After finally getting the vegetable and herb gardens planted and mulched and all the container plants in their proper homes, it’s time to turn my attention to the flower and ornamental beds. Annuals were added to some garden beds as I do so appreciate their cheery, season long color.

herb garden 6-20

Herb garden all weeded, planted and mulched. Photo by dmp, 2020

In the cellar door bed, 3 ‘Sunfinity’ sunflowers were planted. These are new, dwarf hybrids reaching only 3 to 4 feet tall and producing several stems, each with multiple flowers reputedly over the whole summer. We shall see. No deadheading required was on the label but I find that they look much better with the spent blossoms removed as the flowers are several inches across and the ones gone by are pretty noticeable. Their only downside so far is that they are pollenless but to make up for that I have them surrounded by sweet alyssum, a pollinator favorite, and have several rows of pollen bearing sunflowers started from seed in the vegetable garden.

sunfinity

Sunfinity, dwarf sunflower. Photo by dmp, 2020

Salmon colored salvias in one of the front beds harmonize nicely with the orange, blue and white blossoms in the window boxes above it. All was well for the first few days after setting out the transplants and then holes began to appear in the leaves. The culprit – slugs! Since it has been so dry, one wouldn’t think there would be much of a problem with them but all of the newly planted beds have been receiving copious amounts of water so the new plants could become established.

slug damage on salvia

Slug damage on salvia. Photo by dmp, 2020

The reason slug damage was suspected was two-fold. The holes on the leaves were irregularly shaped, typical of slug damage plus a slight slime trail was noticed in the morning. These soft-bodied, shell-less mollusks tend to feed at night and rest in a shaded, moist site during sunny days. One reason they always seem so plentiful is that they are not picky about what they eat. Meals may consist of your more tender plants as well as fungi, lichens, worms, animal droppings, insects and carrion. Often, they consume many times their own weight on a daily basis. Imagine our grocery bills if we needed to eat that much?

slug

Slug. Photo by dmp, 2020

Slugs produce slime to help them move and for moisture control among other reasons. To tell if your plants are being feasted on by these voracious critters, look for dried slime trails on leaves or on the ground around affected plants in the morning. Since I typically find slugs mostly in beds that are presently being regularly watered, I just use some diatomaceous earth on the mulch around plant groups and try not to get water on the DE as that lessens its effectiveness. As plants become established and watering is less often, slugs are not a serious problem for me except during rainy summers.

Next on to the holly hedge. Probably close to 25 years ago, I planted a 20-foot hedge of ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ hollies. It has grown mightily and even with regular pruning it is about 6-foot high and wide and a handsome barrier between ours and the neighbor’s house. There were many distractions last year and I really did not start noticing something was wrong with the hedge until a large bare patch appeared over the winter.

scale damage to holly

Scale damage to holly. Photo by dmp, 2020

Finally having a bit of time to investigate further, it appears sadly that my plants are infected with cottony camellia scale. These insects feed on a number of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. As adults, scale insects are immobile but the females lay egg masses and after hatching, the young scales, known as crawlers, move to other locations on the plant and then proceed to cover themselves with their protective armor. This makes them challenging to control as adults. Crawlers typically hatch in June but are small and not easily seen. I used a hose end sprayer to apply a horticultural oil this past weekend and will probably do this several more times over the summer. With scale, persistence is key.

scale on holly

Cottony camellia scale on holly. Photo by dmp, 2020

While I love roses, I only have a handful growing in my gardens now including some old fashioned, own-root roses, a rambler, 2 miniatures and 2 hybrid teas. My favorite hybrid tea is ‘Peace’ as not only is it a gorgeous pale yellow flushed with pink rose with quite the history, but it also was my grandmother’s favorite and it was time spent with her that gave me my love of gardening.

Peace

‘Peace’ rose. Photo by dmp, 2019.

