The last few years certainly have been a challenge for many of us.  One unexpected consequence of the pandemic? Many who were quarantined at home decided to become gardeners.  Seed companies reported a boom in sales during the pandemic and, unlike other trends, (zoom cocktails, sourdough starters or dress shirts with pajama bottoms), it looks like gardening is here to stay.  To those new to gardening and to those more seasoned gardeners, we are here to help you every step of the way.  

We are the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, which is made up of three branches; the education center; the soil nutrient analysis laboratory; and the plant diagnostic laboratory. The education center is your first point of contact, where you will be greeted by horticultural consultants Dennis Tsui, Pamm Cooper and Marie Woodward.  Our mission is to answer your questions about anything related to home gardens and landscapes.  Our goal is to give you the best science-based response. In addition, we often rely on our other two branches for information, but that’s just the start of the services they provide. 

Dawn Pettinelli

Good gardening begins with knowing all you can about your soil, and The UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory, headed by Dawn Pettinelli, Associate Cooperative Extension Educator, provides home gardeners a means to test the fertility of their soil and, through a comprehensive report, receive environmentally sound fertilizer and lime recommendations. 

Dr. Nick Goltz

Identifying the cause and nature of plant problems is often the key to maintaining healthy gardens and landscapes, and that’s where Dr. Nick Goltz, plant pathologist, comes in. He heads the Uconn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory and is an expert in diagnosing plant problems including diseases, insect pests and abiotic causes.  Dr. Goltz has a passion for plant health and integrated pest management, (IPM).  He especially enjoys working with homeowners to find holistic and comprehensive solutions for any plant problem they may have.

The three branches of the center are available to gardeners year-round.  To access our services, you can reach us by phone, (860-877-6271), by email, (ladybug@uconn.edu), or you can visit the center the Radcliffe Hicks Arena, 1380 Storrs Road, unit 4115, Storrs, CT. Our hours are Monday- Friday 8:30am -4:30pm.

Collecting and Submitting Samples

One of the most common questions we are asked is how to collect samples that are of good diagnostic quality.  Each laboratory website has detailed instructions on how to do so.  For the Soil Nutrient Analysis lab, there is a page with instructions on how to submit a soil sample at:

Soil Sampling Instructions

The plant diagnosis laboratory has a form with instructions on how to collect plant sample at the bottom of the submission page: 

Plant Submission Form

Samples can be mailed in or brought into our center during our office hours, (see above).

Emailing us with a question?

If you’re emailing us with a question or problem, it can be helpful, (but not necessary), to include a few photos with it.  This can help us determine our response. 

To learn more, you can visit our website: http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/ where you will find the latest news, blogs and fact sheets about all things for your home garden.  We are ready to help make your home garden a success year after year. 

As we head into March, we begin to prepare for spring gardening once again! This includes tasks like wrapping up any necessary winter pruning and ordering seeds to plant for the upcoming year. With internet shopping of seed catalogues being more accessible than ever, many people will find that they can purchase the exact crop and cultivar they want with the push of a button. Varieties can even be filtered by yield or disease resistance.

Other people however, may wish to use heirloom seeds from their own or a neighbor’s garden, or organic seeds that aren’t pre-screened or treated for seedborne diseases. Although gardeners may have grown to anticipate some losses with these seeds due to seedborne diseases, a solution exists for many in the form of a hot water seed treatment (HWST).

What is a hot water seed treatment (HWST)?

It is exactly what you might expect: hot water is used to kill pathogens present on the surfaces of seeds before they are planted. For some types of plant diseases, this is an effective means to reduce disease incidence and give young plants the opportunity they need to become established and grow well. Seeds are “prepped” for treatment by first being submerged in a lukewarm water bath of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. The seeds can then be moved to a bath set at the “treatment temperature”, which varies by crop type. After treatment, the seeds are gently, but thoroughly dried-off so they do not germinate prematurely.

What types of seeds can undergo HWST?

Many types of seeds can undergo HWST for disease mitigation, but generally it is performed on small and hardy seeds. Large, fleshy seeds such as beans or pumpkin seeds may benefit from HWST in terms of disease reduction, but are more sensitive to damage from the hot temperatures and may have accordingly lower germination rates. Therefore, we only recommend HWST with seeds whose germination rates have been shown to be minimally impacted by the high temperatures. Additionally, seeds that have already been treated with HWST or fungicides, or those that have seed coatings (often these are a different color than uncoated seeds), should not be treated.

