Out of Season

Here are just a few of the amaryllis currently blooming at my house. I am sure that our visitors get quite a shock when they drive up and see this. The row of pots with these in them are the first thing you see as you pull up my driveway.

Here are more of them. Obviously these are amaryllis that I have saved from prior years and just pulled out of my basement in May.

What I will do with all of these when they finish blooming is repot them to give them fresh soil. Then I will leave them just where they are, under my dogwood, getting morning sun.

At Labor Day (first Monday in September for my non-US readers) I turn the pots on their sides so that they can begin to dry out. If, for some reason that doesn’t do it, I will bring the pots into my garage for a week or so until the soil dries. Then I carry them back down to the basement–yes, even if they still have foliage–until one of 2 things happens.

Occasionally one of the amaryllis will begin sending up a flower stalk early. In that case, I bring it up into my house and begin watering it.

But if not, I will remove dead foliage as needed and they will remain there until next May, most likely, when they will come back outside and begin flowering all over again.

New England Stone Walls Tell a Story

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We’re famous for our stone walls here in New England. Many of us have them on our properties, but often you’ll find them in our woods as well or see them alongside our interstates as you drive by–remnants of long ago homes or farms that no longer stand.

When I was doing my yearly weeding of my slate walk last weekend, I noticed the lichen on the stones. This year, there’s so much yellow, it almost looks as if we painted them with paint that has now weathered off.

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But notice something else (once you finish looking at the lichen in the above 2 photos). I also realized that the walls contained my “gardening history,” so to speak.

In the top photo is a tiny succulent that escaped from a container long ago. I no longer have the container or the succulent, except in this stair crevice.

The next photo shows my begonia grandis alba. This still does come up in my yard, but it has sown itself into the wall as well. I love that.

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Here’s sedum Angelina, from a nearby planter.

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This creeping lysmachia came from a planter years ago. Now it pops out of the wall and the steps at random intervals.

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And this is a blue campanula. It pops out of the wall in 3 places. I had it growing up on top, but the Spoiler hated it so he had me compost it. The plant apparently had other ideas, and popped out through the wall. I always think of this as the plant that thwarted the Spoiler!

So that’s my garden history in my stone wall.

Ants and Peonies Work Together

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Back when I was working in retail gardening, I confess to telling a little white lie: if I thought someone was likely to douse their peonies with heavy doses of insecticide to rid them of the ants that always appear before (and perhaps just shortly after bloom time as the above photo shows), I would say, “Oh no, please don’t do that. The ants are eating the sap so the peonies can open.”

It worked like a charm and my favorite pollinators, the ants, were spared.

Of course we know that the peonies don’t need the ants to “eat the sap” for them to open. It’s more of a symbiotic relationship, akin to the way that the ants pollinate things–although this isn’t a true pollinator relationship.

What is happening here is that the ants are attracted to the peonies sugary sap. In the process, they keep other predators at bay–things like aphids, which are prevalent in this early spring, and thrips, which affect so many of our ornamental flowers. Ants might even be thought of as the peonies own natural insecticide.

You can read more about this beneficial relationship here at this fact sheet from the University of Missouri.

But of course no one wants to bring ants into the house if you want to enjoy peonies as a cut flower. There are a couple of ways to solve for this. First, cut the peonies in the evening, or first thing in the morning and leave the cut flowers in a cool place (a shed or garage) for several hours so that the ants, if any, can leave the flowers.

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If you cut the flowers at this stage–or slightly larger–you can gently shake or wash the ants off to know that you have removed them all. That way there’s no guessing. Make sure that there’s enough color showing in the bud that the flower will open. This bud is just a little bit too small yet.

Finally, I am sure that most of you won’t get to the point where you’ll rejoice when you see ants in the garden as I do. But if you see them on your peonies, thank them. They are protecting them from other insects pests–so you don’t have to!

And once the blooms are fully open, they move on. So once again, no insecticide needed. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Pest Patrol

It’s that time of the year–although in the garden, as soon as there is green, any time of the year is time for insects.

One thing I am always sure to talk about when I lecture is insect life cycle. Many insects in my part of the country can simply be ignored. This may not be possible in warmer parts of the country where ignoring an infestation just permits continuing infestations.

But in my cold climate, most insects only have the ability to have one life cycle–or one chance to breed, reproduce, chew and die.

If I had to worry about repeated infestations, I would surely have to be more proactive.

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So when I see these rose sawfly larva on my rose leaves, I know that they are going to disfigure the leaves and then they will pupate and become the tiny wasp-like insects that they turn into and fly away and that will be that.

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You can see the little larva here on the leaf. While it looks like a caterpillar, it’s not: it’s a sawfly larva. Why am I making this distinction? Because I could spray bT all day on this and it would have no effect. BT only affects caterpillars. Know your insects.

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It’s the same with the hydrangea leaftier. Most years they are so minor that I just ignore them completely. If an infestation seems to be getting out of hand, I cut them off, bag them up and they’re gone. That solves the problem for several years. The moth that this caterpillar becomes is an unremarkable tan and brown–nothing worth writing home about and certainly nothing worth poisoning a plant or the earth over!

But the point about both of these insects is that their caterpillar stages are relatively short-lived. True, the rose sawfly can cause quite a lot of leaf disfigurement in a short period of time, particularly if you can’t tolerate that look.

But I will repeat: is it worth poisoning your earth, your plants and possibly yourself over? Catch it early and the sawflies succumb nicely to being sprayed off with a hose. If you need something stronger, some insecticidal soap or a great OMRI registered product called Rose Pharm works.

But I’d never resort to anything stronger than that. And even then, because those products will affect the pollinators, I would be extremely careful with them.