Painted lady on boneset

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

– William Shakespeare

Sedum var ‘Autumn Joy’ attracts many species of butterflies and bees

The grand finale of the blooming season is here and while many plants are winding down their bloom period, other plants are still in great form or are yet to put on their show of flowers. There are still many species of pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, that are active and needful of pollen and nectar sources late in the year. And butterflies, especially those that migrate, are in the same biological boat, needing energy providing nectar sources for their long journeys south. Many annual, perennial and woody plants provide all of them with the food sources they need to accomplish their late season undertakings.        

  

Tiger swallowtail visiting aster flowers
Anise hyssop is a favorite of butterflies and bees
Giant swallowtail on Hyssop at James L. Goodwin State Forest
Agastache ‘Kudos Coral’ -a variety of anise hyssop

Among annuals that are late-season bloomers there are too many to name, but some of the best for pollinators and butterflies include Torenia, zinnias, sunflowers, Lantana, petunia, sweet potato vine, salvias, and sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima. Some of these may still bloom after a light frost, so place them carefully in the garden or planter.

Painted lady on a variety of annual salvia
Bumblebees go inside certain flowers, like this annual Torenia
Painted lady on annual Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia

Late- blooming perennials for pollinators and butterflies are numerous, and are best when mixed together for easy access for pollinating insects. For example, planting several tall garden phlox, asters, and goldenrods together makes it easy for bees to travel short distances to preferred flowers. In the wild native asters, goldenrods, boneset, snakeroot and woodland sunflowers and Rudbeckia often occur together.

Spotted Joe-pye weed, boneset and goldenrods in their natural setting
Tiny green Halictidae bee on goldenrod
Wool carder bee on calamint

Among late season blooming non-native perennials, obedient plant, guara, Echinacea, veronica , hyssop varieties , sedums, Coreopsis and others are long bloomers that are preferred by the greatest variety of bee and butterfly species. Some may need to be dead–headed as needed to encourage maximum flower development.

Honey bee visiting obedient plant flower

Native perennials for pollinators like black snakeroot, asters, goldenrods, boneset, white snakeroot, Rudbeckia, mountain mint, closed gentians and turtlehead are among those  visited may many species of bees, wasps and butterflies. Turtlehead and closed bottle gentians need a robust pollinator like a bumblebee that is able to barge its way into the flowers and then exit

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Pink variety of turtlehead with bumblebee visitors
Native turtlehead

Spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata is a short-lived perennial that has showy pagoda-like colorful bracts that the small, purple spotted tubular flowers rest upon. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators, blooms last for weeks. The plants have an appearance similar to an illustration in a Dr.  Suess book.

Spotted bee balm
Summer azure on spotted bee balm flower-James L. Goodwin State Forest garden

Black snakeroot, cimicifuga ramose, also called bugbane or Actaea, is a tall late-blooming perennial that is very attractive to bees. It has sweet-smelling white flowers on long spikes that attract bees, flies, flower beetles and small butterflies. Blooming in late September into October, it is a good shade- loving perennial for late flying pollinators .

Cimicifuga sp. snakeroot
unknown moth and honey bee on snakeroot

Among shrubs and trees that bloom late in the year Franklinia, witch hazel, rose-of-Sharon, sweet autumn clematis (a wonderful vine loaded with white sweet scented flowers), paniculata varieties of hydrangea and lespedeza bush clover are good pollen and nectar sources for bees and butterflies. Native witch hazel blooms the latest- starting in early October- and is striking when its peculiar yellow flowers bloom when its leaves are also yellow. This plant may bloom well into November, providing food for those bees and other pollinators that are still active very late in the year. Caryopteris– common name bluebeard- is also frequented by various bees and butterflies

Lespedeza thunbergii bush clover
Native fall blooming witch hazel still in flower in November after leaves have fallen
Bluebeard–Caryopteris--and bumblebees
Sweet autumn clematis
Franklinia tree flowering in late September- early October

Getting outside in both the natural and home landscape will provide moments of thoughtful consideration for the small, engaging things that are taking place around us. Whether insects, flowers or simply the changing of leaf color, there are so many things happening we should try not to miss. One of them has been the magnificent orange sun at dawn and dusk, even though the cause of this phenomenon is heart-rending.  

