One of my favorite plants in our yard is a large wisteria that wends its way through and around our back deck. Planted in the early 2008 this woody, non-native climbing vine was slow to flower. Although a hardy, fast-growing plant, wisteria usually doesn’t produce flowers until it establishes itself and matures so it was a few years before the first blooms appeared in May of 2011, the image on the left. The center image is from May, 2013 and the image on the right is from the same perspective but in May of 2017.

In early May, before most of the foliage leafs out, the flowers will begin to open, starting at the base and gradually working towards the tip. The 6-12” long drooping racemes of wisteria bloom from basal buds on last year’s growth of wood. It will continue to bloom through the summer when it has full sun and well-drained soil.

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Wisteria vines can become very heavy and need a strong structure such as a trellis, arbor, pergola, or in our case, a deck to provide support. The twining of the stems can be used to identify the species, depending on whether they twine clockwise or counter-clockwise when viewed from above. Our wisteria twines counter-clockwise so it is a Wisteria sinensis, Chinese wisteria. Wisteria that twines clockwise is Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria.

I usually prune it in the early spring when I also give it a low nitrogen-fertilizer. If it sends out unruly new growth during the spring and summer I just break them off by hand. Likewise, with any adventitious shoots that appear at the base of the plant. It’s a low-maintenance plant otherwise with practically no pests or diseases. The bees and other pollinators love it and I saw a hummingbird visiting it this week. One of the few pests that are ever on it are Japanese beetles.

JB

As you can see by the oval white egg on the surface of its green thorax this beetle has been parasitized by a tachinid fly, Istocheta aldrichi. These tiny flies attach a solitary egg to the Japanese beetle. It will hatch a week later and then the tiny larvae will burrow its way into the body to feed. The larvae will consume the beetle from the inside causing its ultimate death, exiting the body to pupate. If you see a Japanese beetle with one of these eggs on it, let it be. It is already on death row and the new fly that it is nourishing will go on to parasitize other beetles in the future.

As I walked past the wisteria earlier this week I noticed bees among its beautiful pendulous violet flowers. I took out my phone to get a picture and as I focused on the buzzing bee I noticed how the individual blooms of wisteria are so like the blossoms of the different beans in the vegetable garden.

Bee on wisteria bloom.jpg

Like bean and pea flowers, the blossoms of wisteria are zygomorphic. ‘Zygomorphic’ means that the flower is only symmetrical when divided along one axis, in this case vertically, unlike the radial symmetry of a flower such as a daisy which is the same on either axis. Clockwise from the top these are the blossoms of a wisteria , a purple sugar snap pea, a pole bean, and a yard-long bean.

Wisteria and beans share many traits with the almost 18,000 other species in the Fabaceae family, also known as Leguminosae, making it the third largest family of flowering plants. Grown world-wide, this group contains trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs that bear fruit called legumes. Many legumes are grown to eat, such as the edible pods of freshly-picked snow and sugar peas and beans, the edible seeds of peas and peanuts, or dried pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, beans, and lupin.

I never connected the ornamental lupin, Lupinus polyphyllus, that grow in our flower beds with the salty lupini beans, Lupinus albus, that accompany many antipasto platters. But when you look at the seed pods of an herbaceous lupin the similarity to other legume seed pods becomes apparent. The images are, clockwise from the upper left, wisteria, lupin, purple snow pea, sugar snap peas, and yard-long beans.

Fun fact about another legume: in a method called geocarpy, the seed pods of peanuts develop underground. This gives rise to its other moniker, the groundnut. Post-fertilization, the yellowish-orange peanut bloom sends out a ‘peg’ that grows down to the soil where the ovary at the tip matures into a peanut seed pod.  Like most other legumes, peanuts have nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia in their root nodules. This capacity to take inert atmospheric nitrogen from the soil means legumes require less nitrogen fertilizer. When the plants die they can improve soil fertility for future crops by releasing that fixed nitrogen.

