sunset Henry Park Vernon Autumn 2015 copyright Pamm Cooper

Sunset at Henry Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house”   Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Autumn seemed to last forever this year. Colors were especially vibrant on many species because the conditions that are clear, dry and cool but above freezing result in the best fall colors. Coupled with dry conditions this spring, plants produced chemicals that would result in more colorful leaves later in the year. Trees kept their leaves in color longer than usual and warm temperatures were somewhat responsible for this. Many oaks whose leaves are brown to yellowish brown in the fall were brilliant shades of red instead.


Scarlet red oak leaves November 2015

A sudden, severe drop in temperature during an abnormally warm October resulted in sudden leaf drop on some species of trees. In particular, gingkoes and black walnut had most of their leaves drop like stones while they were still green. Others had the leaves turn brown and shrivel up without falling to the ground. Especially hit this way were Japanese maples, locusts, chestnuts and some hickories. This anomaly happened because when the leaves on these species were about to turn color and finish the transition into late autumn dormancy, the leaf abscission process was interrupted or bypassed. Trees and shrubs that turned color before or after the cold snap completed the natural abscission process, while leaves are still clinging to some that could not.

Japanese maple leaves after major cold snap and frost October 2015

Japanese maple leaves shriveled and remaining on tree November 2015

New England experienced mast crops of acorns and hickory nuts this year and apples and crabapples were loaded for bear. Because of the great acorn supply, deer and turkeys are keeping a low profile so far, staying in the woods where the acorns are abundant. Some people that have chronic deer issues on their evergreens rake up acorns and deposit them within a wood line where deer can easily find them and stay off the rest of the property (maybe!).


Fully loaded crabapple tree

Birds that were eating winterberry and crabapples at this time last year- robins and cedar waxwings, among others- have left these fruits untouched. Part of the reason is because cedar berries and many seeds have also been available in large numbers. Worms were still near the surface of the ground recently and robins could snap them up. Moles have been troublesome this fall because of the worms and other insects that have remained high in the soil profile, but the weather has taken a turn as of mid- November, so that will change.

red breasted nuthatch copyright Pamm Cooper

Red-breasted nuthatch- a visitor from the north

Look and listen when outside this fall and winter. Many birds such woodpeckers, chickadees, brown creepers and nuthatches are very vocal in the fall and winter. Pileated woodpeckers have a notable clarion call and can be seen easier while the leaves are off the trees. Red-breasted nuthatches sometimes remain this far north for the winter and may appear at suet feeders. Look for bluebirds where there is plenty of open ground or old orchards. While some migrate, many are still here in the winter. Along the Connecticut shoreline it can make for an interesting day of birding as many coastal birds arrive for the winter. Look for a stray snow goose among flocks of Canada geese.

Female pileated copyright 2015

Female pileated woodpecker

If horseradish, radishes, as kale, Brussels sprouts or other brassica vegetables are still flourishing, be on the lookout for the imported cabbage worm caterpillars. They are still feeding and should be in the final caterpillar instar. Look for chewed leaves with veins remaining. Swiss chard and other leafy vegetables may also be under attack by armyworms and cutworms, which will feed on foliage this time of year before finding overwintering spots.

cabbage worm on horseradish November 14, 2015

Imported cabbage worm on horseradish November 2015

Bagworm alerts are in order. Check out arborvitae, junipers and other ornamental evergreens for the bags fashioned from pieces of the host plant’s foliage. Remove by hand if this is practical as the eggs are laid inside the bags and will hatch out next year and begin a new feeding frenzy of the caterpillars. When they finish eating the foliage of one plant, they will move off that plant and proceed to the next. In this way, they sometimes defoliate an entire hedge or other planting. This is not a surprise attack- a little vigilance will reveal the onset of this pest.

bagworms on ornamental evergreen copyright

Atlas blue cedar with bagworms

Check out the sky at dusk and dawn as spectacular reds, pinks and lavenders rule the northeast during the cold months. Extended dry conditions made leaves that much lighter and easy to rake, but Connecticut is about 5-6 inches below normal rainfall. Maybe winter will provide enough snow to make up the difference, but I opt for autumn rains to accomplish that job.

turkey in the snow


Pamm Cooper                                     All photos © 2015 Pamm Cooper

bagworm damage to arborvitae jan 2014 MCC

Left: Arborvitaes damaged by bagworms- January 18, 2014

The past year was interesting weather-wise- cool and very wet in June and then jumping  immediately to hot and dry for a couple of weeks. Lawns took a big hit from that combination, as did some root vegetables and shrubs. But certain insects had a field day out there and wreaked havoc on many shrubs, and if you missed them last year, 2014 may be a banner year for some pests if the cold doesn’t take them out.

One insect that occurred in large numbers is the bagworm  Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis (Haworth), a moth whose caterpillar feeds mainly on arborvitae, juniper, pine and other evergreens . The caterpillars hide by day in a hanging bag made from silk and pieces of foliage. The female moths have no wings, eyes, mouth or legs and remain inside their bag where eggs inside their abdomen remain for the winter. Eggs begin to hatch in May through June and the hundreds of caterpillars begin feeding and constructing their own nests. Spread of the moths is slow because the females cannot fly, but stands of trees can be decimated over time. Look for the gray bags hanging from the affected trees during the winter and remove them, if possible.

bagworm case

Left: Bag with arborvitae needles plastered on outside

Another insect pest that seems to be overwintering well this year are the boxwood leafminers, a pest of common boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens). Adults are tiny flies that may go unnoticed in the spring. The larvae are small yellowish maggots that feed within the leaves of newer foliage. Each leaf miner larva feeds within its own small area of the leaf causing leaves to look blotchy- yellowing and puffy- and whole leaves can appear like off- color pillows if several larvae are inside the same leaf. Heavy infestations can cause leaf drop, slow growth, or dying terminals. The larva overwinter within the leaves. Cut off infested stems in the spring before emergence of adults.


Above: boxwood leaf miners inside leaf and right: exposed larvae

Alas, there are insect pests that favor our little New England homes for the winter. Some are simply pests because they are in our homes- like leaf-footed bugs and convergent lady beetles. But some are more than unwanted house guests. The brown marmorated stink bug Halyomorpha halys , first collected in Pennsylvania in 1998 but now present in Connecticut. It feeds on an assortment of plants, especially on fruits and vegetables. These bugs have white bands on their antennae- a diagnostic aid in identifying this stink bug from similar species. If you notice these bugs entering your home in the fall, it is best to kill them with the bottom of your shoe rather than putting them outside again. Better dead than alive to wreak havoc the next year in gardens and orchards…


Above: Brown marmorated Stnk bug. Note white bands on antennae,

So keep your eyes skinned as you are out and about. There are abundant bagworm cases out there- the Buckland Mall in Manchester near the Red Robin restaurant has a good section of Arborvitae hedge with them. And Manchester Community College has many arborvitaes looking the worse for wear.

Pamm Cooper