Sunrise September 15 2020 featured an orange sun due to smoke drifting across the nation from wildfires in the western U.S..

Pamm Cooper

 

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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.

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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

 

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

– William C. Bryant

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

autumn-leaves-autumn-2016

Some red maples still had leaves late in the fall in 2016

 

“ November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.”

– Clyde Watson

This fall was spectacular in its color displays both in the leaves and in the skies.And we are not done yet. A relatively indifferent  landscape can turn charming or spectacular when autumn colors abound as they have this year. Since a pictures is said  to be worth a thousand words, I will save you much reading…

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Canada geese on a pond splashed with early morning fall colors Pamm Cooper photo

american-lady-fall-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

American Lady butterflies migrate south for the winter, along with sulphurs, monarchs, cabbage whites and red admirals

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Delicata squash- one of the smaller winter squash varieties

old-house-with-bittersweet-and-japanese-maple-rte-154-november-13-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Old house in the background with Oriental bittersweet on the left and an old Japanese maple on the right . Location is heading south from the Goodspeed Opera House on Rte 154

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Mushrooms on a dying sweet birch in early November 2016.

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Mourning Cloaks overwinter as butterflies and may be seen flying about near or in the woods on warm winter days

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It is obvious where the barberry is in these woods. Photo taken near the Gillette Castle State Park

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Honey bees are visiting mums and witch hazel this week, as well as any Montauk daisies that are still blooming

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November 6 2016 dawn over Glastonbury, Ct.

sugar-maple-on-left-and-japanese-maple-on-right-november-5-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Here is a good example of thinking ahead when planting. A sugar maple on the left and a Japanese maple on the right were probably planted over 30 years ago and are the perfect companions for great autumn color.

Take some little trips this season in our little state. There is still some good color out there, but it may not last much longer. And you may not have to go very far to get some great visual  compositions. Perhaps just as far as your own back yard.

Pamm Cooper                                          All photos by Pamm Cooper

 

 

As the trees shed the last of their leaves in preparation for the coming winter, New England gardeners are collecting the last of their harvests or preparing plants like parsnips for in-ground harvest throughout the cold winter months. We have had several frosts and a tad of wet snow which is fine for the Brussels sprouts that I am harvesting this week for Thanksgiving dinner. Exposure to frosts sweetens them up a bit. Also picked this past weekend were a handful of leeks which were made into a potato leek soup flavored with caraway seeds and dill – served with an herb and onion bread. It is one of my favorite cold weather meals. There is still some chard, broccoli and another kohl rabi left and they will be dealt with shortly. With the relatively mild winter we experienced last year, several Swiss chard plants made it through the winter to provide early spring greens much to my delight so I will leave a few plants to see if my luck continues.

November 8th dusting of snow on Brussels sprouts

 November is often such a gloomy month that any burst of color is a welcome relief from the drab browns of dying vegetation. A definite attention getter is Winterberry (Ilex verticillata).  This native is commonly found in moist areas and can grow up to 15 feet tall. Bright red berries persist well into winter and are a sought after food source for dozens of species of birds. The native species tends to be rather loose in form but there are many cultivars and selections that are more compact and fruitful. There are also selections with yellow berries.

There are two things to keep in mind when planting winterberries in the landscape. First, like all hollies, they are dioecious which means that there are separate male and female plants and both are needed for the flowers to be pollinated and red berries to form. Usually one male plant is purchased for every half dozen or so females. If you have some winterberries growing nearby and producing berries, you must have a male pollinator in the vicinity so you may not need to purchase one. Secondly, although winterberries do tolerate and even produce some berries if grown in part shade, a much heavier crop will occur when plants are grown in full sun.

Winterberry brightens the November landscape

 Another favorite plant of mine this time of year is the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) which is the last plant to bloom. Flowers consist of four, curious, yellow, strap-like petals and are produced after the leaves fall from the branches. Our native witch hazel is not as flashy as the cultivars but it gives the wooded areas in which is grows a soothing, golden haze making a very pretty scene when touched by the early morning sun. 

 Many folks do not know that Connecticut is the witch hazel capital of world, with East Hampton being the epicenter. A minister named Thomas Dickinson opened the first witch hazel distillery in Essex, CT back in the mid 1800’s. Family feuds ended up with the establishment of a second distillery in East Hampton and rival brands. In the 1970’s the East Hampton distillery was bought by a non-family member. It was automated in the 1980’s and this was the beginning of the end for the Essex facility which closed in 1997.