Scarlet runner beans blossoms

Scarlet runner beans

Any home gardener can benefit from growing legumes, whether they enjoy the beautiful blooms, the healthful benefits derived from eating these high protein and fiber foods or to enrich their garden soil for future plantings.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center, 2018

All images by Susan Pelton

This summer has been, as they say, one for the books. High temperatures that went on for weeks and limited rainfall certainly did a number on our gardens, containers, and flower beds. Many calls to the Home & Garden Education Center were from gardeners bemoaning the sad state of affairs. Plants were stunted, didn’t set flowers or dropped them early when they did, leaves were scorched looking, and in general plants just performed poorly.

What a relief when the temps dropped into the 80s and rain actually fell in measurable quantities. Plants rebounded, lawns revived, and gardens began to produce once again. My window boxes and some hanging containers did not quite survive though and I refilled most of them this week with some beautiful flowering vinca and a plant that is new to me, evolvulus, a member of the morning glory family that produces tiny, bright blue flowers that last just a day.

Vinca and evolvulus 2

The squash plants that I thought were done for have now taken over their areas and are producing copious blossoms and fruit. I am happy to see that the Powdery mildew resistant variety (Success PM) has proven its worth as there are very few signs of the disease.

The squash bugs however have yet to give up the fight. There are still egg masses every few days and the odd grouping of nymphs that I am not sorry to say do not last long once I have spotted them.

The cucumbers and the eggplants are loaded with blossoms and have started bearing fruit. The tomatoes, which hadn’t suffered as much as some of the other plants, have been slow to ripen but they can continue to produce into October if they are covered at night.

I had moved some potted basil plants into a shady area a few weeks back and they have shown their appreciation by filling out nicely. I detect pesto in our near future! A second planting of arugula looks great as does the kale.

 

 

And we are not the only ones that are enjoying the kale. This differential grasshopper was munching away happily, not even caring that I was filming him. This species of grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) has been known to do some substantial damage to crops such as grains, hay, and alfalfa, especially during hot, dry periods which increase the likelihood of survival of the nymphs and adults. They will also feed on annuals such as sunflowers and perennials including one of their favorites: ragweed. Maybe they are not all bad. They don’t cause enough damage in a home garden to warrant insecticidal control.

 

A striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) was also enjoying the kale even though the cucumber plants were not far away. The adult feeds on the foliage and the larvae feed on the roots but the biggest problem that they bring with them is the bacterial wilt known as Erwinia tracheiphila which can be fatal to cucurbits. The feeding of the adult beetle opens wounds in the plant but it is through the frass (excrement) that the bacteria enter the vascular tissues of the plant. As the bacteria multiply they block the xylem and prevent water and nutrients from reaching the shoots and leaves. The striped cucumber beetle is definitely a bigger concern than the grasshopper or squash bugs as they move so quickly that it is hard to just squish them out of existence like I do with the squash bug nymphs.

Striped cucmber beetle

Over on the asparagus fern a red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) stood out brightly against the delicate ferns. As with other insects that also feed on milkweed the red milkweed beetle accumulates alkaloid toxins in their flesh that protect it from predators. The black spots against that bright red-orange background are the insect equivalent of a large ‘Do Not Eat” sign. These can be picked off and dropped into a container of soapy water. Don’t use a spray or systemic insecticide on the milkweed as it will harm the beneficial insects that also visit, especially the Monarch butterfly.

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The Asian lady beetle has that same bright coloring and also uses a defensive chemical to deter predators. Some humans are allergic to this foul-smelling liquid that can be exuded from their legs. But this one was very busy doing what ‘ladybugs’ do best, munching on some aphids that were on the underside of a squash leaf.

 

The lady beetles may start to congregate both inside and outside of houses and can be a nuisance. Visit our fact sheet for information on the Asian lady beetle if you experience an infestation and consider the non-lethal ways to remove them, keeping in mind how beneficial they will be in next year’s garden. Although the nighttime temperatures can start to dip into the 50s as we progress into September the garden will enjoy the still warm days into October.

