Lantana for Pollinators

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I went out to pick my green beans this morning and discovered my lantana covered in bumble bees.

This is the first time I have grown lantana in a couple of years. I try to grow it on a regular basis in some container because I know that in the past I have seen both hummingbirds and Eastern swallowtail butterflies flocking to it every time I do grow it.

But this was the first time I had seen so many bumble bees on the plant at the same time. A couple seemed to be hanging out and drying out–there had been rain the night before. But several more were actively visiting, looking for pollen. It was nice to see.

I know that in warmer parts of the United States lantana can be an invasive plant, so, as always, know before you grow!

Ticks and Barberry

If you live in Connecticut, you live in the home of Lyme disease. There’s a town called Lyme where the disease was first identified. Lucky us.

But since that first happened some 30 or so years ago, much of the thinking has changed about the causes of the disease.

Don’t mistake the matter: ticks still cause the disease (and no, since so many of you out there have been afflicted, I won’t post photos of the nasty little arachnid that causes it!)

But for awhile it was thought that deer were the primary host of this tick (hence the name “deer tick.”) You might notice that isn’t the popular name for this tick any more. You will most likely hear it referred to as the black-legged tick (as if any of us examine it that closely!)

Now it is thought that white footed mice are the primary host of these nasty little critters. But it’s even more complicated than that. Now we also have to look at habitat as well.

For it seems that in habitat that has an abundance of barberry plants (berberis sp), the tick population is much higher than in places with few or no barberry plants. Here’s a story our local NBC affiliate did on the habitat issue about a month ago.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters for two reasons. First, barberry is an invasive shrub. It spreads by seed. It is not banned here in Connecticut but many places have banned it.

Many of you know barberry as that low mounding shrub, often with reddish leaves (occasionally yellow) and very thorny stems. It has small red fruits in late summer or early fall here in Connecticut that wildlife love–hence the spreading problem.

But when it spreads to our forests and woodlots, you won’t see it coming up as red or yellow. You’ll just see a low green undergrowth. So you won’t necessarily know that it’s the same barberry that came from the garden center.

I have the stuff coming up all over my yard–presumably spread by birds–even though I haven’t planted any and I have no idea where the nearest plant might be. I try to yank it whenever I see it for three reasons: it’s much easier; it’s relatively thornless; and I don’t want it getting out of control to the point where it might produce its own fruit and create this nightmare all over again. Besides, like so many of these invasive plants, once it’s bigger than about 8″, the roots seem to reach middle earth!

I almost hesitate to suggest that our barberry free environment is why I have so far been blessed with no Lyme disease (I was tested again this fall for yet another mystery ailment. They still haven’t figured out the problem–but at least it’s not Lyme disease).

But given the number of hours that I spend in the yard, I do think habitat makes a difference, particularly since we are wooded, on a deer trail and are over-run with mice (and voles).

If ticks are a problem in your yard, take a look at your plantings. Are any of them barberry?

Wordless Wednesday–Tag-Along Plants

flowering vine

This little plant was rescued from one of my larger crotons when I was repotting it. Now that it’s free, it’s quite happy–so happy that it’s flowering.

A little more research showed that it’s tradescantia flumenensis. Apparently, down south, this plant is considered an invasive species. Perhaps that’s how it found a ride in my croton. I’ll need to be careful about where I keep it and whether I put it outdoors for the summer–because while it shouldn’t survive my winter temperatures, if we get one of our crazy winters, you just don’t know.

And of course, birds are notorious for spreading invasive species. That’s how oriental bittersweet becomes so pervasive. So for now I’ll keep it indoors on a windowsill and enjoy my “tag-along.”

Battling Bittersweet One Town at a Time

An article in the Hartford Courant a week or so ago talked about how one of our riverfront towns, Glastonbury, was going to be attempting to control oriental bittersweet (celastrus orientalus) in its riverfront park.

It was soliciting volunteers (the deadline to sign up is today, so if you live in Connecticut anywhere near that town and would like to volunteer, please see the article for how to do so!) for the clean-up, explaining that what many see as verdant green growth was actually an invasive monster that is taking over trees, killing them, and then going on to spread seeds to continue the cycle.

Back in 2011, when the October snowstorm brought down so many trees, one of the factors that was cited was this same bittersweet. It was noted that it was climbing many of the trees that had come down, and that the weight of the leaves and its trunks (because the vine can actually form thick, ropy trunks, like poison ivy, only without the hairy coating) significantly contributed to the way the trees caught the snow and therefore toppled over.

Connecticut is not the only state with this problem–the vine has been called the “Kudzu of the North” for its prominence and its invasiveness. I’ve seen it in New York and New Jersey, and all throughout New England, as far north as Maine. Needless to say, it is also in the South, but I think kudzu outcompetes it.

