Tiny spring azure butterfly on a bluet flower

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

― William Shakespeare

April is the time of Hyacinth, tulips, apple and cherry blossoms, and, usually, April showers. Although we caught up from the drought of last year, this spring has been dry and we clearly need rain. Waking up on April 16, it was really no surprise to find it snowing as weather guessers reported it would get cold enough to turn last night’s rain to snow by this morning (but not in our area- ha!). In recent years there seem to be late snow events that have coincided with various trees and shrubs bloom time. Hopefully, this snow will not damage their flowers and buds.

Hyacinth under the snow

Bloodroot flowers have mostly come and gone and bluets have just started blooming heralding the expected return of some of our thrushes, such as the veery. Tiger swallowtail butterflies often visit bluet flowers, as do many native bee species.

Returning veery among some bluets

The six-spotted tiger beetles are out running along woodland trails. This small, predatory beetle is a brilliant metallic green, so it is hard to miss against a brown background of a woodland trail.

Six-spotted tiger beetle

The other day while walking up a woodland hill trying to find a barred owl family, I came upon a really nice surprise. Just poking above the leaf litter were these tiny purple-blue flowers that were new to me. The plants each had unusual leaves with three rounded lobes. Flower and leaf stems were hairy, and this small area was the only place they could be found. They are Hepatica americana, round-lobed Hepatica. A native buttercup family member, they can bloom March-May and are found on leafy woodland slopes with higher calcium content than most of our Connecticut woodlands

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Round-lobed Hepatica flower and leaf

Walking along the banks of a woodland double pond, there was evidence of recent beaver activity. A nice dam was getting some restructuring by the beaver, plus there were tree felling operations along the edges of the pond. Some nice moss was at the base of some  trees that so far are not in this beaver’s line of fire.

Moss under trees in a woodland pond
Beaver toothmarks and gnawed bark

I found what I thought were clam shells along this woodland pond’s banks, but found out they are really the shells of freshwater mussels that were eaten by a river otter, muskrat or some other animal and left behind for people like me to find. Freshwater mussels spend the first part of their life as a tiny glochidium on a host fish. Afterward, they fall off and drop to the bottom of the lake, pond, stream or river bed where they remain partially buried. They help keep water clean by filtering it as they eat algae and other small water organisms.

Freshwater mussel shell

Bee activity has been somewhat slow this spring, but recently a small Andrena nasonii ground-nesting bee was just emerging from under a landscape shrub where it had overwintered underground. This species often emerges when snow is melting and sometimes days before their foraging plants have flowered.. Most of our solitary native bee species are not aggressive, and this female rested on my finger for a while.

Native Andrena bee

Native eastern red cedar Juniperus virginiana is in flower along the shoreline in Connecticut. Male and female flowers are cone like structures called strobili, borne on separate trees. Male cones are oval to egg shaped, with yellowish brown scales that hold the pollen, and they are located at the tips of 2nd year branches.

Male flowers of eastern red cedar

Turkeys are still stomping, hissing and fanning their tails, mourning doves have just fledged their first brood, kit foxes are playing around their dens and spring azure, mourning cloak and comma butterflies are flying around, so April has succeeded in its modest enterprise of pushing new life out of its winter slumber.

Kit fox near its den

I agree with the sentiment of Hans Christian Andersen- “Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. “

Pamm Cooper

Round- lobed Hepatica flower

 

bloodroot

Native bloodroot started to bloom March 26 2020

 

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

– Anne Bradstreet

This year, the winter here in Connecticut was warmer than usual and had little snow, but plenty of rain. Plants like star magnolias, forsythias and hellebore started to bloom early- here on the UConn campus a Hellebore bloomed the first week of March. A small snowstorm on March 23 brought two inches of snow in central Connecticut and was followed by enough rain to melt any snow cover off by the following day. Bloom progress on the star mags and forsythia came to a halt, but it should resume as flower buds were generally not damaged.

march snow 2020

March 23 snowstorm

Resident birds like turkeys are making their presence known as they go about the serious business of attracting mates. Their fanning of tail feathers and stomping around makes them hard to miss. Woodpeckers are also drumming to attract mates, and red-bellied woodpeckers send out their familiar call advertising what they deem the perfect nesting holes for potential females to check out. They often are inside these holes, just poking their heads out to call.

male turkeys fanning

Male turkeys fanning

Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have laid their eggs in vernal pools and they should be hatching any day now. Wood frog eggs tend to float to the water’s surface, while the salamander eggs are stuck on underwater stems. Both the eggs of wood frog and spotted salamander are sometimes invaded by certain symbiotic algae whose cells are transferred to the hatching generation of their amphibian hosts.

