‘Plant a little mint, Madame, then step out of the way so you don’t get hurt!’

anonymous British gardener

Spring is the time when we look forward to putting aside our heavy winter clothing for spring jackets and hearty soups and stews for lighter fare. The first foods that are produced in our gardens in the spring are usually greens such as lettuces and spinach, asparagus, green onions, and peas. And there is no better complement to peas and green onions than mint.

mint

Mint (Mentha) is a fast-growing, aromatic, perennial herb with opposite, toothed leaves, and stems that are square in cross-section. Most varieties reach 1-3’ in height. It prefers a moist but well-drained soil in a neutral pH. Mint can be started indoors from seed or sown outdoors once the ground has warmed and like all seeds, they must be kept moist until they germinate. Choosing to buy seedlings or larger plants will bring a quicker harvest, and I find that I like being able to break off and crush a leaf to see what the mint variety will smell and taste like.

Mint can run rampant over your garden, spreading through underground runners called stolons, and should be either placed where this habit will not be a problem or contained by annual division in the spring.  When I was a novice gardener (and a very green one at that) some 35 years ago, I made the mistake of planting mint in our garden. It took several years to eradicate the mint that threatened to overtake the bed. If you do want to plant mint in the ground, one option is to plant it in a bottomless five-gallon bucket sunk into the ground with only the top couple of inches peeking out.

Growing mint in containers or hanging baskets solves the problem of mint taking over. Container herbs will require more moisture than garden-grown herbs and may benefit from late afternoon shade. And containers can be brought in for the winter. I have had mine in a sunny window since last October and it is still doing well. Below is an image of mint planted amid eggplant in a container.

mint 3

Chocolate mint in flowerFresh leaves should be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Only remove about one-third of the foliage at each harvest. Early morning is best to ensure that the oils are not dried out from the sun. To dry herbs for winter use, the leaves should be harvested prior to flower buds opening. Pinching off leaves will help the plants to fill out. Any mint that is allowed to go to flower will attract a wide variety of pollinators with its white, pale pink, or pale purple blossoms. The image on the right is chocolate mint in flower (image from the NCCD Plant Sale site)

 

True mint varieties are known to cross pollinate with other types of mint when planted within close proximity. This can result in characteristics from different mint types to appear in one plant, leading to unfavorable scents or flavors. There are between 20-25 species of mint in the Mentha genus depending on the source: the following are some of my personal favorites.

Chocolate mint

 

Chocolate mint, Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’, is my top choice, with its brownish-red stems and brown tinged serrated leaves. It is a cultivar of peppermint (which itself is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint) and prefers full sun. I’ve heard the smell and taste compared to an Andes Chocolate Mint, an apt description.

 

 

 

Mint' Spearmint' 2

 

Spearmint, Mentha spicata, also known as common or garden mint, prefers partial shade and a neutral pH. Like all commercial mints, it is sterile and can only be propagated through cuttings.

 

 

 

Mint 'Peppermint'

 

 

Peppermint, Mentha piperita, does not tolerate dry conditions as it is native to stream beds. Black peppermint has deep purple-green leaves and stems and a higher oil content while the white is actually light green and has a milder flavor. It is often used as a digestion aid.

 

 

 

Pineapple mintPineapple mint, Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’, has a lovely, light pineapple scent. As its Latin name suggests the pineapple mint has white-margined, bumpy, hairy, variegated leaves making it a visually interesting addition to any container. It is the variegated cultivar of apple mint, Mentha suaveolens. Sprigs of the unvariegated apple mint may occasionally appear among pineapple mint and should be pinched out. This is called reversion and happens when the less vigorous variegated specimens return to the original sturdier form, due to less chlorophyll being produced by the light sections of their leaves. Grow in full sun for upright plants or partial shade for a sprawling cover. Image by the U of Florida.