What diseases will HWST target?

There is ongoing research into what diseases can be successfully mitigated with HWST. Treatment efficacy varies by crop, but generally the diseases are those that will show up shortly after germination, while the plants are still seedlings. The UConn Plant Diagnostic lab and other university extension services that offer HWST will list the types of plants recommended for treatment and the diseases that can be controlled. Visit https://plant.lab.uconn.edu/hwst/ to find out more.

Nick Goltz, DPM

Stewartia blossom

Life get really busy sometimes and gardens get neglected. This has happened in my yard this year, but my garden has not neglected me. I was able to take a breath, and a walk, and found the garden has gifted me beauty and kindness in its offering of June blooms even without my close attention to the plants. Rain has fallen, sun has shined, and weeds have not overtaken very much. Perennials have produced and some annuals have reseeded defying this lax gardener.

I took first notice of the Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartia pseudocamellia) tree in the front yard as it began to flower. As the common name implies, Stewartia is native to Japan. It is a smaller tree with white, camellia-like blossoms along the branches. The each flower only last a couple of days, but more buds will open over a few weeks’ time extending the display. This is the most flowers I have had yet on this ten-year-old tree.

Gloriosa Daisy (Rudbeckia Hirta) is listed as a short-lived perennial and a reseeding annual. I can’t tell which is true as I have them pop up in various places as well as in the original spot. These originally migrated by seed from the neighbor across the street that had them growing in the cracks of her walkway. She said if they were that determined to grow there, she would let them. The birds love the seeds in the fall and obviously ‘deposited’ some in my yard. I love the random color patterns on the various different plants. They make good cut flowers for grand-kids to create arrangements and their sturdy stems even survive the ride home to bring a bouquet to their mom.

Around the back the Rose Campion (Lychnis Coronaria), was a mass of magenta flowers and grey, fuzzy leaves outgrowing its intended spot while keeping the weeds at bay. Thank you, Rose Campion for working so hard when I didn’t. This plant is another short-lived perennial or biennial that sets copious amounts of seed creating new plants which are easily moved to more desirable locations. They look great planted in mass drifts. I cut them back after the flowers fade, leaving a few to make seed for scattering in barren spots. I have been known to toss these seeds out the car window in areas that could use a little love and color.

The bumblebees were loving the pale pink flowers of the None So Pretty also called Catchfly, (Silene armeria). None So Pretty is a reliable reseeding annual in my yard. The seed hitched a ride in a plant gifted from a garden mentor over twenty years ago. She told me “Once you have it, you always will” while speaking of the dainty plant. Sure enough the next year her seeds grew from the soil included with the hosta she shared with me the year before. This is a testament to the large amount and viability of the seed production of this Catchfly. It is called Catchfly due to the sticky sap produced on the underside of each flower thought to catch flies, although I have never seen any insects stuck to it.

The pale-yellow hollyhock by the back door always makes me smile. It is in the driest spot in my yard with the worst soil yet it still grows tall and loaded with blossoms. It survives and shines calling me back to the garden and welcoming me into the morning light. History recalls hollyhocks as the perennial used to plant around the outhouse since it grew tall and wide. Visitors did not have to request the location of the ‘facilities’, just look for the hollyhocks.

Coral bells are an extremely reliable and long-live perennial that needs very little care. Its round-lobed leaves create a mounding base, excluding weeds and competition for nutrients and water. Long flower stems rise up from the base holding the tiny bell-shaped flowers. Humming birds and bees of all kinds feast on the nectar contained. they have a very long bloom time of a month or more, only needing to prune out a few stems which fall over.

Last year I planted four Borage, (Borago officinalis) plants in the vegetable garden to attract pollinators as I had read borage was good for them. Boy were they right! The bees and other pollinators flock to the blue, dangling flowers. It also reseeded this year without any assistance from me. I have not watered, nor weeded and the bed is full of borage plants, calling far and wide for insects and humans to take a look at its beauty. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads or as a garnish.

I find it comforting to know a time away from the garden did not end in disaster or mass amounts of work. My garden survived without me, and welcomed me back in its best way possible.

