To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
 One clover, and a bee, And revery.
 The revery alone will do, If bees are few      – Emily Dickinson
bee on gold sedum late June - Copy

Tiny native bee on gold sedum

When I first moved in to my present residence, there were neglected flower gardens and poorly maintained landscapes that did not seem to attract nor support many insects or even birds. The expression “out goes the old and in comes the new” is an appropriate aphorism for what needed to be done. The not so modest enterprise my sister and I undertook was to establish a more useful environment for pollinators, butterflies and birds. The emphasis would be mostly on pollinators, as the birds already there seemed happy enough. As butterflies often share the same flowers with bees we assumed we would attract them as well.

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Out with the old…

We were able to rip out most of the plants, whether shrubs or perennials, that were really not important food sources for most pollinators, and we concentrated the first year on putting a majority of native plants like elderberry, currant, Joe-pye weed, boneset, blue curls, bloodroot, May-apple, trillium, blueberry, winterberry, Asclepias, Aronia (chokeberry), mountain mint, goldenrod and turtlehead. We also included non-native perennials that bees love like blue giant hyssop, Caryopteris (bluebeard) obedient plant, Veronicas, and yarrow.

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…in with the new

The first year we saw quite a few species of bees, especially sweat bees and all kinds of bumblebees. We also had the handsome Colletes inaequalis bees, who visited the early spring flowers like dandelions, henbit, willow and maple. They actually built their solitary ground nests in the neighbor’s sandy soils, but stopped by our nearby flowers. We also had honeybees, from who-knows where. Since bees active in the fall were already there, a couple of native witch hazels were also added.

Bluebeard caryopteris

Bluebeard, or Caryopteris, attracts all kinds of bees

native bee on blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum

Native bee on blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum

 

frittlary and bumblebee on white swamp milkweed

Fritillary and bumblebee on swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata

The second year we put in some annuals that flower from early summer through fall. Lantana, cosmos, Euphorbia (‘Diamond Dust’ and ‘Diamond Frost’ are really good cultivars), petunias, sweet alyssum, salvias (pink and black and blue varieties that really attract lots of bee species as well as hummingbirds) and zinnias. Non-native perennials yarrow, coreopsis and Echinacea were also added. Perennials are even better the second year, and many more species of bees were seen throughout the second season.

Bombus hortorum on milkw3eeedpg

Bombus ssp. on common milkweed

It is often difficult to tell native bee species apart. For instance, the tiny Halictidae family sweat bees that are metallic green can be hard to sort out. A good reference book for identifying bees and learning about the flowers they like and nesting sites they need is “ The Bees in Your Backyard” by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril. There are good photographs of the bees, and also maps showing where they can be found in North America. Good anecdotes are also a feature of this book. Douglas W. Tellamy wrote “Bringing Nature Home’, a must-read for anyone concerned about supporting wildlife through thoughtful native plant selection.

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excellent resource books

Here is a link to the University of Maine’s bulletin on “ Understanding Native Bees, the Great pollinators; Enhancing Their Habitat in Maine ” https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/7153e/. This is suitable information for those of us who live in Connecticut, as the same native bees are found here as well.

echinacea

bumblebees and American lady butterfly on purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Many bees are important keystone species who have an essential role in maintaining diversity in ecosystems. This is because they pollinate the flowers they will later bear fruits that will support other fauna in the system. And whatever is not eaten will fall to the ground, where the seed will produce more plants, allowing a landscape that is sustainable(as long as there is no human interference to its natural continuation). If you can provide nesting and food sources for bees that are nearby your property, that will help the birds and other fauna that share the same territory.

fabulous garden- summer phlox, rudbeckia, daisies

Fabulous pollinator plant combination- summer phlox, daisies, Rudbeckia

It has been four years since the renovations in my own gardens, lawn and landscapes. Perennials are now well established, native cherries have been planted to support both bees and other creatures, and a few more plants are popped in as we see what bees we have and what flowers they may also like. There are pollen and nectar sources from spring to fall, so many bee species that are active at different times of year will find what they need. This last summer, there were many species of bees that seemed to be new- at least we had never seen them. We had leaf-cutter and mason bees, all sorts of bumblebees and sweat bees, Hylaeus masked bees, and others.

sweat bee on aster

Halictidae sweat bee on aster

If you are looking to add some plants to your own landscape, consider choosing something that will be enjoyable for you and then useful the native bees. Sort of a dual purpose, double-for-your-trouble investment. Itea virginica, ‘Henry’s garnet’, is a beautiful sweetspire shrub with cascading white flower spikes that are very attractive to all kinds of bees and butterflies. Tree hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, are a great late summer pollen and nectar source for native bees, and Rose- of Sharon is another. They are beautiful to look at and serve a good purpose for our little native heroes of the natural world.

Pamm Cooper

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester 2017

Hydrangea paniculata -tree hydrangea

 

            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.

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          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