Bird Brain

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As a decorating scheme, this is not one of my favorites.

For those who might be having trouble figuring out what the heck they are looking at, I will explain in just a moment. Those of you who have been there with birds probably know exactly what this is.

This is a 3 paneled glass bay window all covered with newspaper. (Yes, fortunately, we still get some newspapers in print or I would need a lot of cardboard).

I have a male goldfinch hurling himself at his reflection in these windows. I taped up the papers, left it for 3 days, and then a couple of panels fell down. So I thought, well, I will leave the few panels off as a test to see if he comes back. Sure enough, he was back the next morning.

Interestingly enough, I can stand there with the Spoiler and the dog and he will fly away for a moment but then come right back and begin beating himself against the window even if the 3 of us are still there. Only once I block all reflection will he fly off.

I may joke about “bird brain” but this is fairly typical bird behavior–among males. They perceive that the reflection is a rival and they won’t fly off until the rival is eliminated. Obviously, when the “rival” is a reflection, it never will be unless we humans help with that.

I have had to wrap a car mirror in plastic to save a cardinal from his rival.

And I had to take a silver gazing ball in for quite awhile to save a robin from his rival.

So it’s a good thing that the plants in this window are snake plants and don’t need a lot of light! I don’t see myself taking the newspaper down anytime soon.

Tools of the Trade

I mentioned Friday that the way I had my house plants set up made my steps feel more like Italy (at least in my vivid imagination) than New England.

But to achieve the nice effect that am going for when I sit out there–or to ensure that I can relax and not pick at weeds the entire time–there’s a job that I need to do just about this time of year and I need some specific tools for that.

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These are my 3 weeding and digging tools (and you can see by the edges of the photo what I will be weeding!)

I generally start with the orange-handled tool. It’s called a crack weeder and it’s really useful for getting in between the bluestone pavers that make up the walkway.

The blue handled tool was gifted to me by its manufacturer. It’s called a Cobrahead. They make it in short and long handled versions. I find it incredibly useful for weeding around plants. It works great in my heavy clay soil too.

The tan handled tool is one of my favorites for weeding larger areas and for digging smaller holes. It cuts through my clay soil like a hot knife through butter.

It’s so efficient that it must be in great demand. This is my third one. I have had 2 stolen from my garage.

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And speaking of stolen, these are my pruners. I once had a lovely set of Felco pruners, but they were stolen with the first Asian hand plow. So I no longer buy expensive pruners just to have my garden tools walk away.

I have had to replace the crack weeder once as well. That too mysteriously disappeared.

It’s only the small hand tools that walk (thank goodness, I suppose) but it’s really aggravating to discover that your tool is missing when you need it.

And as for keeping the garage doors open? The Spoiler doesn’t think we have a problem. And since his tools never go missing, he’s not likely to shut them any time soon.

So I will be keeping my Asian hand plow in the house so that I know where to find it when I need it.

Dreaming of Tuscany

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I have a U-shaped area of bluestone and brownstone that serve as my entryway access. Two steps go up to a bluestone landing, facing a low brownstone wall. At that point, if you turn left, you have a short two steps and a walkway to the front door (which, in typical New England fashion, we don’t use).

If you noticed the second photo on Wednesday, I was taking it in the direction of the enclosed porch, mentioned below. The landing is clearly visible.

Turn left and there are 4 steps, a longer bluestone walk, and there’s an enclosed porch that we use for access to the home.

I like to sit on the steps in early morning or late afternoon and just enjoy the plants.

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This quite often is the view that I have seen in the past. It’s very cooling and soothing so no matter how warm it is out, I have the illusion of coolness, especially if I have just watered the containers.

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This year, I have staged my containers on the steps leading to the front door so that the ferns are far less visible. My view, instead, is of citrus, a fig, an olive tree, and if I turn to look behind me, herbs. It’s much more Tuscan than New England woodland.

We’ll have to see if I get the same cooling effect as summer warms up.

A Rose Virus?!

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For some of my longer time readers, you may remember this photo from last year.

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This is this year. And sadly at least one or two more of those roses is going to have to go. What’s happened? A nasty virus called rose rosette.