See you in the garden,

Carol

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

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

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

welcome rock by step

Welcome rock by the front step

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

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

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

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

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

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracilis slender lizard beetle

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

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

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

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

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

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

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

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

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

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

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

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

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Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

Now that Spring is upon us and we are just about caught up in the Soil Lab, many of you and us have been working on our gardens. Regardless of what you are planting, there is a persistent issue that reduces growth and yields, pests. There are a few beds surrounding our lab that we maintain to make dropping off soil samples a little more pleasant (the Depot Campus where the Soil Lab is located is haunted by the way). This spring we had a Master Gardener, Rolland, working with us, and he really helped spruce up the beds.

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Soil Lab. J.Croze

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Soil Lab. J.Croze

While working on the beds, Dawn and Rolland has noticed that a few of their recently planted Asters, Dusty Millers, and Black Eyed Susans had all but been pretty much destroyed. The leaves and steams had all been chomped on by what we believe to be a hungry rabbit. We also constantly see chipmunks running around, and the occasional deer droppings.

Black eyed susan

B.E.S. J.Croze

Black eyed susan2

B.E.S. J.Croze

Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller. J.Croze

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M.B. Aster. J.Croze

rabbit

Perp. J.Croze

Everyone has their own way of dealing with pests, some more humane than others. We decided to try out a Deer and Rabbit repellent called Liquid Fence. This is a humane spray derived from putrefied eggs; I would not recommend spraying this on any plants you were planning on eating! Hopefully this helps.

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Liquid Fence from Mansfield Supply Co. J.Croze

For those of you with your own pest problems, the UConn Home and Garden Center provides numerous facts sheets for dealing with an array of insects and vertebrate pests. Those can be found if you follow this link: http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/index.php and click on the topic concerning to your needs. If you cannot find what you are looking for through the Home and Garden Center, the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture offers the Connecticut Integrated Pest Management Program. The IPM is a sustainable approach based off different eco-system derived strategies for helping with long-term pest management. The IPM can help you construct a pest management program that caters to your specific situation. There is an array of different program areas (fruit, vegetables, turf, greenhouse, etc…) and resources including publications and webinars. More information on the Connecticut Integrated Pest Management Program can be found here: http://ipm.uconn.edu/root/introduction.php. Happy Gardening!

-J.Croze

 

As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

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The current line of samples waiting for analysis. J.Croze

We often recommend that customers take and submit soil samples in the Fall! Soil sampling and testing in the Fall is better for all parties involved. For starters, we offer a discount on the Standard Nutrient Analysis, if you submit 10 or more samples we only charge you $8 per sample opposed to $12. However, there are more practical reasons to submit a Fall soil sample. It’s easier! The soil is generally going to be easier to work with in the Fall than after a wet Winter during the first few weeks of Spring. This will help you obtain soil samples that are a more accurate representation of the area you are interested in. Every year around this time we get dozens of zip-lock bags that are filled with soaking wet soil, dripping everywhere. A Fall soil test also allows you more time to think about what amendments you might want to use, and is the perfect time to apply limestone and fertilizers in preparation for a busy and productive growing season. Applying limestone in the Fall ensures that it has enough time to raise your soil pH to whatever the optimum range is for what you plan on growing. My personal favorite reason for submitting a Fall soil sample is that we are less busy! You’ll be happier because your results will only take a few days, and we’ll be happier because the phone won’t be ringing off the hook with customers wondering where their results are! You can obviously submit a sample whenever your heart desires, but I advise you to consider sampling in the Fall. For those of you currently waiting on results, I appreciate your patience! Happy gardening!

