Planting for Bees

There’s a lot of information out there about planting for butterflies and hummingbirds but there’s less available about planting for bees. I’m not sure why that is–perhaps because until recently we were only thinking about honeybees, which are a managed species, and not perhaps about our hundreds, if not thousands of native bee species.

Thankfully we’re coming around now. In the last few years there have been a couple of good books on the subject both on planting for bees (which you can see here –and no, I am not and Amazon affiliate; I get nothing for this reference!)
and gardening for bees.

One of the best resources for bees is the Xerxes Society. You’ll notice the first book I recommended is published by them. They’re quite reputable and a great source for all thing “bee” related. The publish great Pollinator Conservation Resources for North America––I’ve linked to my own regional guide for the northeast.

The list of plants is not something that one might readily find in every garden center. These are native plants (in fact, the boneset (#8)comes up naturally in my yard and the Spoiler keeps referring to it as “that white weed.”) However, some, like milkweed, tradescantia and mountain mint are certainly readily available now and can easily be obtained many places. Lists for different regions will of course have different plants.

Another handy guide is to Bumblebees. I thought (and still do think) that bumblebees are about all the same. As much as I don’t have a fear of bees, I am not hanging around to examine their stripes! But it was really instructive learn that there are so many native to my region.

Of course it goes without saying that planting for bees requires you to forego pesticides as much as possible. If you must use pesticides, Xerxes has guides for how to do so to maximize safety to bees and other invertebrates.

Finally some tips that I find handy: first, try to have something in bloom from the very earliest days of spring to the last days of fall. I don’t worry about whether these plants are native plants or not, although of course it’s nicer if they are. One of the first plants that blooms in my yard is a shrub called japanese andromeda (pieris andromeda). It has clusters of fragrant white lily of the valley like flowers and when they open in late March, the bumblebees are there.

One of the last things blooming in my garden is a stand of goldenrod planted by the birds (or the “yellow weed” as the Spoiler has dubbed it.) Again, it blooms up through early November, maybe and as long as it has flowers, it has bees of every size, from bumblebees and honeybees down to the little bees that I love but have no idea of their names.

In between I try to have something blooming, even if it’s just hydrangeas. And the bees come, even to hydrangeas–again, they’re non-native, but they make ME happy (and if the gardener’s happy, everybody’s happy!).

And of course, between the birds and the beneficial insects I rarely need to use an insecticide. If I do, I try to do it as late as possible in the evening–once the bees have left. And even then, I just use insecticidal soap–not that that wouldn’t harm a bee, which is why I wait until almost nightfall.

My last tip is to try to have some very shallow dishes of water for bees to sip from. Just be sure to change them daily so you don’t breed mosquitoes!

Finally, and people differ about this, but many of our native bees are ground nesting bees. Personally I have never been stung by these bees. I may have been lucky. I have even accidentally dug up their nests in early spring and escaped unharmed. After that, I was careful to mark the nesting spots and give them a wide berth while gardening later in the season.

If you aren’t feeling as confident about this, just be aware that native bees are ground nesters–and this includes bumblebees. So be observant while working in the garden (no pun intended).

Then, enjoy your bees!

Stinkbug Surprise

A couple of weeks ago, I read a funny a very comprehensive post about the brown marmorated stinkbug over at a blog I follow called The Chatsworth Lady. You can read that post (and I recommend you do–it’s funny and very informative–here.)

If you live in a part of the country where you don’t have this little critter, be grateful. Here in Connecticut, so far, at least in my yard, it has not proven to be an “agricultural problem,” shall we say. In other words, I am not finding them on my trees, shrubs, flowers or vegetables.

I do occasionally find them in the house in the winter. And just shortly after I read The Chatworth Lady’s post about finding her stinkbug in her shower, I found a stinkbug in my own shower (which led me to wonder, what exactly it is about stinkbugs and showers?)

I employed a completely different remedy for removal. I know, from most of my dealings with insects in the house in the winter (not to mention the fact that my house is kept quite chilly) that these darn things are slow and dumb–or at least slower and dumber than I am.

So I knocked it from over the shower head to the floor of the shower (for those of you who didn’t take the digression, you can’t just squash one of these things. They do stink to high heaven). Then I just simply picked it up in a tissue and flushed it in a low flow toilet. Not the most environmentally friendly solution, but most people say to vacuum them up and then dispose of the vacuum bag and that, to me, is a less-environmentally friendly solution–all for one bug?

So to each his or her own solution–just don’t crush the bug in your house!

Another Way to Deal with House Plant Insects

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You probably don’t recognize this photo from “Gardening Resolutions #1.” It’s the variegated plant–otherwise known as a kumquat–in the picture–the one that I talked about as having fooled me by dropping leaves. It was the one that had spread spider mites to the whole rest of the plants in the window.

Well, so far so good on the rest of the plants, but this one I am a bit nervous about so I decided to give it the “shower” treatment. That way, any hitch hikers and any new hatchers can just wash away down the drain–no fuss, no muss and no sprays (other than the water) required.

I had read this past fall that Brie Arthur (who wrote the wonderful outdoor vegetable book about incorporating vegetables into your landscaping in the most creative ways! The book is called The Foodscape Revolution for those of you who want to get a head start on some ideas for this coming year’s edible garden) suggested that it was “meditative” to wipe down the leaves of your house plants as a protective way to keep insects at bay.

