Archive for the ‘Summer Gardening’ Category

Hydrangea macrophylla is blue when grown in acidic soil

Recently, several questions related to pruning different trees and shrubs have come to my inbox or have been posted to our Discussion Board. One of these questions was regarding Endless Summer hydrangea.

I have 7 Endless Summer Hydrangeas that did not bloom at all this year. In previous years, I had tons of blooms, so I did something wrong when I pruned them. I can’t remember what time of year it was the last time I pruned them, but I have not touched them at all this year. They are lush and green and growing, but no flowers. When should I prune them to ensure flowers next spring and summer? I live in Southern NH, about 50 miles north of Boston.”

Lacecaps are beautiful in summer as long as the flower buds survive the winter.

Lacecaps are beautiful as long as
the flower buds survive the winter.

Hydrangea macrophylla, which includes the mophead and lacecap hydrangeas, normally blooms on “old wood”; that is, growth that was produced in the previous season. At the northern edge of their hardiness range, the flower buds of these hydrangeas, which are formed in August and September, are sometimes damaged or killed during severe winters. This means few or no blooms the following season. This happened to my lacecaps this year. In addition, if these shrubs are pruned at the wrong time (in the fall or spring), all those flower buds will be removed and oops – again, no flowers!

The Endless Summer Series is a unique group of Hydrangea macrophylla that blooms on both old wood and new wood. How cool is that? They are also hardier than lacecaps and other mopheads, surviving and blooming even as far north as Zone 4!

Endless Summer flowers are pink in less acidic soils

Endless Summer flowers are pink
in soils that have a higher pH.

If the flower buds that are produced in the fall are killed during a severe winter, no problem! These Endless Summer hydrangeas will still bloom later in the summer, since they readily produce flower buds on the current season’s growth. Because of this trait, they normally flower reliably every year regardless of winter severity.

Then what is happening with these seven Endless Summer hydrangeas?
Why didn’t they bloom?

That’s a good question but I suspect that it is not an issue of improper pruning. Regardless of how you prune these shrubs (unless you keep whacking back the new growth all summer), you should still get at least some summer blooms as long as they are healthy, get enough sun, and are fed and watered properly.

Beautiful, healthy green growth but no flowers.

Beautiful, healthy green growth
but no flowers.

The problem here is more likely to be related to nutrition. Since these shrubs have lush leafy growth, it seems that they are healthy and growing well – perhaps too well. If a flowering plant receives too much nitrogen, it will grow like gangbusters and “forget about” producing flowers. This is what you want for your grass – not your flowering plants.

In fact, this is sometimes what happens when flowering trees and shrubs are planted in the lawn rather than in designated flowerbeds. Your lawn is fertilized with a high nitrogen fertilizer so it grows lush and green but guess what? If your flowering plants are growing in the lawn, they are getting the same high nitrogen food. What’s their response? Grow lots of foliage and no flowers! The nutrient responsible for flower bud production is phosphorus, an element that has recently been removed from most lawn fertilizers.

I have no idea if this is the situation for these particular Endless Summer hydrangeas, but regardless of where they are growing, these shrubs may just need a shot of phosphorus in order to initiate flower bud production. A bloom booster fertilizer or Espoma Triple Super Phosphate (0-45-0) might do the trick. I suggested that she feed them with a good quality organic fertilizer such as Espoma Holly-tone plus an application of Super Phosphate according to the label directions. Hopefully, this will help and her Endless Summer hydrangeas will bloom next season.

So what about pruning?

How and when DO you prune Endless Summer hydrangeas?
The best time to do any structural pruning is just after they finish their initial bloom in early summer.

Dead stems should be cut back to live wood with healthy buds.

Dead stems should be cut back to
live green wood with healthy buds.

In the spring once the new leaves have fully expanded, any branch tips that were killed over the winter should be pruned back to live wood. In more northern areas, this may mean more extensive pruning and the loss of the early bloom.

When the first blooms fade, do any necessary pruning to reshape or reduce their size or just deadhead the flowers. This pruning will stimulate new growth and the formation of flower buds for the summer rebloom. Deadhead the flowers throughout the summer to encourage the production of additional blooms. You can even cut flowering stems for indoor arrangements and this will stimulate the production of more flowers!

All pruning of Hydrangea macrophylla, including the Endless Summer varieties,  should be completed by the end of July because after that, in August and September, the flower buds for the next season’s early bloom will be forming.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Blue-winged wasp feeds on a clover flower

I had two different inquiries about this particular wasp last week.

Our nursery field manager, “Bo” asked me about them because he had noticed small groups of black wasps flying low over his lawn when he was mowing.

Just the day before, someone happened to e-mail us a photo of one of the wasps that had been hovering over his lawn. When I showed the picture to Bo, he said, “Yes! That’s exactly what they look like!”

Who are they?

Bo said these particular wasps weren’t aggressive at all. They were just flying low over the grass like they were looking for something. Well, that’s exactly what they were doing – looking for beetle grubs.

A blue-winged wasp feeds on the nectar of a clover flower.

A blue-winged wasp feeds on the nectar
of a clover flower. Photo sent in by Ralph.

These are one of the scoliid wasps; a group of fairly large solitary wasps that lay their eggs on the beetle larvae that feed on and damage the roots of your grass.

