jean Laughman

Retired USDA NRCS Resource Soil Scientist, Lisa Krall along with Bill Purcell brought examples of soils from both well and poorly managed fields so students could examine the difference in structure and erodibility. They created mini soil filtration systems that showed how differences in vegetative cover impact soil erosion. Many may not be aware that half the Earth’s topsoil has been lost over the past 150 years. With an ever increasing population, how will we feed ourselves without taking care of our soils? All life is dependent on the soil.

Lisa Krall & Bill Purcell soil health

Retired USDA NRCS Resource Soil Scientist, Lisa Krall & USDA NRCS Soil Conservationist, Bill Purcell exploring soil health with students. Photo by Jean Laughman

The original plan was for Jacob Isleib, USDA NRCS Soil Scientist to lead the students in a hands-on soil description in one of the soil pits on the TAC property. Because of the heavy rainfall we were experiencing this past weekend, he had to use trays of soil and soil monoliths as well as some Powerpoint illustrations, to show the students how to describe and categorize a soil. Students learned how to designate soil horizons and ascertain soil properties in order to evaluate the position of that soil series in the landscape and be able to interpret potential uses as well as limitations.

Jacob Isleib

USDA NRCS Soil Scientist, Jacob Isleib teaching Envirothon participants how to describe soils using monoliths. Photo by Jean Laughman

And me, as a UConn Assistant Extension Educator as well as a soil scientist, worked with students to practice how to assign soils colors using the Munsell Color System as well as how to hand-texture a soil. During the competitions, students will be shown a soil in a previously dug pit and need to be able to delineate the horizons and characterize them by texture and color among other properties. There are 12 textural classes according to the USDA textural triangle. The students’ favorite soil to texture is the silty clay loam because as the name implies it contains clay and therefore is moldable. It is also sticky and I lose a lot of this soil at every workshop as it sticks to everyones’ hands and ends up running down the drainpipes. Fortunately, the UConn Soil Lab, which I manage, recently received dozens of Puerto Rican soils which are mostly silty clay and clay loams so for now, the clay loam coffers are full. While many people believe they have clay soils, realistically in Connecticut they are rather rare. What people really have most of the times are compacted soils.

Dawn soil texture 2

Dawn Pettinelli reviewing how to hand texture soil. Photo by Jean Laughman

Another topic I cover is invasive earthworms. While there are no native earthworms in Connecticut as they were all wiped out by the glacier fifteen thousand or more years ago, the more recent introduction of Asian species of earthworms is a significant problem both in home gardens and forested ecosystems. Not that we can even control the invasives that are highly visible like purple loosestrife and bittersweet but students and their advisors need to know that any time a non-native species is introduced into a native ecosystem, there are consequences.

amynthas

Crazy snake worm (Amynthas spp). Photo by dmp, 2018

It has been a decade since I was first invited to assist the USDA NRCS soil scientist crew with the CT Envirothon Soils Workshop. While I sometimes grumble at the early hour I need to arise on a Saturday, at the end of the day I am a happy, and sometimes humbled participant, in an effort to pass the soils torch on to the next generation of environmental professionals.

Dawn P.

maple tree color

Fall has settled in finally, bringing its colors and cool weather. Some foliage colors were mediocre this year, always to due to the weather. It stayed hot for a long time and we did not get the cool night temperatures which help to trigger the trees to slow down and get ready for dormancy with the side effect of changing leaf color. Still there were some nice sights around the state. Japanese maple ‘Full Moon’ is a reliably consistent beauty sporting bright red leaves for a week or more before dropping its foliage.

Full moon Japanese Maple

Full Moon Japanese Maple

Evergreen trees also drop foliage, but not all needles at once. The newer green needles will remain on the branches for several years. Eastern white pines will shed their oldest, inner most bundles of needles each year by first turning yellow, then brown and drop. Notice the healthy, younger green needles are retained on the growing ends of the branches.

Fall is time of seed and fruit production in the cycle of life of plants. Crabapples are a great source of food for birds and animals throughout the winter. Some trees have very persistent fruit, hanging on throughout the season, ensuring feathered and fur beings a meal. Viburnum species also are in fruit as are winterberries.

Another interesting tree producing seed pods is the Japanese pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum. It also goes by its other common name Chinese scholar tree due to it commonly being planted around Buddhist temples in Japan. It is native to China and Korea. Panicles of scented white flowers are produced in late summer, turning into strings of pop bead looking yellow seed pods in fall. Pods then turn brown staying on the tree though winter. Japanese pagoda tree makes a great, small specimen tree in yards and larger gardens.

