One of the joys of the return to warm weather is seeing the plethora of flowering plants that suddenly spring up. From early flowering shrubs such as forsythia and azalea to the daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and crocus it seems that we are suddenly inundated with color. I love to fill my window boxes and planters with the happy pansies and petunias that are able to withstand some of the cool temperatures that we can expect at this time of year.

 

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Pansies

 

These first selections of annuals are just the beginning of the possibilities that lay before us when it comes to choosing varieties for window boxes, planters and hanging baskets. Container plantings allow us select plants that may not be native to our location due to the severity of our winters, to try out new varieties and combinations, and to easily relocate colorful blooms from one spot to another in our yard.

It is not unusual for the window box planting to be delayed as we are compelled to allow nature to take its course. Female doves often set up their nests in our window boxes or empty hanging planters and what can you do other than wait it out?

 

Mourning dove

If you have containers that are family-free you can certainly get them ready for the season. Any planters that did not over-winter well, such as cracked or split pots, should be disposed of and replaced. Empty out any plant debris or soil that is left from last year and sanitize the containers with a 10% bleach solution. Rinse them thoroughly and allow to dry in the sun. I find that coco fiber coir liners do not last more than a season or two so this is a good time to assess and replace those also. Although this spring I have spotted sparrows and mourning doves pulling out the fibers for use in their nests so I may leave one or two liners where they can get to them.

 

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Vinca, evolvulus, lobularia

When selecting new containers keep their location in mind. Larger containers that contain a fig tree, a wisteria and a bi-color buddleia are placed on our ground level patio where it is easier to bring them into the garage for the winter. These plants don’t require much attention through the winter although I will water them every few weeks. Ok, I say that I water them but what I mean is I will dump the ice cubes from a depleted iced coffee into them as I walk by! They have started to show emerging greenery so I have pulled them into a shady area outside and will slowly bring them back into the full sun where they will spend the rest of the season.

 

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Bee visiting a bicolor buddleia

 

Hanging planters and railing planters can bring color and interest while not taking up valuable floor space on decks. Dining outside in the early evening is great when the hummingbirds and pollinators are so close by that we hold our breath lest we disturb them as they visit the flowers!

 

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Hummingbird moth on a petunia

Selecting the plants that will go into your containers is limited only by your personal preferences and by the sun requirements for the given plant. Containers give us an opportunity to bring some non-native plants into our yard, especially those that are not suited to our winters. I find mandevilla to be a lovely container plant. As a tropical species it loves the full sun location of our front porch, produces striking blossoms all summer long, and will overwinter in the house.

 

These plants are about as large as I will choose but there are so many options for really large planters. I love seeing what the landscapers on the UConn campus come up with each season. Coleus, Vinca, sweet potato vine, geranium and petunias will profusely fill out many containers.

Of course, most of us don’t have a team of landscapers at our beck and call so once you have made your container and plant selections the next step is maintenance. The sun and wind will dry out most container plantings more quickly than if the same plants were in the ground, especially when in porous containers such as clay pots. Plastic vessels will retain water a bit better but its best to check all pots on a daily basis.

It’s no longer recommended that rocks or stones be placed in the bottom of containers for drainage. This procedure actually prevents excess water from draining from the soil layer and may keep the roots too wet. A piece of screen or a coffee filter placed in the bottom of the planter is sufficient to prevent soil from washing out.

Copy of IMG_20160608_081451273

Removing spent blooms and pinching back leggy plants will encourage plants to produce more flowers. Also, their fertilizer needs are different from the same plant in the landscape. Using a teaspoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water will help prevent the buildup of excess salt that can afflict container plantings (you know when you see that white crust forming on the surface of the soil or on the rims of clay pots). If it does appear just flush water through the soil until it drains out the bottom.

Container grown plants don’t have to be limited to flowering annuals. Using them for vegetables and herbs is a great option. A planter of herbs near the kitchen door provides really fresh additions to our meals and beverages in the form of rosemary, thyme and mint. It’s also a great way to contain mint which can easily take over a garden bed.

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Another edible planting from last year included mint in a container which had eggplant and the non-edible tourenia. The purple flowers and the deep aubergine of the mature eggplant complimented the stems and leaves of the mint and the purple of the tourenia.