wood frog eggs floating on the surface of a vernal pool March 19 2020

Wood frog eggs masses on the surface of a vernal pool in March

An Eastern garter snake was encountered yesterday deep in the woods. This native snake can mate in March- early May and gives birth to live young in late June- August. This snake can tolerate cold weather and is commonly seen where there is an abundance of most vegetation where it will feed on toads, frogs, worms and other creatures.

garter snake in deep woods near a strem MArch 26 2020

Eastern garter snake in the woods

Lichens are an example of a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an algae or a cyanobacterium. The fungal part depends upon the other component to survive. The rock tripe is a lichen that resembles dead leaves and is found living on rocks. Umbilicaria mammulata is the most common rock tripe. Soft and pliable like leather in moist weather, when conditions are dry these leaf-like lichens will shrivel and become quite brittle.

rock tripe lichen Umbilicaria

Rock tripe lichens on a boulder in the woods

Bracket fungi, or shelf, fungi comprise numerous species of the Polypore Family in the class basidiomycete. These fungi obtain energy through the decomposition of dead and dying plant matter. The visible fruiting body can be long- lived and hard like wood adding a new layer of living fungal matter at the base of the structure every year. Fungal threads are within the dead or dying woody host where they obtain nutrients.

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungi on decaying tree trunk

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungus are hard like wood

Wooly bear caterpillars, Colletes ground nesting bees and mourning cloak butterflies are a few insects that are active in March. Often seen crawling across lawns in late March, wooly bears are looking to pupate soon, while the Colletes are looking for pollens and nectar sources to provide food for their young, which hatch singly in nesting chambers that resemble ant hills. From the ground level.

Early flowering plants are a good source of pollen and nectar for bees. These include the Japanese andromeda, native bloodroot, spring flowering witch hazel native spicebush, willows, daffodils, crocus and dandelions.

spring witchhazel flowers

Spring flowering witch hazel

As you hike about, check out stalks of plants and small branches of shrubs for mantid eggs cases. These eggs masses resemble tan styrofoam and Mantids should hatch by mid-May, depending upon weather.

mantid egg case keeney st pl March 22 2020

Egg case of a praying mantis

Native sweet ferns, Comptonia peregrina, are blooming and leafing out. These aromatic small shrubs are members of the bayberry family and can be found in dry open woods where there are sandy, acid soils. They are a good spreading plant for difficult dry soils and slopes, and they are one of the host plants for the gray hairstreak butterfly.

sweet fern flowering and leafing out March 22 2020

Sweet fern catkins and new leaves

 

The days are warming up and soon the landscapes will be full of color. But even when it is not so bright and cheery outside, as Charles Dickens wrote ‘ Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”

 

Pamm Cooper

 

tulip tree bloom

Tulip tree in flower

 

“ The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

  • Henry Van Dyke, Fisherman’s Luck

 

The first day of spring was in March and I feel like we have been gypped so far in 2019. The expected arrival of warm weather, or just sunny days for that matter, has not come upon us yet. The almost daily rains of April and May so make Seattle look dry by comparison. But enough griping about the weather. May is here and with it come the birds, flowers and butterflies that winter had kept at bay.

red bud flowers May 6 2019

Eastern redbud trees flower in early May

Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides, is a native rhododendron that has tubular pink and white fragrant flowers that appear just before the leaves expand. It is found in moist soils along stream or pond banks. Pinxters sometimes have a juicy, sweet “apple” gall formed by the fungus  Exobasidium vaccinaii.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton - Copy

Pinxter azalea flowers

pinxter apple (2)

Pinxter apple is really a gall

Native tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera,  bloom in May, and when they do, it is apparent how they received their common name. Yellow and orange flowers resemble tulips, standing upright among the flat-tipped leaves. This tree is sometimes called yellow poplar and is one of the largest trees in North America, sometimes reaching a height of over ninety feet.

Some native wildflowers are putting in their appearance now. One of my favorites is the diminutive gaywings or fringed polygala-Polygala paucifolia. Usually no taller than 6 inches, these plants may go unnoticed along woodland edges or peeking up out of needles lying under white pines in open woods. The magenta flowers have three petals, one of which is keeled and ends in a pink fringe.

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Solomons’s seal is a native wildflower that is a good choice for use in woodland gardens. Its dangling white flowers along graceful, arching stems produce blue- black berries later in the fall. Hummingbirds will visit the fragrant, sweet smelling flowers. Geranium maculatum is another native wildflower that can be used in shade gardens.

variegated Solomon's seal

Variegated Solomon’s seal

Swallowtail and other butterflies are seen regularly now that temperatures (rising at a glacial pace!) have warmed up and plants have leafed out. Painted ladies and red admirals have arrived from their southern wintering areas, and other butterflies should eclose from their chrysalises as the weather warms up. The gray hairstreak, one of the first hairstreaks besides the spring azure to make its appearance in May, should be out in warmer areas of Connecticut.

