daffodil, stone wall

Last year was the year of the daffodil as declared by the National Gardening Bureau which inspired me to plant more of the yellow flowered bulbs in the fall. I am reaping the benefits of the work with sunny blossoms nodding ‘spring is here’ all over the yard.

daff clump

Daffodils are in the genus Narcissus, perhaps named after the Greek character that fell in love with his own refection in a pool of water. While the flower is a beauty, I am not sure it is so conceited. They are usually yellow, with trumpet shaped flower sitting atop a long stem. Other varieties come in white, cream and pink. Some have single blossoms and other double. Technically the genus Narcissus is divided into 13 main division, defined by number of flowers to a stem, cup shape and length, and length of perianth segments. These classifications are important to botanist or exhibitors of Narcissus, and can be found at The American Daffodil Society. Daffodil is a common name, Jonquil is another common name of one of the divisions.

daffs, back yard

Daffodils are considered long-lived perennials lasting many years and produce larger clumps annually if proper care is given. They are a bulb, best planted from late August through Thanksgiving. The sooner the bulb gets in the ground, the larger its root system will be the following spring. This lazy gardener planted daffodil bulbs during a January thaw on year, with moderately successful blooming results. Potted daffodils are commonly sold in spring as Easter plants. It is best to plant these outside once the flowers pass and the soil is workable in the garden. No need to wait for fall.

Stunning displays are created when mass planted in drifts. Avoid planting bulbs singularly. Mark areas of fall planted bulbs with golf tees to avoid planting other plants over them. Daffodils are deer and rodent proof because all parts of the daffodil plant are toxic if eaten. Squirrels may dig and relocate freshly planted bulbs, but they will not eat them. Sprinkle hot pepper flake over the area of newly planted bulbs.

daff, white and yellow 1

When planting bulbs, chose a site with half to full sun and good drainage. Water logged sites will rot bulbs. The pH preference for daffodils is slightly acid. Loosen the soil to a depth of one foot. Enrich the soil with compost or well-rotted manure, and a few tablespoons of bone meal to add phosphorus. Make a hole two times the height of the bulb, and several inches wide.  Example: for a three inch tall bulb, plant it so its bottom root end is six inches deep. Place the bulb so the pointed end is up. If in doubt plant the bulb sideways; the root will grow down and stem will grow up. Well after planting and until the ground freezes to help the roots develop. In the spring when first leaf tips emerge, fertilize with 5-10-10. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers on bulbs. Resume watering in spring if rains are not adequate.

After the flower fades, the plant will want to make seed, but don’t let it. Spending excess energy on seed production will reduce the flower size and production of next year’s flower. It is better to cut only the flower stalk back. Leave the leaves to grow and die back on their own. The leaves are where photosynthesis happens, creating energy to store in the bulb. The practice of tying the leaves together is discouraged as it blocks the leaves ability to sunlight. Only cut back the leaves once they yellow or brown. Notice the golf tee marking the spot and plant annuals around them to cover the now open spot in the garden.

daff seed pod forming

After five years clumps may need to be divided and the soil rejuvenated. Lift the entire clump, and separate the bulbs. There should be many smaller bulblets produced surrounding the large mother bulb. These can all be replanted in new place in an enriched bed.

-Carol Quish

daffodil

 

ringneck pheasant in early springIt has been a very long winter with little sight of spring even though it is the end of March. Normal spring garden chores are difficult to get done as the garden is under snow or still has frozen soil. Although the snow provided a good back drop to see a ring necked pheasant wandering through my yard this past week. They are non-native game birds that are sometimes released for hunting purposes, but flocks rarely survive to create sustained populations, it looks like this male made it through the winter just fine.

Some of my garden perennials were not so lucky this winter. It appears the voles and chipmunks have been busy feeding and tunneling their way through parts of the garden. The moles have created lots of heaved up tunnels in the lawn which sink when step on or tripped over. The heuchera below will need to be dug up and replanted. Fill in any tunnels such as the one on the right. Mouse traps sent in the runs might as a control measure. Cover the trap with an up-side-down bucket to keep out birds and cats.

Antsy gardeners can do much harm to the soil by working the ground if it is frozen or wet. Compaction will result and soil structure will be ruined. Soil structure is the way the soil parts are arranged and adhered together. Soil parts do not stack neatly like Legos or Lincoln Logs. They are non-uniform shapes with needed air spaces in between the particles to provide spaces for oxygen and water to hangout that are necessary for roots to access. Working wet or frozen soil squishes out those spaces, cramming the soil particles tightly together resulting in compaction. Once compacted soil dries, it is like a lump of cement. Plant roots have a very hard time breaking through compacted soil. Lightly rake to remove last year’s foliage, taking care to not damage new emerging shoots can satisfy the need to be outside and work in the garden.

daffodil foliage emerging

Daffodil foliage emerging.

crocus

Crocus

If you do have an area of compacted soil, deep tap-rooted plants are a great natural way to break it up. Plants with deep tap roots are strong and thick, working their way down to access nutrients deeper in the soil. Nutrients are moved through the plant up to the leaves, stems and flowers which will eventually senescence, dropping dead above ground parts on the top of the soil. Those plant parts will decompose leaving their nutrients in the upper range of the soil where weaker rooted plants will be able to reach them. Kind of like a natural rototilling moving soil nutrients. Plants with deep taproots are dandelions, comfrey and horseradish.

dandelion 1

Dandelion helps break up compacted soil.