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I have also grown the typical patio tomato plants and the not-so-typical potato plants in containers. It’s a great way to easily harvest the potatoes as you just dump the whole container out onto a tarp and ‘pick’ the potatoes. Controlling the insects and diseases that plague these plants is aided by the fact that you start out with a sanitized container and fresh soil each year. So, as you can see, there is no reason to contain yourself when it comes to container gardening.

Susan Pelton

heliotrope Harkness II

Monarch butterfly on Heliotrope

With a noticeable decline in imported honey bee and native pollinator populations, there is an interest in gardening to support these insects. While native plants are a better choice for native pollinators, any good source of nectar and pollen will help attract pollinators. The benefit of using native plants is their durability in the New England landscape.

When choosing plants for pollinators, consider the species that are visiting your property already and choose plants for their seasonal or year- long activities. Observe those pollinators that are in your area but maybe not visiting your property, and then choose plants that may attract them during their foraging seasons.

One of our early native pollinators is the Colletes inaequalis, also called the polyester bee. These handsome, small, ground- nesting bees can be active as early as March and prefer large sunny areas that have sandy soils. They are important pollinators of early blooming native plants. Females forage for both pollen and nectar which they put in a neat little “plastic” bag deep in a tunnel that they make in spring.  The egg is laid in the bag aid above the semi-liquid mix, and the larva will feed on that until pupating. Next spring the new adults will emerge

plasterer bee spring 2011

Native Colletes inaequalis ground-nesting bee, an early spring pollinator

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There are many species of bumblebees here in Connecticut. Native bumblebees hibernate every year only as queens and every year they must establish a new colony, which will work to support the new queens born that year. Because of the long foraging period of bumblebees- early spring through early fall- provide season –long nectar and pollen sources in the garden or landscape. In the wild, bumblebees visit early blooming maples, dandelions and blueberry. Later on they visit Joe-pye weed, goldenrods, boneset, asters and other late-season native bloomers. They are of a more hardy lot that many other bees, so they are found out and about on chilly, windy days, even during periods of rain. Bumblebees “cheat” when obtaining nectar from some flowers, such as salvia. Short-tongued bees will cut a hole at the base of the flower to obtain nectar on long tubular flowers.

blue beard flower and bee II

Bumblebee Bombus ssp. on Caryopteris, or bluebeard

Sphinx moths are also native pollinators and are considered the most efficient of moth pollinators. While some fly during the day, many fly at dusk and during the night. These hawkmoths pollinate many plants with their exceptionally long proboscis including catalpa and horse chestnut. If you know these pollinators are in your area, plant corresponding larval host plants for the caterpillars. Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are both a good nectar source for the moth and a host plant for two clearwing moth caterpillars.

catalpa flower 6-30-15

Catalpa flower nectar guides turn from yellow to orange to signify when nectar is the best and steer pollinators to other unpollinated flowers that offer better nectar. Sphinx moths are pollinators of catalpa.  

There are many beetles as well as flies that pollinate flowers. While beetles may chew on flower parts as well as pollen, they still pollinate many flowers, especially goldenrods, pawpaw and daisies. Flies are attracted to flowers that smell like carrion- pawpaw, skunk cabbage and trillium among others. Little flower flies- syrphids- visit many native wildflowers. They are often confused with wasps because of their body shape and coloring.

long horned flower beetle on steeplebush flower July 19, 2009

Long-horned flower beetle on steeplebush

skunk cabbage flower and bee late April 2013

Normally pollinated by flies, this skunk cabbage flower is visited by a honey bee

Crabapples are a good source on both nectar and pollen for many pollinators, including beetles, flies and butterflies. Migrating spring butterflies can be found nectaring on crabapple blossoms, and ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive in time to nectar on the blossoms. Willows are early spring bloomers that attract a variety of pollinators- flies, beetles, bees and others and are host plants for several butterflies including the Mourning cloak and Viceroy.

An excellent draw for pollinators are native cherries- black, pin and choke species. Not only bees are found on the flowers. Butterflies are strongly attracted to native cherry blossoms, and several, such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail will Lay eggs on the leaves of smaller cherry trees.

tiger swallowtail on Joe- Pye 8-3-11

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on spotted Joe-pye weed

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Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar on black cherry, a plant that also serves as a nectar source for the butterfly in the spring. 