-J.Croze

A few weeks ago I took off for New York City to spend a few nights with my recently married friend and his wife. Going to the city a few years ago to visit him before he was married was much different than the weekend I just spent with the newly-weds. We spent most of the morning walking around different shops, getting brunch, then trying out a few different vegan ice creams. After walking off a few scoops of ice-cream, we ended up at Chelsea Market, an “enclosed urban food court, shopping mall, office building and television production facility”. My friend and his wife told me about this restaurant they dined at while on their honeymoon in Paris called Miznon. There were four Miznons located throughout the world in Tel Aviv, Paris, Vienna, and Melbourne. In 2018 a much awaited fifth Miznon was opened in the US, at Chelsea Market. Apparently, Miznon sells a world-famous cauliflower dish, that according to my friend’s wife I just HAD to try. Now up until recently I have had a very limited pallet, and had only just started eating cauliflower, and wasn’t a big fan. I expressed my disinterested to them about broccoli’s even less appealing, pale knockoff. However, they just wouldn’t let me leave without trying it. We went into Miznon, ordered, and took a seat and people-watched all the characters passing through the market. Our waitress dropped off what appeared to me to be a deflated basketball. The couple I was with could barely contain their excitement. Upon further inspection, I realized that this was not in-fact a basketball, but a head of cauliflower wrapped in parchment paper. My friend slowly unwrapped the cauliflower when I first caught a glimpse of the actual dish. When I had tried to prepare cauliflower myself, it always came out either completely burnt, or very watery. This dish was golden brown and smelt like no cauliflower I had ever smelled before.

Cflower

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the picture I took of the dish myself, so this will have to do. Image provided by: https://static.domain.com.au/twr/production/uploads/2017/08/22230751/Roasted-Cauliflower-1950.jpg

I took my fork and was caught off guard by how easily the cauliflower peeled off from the stem. After my first bite I was hooked. The consistency was so smooth, the flavors were so established; a far cry from the usual tasteless dishes I had tried before. Before we had even finished our first head we had ordered another, and I was frantically searching on my phone for the recipe. Luckily my friend’s wife already had it saved and sent it to me, which I can now share with you! Here is a link to the recipe: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/miznons-whole-roasted-cauliflower; and here’s a cool video of the chef preparing the dish:

Once we had our fill of cauliflower we left Chelsea Market and stumbled across the High Line, an old elevated freight line that was repurposed as a large, unique city park. The High Line runs over a mile and a half through NYC, and is filled with garden, artwork, and venues for community outreach programs. Now unfortunately I was visiting in early March, and the weather wasn’t favorable. It was cold and rainy, so we didn’t have much time to explore, and the gardens were barren. However, the little time we spent walking the converted tracks through the city was an awesome experience, and has me waiting for warmer weather to go back. More information about the High Line can be found on their website: https://www.thehighline.org/.

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The High Line. Photo by J. Croze

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The High Line. Photo by J. Croze

There is not a slower time in the garden than January when the ground is frozen, often under a blanket of snow, plants have died off or lay dormant, and most insects and small animals are snug underground.

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Among the animals that may hibernate from October to April are slugs and snails, happy to find a site that doesn’t go below 0°F. Their eggs are also capable of withstanding freezing temperatures. So even though we can’t see them right now, they are out there, just waiting for the ground to warm up in the Spring when they can return to our gardens and feed on our new plants!

Slow moving slugs and snails are primordial gastropod mollusks (or molluscs) in the class Gastropoda and are invertebrates that may be found in salt or fresh water or on land. Gastropod is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘gastér’ for stomach and ‘podos’ for foot, their literal means of locomotion. Some land and freshwater snails and slugs have a simple lung from which they breathe while other freshwater snails such as this zebra nerite (Neritina zebra) breathe through gills. This video shows not only how quickly a marine snail can move around on its single foot but also its mouth as it feeds on the algae in this water garden tank.

This grove snail, Cepaea nemoralis, is a pulmonate land snail, meaning that it breathes through a simple lung which is somewhat visible through its translucent shell. A snail is born with a very soft shell and they need to consume large amounts of calcium early on in order for it to harden, starting by consuming the shell of the egg that it hatched from. This tiny newborn shell becomes the center of the coiled spiral that forms as the snail grows.

cepaea_nemoralis

Some shells form into elongated spiral shapes such as the tree snail of the Drymaeus species below on the left and the garden snail, Cornu aspersum on the right.

And then there is the ultimate example of recycling where hermit crabs will occupy marine snail shells whose occupants have died. This fellow was filmed in the Bahamas:

The shell-less gastropods, or slugs, that are common to Connecticut gardens include the netted or grey garden slug, Deroceras reticulatum. It is a major pest which loves to feed on leaves, seedlings, and young fruit such as the developing cucumber shown below. The cucumber is shiny with the slug’s slime.