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 may

Gray hairstreak butterfly in May

Migrating birds have been a little slow to return, but thrushes, Orioles, tanagers and veerys arrived at their usual time when oaks are in flower. Warblers are pushing through on their way to their northern breeding grounds. Magnolia warblers arrive as crabapples are blooming and may linger around until it warms up. Listen for bird songs of warblers on Cornell’s allaboutbirds.org website, and then see if you can spot them with a pair of trusty binoculars.

Wilsons 5-12-14

Wilson’s warbler passing through on its journey north

Green tree frogs have been trilling during the day and turtles may be seen as they begin to look for mates and afterward for suitable nesting sites. Efts and salamanders may be seen on rainy days, or on sunny days following rains, and box turtles often are seen as they cross roads during or after rainy days. Things always perk up a little for me I see my first eft of the red-spotted newt out and about, usually in mid-May.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

 

Of course, spring is not always a jolly time for gardeners. Lily leaf beetles, rose slug sawflies, asparagus beetles and gypsy moth caterpillars are here and carrying on with their plant damaging specialties. Check plants regularly to stop some of these pests in their tracks.

lily leaf beetle GHills mid- MAy 2018

The harbinger of doom for true lilies and fritillarias- the lily leaf beetle

T

 

But it is May. And May is not, by nature, a limpid herald of doom, but rather a forerunner of the warm, sunny days to come. Cheer up, little buttercup! The best is yet to come.

Pamm Cooper

 

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

wild columbine and wild geraniums by a country roadside

As most of you are probably already familiar with, the University of Connecticut is home to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. This lab is staffed by Dawn Pettinelli, the manager, and myself, the technician. We also have a few part time and student employees throughout the year that help with the receiving, spreading, and sieving of soil samples; among other things. We offer an array of tests designed to help homeowners, community gardeners, farmers, etc… maximize the efficiency of their soil to produce the greatest yields in whatever plant or crop they are growing, from silage corn to turf. We can test for soil organic matter content, textural fractionation, soluble salts, Nitrogen, and Carbon. We also provide tests for plant tissues and corn stalks. However, our most vital and popular test is the Standard Nutrient Analysis. This is a relatively comprehensive test that allows us to make limestone and fertilizer recommendations. We check the pH, add a buffering agent and then retest the pH. From there we are able to determine the soils capacity to resist the change in pH, this allows us to make an accurate and precise limestone recommendation, in lbs/1000 square feet, or lbs/acre, depending on the desired crop production. The second part of the Standard Nutrient Analysis is the actual nutrient content. Soil samples are analyzed for micro and macro nutrients; Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Aluminum, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, and Sulfur. Samples are also screened for Lead. Using the nutrient results, we are able to make fertilizer recommendations based on what is being grown. We give results in N-P-K format, and also provide organic alternatives.

We get calls year round from customers asking if they can submit a soil sample, and the answer is always yes! You can submit a soil sample any time of the year, we receive soils from throughout the country (although we have to be careful of areas under certain quarantines). Generally, it only takes around a week from when we receive a sample for us to send out the results. As you might imagine, Spring is an extreme exception. We are so busy and backed up with thousands of soil samples right now, we are expecting a 3 week turn-around time. We understand that everyone is eager to get their hands dirty and work on their lawns and gardens, but waiting until Spring to submit soil samples isn’t the best idea.

sample1

The current line of samples waiting for analysis. J.Croze

We often recommend that customers take and submit soil samples in the Fall! Soil sampling and testing in the Fall is better for all parties involved. For starters, we offer a discount on the Standard Nutrient Analysis, if you submit 10 or more samples we only charge you $8 per sample opposed to $12. However, there are more practical reasons to submit a Fall soil sample. It’s easier! The soil is generally going to be easier to work with in the Fall than after a wet Winter during the first few weeks of Spring. This will help you obtain soil samples that are a more accurate representation of the area you are interested in. Every year around this time we get dozens of zip-lock bags that are filled with soaking wet soil, dripping everywhere. A Fall soil test also allows you more time to think about what amendments you might want to use, and is the perfect time to apply limestone and fertilizers in preparation for a busy and productive growing season. Applying limestone in the Fall ensures that it has enough time to raise your soil pH to whatever the optimum range is for what you plan on growing. My personal favorite reason for submitting a Fall soil sample is that we are less busy! You’ll be happier because your results will only take a few days, and we’ll be happier because the phone won’t be ringing off the hook with customers wondering where their results are! You can obviously submit a sample whenever your heart desires, but I advise you to consider sampling in the Fall. For those of you currently waiting on results, I appreciate your patience! Happy gardening!