Japanese pagoda tree

Japanese Pagoda Tree

Fall is a good time to gather dried seeds from annuals and perennials you wish to grow again. Many reseeding annuals drop their seed and seem to pop up as weeds. Collect the seed in paper envelopes or containers to grow them where you want them next year. Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, dill and fennel are just a few that consistently popup all over my gardens. The annual yellow and orange gloriosa daisy evens spread to my adjacent neighbors from the birds eating the seed heads I leave up for them. Some hybrid seeds will not come back the same if you save and plant the seed the following year. Every year I plant blue or blue striped forms of morning glory to climb up the gazebo. They set tons of seeds and drop to the ground to sprout and grow the next year. Unfortunately, they come back a deep purple, not the blue. If I don’t rouge out the volunteers from the new blue flowered plants I put in each year, I will have a mixed show of the blue I newly planted and purple that reseeded themselves. I consider the purple weeds, but others might disagree.

Speaking of weeds, I noticed it was a banner year for Pennsylvania smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica,   formerly called Polygonum pensyvanicum . Smartweed loves it moist and it responded well to all the rain we had this spring and summer, growing like gangbusters and producing a multitude of seed. On the positive side, songbirds love the seed and will be well fed during their time here. Too bad the prolific seed production is going to add to the seed bank in the soil for following years.

lady's thumb weed

Pennsylvania Smartweed

This year of moisture also lead to much fungal production. Tomatoes were more likely to succumb to early blight and Septoria leaf spot due to leaf wetness aiding disease development and spread. Fungicides applied before fungus hits can protect plants. So will proper spacing of plants and pruning branches to increase airflow and dry leaves. High humidity and lots of moisture ensures mildews, too. Lilacs will develop powdery mildew during mid-summer, but still come back strongly the next year. I just chose to not look at them after August.

lilac powdery mildew

Lilac leaves with powdery mildew

Insects are always a part of the garden be it vegetable or perennial. We need the insects for pollination and cycle of all life. The pest ones were not too bad this year as I kept up the removal and scouting for eggs on the squash and squishing caterpillars and worms on the kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Tomato hornworms made a brief appearance, but I caught them in time before much damage was done. Thankfully the cucumber beetles were low in numbers this year and manageable with hand picking them off. I am often fascinated with the beauty and intricacies of insects. I found the delicate dragonfly dead on my breezeway and could not help but marvel at its color and patterns on its body. Dragonflies dart about the yard zigging and zagging at breakneck speed while feeding on the tornado of gnats in the very late afternoon. I call it the dance of the dragonfly and now I see they come dressed in their finery for the occasion.

Dragonfly head

 

The season wasn’t all work, nor should it be. We made time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and spaces we created, and hope did also. With summer and the main growing season are behind us, I hope it left mark on your heart and memories for your mind, until next year when we can all try again, try some new plant and find a new adventure.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyright C. Quish

boat wake trail in ocean

goldenrod

One of many goldenrod species

Goldenrods, Solidago ssp., form one of the most interesting interrelationships between flora and fauna of the late-season flowering plants in New England. The name solidago is from two Latin words meaning ‘to make’ and ‘whole’, referring to its use as herbal remedies in the form of teas or compresses, among other uses. Goldenrods are perennial herbs that are members of the Asteraceae, or aster, family. Flowering from August through September, they are often found blooming together with Joe-Pye weeds and asters. The time of year that they bloom has made them a scapegoat for many allergy sufferers who believe they are to blame them for symptoms that are actually due to ragweed that flower at the same time.

 

honey bee on downy goldenrod Pamm Cooper

Honey bee on downy goldenrod.

 

Goldenrods naturally produce rubber, and Thomas Edison actually experimented with the cultivation process to increase the rubber content in the plants. George Washington Carver and Henry Ford devised a process to make a much needed rubber substitute from goldenrod during World War II. It was rather tacky and not as elastic as true rubber, but goldenrods and other native plants such as Asclepias and Chrysothamnus have rubber in sufficient quantity that may one day prove worthwhile. Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) had the most rubber content at 6.34 %.

Goldenrods have a unique type of inflorescence that consists of many tiny flowers that aggregate together in a flower head and form a ‘false flower’. The individual flowers are most commonly in the form of ray flowers or disk flowers. Identification of species is often done by observing the hairs on the seeds, which may be visible when the plant is still in flower. Goldenrods vary in height, with the tallest (Solidago altissima) at six feet. Some, such as sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) have pleasant odors.

