Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last Daffodil and What Eats It

This week temperatures have skyrocketed, but until recently it's been quite a cool (and sometimes downright chilly!) spring.  The last daffodil in my collection to bloom this year, Narcissus 'Actaea', flowered for over three weeks from mid-May through the end of last week.

Narcissus 'Actaea' - last daffodil bloom this year
The winding down of daffodil season, however, is when the fight to save my daffodils steps up.   In May and early June is when the critters that eat them come out to play.  And just what eats daffodils, the bulb that is impervious to almost every other garden pest around, you might wonder?

Frank from the garden blog Sorta Like Suburbia first told me about this fly, whose larvae burrows into the bulb and eats the middle of it, weakening or killing the plant.  After a quick google search, I knew I had seen this fly in my garden.  (Thank you, Frank!)  It's a good-sized fly whose various colorations mimic bumblebees, and when it flies it makes a distinctive whining sound.

Narcissus Bulb Fly
The adult flies emerge in late spring/early summer and live for 2 to 3 weeks.  I often see them around my flowers on sunny days this time of year, feeding on nectar and pollen.

After mating, the female flies lay anywhere from 40 to 100 eggs each at the base of suitable plants, one to three eggs per plant.  That's a lot of infested plants!  They usually lay eggs on daffodils, but they will also infest snowdrops, hyacinth, iris, lilies, amaryllis, and tulips, among others.

Narcissus Bulb Fly laying egg at base of daffodil leaves
After a few days the eggs will hatch and a larvae will wriggle down the outside of each bulb to feed on the basal plate that is on the bottom of the bulb.  It then bores into the middle of the bulb to feed on it, hollowing out the middle of the bulb as it grows larger and larger.  The larvae overwinters inside the bulb, and in early spring it pupates for a month or two (either inside the bulb or in nearby topsoil), finally emerging as an adult fly.

Of course, this usually spells disaster for the plant.  Sometimes the larvae's damage won't totally kill the bulb, and it will be able to send out small leaves and slowly recover over the next two or three years.  Unfortunately oftentimes the bulb is destroyed beyond recovery.

Thus I have been busy fighting these pests for the last weeks.  The Narcissus Bulb Fly is a tough fly to control.  Some people have luck using systemic insecticides, however I try to garden as organically as possible.  Daffodil growers often use hot water bath treatments to kill larvae from Bulb Flies and other pests.  To do this, after the leaves have died back, dig up bulbs that might be infested and submerge them in hot water that is 109° to 111° F (42°-44° C) for one hour.  The heat will kill the larvae; just make sure to avoid higher temperatures that cook the bulb!

I go for a slightly less complicated route - I become a Fly Hunter for the few weeks that they are out in the garden.  I am out gardening quite a bit this time of year, so I garden with a butterfly net handy.  I listen out for the familiar whine when gardening and often check the flowers that they particularly frequent.   When I see a Narcissus Bulb Fly, I swoop the net on top of it.  The fly usually flies straight up to the top of the net, so I then carefully gather the material around the fly and bring it somewhere I can stomp on and kill it.  So far this year I've killed about two dozen flies.

Here's hoping that it's enough to save most of my daffodils.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Pink Spotted Ladybug

A couple weeks ago I had a very special visitor to the Red House Garden.

Pink Spotted Ladybug
On one of my miniature daffodils was a Coleomegilla maculata, also known as the Pink Spotted Lady Beetle or the Twelve-spotted Lady Beetle.

Coleomegilla maculata
Many cultures believe that ladybugs are a sign of good luck and prosperity, and I believe it about this particular ladybug.  What's so special about it?  It's the first ladybug I've seen in my garden that is actually native to this area.

While native ladybugs used to be quite common, they are now being outcompeted by non-native ladybugs.  If I see a ladybug here, it is usually an Asian Ladybug, aka Harlequin Ladybird.  Larger than most of our native species, the Asian Ladybug is known for its huge appetite and was repeatedly introduced to the US for the control of aphids starting in the early 1900's.  An established population of these beetles were found in the wild near New Orleans in 1988, and since then they have spread swiftly.  Their appearance is very variable, but they often have what looks like an 'M' on the backs of their heads. 

Asian Ladybug
Asian Ladybugs outcompete native ones due to their voracious nature, their high resistance to disease, and the fact that they carry a microsporidian parasite that infects and kills other ladybugs but which they are immune to.  They are often considered pests due to their tendency to swarm to light-colored buildings (including my porch) in fall and and try to come indoors to hibernate for the winter.  They also give off a noxious odor and stain when frightened or crushed. 

Pink Spotted Ladybugs such as the one in my garden are native to Northeastern North America, the Midwest, and the Southwestern United States.  Its color can range from pink to orange or red.  They prey on aphids and other small insects, but the Pink Spotted Ladybug is unusual in that pollen may make up to 50% of its diet.  It is attracted to areas with dandelions and other pollen-rich weeds (maybe that's why it ended up in my yard?)

