There is not a slower time in the garden than January when the ground is frozen, often under a blanket of snow, plants have died off or lay dormant, and most insects and small animals are snug underground.

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Among the animals that may hibernate from October to April are slugs and snails, happy to find a site that doesn’t go below 0°F. Their eggs are also capable of withstanding freezing temperatures. So even though we can’t see them right now, they are out there, just waiting for the ground to warm up in the Spring when they can return to our gardens and feed on our new plants!

Slow moving slugs and snails are primordial gastropod mollusks (or molluscs) in the class Gastropoda and are invertebrates that may be found in salt or fresh water or on land. Gastropod is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘gastér’ for stomach and ‘podos’ for foot, their literal means of locomotion. Some land and freshwater snails and slugs have a simple lung from which they breathe while other freshwater snails such as this zebra nerite (Neritina zebra) breathe through gills. This video shows not only how quickly a marine snail can move around on its single foot but also its mouth as it feeds on the algae in this water garden tank.

This grove snail, Cepaea nemoralis, is a pulmonate land snail, meaning that it breathes through a simple lung which is somewhat visible through its translucent shell. A snail is born with a very soft shell and they need to consume large amounts of calcium early on in order for it to harden, starting by consuming the shell of the egg that it hatched from. This tiny newborn shell becomes the center of the coiled spiral that forms as the snail grows.

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Some shells form into elongated spiral shapes such as the tree snail of the Drymaeus species below on the left and the garden snail, Cornu aspersum on the right.

And then there is the ultimate example of recycling where hermit crabs will occupy marine snail shells whose occupants have died. This fellow was filmed in the Bahamas:

The shell-less gastropods, or slugs, that are common to Connecticut gardens include the netted or grey garden slug, Deroceras reticulatum. It is a major pest which loves to feed on leaves, seedlings, and young fruit such as the developing cucumber shown below. The cucumber is shiny with the slug’s slime.

These small slugs actually thrive in cultivated areas such as our gardens and landscapes, feeding at night and sheltering under stones or litter during the day. An interesting aspect of ‘slug watching’ is seeing their bodies lengthen and thin out and then contract and grow bulbous again as they move along. They almost seem to be formed a of a thickly viscous fluid as they drape over a plant or rock.

Also familiar to the Connecticut gardener is the slug Limax maximus, shown below, so called as it can grow to 5” in length. It is a nocturnal slug that returns to a particular crevice under stones or fallen trees after foraging in lawns, gardens, cellars, or damp areas. Also known as the great grey slug or the leopard slug due to the dark blotches that stand out against the lighter background of its upper body, it is a detrivore, meaning that it feeds on detritus such as dead plants and fungi although it can be a major pest in a garden where it can consume young plants. It will pursue and consume other slugs if it feels threatened.

The black slug, Arion ater, is rarely a pest in gardens, preferring terrestrial areas. This slug will contract into a spherical shape when threatened but can reach up to 4.5” when expanded to its full length.

large black slug, arion ater

Slugs and snails both produce a layer of protective mucus that is a combination of lubricant and glue from their foot which is useful in both movement and in securing the creature to surfaces. Another type of mucus coats the body to prevent desiccation, aid in healing, and protect soft body parts. Snail slime is currently an ingredient in many cosmetics where those same properties are desired, so land snails are bred on farms for the cosmetic industry. Snail farming is known as heliculture or heliciculture which derives its name from the family Helicidae to which snails belong. These farms also grow snails for consumption such as in the traditional French dish escargot or the eggs are eaten in a fashion similar to caviar.

snail damage

If slugs and snails are pests in your garden, eating and damaging plants, then check out our fact sheet Slugs and Snails for information on control options.

 

Susan Pelton

All images by Susan Pelton

maple tree color

Fall has settled in finally, bringing its colors and cool weather. Some foliage colors were mediocre this year, always to due to the weather. It stayed hot for a long time and we did not get the cool night temperatures which help to trigger the trees to slow down and get ready for dormancy with the side effect of changing leaf color. Still there were some nice sights around the state. Japanese maple ‘Full Moon’ is a reliably consistent beauty sporting bright red leaves for a week or more before dropping its foliage.

Full moon Japanese Maple

Full Moon Japanese Maple

Evergreen trees also drop foliage, but not all needles at once. The newer green needles will remain on the branches for several years. Eastern white pines will shed their oldest, inner most bundles of needles each year by first turning yellow, then brown and drop. Notice the healthy, younger green needles are retained on the growing ends of the branches.

