hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree

July in Connecticut is an exciting time for me because of all the good wildflowers and insects that abound at this time of year. Insects get more interesting in summer and late summer, especially caterpillars that feed on older leaves. Plus, many birds have fledged their first brood by now, so the young birds are scattering around keeping their parents busy. Flowering trees are few, but in July sumacs, tree-of-heaven and the hardy silk tree bloom from mid to late July.

black walnuts July 2017
Black walnut dropped fruit in July


While July is hot and sometimes dry, we have had an abundance of rain so far this year. This is a really good thing because the gypsy moth caterpillars severely defoliated many trees that now need rainfall to help put out new leaves before autumn. We hope next year will have less of these pests, especially since many of the caterpillars were killed by either a fungus or a virus.

bittersweet doing well

Bittersweet decorating a truck

Wildflowers like early goldenrod, swamp milkweed, bouncing bet, monkeyflower and nodding ladies tresses are in bloom now. And the peculiar Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, has popped up, especially under white pines. It occurs in rich, damp forests where there is abundant leaf litter. While this plant may appear to be a fungus due to its white color due to a lack of chlorophyll, it is not. It survives in a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus in the soil where it grows. Blue curls are an interesting wild flower that can form colonies in sandy, infertile soils. Bloom time is normally late July through mid- August. Check out damps areas for stands of swamp milkweed- one of the prettier of the milkweeds, to me. All kinds of butterflies and bees may be seen getting nectar from its flowers.


indian pipe

Indian pipe

blue curls Main st power lines August 5, 2012

Blue curls


This year Eastern red cedars have put out a bumper crop of fruit, unlike the dismal amount of blue berries produced last year. This is good news for migrating birds like the yellow-rumped warblers that rely of this food as they fly south. And, of course, the cedar waxwings that derived their name from their fondness for cedar fruit, will enjoy any fruit that remains after the migrators have departed.

cedar waxwing fledgling

cedar waxwing just out of the nest

Monarch caterpillars have been spotted, some in later instars, so that is good news for this favorite butterfly. Swallowtail caterpillars are also in later instars, and will have a second generation of butterflies later this summer. Check out small aspens for the caterpillar of the viceroy butterfly. This bird- dropping mimic will win no beauty contests, perhaps, but it is a good find nevertheless. Sphinx and many other moths are flying now, and bats are enjoying them during their night forays. Some of the geometers, or inchworms, have very pretty moths to make up for the drab larval stage.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth

If anyone had their Joe-pye weed leaves chewed badly, it may have been the work of large populations of dusky groundling caterpillars. They are done feeding now, but keep an eye out next year if you had this problem. And aphid populations swell at this time of year as females give birth to live young by the truckloads. Sunflowers and milkweeds are just two of the plants that can have aphid populations that are very high.

dusky groundling joepye

Dgroundling on Joe-pye

Enjoy yourselves out there in the garden, park, or wilds. Look up and down and all around, for things of interest that abound this time of year. And listen for the katydids as they start singing during the hot, summer nights.

Conehead katydid neoconocephalus ssp.

Conehead katydid


Pamm Cooper



Most of the year at the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab (www.soiltest.uconn.edu) the soils and plant problems we get asked about are fairly routine. Summer stresses, however, seem to bring on more intriguing inquiries. Two that we have dealt with in the past two weeks are blossom end rot on peppers and a likely case of copper toxicity on melons.

According to our UConn Vegetable Extension Specialist, Jude Boucher, many growers are experiencing blossom end rot in tomatoes, peppers and squash and black heart in celery. These are physiological conditions due to lack of calcium. Most of us know that people require calcium for strong bones and healthy teeth. Plants also have calcium requirements that must be met for good growth and establishment. It is needed for the proper growth and functioning of shoot and root tips, and is an integral part of cell walls. As your tomatoes and peppers grow in size, more cells with more cell walls are needed!

Plants take up the calcium they need through their roots. Nutrients like calcium, potassium and others are dissolved in the water that is in the soil. When a plant loses moisture on a hot day through the process of transpiration, the roots take up water to replace that loss and keep the plant turgid. The soil water contains nutrients the plants need. Anything that restricts the plant roots’ ability to take up water also reduces the amount of nutrients a plant receives.