 

One of the best plants to attract bees is the Giant Blue Hyssop Agastache foeniculum. This long- season bloomer attracts native and non- native bees and has an attractive aroma as a bonus. Include long-season bloomers like alyssum, coneflowers (Echinacea), Lantana, Cosmos, Heliotrope, Buddleia and clovers. Late summer flowers such as goldenrods, Joe-pye, boneset, Stonecrop sedum, Queen Anne’s lace, Caryopteris, Salvia , and petunias will provide food for migrating butterflies bumblebee queens, and many other insects. Allium flowers are a wonderful attractant for all types of pollinators. And don’t forget milkweeds. Whether native or non-native, a good nectar source will not go unnoticed. Double-flowered varieties are usually bred for the flower at the expense of pollen and nectar, so avoid these plants in a pollinator garden.

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Stonecrop ” Autumn Joy” sedums are excellent for attracting pollinators of all kinds

The following link is an excellent source of plants suitable for Connecticut’s native pollinator.

http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/publications/fact_sheets/entomology/planting_flowers_for_bees_in_connecticut.pdf

Happy gardening! And may pollinators increase in both their populations and their good works in the wild and in the residential landscape.

Pamm Cooper                                            All photos copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

 

Last week’s blog entry by Dawn Pettinelli was devoted to National Pollinators Week, stressing the importance of pollinators and their ecosystems. Between the vegetable garden, the flower beds, and the hanging baskets there is no lack of bright, beautiful flowers in our yard that have bees, butterflies, and other insects flying among them.

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I recently walked past a male Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, in my yard. As it doesn’t have very showy flowers or unusual foliage it has been relegated to an inconspicuous location on the side of the house where it is still in proximity of the female winterberry. However, as I strolled past it en route to the window boxes at the front of the house, something caught my attention.

The small white flower petals were dropping in such large numbers that it looked like snow falling to the ground. Looking at the bush I saw that there was a flurry of activity going on among the leaves and  blossoms. The number of bees and other insects visiting the tiny flowers was awesome.

Bumblebee on the Male WinterberryHoneybee on the Male Winterberry

The drupes of the female Winterberry are an important food source for birds and can persist on the branches long into winter. It is a deciduous plant and therefore it is even more striking to see the bright red berries against a fresh snowfall.

Female Winterberry Drupes

I then started to look at some of the other plants in our yard that had been selected more for their utility or  foliage than for their blossoms. There are three different varieties of Heuchera that I chose for their foliage which ranges from lime yellow to beautiful sunset colors to dark, almost purple leaves. I almost forget that they will produce the delicate stalks and tiny bell-shaped flowers that give it its common name of Coral bells. The main axis of Heuchera have an indeterminate growth that is known as thyrse. The native Americans used some species of Heuchera medicinally as an anti-inflammatory or a pain killer.

HeucheraHeuchers FlowerHeuchera Flower Close-upHeuchera 2

The dwarf Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, is also in bloom right now with the most delicate white flowers. The 4-petaled, ¼”  tiny flowers have an almost extra-terrestrial look to them. This plant will also produce small red drupes that will be eaten and dispersed by the birds. Raccoon and skunks will also consume the berries and deer will eat the foliage and twigs. The Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves of this plant which the Europeans mistakenly believed could cause vomiting thereby erroneously giving it its Latin name.

Yaupon Holly Flower

Joe-pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum, has great striking deep reddish-purple stems that lead to red-veined leaves but I love when its tiny flowers make their appearance late in the season. A Native American healer whose name was Jopi used these plants to treat ailments and cure fevers and they became known as Joe-Pye Weed.

Joe-Pye Weed

And one last example of a native shrub that has flowers that are often overlooked is the American willow, Salix discolor, more commonly known as the pusssy willow. We, like so many others, cut stems loaded with catkins to bring indoors in the early spring. Our plant is a male and the small furry catkins develop into fluffy yellow bunches of minute flowers. As with so many other plants that are indigenous to New England the pussy willow was also used by the native Americans as a painkiller

Pussy Willow Catkins         Male Pussy Willow Flowers


There are so many native shrubs that bring diversity to our environments whether by adding beautiful colors to our landscapes in all of the seasons or by providing the pollen and nectar that is so necessary to the bees and other pollinators. Visit the Alternatives for Invasive Ornamental Plant Species site from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group for a list of some great native plants.

