Neighborly Garden News
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Strategize now to protect your garden from the Spongy Moth
2023 looks to be another bad year forthe spongy moth, formerly called the gypsy moth. The caterpillar is very destructive to many species of trees and shrubs that are native to our area, and non-native species too. Scientists will count the amount of egg masses observed in blocks of forested land, then calculate how many caterpillars may be predicted to hatch out the following spring. Unfortunately, heavy infestations usually occur 2-3 years in a row, until their numbers diminish enough to not cause great damage.
Spongy moths were accidentally released into MA in 1869 and has spread into 20 other Eastern and Mid-Western states and 5 provinces of Canada. They favor Oak trees but have been recorded to feed on 100 other types of trees and shrubs. They can decimate mighty Oaks by their sheer numbers; each egg mass can contain upwards of 800 eggs. The newly hatched caterpillars can travel great distances by becoming airborne on a silken thread, their furry bodies parachuting up to a half mile from where they hatched.
Newly hatched caterpillars are less than ¼” long, but they will continue to develop, going through 5-6 growth stages before becoming adults. It is during the egg and caterpillar stages we can best achieve some measure of control. Females will lay tan colored egg masses along crevices of tree bark. These egg masses can be removed into containers of soapy water to kill the eggs, just scraping them off without drowning them may leave eggs on the ground to hatch. Utilizing dormant oil spraying is another way to preemptively kill eggs before they hatch. This ultra-fine grade of horticultural oil will not harm beneficial insects, birds, or mammals, and is sprayed during the winter and early spring when plants and insects are dormant. Another type of spray, Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki) is very effective at killing the caterpillar stage of the spongey moth. It works by disabling their gut, and will not harm birds or mammals, but is best used on the younger stages of the caterpillar for the best effect. Caterpillars will die in about a week after eating leaves sprayed with Btk.
Spongy moth caterpillars and egg masses
Caterpillars in the last two growth stages will rest under leaf litter and crevices of trees during the day, then crawl back up to the canopy to feed at night. The old method of placing a sticky barrier around the tree trunk to trap them as they crawled back up, had the disadvantage of trapping beneficial insects and birds also. Try tying a section of burlap around the tree trunk with garden twine, allowing the burlap above the string to flop over it, forming a burlap flap. Sleepy caterpillars will hide underneath the flap, and you can brush these into cans of soapy water in the afternoon before they make their way up to feed at night. This isn’t the best solution for a heavily forested plot, but maybe a good trick to have if you have a few favored trees to protect.
Environmental factors like moisture and temperature can play a helpful role in keeping populations of spongy moths low. Entomophaga maimaiga, a soil borne fungus, was introduced from Japan to combat the spongy moth about 30 years ago. It has the best chance of developing and attacking the caterpillar when our spring is cold and wet. During dry springs, as they were recently, the caterpillars have had the advantage because the fungus doesn’t survive in dry weather. White footed mice can also help by eating the pupae, (resting stage of the caterpillar) and in years following an abundant acorn crop, mouse populations will naturally increase enough to reduce the number of spongey moth juveniles that can develop into adult moths.
Need help with managing spongy moth on your property? Contact Scott Higley for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
January’s to-do list
As I write, the New Year 2023 beckons; 2022 seemed to pass so quickly. Our weather in the Pioneer Valley is a mirror of last season at this same time…little to no snow on the ground and only moderately cold. Dave Hayes, Massachusetts’ unofficial weatherman, has dubbed this section of western MA as the “Triangle of Disappointment for Snow lovers”https://www.masslive.com/weather/2022/12/weather-nut-calls-this-section-of-mass-the-triangle-of-disappointment-for-snow-lovers.html We are in this geographical niche for minimal snow accumulations compared to our neighbors east and west of us. Just a few miles west, Florida, MA, had the record snowfall for the state last week receiving 18”. Deerfield only received 4.5”, at least our lack of snow gives me a little more time to put down vole repellent, and hope that the lack of cover and cold weather will ‘naturally’ lessen the population. I’m impatient for longer days and a return to outdoor gardening; I received my first seed and gardening supply catalog in the mail yesterday, a sign of good things to come!
Animal repellent sprays can be applied as needed throughout the season, but it is more efficient to apply while temperatures are above freezing. You can achieve good results, and limit animal browsing, by being consistent with applications. If you have persisted with repellent strategies without favorable results, it may be time to rethink your planting design to limit or exclude plants that attract browsing animals.
We may receive a ‘January Thaw’ but be careful not to walk on your garden beds when they are wet and muddy during a thaw, because it can permanently compress the soil structure. Do check for any plants that may have ‘heaved’ out of their planting holes during freeze/thaw cycles. Gently push them back into place.
January, and throughout the winter, is the optimum time to perform corrective pruning and shaping of your trees and shrubs. You have a clear view of the whole tree and needn’t worry about oozing sap, particularly if you are pruning ornamental Maples. Fruit trees need annual pruning to keep them healthy. Fruiting trees have a very vigorous growth habit and will get ‘twiggy’ quickly. Pruning helps channel that energy into fruit production, by eliminating the extraneous twiggy growth, and poorly shaped branches. Ignoring a too dense canopy, and letting water sprouts develop, all can contribute to a tree’s decline. Always remove any dead or diseased wood; during winter storms these weak spots can tear off, and cause greater damage, than if they were preemptively pruned.
As I write, I’m watching different flocks of birds settle and eat from the Staghorn Sumacs outside my windows. They are eating seeds from the red cones that persist after the leaves drop. I allow my property line to be kind of wild and undisturbed, and I’m glad to be able to provide wild food sources for the birds. Additionally, I also hang several feeders of Black-oil sunflower seed, and suet cakes. Supporting your neighborhood birds is not only enjoyable, but these birds may become permanent residents of the area and help keep insect populations down in the spring and summer. If you have the space, planting fruit and nut bearing plants like native Winterberry, Sumac, Oak and Birch, will create a haven for wild birds.
Enjoy the break from the labor of love that encompasses caring for the outdoor garden. Take a gardening class with the Berkshire Botanic Gardenhttps://www.berkshirebotanical.org/events or Visit a local greenhouse and feel a breath of warm air and plant life at The Lyman Plant House at Smith College https://garden.smith.edu/visit or the Durfee Conservatory at University of Massachusetts at Amherst https://durfeeconservatory.umass.edu/
Sometimes seeing some green growing plants is a big pick-me-up from the winter doldrums! (Check before going for any schedule changes)
Need a hand with winter chores? Contact our office: email@example.com(413) 458-5586
Gardening Goals for the New Year!
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a newbie, setting yearly goals for yourself will serve to create a plan and framework for the gardening year ahead.
Get organized-Familiarize yourself with your hardiness zone, if you don’t know it already. This will be a big help in choosing the right varieties for your yard. Get a garden planner or journal, to help you keep track of significant events throughout the gardening year and track your progress in reaching your goals. Make a check list of what you have on hand vs what you need to get.
Turn your garden into an oasis-Make a goal to enjoy spending time in the garden. Add comfortable garden seating to allow yourself the luxury of taking in your hard work. By creating an enjoyable space, all the gardening work will seem like less work, and taking breaks in this lovely space will be your reward for a job well done!
Fill the space with unique greenery-Look for plants with ombre’ shades, different textured foliage, and leaves that can catch the breeze. Large houseplants can be summered outdoors to bring a lush tropical feel to the garden. Trending for 2023 is variegated foliage; especially plants that are green with pink variegation.
Green and Pink Caladium
Grow something new and unusual-Skip the petunias and marigolds this year and try something you’ve never grown before. Maybe you’ve admired some exotic tropical plant in your travels, or wished to have a fragrant rose garden, but only have a small balcony. These plants will happily grow in a pot for the summer, and you have the option of bringing them indoors in fall or donating them to someone who can care for them.
Grow something trendy-The Pantone color of the year for 2023 is ‘Viva Magenta’. This bold hue is a powerful crimson red that is a balance between warm and cool. According to the designers at Pantone, it was inspired by the red of cochineal, one of the most precious natural dyes in the world. For a bright pop of color in your garden try growing crimson Zinnias, Sweet Williams or crimson Morning Glories; all easy-to-grow and have long lasting blooms.
Pantone ‘Color of the Year’ Viva Magenta
Entice more pollinators to your garden-Take some time to observe which plants attract the most attention from bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. In my garden I have noticed hummingbirds just love upright growing Catmint, and tall Zinnias. Lantanas are also swarmed by hummingbirds and butterflies. Discover what the pollinators like, and plan to add more of it.
Plan to do garden health checkups on a regular schedule-Identifying a pest or disease problem early on can help catch it before it spreads and gets far worse. Check the undersides of leaves for signs of insects: eggs, webbing or leaf discoloration. Sometimes you can notice something just slightly off from the normal look of the plant, it’s helpful to take a photo of your plant when it is healthy to refer to, over the course of the summer.
A good way to start encouraging pollinators is by planting food sources for their young. The only food source for Monarch caterpillars are plants in the milkweed family. There are several species of milkweed that are perennial in our growing zone. Tropical milkweed is very ornamental and can be grown as an annual in our area. Monarchs are not picky about whether it is native, annual or perennial, if it is a milkweed, they will thrive on it. Adult butterflies can be attracted by growing fruit trees, or offering cut slices of overripe banana, oranges or melon. They prefer to suck up a sweet liquid diet.
Asclepias syriaca-Common Milkweed thrives in sunny meadows and fields. This species of milkweed needs a lot of space and will spread by underground stems. It is best used in a wildflower garden, or other informal area. 3-6’ tall.
Asclepias incarnata-Swamp Milkweed doesn’t require wet conditions, contrary to its name. It is neater in its growth habit, with pretty, bright pink flowers, and graceful willowy leaves. 3-4’ tall.
Asclepias tuberosa-Butterfly weed is a hardy perennial that likes sharply drained, sandy soil and full sun. It has very showy red and orange or yellow flowers that will bloom all summer. Grows 12”-3’ tall.
Asclepias tuberosa with Monarch caterpillars
Asclepias curassavica-Mexican Butterfly weed is originally from the tropics so is only grown as an annual in our area. The Monarchs will happily lay their eggs on this species. A good hedge plant; grows densely to 4’.
Mexican Butterfly weed
Oxypetalum coeruleum-Blue Star Milkweed, or Tweedia, is a vine-like member of the milkweed family. With unusual blue flowers. Originating from Brazil, it is hardy to 25 degrees. Grows to 10’.