This particular wasp is the blue-winged wasp, Scolia dubia. It is fairly common throughout the United States. Finding these guys hovering over your lawn is both a good thing and a bad thing. The bad news is that if you see a lot of them, it means that you probably have a healthy population of white grubs in your lawn. The good news is that these wasps are out to parasitize the grubs and can actually help control them in you lawn.

You see, the female wasps search out these grubs and lay their eggs on them – one egg per grub. They dig into the ground under the grass or follow the tunnels made by the grubs. When they locate a grub, they sting it to paralyze it and then lay a single egg on its body. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva feeds on the grub, eventually killing it. Good wasp!

Female scoliid wasps will lay up to two eggs per day over about a two month period. That translates to a lot of dead grubs. The adults are active from June to October but the peak of their breeding activity seems to be in the mid to late summer, which, not coincidentally, corresponds to the hatch of their preferred hosts; green June beetle and Japanese beetle grubs.

Adult wasp visits a Rudbeckia flower

An adult wasp visits a Rudbeckia flower.
Felix Francis, University of Delaware,

As an added benefit, the adult wasps feed on the nectar of many different flowers and so aid in pollination. They aren’t the most important pollinators around but in these days of dwindling bee populations, every little bit helps.

All-in-all, these are pretty useful wasps to have around. They usually won’t sting you unless you happen to be a grub and they can help you by killing some of those damaging white grubs in your lawn. Good biological control without chemicals! In fact, these beneficial wasps have sometimes been brought in and released in areas that have severe grub infestations.

Another beneficial solitary “bee”! Who knew there were so many!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Deep crack on the bottom of a large tomato. Black mold is beginning to grow in the crack.

It’s been a tough year for tomatoes.

The weather, at least in our area of the Shenandoah Valley, has been cooler than normal and fairly dry. The rain we’ve had has mostly come as heavy downpours – “frog stranglers” as my old boss used to say. We haven’t had many nice steady, soaking rains. Heavy rains, which are often associated with thunderstorms, are usually more destructive than helpful because most of the water runs off without soaking in and takes a lot of topsoil with it.

I saw on the news the other night that so far this summer, we’ve only had 15 days over 90° – the normal is 25 days by this point. Many days in July and August were in the 70’s and nights were often cool – in the 50’s and even several nights when the temperatures dipped into the mid to upper 40’s. Crazy! Nice for us but it has caused some issues in the vegetable garden.

Tomatoes don’t do well in cool weather – especially when the nights are cool. Temperature extremes (daytime temps above 90° or nighttime temps below 55°) cause poor fruit set.

First tomato harvest - 'Pruden's Purple' on July 6th and a nice big pepper, too.

First tomato harvest – ‘Pruden’s Purple’
on July 6th and a nice big pepper, too.

Our tomatoes started the season growing well; producing loads of flowers and setting lots of fruit. We have noticed that after this initial burst in June, everything slowed way down in July and August. We noticed fewer flowers and didn’t see many young tomatoes forming. The tomatoes that formed in June continued to grow and eventually ripened but production has certainly tapered off. I have heard the same complaint from other gardeners. This summer just hasn’t been favorable for growing tomatoes.

I have noticed several different problems on our tomato fruit this year but most of these are issues that I have seen in other years as well. They are fairly common tomato problems.

Growth cracks

These shallow growth cracks have healed over

Shallow growth cracks can heal.

Growth cracks develop in tomatoes when they undergo a spurt of rapid growth during ripening. This often occurs when extended dry conditions are followed by sudden heavy rain or irrigation. This isn’t an unusual situation and has occurred several times in our garden this season. As a result, many of our ripe tomatoes are showing varying degrees of cracking. Growth cracks frequently appear on the top of the tomato near the stem but sometimes when a tomato is fully ripe or overripe, cracks will develop on the bottom of the fruit. Shallow cracks will normally heal over but deeper cracks that develop can become easy pathways for disease and insects to enter and cause secondary problems.

Try to keep your garden soil evenly moist. Mulching definitely helps with this.


Anthracnose lesion showing concentric rings of fungal fruiting bodies

Anthracnose lesion showing concentric
rings of fungal fruiting bodies

Anthracnose of tomatoes is a disease caused by the fungus Colletotrichum coccodes. It appears as sunken, circular lesions on ripe tomatoes. Often these lesions have concentric rings of black fruiting bodies in the center. Green tomatoes can become infected with anthracnose but the symptoms do not appear until the tomato ripens.

The fungal spores are found in the soil and on plant debris left in the garden. Tomatoes are infected when soil containing spores is splashed up onto the fruit and foliage.

Anthracnose has destroyed half of this tomato

Anthracnose has damaged half
of this tomato

Anthracnose does little damage to the leaves but can cause major damage to mature, ripe tomatoes. This disease is more common during warm, wet weather but spores can also be transmitted to the plants from splashing during overhead irrigation.

Mulching around your tomato plants and trellising or staking them to keep them off the ground will help to prevent this fungal disease. Avoid working among the plants when they are wet and harvest the tomatoes as they ripen and use them promptly.

Infected fruit should be removed to prevent the spread of the disease. Crop rotation and careful clean up of all plant debris in the fall is important for controlling anthracnose.