The most common disorder in vegetables caused by calcium deficiency is blossom end rot. This physiological disorder usually has two causes. Either there is not enough calcium in the soil or there is not enough water in the soil for the calcium to be able to move into the plant. This year because of the high humidity, cause number three comes into play. Plants are not transpiring that much because of the high humidity. Since little water is being lost through the leaves, little water (containing calcium and other nutrients as well) is being absorbed by the roots. So even if your soil is loaded with calcium, and your garden is irrigated, plants may not able to transport enough calcium from the soil water into their internal structures. Other common calcium deficiency disorders that we are seeing or have heard about are black heart in celery, internal tip burn in cabbage, and cavity spot in carrots.

Blossom end rot first appears as a small, water-soaked spot at the blossom end of tomato, cucumber, squash or melon fruits. As the spot enlarges, the fruit tissue shrinks and becomes dry and leathery.

Pepper sample -photo taken by client

If blossom end rot is noticed, first take a soil sample and send it to a soil testing laboratory to determine the soil pH and calcium levels. Next, evaluate your watering techniques. Often this disorder occurs when succulent, vigorously growing plants are subjected to drought conditions. There isn’t much one can do to lower the humidity and increase plant transpiration rates except hope for a bout of dry weather. To thwart blossom end rot, some gardeners are purchasing blossom set sprays containing calcium to apply to their plants foliage. Others are fertilizing and spraying the plant’s foliage with calcium chloride, as directed on the package or making up a calcium solution by mixing gypsum or limestone with water and letting it sit over night. After 24 hours or so, it can be used to drench the plants and soil. Another option is to search out water soluble fertilizers that contain calcium and can also be used as a foliar spray and apply them to the plant’s leaves.

 As many more gardeners and growers are turning to least toxic, non-synthetic means of disease and insect control, copper-based sprays for diseases are becoming quite popular. One client had sprayed his melon crop with a copper-based fungicide and shortly thereafter noticed the edges of the leaves of some of both melons and cucumbers to be turning yellow and brown and dying. The copper spray did seem to affect some varieties more than others. Leaf tissue samples of both healthy and affected leaves were sent into the lab for analysis.  

Melon leaves exhibiting possible copper toxicity

After again speaking to our UConn Vegetable Extension Specialist, he concurred that copper toxicity would be a good call as he has seen some cucurbit cultivars or varieties to be extremely sensitive to copper applications while others are not affected at all. Plant tissue analysis showed greater levels of copper on affected plants than on unaffected leaves. I did find it curious though that the amount of calcium in the infected leaves was 2 to 3 times what would normally be expected and can’t help wonder if this high level was affecting the amount of other elements available to the plant and if that could explain some more of the visual symptoms. This really brings up the importance of using any pesticide – whether natural/organic or synthetic – as directed on the package, and also of not applying anything to plants if the temperature is greater than 85 degreed F which we New Englanders have seen a lot of lately. Some varieties or hybrids seem more susceptible than others so, if using copper, make a note of any plant injury.

Last Friday. while driving onto the UConn Depot Campus to get to the lab, I noticed this little thing in the road. It was quite small and really wasn’t the shape of a rock or leaf so I slowed way down to see it. A baby bird! I scooped it up and examined it thinking maybe it was hit by a car but it seemed okay. After looking around for a few minutes for mother bird or a nest, I was not able to find either and thought I would bring him/her to work with me and then to our local wildlife sanctuary this weekend. When I got the baby bird inside, it became apparent that this was a fledging with pretty good flying capacity and I made the decision to put him/her back where I found it (in a field on the side of the road, not on the road!) and let Mother Nature take her course. It appears to be a cedar waxwing. I did search for the baby bird after work and no luck. Hopefully, this little guy/gal was reunited with mom who will continue to feed and show him/her the ways of the world. Good luck little one.

Fledging Cedar Waxwing, I think!

“Fly like an eagle, into the future’ Steve Miller Band