-J.Croze

Male red-winged blackbird

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.  Doug Larson

Following a relatively mild winter, this spring has been a bit of a chiller so far. Forsythia in the north a yellow bud and central areas of Connecticut barely have yellow flower buds showing and star magnolias are just starting to show a few blooms. Spring may be slow to start, but at least it isn’t winter.

Spring peepers are singing, and have been for about three weeks. These harbingers of spring provide a cheery chorus for those fortunate enough to live near ponds. They were joined a couple of weeks later by wood frogs, who have a more throaty but equally welcome spring song.

Spring peepers live up to their name

Painted turtles, the first of which I saw in February on a 60 degree day, can be seen on warmer days sunning themselves on partially submerged logs and rocks. Spotted salamanders have already laid their eggs in vernal pools, and wood frogs should be doing the same now. Check out vernal pools for the eggs of these amphibians, plus you may see some immature salamanders swimming around before they develop lungs and venture onto land.

painted turtle stretching

Painted turtle stretching out

 

Spring azure butterflies, Celastrina ladon, have a single brood, and flight may occur any time between late March and early June here in Connecticut. This is one of our first butterflies to emerge from its chrysalis, and can be seen obtaining nectar from early spring flowers such as bluets and violets.

spring azure on bluet May 19 2016

Spring azure butterfly on a native bluet flower

Another early flying butterfly is the Mourning cloak, easily identified by the upper sides of its large, chocolate brown wings that are edged with cream borders and lined inside that with lavender to blue spots. Imported cabbage white butterflies are arriving from their southern living quarters. This butterfly lays its eggs on members of the brassica family, which includes the wild mustards, including the invasive garlic mustard.

Mourning cloak early spring

Mourning cloak basking in early April

Migrating birds are slow to arrive, but the red-winged blackbirds have been back since early March, although some were even here in late February. Males arrive way ahead of females, which gives them plenty of time to select the best nesting sites in advance. Some warblers may fly through just before invasive honeysuckles leaf out. Palm and black and white warblers are some of the earliest to arrive. Palm warblers flick their rusty tail, much as phoebes do, and they move on northward to their breeding grounds. Many black and white warblers remain here to breed in woodlands.

palm warbler on migration in April pamm Cooper photo

Palm warblers sometimes migrate through before most plants have leafed out

Forsythia and star magnolias are just starting to bloom -later than normal this spring in northern Connecticut, but bloodroot and violets should be blooming any time now. These are important flowers for our spring pollinators. Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, has been blooming in some places since late March, and this is also visited by early spring flying bees. Along with pussy willows, this is a great plant for Colletes inaequalis, the earliest ground nesting bee which is active around the time  native willows start to bloom.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese andromeda flowers in late March

Check out streams for marsh marigolds and watercress, and dry sunny, woodland areas for native trout lilies that usually start to bloom in late April or early May. Red trillium, Trillium erectum, sometimes has an overlapping bloom time with bloodroot, depending on the weather.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress blooming in a woodland brook

 

Raccoons, foxes and many other animals may have their young from early spring through June. Some birds, including great horned owls, may have their young in late winter. Sometimes these owls use the nest that red-tailed or other hawks used the previous year.

baby raccoons June 2

Two week old raccoons in a sunny spot in the woods

 

While the central portions on the United States are having bomb cyclones this week that are bringing heavy snows and severe wind gusts, we should have snow here only in the form of a distant memory. I can live with that.

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

A striped Jack-in-the- pulpit just off a bike trail

“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own.”

-Charles Dickens

As we move into late spring, especially after the rather gray, wet spring we have had so far, the sunny, warmer days of late bring a little excitement to both gardeners and hikers alike. Plants are starting to provide lush green backdrops for their flowers, while insects, animals and birds are increasing their activities. Gardens centers are providing bountiful selections for everyone, and there are new cultivars every year to provide interest in the landscape. As we move into a more outdoorsy mode of life, we can have encounter pleasant surprises wherever we may go in our travels.