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There aren’t really any good photos of what this virus does to roses. It is spread by a microscopic mite–so no chance to see the damage until after it occurs.

Last year the roses looked beautiful. They came out of dormancy this winter looking stunted, with witches’ brooms and oddly twisted foliage and I started ripping them out.

After I filled a whole dumpster with them, I realized that I hadn’t gotten them all, which is how I was able to get a few photos. So I have to go back and take out at least 2 more.

Obviously we will not be replanting roses here, which is kind of a shame because they were happy. Oh well. At least the roses got the virus and not us!

Aphids Are Like Something From Another World

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Ah, here it is Friday again and I am posting about bugs. This is getting to be a bad habit.

This is something that usually happens in late April for us. Aphids are a cool season pest for us, so we will get them in late April (usually) and then again in the fall. I most often ignore them completely because they are usually only on new leaves and once it warms up, I will have a nice robust population of ladybugs to deal with them.

Well, we have had record cold so far this June so I decided that I had better take some preventative measures until the ladybugs got here.

What did I do? I dragged a hose down to this garden and hosed off the plants.

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This is the result. The aphids are almost all gone. You can see that the front shoot has been hosed off and the back one has not–it is still full of aphids.

I would probably not have done it if I hadn’t seen aphids with wings. That told me that the population was so high that it was about to move on to other plants. Since only half the rose garden was affected at this point, I thought it best to try to keep it that way.

Aphids are freaky insects. They are all female and they can be born pregnant with the next generation already waiting to be born.

They come in various colors to better blend with your plants, but green and black are the most common by me.

They are born wingless, but when the population on a particular plant gets too high, they’ll grow wings and migrate to a new plant.

Luckily, they are quite easy to hose off. And once they are knocked down, they don’t generally return to trouble the plant. So I don’t expect to have to deal with this again–at least until fall, at which point, I usually just ignore them.

This Year I Finally Didn’t Hate My Tree Peony

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Hate is really the wrong word for the way I feel about my tree peony. Colossal waste of space would generally sum it up much better. I am not one who generally hates blooming plants (or any plants or other living things).

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What generally happens to this glorious plant is that its bloom tends to coincide with our first heat wave. And so its flowers tend to want to do this.

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Notice the flower in front hiding behind the leaf. They tend to bloom for all of one day, then fry, and burn up and they’re done. It’s so disappointing.

This year, we didn’t have an early heat wave. The plant bloomed for over a week. In over 25 years living in this house, I have never seen this. It’s been spectacular.

So all is forgiven.

Rose Sawfly (or Why Are Little Caterpillars Eating My Roses?)

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First things first: the “little caterpillars” that you see on your rose leaves aren’t really caterpillars. Yes, I know that’s exactly what they look like, but they’re not.

If you recall my “holiday gardening” post about 2 weeks ago, I said that in my climate there were some sawfly larva that showed up between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day in my climate. And here they are.

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This is the rose sawfly larva. It showed up the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. You see that on this leaf (and look closely, because it’s a tiny caterpillar the same color as the leaf. It is on the petal nearest to you) the leaf is just beginning to show a bit of damage. More in a moment about that.

Why is it important that these aren’t caterpillars? For organic control purposes. If you want to spray (I generally don’t; I just let the roses get slightly disfigured because there’s only one hatching of these a season in my part of the world)–you can’t us BT which only works for caterpillars.

Also if you do spray, they tend to hide beneath the leaves, so be sure to get the undersides.

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Otherwise they will leave your leaves disfigured (with these scrape marks that then often get burned into holes by the sun, making it look like some other disease or insect has been there). Don’t be fooled.

The two sets of leaves in the above photo show early damage and more advanced damage. The top set is the earlier damage, although even there, some of the scrapings and holes have been burned or eaten through the leaf.

As you can see in the bottom photo, the mouth scrapings made by the insect are browned by the sun. It’s not a good look.

What can you spray? Insecticidal soap is a nice remedy for soft bodied insects. Just remember to spray in the evening or first thing in the morning before the heat of the day and before most of your beneficial insects might also be accidentally sprayed.