Fall is time of seed and fruit production in the cycle of life of plants. Crabapples are a great source of food for birds and animals throughout the winter. Some trees have very persistent fruit, hanging on throughout the season, ensuring feathered and fur beings a meal. Viburnum species also are in fruit as are winterberries.

Another interesting tree producing seed pods is the Japanese pagoda tree, Styphnolobium japonicum. It also goes by its other common name Chinese scholar tree due to it commonly being planted around Buddhist temples in Japan. It is native to China and Korea. Panicles of scented white flowers are produced in late summer, turning into strings of pop bead looking yellow seed pods in fall. Pods then turn brown staying on the tree though winter. Japanese pagoda tree makes a great, small specimen tree in yards and larger gardens.

Japanese pagoda tree

Japanese Pagoda Tree

Fall is a good time to gather dried seeds from annuals and perennials you wish to grow again. Many reseeding annuals drop their seed and seem to pop up as weeds. Collect the seed in paper envelopes or containers to grow them where you want them next year. Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, dill and fennel are just a few that consistently popup all over my gardens. The annual yellow and orange gloriosa daisy evens spread to my adjacent neighbors from the birds eating the seed heads I leave up for them. Some hybrid seeds will not come back the same if you save and plant the seed the following year. Every year I plant blue or blue striped forms of morning glory to climb up the gazebo. They set tons of seeds and drop to the ground to sprout and grow the next year. Unfortunately, they come back a deep purple, not the blue. If I don’t rouge out the volunteers from the new blue flowered plants I put in each year, I will have a mixed show of the blue I newly planted and purple that reseeded themselves. I consider the purple weeds, but others might disagree.

Speaking of weeds, I noticed it was a banner year for Pennsylvania smartweed, Persicaria pensylvanica,   formerly called Polygonum pensyvanicum . Smartweed loves it moist and it responded well to all the rain we had this spring and summer, growing like gangbusters and producing a multitude of seed. On the positive side, songbirds love the seed and will be well fed during their time here. Too bad the prolific seed production is going to add to the seed bank in the soil for following years.

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Pennsylvania Smartweed

This year of moisture also lead to much fungal production. Tomatoes were more likely to succumb to early blight and Septoria leaf spot due to leaf wetness aiding disease development and spread. Fungicides applied before fungus hits can protect plants. So will proper spacing of plants and pruning branches to increase airflow and dry leaves. High humidity and lots of moisture ensures mildews, too. Lilacs will develop powdery mildew during mid-summer, but still come back strongly the next year. I just chose to not look at them after August.

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Lilac leaves with powdery mildew

Insects are always a part of the garden be it vegetable or perennial. We need the insects for pollination and cycle of all life. The pest ones were not too bad this year as I kept up the removal and scouting for eggs on the squash and squishing caterpillars and worms on the kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Tomato hornworms made a brief appearance, but I caught them in time before much damage was done. Thankfully the cucumber beetles were low in numbers this year and manageable with hand picking them off. I am often fascinated with the beauty and intricacies of insects. I found the delicate dragonfly dead on my breezeway and could not help but marvel at its color and patterns on its body. Dragonflies dart about the yard zigging and zagging at breakneck speed while feeding on the tornado of gnats in the very late afternoon. I call it the dance of the dragonfly and now I see they come dressed in their finery for the occasion.

Dragonfly head

 

The season wasn’t all work, nor should it be. We made time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and spaces we created, and hope did also. With summer and the main growing season are behind us, I hope it left mark on your heart and memories for your mind, until next year when we can all try again, try some new plant and find a new adventure.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyright C. Quish

boat wake trail in ocean

‘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.

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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

As the gardening season is winding down, produce is piling up in the kitchen. Potatoes have been dug, peppers are picked and squash is in a basket. Now is the time to store the rewards of your hard won labors.

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Photo from PSU.edu

When I was a child, my grandmother’s home had a root cellar with a dirt floor and field rock walls. It was the ‘room’ between the wooden stairs up to the outside and the cellar, which was filled with scary, old things that made loud noises,  smelled of kerosene and musty clothing, and housed the occasional snake.  I did not like the cellar, but loved going into the root cellar. It smelled of the earth, like soil and the hay bales we placed to hold wooden boxes off of the floor. The boxes were filled with clean sand for the keeping of carrots, beets and turnips buried in the damp sand. None of vegetables where supposed to touch each other to prevent a rotten spot from occurring or spreading to the adjacent root vegetable.  Cabbages were laid on other hay bales, up off the floor, as were wooden boxes of winter squashes and pumpkins. Onions were braided together hand hung from nails on the beams overhead or put into burlap grain bags repurposed. The root cellar was dark and moist, perfect for holding vegetables. Yes, we had a refrigerator but it wasn’t as large as today’s, nor did it provide enough room for all the garden excess intended to get us through the winter. The root cellar was a form of primitive refrigeration using the cool and constant temperature of below ground to store food. Our modern day homes don’t come equipped with root cellars, but we can still store the bounty of our gardens.