Cat facing

Cat facing on a large heirloom tomato

Cat facing on a large heirloom tomato

Ever find tomatoes that have funky-shaped, puckered bottoms? This is called cat facing and it is thought to result from the abnormal development of the flower bud or flower – before the fruit is even formed! The factors that lead to cat facing in tomatoes are normally environmental, including cool temperatures before and during flower formation. Hmmmm, that sounds familiar!

Other causes of cat facing in tomatoes are any type of physical damage to the flowers, herbicide damage (such as drift from nearby 2,4-D spraying), and sometimes excessive pruning of tomato plants.

Mild cat facing

Sometimes it isn’t too bad


Varieties that produce large tomatoes, such as beefsteaks and the large-fruited heirloom tomatoes, are more prone to cat facing than small-fruited varieties.

Normally, tomatoes that are disfigured from cat facing are still edible however they may ripen unevenly and they can be difficult to slice – I just chunk them up instead! Still delicious!

Black mold

Black mold started growing in the growth cracks of this tomato.

Black mold started growing in
growth cracks of this tomato.

Black mold is caused by various fungi (including Alternaria alternata) that attack tomato tissue that has been injured in some way. It is rarely found on healthy, unblemished tomatoes. The fungal spores usually enter the tomato where the skin has cracked or where insects have caused injury to the fruit. As the fungus grows, it creates brown or black sunken lesions which expand and eventually cause the whole tomato to rot.

If you catch it early, you can just cut out the bad patches but it’s important to remove all the soft tissue or the tomato will taste bad.

All of these problems have developed on at least some of my tomatoes this season. Fungicide sprays listed for use in vegetable gardens can help but I normally don’t bother with them. None of these diseases have caused any major damage to my tomato crop. We just harvest the blemished fruit, cut out the diseased parts, and eat them. You should NEVER can or freeze tomatoes that show signs of disease.

Even though our tomato crop hasn’t been a bust this year, the yield from our 36 tomato plants should have been much higher. I’m normally swimming in tomatoes at this point in the season. Well – at least the tomatoes we’ve harvested have been very tasty. I’ve been able to can a few batches so far and they are still coming along. Hopefully this hot spell we are in now will give them a late season boost!

Lynne's cherry tomatoes are beautiful but her other tomatoes are small.

Lynne’s cherry tomatoes are beautiful
but her other tomatoes are very small.

How did your garden do this year?

My sister Lynne in Vermont told me yesterday that her tomatoes are all really small this season compared to other years. It’s been unusually cool up there this summer, too!

She sent this photo of her recent harvest. Nice rattlesnake beans and cukes Lynne!

Until next time –

     Happy Gardening!

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One whole hosta clump totally defoliated by deer

This yew was decimated by hungry deer over the winter.

This yew was decimated by
hungry deer over the winter.

The other day I was flipping through some pictures that I had taken of my sister’s gardens in Vermont and came across some photos of damage that had been done by deer in her gardens.

Most of the damage was more recent, from summer munching on her hosta but, over the winter, the deer had also browsed many of her shrubs including her yews (Taxus). The poor yews looked pitiful with just a few tufts of new growth coming out at the tips and along the branches. Luckily they have dormant buds in the bare wood so they are able to recover from this damage. They can be cut back hard, similar to the way you can prune boxwood and holly. I find it interesting that deer eat yews because these shrubs are highly toxic to cattle!

Last winter was definitely a tough one for deer because it was so cold and many areas had quite a bit of snow. This resulted in more damage than normal because they resorted to eating things that they might normally have left alone.

One gardener wrote,

Due to the extremely cold winter here in Annapolis, MD, I’ve noticed this spring that the tips of my azaleas, the bottom of my camellias, and evergreen shrubs appear to have been bitten off by deer (I have many in the wooded area I live in). The deer have never attacked these shrubs since I moved here years ago, so this damage has come as quite a surprise.

The deer browsed branches of an apple tree in our orchard

The deer browsed branches of
an apple tree in our orchard

Deer damage is especially devastating when it occurs on the spring flowering trees and shrubs that bloom on old wood (wood produced in the previous season). Often as they browse, the deer strip off many of the tender, dormant flower buds and thus wipe out much of the spring bloom.

Unfortunately, they really like rhododendron, azalea, and hydrangea! Some hydrangea, such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and the ‘Endless Summer’ series will normally still bloom even if they are heavily browsed because they bloom on new wood.

In the spring or whenever you notice deer damage, it’s a good idea to make clean cuts on the stems or branches that were chewed. Prune them back to live, undamaged wood. This will prevent insects and disease from entering through the ragged wounds left by the deer and help keep your trees and shrubs healthy. Be sure to fertilize them with a good organic fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone, Tree-tone, or Holly-tone.

Munched daylily buds. At least there were some flowers that bloomed!

Munched daylily buds. At least
some flowers bloomed!

As most gardeners know, deer damage isn’t limited to the winter months. There are plenty of trees, shrubs, annuals, and herbaceous perennials that they just love to eat during the spring and summer.