Rhubarb is the earliest of the three perennial vegetables to awake in the spring. Horseradish follows shortly after, and asparagus takes at least another four weeks to send up shoots. Make each of these areas to avoid damage to their crowns. Better yet have designated beds for each crop. Horseradish can be an aggressive traveler so planting it away from other crops is recommended.

rhubarb emerging 2018

Rhubarb emerging March 30, 2018.

There is still time to remove, crush and kill gypsy moth eggs from tree bark. Hope for a wet spring to develop the fungus that infects the young caterpillars after they hatch from any egg masses which were left.

 

Gypsy moth egg cases, p.cooper photo.jpg

While cleaning up garden debris, watch for beneficial insect overwintered eggs like the praying mantid’s egg case below. Carefully remove the stem and egg mass to a safe place outside so it can hatch naturally when the weather warms. Do NOT bring it into your home unless you want it to hatch inside your heated house!

praying mantis egg mass

Praying Mantid Egg Case

Another spring chore can be done inside the home. Cut the top six inches off of leggy houseplants to give them a good pruning. Repot any that need it to get them ready for another year of growing. Stick some cuttings in a vase of water to get them to produce roots. Some plants do respond better than others and it is worth a try to produce new, free houseplants to share with friends.

roots in water

Pothos cuttings rooting in water

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

 

IMG_20170702_114322695One of the best things about summer in Connecticut is the easy drive to the Connecticut shore as almost any point in Connecticut is no more than a 1 ½ hour drive to the Long Island Sound. Although Connecticut is the third smallest state area-wise (5543² miles) we are ranked either 17th or 20th in total ocean coastline. The 20th ranking is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which includes tidal inlets and the Great Lakes in its calculations. Our 17th place ranking says that we have 96 miles of coastline while the 20th place gives us a grand total of 618 miles. In fact, if every citizen of Connecticut stood very close (and held our babies and toddlers) we could all stand along that 618-mile coastline! I must admit, as we walked along Sound View Beach over the 4th of July weekend it felt as if that scenario was taking place.

But walking a little further away from the sea of humanity is when the real appeal of the Connecticut shore happens for me. The diversity of the plants and vegetation that can be encountered never ceases to amaze me. Even though hydrangeas grow all over Connecticut, including in our yard in Enfield, they never seem as deeply blue as they do when there is a touch of salt in the air…

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…the honeysuckle smells sweeter…

Honeysuckle 2

…and the beach rose hips are the size of cherry tomatoes!

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The Connecticut coastal region has a longer frost-free season than most of the state of Connecticut, 15-35 days longer depending on where you live. I would love an extra 35 days of growing time for my gardens but I don’t know if I would be willing to exchange those extra days just to worry about the salinity tolerance of my plants, sandy soils that may drain too quickly, or high winds. Those are all a part of the ecoregion along the Connecticut shore and each of those factors play a part in selecting plants for landscaping in that area.

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Salt can affect and potentially kill shoreline plants in two ways; either through salt spray that can damage leaves and plant tissues or through groundwater where salt water is brought in on daily tides. Where the groundwater is highly concentrated with salt water plant tissues can be damaged as with salt spray but additionally they will suffer with water uptake issues. When the concentrations of salt in the soil surrounding the roots of a plant become too high the plant may be forced to accumulate salts in its root cells to compensate for the higher levels outside. Expending energy to facilitate these functions means less energy will be directed toward the growth and vigor of the plant, sometimes causing the roots to go dormant, and resulting in a poor or stunted appearance.

Have you ever noticed how plantings along the shore seem to almost hug the ground? When salt is dissolved in water it separates into equal ratios of its two ions: sodium and chloride. It is the build-up of chloride ions in plant tissues such as the stems and leaves that will present as browned, bronzed, or ‘scorched’, leaf edges.

scorched

Even the slope of the land or whether there is a sea wall present will influence the amount of salt damage that can occur. Within the same property or area several different salinity levels may be present as plants that are on the lower end of a slope may receive twice-daily infiltrations of seawater at high tide. And an area that slopes up will be more affected by salt spray. In fact, unlike the effect of elevated levels of salt in groundwater which tend to be localized, salt spray can reach plants several miles inland.