God bless Brie, but that isn’t going to work for me and my 180+ plants! I prefer to take a single plant (or a windowful, if that’s what’s affected) to my shower, give them a quick, but thorough spray down with some water and let them dry.

It’s easy, it’s chemical free, and it dislodges spider mites (and aphids) quickly and painlessly. A nice side bonus is that the plants get thoroughly watered as well.

But, if you only have a couple of plants, you might want to try Brie Arthur’s method to see if that works for you. Different things do work for different folks–or as I always say, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a pretty boring world!

What’s Eating My Sweet Potato Vine?

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Unless you are very fast or very lucky, you’re not going to see the beetle that’s making the holes in this plant and others like it (morning glory, moonflower and that pest, field bindweed. It’s a shame we can’t train it just to eat that!).

This is a very interesting beetle. I’ve actually only seen it a few times back in my retail gardening days when we had so many of these plants that the beetles came in droves.

They looked like small golden ladybugs. They were beautiful–but of course very destructive. And, of course, that’s only part of the story because this is a very interesting beetle.

This beetle changes color under stress–for example, when we touch it. And of course, when it dies. So what I saw in my retail gardening days as a beautiful golden beetle becomes a red beetle.

Here’s a little bit more information–with some photos–about this interesting beetle from HGTV.

If you do a search for “what’s eating my sweet potato vine,” you’re likely to come upon all sorts of things out there. Take a good look at the photo in the my post. This is damage from the golden tortoise beetle. If your damage doesn’t look like that, it’s possible something else is eating your plant. After all, there are all sorts of insects and critters in our gardens, and we don’t all garden in the same place.

Let’s Leave The Ants Be

On Monday I had a photo of muscari, or grape hyacinths. I said that I would talk more about those in a different post. This is that post.

It’s not Pollinator Week yet–that’s June 18-24 this year. But nevertheless, I always try to talk about one of the unheralded pollinators of the garden, the ants, this time of year, because in my part of the world this is when they are making themselves known and so this is when most folks are reaching for sprays, traps–or worse.

Please: if the ants are just harmlessly going about their business somewhere safely away from your home, please just let them be. Ants serve valuable purposes in our ecosystem.

If they are in your house–fine. Do what you must. But before your break out the heavy duty poisons, try discouraging them by washing away their trails with a soapy cloth. It doesn’t always work, but it you get it early enough, it will.

Ants are actually good for your ecosystem. If you have heavy soil, they will help break that up.

But more important, they pollinate. They pollinate lots of early spring wildflowers. Here in the northeast, many of our spring ephemerals like bloodroot, trillium, and others with a special sort of structure called an eliaosome are pollinated this way.

I also find that my muscari are, if not specifically “pollinated” by ants, certainly propagated by them. I have never planted any in my lawn–and yet, my lawn is full of them. At first, I thought chipmunks or squirrels must have done it–and then I realized that it was the ants.

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It’s not a question of the muscari naturalizing–these plants are too far apart and much too widely spaced to have done that. And they are far too random for the seed to have just scattered (although I suppose anything is possible). Rather they appear in small clumps as if they were brought there somehow–which is why I originally blamed the chipmunks.

It’s a nice effect–and since I am the only one in my neighborhood to have it (and the only gardener crazy enough to let the ants be, no doubt), I suspect this is what’s happened.

So with our bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators in such trouble, why not give your ants a chance? You might be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

I Need to Take My Own Advice

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Remember on Friday I talked about watching plants for signs of insect infestation? Apparently I wasn’t taking my own advice.

Of course these little evergreens are never happy indoors and I know that. But I was shocked to see this plant go from healthy to basically dead over the course of a week.

Only the bright green parts are still alive –& there are very few of those.  Everything else is dead and crumbles under my fingers when I touch it.

What can cause such rapid deterioration? Only one thing: spider mites.

Now here is more evidence that Stephen King isn’t a gardener.  Spider mites are tiny little spiders–almost invisible to the eye. Just like regular spiders , some make webs and some don’t . The ones that make webs are easier to find, but usually by the time you find your plants covered in the webs, it’s too late. They’re too far gone to save.

They breed quite quickly as well,  reproducing themselves every 3 days. So a small infestation can get out of control quickly.

And they are so light that they can easily travel between or among plants on any current of air–or your watering can spout,  for example .

Once you know that you have these in your house, you want to remove infested plants (this one is dead anyway) and watch everything else anywhere nearby very closely .

Do as I say, not as I do to avoid a lot of heartbreak.

Unwelcome Guests

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This photo–which appears to show just a jumble of plants–actually shows an invasive brown marmorated stink bug on the orchid spike in the photo.  Since the new year, I have been having a mini invasion of sorts. They have never been a problem before for me,  either in the house or the garden.

I know enough not to kill them. If they are somewhere where I can catch them and toss them outside,  that’s what I do. Otherwise,  they seem to die rather quickly on their own. Problem solved.

On the same day that I took this photo,  I heard the unmistakable calls of grackles. Sure enough,  the next morning,  I saw one strutting around on my neighbor’s lawn.

That may not seem strange where you live,  but they’re a full 3 weeks earlier than usual here. Is spring really on its way?