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Photo from University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Winter squash and pumpkins need curing for long storage of several months. Squash will last longer is the stems are left on. After picking, let them lay in the sun off the ground, on a picnic table perhaps, for about a week. Turn them over every couple of days to make sure all sides are exposed to the sun. Curing hardens the skin of the squashes, making them less likely to rot in storage. Once cured, brush off any remaining dirt, then wash the squash with a 10 percent bleach and water solution, or a 50/50 vinegar and water mix. Either mixture will disinfect any fungi or bacteria which harm the squash once stored. Wrap each squash in newspaper and place in a basket or box with slats or openings on the sides to promote ventilation. The newspaper will create an air space between each squash. Store in a cool, dry area of the home that will not go below freezing. 50 degrees F is optimum. I put mine on the bottom step of my basement hatchway.

winter squash storage

hatchway storage

Potatoes must be cured also. After the foliage has died back, dig up the potatoes. They need to cure and be stored in the dark, out of the sun or they will develop green spots on the skin that can have toxic properties. A dark tool shed or garage without windows will work well. After digging, lay tubers on newspaper in the dark space for about two weeks at 50 to 60 degrees F. Potatoes should not touch during the curing process. After the two weeks, wipe off any dirt without washing at all. Remove any tubers with spots or damage to eat first as they will not store well. Place storage potatoes in a bushel basket or cardboard box. Cover with newspaper or burlap to exclude any light. Place in a space that will not freeze and not get above 50 degrees F for longest keeping quality.

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Potatoes, photo by Carol Quish

 

Onions can be dug and laid right on top of the ground for about a week as long as there is no danger of frost or rain. If rain is threatened, move them to a shed, porch or garage with good ventilation.  Necks will dry and brown. They can then be braided together or kept in mesh bags or bushel baskets as good airflow is needed. Keep them out of the light and a cool, 35 to 35 degree F location.

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Photo from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

The root crops of carrots and beets can be dug, wiped clean and stored in airtight freezer bags in the refrigerator. Leave an inch of the green tops on the vegetables and do not cut off any root material from the base. Cutting into the flesh gives fungi and bacteria a place to enter. An alternative method of storage is in damp sand just like in the root cellar with a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F. Some people leave them right in the ground, only digging up what they need before the ground freezes. Covering the in-ground crop with a thick layer of hay or straw will delay the ground from freezing until it gets really cold.

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Carrots, photo by Carol Quish

Green tomatoes can be gathered before the first frost. Select only fruit with no bad spots. Get out the newspaper once again, to wrap each tomato for protection and airflow. Alternatively, lay tomatoes in single layers separated with layers of newspapers. Keep out the light and keep in a cool spot below 50 degrees F. Check them all once per week to remove any that develop rot. Hopefully they will ripen by the New Year.

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Tomatoes not ripe yet, Photo by Carol Quish

One crop I gather to remind me of years gone by and out of style is Quince. My local orchard has a quince tree as most farm houses had outside its kitchen. Quince fruit has a very high pectin content which was commonly boiled along with any fruit to make a jelly or jam before powdered or liquid pectin was commercially available.

Surejell and Certo has made the backyard quince tree fall out of favor. I admit I don’t use the quince fruit to make my jellies and jams anymore, but at least I am still preserving the harvest in an updated manner.

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jars of jam.jpg

-Carol Quish,  photos copyright, Carol Quish

“He who bears chives on his breathe, Is safe from being kissed to death.” Marcus Valerius Martialis in his “Epigrams”, 80 A.D.

Rather than bring tears to my eyes, all the alliums (members of the onion family, Alliaceae) in my herb and vegetable gardens bring a smile to my face. Garlic and curly chives are in full bloom, Egyptian walking onions are attempting to escape from the herb garden, second year leeks are going to seed and my ‘White Sweet Spanish’ onions are huge, sweet and juicy.