This summer, I have spoken with so many customers that would love to grow daylilies but can’t because the deer chew off all the flower buds right when they are about to bloom. How sad! They always ask me why we don’t have the same problem here with all the daylilies we grow. It’s true that we don’t normally have an issue with deer and I’m not sure why except that there is probably plenty of other food available in the surrounding fields. That being said, I have noticed that this year we HAVE had some deer browse on our daylilies. I’ve only seen it on the edge of some of the display beds but I definitely found some gnawed off daylily buds this summer. It is not widespread so perhaps we’ve always had SOME damage and I just never noticed it before.

A beautiful hosta totally destroyed!

A beautiful hosta totally destroyed!

Hosta are another one of their favorite snacks. They can devastate a beautiful hosta garden in no time at all. In one of Leslie’s beds, there were just leaf stems remaining after the deer went through – not very pretty to look at. They seem to pick and choose the ones they eat. Many of the hosta cultivars with thick, puckered leaves seem to be less desirable than the ones with thinner, more tender leaves. Interesting that slugs and snails have the same preferences.

These large-leaved hosta were not touched.

These large-leaved hosta with
heavy texture were not touched.

So what can you do short of resorting to a 30-06 rifle?

Plant “deer resistant” plants

Echinacea (coneflower) are colorful, long-blooming, and deer resistant!

Echinacea (coneflower) are colorful,
long-blooming, and deer resistant!

Deer are a persistent and once they find plants they like, they will continue to feed on them. You can often dissuade them from munching in your garden by placing plants that they don’t like to eat throughout your beds. While no plant is entirely “deer proof”, there are many perennials and shrubs that are deer resistant and most of them are beautiful plants that you will love having in your landscape.

Typically, deer steer away from plants that have thorns, fuzzy leaves or stems, coarse or tough leaves, plants with milky sap, and plants with aromatic foliage. Be aware, however, that the resistance of plants to deer damage is often related to the availability of other food and when times get tough, deer are often forced to eat normally “resistant” plants – as evidenced by last winter!

Use deer repellents

When it's cold out, the dormant flower buds of rhododendron become irresistible to deer.

Large leaf rhododendron are
usually irresistible to deer.

Certain plants, like hosta, daylilies, tulips, and rhododendron, are “candy” to deer and are frequently severely damaged by these garden marauders. If these are planted in areas where deer are common, they should be protected by fencing or by some type of deer repellent.

There are many repellents on the market now that claim to keep deer out of your gardens. Plus – don’t forget the Irish Spring soap in the nylon stocking trick!

Regardless of the repellents you choose, our most important recommendation is to alternate repellents through the season! Deer will eventually become accustomed to most repellents and then they will no longer be effective. Switch to a different repellent every 4 weeks or so.

Sometimes you just need a fence!

Why or why don't they eat the coltsfoot and leave the hosta!

Why oh why don’t they eat the coltsfoot and leave the hosta!

Deer fencing can protect the landscaping and gardens around your home. There are many different types of fencing available and the choice depends on how large, permanent, and strong you want your fence to be. A few years ago, we had deer in our vegetable garden for the first time. I guess they finally discovered that they could jump right over the 4 foot fence we had surrounding the garden. Now we have extended the fence up to about 10 feet high using stout bamboo poles and plastic wildlife netting. So far it seems to be working well on the deer but we are still having a problem with that stupid woodchuck …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Bagworm partly out of its bag.


Two bagworm cases hang from a red cedar as their occupants feed on the needles

Two bagworm cases hang from a red cedar as their occupants feed.

I can see them hanging all over our eastern red cedars right now greedily munching away on the tender young needles from the protection of their “bag”. Curious little devils but very destructive.

Bagworms are not worms at all but the larvae of insects that attack many evergreen (and some deciduous) trees and shrubs. The caterpillars of the evergreen bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) damage many landscape trees and shrubs by feeding on needles and leaves. A large infestation can lead to almost complete defoliation of trees.

Some of the more common evergreen host plants include their favorites, arborvitae and red cedar, and also fir, hemlock, pine, and spruce. Deciduous host plants include black locust, honeylocust, sweetgum, and sycamore.

A bagworm caterpillar sticks its head out of the bag as it feeds on cedar needles

A bagworm caterpillar sticks its head out of the bag as it feeds on cedar needles

The name bagworm comes from the characteristic case or “bag” that these caterpillars construct around them as they feed. The bag is composed of silk and bits of plant material collected from whatever they happen to be feeding on. As the caterpillars grow in size over the summer, they enlarge the bag by adding more plant material to the front of the bag. It is like a “mobile home” during their larval stage and later becomes their pupa case.

The life cycle of these insects is rather interesting. In late May and early June, the eggs hatch from bags that were constructed the previous season. As soon as they hatch, the young caterpillars crawl out and begin to construct a bag around their hind parts. They “wear” this bag as they move slowly through the branches feeding on needles and leaves.

A bagworm pupa case hangs from a cedar branch

A bagworm pupa case hangs from a cedar branch

In August, the mature larvae attach their bags to a branch and enter the pupa stage looking very much like small pine cones. The pupa stage lasts about 4 weeks.

The adult males, which are small moths with clear wings, emerge from the cases in September or October and begin to search for females. The adult females remain in their bag, releasing a pheromone to attract the males.

Female bagworms mate, produce eggs, and then die without ever leaving the bag. In fact, the eggs develop within the dead body of the female.