Joe pye and goldenrod Harkness Park 9-2-2018

Joe- pye weed and goldenrods blooming together at Harkness Park in Waterford, Connecticut

One of the most common goldenrods in New England is the Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). It is considered alleopathic to sugar maple seedlings, producing chemicals that inhibit their growth. Habitat is disturbed areas like meadows, fields or roadsides. This is a tall plant with hairy stems and a plume flower arrangement.

goldenrods and asters in a field

Asters and goldenrods growing together in a waste area

It is associated with the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis) whose larva feed inside a round gall on the stem which is formed by the reaction of the plant to the larva’s saliva. You can easily find these galls when green or later in the season when stalks turn brown. The larva chew an exit hole before the plant tissue hardens up for the winter. In the spring, the adult fly will exit through this hole. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees will peck at these galls to access the larva, especially in harsh winters. Studies have shown the larger the larva inside the gall, the less likely it is to be parasitized by other insects or eaten by birds like downy woodpeckers in the winter. The goldenrod gall moth also causes a stem gall, but this is a spindle- shape rather than a ball. The caterpillar hatches from an egg laid the previous autumn and feeds its way into a stem.

goldenrod bunch gall and stem gall caused by the goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

goldenrod bunch gall on left and stem gall on right, caused by the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

Licorice goldenrod (Solidago odora) has a licorice or anise scent and the leaves were used in a tea by the Cherokee for colds, coughs, and fevers. This plant is found in the southernmost parts of the New England states, but is absent in Maine. Found in woodlands, along roadsides, disturbed sites and old fields, the flowers have been used to make deep yellow dyes and attract beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings.

White goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) is found at the edges of woodlands. It is also sometimes called ‘silverrod’ in reference to its white flowers. It is the only goldenrod with white flowers in the eastern part of the country. The stamens and pollen will give it a slightly yellow look. Sometimes the spectacular brown hooded owlet caterpillar can be found on this plant where it primarily eats the flower buds and flowers. Found more often on any goldenrods with longer flower spikes, this caterpillar is a favorite of many lepidopterists.

silver rod on the edge of woods Pamm Cooper

Silverrod at the edge of the woods.

Early goldenrod (Solidago juncea) gets its common name from its bloom time, which can be as much as a month prior to many other goldenrod species. This attractive, slender plant has a very delicate appearance and can be distinguished from other goldenrods by the lack of, or near lack of hairs on the stems and leaves. White-tailed deer, woodchucks, cottontail rabbits and livestock may feed on the plant if less desirable food is available.

Goldenrods provide a source of seeds for eastern goldfinch, tree, swamp and song sparrows as well as some migrating warblers such as the yellow- rumped warblers. Mice and other rodents eat the seeds throughout the winter and have a better time of it when seed heads are pressed down against the ground by heavy snows.

asteroid

The asteroid caterpillar

Any insects still around in late summer that have an interest in flowers may be found on goldenrods, especially pollen and nectar seekers and their predators. Some of the many insects and other arthropods that rely on goldenrods for survival are bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders. Many of these visit for the pollen and nectar often in shorter supply as the season winds down. Migratory butterflies, especially along their shoreline routes, depend upon goldenrods for food sources as they travel south for the winter. Bloom periods are extended for at least two months as different species of goldenrods bloom in succession or coincide with each other.

gray hairstreak on goldenrod

Gray hairstreak butterfly

Black and margined blister beetles are often found on these plants in the late summer and early fall. Many beneficial insects, such as soldier beetles and assassin bugs use the flowers as either food sources or hideouts where they wait to ambush other insects. If you see a butterfly hanging upside down without moving, check and see if an ambush bug or crab spider is feeding on it. Caterpillars such as the asteroid and flower moth caterpillars, aphids, tarnished plant bugs, and many other insects feed on flowers, stems and leaves. Wasps, goldenrod and crab spiders, praying mantids, lacewings, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, spined soldier bugs and birds prey on insects that visit or live on the plants. Cucumber beetles also feed on goldenrod pollen. Some flies cause galls on stems and upper foliage as their larvae feed.

brown hooded owlet caterpillar on goldenrod from Belding September 3 2015

brown hooded owlet caterpillar on goldenrod

Chinese mantids also hang out around goldenrods, and often lay their egg masses on its stems. Look for these in the winter if heavy snows have not mashed the plants into the ground. I sometimes take a stem with the mantid egg case and stick it in my garden. The mantids usually emerge by mid- May, and they disperse quickly

mantids emerging from egg case on goldenrod stem 5-20-12

Mantid egg cases are often found on goldenrods where the adult females were hunting the year before. These are mantids just hatching

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There is a great interconnection between goldenrods and vertebrates and invertebrates, and nature reveals such things to the careful observer. If you happen upon some goldenrod, or seek it out on purpose, just a few moments of careful observation will be rewarded with a peek into the drama that is on display in a simple stand of yellow flowers.