Leaves on several of the roses were skeletonized and checking underneath the leaves was lurking the rose sawfly larvae, more commonly called rose slugs because they secrete a slimy substance over their bodies that makes them somewhat resemble small slugs. The larvae of rose sawflies are about ½ to ¾ inch long and yellowish-green in color.

rose slug 2

Rose slug on underside of leaves. Photo by dmp,2020

The rose sawfly emerge from soil after overwintering as larvae in early spring. They mate and eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves. After hatching, the larvae feed for a month or so and then drop to the ground to pupate. Luckily the species that is attacking my roses only has one generation per year. Since I only have a few plants, I just inspect the undersides of the leaves and crush the larvae with my fingers. If large populations were noticed, I could enlist the help of some insecticidal soap or neem oil.

rose slug damage on Peace

Rose slug damage on ‘Peace’ rose. Photo by dmp,2020

I’m sure there will be many more insects to battle this gardening season, but I’ll start with these.

 

May your gardens be relatively pest free.

 

Dawn P.

‘An herb whose flowers are like to a Lions mouth when he gapeth.’
Copious Dictionary in three parts by Francis Gouldman

After the 5th mildest February in Connecticut on record for the past 113 years it felt as if we were going to just saunter into spring this year. Walking around the yard on the first day of March I saw the usual signs of late winter including the new buds of Hellebore peeping through last year’s old foliage and even a brave little slug that had emerged from the soil.

But the next day March came in like a lion with winds gusting to 74 mph at the Ledge Lighthouse in Groton courtesy of a Nor’easter that also brought snow and drenching rains, days later we had 12-18” of heavy, wet snow across the state and today, another 6-10”. Fortunately, hellebore is able to withstand a little bad weather.

Helleborus is known as winter rose, Christmas rose, and, most familiarly to me because of when it blooms, Lenten rose. Its scientific name was given by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 and comes from the Greek ‘helléboros’ which breaks down into heleîn ‘to injure’ and borά ‘food’ due to the toxic nature of all parts of the plant. Two kinds of hellebore were known before 400 BCE:  the white hellebore of the Family Melanthiaceae was believed to have been used as a laxative by Hippocrates and the black hellebore, melanorrhizon (black-rooted), a member of the Ranunculaceae family. It is the latter group that most garden hellebore belongs to, one that also gives us Delphinium and Clematis (below), Buttercups, Ranunculus, and Anemone.

Hellebore originated in the mountain areas and open woodlands of the Balkans but some species also come from Asia (H. thibetanus) and the border of Turkey and Syria (H. vesicarius). In the centuries since hellebore has found its footing in gardens around the world where it continues to be a favored choice as a ground-cover with dark, shiny, leathery leaves.

It is so popular that Helleborus x hybridus was chosen the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year from up to 400 nominations by the Perennial Plant Association. Plants are chosen by the PPA for their low-maintenance, wide range of growing climates, multiple season interest, availability, and relatively pest and disease-free care. It’s no surprise that Hellebore made the cut.

Helleborus by Dawn Pettinelli

Image by Dawn Pettinelli

It grows in USDA zones 5a to 8b which makes it very well-suited to Connecticut even though it is not native. It can tolerate shade to part-shade and does well in moist, well-drained soil with a pH range of 5.7-7.0.  Lower pH levels can lead to calcium and magnesium deficiencies. Interestingly, once established, hellebore is very drought-tolerant and even drooping leaves will bounce back unharmed when they are re-hydrated. Due to the fact that its leaves contain nasty-tasting alkaloids it does not get eaten by deer or rabbits and is considered toxic to humans and animals when ingested.

Helleborus orientalis late winter

 

Those same alkaloids can be a problem for people with sensitive skin so it is wise to wear gloves when working with hellebore. I trim the foliage back in late winter, at the start of March if there isn’t any snow cover, so that the emerging flower buds aren’t hidden by the old growth.

If Botrytis cinerea, a grey mold, was a problem on hellebore foliage then infected plant material should be removed in the fall so that it doesn’t overwinter.  Late winter is also a good time to apply a slow-release, balanced fertilizer that will ensure ‘blooms’ that will last for a month or more.

 

I say ‘blooms’ because what appears to be petals are actually tepals that protect the small, barely noticeable flower buds. Sepals are usually green but when they are similar in appearance and color to petals they are called tepals. Other plants that have colored tepals are Orchids, Day lilies, Lilies, Lily of the valley, Tulips, Magnolia and Tulip poplar.