 

mint 'Apple'

 

Apple mint, Mentha suaveolens, has woolly, square stems and leaves that are a bit hairy on top and woolly below. It has a very faint, apple-like taste if the leaves are crushed so it is a subtle addition to fruit salads or in drinks.

 

 

 

 

Mint 'Orange' 2

 

 

Orange mint, Mentha x piperita citrata, can reach up to 2 feet in height. It will bloom in the late-spring into summer with lovely small violet flowers.

 

 

 

Some other varieties of mint that I saw recently included a strawberry mint (below, left) that has a fresh strawberry flavor and mint ‘Mojito’ (below, right), with a touch of citrus.

Mint leaves make a delicious addition to beverages such as lemonade, seltzer, or even iced water. Mint ‘tea’ is not a true tea, which must be made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, but in fact a tisane, an infusion made by steeping leaves in hot water. Whether the leaves are fresh or dried, a mint tisane makes a refreshing hot or iced beverage.

When used in culinary dishes, mint can liven up any recipe. As it is native to the Mediterranean it is a common ingredient in many cultures. Greek cuisine uses mint in many dishes. Tzatziki is a sauce made from Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, chopped mint and salt.

taztziki-1.jpg

Its Indian cousin, raita, uses the same ingredients except for the garlic to create a cool sauce to offset the heat of Indian curries. Another Greek dish, tabbouleh, is a great summertime favorite with our family. Usually made with bulgur wheat, I use quinoa as the base grain, and then toss this cold salad with chopped plum tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and fresh mint. Olive oil, lemon juice, and salt finish off this refreshing cold salad.

 

peas_4_3021757467I have also used fresh mint leaves in homemade strawberry jam, adding the clean, chopped leaves just before ladling the mixture into sterilized jars and putting them into a hot water bath for 10 minutes. A very British spring dish is fresh peas with mint where a sliced scallion is sautéed in butter, then fresh, shelled peas are added along with a pinch of salt, and just enough water to barely cover them. After 2 minutes on a high heat add a small handful of torn mint leaves and cook until the peas are tender. Fresh sugar snap peas can be used in place of the shelled peas.

Some benefits to growing mint are that deer rarely eat it and as an essential oil it can be used to control mites and mosquito larvae or as a repellent to rabbits, dogs, and cats. Even more beneficial is how well it pairs with chocolate! Its no surprise that mint is a symbol of warm feelings, virtue, and eternal refreshment.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton unless otherwise noted.

Every year at the UConn Home & Garden Education there are a few topic of interest that we get a lot of calls about. Several years ago we fielded a lot of calls about the drought situation in Connecticut that occupied many people’s thoughts in 2016. In fact, that encompassed two years as we started to feel the effects of it in 2015. On the tail end of the drought, and perhaps in part because of it, many parts of the state were visited with an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. When we have a wet spring the fungus Entomophaga maimaiga, a natural control of the gypsy moth caterpillar, can flourish. The fungus overwinters as spores in leaf litter and in the soil. It then reactivates in the spring when there is sufficient rainfall. Although we were receiving an adequate amount of rain by 2017 it happened to occur a bit late for the fungus to be fully effective against the voraciously feeding caterpillars. So the summers of 2016 and 2017 were dedicated to answering many questions about the gypsy moth caterpillars and the damage that they wreaked.

As those two events have wound down a new concern arose for many of our clients. Thanks in part to press releases and an interview that aired on NBC CT in June the giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, (below images) jumped to the front of the queue. The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) issued a warning about this invasive species which was first spotted in Connecticut in 2001. Most of the populations of giant hogweed are under control and none of the reported sightings in 2018 were positive.

There are many look-a-like plants and it is those species that we are asked to identify. Starting in early-June calls and emails began to come in to identify large herbaceous perennials that were striking fear into Connecticut residents. This is in part due to the pretty noxious nature of the giant hogweed sap. Within 24-48 hours after skin has been in contact with the sap painful blisters may appear in individuals that are sensitive to it. Three things need to be present for the reaction known as phytophotodermatitis to occur. First, direct contact between the skin and the sap. Second, the skin must be moist as from perspiration, for example. Third, the contaminated area must be exposed to sunlight. If you are working in an area that contains giant hogweed it is easy to imagine that all of the criteria could be easily met.