Susan Pelton

(all images by Susan Pelton)

In case you have not heard, Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org), a nonprofit “dedicated exclusively to the protection and promotion of pollinators and their ecosystems” has a signature initiative, National Pollinator Week, which was started in 2007. Their mission is to promote the health of pollinators through conservation, education and research. The Pollinator Partnership is also proud to announce that June 15-21, 2015 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

First, think about who our pollinators are – European honey bees, native bees, butterflies, birds, bats, beetles, moths and other animals. There are more than 200,000 species of animals that can pollinate plants. All of these animals transfer pollen from one flower to another in their quest for nectar and pollen. More than 1000 crops depend on these animals for pollination in order to produce the food, spices, beverages, medicines and fiber we rely on. We have not only seen a drastic decline in managed honeybees over the past decade or so but also a reduction in native pollinators as lands supporting native plants are turned into agricultural monocultures, industrial zones, parking lots, residences with large lawn areas and little plant diversity and other uses that do not encourage the growth of native plants. The decline of both managed and native pollinators has also been linked to pesticide use.

Bumble bee on marigold by dmp

Bumble bee on marigold by dmp

 Gardeners and other concerned citizens can help reverse this trend. A number of conservation and gardening organizations got together and formed the National Pollinator Garden Network which has just launched a new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

poll challenge

The organizations behind this campaign are hoping for one million pollinator gardens by the end of 2016. Becoming a supporter of this campaign requires two steps. Planting a pollinator garden and registering it. Do note that there are no size requirements for your pollinator garden. They can range from a single window box to a farm to a whole college campus.

Step one does require a little thought and planning. To start with, what kinds of plants should be grown in a pollinator garden? Ideally, there should be native plants to support native pollinators because these plants and animals evolved over time and often have specific roles to fulfill. The plants in the garden should not only support adult pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths but, in the case of butterflies and moths, their larval or caterpillar stage as well. This may require a little research but there are plenty of good websites and books out there. The problem with some non-native plants is that they may not produce enough nectar or pollen to support a native pollinator species or, in the case of larvae, may be unpalatable. The Xerces Society has a pollinator plant list that one can begin with:  http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NortheastPlantList_web.pdf

Butterfly on rudbeckia by dmp

Butterfly on rudbeckia by dmp

This does bring into question ‘nativars’. For those not familiar with this term, it refers to a cultivated variety of a native species. So if, for instance, if a New England aster has a particularly nice color or growth form or resistance to an insect or disease, it might be vegetatively propagated and sold, and would then be known as a nativar. But is it’s pollen as nutritious to our native bee species as the original native plant’s? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no and sometimes no one knows. So much about these interactions are yet unknown so it would be great if more research would be done in this area.

My hope is that providing enough variety in my garden will balance out the effects of planting some non-natives and some nativars. The diversity card seems to be working as I have all sorts of native bees, flies, butterflies and even ruby-throated hummingbirds and bats (although I wish the bats would stay out of the house!).

If you are planning on taking up this challenge, then choose plants that provide nectar, pollen and food for moth and butterfly larvae. So don’t plant those pollen-less sunflowers because, although they are neater as cut flowers, they are useless to pollinators, not to mention goldfinches. Single or semi-double flowers are more attractive to pollinators than doubles because they produce more pollen.

Male green bottle fly on chocolate daisy by dmp

Male green bottle fly on chocolate daisy by dmp

Try for continuous bloom from early spring (crocus) through late fall (single, hardy mums). Even though these two plants are not native, they are mobbed by pollinators at the beginning and end of each gardening season in my gardens.

Site your container planting or garden in full sun and if located in an exposed windy site, try and shelter it from persistent winds by locating it next to a building, large shrub or other windbreak. Pollinators need water so set out a bird bath, puddle rock or even a more elaborate fountain or pond so they can access it.

Most importantly, keep an eye on your plants and notice if bees and other pollinators are visiting them. If so, register your site. If not, switch out some of the plants for more native ones and see what happens.

If you are interested in learning about pollinators and more, UConn Extension will be hosting Bug Week from July 20-25, 2015. There will be events, interactive activities, and programs that you can do on your own. Browse our site, and if you have questions email us at bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.

Bees congregating on dahlia towards nightfall by dmp

Bees congregating on dahlia towards nightfall by dmp

Whoever came up with that adage, “The only good bug is a dead bug” most certainly did not understand man’s reliance on insects. Get to know them! Appreciate them – or give up coffee and chocolate, for without pollinating insects we would most certainly not get to experience these two treats.