For instance, at this time of year, female turtles of many species are commonly seen as they leave their normal adult habitat and go off searching for egg- laying sites. For the past two years, I have found two different spotted turtles in almost the exact same place, at almost the same date as they travel back from laying eggs. These are different turtles, though, as the spotting patterns are remarkably different.

spotted turtle with constellation of spots May 30 2018

Spotted turtle on the move- May 30 2018

A surprise discovery for me this year was when I noticed a number of tiny, barrel- shaped leaf rolls on a small oak sapling. Some insect had cut the lobes and then rolled them up tightly while still attached by the midrib. After some research, these structures were found to be called a nidus (Latin for nest) formed by the female leaf- rolling, or thief weevil Homoeolobus ssp. An egg is laid within the leaf before the third roll is made.

leaf rolling weevil Homoeolabus analis

Work of the leaf-rolling weevil

Plenty of plant galls can be seen now, especially on oaks. One interesting gall is called the wool sower gall, which is formed on oaks by the larval feeding of the certain wasps. The gall resembles a toasted marshmallow, with white fibrous masses that at first have a yellow- seed like capsules though out the gall.  Each capsule contains a wasp larva.

wool sower wasp gall

Gall formed on an oak by the wool sower gall wasp

In the town where I live, there is an unusual tree growing in a woodland wetland area. I noticed it several years ago only because of the striking white flowers that stood out amidst all the green foliage of native trees and shrubs. It was identified by a tree expert as a Fraser magnolia which is native to the southern Appalachians. He thought it was probably brought here in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s by people who had a homestead on this site, who perhaps came from that area of the country.

Fraser Magnolia

Fraser Magnolia in the wild in Manchester, Ct.

Insects are more noticeable now as more species increase in both numbers and activity, including, unfortunately, the notorious lily leaf beetle. Check Asiatic day lilies for eggs and larvae now. And the giant silkworm moths are emerging from their cocoons now. I had the impressive eyed click beetle land near me the other day, and shortly after that encountered the first gray hairstreak butterfly of the year. Always a positive experience for me to see any butterfly- except maybe the cabbage white…?

eyed click beetle just out late May 2018

eyed click beetle

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 May 15

Gray hairstreak spotted in late May

Deer are looking a bit scraggly as they lose their winter coats, and early June is the time that fawns are born. Raccoons also have their young this time of year, as well. Fox kits should already be accompanying  their parents of hunting forays.

baby raccoons June 2

Baby raccoons- maybe two weeks old

Lady slippers, wild geraniums, columbine, black cherry and other native plants are blooming now. And if that isn’t enough, you can always get some interesting flowers to enjoy at home. An unusual offering from the Tri-county Greenhouse in Mansfield Depot is the bat-faced heather. And a Thunbergia alata cultivar called “Tangerine slice’ is striking if you are looking for a good vining plant.

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

Wild columbine and Geranium maculatum by a roadside

bat-faced heather from Tri- Coumty Greenhouse Mansfield Depot

Bat-faced heather

tangerine slice Thunbergia alata

Tangerine slice Thunbergia– Pamm Cooper photo

You never know what things of interest you may see, whether in the great outdoors or a good garden center. Image the unexpected pleasure of seeing a couple of ducks who were enjoying being taken for a walk on an airline trail. That was the best surprise for me on that particular day in the great outdoors!

Crowley and Dean out for a walk

Crowley and Dean out for a walk

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornus mas flowers April 24 2018

Cornus mas flowers- Cornelian cherry dogwood flowers in April before leaves appear

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

This spring has arrived at a plodding, glacial pace. Several snows in April and chilly, gray days which far outnumber the anticipated sunny, warmer ones seem to have put nature into a low gear. Birds that normally would have arrived in early April, like chipping sparrows, were late arrivals. Forsythia bloomed later than it did the past few springs, and soils have remained cold enough to hold back lawn grass growth. But the cold weather can’t last, and we finally have seen a few sunny days this week.

colletes at hole 4-14-2018 Pamm Cooper photo for Facebook

Native Colletes inaequalis ground nesting bee at entrance to her nesting tunnel- one of the earliest spring flying bees

Tree swallows arrived a couple of weeks ago, and barn swallows followed a week later. I always check out a nice swampy area along a road every spring when false hellebore is about a foot tall. This is when many migrating warblers start to come through on their way north. Two of the earlier arrivals are the yellow-rumped warblers and the palm warblers, which can often be seen together in good numbers as they catch insects on the fly. The loud drumming of pileated woodpeckers can be heard and barred and great horned owls should have nestlings by now. Canada geese should be sitting on eggs, with young hatching out in a week or so.

