Smooth Hydrangea Pest

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Something’s clearly not right with the leaves of this hydrangea. Several of them are all glued or stuck together at the top.

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If you look at this photo of the peeled opened leaf cluster, you can see several holes that have been chewed in the leaves, as well as small black dots. That’s caterpillar frass (the polite term for its excrement).

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And here, just barely visible, (look for the tiny black head) is the creature known as the hydrangea leaftier.

It doesn’t affect all hydrangeas. As the title of my post indicates, only smooth hydrangeas are susceptible. If you’re not sure what smooth hydrangeas are, they are ones with names like ‘Annabelle,’ Invincibelle Spirit and Incrediball. The botanical name is hydrangea arborescens.

How do you treat these? It’s very simple. You prune them off as soon as you see them. Since this type of hydrangea blooms on new wood, the sooner you catch them, the better it is.

Insecticides are unlikely to work because the insect is so deep inside the leaf pocket so don’t waste your time.

The sooner you get them, the fewer you’ll have. So keep your eyes open if you have this type of hydrangea. A little preventative pruning goes a long way to keeping them happy!

“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?

A Sea of Yellow

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Sometimes in gardening the best results are happy accidents. Both these plants–the golden creeping Jenny and the viola odorata ‘Freckles’ were not planted here. The creeping Jenny came from a container that I had here years ago and the violet has been naturalized all over my yard, most likely by ants, which like the eliaosome that violets have. Since I like the combination, I leave it.

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A few warm days have finally coaxed my ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia into bloom.

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And my kerria japonica is also blooming. It’s a little late this year. It often blooms about the same time as the forsythia.

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This is the close-up of the flowers. For some reason, the single flowered variety is less popular than the double flowered variety. But as I always say, we can’t all like the same thing.

This is Why My Hydrangeas Don’t Bloom

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This photo was taken on St. Patrick’s Day, the day this year which, at my latitude, happens to also be the equinox, or day when we have equal day and night lengths.

The actual equinox is 2 days later (St. Joseph’s Day this year, and about as early as it can fall).

Nevertheless, in my state, it’s snowing, it’s predicted to snow again on the equinox and it can snow well into May.

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This is what my old-fashioned hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ looks like right now. It’s been very warm, despite the late season snow nuisance. In fact, by the weekend, it will rocket up to 70 degrees, before falling back to something more seasonable.

But the warmth, and then the snow on top of the emerging buds, kills the flowers off of these old-fashioned hydrangeas every year.

Newer varieties, or varieties that bloom on new wood, are not killed by late freezes. Luckily I grow both kinds in my yard.

Ugliness is in the Eyes of the Beholder

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This is a juniper. At least the evergreen on the right is–on the left is a weeping Norway spruce. But for the purposes of this post, I am talking about the juniper.

When this garden was put in back in 1993 (before I married the house and gardens, as I say), the juniper was one of those crazy ornamental things with 5 or 6 pom-poms at the end of branches.

Time, heavy wet snows, ice storms and other things have caused it to revert to its natural shape. Several times the Spoiler and I have discussed removing it. And always, just about the time when we decided it needed to go, something would happen like a neighbor who planted their swingset on our property line. It’s amazing how much this big shrub blocks.

The final “it stays, and as it is,” decision came one February as I looked out my second story den window in a snowstorm. I pretty much overlook this garden from my den.

In this juniper, in the snow, I counted 14 American robins–and there could have been more. They were feasting on the berries.

So that was all I needed to see. The shrub stays–and of course the more shrub there is, the more berries there are.

Bring on the robins!

Persistent Fruit?

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Back when I worked in retail gardening, there were certain plants that everyone wanted–until they understood what was required for fruiting. Hollies (the genus ilex) was one of these. Everyone wanted the red berrying hollies.

No one wanted to plant a male plant (in other words, one without berries) so that they could get the red berries. If you knew how many times I answered the question about “but my neighbor has a holly. Can’t I just use theirs for the male?”

So we sold far fewer hollies than we should because they are lovely, deer resistant native plants for New England and they have persistent fruit (meaning their berries stay on the shrub and don’t fall off and make a mess) until they ripen after the winter. That’s why the birds harvest them in the spring and why they’re available if you choose to cut them for winter decorations.

Since my retail gardening days, hollies have come a long way as well. Breeders are making smaller shrubs and more heavily berrying shrubs. You still need plants of both sexes for most kinds of hollies to get berries–but now at least, the sizes of the shrubs are a bit more manageable for home gardens!

Another small tree that was a near impossible sell was the crab apple. Crab apples have come a long way and they too have persistent fruit. But many folks remember the older variety that dropped messy “apples” and so won’t even consider them.

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Crabapples are another fruit that remains on the tree throughout the winter and is available for returning migratory birds in early spring so it’s a valuable resource.

Take a little time to learn about our new and improved plants the next time you are shopping for a small tree or evergreen shrub. You might be pleasantly surprised.