Good gardening!

Dawn

Bee collecting pollen

Bee with pollen sacks full on legs. photo by etsu.edu

Bees are extremely important and responsibly for 75% of the foods we eat every day. There are more than 4,000 species of bees in North America, and about 350 in the Northeast. They include honey bees, bumble bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, orchard bees, and the list goes on! Some are programmed to visit only a certain species of plants while others are cosmopolitan feeders, going to a wide variety of flowers to seek out nectar and pollen. They all pollinate flowers that then produce a fruit or vegetable. Leaf crops are the exception, but it could be said that without pollination, fruiting and the resulting seed production, there would not be seed for future leaf crops. So we need bees, all kinds of bees, not just honey bees. Other insects, animals and even some birds also pollinate certain crops. Hummingbirds come to mind for one.

Bees of the Eastern U.S., by osu.edu, Alex Surcica,

Bees of the Eastern U.S., by osu.edu, Alex Surcica,

How do we keep our bee pollinators happy and alive to do the job? I have listed the highlights of ways we humans can assist this important tasks on which we depend.

white willow in bloom, hort.uconn.edu

white willow in bloom, hort.uconn.edu

Food for bees. Plant flowers. Trees and shrubs are important flowering plants in addition to the perennials, annuals and vegetables that we normally think of when taking bees into consideration. Trees and shrubs typically flower very early in the spring, some in late winter, providing nectar sources for the very early bees that emerge from their winter hiding places and nests. Willows and witchhazels are bloomers bees count on. Think continued blooming to feed from early season until will into the fall. Also plant en masse. Bees flying overhead are more likely to find larger groupings of plants in flower than just one or two plants spaced apart.

Types of plants that provide a heavy nectar source are best. Single flowered plants produce more nectar and pollen than plants bred for double flowers. An example is cosmos; the original single petal variety is better for bees than the flower with a double row of petals. Same goes for double petunias. Think single flowers. Plants in the mint and aster families are huge nectar producers beloved by bees. Asters and golden rod bloom late when there is not much else out. It goes without saying that native plants will be a benefit to native bees, aligned to bloom and provide sustenance at just the right time it is needed most.

The Xerces Society has a great native plant list for the northeast at the link below.

http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NortheastPlantList_web.pdf

Bee drinking, ucanr.edu

Bee drinking, ucanr.edu, Kathy Keatley Garvey photo

Water for bees. All life needs water. Bees do not swim, nor can they ‘stand’ on water. Bird baths are great, just keep them shallow and place a rock with the top exposed into the center of the water. This gives the bees a place to drink from without drowning. In the wild, bee drink from damp edges of streams and ponds, and wet soil. Place shallow plates of water among your plants.

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=1450

Bee housing, uvm.edu

Bee housing, uvm.edu

Bee keeper and hive, tufts.edu

Housing for bees. Honey bees can live in hives, managed by humans, but they don’t need our help. In nature, they will find a protected hole in a tree, a cavity or wall void in which to live. There are many other bee species that are not honey bees. Two thirds of these bees live in than soil. Some solitary, others in communities. Beware of soil tillage. Digging up the ground can and will disturb bee nests. Observe an area before disturbing the soil. If bees are present, if you see them entering the ground, coming and going, you have an active bee pollinator area. Bees like to live in a sunny area where the soil is warmer, and especially on the edge of woods. Dead trees and broken branches, piles of brush and undisturbed grassy areas provide protection and cover for many bee living quarters. Some bees make their homes in hollow stems of plants, others will hollow out dead twigs. As gardeners, we usually clean up these areas, but leave some as bee habitat.

Ground dwelling bee, entomology.osu.edu

Ground dwelling bee, entomology.osu.edu

Don’t use pesticides. To protect the bees, never spray any insecticide or fungicide when flowers are open and bees are present. Bees are active during daylight hours, so for growers and others that must spray as a last resort for certain pests and crops, it should be applied during the dark of morning, i.e. 4 a.m. to avoid hitting the bees and so that the pesticide dries before the bees become active. Systemic insecticides, ones that are applied to the soil then taken up by the plant, will move to all parts of the plant, including the pollen, nectar and even gutation water formed as tiny droplets expressed on leaf edges. Bees will take in the pesticide through these sources, and while it may not be enough to kill them outright, the toxins will weaken the bees and build up in the colony.

-Carol Quish