The body of a female bagworm cut open to reveal hundreds of eggs

The body of a female bagworm cut open to reveal hundreds of eggs

A female bagworm can produce up to 1,000 eggs which overwinter in the bags and hatch out the following May. Yikes, that’s a lot of little caterpillars! No wonder they can be so devastating to our evergreens.

Birds and some insects will prey on bagworms but normally this predation is not enough to stave off an infestation. The following are some tips for getting rid of bagworms if you find them hanging from your trees or shrubs.

As much as is feasible, try to physically remove and destroy as many of the bags as you can. The silk that holds the bags on the branches is quite strong and scissors or shears are usually needed to cut them off. Depending on the number of bags and the size of your trees or shrubs, removing them all may not be possible. We do not recommend using a ladder!

A bagworm case from a previous year hangs on a cedar tree

A bagworm case from a previous year hangs on a cedar tree

The second most important step is to control the YOUNG caterpillars when they hatch out in the later part of May or June. Young caterpillars can be controlled (without harming beneficial insects) by spraying Bonide BT Thuricide (Bacillus thuringiensis). Bt is a type of bacteria infects and kills the young caterpillars. It is also helpful for controlling young tent caterpillars.

If you miss the younger ones, larger caterpillars (and the young ones too) can be controlled using Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. This product contains spinosad, an insecticide derived from a naturally occurring bacterium. Like Bt, spinosad targets many different plant pests but spares most beneficial insects when used according to the label directions.

Always read and follow the label directions when using any pesticide and NEVER spray any insecticide when trees or shrubs are in bloom!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Japanese beetle on a morning glory leaf

Ewwwww! What was that that hit me in the head? Unfortunately, I knew what it was before I reached up to get it out of my hair – a Japanese beetle!

We have been lucky for the past two or three years – the Japanese beetles haven’t been bad at all. This year, they may be back in greater quantities.

They must be starting to emerge now because, just yesterday, I had three separate encounters with these nasty beetles.

A Japanese beetle chews holes in our morning glory leaves.

A Japanese beetle chews holes
in our morning glory leaves.

  1. In the morning I was enjoying coffee on our deck when I noticed a Japanese beetle on a leaf of our heavenly blue morning glories. Upon further inspection, I saw that there were holes in many of the leaves and a few big ones right next to this guy. Ugh! They’ve been feasting on the flowers!
  2. When I got to work, I had an e-mail waiting for me from someone whose 5-year old blueberry bushes were being attacked by Japanese beetles. They were wondering how to get rid of them because they were “beginning to do quite a bit of damage” to the plants.
  3. Then early in the afternoon, I was talking with a customer in the garden center and a Japanese beetle flew into my head and got stuck in my hair! Yuck!

They’re here!

Adult Japanese beetle

Adult Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles are native to Japan – as their name implies. They were brought over to the U.S. accidentally (as is the case for many of our alien pests) in the early 1900’s and are now a major pest throughout most of the eastern United States and beyond. They are about a half inch long with iridescent copper wing covers and a shiny green thorax and head. Their legs have rough spines that get caught in everything – including your hair! Nasty!

Japanese beetles feed on leaf tissue eventually leaving just the veins.

Japanese beetles feed on leaf tissue eventually leaving just the veins.


In our area of the Shenandoah Valley, adult Japanese beetles typically begin to emerge from the ground in early July. Almost immediately, they are up and flying around in search of food and mates. We are just starting to see them buzzing around the gardens.

Once they mate, the females will begin to lay eggs in the grass. These eggs hatch about two weeks later and the young larvae (white grubs) burrow down and begin to feed on the roots of the grass.

Beetle grubs devour the tender grass roots killing the grass.

Beetle grubs devour the tender
grass roots killing the grass.

From late August through October, the grubs grow, molt, and continue to feed heavily on the grass roots. This is the time when you will begin to see damage to the turfgrass if you have a heavy infestation. Patches of grass start to turn brown and die. Because the roots are gone, these brown patches can be peeled back easily to reveal the grubs underneath.

Once the weather turns colder in the fall and the soil begins to cool down, the grubs stop feeding and burrow down deeper into the ground where they spend the winter. In the spring when the soil warms a bit, the grubs begin to move up toward the surface and feed on the roots for a short time before they pupate near the surface. The adults emerge in early to mid summer and the cycle begins again.

Japanese beetles have ruined this beautiful Echinacea flower.

Japanese beetles have ruined this beautiful Echinacea flower.

As you can see, these annoying beetles are destructive in two stages of their life cycle; the adults can ruin flowers, foliage, fruits, and vegetables with their feeding and the larvae/grubs can kill large patches of turf as they consume the roots of the grass.

Controlling beetles in the garden

Hand picking is the safest method of control for beetles, however this is often difficult if not impossible to keep up with. If you carry around a small pail with soapy water, you can knock them off into the pail without ever touching them.

Pheromone traps can be used but be sure to place these at the edge of your property and not in or close to your gardens as the attractant will bring the beetles in from all around the neighborhood!

Japanese beetles consume Buddleia flowers

Japanese beetles consume
Buddleia flowers

Control with an insecticide is tricky since Japanese beetles often attack plants that are blooming; eating the foliage or worse, the flowers that the bees and other pollinators frequent.

Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew is listed for controlling Japanese beetles and many other pests in the vegetable garden as well as on ornamentals. This product contains spinosad, an insecticide derived from a naturally occurring bacterium. The nice thing about spinosad is that it targets many different plant pests but spares most beneficial insects when used according to the label directions. It is similar in this way to Bt but it lasts longer in the garden and targets a broader range of insect pests.

Bonide Eight is also listed for control of Japanese beetles as well as many other destructive beetles and garden pests. Like Captain Jack’s, it can be used in the vegetable garden as well as on fruit trees and ornamentals. Always use according to the label directions.

A word of caution: Even natural or organic products can be deadly to pollinators like bees. If possible DO NOT spray when plants are in bloom. If this is not possible, spray early in the morning or later in the evening when bees are less active and ALWAYS read and FOLLOW the label directions! Sometimes, for a plant like Buddleia that blooms all summer, Andre will shear off all the flowers before spraying an insecticide.

Of course, controlling the larval stage will help prevent infestations of adult beetles to some extent. Here are some tips for controlling the beetle grubs in your lawn. For these guys, timing is everything!

Hopefully the beetles won’t be too bad this year. We will definitely know soon!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Delosperma cooperi

It’s Independence Day and the flowers are celebrating with us!

Gaura 'Siskiyou Pink'

Gaura ‘Siskiyou Pink’

Well – it might take a little imagination in some cases but there are lots of flowers that burst into bloom with an explosion of colorful petals reminiscent of our Fourth of July fireworks.

Take for instance the colorful Delosperma cooperi (Ice Plant) shown at the top of the post. The beautiful magenta petals radiating from the sparkling white central button remind me of a brilliant display of exploding fireworks.

Sassafras flowers against a gray sky

Sassafras flowers in spring

Even some of the tree flowers get into the spirit – although they are a little ahead of the 4th of July celebration! The interesting sassafras flowers produced in the spring are drooping racemes that resemble a beautiful aerial display. My little Japanese maple has pendulous flowers that remind me of falling missiles about to burst into a shower of sparks.

Composite flowers, like chrysanthemums and Echinacea, can often appear very much like fireworks exploding in the night sky.

Echinacea flowers

Echinacea flowers

In fact, a glossary of firework effects contains terms like chrysanthemum, bouquet, dahlia, palm, peony, pistil, and willow to describe the aerial displays of different types of fireworks. It’s quite interesting!

Even the “flower skeletons” of fall and winter can remind you of bursting firework explosions!

So many different flowers, flower clusters, and seed heads have interesting “explosive” shapes.

Below are a few photos that I have taken over the years. These pictures were taken in the Viette gardens, in my gardens, and in my sister’s gardens.

Like I said; you may have to use your imagination!

I hope you enjoy the floral fireworks!

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!


Beautiful mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia 'Keepsake', at my sister's

Beautiful mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia ‘Keepsake’, at my sister’s

Supertunia 'Raspberry Blast'

Supertunia ‘Raspberry Blast’

Clusters of flowers beginning to open in a panicle of Phlox 'David'

Clusters of flowers begin to burst open on Phlox ‘David’

Colorful flowers of lacecap hydrangea

Colorful flowers of lacecap hydrangea

Eupatorium flowers

Eupatorium flower heads beginning to open look like
a blossoming aerial display on the 4th of July

Snow crusted dried umbel of fennel

Snow crusted dried umbel of bronze fennel

A bright red Monarda bursts into a shower of color!

A bright red Monarda bursts into a shower of color!

A sassafras flower against a gray spring sky

A sassafras flower against a gray spring sky

Cascading flowers of Japanese maple

Cascading flowers of Japanese maple

Flower of the powder puff tree ( Calliandra haematocephala). St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

Flower of the powder puff tree (Calliandra haematocephala).
From Andre’s slide collection; St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

Dandelion seed heads remind me of a mass of exploding fireworks.

Dandelion seed heads remind me of a mass of exploding fireworks.

Flowers of witchhazel create a grand finale!

Flowers of witchhazel (Hamamelis) create a grand finale!

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Spindle galls on cherry

Galls on plants are funny things.

They come in all sizes, funky shapes, and crazy colors. There are thousands of different types of galls and they can be caused by insects, fungi, bacteria, mites, midges, or wasps. Galls can form on the leaves, buds, flowers, stems, twigs, branches, and even on roots.

Oak bullet galls

Oak bullet galls

Normally, galls are formed by the plant in response to some type of “alien invasion”; often from insect or mite feeding or egg laying. As bizarre as these abnormal growths appear, they do not usually interfere with the normal function of the plant.

A few years ago I wrote about two types of galls that are common on goldenrods; the bunch gall caused by the larva of a small gnat and the stem gall caused by the larva of the goldenrod gall fly. The goldenrod was still blooming and seemed otherwise unaffected despite the presence of these galls.

Oak trees seem to harbor several different types of galls, many of which are caused by tiny gall wasps.

Oak bullet gall with exit hole

Oak bullet gall with exit hole

This spring when I was walking around in our yard, I noticed a bunch of hard, round galls on some low branches of a young white oak tree. These galls are called oak bullet galls (or oak marble galls) and are caused by a gall wasp. The gall forms as a deformity of a leaf bud when the wasp lays an egg within the leaf bud tissue. The developing larva stimulates the growth of the gall which starts out as a round green mass and matures to a hard brown marble-sized gall later in the summer. The tiny adult wasp emerges in September through a small exit hole in the gall.

