Lilac in snow 3

These are some crazy times lately. Snow in the second week of May just adds to the disruptions in our lives right now. Folks are looking to their yard and gardens to bring stability to the upheaval in their lives, and snow and cold weather does not ease the mind. However, mother nature has a way of healing the plants and in doing so, shows us we will heal, too.

Some blossoms will sustain damage without the entire plant being lost. Some plants will succumb to the freeze, but these plants are ones that grow naturally and natively in much warmer areas which would not experience snow or freezing weather. If tomatoes or marigolds were planted out in the garden, they most likely were killed from the freeze. See packets and transplant labels state to wait to plant after all danger of frost has passed. For us in Connecticut, May 15th is the average last frost date. I err on the side of caution, waiting until Memorial Day when the soil as warmed considerably before planting cucumbers, peppers, petunias, squash and tomatoes. Putting these plants into cold soil will shock and stunt them for the rest of the growing season.

Perennial plants in our area are like old friends, returning home after a long absence. The familiarity of finding them in walk abouts, makes the world seem normal. Even some stalwart rhubarb laden with snow gives me hope we will weather  our storms. Rhubarb is a hardy perennial vegetable, providing pies and baked goods from its leaf stalk. Don’t eat the leaves as they contain a high level of oxalates the body doesn’t handle well. Better to use the leaves in the compost or lay them on the ground in the vegetable garden to keep the weeds down. They cover a lot of area.

Rhubarb in snowEarlier in the week, I removed a flowering stalk from the rhubarb plant, to conserve the plant’s energy by not producing seed. Removal of the flower helps the clump grow bigger and get stronger.

rhubarb flower stalk

Cut the rhubarb flower stalk at the base of the plant and compost it or use it in a flower arrangement.

Lilacs are a long-lived, woody shrub capable of with-standing freezes and snow. The flower buds were encased with ice and snow, but should bounce right back; only time will tell. The plant itself can live for over 100 years!

Lilac in snow one bud open

Magnolia is  another woody tree that lives a long time, but its flowers are often damaged by frost and cold weather. The photo below was taken before the snow  but after a frost, of Magnolia x soulangeana, showing the damage to the open blossom and the newly opened flower that was in bud at the time of the frost. After today’s snow, the petals have all fallen.Magnolia flower and cold damaged one

Flowering quince is a hardy shrub tolerant of late freezes. Its scarlet flowers didn’t blink with a covering of snow, shaking them off to shine brightly by noon once the sun came out. Each blossom should be appreciated up close for its rose like shape. Unfortunately, it is a pretty scraggly and unkempt specimen the rest of the year. She reminds of a  disheveled  and gangly teenage boy that cleans up nicely for prom, but only once a year.

quince flowering

Clove current is blooming, and before the snow released its spice scented aroma to soft wind. Hopefully, once the warmer weather returns so will the shrub’s offering to those in backyard.

 

Clove current flower

I spoke of plants returning like old friends, expecting nothing from you except your company. They don’t try to change you or bring you around to around to their new found way of processing the world. Plants would never talk politics with you. They are just happy with your company. I think people could take a lesson or two from plants. Even weeds are consistently reappearing, each in their own time bringing a sense of comfortable familiarity. Chickweed has arrived, budded up with blossoms open in sunnier spots.

Chickweed

Bedstraw aka catchweed is entwining the old-fashioned shrub roses rescued from a 1600’s cemetery on Cape Cod. The paving truck was laying an asphalt walkway right over the rambling mass of thorny branches. I had to at least save a few in the way of its destructive path. The bedstraw always appears only in these bushes, making me think they must be old friends, too. I pull a few but don’t have the heart to remove them all, plus I like their airy foliage mixing with the deep pink roses once they bloom in June.

bedstraw at rose base

Milkweed shoots are up, promising a food source for many caterpillars and other insects. The monarch butterfly used milkweed species exclusively on which to lay eggs and for its larva. Common milkweed can become weedy as it spreads via seed and root, enlarging its colony each year.

Milkweed shoots

 

I hope you find the return of old friends in the garden and maybe add a few new ones this season.

-Carol Quish

 

            The weather here in Connecticut has been woefully wet and cool this June. Heat loving plants of peppers, basil, tomatoes and cucumbers are at a stand still, not growing much. Vegetables preferring cooler temperatures are providing extended harvests rather than bolting. Lettuce, broccoli and spinach have given me bumper crops. My snap peas are just plumping up. Lawns are lush and green, growing fast. These are positive benefits of a long wet spring. The negative is more plant diseases.