Pileated woodpecker pamm Cooper photo

Pileated woodpeckers

Bloodroot is now blooming, and before it is done, red trillium should also be blooming. Trout lily leaves are up, and its flowers should appear in a week or so. The early flowering azalea, Rhodendron mucronulatum, is flowering now with its welcome pink flowers. Bees were all over several plantings of this shrub on the UConn campus this past sunny Tuesday. Pieris japonica, or Japanese andromeda, Cornus mas and star magnolias are also in full bloom. Ornamental cherries are just beginning to bloom now and as the native black cherries begin to leaf out, look for tents made in the forks of branches by the Eastern tent caterpillars. Native bluets began blooming this week, and many native and honey bees, as well as early flying butterflies avail themselves of the nectar these tiny blue flowers provide.

purple trillium Pamm Cooper photo

Purple trillium blooms shortly after bloodroot

Rhododendron mucronulatum. Azalea Pamm Cooper photo (2)

Rhododendron mucronulatum azalea in bloom in late April. Note that this azalea does not retain its leaves through the winter

Spring peepers have been singing like a glee club, and are a welcome white noise in early spring for those of you who live near ponds. In vernal pools, egg masses of wood frogs, spotted salamanders and American toads can be found now. Diving beetles and water striders are also active now. Our vernal pools support life stages of many kinds of insects and amphibians, and provide water sources for many animals and birds as well.

spotted salamander nymph among frog eggs April vernal pool

Gilled larva of the spotted salamander swims among wood frog eggs in a vernal pool

Red, or swamp, maples are already dropping flowers, while spicebush are just starting to bloom.  Snowball viburnums are leafing out and new leaves seen curling are probably signs of snowball aphid feeding. Look inside the curled leaves for these aphids. While not a cause of alarm for the health of the plant, it is a cosmetic issue. Redbuds are showing deep pink flower buds as are the larger ornamental cherry varieties like Prunus subhirtella, the weeping Higan cherry. When these bloom, crabapples are not far behind.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese Andromeda, Pieris japonica, can bloom in March. This year it has remained in bloom through late April. Many bees visit its flowers.

More insects are becoming active now with the warmer weather. Look for the striking six- spotted tiger beetle along open woodland trails. Cabbage white butterflies are also arriving, and will lay eggs on native mustards and the invasive garlic mustards. The second generation may end up on your brassica later in the year. Mourning cloak and comma butterflies are out now, and look for swallowtails and the spring azure butterflies. Migrating red admirals and painted ladies usually arrive around the time of crabapple and invasive honeysuckle bloom. I can hardly (but must!) wait to see a swallowtail butterfly. To me this is a certain harbinger of steady, warm weather.

6-spotted tiger beetle

The 6-spotted tiger beetle is hard to miss

Mourning cloak early spring

The mourning cloak butterfly survives winters here in the north as an adult. Often it is seen imbibing at sap flows or on animal dung

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bluets Pamm Cooper photo

Tiger swallowtail on native bluets

As you venture out this spring, listen for the songs of newly arriving birds, observe  insects as they go about their daily activities and enjoy the flowers that join together to make spring a poetic response to winter. Definitely a more charming repertoire in answer to winter doldrums than my own seemingly useless “ hurry up spring” song and dance…

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

“ The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

-Edwin Way Teale

crabapples along driveway route 85 May 7 2017

Crabapples along a fence highlight a driveway on Route 85 – May 2017

 

May is usually the time of warmer weather and sunny days that brighten the landscape again with flushes of green leaves and splashes of color from flowers. We look forward to another season of gardening and other outdoor activities, and the encounters with nature that are unavoidable as one ventures outside.

This May has been colder than I would prefer, but at least it has seen more rainfall than last spring. The reason this is especially good news is that the gypsy moth caterpillars have recently hatched, and the rains bring hope that the fungal pathogen, Entomophaga maimaiga, will help diminish populations of this pest. Last year they went unchecked for most of their caterpillar stage as drought conditions kept fungal spores from germinating.

wilsons warbler May 12, 2014

A Wilson’s warbler stopped by on its way north

Ferns are opening up now and their graceful forms are a welcome decoration wherever they appear. My personal favorites are the scented fern, cinnamon fern and the diminutive polypody which are often found growing together on rocks with mosses. Polypody work well in dish gardens coupled with moss and partridgeberry, and can be brought indoors for the winter, or left outside if that works better.

sensitive ferns

Sensitive ferns in a wetland area

 

Most trees have leafed out by now, with the pokey sycamores and hickories lagging behind, as usual. With the flush of leaves come the migrating warblers. Caterpillars are now found eating leaves in the tree canopies, and this is where many of the warblers find some protein for their return to northern breeding grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, and thrushes are all back and they have transformed the woodlands to a symphony of birdsong. Also, barred and great horned owls born in late winter and early spring have left their nests, and parents can often be heard calling to their young. Many robins have already hatched their first brood as of two weeks ago, so it must be true that the early bird gets the worm…

mother and two baby great horned owls Pamm Cooper photo 2017

These young great horned owls left the nest days after this picture was taken.

 

Dogwoods have had spectacular blooms this year, and crabapples and viburnums as well. Yellow water lilies, Nuphar lutea, are beginning to bloom. This plant closes its flower late in the day, trapping beetles or flies overnight who will pollinate it as they try to escape.