Oak apple gall developed from this oak leaf tissue

Oak apple gall developed
from this oak leaf tissue


Oak bullet galls are often confused with another common oak gall called the oak apple gall. Oak apple galls are quite a bit larger than the oak bullet galls. They too are caused by the feeding of a gall wasp larva. In this case, the gall actually develops from leaf tissue.

Like most galls, oak bullet galls and oak apple galls do not usually hurt the tree.


Wool sower galls are quite beautiful!

Wool sower galls are quite striking!


The wool sower gall is another strange gall that is only found on oak trees and specifically only found on white oaks. These puffy, round galls are caused by the larvae of another small wasp. They are really cool looking! Wool sower galls are sometimes called the oak seed gall because if you tease them apart, you will find tiny structures that resemble seeds in the center. The wasp larvae develop in these little compartments.

Spindle galls on a cherry leaf

Spindle galls on a cherry leaf

Another really funky looking gall is the spindle gall. Every year I see these weird growths on the leaves of some of the wild cherry trees in our woods. Talk about something out of a sci-fi movie! These colorful, finger-like galls are caused by microscopic mites called eriophyid mites. The galls form in early spring when the leaves begin to expand and the tiny mites begin feeding on the leaf tissue.

Spindle galls on a maple leaf

Spindle galls on a maple leaf

The upper surfaces of the leaves become covered with these crazy looking pink, red, or green spindle-shaped projections. It looks like some terrible rash! Believe it or not, the growth of these spindle galls has little effect on the health of the trees. Spindle galls are common on maples as well as cherries.

Galls caused by one of the spruce gall adelgids

Galls caused by one of the
spruce gall adelgids

Adelgids are devastating pests of many conifer species. Woolly adelgids have decimated huge populations of Eastern hemlocks and Fraser fir in the eastern part of the United States.

Several adelgid species, including the eastern spruce gall adelgid and the Cooley spruce gall adelgid, produce galls in various species of spruce. Unlike the woolly adelgids, these adelgids generally do not kill the trees unless there are repeated infestations which can eventually weaken the trees. Normally the damage is limited to the tips of a few branches, but in the landscape, these brown tips can be unsightly.

A mature cedar-apple rust gall erupts into mass of bright orange tendrils after wet weather in the spring.

A mature cedar-apple rust gall with bright orange tendrils

Cedar-apple rust is a fungal disease that produces weird galls on eastern red cedar trees. I’ve written about this double-host disease before. During wet weather in the spring, these galls sprout gelatinous tendrils full of fungal spores which are carried to the alternate host, apple or crabapple trees. Here they cause damaging rust disease on the leaves and fruit. The galls on the cedars cause little damage to those trees but the apple and crabapple trees can be heavily damaged if they are not protected with fungicides.


Well – that’s a little bit about some of the funky growths that you may encounter in your landscape!

Normally, chemical control is not warranted or even very successful with these galls, EXCEPT in the case of the adelgids and the cedar-apple rust. Adelgids can be controlled with Bonide All Seasons Oil and the cedar-apple rust can be controlled on apples and crabapples with Bonide Copper Fungicide.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Computer paper mulch

Remember way back when there was no such thing as a personal computer? That was a long time ago …

A young meadow vole sits in crownvetch.

A young meadow vole sits
in crownvetch.

Back when Eric and I were in graduate school at Penn State, the computer available to students was a giant mainframe that was housed in a computer center on campus. During the summer when we weren’t in the field collecting data, we basically lived in the computer center. This was kind of nice because in order to keep these giant computers from overheating, the whole building had to be air conditioned. Being in the comp center offered a nice break from the hot crownvetch fields where we were using a combination of live trapping and radio telemetry to study the home range and movement patterns of meadow voles.

Meadow vole being fitted with a radio collar

A female meadow vole being fitted
with a radio collar

We spent hours in the comp center entering data by punching cards (anyone remember that?) and later by typing our location data into a remote terminal. We would then plug the data into various programs to plot the locations and run statistical tests. The jobs were submitted to the big mainframe computer, and then we had to wait for them to run and eventually print out on the wide, continuous feed, green bar paper (or sometimes a heavier weight white paper). Depending on the job queue, it could take quite a while to get a printout. My how technology has changed since those days!

Anyway, there IS a point to this story!

Our years at Penn State left us with boxes and boxes of computer paper output which Eric has been storing in his office at the college. Last year, he decided that it would make the perfect mulch for our vegetable garden so he brought two boxes home for use in the Three Sisters Garden.

One year we mulched with composted leaves.

One year we mulched the tomatoes with composted leaves.

We have discovered that for people with busy lives and big vegetable gardens, mulching is one of the keys to success.

A cover of mulch around the plants and throughout the vegetable garden is wonderful way to reduce weeds and thus the time spent weeding.

Mulch also helps maintain soil moisture and keeps the soil from drying out too quickly. This not only saves water because you don’t have to irrigate as often, but the more even soil moisture helps to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes.

Cucumber leaf ravaged by a fungal disease.

A cucumber leaf ravaged
by a fungal disease.

