Viceroy butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush September 2017

Viceroy butterfly on ‘Miss Molly’ butterfly bush

“By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer.”
–   Helen Hunt Jackson, September, 1830-1885

September brings a wealth of inspiration to the senses. Leaves of Virginia creeper are red already, there is the intoxicating scent of wild grapes in the pre-dawn foggy mornings, asters and goldenrods bring colorful splashes to the landscape and sunsets may fill the cooling sky with brilliant deep reds and oranges. Tree Hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, had a great year, and many still have panicles of colorful flower heads. While many plants and insects are winding down to an early retirement, there is still a lot going on in the great outdoors.

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester Pamm Cooper photo 2017

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park

It may be the time of year for oddities, now and then. For instance, there is a horse chestnut outside our office on the Storrs campus that has several flowers in full bloom this week. While many shrubs and fruit trees, like cherries and azaleas, may have a secondary bloom in the fall after rains, cool weather with a late autumn warm spell following, a chestnut blooming at this time of year is a more remarkable event. A bumblebee spent time visiting the flowers, so a second round of pollen and nectar is a bonus in that quarter.

bumblebee on horse chestnut flower 9-28-2017

Horse chestnut with visiting bumblebee – an unusual bloom for September

Red-headed crickets are a first for my gardens this September. These small crickets have a distinctive red head and thorax, iridescent black wings, and yellow legs.  At first glance, they really do not appear to be crickets because of how they move around vegetation. They also have large palps with a paddle-like end that they wave around almost constantly, giving the appearance of mini George Foremans sparring in the air before a fight. Found mostly only three feet above the ground, they have a loud trill and are usually more common south and west of Connecticut.

red headed bush cricket backyard garden 2017

Red-headed bush cricket

While visiting Kent Falls recently, I came upon a few small clumps of American spikenard. Aralia racemose, loaded with berries. Highly medicinal, this native plant is found in moist woodland areas such as along the waterfall trail at Kent Falls. Roots are sometimes used as a substitute for sarsaparilla, another Connecticut wildflower.

spikenard Kent Falls 9-11-17

American spikenard berries ripen in September

Many migrating butterflies like monarchs and American Ladies are on the move now and may be found on late season flowers like butterfly bush, zinnias, Tithonia, Lantana, cohosh, goldenrod, asters and many other flowers. In annual plantings where I work, honey bees are especially abundant on Salvia guaranitica  ‘ Black and Blue ’  right now.  And while many butterflies and bees can be found on various butterfly bush cultivars, the hands on favorite seems to be the cultivar ” Miss Molly” which has deep red/pink, richly scented flowers that attract hummingbirds, flower beetles, fly pollinators, people and bees galore. This is a great addition to a pollinator or butterfly garden. Other late season bloomers for our native insects and butterflies are black cohosh and Eupatorium  rugosum, (chocolate Joe-Pye weed), as well as asters and goldenrods.

American lady on Tithonia sunflower

American Lady on Tithonia sunflower

Black and blue salvia

‘Black and Blue’ salvia is great for attracting hummingbirds and honey bees

Snapping turtles are hatching now.  The other day while mowing fairways, I spotted long dew tracks and there at the end were two little snapper hatchlings. Very soft upon hatching, they are often heron chow, and these little turtles will travel long distances to find a good habitat.

newly hatched snapping turtle 9-25-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Newly hatched snapping turtle

Every day at my house, we engage in a “Where is Waldo?” type hunt in the backyard gardens. What we are looking for are the tiny gray tree frogs that are hanging out on certain plants during the day. Snapping up any insects that get too close, these guys are a lot of fun to watch and look for. Most of ones we are finding are green, and are slightly larger than a thumbnail right now.  It gives us all some free entertainment before the leaves fall and we move on to- raking leaves…

two thumbnail size gray tree frogs Pamm Cooper photo

Two tiny gray tree frogs in my garden

Katydids, crickets and sometimes tree frogs are making a racket at night. Although really not unpleasant, to me, they are loud. But more enjoyable to listen to than the neighbor’s barking dog…I found a katydid eating a hyssop flower recently, but who cares about that this late in the year?