Yellow pond lilies Nuphar luteum Airline 5-14-16

Limber honeysuckle, Lonicera dioica, a native vine-like shrub that is infrequently encountered, is also starting to bloom. The tubular red flowers have distinctive yellow stamens and attract hummingbirds and native bumblebees. Fringed polygala, a small, pink native wildflower with flowers that make me think of Mickey Mouse with an airplane propeller, are just beginning to bloom and are often found together with stands of the native Canada Mayflower. Native columbine are also blooming now and native Pinxter azalea should be following shortly.

limber honeysuckle May 7 2017

limber honeysuckle

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Interesting galls are forming on the young leaves on wild cherry. Spindle galls, caused by the mite Eriophyes emarginatae, are red spindle-like structures of leaf materialcaused by the mites feeding within. These tiny mites begin feeding as soon as cherry leaves expand in the spring. Although they can occur in large numbers, the galls will not stop leaves from photosynthesizing, and the trees will put out new leaves after mites are inactive.

spindle galls on cherry

Spindle galls on a small black cherry

Giant silkworm moths such as Cecropia, Polyphemus and Luna have been overwintering in cocoons and should be eclosing any time from mid- May to June. These spectacular moths usually fly during the night, but are often attracted to lights. Since they cannot feed, if you find any lingering about in the daytime, don’t worry about what to feed them- just enjoy their company!

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13

Female Cecropia moth

Swallowtail, Painted Lady, American coppers, Juvenal’s duskywing and many other butterflies are out and about. Wherever you see them, check out larval host plants for caterpillars. Sometimes they are as close as your own backyard.

striped jack-in-the-pulpit for web site

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Here’s hoping for timely rains during the summer, warmer days to get our blood moving and an abundance of fruits, flowers and birds that to follow May’s fore-running to summer.

 

Pamm Cooper

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.”

– William C. Bryant

great-blue-heron-in-a-small-ice-free-area-of-a-pond-2-22-2017

Great Blue Heron in an open area of an otherwise icy pond February 25 2017

It feels, temperature-wise, that we are on the cusp of spring, and certainly the landscape is responding to the warmer and longer of February. Right now we are seeing spring try to break out a little early in some areas. It may still snow, of course, but maple trees are tapped at the usual time and birds have begun their morning and evening territorial calls in response to longer daylight periods. Skunk cabbages have been poking their heads up for a while, but it is still winter, and we may see temperatures go down to a more normal range for this time of year.

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Around the state, the spring blooming witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis is blooming in areas along the Connecticut shoreline and further north in sunny areas. Native to the Ozark Plateau which ranges from southern Missouri through parts of Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, this witch hazel does well along gravelly or rocky stream banks and moist or dry soils in the landscape. It does best in full sun, but will tolerate some shade. Height is normally around eight feet as a mature plant, and about as wide.

hamamelis-vernalis

Hamamelis vernalis blooming on campus at Storrs February 26, 2017

We can tell where the native willows are now as they are starting to bloom now. Other spring bloomers, like the star and southern magnolias, have swollen flower buds. Here’s hoping that we do not have a repeat of last year, when snow and freezing temperatures in the low teens followed and destroyed the flower buds of many of our fruit and ornamental trees.

Whitlow grass, Draba verna, is flowering in sunny areas especially where the soil in lawns has open areas. Whitlow grass is not a grass at all, but a member of the mustard family, and it is one of the first herbaceous plants to flower before spring. It has tiny white flowers that may be mistaken for a chickweed, but this plant arises from a basal rosette. It is a winter annual and can form large mats that are evident in spring when the white flowers appear. Non- native, this plant has been around for over one hundred years.

whitlow-grass-and-syrphid-fly

Whitlow grass and syrphid fly February 28, 2017

As ice melts from inland ponds, migrating ducks and wading birds may appear at any time. In late February, a great blue heron was in a little open area on a pond otherwise covered in soft ice. Ring- necked ducks and hooded merganzers have been seen also at inland ponds that are along their northern migration route. Song sparrows and cardinals are already singing their spring songs- song sparrows sing off and on all day perched on the tops of shrubs or small trees

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A male song sparrow just finished his song from atop a mountain laurel in the wild

Spring peepers were heard the last week of February when the weather was very warm during the day. I have not heard any since, though. Painted turtles have been sunning themselves on rocks and floating logs during the warmer days as well. And chipmunks are up and running. Woodchucks are also out and about, which is early for them. Unless there are some herbaceous plants greening up, they will probably head down below ground and extend their winter nap.

painted-turtle-out-february-25-2017

Painted turtle getting its first sun bath of 2017

If you have any birdhouses that need cleaning, do it now. Although I have seen bluebirds build a nest on top of an old one in a nest box, which is the exception rather than the rule. Phoebes may be arriving any time, so keep an eye open for this early migrater. They have a distinctive call which you can hear by visiting Cornell University’s link: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Phoebe/id

Snow melt and recent winter rains have helped some vernal pools recover from the drought. Streams are also flowing with more water than they had last summer and fall. Check out vernal pools for wood frog and spotted salamander eggs before the end of March.