 Either way, I consider myself fortunate to have one of our native ladybugs in my garden, and I hope it will be so lucky as to lead to more!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Red House Garden Pop-up Restaurant

Have you ever been to one of those trendy pop-up restaurants where a celebrity chef opens a restaurant for only a limited time?

Yeah, me neither (and I'd hate to know just how much it would cost for a meal at one), but I love how right in my own backyard there seems to be an array of different pop-up restaurants for pollinators all throughout the season (and the meals are free!)   All the pollinators and their mothers seem to swarm to the hot new location until the spread is over, and then it's off to the next act that pops up in the garden.  And for the past couple of weeks, the hot new place in the garden was...

....the Carolina Silverbell tree, aka Halesia carolina.

This location has caused quite the buzz (literally).  Pollinators of all kinds have been swarming to dine from its hundreds of white bells full of delectable nectar and pollen.  I have spotted all sorts of bees, bugs, and even hummingbirds feasting here when things were open for business.

The Carolina Silverbell is normally a small understory tree or large multi-stemmed shrub and prefers partial shade to full sun and moist, slightly acidic soil.  It is native to the Southeastern US, mostly found in the mountains and Peidmont sections of the Carolinas, hence the name.  I first saw a Carolina Silverbell tree in flower at Duke Gardens when I lived in North Carolina, and I knew I (and all the local diners) wanted one in my own garden.

a Carolina Silverbell at Duke Gardens
My tree is only about 5 or 6 feet tall now (more like a shrub, really), but eventually Silverbells grow to be 20 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide.   They are hardy from zone 5-8 and like some protection from wind.  The wood is rather soft and close-grained, making it valued for wood crafts.  They bloom their small white bells for about two weeks in April or May.  There are also pink-blooming varieties, such as 'Arnold Pink'.

Carolina Silverbell may be only be a limited-time-only pop-up restaurant for the pollinators in spring, but it does offer more bounty for wildlife at other times throughout the year.  Its leaves are hosts for several different moths and squirrels eat the seeds.  I am also very curious as to how this tree got its nickname of 'Opossum-wood'...  (Anyone know the story to that one?  Should I start expecting opossums to move in and partying at my Silverbell tree?)

It is now almost the end of May, and my Carolina Silverbell has finally finished flowering.  The show is over, the restaurant closed up, and the swarms of hungry diners have moved on to find the next eating establishment to pop up in the garden.

I wonder if they will enjoy the next place quite so much?

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Shady Progression

The past few weeks have seen the normal spring rush of planting, reworking garden beds, preparing for our garden club plant sale, and attending end-of-the-school-year events for me.  It is so great to be outside in the beautiful spring weather.  While the vegetable garden always demands and receives  some attention in spring, lately my main gardening focus and delight has been on the shade garden.

working in the shade garden - spring 2017
My shade garden is at the Northwest corner of the house.  It has an awkward corner shape and transitions from deep shade right next to the house to sun near the edges, with pockets of hot afternoon sun that sometimes poses a challenge for plantings.  It also is where all of the ugly utility boxes are mounted.  It is a work in progress (isn't it always?), but it has come a long way in the last three years, and I enjoy looking back and seeing its progression from barren nothingness.

spring 2014
This is the only 'before' photo I could find of this area, from the spring of 2014.   This corner slopes downwards and to the left. This photo is from when we put in drainage to redirect water that was leaking into our unfinished basement from the gutter spout.  A couple large boulders on the left hold up soil.

fall 2014
In the fall of 2014, Mr. Red House and I built a low retaining wall to help with the slope.  With the addition of more soil, my shade garden was born.

That fall and the next spring we put in a few tiny trees - two Japanese maples, a weeping Canadian Hemlock, and a little Carolina Silverbell - and started putting in plants, including Japanese anemone.  Stepping stones were added to make a clear path to all the utility boxes.  Native ferns happily pop up by themselves near the house, which we enjoy.

In 2016 we added a few more plants.  I used the sunny edges of the wall to grow Ground Cherries (which the chipmunks promptly ate for their water content during our drought).  The Japanese anemone and ferns started getting a little out of control, and there wasn't enough access to the utility boxes without wading through plants.  The shade garden really needed some work.

This spring I pulled out some of the plants, moved some around, and added more much-needed stepping stones to the utility area. The shade garden now has a lovely progression of flowers throughout the spring beginning with early spring bulbs and including a number of miniature daffodils that are planted along the edge of the retaining wall.

the miniature daffodil 'Mite'
In later spring blooms the brilliant pink of the Rhododendron 'Weston's Aglo', a small-leaved rhododendron hybridized by the nearby Weston Nurseries.

The pink is mimicked throughout the garden by Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart, a favorite of mine ever since seeing it growing up in my grandmother's garden...

Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart
...and then continued by the dark pink Azaleas.