Before attempting to remove giant hogweed from an area the first step should be positively identifying it. As I mentioned earlier, there have not been any confirmed sightings in Connecticut yet this year. It may be that the suspected plant is one of the following instead.

The first plant that is most commonly mistaken for giant hogweed is fellow member of the Heracleum genus: cow parsnip, Heracleum maximum, (images below). Unlike giant hogweed which was introduced to the United States 100 years ago from the Caucasus region of Central Asia, cow parsnip is native to North America. A tall herbaceous perennial that can reach up to 10 feet in the shade, nowhere near the 18 feet possible height of the giant hogweed, cow parsnip bears its flowers in in the flat-topped or rounded umbels that are characteristic of other members of the carrot family, Apiacea. Both species have compound deeply-lobed, toothed leaves but the cow parsnip lacks the red veining and leaf stalks common to giant hogweed. Cow parsnip also contains chemicals that cause phytophotodermatitis.

The next most common look-a-like is angelica, (below images). A first cousin once-removed, it shares its family, Apiaceae, with the giant hogweed and cow parsnip but is in the genus Angelica. Angelica grows 3-9 feet tall and also has large umbel flower heads. The compound leaves of angelica are what distinguish it from giant hogweed as they are bipinnate, meaning that they are compound leaves in which the leaflets are also compound (think honey locust leaves). Often used as a medicinal herb, angelica is the least toxic of the hogweed look-a-likes although it may still cause a skin reaction.

Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carota, (below images) takes compound leaves one step further to tripinnate, having pinnately compound leaves that are bipinnate. The more levels of pinnation, the more delicate the overall effect. The airy-looking leaves of D. carota are what give it the ‘lace’ part of its name and are similar to its subspecies, the domestic carrot. Queen Anne’s lace has an umbellate flower head atop a much slimmer stem than giant hogweed, cow parsnip, or angelica. The sap from the leaves and stems can cause a phytophotodermatitis reaction although the flowers are used to make jelly similar to the yarrow jelly from our June 26th blog post.

The native Lactuca species includes wild lettuce (Lactuca Canadensis),

prickly lettuce (L. serriola), hairy lettuce (L. hirsute), and the blue lettuces (l. biennis, L. floridana, L. pulchella, L. villosa).

These tall plants start out from a basal rosette of leaves and can grow to 7 feet tall with large alternating broad leaves.  They have pale blue insignificant flowers compared to the dense clustered heads of the previous plants.

Finally, giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, has also made a plant identification appearance.  This 6-foot tall annual herb is a noxious weed that has become invasive in other parts of the world as it out competes native species in much the same way that the giant hogweed has here.

As plants and seeds have spread across the globe through human, animal, mechanical, or water means many species have landed in non-native locations and taken root there. If you are a fan of podcasts, check out the Infinite Monkey Cage’s Invasion episode where scientists and comedians take a look at the problems caused by alien (plant) invasions.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

All images by CIPWG and UConn

 

 

When I first started gardening in earnest, years ago, it was so delightful to have plants take to their new quarters and spread with abandon. Money was tight and moving successively into three homes with minimal landscaping left a lot of garden and foundation planting space to fill. Plants were donated by friends, purchased at garden club plant sales, at end of season sales at garden centers and started from seed.

The first gardens at my present location were started 29 years ago. Just as I have grown older, and I hate to say it but broader, so have my gardens. That 6-inch Gentsch white hemlock in the White Garden is now close to 15 feet; same with the Rose of Sharon seedling from my sister’s garden. Annemarie’s one red-leaved canna now forms a perimeter around the porch and Flora’s Tatarian aster is now duking it out with the hibiscus. What’s a gardener to do?