Susan Pelton

All images and videos by S. Pelton

 

 

Cracks in tomatoes, black rotten spots on the bottom of tomato fruit, and a hard yellow or white area on the inside walls of ripe tomatoes are all physiological problems, not caused by insects or disease.  It is a sad sight for gardeners investing so much time and energy to see the actual fruits of their labor turn into less than perfect tomatoes.

 

cracking of tomato, joey Williamson HGIC,Clemson.edu

Cracked Tomato

Let’s start with why tomatoes crack. Higher moisture levels after a dry period, such as lots of rain after a time of drought, will cause the inside cells to swell and grow faster than the outside skin will grow, resulting in splitting of the skin. To prevent cracking, keep soil evenly moist by watering, and use a mulch to prevent evaporation and keep soil cooler. Cracked tomatoes are still very edible, but not so pretty. Sometimes the cracks are deep, allowing rot to happen inside the meat of the fruit. Plan to use split tomatoes before rotting happen.

Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes, J.Allen Photo

Blossom End Rot, photo by Joan Allen.

Blossom end rot is expressed by a black, sunken area on the bottom, the blossom end, of the tomato. It is caused by a lack of calcium reaching the fruit. The soil could be lacking calcium which can only be determined by having a soil test done for nutrient levels. UConn does a basic soil test for $12.00 at soiltest.uconn.edu. New England is not usually lacking calcium in its soil, it is more likely the cause of blossom end rot is an interruption in the delivery of calcium from the soil to the fruit via water uptake. This is caused by irregular watering, letting the soil dry out, then watering or having a big rain event. Occasionally, high levels of potassium or magnesium fertilizers will compete with calcium uptake by the plants. Only use a balanced fertilizer to avoid an excess of individual nutrients and provide even water levels to the soil to avoid blossom end rot. Portions of the tomato not rotted are also still edible if you cut away the bad part.

yellowshoulder, hort.purdue.edu

Yellow Shoulders, hort.purdue.edu

Yellow shoulders disorder occurs on the top part of the tomato when areas never turn red, but stay yellow. The flesh underneath can be tough and corky. It can occur only on the top portion or can occur as a grey or white wall just under the skin around the whole fruit.This problem is caused by a number of different circumstances or combinations of them. We do know it is a problem at the cellular level that happens very early as the fruit is forming.  Cells in the area are smaller and not aligned normally, and the green chlorophyll areas do not develop red pigment. Causes are thought to be high temperatures over 90 degrees F at time of fruit formation, and possible pH levels over 6.7, and potassium, magnesium and calcium competition among each other. Again, a balanced fertilizer is needed.

tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.

Tomato with white walls, yellow shoulders, photo by Becky M.

 

The take away message for all of these physiological problems are to have an adequate soil fertility and soil pH without over fertilizing, and have even soil moisture. Hope for summer temperatures to stay at or below 90 degrees F and your harvest baskets will be full of beautiful, delicious tomatoes.

-Carol Quish

 

Now is the time when a small pest that has the potential to do a large amount of damage will be hatching. I am speaking of the Squash Vine Borer, the larval stage of the clearwing moth Melittia cucurbitae, an insect so synonymous with the squash family that it has cucurbit in its name.

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The adult clearwing moth, unlike many other moth species, is diurnal and is therefore active during the day. With its orange abdomen and clear wings it is often is mistaken for a wasp. The adults are now emerging from the soil where they have over-wintered as pupae. Anecdotally it is said that the squash vine borer lays its eggs when the blue chicory is in bloom and a drive along any of our major interstates will confirm that it is indeed blooming now. (image by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

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The eggs, which are very small, are laid singly at the base of the stalks near the soil. This will make it easier for the newly-hatched larvae to enter the stalk. Seven to ten days later the larvae, which are white with a brown head, will emerge from the reddish-brown eggs and within hours instinctively burrow into the stem to begin feeding.(image by Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

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At this point symptoms will begin to appear starting with a wilting of the plant that recovers in the evening but progressing to a plant that does not revive in the evening or after watering. There may also be small entry holes visible at the base of the stem and sawdust-looking frass (waste). The larvae feed inside the stem for a little over two weeks, reaching 1” in length, at which time they exit the plant, burrowing 1-6” into the soil where they will pupate until next spring. I plant my cucurbits in upside-down coco coir liners that have a 2″ diameter hole in the bottom (now the top).