The bright pinks are softened by touches of white from Summer Snowflakes and hostas... well as the blooms of the now much-larger Carolina Silverbell.

Carolina Silverbell tree
Another favorite of mine, the Foamflower, blooms in a little cloud of softer pink. 

birdbath with foamflower blooming on the right
Other spring blooms in the shade garden include epimediums, ajuga, lungwort, lanium, and brunnera.   Later will bloom white clematis, cotoneaster, heuchera, hostas, ligularia, iris, Japanese anemone, and grey-headed coneflowers that I have planted along the sunny edges of the garden.

purple heuchera leaves contrast with that of a weeping Japanese maple
This spring I also acquired a few special native woodland plants - trillium, bloodroot, and trout lily - that I tucked under the growing trees and look forward to seeing in bloom next year.  The shade garden is filling out!

There are still some plants to move and things to do, but I love the progress on my shade garden so far...

...and happily I'm not the only one.

Monday, April 24, 2017

They're Escaping...

In the past, I've blogged about how the deer keep eating the bright and beautifully bold tulips I planted for my hellstrip garden.  I've pretty much given up on trying to grow those red and yellow tulips in such an inhospitable environment, despite how beautiful they were.

Well at least one very smart tulip got the message and planned its escape.  I'm not sure how, but it packed up and moved completely out of my garden...

...and into the middle of my neighbor's lawn.

Smart little plant.  All of the tulips on my side were eaten.  Again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pussy Willows to the Rescue for Precocious Pollinators

As winter recedes into spring, the pollinators start emerging on warm, mild days. First the gnats, flies, and beetles, then the bumbles and other bees appear, hungry and ready to forage.  Finally now the early blooming flowers of spring are beginning to open here in New England to meet that demand.  But where did precocious pollinators go before now, on those sporadically warm but still barren days we got before those spring flowers started opening?  To find that answer, we have to look up...

emerging Pussy willow catkins
We don't often think of trees as great plants for pollinators, but they are actually some of the earliest available sources of pollen and nectar.  Here the American Pussy Willow, or Salix discolor, is one of the earliest bloomers around and a wonderful resource for bees and other early pollinators.  They break out of dormancy in late winter or very early spring, the distinctive furry coats on their catkins trapping heat from the sun to keep the developing reproductive parts warm.  

bee on male Pussy Willow tree
The furry emerging catkins open into white and yellowish odd sort of flowers.  Pussy Willows are dioecious, that is, they have male catkins and female catkins on different plants.  The earlier blooming male trees have the most to offer pollinators, with their catkin flowers containing both strongly scented nectar and pollen. The female willow trees, whose more greenish-colored catkins tend to open slightly later, offer only nectar.  

bee on female Pussy Willow catkin
While many trees with catkins are wind-pollinated, the Pussy Willow relies on insects for pollination. Its early flowering time proves beneficial, as there is much less competition for attracting pollinators when hardly anything else is in bloom!

The American Pussy Willow is native to much of the northern half of North America, and grows around 10 to 20 feet tall, usually with multiple stems.   Like many willows, it loves water and sun.  It grows wild all around the Red House Garden in the wetlands and in the detention pond we have out back. I love the Pussy Willows, as they are the first sign of the coming spring here.  Now that other trees and spring flowers are now starting to bloom, the Pussy Willows are finishing up for the season, leaves slowly replacing catkins.  Their job has been done...

a tiny pollinator on a male Pussy Willow catkin
...and what an important job it is to those early pollinators.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Daffodil Explosion

Ah, daffodils, one of my absolute favorites!  Who doesn't love those cheerfully bright yellow blooms after a long dreary winter?  Here in my garden, it's always a much-anticipated race to see which daffodil blooms first.   The winner is usually the somewhat unspellable 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', which can even bloom in March here.  This year, sadly, the ones that were almost about to open by the end of March saw their buds zapped by an April Fool's Day freeze.

(That wasn't funny, Mother Nature.  Really.)

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
This week, however, the temperatures have risen back up for several amazingly beautiful days, and several varieties of daffodils were all ready and waiting to bloom.

It was a glorious explosion of daffodils in the garden.

miniature daffodils in the hellstrip
Technically tied for first spring daffodil blooms were the tardy 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' flowers that managed to avoid the April Fool's freeze...

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
...and the little 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodils, which opened at the same time.

Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete'
But they were quickly followed by other daffodils that were eager to strut their stuff.  We had some big bloomers...

Narcissus 'Ice Follies'
and lots of little miniatures...

Narcissus 'Topolino'
and even the tiniest, daintiest little daffodil in the garden came out for the nice weather.

Narcissus 'Mite' starting to open
I adore daffodil season.  There's something about planting all those sleeping bulbs in good faith in fall and getting to see the result when they wake up after winter to joyfully herald the return of spring.

Narcissus 'Monal' starting to open
Here is to many more to follow.
Happy gardening!

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