Fortunately, many species of plants that are native to Connecticut have developed the ability to thrive in these conditions and are categorized as highly salt tolerant, moderately tolerant, and least tolerant. Using plants that are highly tolerant as a buffer to shield less tolerant plants from salt spray, winds, or that simply increase the distance from areas of salty groundwater is a good option. The Connecticut Coastal Planting Guide from Connecticut Sea Grant/UConn has a great listing of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and groundcovers and their salt tolerance levels. Our recent trip to the shore showed some wonderful examples.

IMG_20170711_112627268   Sassafras

Mountain Laurel     IMG_20170711_115224655_HDR

IMG_20170711_113134395   Viburnum

Trumpet creeper           IMG_20170711_182901348_HDR

Through UConn, the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources has a resource that, through a step-by-step process, will help you prepare your site and choose plants that will have a better chance of survival in the coastal environment, prevent erosion, and provide needed food and protection to coastal wildlife such as this great white heron.

Susan Pelton

All images and videos by Susan Pelton 2017

 

 

Hibiscus in bloom

Hibiscus ‘Luna Pink Swirl’

Many of the perennials in our flower beds provide us beautiful groupings of color and beauty; from the sunny tulips in the early spring to the irises that maintain their showy blooms for weeks in June to the phlox and hydrangea with their masses of blooms. But there are few that can compare with the oversized outrageousness of the blooms of the Hibiscus laevis, also known as the halberd-leaf rosemallow.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Hibiscus ‘Disco Belle’

Hibiscus are the genus of plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. Other plants that are in this grouping may be familiar to you as ornamental species such as the China Rose (Hibiscus rose-sinensis), a tropical plant that is generally grown in containers in this zone, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), a plant that is grown as a large shrub or small tree, depending on the manner in which it is pruned, or Sterculia foetida, also known as the wild almond tree, whose name is derived from Sterculius, the Roman god of manure. The petioles of this plant exude a foul smell although the roasted seeds are edible. Makes you wonder who the first person was that thought “Yes, it stinks, but I’ll bet the seeds are yummy”.

Other more well-known edible members of the mallow family include okra (notice the similarity to the hibiscus flower buds), kola nut, and cacao. The baobabs have both fruit and leaves that are edible. A deep crimson herbal tea can be made from the sepals of the Hibiscus sabdariffa which contains vitamin c and minerals.

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Okra

Also in this family but in the genus Malva is the Common Mallow, Malva neglecta, whose edible seeds are high in protein and fat. It is sometimes considered an invasive weed although it does not appear on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) current listing. I like it for its translucent delicate light pink to almost white flowers and for its foliage which has a crinkly edge.

Common mallow

Common Mallow

Great golden digger wasp on mallow

Great Golden Digger Wasp on mallow

But back to the hibiscus that grow along a sunny fence in our yard. 20 years ago I had 4 different varieties that each produced a different color flower/throat combination in shades from white to deep red. Unfortunately only two of those original plants remain to produce the 7-8” blooms that are so stunning. To say that they are the size of a dinner plate is barely an exaggeration.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Each apical bloom unfurls its showy magnificence from a very interesting-looking bud (it almost looks like it has a decorative cage around it) for only a day and then they collapse. There are many buds in each grouping though so the flowers appear to be non-stop. I do my best to remove the spent blooms so that the plant will keep producing until September. If you don’t do this then it will put its energy into the development of large seed pods.

Buds close up

Bud close-up

I found a Grape colaspis, Colaspis brunnea, feeding on the foliage. Hibiscus is not listed as a usual host plant for this fellow but okra (which we learned is in the Mallow family) is an alternate host. I felt that it had done enough damage so I am sorry to say that it wasn’t around for very long after this video was shot.

 

Feeding damage

The larvae of the hibiscus sawfly (Atomacera decepta) are a bigger pest as they will generally be present in larger numbers and can defoliate an entire plant. Control methods should be limited to non-systemics and only applied when the flowers are not in bloom. Shown below are a fruit fly and a tumbling flower beetle that were also spotted on the hibiscus.

The foliage and some of the more tender stalks of the hibiscus will die back with a heavy frost. I usually prune back any of the older, woody stems in the early spring before any new growth appears. You may think that the plant did not survive the winter as it is sometimes late May before you will begin to see the new growth but it will quickly make up for lost time and will soon provide you with an abundance of beautiful ephemeral blooms!