          Fungal disease loves it moist. Red Thread (Laetisaria fuciformis), is appearing on many lawns as the environmental conditions are perfect for its development and growth; 65 to 70°F and lots of moisture. Preferred host grasses are fine leaf fescues and perennial rye with bluegrass a close second. These grasses make up of most of our lawns!

Red Thread, photo from Penn State U.

Red Thread, photo from Penn State U.

          Symptoms begin as water-soaked patches with green blades of grass turning tan as they dry and die. Yellow patches are irregular in shape with size varying. As the disease progresses the fungus produces red mycelium ‘threads’. From a distance the lawn appears to have red patches. This is stage when most folks panic looking for a control measure. A change in weather is the basic answer. Less moisture will stop the progression of the disease. Since we can’t control the weather, there are a few things that can be done to help the lawn.

Red Thread, photo from OSU

Red Thread, photo from OSU

          Don’t touch the grass when it is wet. No mowing, walking, spreading fertilizer or aerating. Mowers, equipment and shoes are the biggest offenders of dispersing the spores of Red Thread. Wait until the lawn is dry to work on it all. Fungicides are not recommended or very effective against this disease.

Prevention and a strong healthy turf growing in a pH of 6.5 to 7 is recommended. Red Thread prefers grass growing in low nitrogen. Have a soil test done (www.soiltest.uconn.edu) to determine pH and nutrient levels of the soil supporting your lawn. Use a balanced fertilizer if needed. When lawn is dry, mow and collect the clippings to bag or compost to reduce spreading the spores. Later in the season, resume mulching mowing, leaving the clippings to return nitrogen to the soil.

          Red thread affects the blades of grass, not the roots. Plants will outgrow the disease when they start to grow faster with warmer weather. Avoid watering late in the day and increase airflow to aid in drying of turf. If over seeding bare spots, use Red Thread resistant varieties of perennial ryegrass (Lowgrow, Lynx, Navajo, Passport, Precision, Rivierra II, Shining Star, Target), fine fescue (Biljart, Bighorn, Reliant, SR 3000, Waldina), and Kentucky bluegrass (Ascot, Classic, Dawn, Eclipse, Princeton, Trenton).

          Powdery Mildew prefers the same cooler wet weather as Red Thread. My garden is showing large patches of the white coating on susceptible phlox, peony and the lilacs. Each species has a different variety of fungus for the different plants, but all the symptoms are the same so we call them all powdery mildew even though, technically, it is a different fungus on phlox than on lilac.

IMG_0829

          The disease starts with white patches on the upper surface of leaves, sometimes spreading to stems and growing tips. Leaves eventually yellow then brown. Powdery mildew doesn’t kill plants, but can severely weaken them and put them into premature dormancy.

          The best defense against powdery mildew is to grow resistant varieties of plants. Phlox ‘David’ is known to rarely, if ever, be affected. Other varieties of phlox are Alpha, Blue Boy, David, Orange Perfection, Prime Minister, Starfire. Resistant lilac varieties are the Himalayan, Meyer, Litleleaf, Korean Early, Persian, Japanese Tree, and Swegiflexa Lilacs. I have not found any named varieties of peonies claiming resistance to powdery mildew.

          Prevention of powdery mildew for all plants begins with proper spacing and good air circulation. Divide and separate overgrown plants. Good sanitation in fall includes cleaning up and removing old foliage that may contain fungal spores. Remove infected leaves during the growing season to reduce inoculums and stop spread of any disease. Fungicide spray labeled for use against powdery mildew may be beneficial on plants that have a history of infection in your garden. A common recipe of one teaspoon baking soda in one quart water with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil mixed in a spray bottle, then sprayed on plant leaves before spots appear is used as a protective measure. Commercially available fungicides containing the chemical ingredients Captan or copper hydroxide are listed as a control measure. Also listed as an effective fungicide against powdery mildew are Bacillus subtilis, lime-sulfur spray, and neem. This last group is least harmful to the environment but still effective.

 
Powdery mildew on phlox. photo by Carol Quish

Powdery mildew on phlox. photo by Carol Quish

 

powdery mildew on phlox, photo by Carol Quish

powdery mildew on phlox, photo by Carol Quish

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
One last item! I have had several calls this week about a strange black and orange insect of varying descriptions. After some probing questions, the insects were identified as the larval stage of lady beetles. These are good guys, beneficial insects that feed on other soft bodied insects like aphids! Take a look at the photo below so you can recognize them and be thankful if they visit your garden instead of trying to kill them!
 
 
                                                                    
Lady Beetle Larvae - Good Guy!
Lady Beetle Larvae – Good Guy!
 
 
 
 

– Carol