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The small opening and the protective coco coir make it easier to cover the base of the plant with row cover cloth and harder for the larvae to get to the soil to pupate. In warmer climates there may be two generations per year so we are fortunate that Connecticut only experiences one generation each summer.

It is almost impossible to control the larvae once they have entered the stems. If Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is applied to the plant tissue that is near the area where the larvae will hatch then they will feed on the residues prior to entering the stalk. Bt is a common soil-dwelling bacterial organism that forms crystals of insecticidal toxins called Cry proteins or crystal proteins. When consumed by the larvae, the Cry proteins undergo a series of chemical changes to the point that they paralyze the intestinal tract and the insect starves to death. Also good to know is that mammals have no toxic or allergic reactions to Bt, it only affects species in the orders Coleoptera, (beetles), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, sawflies, and wasps), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies, and nematodes. Bt can also be injected into the stem where squash vine borer activity is suspected making it the only treatment that may work once the borer is inside. Additionally, normal exposure rates of Bt will not harm bees so that is good news for our pollinators.

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Butternut squash, cucumbers, and melons are not as susceptible to the squash vine borer as summer squash, pumpkins, and Hubbard squash, so plant the former varieties if you don’t want to deal with the borer. There are some practices that can be used if, like me, you can’t imagine a summer without freshly picked and grilled summer squash or a winter without home-canned ratatouille.

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The best protection is to prevent the clearwing moth from laying its eggs in the first place. Row covers placed during the egg-laying period starting in mid-June can be highly effective, just be sure to remove when the blossoms are ready for pollination (or leave them on and hand-pollinate). If possible, don’t plant in the same location as the prior year. If it’s not possible to rotate, at least turn over the soil at the end of the season to expose the pupae to the freezing temperatures of winter.

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For more information and control measures please check out our: Squash Vine Borer fact sheet.

Susan Pelton

 

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

 

August is supposed to be the month of non-stop tomatoes. Occasionally things go awry to interrupt those carefully laid spring visions of bountiful harvests, sauce making, and endless tomato sandwiches. Blossom end rot can appear to put an end to the crop production by damaging the ripening and developing fruits. We are seeing and receiving calls in a  higher number than more recent years from backyard gardeners complaining about black rotten spots on the bottom of their tomatoes. The spots start as a thickened, leathery spot which sinks in, always on the bottom of the fruit.

Blossom end rot on tomato, ohioline.osu.edu

Blossom end rot on tomato, ohioline.osu.edu

Blossom end rot can also occur on peppers.

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot on peppers, photo taken by client

Blossom end rot is a physiological condition due to lack of calcium. Calcium is needed by plants for  proper growth in all functions of cell making, but is most important for cell walls. Without enough calcium either in the soil, or if delivery of uptake of dissolved calcium in soil water is interrupted, cell division stops in the fruit. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to a lack of calcium.

Interruptions in uptake of calcium can happen by repeated cycles of soil drying out, receiving water, then drying out again. Times of drought and hot, humid weather make the problem worse. Plants lose water through their leaves through a process called transpiration, similar to the way we sweat. They then pull up water through their roots. If there is not enough soil moisture, plants wilt. This break is water delivery also limits calcium delivery. Tomato, and to a lesser degree pepper fruits, respond by developing rot on the bottom, the end where the blossom was before the fruit started growing.

High humidity and multiple cloudy days reduces transpiration, thereby reducing water uptake. This leaves plants not able to bring up new calcium rich water to the site making new cells of the fruit. Another interruption of delivery of calcium resulting in blossom end rot. This means that even if you have enough calcium in the soil and you water the soil regularly, the plants still may not be able to move enough calcium to where it is needed to produce a fruit.