Gentsch white hemlock

Gentsch white hemlock. Photo by dmp, UConn

There are two ways to look at this situation and each probably has equal merit. Let the plants have their ways and the fittest will survive. If anything, larger or more robust plants will crowd out underperformers and surely form a dense enough patch to keep most weeds at bay.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for “A place for everything, everything in its place”, Ben Franklin (1706-1790). Depending on the plants and the particular situation, some have to go, others be reduced in volume, and some can just be appreciated for their expansive nature.

It is good to be tolerant of many things but even tolerance has its limits when a particular plants tries to usurp land from its neighbors. These overachievers need to be monitored and banned from certain garden situations, including a few in my yard.

There are several plants in particular that I’ve been waging war on over the years. The first is a magenta spiderwort (Tradescantia). There are two very well behaved spiderworts in my gardens, one white and one light purple. They are relatively upright clump formers. The purple one even reblooms. So at our garden club’s plant sale, I picked up a magenta one thinking it could be a companion to the evening primroses with their ruby tipped foliage and sunny yellow flowers. Then, the magenta spiderwort started popping up all over the place – in with the purple spiderwort, amongst the epimediums, and into the sedums. The stalks are a brighter green than the purple spiderwort so several times a year I have gone through this bed trying to weed out the magenta plants but it is almost impossible to get out the whole rootstock and I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole bed just needs to be dug up and replanted.

Spiderwort and hosta

Purple spiderwort with a magenta stem poking through the hosta. Photo by dmp, UConn.

Another plant I brought home from our plant sale a few years ago was a doronicum, commonly called Leopard’s Bane. I thought the early, bright, lemon yellow, daisy-like flowers would liven up my woodland garden. The person who brought it assured me that it did not spread that rapidly and it was easy to pluck out any unwanted divisions. I had even checked in a few books and on a couple of websites, and the ruling was this plant was non-invasive. I beg to disagree. While not positive, I believe it is D. caucasium, with its heart-shaped leaves, rhizomes and 18-inch tall flower stems. One single plant has now taken over at least 400 square feet and I never know until the next spring where more plants will pop up. Since there are established azaleas in this bed, I just keep weeding these out. Perhaps a different species or cultivar would give me cheery yellow spring color without taking over the neighborhood.

Doronicum

Leopard’s bane or doronicum spreading through the woodland garden. Photo by dmp, UConn.

An herbalist friend thought that a butterbur (Petasites) would be a striking plant next to the small pond in the corner of our property. The large, silvery-green rhubarb-sized leaves definitely are eye-catching. The unique early season flower stalks are curiously but delightfully covered with buds that look like button mushrooms. My friend said this plant was used to treat headaches but with its spreading tendencies, it is giving me one. Like all plants, it is expanding logarithmetically and I’ve been pulling up the new starts as they begin wandering off their allotted acreage.

Butterbur leaves

Butterbur leaves. Photo by dmp, UConn.

In the white garden, I designated a sizable piece of property, around 6 by 6 feet to a white snakeroot or bugbane (Cimicifuga). It has pest-free (as you might guess from the name), attractive, compound leaves and stems, and spires of bottlebrush, creamy white flowers that mature to creamy white, poisonous berries. This plant is native and attracts quite a few pollinators when in bloom even though the flowers are not the most pleasant smelling to us humans. Supposedly, a clump former, it too is migrating into the sweet Cicely and the goat’s-beard and has to be constantly kept in check.

white baneberry actea

White snakeroot with white berries. Photo by dmp, UConn.

Other plants I am constantly trying to contain include lily of the valley, a red-leaved, yellow flowering lysimachia and a white meadow anemone to mention a few. I guess I should be coming up with some garden renovation plans for next spring and also, more carefully researching future plant purchases.

Happy Gardening!

Dawn

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…

IMG_20170711_183708714_HDR

…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.

IMG_20170712_084312269_HDR

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.

2011-09-27_09-54-28_27

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