A pungent favorite of mine is garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). I grow it not only for its charming white flowers that are always useful in arrangements for our garden club’s Olde Home Day Flower Show Labor Day weekend but also for its very garlicky-flavored foliage. The bluish-green, flattish leaves are a tasty addition to stir fries, soups and other culinary dishes where a touch of garlic is nice. A former co-worker from China used to make most delicious Chinese dumplings using garlic chives as part of the stuffing.

garlic chives flowers

White flowering garlic chives by dm

Garlic chives, like most alliums, is a pollinator magnet with hordes of bumblebees and others busily collecting pollen from the round, white umbels of flowers. The flowers reach about 18 inches high. The flowers are also edible but a bit tough. Use them for that finishing touch to dress up salad plates. The one bad habit that garlic chives have is to self-seed everywhere so unless you want tons of plants, deadhead plants as blossoms start to fade.

Curly chives (A. senescens var. ‘Glaucum’) is also in full bloom right now. This plant also has bluish-green foliage but it is only 6 to 8 inches high and there is a nice wave to it. The flowers are small, one-inch umbels of a pinkish mauve color. Curly chives has a strong onion flavor to the leaves and I have never found any seedlings around it. Plants grow slowly, hold their foliage well, and would be useful in perennial beds and even as a border plant.

curly chives

Curly chives by dmp.

About 20 years ago, I planted seeds of ‘Evergreen Long White’ bunching onion (A. fistulosum) and I am still harvesting from the same patch. Also called scallions or green onions (although there are red bulb varieties), one could harvest the whole plant but I just cut the green stems and the plants continue to grow and multiply. If they get a bit too crowded, I will harvest whole plants. They are easily started from seed in the spring and like the garlic chives, their large flower umbels attract lots of pollinators but they self-seed very readily so as soon as the bees stop buzzing around the fairly nondescript flowers, I cut them all down. The green stems can be harvested from early spring until late fall once established.

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Green onions towards end of season by dmp.

Egyptian walking onions (A. cepa var. proliferum) are rather curious plants. Strong, large diameter green shoots emerge each spring and stand tall most of the summer. Unlike most allium species that form bulbs at their base, walking onions form a cluster of small bulbs at the top of their shoots. As these topsets reach maturity by the end of summer, they become heavier and heavier and finally the stalk can no longer bear their weight and down they go. This is why they are called walking onions.

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Egyptian walking onions leaving the herb garden – time to thin? photo by dmp

You can harvest the little onions at the end of the season and use them like I do in chicken pot pies – so much better than those squishy, frozen pearl onions – or in other dishes. Or, you can let them take root in place. Note they need to touch the bare mineral soil so remove any mulch from underneath them and tuck them into the soil slightly. If there are too many bulbs in the clusters, you may choose to harvest some and only leave a few to root. Or, you can separate the bulbs and plant them 2 inches deep for bigger topsets next harvest. Typically, it will take 2 years after planting for a topset to form.

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Egyptian walking onion topset. Photo by dmp.

A few years ago, I did not harvest all my leeks and a couple of them overwintered and bloomed the following year. I left them as pollinator plants and when the seed heads ripened, one keeled over and I left the seed head on the ground over the winter not having enough time to finish cleaning the garden before winter. Lo and behold, leek seedlings next spring! Since then I always leave a few leeks to overwinter and a few usually do so I get no work leek seedlings that I just have to transplant with good spacing between the plants every year since. The original leek that I planted was ‘King Richard’.

leek seed heads

Leek seed heads. Photo by dmp.

Finally, my late onions ‘White Sweet Spanish’ are remarkably large this year. This is a mild and sweet variety that stores only moderately well so I just leave them in the garden and pull as needed. They are needed quite often for everything from kebobs on the grill to warm tuna salad to lemony shrimp orzo to pepper and onion pizza so they should all be used up by the end of the month. Onions are ready to harvest when the tops fall over although you can harvest them any time you want. When I started gardening at first I purchased onion sets. These were available locally but the varieties were often limited. Then I started growing my own onions from seeds but like leeks they needed to be started in February. Now I just purchase onion plants. There is a decent selection of varieties to choose from that are suited to the northeast and it frees up the limited space under my plant lights.

onion white sweet Spanish

Onions ‘White Sweet Spanish’. photo by dmp.

Alliums are remarkably easy and fun to grow. They are great for both culinary and ornamental purposes. Try some, you’ll like them!

Dawn P.

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

 

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Pansies

 

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

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

 

Mourning dove

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

 

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Vinca, evolvulus, lobularia

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

 

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Bee visiting a bicolor buddleia

 

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

 

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Hummingbird moth on a petunia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Pelton

 

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