Even if you are nowhere near Glastonbury, CT, or have no interest in assisting it in its mission to control bittersweet, if you live in a climate where this vine is a problem, be alert for it on your own property. Young seedlings are easily hand-pulled. Once it gets hold, it’s almost impossible to pull out, and cutting it only causes it to branch and become more vigorous.

My suspicion is that Glastonbury is going to try cutting it and painting the ends of the cut stems with glysophate–or perhaps even something stronger. This is the time of year when woody plants are conserving their energy and taking nourishment to their roots so it is the best time of year to try to control them.

I wish them well–as someone who regularly battles this on my own property, I know what a struggle it can be!

Bamboo-zled

About a week ago, my Yahoo home page had an article from the online version of the Wall Street Journal that was sensationally titled something like “A Plant that Comes with Jail Time,” or some such thing.

It may have gotten folks’ attention, and if it did, that’s a good thing because bamboo is really no laughing matter. I tweeted about it at the time, but the matter really needs more than 140 characters–and even then I put out 3 tweets.

The article was primarily about running bamboo, a plant which has now been banned in my home state of Connecticut. That may sound extreme, but I remember back in my retail gardening days, we had a lovely stand of yellow bamboo on the property where I worked. Customers would ask about it and I was always very careful to note that the owner had sunk a concrete barrier 3′ into the ground to assure that the bamboo would remain contained. Folks were decidedly less in love with the plant after I mentioned that and I never did sell one plant.

Around that same time, however, a so-called clumping bamboo, a fargesia, which had been planted on my property before I got there, began to “run,” or send out runners. Since this was not supposed to be technically possible, I was completely un-amused. I immediately dug the plant out, got as many of the roots and runners out as could, bagged it and disposed of it in the trash, not the compost pile (heaven forbid!).

For 5 years, runners continued to come up in the yard and only vigilance kept them under control and finally completely eliminated them.

Now I am surely not dealing with anything like walls of bamboo like the running kind produce, nor am I having to dig it out with a backhoe. But I wanted readers to know that even the so-called “clumping” types of bamboo don’t stay put and don’t play nicely with others.

Interestingly enough, I replaced the bamboo with a native plant, northern sea oats. It’s a lovely grassy plant; however, its seed heads do self-sow rampantly around in my nearby gardens. And they are just about impossible to remove. I suppose I need to think of them as I do they asters that I so love–with deep tap roots to aerate my heavy clay.

But should that plant ever die, the next thing that’s going there is a sculpture or a bench!

Loosestrife is Still on The Loose

purple loosestrife

[photo from Wikimedia commons]

In the last week, I’ve spent far too much time in the car and not nearly enough time in the garden.

I’ve driven from central Connecticut to the New Jersey shore (sadly not for vacation) and back again, spending an hour or more of that trip each way in the Hudson Valley on New York on I-684.

I’ve also driven the length of Connecticut and next week I’ll be heading to the very tip of Connecticut–to the Rhode Island border practically–to lecture.

Why am I carrying on about the car travels?

Because in all of this, what I’m seeing (besides the invasive vines, which in and of themselves are scary enough) are far too many blooming purple loosestrife (lythrum salicaria) plants.

Why am I surprised and why am I remarking on this?

Again, because all I have been hearing and reading about from the conservationists (including the group to which I belong) was about the fantastic control of this plant that had been achieved by a non-native beetle that had been imported–a beetle called galerucella that can be hand-reared by local folks (with suitable habitat, of course) and introduced.

In Connecticut alone a million and a half beetles have been introduced since 2004 and the beetle program has been in place since 1996. I was sort of hoping that 17 years would have produced better results than this.

But of course, with invasive plants, the “battle” is going to be long since they were well-established before we found controls.

And who knows what might have happened after this winter’s extreme snows (preceded by last autumn’s hurricane?)

So I’m hoping that this year’s bumper crop of loosestrife is just an anomaly and next year the good guys (the beetles) will begin to win the battle again.

Wordless Wednesday–Holiday Harvest?

These festive berries look pretty enough for a holiday centerpiece.  Unfortunately, they belong to a noxious invasive plant, oriental bittersweet, celastrus orbiculatus .  So as lovely as they are, resist the temptation to pick and transport them anywhere near your home (if you don’t already have it on your property–it’s known as the “kudzu of the north because it’s so rampant and pervasive).  While it’s banned for sale in my home state, Connecticut, the birds feast on these fruits and spread it around anyway–no one has to buy it.  The birds bring it to most of us!

Coincidentally, after this post was drafted & posted, the Connecticut Dept. of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) issued this press release about avoiding the use of bittersweet in holiday displays.  I was appalled to see several table decorations making use of it on BHG.com.  They don’t know what they’re messing with!

Wordless Wednesday–Role Reversal?

This is the seedhead of northern sea oats (chasmanthium latifolium), a type of grass that is native from the southeast to Pennsylvania.  It’s a lovely grass and one of the few that gets above 2′ tall that will grow in partial shade.  But the thing self-sows rampantly, making it a very aggressive spreader.  Were it not a native, I’d surely call it invasive!