By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

Docked at King's wharfAlthough a month ago the weather in Connecticut was still very summer-like we headed to another sunny location, Bermuda. Bermuda is one of our favorite places to visit as it relatively close by compared to other island destinations. It is a two-hour flight but our preferred mode of transportation is to cruise there. The Bermuda archipelago has a great variety of native, endemic, and invasive flora species. Since the 1500s many plants have been introduced to Bermuda, some to much detriment. In my next blog posting I will discuss the species that are of concern for the island but for now I will share many of the beautiful plants that can be seen there.

Our first foray after docking at King’s Wharf at the Royal Naval Dockyard was the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Located in Paget Parish about a mile outside of Hamilton, it was established in 1898 as a public garden. In 1921 it became the Agricultural Experiment Station and then, in 1958, due to an increase in tourism and ornamental horticulture it became the Bermuda Botanical Garden.

BBG

Open year-round (no snow days in Bermuda!), this park has something for every visitor. There are areas devoted to roses, daylilies, hibiscus, conifers, palm trees, sub-tropical fruits, cacti, orchids, an aviary and more. There is even an aromatic sensory garden designed for the visually impaired although it may be enjoyed by anyone. The first tree that caught our attention upon entering the garden was this large banyan, Ficus benghalensis. A member of the fig species, it is epiphytic, beginning its life by germinating in the crack or crevice of a host tree. Also called the strangler fig, it then sends aerial prop roots down to the ground which envelop its host to the point of the death.

Walking a bit further into the gardens we found a section that is devoted to many hybrids of hibiscus that were originally brought to Bermuda from China. Hibiscus is an introduced species which has naturalized, meaning that it will reproduce on its own but does not become invasive.

The four-section formal garden has a 17th-century English Parterre garden, a Persian garden, a Tudor-style children’s garden, and a serene Japanese Zen garden bordered by vibrant pink plumeria hedges.

One of my favorites sections of the botanical garden was a cool and shady area that contained primordial vegetation called Cycads. Among these plants that superficially resemble palms were the large leaved Philodendron shrub, Philodendron bipinnatifidum, and an Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum, that easily dwarfed me. Not really difficult to do, I know, but this plant was easily 10’ tall.

The subtropical fruit garden contained the familiar in the form of bananas, avocado, and citrus and the unfamiliar in the form of papaya trees, whose growth habit reminded me of Brussels sprouts!

So many beautiful plants were not contained to specific areas but were spread around the 35 acres just waiting to be discovered. There were chenille plants, Acalypha hispida, with its soft hanging cat-tail looking panicles. Pink and yellow shrimp plants, Justicia brandegeeana, are evergreen shrubs that are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Another evergreen shrub, Sanchezia speciosa has tubular yellow flowers that extend out of reddish bracts. And of course, what subtropical garden would be complete without bird-of-paradise, Strelitzia reginae?

Day 2 found us at the far east side of Bermuda on the island of St. George’s, one of the larger of 181 islands that make up the Bermuda archipelago. St. George’s has a great public garden, Somers Garden, named for Admiral Sir George Somers, the founder of Bermuda. A fountain sits in the middle of this lovely space, picturesque turquoise stairs lead in from one side and there is also a quintessential moongate, a symbol of good luck.

The trees in this garden are all labeled with their common names and species, always a benefit to visitors. Royal palms, Roystonea regina, line the walkways, there are Indian rubber trees, Ficus elastica, and a Bermuda palmetto, Sabal bermudiana, grew in front of a very large Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria excelsa.

There were also a large variety of flowering plants. Lantana, Lantana camera, an annual familiar to many of us, grew to heights not often seen in Connecticut. The lantana flowers were yellow, white, purple, and variegated. The white and purple-flowered plants are weeping lantana, Lantana montevidensis.

There were more sanchezia, sunny Mexican flame flowers, Senecio confusus, and the deep red-orange flowers of West Indian Jasmine, Ixora.

And a large selection of croton, Codiaeum variegatum, also in sizes way beyond our container houseplants.

Our third day in dock was spent at the Royal Naval dockyard. Built by thousands of convicts in the early 19th century as an anchorage for the British Royal fleet, it remained an active part of the British naval force until 1951. In 1982 it became a National Museum and is open to the public.