katydid eating hyssop flowers in September

katydid eating hyssop flwer

Bees are having their last hurrah now as the blooming season winds down. While native goldenrods and asters are important food sources of food for late season bees and wasps, there are many garden plants that are important nectar and pollen sources as well. In my own garden, I have two hyssops- anise and blue giant hyssop. There were bumblebees and honeybees that went on both, but there were small bees that preferred only the anise hyssop. These bees were very noisy, and hovered near flowers before landing, behaving like hover flies. Most likely these bees were in the Megachilid genera- the leaf-cutting bees. Abdominal hairs collect the pollen in these species and may take on the brilliant colors of pollen from the flowers they visit.

Megachilid leaf cutting bee on aster Belding September 2017

Megachile family leaf-cutting bee on aster

As the season winds down, there are still some caterpillars to be found, like the beloved wooly bears and other tiger moth cats like the yellow bear. A spotted Apotelodes was a good find. A robust, densely hairy caterpillar, this large fellow is notable for three sets of long hairs called “pencils” along the dorsum, and for its equally conspicuous red feet, making it look like it is wearing five pairs of little red shoes.

spotted apatelodes on honeysuckle Cohen Woodland field 9-12-2017 Pamm Cooper photo

Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar showing its little red feet

And just for fun, next year consider planting a candy corn vine, Manettia inflate, on a small trellis.  An annual vine, flowers last well into the fall before the first killing frost. This South American native has tubular flowers that resemble candy corn, and they are a favorite of the hummingbirds (and myself!) in my backyard.

candy corn vine an annual fun plant Pamm Cooper photo

Candy corn vine

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

We New Englanders have been fortunate to have had a long and lovely fall season. The frost was late, warm temperatures rebounded, leaves were spectacular and late season mums are still going strong – good for pollinators. Even more tender plants continue to bloom in sheltered areas.

Pale champagne pink mums provide late nourishment for native pollinators

Pale champagne pink mums provide late nourishment for native pollinators

While there is much admiration for the brilliant yellows, fluorescent oranges and flaming reds covering many trees and shrubs this season, I am more partial to the pinks, burgundies and maroons. The fall reminds me of that aging bottle of red wine – once the bottle is uncorked, the rich, expressive elixir is savored but gone all too soon.

The pink blush on the panicled hydrangea reminds me of a pink moscato. Notice how the delicate pink and cream flower heads soften the hard, grey stone wall. This is a good placement for this plant that often is planted as a lonely specimen but adds more charm when it is worked into a planting or the landscape.

Delicate pink and creams of panicled hydrangea in fall

Delicate pink and creams of panicled hydrangea in fall

Sparkling pink champagne brings to mind the flower heads of miscanthus ‘Morning Light’. The pale pink, effervescent plumes dance in the wind and are positively radiant when the morning sun drenches them in light.

The whispy miscanthus plumes dance in the wind.

The whispy miscanthus plumes dance in the wind.

Recently fallen red maple leaves cover the walkways in merlot and burgundy. They crunch underfoot and get piled mischievously by the wind in between the branches of shrubs, in newly raked corners and in low-lying areas. Oak leaf hydrangeas take on a reddish hue the color of shiraz.

Maple leaves in shades of maroon and silver

Maple leaves in shades of maroon and silver.

Oak leaf hydrangea in splendid fall colors.

Oak leaf hydrangea in splendid fall colors.

Many azalea species lose their leaves as cold weather approaches. The evergreen ones take on hues of maroon, bronze and rose. I like to use their branches in holiday window boxes and arrangements. Bergenia leaves hang on all winter tinged with cranberry.

Azalea leaves can be used for winter arrangements.

Azalea leaves can be used for winter arrangements.

Wine tinged bergenia leaves.

Wine tinged bergenia leaves.

And then, there is the occasional rose. While the rest of the plant kingdom is turning its thoughts to dormancy and the long, cold winter ahead, it is not uncommon to find a softly scented, unfurling rose bud in a more protected area, undaunted by the darkening days and serving as a reminder of the warmer days we’ve left behind.