Have a soil test done to make sure soil has enough calcium and that pH levels are around 6.5 so nutrients are most readily available. Water regularly so plants receive 1 to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth. Feel the soil around the root zone to make sure water is soaking in and reaching the roots. Humidity and cloud cover are not obstacles we can help the plant with, so monitor the fruit for rot spots and remove. There are calcium foliar sprays which claim to deliver calcium to be absorbed by the leaves for use by the plant. This won’t help after the rot has already developed, but may help deter future spots on still developing tomatoes.

-Carol Quish

 

 

 

Lots of happenings in the vegetable garden this week as things start to take off. Yellow summer squash and zucchini are starting to produce fruits. The first flowers that appeared were male, identified by their long stems holding the blossom. Female flowers have a small squash shaped ovary at the blossom base, that if becomes pollinated, will grow into a full-sized squash.If the pollination of the female flower does not happen, the tiny squash will drop off. Female flowers appear about a week after the first male flowers are put out by the plant.

Female squash blossoms with a fruit behind it. Photo by C.Quish

Female squash blossoms with a fruit behind it. Photo by C.Quish

Male squash blossom is on the long stem. Photo by C.Quish

Male squash blossom is on the long stem. Photo by C.Quish

At the first appearance of blossoms, the squash vine borer also was seen. The adult is a clear winged moth that lays her eggs on the hollow stems both varieties. The egg hatches into a larva tunneling into the center of the vine, feeding on the inside of the stem and blocking the transmission of water to the leaf and all plant material above their feeding site. The result will be wilting of the plant.

Squash vine borer adults, Jeff Hahn photo, UMN.edu

Squash vine borer adults, Jeff Hahn photo, UMN.edu

Control measures are trapping adults, preventing egg laying, and killing larva once stem is invaded. Trap adults by placing a yellow bowl or container filled with soapy water in the garden. Adults are attracted to the color yellow, will fly to the container where they become trapped in the soapy water. Check for eggs on the stems daily and crush any you find. Some folks wrap stems with aluminum foil to create a barrier to egg laying. If larva are found inside the stem, use a hat pin to poke through the stem into the larva to cause death of the insect while the stem will not be harmed much. Another way is to use a knife to slice lengthwise into the stem, dig out the larva, put the stem sides back together and cover with soil. The plant often recovers. Chemical control includes applying insecticide to the base and stems of the squash plant. This will kill the larva before it has a chance to burrow into the stem. Registered insecticides again the squash vine borer are neem, Surround, permethrin and pyrethrins. Always follow pesticide label directions.

Kale, bok choi and Swiss chard are keeping us in greens. The dreaded small caterpillars are starting to appear. Imported cabbage moth, crossed striped caterpillar and the cabbage looper are all common in Connecticut. Insecticidal soap, Bt and spinosad are organic control measures that work well on the early stages of the caterpillar. Apply at recommend label times to keep up with any new hatchings. Be aware of any white moths flitting around the cole crops to alert you to egg laying and the subsequent caterpillar presence.

Cross-striped cabbagworm larva (Evergestis rimosalis). Clemson University USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, www.insectimages.org

Cross-striped cabbagworm larva (Evergestis rimosalis).
Clemson University USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, http://www.insectimages.org

Cabbage looper larva (Trichoplusia ni) and feeding damage. David Cappaert, Michigan State University, www.insectimages.org

Cabbage looper larva (Trichoplusia ni) and feeding damage.
David Cappaert, Michigan State University, http://www.insectimages.org

Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers were planted late as my garden had to wait for other responsibilities to happen before planting took place this year. All seem to be slow due to the colder spring soils, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise and I will have an extended harvest. I plan on planting spinach, lettuce, kale and carrots during August for later season crops. Colder hardy varieties will be selected and I will use row covers later to protect from frosts.

– Carol Quish