In addition, mulching the vegetable garden helps to reduce disease problems so you spend less time (and money) spraying fungicides. Fungal diseases, such as early blight, late blight, and septoria leaf spot, are the main destroyer of tomato plants. Downy mildew and anthracnose can wreak havoc on cucumbers, squash, and other cucurbits. The fungal spores that spread these diseases are lurking in the soil just waiting to jump onto your vegetable crops. A layer of mulch can prevent these spores from splashing up onto the leaves of your plants during a rainstorm or when the plants are watered.

Eric laying out the computer paper

Eric lays out computer paper

The mulch we usually use in our vegetable garden is a thick layer of newspaper covered with straw. This works really well and the newspaper prevents most of the straw seeds from germinating in the garden. Last year, we substituted the computer paper for the newspaper – it worked really well!

Since each computer job generated pages and pages of continuous output, we could literally walk backwards through the garden unfolding the paper as we went. When you got to the end of a row, you could either tear the paper at a perforation or turn around and go back to lay down a second (or third) layer. It was easy as long as the wind wasn’t blowing but this is true with the newspaper as well. Usually one of us would spread the straw as soon as the paper was laid down thick enough.

Computer paper ready for a covering of straw

Ready for a covering of straw


Straw completely covers the paper.


Laying computer paper goes much faster than putting down sheets of newspaper and it’s a great way to recycle the boxes of computer output that have been cluttering Eric’s office for all these years! But … I suppose there aren’t too many people that have boxes of old computer paper lying around!

Oh well, mulch that garden with something – you’ll be glad you did! Here’s to a prosperous gardening season with loads of fruits, vegetables, and flowers!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Cross-striped cabbageworm

Do I seem to be stuck in a rut?

Sorry but we’ve been getting some interesting questions on our discussion board lately and caterpillars seem to be a hot subject this time of the year!

Read on …

Hi, I am in Dutchess County, NY. Can you give me an idea as to what is eating my kale? Thanks!

Caterpillar damage on kale leaves

Caterpillar damage on kale leaves

First off, I must say that kale is a great vegetable! These tasty greens are packed full of excellent vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Because it’s so rich in nutrients, kale has been dubbed as one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet – the “queen of greens!” It is also very versatile and has many great uses in cooking and for using raw. Chopped kale is a great addition to soups and I always put in a big leaf or two when I make smoothies – de-lish!

Anyway, back to caterpillars because they’re certainly the critters eating her kale leaves. This picture she sent shows classic caterpillar damage.

Caterpillar damage on kohlrabi

Caterpillar damage on kohlrabi


Cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms, and diamondback moth caterpillars are caterpillars that commonly feed on cole crops (plants in the cabbage family which includes kale). Other familiar members of this family are broccoli and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and collards. All these plants are susceptible to attack by caterpillars.

Imported cabbageworm caterpillar

Imported cabbageworm caterpillar.
A cross-striped cabbageworm can be
seen in the background.

I have never tried growing kale but we have periodically tried growing broccoli and even Brussels sprouts in our garden.

These crops have never been very successful because of the whole caterpillar issue. We would usually get just one cutting of broccoli before caterpillars would explode all over the plants. The broccoli would become so disgusting with chewed leaves and frass (caterpillar poop) that we would just end up yanking them out.

The few times we tried growing Brussels sprouts, they became infested with aphids and caterpillars and never really produced buds – not that I think I would have eaten them even if they had. Don’t get me wrong, I love Brussels sprouts but not ones that have been sucked on by aphids and chewed on by little caterpillars! Can you tell we didn’t spray?

This early version was replaced by new row cover and a stronger frame.

This early version was replaced by new
row cover and a stronger frame.

Since cole crops don’t require pollination to produce a crop, one way to protect them from caterpillar damage is to cover them with a floating row cover to keep the adult butterflies (or moths in the case of the diamondback moth) from laying eggs on the plants. We tried that this year. I wasn’t going to grow broccoli but Eric wanted to try it one more time and use the floating row cover idea to protect the plants.

Here’s the thing, though. You have to put the row cover over the plants before the eggs are laid!

Imported cabbageworm butterfly

Imported cabbageworm butterfly

We had it well sealed so that no adults could get inside but there must have been eggs or tiny caterpillars already on the plants because after a month or so, there were quite a few cabbageworm butterflies fluttering around inside our row cover tent. Oops!

Needless to say, the broccoli plants had been ravaged by the caterpillars and I yanked them all out – again!
I think we will just buy broccoli at the grocery store from now on!

Cross-striped cabbageworm and frass on broccoli

Three cross-striped cabbageworms
and lots of frass on broccoli

If we DO ever try growing it again, I will begin spraying early with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew (spinosad). These are two organic controls that I have mentioned before for killing caterpillars while being kind to beneficials.

The other option is hand picking; but in my experience, the sheer numbers of these caterpillars make this control method impractical and in addition, since most of the common ones are green, they are well camouflaged and hard to find!

On another note, I think I may try growing some kale in our lettuce containers on the deck this fall – just for a test. The deck is pretty sheltered and I can cover the containers with plastic if necessary as it grows colder. It will be an interesting experiment. It may be too late but I think it is worth a try.

I’ll keep you posted!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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