Last rose of summer!

Last rose of summer!

Dawn P.

Bare spring stick just pushing out buds. Photo Carol Quish

Bare spring stick just pushing out buds. Photo Carol Quish

During the winter, my hydrangea looks dead. It has lost all of its leaves, as it should, but I am now left with a bunch of bare sticks. Normally when you see this, the urge is to cut them back to the ground. DON’T prune them now. Those dead looking sticks contain the buds for next year’s flowers. If you prune now, you will be cutting off all of the flower buds. Sometimes the deer will come along and eat the tips, producing the same effect as if you pruned them. Other years with very cold sustained winter temperatures below zero, the flower buds will be killed by being frozen. Big leaf hydrangea’s, Hydrangea macrophylla, is only borderline hardy in zone 6. During warmer winters big leaf Hydrangea fare much better. They also will not lose their flower buds closer to the shore and ocean areas as the climates are more moderated by the ocean temperatures which are warmer than the air.

So to recap:

Do not prune big leaf hydrangea in fall, winter or spring. Only prune after flowering as flower buds are produced in late summer and carried on the sticks until the following summer bloom time.

Deer may eat the flower buds held at the tips. Use spray deer repellents monthly or cover with burlap. Protect from snow buildup that could break the branches.

Site Hydrangea in a south-facing or protected area of the yard to reduce colder temperature exposure.

Hopefully, next summer your hydrangea plant will bloom beautifully.

Bigleaf Hydrangea

-Carol Quish

photo by Joey Williamson, Clemson Extension

The hydrangea in front of my house is just a bunch of bare sticks right now, screaming to be cut down. It looks like quite a leafless eyesore after losing  foliage last fall. During the winter the local chickadees use it as a perch beneath the hanging bird feeder . The avian flocks do not mind its ugliness. I don’t mind it either knowing the flower buds are on those naked sticks, waiting for the coming spring and summer to bloom.There are five different types of hydrangeas. Some bloom on old wood and some on new wood.

My hydrangea is a Hydrangea macrophylla or Bigleaf Hydrangea. The ones that bloom on old wood carry the next year’s flower buds on the barren sticks, through the fall, winter and next spring. If these are pruned during the fall, winter or spring, the flower buds will be removed. The plant will grow new stems and leaves from the base of the plants, but these stalks will NOT contain flower buds, therefore no flowers that year. The flower buds are produced and set after the plant flowers in June and July but before fall. Any pruning should be done as the flowers fade during the summer to avoid cutting off the buds. I remember to prune Hydrangea macrophylla when I cut flowers for a vase to bring inside. Sometimes our winters are just too cold for the tender over-wintering buds, killing the buds, resulting in no flowers the following summer even if pruned correctly.

Hydrangea macrophyllas are divided into two groups,  Hortesia and Lacecap. Hortensias have big ball flower forms. Lacecaps have a somewhat flat top shaped flower. These bloom on old wood, prune after flowering but before August 1st.

Hortensia Hydrangea, Photo: U.S. National Arboretum

Lacecap Hydrangea, Photo: Gary Wade

Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly called Oakleaf Hydrangea also blooms on old wood. Prune after flowering.  If terminal buds are killed during winter, no flowers will be produce. Should be protected in zone 5.

Oakleaf Hydrangea, johnston.ces.ncsu.edu

Two other common hydrangea bloom on new wood, wood produce from the plant during the same year. These are Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, commonly called Panicle or PG Hydrangea and Hydrangea arborescens, commonly called Smooth Hydrangea. These can be pruned in late fall, winter or early spring. The flower buds will be produced on the new wood produced in spring.

Hydrangea paniculata, Panicle Hydrangea. Prune in early spring.

Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, photo by Karen Russ, Clemson Extension

Hydrangea arborescens, Smooth Hydrangea blooms on new wood. Prune in winter or early spring.

Hydrangeas arborescens - Annabelle, - Photo: Beth Jarvis

-Carol