The flora that is found here is of a less formal nature than the Botanical and Somers gardens. Plants grow where they like, perhaps a better representation of Bermuda’s nature. Among them is prickly pear, Opuntia sp., a mounding coastal cactus native to Bermuda that is very effective as a defensive planting around fortifications, aloe vera, and dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor.

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is grown as an annual in Connecticut as it does not survive our winters but it thrives in Bermuda. This specimen was inundated with yellow milkweed aphids, a sight that is not uncommon to Connecticut gardeners.

Mexican fire plant, Mexican poinsettia Euphorbia cyathophora

 

 

 

Anyone that has had a poinsettia in their home during the holidays will appreciate this next plant, the Mexican fire plant, Euphorbia heterophylla. Also known as wild poinsettia, this hardy native plant has bluish-green bracts with splashes of bright orange-red at the bases. Although small, it caught my attention as I walked by.

 

 

 

White Egyptian star flowers, Penta sp., rose periwinkles, Catharanthus roseus, deep pink oleander, Nerium oleander, and spider lilies, Hymenocallis sp. were all to be freely found.

So many of these species were introduced either intentionally or unintentionally by humans, animals, or weather-related events. In November I will write about the continued effects of these introductions to the islands of Bermuda.

Susan Pelton, all images by S. Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

The UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab tests for and analyzes multiple soil parameters; but none as critical, and as often overlooked, as pH. Soil pH plays a crucial role in the growth of vegetation planted, as well as ground water quality. Before we start talking about soil pH, I think it is a good idea to try to define what exactly pH is, and how it is determined.

When most of us think of pH, a pool probably comes to mind. I remember growing up, watching my mother apply different chemicals to our pool, and impatiently wondering why I had to wait to go swimming. She would tell me that she was adjusting the pH of the water to ensure it was safe to swim in. The basic understanding is that pH is tells us how acidic, neutral, or alkaline something is. To get a little more technical, pH is the measurement of the activity of Hydrogen Ions (H+) in an aqueous solution. The equation for determining and quantifying pH is:

pH = -log10 (aH+)

(aH+ = Hydrogen Ion Activity in Moles/L)

We express pH on a logarithmic scale of 0-14, where 0-6 is considered “acidic”, 7 is “neutral”, and 8-14 is “basic”.

pH range

(Image from: http://www.edu.pe.ca/gulfshore/Archives/ACIDSBAS/scipage.htm)

Mineral soil pH values generally range from 3.0 – 10.0. There are numerous factors that determine soil pH including climate, parent material, weathering, relief, and time. Texture and organic matter content also influence soil pH. Most Connecticut soils are naturally acidic. Nutrient availability is directly influenced by pH with most plants (with some exceptions) thriving at pH values between 6 and 7. A majority of nutrients are available within this range.

pH vs nut avail-1

(Image from: http://www.pda.org.uk/pda_leaflets/24-soil-analysis-key-to-nutrient-management-planning/)

Our lab measures pH using an 1:1 soil-to-DI water ratio. The saturated soil paste is mixed, then is analyzed using a glass electrode and a pH meter. We calibrate our meter using 2 solutions with known pH values, 4 and 7. We use these values because we expect most Connecticut soils to fall within this range. Once the initial pH value is obtained, a buffering agent is added. In our lab we use the Modified Mehlich Buffer. A second pH reading is obtained, and from these two values plus crop information, we are able to make limestone and/or sulfur recommendations.

The Buffering Capacity of a soil is the resistance it has to change in pH. Soil buffering is controlled by its Cation-Exchange-Capacity, Aluminum content (in acidic soils), organic matter content, and texture. A soil with a lot of organic matter and clay will have a higher buffering capacity than one with little organic matter that is mostly sandy.

If the soil pH is lower than the target range for a particular plant, limestone would be recommended. Whether you use pelletized, ground or granular limestone, the application rate would be the same. Once the target pH is reached, a maintenance application of 50 lbs/1000 sq ft would be applied every other year to maintain it.

If the soil pH is higher than desired, sulfur recommendations are made. Typically only powdered sulfur is available locally but granular sulfur could be mail ordered. Aluminum sulfate can be substituted for sulfur and used at a higher rate. Check out this list of preferred pH ranges for many common plants.

Monitoring your soil pH is essential to ensure that it is falling within the range best suited for the vegetation you are growing. The Standard Nutrient Analysis performed at our lab gives you a pH value, a buffer pH value, a lime/sulfur recommendation, available micro & macro nutrient levels, and a fertilizer recommendation. For more information on pH, you can contact Dawn or myself (Joe) at the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab (www.soiltest.uconn.edu)!

Test, don’t guess!

Joe C.

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