On the hellebore the vintage-looking colors of the tepals range from a pure white to a dusky rose to a deep, almost black, plum. Most tepals become green-tinged as they age and many are veined, spotted, or blotched with shades of pink, purple, or red. The 2-3” ‘blooms’ generally hang or droop down so it is sometimes hard to see the nectaries that provide food for the early pollinators.

There are few insects that bother hellebore but one is the Hellebore aphid which will feed on sap from the flowers and foliage, excreting the honeydew that may lead to the growth of sooty mold. Cucumber mosaic virus can be vectored by feeding aphids and shows itself in light and dark green mottling on Hellebore foetidus.

HL

Image by RHS

 

 

H. foetidus, also known as stinking hellebore or dungwort is found in the wild in southern and western Europe in addition to cottage gardens. Its foliage gives off a pungent smell when crushed and it has another insect pest particular to it, the Hellebore leaf miner, which, as its name suggests, will tunnel into the foliage creating the damage shown to the left.

 

 

There are many commercially available varieties of hellebore and hybridizing has created a color palate that now includes reds, grays, yellows, and greens. The Picotee variety have narrow margins of a darker color. Semi- and double-flowered hellebore have two or more extra rows of tepals and the anemone-centered variety have a ring of shorter curved petals closer to the center which drop off after pollination. A visit to your favorite nursery or garden center is sure to provide you with many selections.

Helleborus by Lisa Rivers

Image by Lisa Rivers

You can put them into the ground as soon as it is workable. As Hellebore do not grow more than 18” high and have flowers that hang down they are best appreciated when viewed from close proximity. Plant them in an area that you walk past often and enjoy them for years to come.

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton unless noted

There are a number of pests that are active this time of year, before the temperatures warm up a lot.  A few of these are slugs, spruce spider mites, and the lily leaf beetle.  I’ll say a little bit about each one of these, provide links to more information, and also put in some photos.  I have been seeing slugs on my Hosta.  I was out looking at them right after a rain and they were out during the day due to the extra moisture.  Slugs are usually nocturnal.  They become active as soon as the ground thaws in the spring.  There are a number of control measures for slugs including:  Reduce humidity in the garden by allowing space around the plants; trap slugs by placing a board on the ground supported by small stones overnight and drowning the slugs in soapy water; barriers around susceptible plants such as pine needles, crushed egg shells, diatomaceous earth, or copper wire (shocks them); or use beer traps, containers of beer sunken into the soil.  Non-alchoholic beer is effective.

 

Slug photo from www.noematic.org.

Unlike some of the other mites, the spruce spider mite is most active at cooler temperatures and does most of its damage in spring and fall.  Symptoms may be noticed some time after the damage has occurred.  Mite feeding results in a stippled spotting of the needles and gives them a bronze appearance.  Hosts include spruces, arborvitae, dawn redwood, Douglas-fir, hemlock, juniper, larch and pine.  Dwarf Alberta spruce is quite susceptible.  Check for spruce spider mites by tapping a few branches firmly over a piece of white paper or cardboard.  Mites will be about the size of a period in this text and will move slowly.  Natural enemies of spider mites often keep their numbers in check so chemical controls are recommended only if mites are numerous.  Horticultural oils or insecticidal soap are effective.  Predators of the spruce spider mite include lacewings, predatory mites (these move faster than the plant pests on paper), lady beetles and predaceous midges. 

Photos: Close-up of spider mite feeding symptoms on arborvitae (Penn State), Symptoms on dwarf Alberta spruce (Penn State) and an adult spruce spider mite (Univ. of  Maryland). 

The striking red lily leaf beetles are feeding now and will be laying their eggs from June into July.  Larvae will also feed on lily leaves during late July and early August.  They then drop to the ground, pupate, and emerge as bright red adults to feed until cold weather.  They overwinter as adults.  Adults can live for two years, so it is possible to see them from April through October.  The lily leaf beetle feeds and lays eggs on true lilies including Asiatic, Oriental, tiger and hybrid lilies but not daylilies.  Control of these beetles can be achieved using handpicking or insecticides labeled for this pest.  Read and follow all pesticide label instructions carefully.  This pest is a non-native insect thought to have arrived in the US on lily bulbs from Europe.

 

Adult lily leaf beetle (www.maine.gov) and larval stage (www.uoguelph.ca).

JA