Neighborly Garden News
Bring on the beneficials!
The web of life shows us the intricacy of how one life affects another. In the garden, we have a firm idea about what makes for good vs. bad bugs. Good bugs, also known as beneficial insects, help sustain gardens. Beneficial insects help with pollination, they assist with decomposition, and they are known for consuming the bad bugs. We can amplify the actions of beneficial insects by increasing their populations in our home gardens.
Lacewing larva eating a caterpillar
The first thing you should do is learn to identify both insect pests, and the beneficial insects which eat them. Frequently it is the larval or immature stage of the insect which feeds on the bad bugs. So learn your insect life stages, so you don’t accidentally kill off your good guys. The next step is creating a home base to attract the beneficial insects. Common flowers you may grow already will attract dedicated bad bug eaters. Lavender and mint will attract Hoverflies, Lacewing insects love Sunflowers and dill, and Lady Bug beetles love Alyssum and Yarrow. This is just a short listing of favorable plants for beneficial insects; there are many more that will attract them.
Hoverfly larva eating aphids
Integrate these attracting plants directly into your vegetable garden. You can plant rows of these flowers in between rows of vegetables, or plant them as fillers as you harvest your seasonal produce. If you have the time and space between harvests, sow Buckwheat seeds to serve as both a cover crop, and a food source for beneficials. Buckwheat is also known for its ability to suppress weeds.
Mason Bee house
Another benefit to establishing a home base for beneficial insects is the increase in yields due to an increase of pollinators. Most of our food crops that produce a fruit, like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, etc., all need or will be enhanced by insect pollination. Growing flowers near or within the garden will directly influence the quantity of pollinating insects. You can also build your own bee house, for the little Mason Bee. This native bee likes to live in holes created by boring insects, and the hollow stems of grassy plants. It gets the name Mason Bee because it packs mud in the nest holes. You can purchase pre-made Bee homes in garden centers and online, or create one by drilling 3” holes in a solid block of wood, and hanging them near your garden.
May’s ‘to-do’ list:
May is tick awareness month, and we should all be practicing tick safety. Both my dog and I have already had some very unpleasant experiences with ticks before even beginning to write this newsletter. It’s hard to avoid ticks, but we can up our game against them. If you have access to a clothes dryer, you can run your gardening clothes on hot for 10 minutes to kill any hitchhikers, or quarantine the clothes in a bag outside. Some relevant ideas here: https://www.bostonglobe.com/section/Massachusetts-tick-information.
Large leaved Rhododendrons, and other Evergreens experienced damage to their leaves this winter. Umass extension service technicians have attributed the injury to colder than normal temperatures in November, after a milder and wetter than normal fall. The good news is that the flower buds seemed to come through intact, and the plants may well grow out of their dead leaves; so wait until the end of May before doing any corrective pruning.
Is your perennial garden still snoozing? Native wildflowers bloom very early, and are ephemeral; they will disappear by summer to allow your mainstay plants to shine. Since they bloom before trees leaf out, they are not terribly fussy about sun exposure. Try Trillium (Trillium erectum, is our native red flowered plant) Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) these natives will multiply to form large colonies for an early spring show.
Weeds popped up early despite the late spring. With many chores beckoning, don’t neglect weeding, as these pests will grow even faster than your garden beauties. In the veggie garden I use grass clippings, or shredded leaves as mulch around my plants. In my ornamental beds, I’ve established a thick groundcover, but still have to hand pull here and there. It’s always a battle, but be vigilant! Find a comfortable tool to aid your efforts. A good tool helps the work go easier.
Be cautious before placing annual herbs and flowers outdoors too early. Tender annuals such as: basil, impatiens and tomatoes, can be damaged by even a light frost. University studies have shown that transplanting tender flower and vegetable starts early, and in cool conditions, offers no advantage over waiting until more settled weather. Transplant shock can even set tender plants back in their development. Hardy annuals like, pansies, Cole crops (cabbage family) peas and lettuce, love cool weather so plant these hardy plants first.
Apply compost as a top-dressing around your trees, shrubs and perennials, before applying mulch. Because compost continues to break down, is something that should be refreshed annually, so its benefits are available as needed. Consider this like a yearly dose of healthful nutrients and biological agents that will promote growth for your plants.
Continue to deadhead spring bulbs as their flowers fade, but leave the leaves intact. Even if you have fertilized your bulbs, the leaves are still needed to nourish the underground bulb. Once they begin to wither and turn yellowish, you may safely trim the leaves back. This is also a good time to lift any divide any daffodil clumps that need attention. If they’ve stopped blooming, or seem to be blooming less; it’s time to divide them.
Be on the defense for ticks!
The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is known to carry several human diseases, including Lyme disease (LD). This species of tick requires 2 years to complete its life cycle. The black-legged tick has 3 feeding stages larvae, nymph and adult. Black-legged tick nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and adults are the size of a sesame seed. The risk period for humans is May through July, during the nymph and larval stages of tick development, when the immature ticks are very difficult to see. Adult ticks may also be infective, so there is a risk of a getting infected from a tick bite all year long.
The positive news is that the tick must be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit LD. It is very important to remove the tick immediately and save the specimen for identification. Be aware of early symptoms of LD: circular red rash at the bite, chills, fever, fatigue and joint pain. Please consult your doctor if you suspect an infection.
In Massachusetts, we have 2 other species of ticks that can bite humans and spread diseases. Dog ticks are responsible for spreading Rocky Mountain spotted fever and certain types of tularemia. In general, only the adult dog tick will bite humans. The highest risk of being bitten by a dog tick occurs during the spring and summer seasons. Adult dog ticks are about the size of a watermelon seed.
Lone star ticks are not a significant source of human illness in Massachusetts at this time but are capable of spreading tularemia, ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Lone star tick saliva can be irritating but redness and discomfort at a bite site does not necessarily indicate any infection. Exposure to Lone Star tick saliva has been shown to cause an allergy to red meat in some people. The nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans.
Lone Star Tick
Unfortunately, there is no direct correlation between harsh winters and diminished tick populations. However, researchers from Canada have theorized that the warming environment has caused a dramatic increase in the tick population by speeding up their life-cycle. Long-range forecasts based on climate predictions see a 2- 5 times increase in tick reproduction in Canada, and up to twice as much in the United States. The EPA has included the incidences of Lyme disease infection as one of the indicators of a warming climate. The CDC has shown that the rate of infection from LD in the US has more than doubled since 1991, going from 3.74 people infected per 100,000 to 8.6 people per 100,000 in 2013.
Tick species ID
Deer are hosts to the adult ticks, but do not infect the ticks with LD. White footed mice, other small rodents, and some birds carry the infection and pass it onto the ticks feeding on them. When the ticks seek their next meal, they can pass LD onto you or your pet. Strategies that can reduce rodent population, and keep them away from your patio and play areas, will help limit possible exposure.
Countryside uses a 100% organic product called Tick Free®. This product is completely safe for beneficial, non-target insects, reptiles and amphibians. It has an added benefit of controlling fleas, stink bugs, and spiders, and repelling snakes. The product may be sprayed directly onto brushy areas or lawns, anywhere there is activity. Tick Free® used in combination with the highly rated Damminix Tick® tubes, a perimeter control system, will provide the most protection for you, your family and pets. Please call our spray program manager, Herb Severs, for more tick information, or to schedule a free ‘Tick Check-up’.
It’s not like gardeners don’t already have enough to do, deadheading annuals is just one more tedious chore. Annuals should look good; provide all season color, and fade away gracefully in the fall, but no deadheading, please! Here are some of the lowest maintenance annuals, which are easy to combine, or grow on their own for a punch of color.
Angelonia, commonly called summer snapdragon, originates in Central America and the Caribbean. This plant is tolerant of hot and dry conditions, and is resistant to browsing deer and bunnies. It is available as both taller and dwarf-bushy growing types, 1-3 ft tall. The color range is white, pink, rose, purple, and blue, and will bloom continuously.
Coleus is actually a member of the mint family. Coleus has been hybridized into an astounding variety of colors, leaf textures and shapes. Some of the larger growing cultivars can be utilized as a low temporary hedge, they get so burly. Coleus is also very easy to propagate; they will root in a glass of water. There are now Coleus bred especially to grow in full sun conditions, but most prefer shade to part sun. Coleus can grow 1-3 ft tall, depending on the cultivar.
Vinca(Catharanthus roseus), Madagascar periwinkle, is a little powerhouse of blooming. Growing only 12-18 inches tall, it loves all the heat and hot sun you can give it. Vinca is a little finicky about its soil, requiring a soil mix that drains well. We grew it right in the sand, when I lived by the shore, so it is salt tolerant also. Very good color range, white, red, coral, peach, pink, lavender and bi-colors; pretty, shiny green leaves.
Begonia x benariensis ‘Whopper’ is a showstopper of a plant. Breeders have created a hybridized plant that has flowers 3 times the size of traditional bedding begonias. Whopper Begonias have flowers in red or pink, with bronze or green leaves. These self-cleaning plants will grow in sun or partial shade. Whopper Begonia grows 30-34” tall x 30” wide. My favorite trick is to prune them to manageable size in the fall, then pot them up for all winter long blooming indoors. Whopper’s pretty blooms make those dreary days so much brighter. These begonias will also root in a glass of water in about 4 weeks.
Begonia x benariensis ‘Whopper’
Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ has been called one of the top 10 goof-proof plants. The hundreds of delicate looking white flowers give Diamond Frost Euphorbia a lacey, frilly look. Don’t let looks fool you; this plant is as tough as nails! It will grow in full sun to full shade, can be grow as a bedding plant or in containers, and does not require much supplemental watering or fertilizer. Diamond frost does not need deadheading or any pruning at all, but you can pare it back without any damage to its growth. Euphorbia is in the Spurge family, and will bleed a white sap when cut or bruised. Some folks may be allergic to this latex-like sap, so be aware, and use gloves when handling it. Grows 12-18” tall x 12-18” wide.
Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’