These small slugs actually thrive in cultivated areas such as our gardens and landscapes, feeding at night and sheltering under stones or litter during the day. An interesting aspect of ‘slug watching’ is seeing their bodies lengthen and thin out and then contract and grow bulbous again as they move along. They almost seem to be formed a of a thickly viscous fluid as they drape over a plant or rock.

Also familiar to the Connecticut gardener is the slug Limax maximus, shown below, so called as it can grow to 5” in length. It is a nocturnal slug that returns to a particular crevice under stones or fallen trees after foraging in lawns, gardens, cellars, or damp areas. Also known as the great grey slug or the leopard slug due to the dark blotches that stand out against the lighter background of its upper body, it is a detrivore, meaning that it feeds on detritus such as dead plants and fungi although it can be a major pest in a garden where it can consume young plants. It will pursue and consume other slugs if it feels threatened.

The black slug, Arion ater, is rarely a pest in gardens, preferring terrestrial areas. This slug will contract into a spherical shape when threatened but can reach up to 4.5” when expanded to its full length.

large black slug, arion ater

Slugs and snails both produce a layer of protective mucus that is a combination of lubricant and glue from their foot which is useful in both movement and in securing the creature to surfaces. Another type of mucus coats the body to prevent desiccation, aid in healing, and protect soft body parts. Snail slime is currently an ingredient in many cosmetics where those same properties are desired, so land snails are bred on farms for the cosmetic industry. Snail farming is known as heliculture or heliciculture which derives its name from the family Helicidae to which snails belong. These farms also grow snails for consumption such as in the traditional French dish escargot or the eggs are eaten in a fashion similar to caviar.

snail damage

If slugs and snails are pests in your garden, eating and damaging plants, then check out our fact sheet Slugs and Snails for information on control options.

 

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

 

new year new start

The start of the New Year is a good time to start new in the gardening year too. There is always something new to plant or try, or a method of gardening to embrace. The down-time of winter offers the opportunity to seek out something new.

Start a new plant. Visit the warmth of indoor greenhouses to lift our moods and possibly find a new houseplant. Succulents are readily available and easy to grow if you have a sunny window. Use a well-draining potting mix formulated especially for cactus and succulents to get them off with a good beginning. Water only when the top inch or so of soil is dry.

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Another popular houseplant with many different varieties and forms is Peperomia. They come with solid green or variegated leaves, some with white and others with reddish hues. Textures of the leaves vary by species with some smooth and others crinkled.  All plants in the Pipericeae family are non-toxic making them safe for homes with pets and small children. Known for its low-maintenance requirements, they will happily grow in bright, non-direct light and moist but well-drained potting medium. They have a slower rate of growth, keeping them in bounds of the container for a long time before the need to repot in a larger size container.

Start a garden journal. By tracking the bloom times and placement of perennials and trees, you might see a new combination to try. Having the plant’s location marked on paper helps one to find it in the garden in late fall or early spring, when it is the ideal time to move. Monitor and record the sunlight amounts throughout the year to see how shade increases over time as neighboring trees grow taller. A sunny yard can change to part or full shade over a decade or two. Vegetable garden journals and keep track of that exceptional tomato grown last year, or maybe the one that didn’t produce as advertised. This information will help plan the next vegetable garden with better or continued success.

garden journal

Start a new class to add you knowledge base of horticulture. UConn Master Gardeners offer advanced, topic specific classes around the state. These Garden Master classes are offered to the general public at a slightly higher price than UConn certified master gardeners, and well worth it. Topics range from woody plant identification to botanical drawing. Visit the garden master catalog to view classes.

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The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offer a wide range of outdoor classes and activities. Safety in outdoor sports is heavily reinforced if you interest is in boating, fishing, trapping or hunting. Their goal is education for you to keep yourself safe while starting a new outside activity. Classes on the environment and educational hikes are offered around the state at seven different educational facilities. 

trailhike

Start a new book. New publications in the non-fiction realm of plants include three winners from the America Horticultural Society. One is about bees and native plants needed to feed them, another on the subject of a cut flower farm, and the third is about trees of North America. There is many other great garden and plant books to start you own self-guided learning on subjects of interest to you. I was gifted the two below written by Carol J. Michel which look entertaining and educational.

books

Start anew by joining a group of like-minded plant people. Garden clubs offer talks and friendship with other members, and some have civic minded projects involving gardening, usually by town. The CT Horticultural Society offers monthly lectures to state wide members and others, for a fee, and occasional hands on workshops. They list their scheduled speakers on their website. Other groups are focused on one subject, such as the CT Valley Mycological Society where you can learn all about mushrooms and fungi. There is also the Hardy Plant Society, and the CT Rose Society. If your tastes are more specific, check out the Iris Society or the CT Dahlia Society.