Presently, hundreds of tons of witch hazel stems are needed each year for witch hazel production and as of 2008, only about 8 families in Connecticut are responsible for most of the harvest. It is a perennial crop which takes just a few years to regrow after the stems are harvested.

Native Americans used witch hazel as a cure-all for a number of ills, many of which it is still used for today. Some of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical products which contain witch hazel include various shampoos and conditioners, bath gels and soaps, shaving creams, suntan lotions, aftershave lotions, deodorants, acne care products, psoriasis creams, hemorrhiodal products, mouthwashes, topical anti-bacterials as well as a number of veterinary products.

I am so excited about this year’s graduating class of UConn Master Composters! What’s a Master Composter you ask? Developed along a similar line to the UConn Master Gardener program, a UConn Master Composter attends 6 to 7 educational sessions on composting which typically include classroom learning, hands-on demonstrations and activities, and at least two field trips. In exchange for this training on the many aspects of composting, they are asked to participate in two University-sanctioned, educational, outreach activities within one year of their training program. My first class of Master Composters consisted of 10 individuals, 9 of whom completed their outreach requirements. Their total volunteer outreach hours reached over 200 hours towards community composting education. We had a very nice (and delicious) pot-luck graduation luncheon at the Middlesex County Extension Center in Haddam on November 7, 2010. The next Master Composter class will be starting up in March in Bethel. Plans for the class are being set up now and will be available on our website, www.ladybug.uconn.edu shortly.

Lastly, I am thankful for many things this past year. I am thankful that we only had 8 weeks of drought and the rain came before my well went dry; I am thankful for the 3 little bunnies that decimated my beets and lettuce but were so tame I could get within 6 feet of them for photographs: I am thankful for no late blight on my tomatoes this year so I had plenty for homemade chili sauce, I am also thankful for the pollinators that gave me a bountiful harvest and the birds whose choruses delighted me while I battled weeds and insect pests. I will admit, however, not being thankful for those pesky chipmunks who dug up about a quarter of all my transplants last spring. Please tell me why a few zinnias can’t be left to grow in peace? !!!

Interesting Fish Bowl Bed at out Thanksgiving Dinner Host's house

 Wishing you all a happy and delicious Thanksgiving!

 Dawn

As I was heading out to Stamford the other day to teach the Master Gardener class on Soils, Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers, I noticed that the snowdrops at the base of the foundation were already in bloom. I haven’t checked on my black pussy willow yet but as I strolled through aisles of vendors at the CT Flower & Garden Show in Hartford yesterday, I noticed bunches of soft, fuzzy pussy willows for sale, a sure sign spring is on the way.

For the last decade, at least, the UConn Home & Garden Education Center and the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory have had a joint booth at the Hartford Flower Show. We offer free soil pH testing for anyone who brings in one-half cup of soil or so (yes I know some years it is hard to collect a soil sample in February!) and both UConn staff and UConn Master Gardener volunteers are at the booth to answer gardening questions from the public. If we don’t know the answers on the spot, we will research the question and phone, mail or email our findings to you. We also take this opportunity to let folks know about our Perennial Plant and Garden Conferences to be held March 11 and 12 at the Storrs campus as well as the CT Master Gardener Association Conference held March 27 at Manchester Community College (http://www.ctmga.org/ ).

Gardening and soil questions and comments are of course received by us all year long. Upon returning from a talk a few weeks ago, I found a message to call back a homeowner who had something very important to tell us. When I called back, the person described to me a most interesting plant. It seems she had purchased a witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ for its late winter, airy, golden blossoms. One branch of her shrub, however, had red flowers which had begun opening last November.

I suspect this was because the plant was grafted and the red flowering stem arose from the root stock. I have seen this happen on roses where there is a red rose on the end of a stem but all the other stems are producing yellow roses. The person was nice enough to send me a photo of her curious but delightful plant.

Bicolor witch hazel

On another note, finish up those seed orders! I just came across some information stating that cucumber seeds might be in short supply because of the terrible seed-growing season last year on both sides of the Atlantic. There should be enough seeds to start with but procrastinators may be faced with limited variety selections the longer they wait to purchase seeds.  

Purchase cucumber seeds early!

 Dawn