Susan Pelton

 

Image

The fragrant white flowers of the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum giganteum) are a traditional symbol of the season. In its native southern Japan and Ryukyu Islands, the plant blooms in July but in cultivation, it is forced into earlier flowering for the Easter trade.  Also known as the Bermuda lily (L.l. eximium), it was a supplier of bulbs in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Japan then dominated as the world’s largest grower until WWII. Attempts to regain its market share after the war failed due to the emergence of the growers here on the California-Oregon border, who now produce 95% of the bulbs for the U.S. and Canadian market. U.S. production began with Louis Houghton, who introduced hybrid lilies to the south coast of Oregon in 1919, where conditions for cultivation are ideal. When the Japanese source of bulbs was interrupted during the war, lily bulbs increased in value and a new industry was born.

 Although the Easter lily has a sales window of only two weeks, it is the fourth largest potted-plant crop in the United States, following poinsettia, chrysanthemum and azalea. Because of its superior characteristics, the cultivar most commonly grown for the past 40 years or so has been ‘Nellie White.’

Buying

When choosing a lily, look for a high-quality plant that has a couple of open or partly-opened flowers and several unopened buds.. Foliage should be dense, dark green and extend to the soil line, indicating a healthy root system. Inspect the flowers, foliage and buds for any signs of insects or disease. Unless they were just delivered, avoid Easter lilies displayed in paper, plastic or mesh shipping sleeves; plant quality will deteriorate if these sleeves are left on too long. Soil should be moist, but not wet; a wilted, waterlogged plant may be suffering from root rot.

Indoor care

At home, position your Easter lily near a window that gets bright, indirect daylight, away from direct sunlight; a daytime temperature of 60 to 65° F is ideal. Avoid exposure to excess heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or heating ducts. Keep the potting medium moist, watering lightly only when the soil becomes dry. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, don’t allow the plant sit in trapped, standing water. As the flowers open and develop, remove the yellow anthers with small scissors before the pollen starts to shed. This increases the life of the flower and prevents the pollen from staining the flowers or tablecloths. When a mature flower starts to fade and wither, cut it off to keep the plant looking attractive.

Toxic to Cats

If you see your cat eating the Easter lily plant, call a veterinarian immediately. The kidneys are affected, with symptoms including increased urination, depression, stomach upset and dehydration. The sooner emergency treatment is initiated, the better the chances that the cat will recover. If more than 18 hours elapses after consumption, the cat may not survive, even with emergency care.

In the garden

Easter lilies can be planted outside after the blooms have faded and the danger of frost has passed. Remove old flowers, leaving the stem and leaves. Select a sunny spot with well-drained soil and dig a hole deep enough so the top of the bulb will be six-inches below the soil surface.  Amend the soil in the planting hole with some organic matter and lime. Good drainage is critical to success with lilies. Lilies prefer a cool soil environment, so mulching with a 2-inch layer of compost, pine straw, or shredded leaves helps conserve moisture in between waterings, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool and provides nutrients as it decays.

Lilies are not reliably hardy throughout Connecticut and will benefit from a generous layer of protective mulch once they’ve gone dormant. (If you like the look of white lilies in the garden, or for cutting, other options are Lilium candidum, Madonna lily or Oriental Lily ‘Casa Blanca.’)

With proper protection, Easter lilies that were forced into flower in March or April under controlled greenhouse conditions will flower naturally in June or July the following and subsequent years, reaching a height of about 3 feet.

In recent years, a new pest of lilies has appeared in Connecticut: the Lily Leaf Beetle.  See the URI fact sheet for description and control measures here: http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/lilyleafbeetle.html

 

J. McInnis

Fall is a good time to get ready for next year’s display of spring-blooming perennials. Some may need repositioning, some may have lost vigor as a result of crowding and some may be in need of dividing. Most perennials will transplant easily in October. Some root loss is inevitable, so the shorter, cooler and rainier days of autumn are a less stressful time to move plants. Since it’s not recommended to relocate perennials while they’re flowering, species that bloom in late summer or fall (Chrysanthemum, Sedum, etc.) are best moved in spring when the first shoots emerge from the soil.

Bleeding Heart transplants well in the fall. Photo: Colorado State University

 

When moving perennials, cut them back, divide if necessary and include as much of the root system as possible when digging. (As a rule of thumb, pull apart fibrous-rooted perennials with your hands or using two garden forks and cut apart the fleshy-rooted ones with a sharp knife or spade.) When planting, be careful to maintain the same soil level as their previous location (not planting either too deeply or too high). Soak thoroughly and then following up with a periodic light watering (in the absence of rain) will help roots to get established in their new location. Very important to the survival of fall-transplanted perennials is the application of about 3” of mulch or compost. This will keep the soil moist and avoid wide fluctuations of soil temperature which could result in frost heaves which can lift plants right out of the ground. Do not fertilize until spring. Below are some common perennials that do well when transplanted in the autumn.
Asiatic Lily
Astilbe
Bleeding Heart
Daylily
Japanese Iris
Lily-of-the-Valley
Oriental Lily
Oriental Poppy
Peony
Siberian Iris
Veronica