This is the seed head of one of the miscanthus species.  It’s on just about every state’s invasive species list, including my own state, Connecticut.

I didn’t plant this grass.  And when I first moved to the property, I hated it because I was always pulling out little self-sown plants.  Then I started feeding the birds. And I’ve never found any more little miscanthus seedlings.

Obviously bird feeding cannot solve an invasive plant problem.  But it certainly has solved the problem of my miscanthus self-sowing.  Now if only they’d learn to eat northern sea oats!

Deer Ticks, The Hosts and Japanese Barberry

I’ve talked before about the connection between the cycles of deer tick populations (now correctly known as the black-legged tick) corresponding to rising and falling populations of some of their hosts.  I’ve talked about white footed mice being the primary vector–or host–of the tick.  And I’ve wondered about why no one studied the predator/prey relationship as having an effect on tick populations.  For my post about this in April, go here: http://wp.me/pOm4T-1dQ

But basically I’m just a backyard gardener with no scientific training.  So it’s nice to see some scientific studies coming out to back me up on these musings.  The studies are still not quite the ones I’d design if I were running them–but heck, I can’t have everything.

In this post from the New York Times, this is as close as I think I’ll get to having the perfect answer to my predator/prey questions about the entire ecosystem and ticks answered.  It actually goes a little further than I would have gone–but of course it doesn’t address my time-honored question: What happens in winters where there is no snow and predators have better access?  And it also doesn’t take into account that raptors can be predators.  I wonder why that is?

But I digress.  This study (by my favorite folks at the Cary Institute again!) took into account white footed mice, coyotes and foxes.  It looked at 4 states, and places where they coyote population was displacing the fox population.  The basic finding was that since coyotes have a much broader territory than foxes, the mice population would grow larger in those states, and thus the tick population would also be greater.  A denser fox population would mean fewer mice and a lesser tick population.

A very different study, by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the invasive japanese barberry (berberis) was found to harbor both white footed mice and the stage of the ticks that transmit them (the link is to a whole publication by the Ag Station–the specific page is page 18 with the tick information–it’s midway through the article on barberry).

Because barberry is still sold in many states, homeowners in states with problematic populations of deer ticks may want to remove those plants from their years to avoid inviting these pesky creatures in–or sheltering them or their hosts.

You Know It’s Ugly When They Call In The Lawyers

There’s a saying that everybody talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.  A similar thing could be said about invasive plants–which are slightly harder to control (actually, the weather and invasive plants probably come in at about a draw when it comes to control measures).

The Spoiler deserves the credit for bringing this case to my attention–which technically is NOT about a plant on Connecticut’s invasive plant list.  Once I read the facts it seemed worthy of writing about.

The case, which is summarized in the above linked Connecticut Law Tribune editorial, has to do with yellow or golden bamboo (phyllostachus aurea), a running form of bamboo.  It seems that a misguided person in the Shelton area thought it would make a nice boundary plant so he planted 6 tiny clumps in 1997.  Fifteen years later it has run rampant over 4 properties and it shows no signs of stopping. It has broken up driveways. It is heading for a septic field.  It is apparently incapable of being stopped–the owner installed a barrier that it completely ignored.

Another homeowner in the New Haven area who has battled this plant has gotten estimates of “$18,000 to $22,000” from landscapers–that’s what it would cost for her to remove the encroaching bamboo from her property!

There are two problems with this plant (well, two that I will identify here).  Actually, the only problem with the plant is that it is such a successful grower in our climate–one plant can grow almost 10′ in a season–and that’s the rhizome!

The other problem is that it is being purchased and sold by those who are unaware of its capacity.  When I worked in retail gardening we had a stand of golden bamboo on the garden center property.  It was lovely–but the owner had sunk the appropriate barriers to ensure that its roots did not escape onto the neighboring properties.

When customers asked about it, I took great pains to describe the 6′ concrete barriers that were necessary to restrain the bamboo.  Needless to say, I don’t think I ever sold any of the plant. But far better to have that result than to let the plant go out into unsuspecting hands–and onto unsuspecting neighbors’ lands!

When the Spoiler showed me this editorial (where the homeowner lost her claims against  her neighbor and the marauding bamboo) I had to wonder why the homeowner lost and why the case hadn’t been brought under the more traditional causes of action such as trespass.

A little more research turned up the information that the homeowner was self-represented.  That seems a hard price to pay for not having chosen a lawyer, particularly when the homeowner may have been well acquainted with real estate.  Some Facebook pages claim she was a real estate appraiser.    Perhaps I impute too much knowledge to her as a result of that field.

She perhaps thought she knew enough to be self-represented. Or perhaps it was a question of finding a lawyer to take her case–or to take it seriously.  And of course there is always the cost involved–she may have thought she’d she’d already spent far too much on  the bamboo to begin with! But in any case, it seems obvious that when bringing a novel cause of action, particularly for this amount of damage, she probably should have had a lawyer.