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

 

 

 

 

I have been finding leaves of some of my plants with holes in them and some shredded with only veins left. One surprising plant being eaten is the leaves of my rhubarb. I do notice the damage is being done during the night. This clue tells me the insect doing the chewing is a nocturnal one. A little scouting with a flash light in the dark reveals the Asiatic Garden Beetle( Maladera castanea) voraciously munching away! During the day they hide in the mulch and soil just below the plants. Carefully pull the mulch away and scrape small amounts of soil to reveal the beetles sleeping quarters during the daytime. I hand squish the ones I can find during the day or drop them into a jar of soapy water. I am finding about 20 per plant every few days. They must be flying in during the night from other areas. Other plants they seem to feed heavily on are basil and peppers. Tomatoes are not being damaged at all. The pink petals of my coneflowers are completely missing thanks to these beetles’ nocturnal foraging.

Asiatic Garden Beetles are reddish-brown beetles a little smaller than the Japanese beetles. I like to call them cinnamon colored so people don’t confuse them with the bright red lily leaf beetle. All beetles have complete metamorphosis, four very different stages of life. They start off as an egg, hatch into a white grub typically found in lawns, then pupate under ground, then change into the adult beetle.

Here in CT there is one generation per year. The adult beetles emerge from the soil  July through August. They feed on above ground plant parts, mate,  and the female lays eggs in  the soil. The eggs hatch into grubs during the next few weeks  and  feed on plant roots until the cold weather triggers them to move deeper into the soil. The grubs overwinter until the spring warms the soil at which time the grubs move up the begin feeding on the plant roots once again.  Around June the grubs will  pupate to become adult beetles rising out of the soil in July and cycle begins again.

Control measures are handpicking from the soil during the day or from the plants at night. Row covers of remay will exclude the beetles from landing on the plants but will need to be removed if your plants need to be pollinated to let in the bees.

The grub stage is easiest to kill by applying grub control to lawns. Merit (Imidacloprid) is a commonly used in grub killer formulations. If you kill these grubs, they will not grow up to be next year’s beetles.

To kill the adults presently eating the garden, chemical controls recommended are pyrethrin, rotenone or Sevin (Carbaryl).

photo by Peter Cristofono

-Carol