-Carol Quish

It’s that time of the year again: the Christmas holidays are days away. If you are looking for last-minute gifts for the gardener in your life then here are some ideas, including some new trends.

Herb-growing kits are one of the latest trends in indoor gardening. I always bring an herb planter in at the end of October when it gets too cold at night for it to remain out of doors. It generally does very well in a southwest-facing den window for a few months but the reduced sunlight and cooler nighttime temperatures usually cause it to gradually decline in vigor.

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Unfortunately, the window in my kitchen faces northeast and therefore is the least desirable growing spot in our house. There are many herb growing kits available now that have growing lights built into the units so that if you or your gift recipient also have a kitchen with a window that gets low light (or no window at all), fresh herbs can still be within reach of your culinary efforts.

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There are more than a few lower maintenance herb kits that come in a variety of containers, one of which is sure to fit the décor of any home. Burlap or heavy paper bags come complete with all that is needed to grow flowers and herbs.

The Eggling kits would be a great gift for a young gardener who would really enjoy cracking open the top of the egg to see that it contains everything (except water) that is required to grow herbs, strawberries, or flowers. Colored glass canning jars contain everything from herbs to palm trees!

Another way to grow fresh herbs or micro-greens is a portable water garden that incorporates a fish tank and a plant bed in a unique symbiotic relationship. We gave one of these to our daughter for her birthday in April and have seen the mini-aquaponic system in action. The cut-and-come-again micro-greens that sprout and grow to harvesting size in a week to ten days include radishes, broccoli, arugula, spinach, and wheat grass.

This closed system circulates the water from the fish tank up through the rock garden that sits atop the tank. As this water is rich in fish waste it supplies fertilizer to the plant’s roots. The water that is returned to the fish tank has been cleaned by the plants.

Once the herbs have been grown, whether indoor or out, there are special containers to keep them fresh and assorted culinary tools to prepare them such as a stripper that eases the removal of small leaves from herbs such as rosemary and thyme. A larger variation of the stripper works well with larger-leafed vegetables like kale. A cactus-shaped herb infuser allows any cook to add a bouquet garni to their cooking pot and then easily remove it before serving.

If your gift designee would prefer to adorn their table with flowers rather than grow them then there are plates for every style, from bold orange, green and black tropicals to powder blue backgrounds with delicate cherry blossoms to, my favorite, the high-contrast black and cream Queen Anne’s lace.

And of course, there is the traditional and always welcomed hostess gift of a flowering plant. Poinsettias are not the only way to brighten a home during the winter. Florist’s departments are teeming with an abundance of colorful blooms. Kalanchoe is a succulent houseplant that may be found with white, red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia long-lasting flowers.

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Anthurium, with its dark green, heart-shaped leaves and a tall spike of minute flowers that sit above a brightly-colored bract that may be white, pink, or red is a lovely houseplant.

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Flowering plants in the Cyclamen species include Cyclamen persicum and C. coum, both of which bloom in the winter and C. repandum which blooms in the spring would be welcome gifts. Cyclamen have beautifully variegated leaves and up-swept flower petals that range from white to soft pink to deep red.

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But if you are looking for a flowering plant that comes in a color to match any décor than nothing can top the appeal of the dramatic Phalaenopsis orchid hybrids. As seen in the image below, they are available in a veritable rainbow of colors.

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Here’s a  suggestion that may also be a final destination for plant and herb refuse: a kitchen compost bin. Now available in many materials and sizes, these bins make composting easy and may only need to be emptied on a weekly basis, perhaps a bit more often if the household is basically vegetarian like ours is or if there is a coffee-lover filling it with used grounds.

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If your gardener is also a coffee lover, then these mugs that reflect the current succulent houseplant trend would receive a warm welcome.

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Its not too late to shop for your favorite gardener or, if one or two of these gifts happened to catch your eye, then print this off, circle your choices and leave it where Santa may find it!

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton