A Buggy Time of Year

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I mentioned on Monday that we had had the house power washed recently. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Of course I had to move many of the over 100 house plants that I had brought outside so that they too wouldn’t be “power washed” or damaged in the process.

As I was doing so, I discovered that somehow the mealybug infestation that I had indoors had returned and had spread to several other plants.

Now, one of the reasons why I “summer” the plants outdoors is because a lot of these pesky plant issues have natural predators that are kept in check.

Scale, for instance, is nicely handled by wasps and ants.

And the hose washes off spider mites.

But apparently nothing likes mealy bugs. Doesn’t that figure?

Anyway, I found the problem, isolated the infected plants again, and we’ll see. I have one troublesome ficus that may just become compost at the end of the season.

So I definitely got much more than a power wash from this adventure!

“Holiday” Gardening

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I am not sure that I have ever talked about this before but this is an idea that I used when I worked in retail gardening and I still use it for myself as a handy “marker” to remember important things. I often talk about it in my lectures.

What am I talking about? Well, I key important things in the garden to regional or national holidays. And of course, this is not original to me.

The famous fertilizer company “4-step plan” is based on something similar–the concept of phenology, of when plants bloom.

I found, however, that folks had no idea when plants bloom (or in some instances, what the blooming plants referenced by the fertilizer company were!)

So I changed it up a bit. Here in the United States, everyone knows when Income Tax day is (April 15) or that Mother’s Day is the second weekend in May. Memorial Day is the last weekend in May.

For us here in Connecticut, the lilacs (above) bloom at Mother’s Day. It’s true even in this exceptionally cold spring. So that’s a good marker for folks.

There are some particularly nasty sawfly larva that come out some time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, depending on temperatures. One skelatonizes rose leaves; the other attacks mugo pine. If I were to say “watch for these in May,” that’s pretty vague. But to say, “keep your eyes open between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day,” now folks have some idea of the timeframe to check their plants.

I even use it to remember that one of my favorite migratory birds, the catbird, usually returns around Mother’s Day. This year it returned May 6.

So “holiday gardening” can be helpful for reminders. And who doesn’t need reminders now and again?

You’re Not Allergic to Goldenrod

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Remember this photo from Friday of the oak leaves and flowers? You may wonder what this has to do with goldenrod.

Spring and fall are primarily the two times that folks have allergies here (at least to plants–there are other allergies to pets, dust, etc that I am not going to discuss in a gardening blog).

Those with fall allergies quite often think they are allergic to goldenrod because that’s what’s in bloom when they are symptomatic. But the real culprit is an unassuming plant called ragweed that has dull buff colored flowers and tons of pollen.

I have spring allergies. And for years, I thought that I was allergic to flowering trees, meaning dogwood, magnolias, flowering cherries and things like that. But no!

The true spring allergens are caused by things like oaks, maples, birches, junipers–things where if you were not looking closely you might never see a flower!

So it suddenly dawned on me that if I was confused for years, maybe others were too.

And no wonder goldenrod gets unfairly blamed in the fall.

Tulips Arrange Themselves

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I have a love affair with tulips. There are a lot of reasons. One is probably because I can’t grow them. My soil is far too wet–and even if it weren’t, it’s a battle around here with deer and the heartbreaking idea that I had waited for my tulips to bloom, only to have them eaten just as they were about to open is not worth it–not when every bulb requires stabbing my heavy wet clay with a heavy steel trowel just to get that bulb in the ground.

So I buy a few bunches now and again and get my fix that way. I love that they continue to grow in the vase, changing their look.

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These tulips may not look so different in this different vase but they have been trimmed up substantially. This is what’s come off,

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So, now, newly refreshed, they’ll be able to grow–and ideally open up a little further–and provide a little cheer in this unusual time.

Literally Seeing the Good

It is a strange time in our country and our world. For those of you who have family who have been affected by this virus, you are in my prayers. I know that that may seem to be small comfort, but I am not a medical professional. It’s all I can offer.

I have seen so many posts about getting out in nature and getting out and gardening and undoubtedly I will offer some of my own in the coming weeks and months. Those who remain unaffected still have that as a hope, thank goodness.

One of the very last things I was able to do before most of my state shut down was to pick up a pair of prism glasses. I have not spoken about my 9 month odyssey with double vision here but I know it must have shown up in some of my photographs.

It started last August after vertigo (when I temporarily lost all vision). When I regained,my sight, I could tell it wasn’t “right,” but it took a little while to figure out how.

Once I decided that there were 2 of everything–at a distance mostly–I began the odyssey of trying to fix it. I am still doing vision therapy (and no, I never knew there was such a thing either) but until it helps–if it’s even going to–I need to see so I got the prism glasses.

So ideally now that the world is clearer–and now that I am on forced leave from my job just in time for spring–I will have some interesting things to share.

Now it just needs to stop snowing.

All Ready for Spring

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It may seem strange to be organizing my potting area now but there’s actually method to my seeming madness here.

I spent most of Thanksgiving day organizing this tiny space, not so much because I wanted to, but because I really had to. Over the last few years, as I changed my garden style, it had gotten totally disorganized.

I couldn’t find anything;I couldn’t distinguish pots from decorative outer pots; I had no idea that I had so many clay saucers–you get the idea.

But the real impetus driving the cleanup right now is that this area stores my Christmas boxes. And the floor had become so cluttered and strewn with pots and saucers and baskets that I couldn’t even walk, never mind store anything here for a month.

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So the small stuff went up, and the larger stuff got neatly stacked again. Who knows how long it will last? At least a month, though–I am beginning to stack boxes in front of this now.

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Solidago Acres

I have always wondered about folks who named their houses. How on earth did they come up with their names? When you look at the names–because inevitably, if you name your house, you put it up on a plaque over the door or out on a post by the road–most of them seem very appropriate.

There is one that befuddles me. There’s a large stately house with “Margate” out front. The only thing I can think is that it’s a family name. I can’t imagine what “Margate” has to do with an giant white colonial style home otherwise.

But other than that, names seem to fit homes. I’ve never been into that much until this year when my garden finally got away from me and I am completely over-run with goldenrod. It’s just everywhere. Mind you, I am delighted about it–I could be over-run with some noxious weed!

So as I was walking back to the house with the dog the other day, I said to her (and yes, I chatter to her a blue streak the entire time we’re walking), “Amie, we have to call this house Goldenrod Acres. No, let’s make it Solidago Acres.”

And thus, I have become one of those people who names a house. But no, you will not see me putting a plaque up on it–or around it–anytime soon.

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How did all this goldenrod–the solidago–get here? I have no idea. I suspect this first patch was brought in–as all my plants, wanted and unwanted are–by birds. I have a very robust bird population.

Why it suddenly exploded this year beyond this patch to almost every other garden I have–including some that are literally almost an acre away (yes, I garden on almost an acre of property–but not acres!) I have no idea. Did birds, bees or butterflies spread it? Something must have. Or did other birds drop in new populations? That could be the more plausible scenario for the “rogue” clump that is literally almost as far from this original patch as you can get.

So far as I am concerned, like my “hibiscus hedge,” it can take over a lot of this property. it’s good for wildlife and it’s pretty. And it doesn’t spark allergies. So, as I always say, what’s not to like?

Fall Containers

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In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.

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This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.

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And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!

Memorial Day is for Planting

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This is my “vegetable” garden, the garden that I traditionally plant on Memorial Day. The only problem, which I simply never foresaw 10 years ago when I sited this bed, is that the magnolia nearby would grow so enormous! So now it only gets about a half day’s worth of sun. It’s still fine for most things–green beans, some herbs and annuals–but I can’t really get a good crop of tomatoes out of it. So I do those in pots.

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This was the cover crop–pine needles from my abundant pine trees. Since nature doesn’t like uncovered soil, I leave the pine needles there over the winter and then compost them when I am ready to plant in the spring.

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And here’s the garden, mostly planted with herbs (parsley and dill for the pollinators along with the existing lemon balm, sage, chives, thyme, and tarragon), dianthus, marigolds and celosia (which have proven to be surprising bee magnets in the past!) and that large open area is for the pole bean tower yet to come!

I’m all ready for summer to begin!

Planting for Pollinators

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I hope that by the time you read this I will be in a part of the country that’s a little closer to planting time. I am taking a week to visit family in Oklahoma City–if I can get out of the frozen north in between snowstorms, This is what it looked like when I drafted this post. Needless to say, I won’t be planting outside anytime soon!

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t planting time where you are. And since many of you are at least able to plant something right now, I thought that I would continue my garden planning posts for a bit.

Planting for pollinators is actually a little more involved than you might think. Don’t worry! Anything you can plant–so long as it’s pesticide free– will help them.

But different pollinators have different needs. And if we are talking butterflies, you actually have to plant for two different stages: the larval (caterpillar) stage and the adult butterfly stage. More about this in another post.

Bees are easier but even bees have certain needs. Ideally you want to make homes for ground nesting native bees as well as have a watering spot for them. Again, more in a later post.

Finally, read up on and consider the “unconventional” pollinators. All sorts of flies, beetles and other insects, including ants, are pollinators. As we try to better our gardens, and plant more native plants, let’s try not to accidentally kill some insects that are actually pollinators by using insecticides indescriminently.