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Clark Creek in Haddam off Rte 154 has significant flow after February snow melt

And if a garden has been mulched over perennials and they have started growing, do not remove leaves or mulch as that has insulated the plants from the cold. Uncovering them too soon may invite damage if the weather returns to more seasonable temperatures below freezing. Winter is probably not over yet, but it will be soon. That cheers me up considerably.

willow started to bloom February 28 2017.jpg

Pussy willow

Pamm Cooper                                                  all photos © 2017 Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late March and early April in Connecticut are the time of year that we gardeners dream about through the long, cold winter. The temperatures are on the rise, the days have lengthened, the soil is workable, and even if we do receive a snowfall it generally doesn’t last for long. The Lenten Rose (Hellebore) has bloomed and the crocus, grape hyacinth, daffodils are in their glory, soon to make way for the tulips which will follow. Yellow daffodils paired with the deep purple-blue of the grape hyacinth is one of my favorite combinations.

The pussy willows have come out and the forsythia is in bloom which means that it is the anecdotal time to put down the crabgrass preventer. The pre-emergent herbicide needs to be applied and watered in before the crabgrass seeds that were dropped last year germinate. Please visit our page on Crabgrass Control for more information on this yearly bane of homeowners.

Pussy Willow

For me this time of year is about planning this year’s vegetable garden and starting the growing season. It starts with plotting out the area that we have allotted for our vegetable garden (its 15’ x 25’) which includes four raised beds that are 3’ x 5’ each. There are many ways to do a garden plan. The simplest way, and the way that I started some years ago, is to put pencil to paper and sketch out a rough drawing.

The next step up is to use graph paper to plot out the actual footage available. This is the manner that I have progressed to over the years. With pencil, ink, and colored pencils I draw the placement of this year’s plantings. I refer to prior year’s plans so that I can rotate varieties among the beds as much as possible although I don’t have a very large space. There are several established perennial plantings, such as asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, and chives that do not get rotated.

Chives

These crops are placed around the perimeters of the garden, mostly to the east and south, where they will not block the sun from other plantings. The asparagus spears are just starting to emerge, the chives are growing, and the rhubarb was a perfect size to divide and replant.

A recent post on our UConn Home & Garden Education Center  Facebook page shared a link to many vegetable garden planners that can be found on-line ranging from the very simple to those that allow you to enter your actual plot size, vegetable varieties and succession plantings. There is even an app!

So, plan in place, it’s time to start planting. There are so many crops that enjoy a cool weather start such as peas, spinach, kale, arugula, radishes, beets, bok choy, and carrots. I have been working with my daughter Hannah on some plans for garden beds that her early education class will be working on this spring. In doing research on some classroom-appropriate experiments I came across one that compares the growth rate of seeds germinated (prior to planting) vs. un-germinated (direct sown). I usually soak beet seeds before they are planted but this year I germinated all of the varieties that are planted in the early spring, laying the seeds out on a damp paper towel and covering them with another damp towel.

Pre-germination

Just a side note, did you know that each beet ‘seed’ is actually a hard shell that encloses 3 seeds? As they sprout you can not only see three distinct seedlings (the row on the left in the image below) but the colors reflect the variety of beet also, whether red or yellow.

2 Days Later

Within days most of the seeds were well-sprouted and I planted them in the garden in their selected spots. It will be interesting to see if this gives them a head-start and if Hannah’s class gets similar results. They will also be running an experiment that starts seeds in solutions of differing pH levels from base to acidic to see what seeds prefer. If you would like to know the pH level of your garden soil and what your crops require then a soil sample to the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.

One thing to keep in mind when planting is done as a classroom activity is the length of the available growing season. There is little point in planting vegetables that will need care and be ready to harvest during the summer months when school is not in session. Our choices therefore were cool-weather plants that would be ready to harvest before school dismisses for the summer. Among these are snow peas that will mature in 60 days, Indian Summer spinach (35 days), Little Finger carrots (65 days), lettuce, arugula and spinach (35-40 days), Early Wonder beets (60 days) and Cherry Belle radishes that will be ready to harvest in just 22 days.

Just think about it. In a little more than a month we can be enjoying a freshly picked, tasty salad that is the harbinger of more good things to come!

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton