Neighborly Garden News
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Bugs with benefits
Let’s start by saying that all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. True bugs are in the order Hemiptera, which includes aphids, leafhoppers, and cicadas. The defining features of these insects are their mouthparts which have evolved into a beak-like proboscis that is used to pierce plant tissues, and suck up the sap.
Caterpillars can be garden pests, but the immature stage of butterflies and moths provide food for 96% of our terrestrial bird species. They are the ideal food for baby birds; full of essential nutrients in an easy to eat morsel. In actuality, very few species of caterpillar eat crops or ornamental plants. The majority of caterpillars feed on wild native plants exclusively.
Chickadee with caterpillar
Crickets have been called the unsung heroes of nutrient recycling. Their job is to aid in the breakdown of leafy organic matter, which is bound up in a tough layer of cellulose. By chewing leaves up into small pieces, the cricket can accelerate the decomposition process. By promoting the breakdown of organic matter into compost or leaf mold, crickets facilitate access to the nutrients each leaf holds.
Robber Flies, Tachinid Flies, and Parasitic Wasps are the sharks of the insect world. They all work to keep other insect populations in check. Robber Flies will even catch tough Japanese beetles. Make them welcome by allowing a few rotten logs to remain; their larvae develop in this environment while they feed on wood boring insects.
Robber Fly eating a Japanese Beetle
European honeybees are used to pollinate our food crops. Thirty-five percent of our crops will not set seed, or bear fruit until pollen is transferred from flower to flower. Bumblebees and the other 4,000 species of indigenous bees contribute to crop pollination, as well as pollinating our native plants; which directly support our ecosystems. We can help our native pollinators by increasing native plant diversity, and growing flowers to provide nectar the whole season long.
Hummingbird and Aquilegia canadensis
Pussy willow and Birch catkins can provide early spring nectar. Native wildflowers can begin blooming as early as April in our area; providing food and beauty for pollinators and people. Consider growing Trilliums, Bloodroot, or native Columbines (Aquilegia canadensis), as these bloom very early, and will disappear by the time summer comes. American Linden (Tilia americana) is known as the ‘bee tree’, it is that attractive to native bees. The very fragrant flowers will cover the tree in late May/June.
American Linden Tree flowers
Pussywillow catkin flower with bee
Try to let some of your yard remain wild, to provide breeding places for our native pollinators, and a food supply for the immature insects. Many insect larvae prefer to eat leaves of unassuming native plants, and will not bother your special flowering garden plants. If we can ensure they have a place to call home, this will be one step towards a more sustainable ecosystem.
Countryside has native Butterfly Weed available for sale! Asclepias tuberosa is native to the Northeastern US, and prefers to grow in very hot and dry locations, so don’t try to pamper this plant! Asclepias tuberosa is a bushy warm season perennial with many branched stems emerging from a sturdy tap root. Unlike other milkweeds, this one does not contain milky latex sap, but is considered deer-proof. The leaves are bright green and lance shaped. Summer flowers are arranged in flat topped clusters and are composed of many small star shaped florets in shades of orange and scarlet. This milkweed is a repeat bloomer that attracts butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds. Grows 3 ft tall x 3 ft wide, and needs full sun.
Swallowtail butterfly on Butterfly Weed
Please contact our office if you would like to purchase some Butterfly weed plants for your garden. firstname.lastname@example.org (413) 458-5586
June’s ‘to-do’ list
This past May was unseasonably cold. There were heavy snow squalls in the valley on May 9th, and accumulating snow in the Berkshires, the day before Mother’s Day, then 80’F on the following Friday! This reinforces the old adage; “If you don’t like the weather in Massachusetts, wait a few minutes and it will change!” The upside of the cool spring is the prolonged bloom time of spring blooming plants. The daffodils lasted about 2 months, and the Crabapples have been spectacular! So far my early April plantings are holding their own; our Arugula and Spinach are ready for harvesting!
Now is the best time to prune and shape your spring flowering trees and shrubs; right after bloom time. This allows them to form buds through the growing season for next year’s bloom. Examples are: Forsythia, Lilac, Azalea, and Magnolia. July 4th is considered the last safe date to prune Lilacs before they set flower buds for next season.
Prune and shape evergreens once the new growth ages to a darker green color. If the plant is very overgrown, better results will be achieved with gradual trimming rather than a drastic cut. Pruning too much growth can risk killing the entire branch. Unsure how much you can safely prune? Countryside offers professional pruning services and summer shearing.
There’s nothing like pulling weeds to settle your mind. A little weeding on a regular basis is easier and more effective, than trying to do the whole yard just once a month. Finding a well balanced weeding tool can be a real time saver. Some folks really like using a sharp hand tool to cut the weeds off at their roots. I like a combination hoe/cultivator with a long handle. That way I can both cut weeds and cultivate the soil, by flipping it side to side. Common household white vinegar (not salad or table vinegar) is very effective for killing annual weeds. This product is typically 6-20% acidity compared to table vinegar which is about 5% acidity. It is particularly useful for those problem areas between paving stones, and gravel walkways. Just be careful about spraying onto any favored plants; it will not discriminate between ‘good plants’ and weeds. Apply it on a hot sunny day, and the weeds will be dying in 24hrs. Because of their substantial roots, perennial weeds might take a few more applications to rid them from the garden.
According to the CDC, May and June are the peak months for Lyme disease infections. The cold weather in May kept the ticks inactive, but now they are definitely out in full force. Countryside utilizes ‘Tick Free’, which is a 100% organic product; very effective for eradicating ticks, yet completely safe for people, pets, and beneficial non-target insects. Please contact our spray program manager, Scott Higley, for details. Scott@countrysidelandscape.net
Japanese beetles will be back during the first week of July. The most eco-friendly method for control is to hand pick these pests, and drown them in a bucket of soapy water. There are a few natural predators for Japanese beetles. Birds, such as the Catbird, Cardinal, and Robins will search for bugs and happily eat them. Predatory insects and animals like Assassin bugs, Spiders, and Tachinid Flies have all been observed catching and eating Japanese beetles. Alternatively you may consider applying a systemic insecticide to the soil that will control the beetle larvae. This method will keep the active ingredient from direct contact with non targeted species, and not expose pollinators to the chemical. Japanese beetles’ favorite plants include roses, hydrangeas, and fruit trees, and they are very efficient at destroying these lovely plants.
Assassin bug eating a Japanese beetle
Cut back early spring perennials that have gone by, for a second flush of blooms. Perennial geraniums, Nepeta and Salvia are but a few perennials that will bloom multiple times following a good ‘haircut’. They may look awkward at first, but soon will push out new leaves and shoots for their second coming.
Bulb foliage should be allowed to fade naturally; allowing the bulb to benefit from the nutrition the leaves provide. You can cut or mow the bulb foliage after June 30th.
Need an extra hand with weeding, mulching, and garden chores? Countryside can do the ‘dirty work’ so you don’t have to. Please email email@example.com or call our office (413)458-5586.
Be on the defense for ticks!
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.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.
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.
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 for your yard, will provide the most protection for you, your family and pets.
Please call our spray program manager, Scott Higley for more tick information, or to schedule a free ‘Tick Check-up’. Scott@countrysidelandscape.net
Spring blooming trees and shrubs add so much to your yard and garden experience. The anticipation of waiting to see the first bloom of spring can make a long winter seem just a bit shorter. Whether it is the golden blooms of Forsythia, or the delicate pink and white petals of a Cherry tree, there is a spring blooming plant to suit any garden.
Some of the loveliest are:
Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’- Pink Fountains Weeping Cherry is a dwarf variety of this very long lived tree. The Pink Fountain weeping Cherry develops into a tree of outstanding beauty, through all seasons. Plant this tree in full sun, in a spot where you can watch the petals drift down in delicate flutters of pink. Very tolerant of both heat and cold, but requires well drained soil to prevent root problems. Weeping Cherries will grow 12-15 ft tall x 10-15 ft wide at maturity.
Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’ Pink Fountains
Viburnum carlesii Koreanspice Viburnum blooms just before the Lilacs in our area, and it is a superbly fragrant addition to the spring palette. The flowers open before leaves fully develop; clusters of rosy-pink buds open to reveal pinkish white flowers that you can literally smell from a block away! The Koreanspice Viburnum develops good fall leaf color of reddish burgundy. Grows 6 ft tall x 5 ft wide at maturity, and prefers full sun for best flower production, but will tolerate light shade.
Forsythia intermedia is our harbinger of spring in the Northeast. The bright golden yellow flowers are a relief after the dull grey and brown of winter. This is a plant that practically screams “Wake Up” while it is in bloom. I’m sure many have seen some enormous specimens of Forsythia around town. Older cultivars can grow to formidable size if not regularly pruned. But newer cultivars have been bred to be more manageable in size and growth habit. In general Forsythia is very forgiving of heavy pruning, so if you’ve got a behemoth on your hands, get out the loppers! Forsythia is very adaptable to soil and climate, and will also bloom in part shade. Very variable in size, depending on the cultivar; 30 inches tall x 30 inches wide (true dwarf- ‘Show Off Sugar Baby’) to 8-10 ft tall x 10-12 ft wide (‘Spring Glory’).
Forsythia intermedia ‘Show Off Sugarbaby’
Magnolia stellata the Star Magnolia is very cold and heat tolerant compared to some of the others in this genus. Flowers will open in late March through early April and are very fragrant. Flowering lasts for a very extended period, because all of the buds do not open at the same time. Trees are available in both white and pink flowered varieties. In bloom the trees look covered in hundreds of shining white stars, truly a sight to behold. This small statured tree is frequently grown as a multiple stemmed specimen, so can be considered more shrub-like than tree. It is beautiful in any form. Grows 10-15 ft tall x 10-15 ft wide depending on the cultivar. Magnolias prefer full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.