Neighborly Garden News
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Design a wasp friendly garden, and invite nature’s insect killers in to dine!
A recent article in the NY Times by Margaret Roach has updated our preconceived ideas about wasps. With research provided by the biologist, Heather Holm, we learn that wasps forage on flowers, but their main diet are insects that we frequently consider to be pests in our gardens. If we were to rid the world of wasps, (and there are many people who dread any encounter with a wasp) our gardens and farms would soon be overrun with hungry garden pests, with no natural predators to keep them in check.
There are wasps that will hunt down cabbage loopers (those nasty caterpillars that wreak havoc on the leaves of anything in the cabbage family). Other wasps will catch and eat Tomato hornworms, those extra large caterpillars that can decimate your prized Beefsteak plants and their delicious fruit. There are more than 13,000 species of wasps in North America, and they all need to feed their larvae a protein diet of insects, in addition to foraging on plants for nectar.
The female wasp will create elaborate nests; you may have seen the common paper wasp nest, or the dreaded bald faced hornet, their nest with its many interior chambers housed in a large, cone-shaped structure. There are many wasps that will nest in the ground; the Eastern Cicada killer wasp digs an underground nest with wide tunnels to accommodate the large size of her prey. Yellow Jackets will build their underground nest in abandoned mouse nests, to the annoyance of mowers everywhere. Wasps have a reputation for stinging, and anyone who has been on the receiving end knows the painful outcome of the sting. But according to Ms Holm, they will only sting when the nest is threatened; they rarely sting while out feeding on flowers. “The flower garden is the restaurant, not their home — they don’t defend it,” Ms. Holm said. “But social wasps are very inclined to defend their home.”
Wasp feeding on Asters
Wasps like habitats similar to those preferred by bees, but bees will eat only plants. Their prey-seeking cousins, the wasps, seek out food with more nutrition for their developing larvae. Wasps want to be around the specific plants that attract the insects they hunt to feed their young. The types of flowers that adult wasps can drink nectar from is restricted; because their tongues are shorter than those of most bees. To help support wasps as well as bees, you should include the simple, shallow flowers they prefer. Plant groups having the desired shape flower include those in the carrot family: rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and golden Alexander (Zizia aurea). Asters and their cousins, including goldenrod (Solidago), fleabane (Erigeron), tickseed (Coreopsis) and boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), are also especially attractive to wasps. Mint family members, including native mountain mints (Pycnanthemum), horsemint (Monarda punctata) and bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and also milkweed (Asclepias) would be good for both bees and wasps. Here’s a fun fact; wasps have been found to prefer white flowers over any other color.
Black wasp on Goldenrod
This all being said, we still want to prevent any stinging. Ms. Holm’s advice is to intervene early, by removing nests that are near walkways or overhangs while they are very small with only a few individuals residing in it. Don’t even think about trying this in August when the nest will be full of adults making ready for winter hibernation. They become very defensive of their territory at that time. Our takeaway: plant attractive wasp-friendly flowers and wasps will come and help reduce populations of pest insects, but keep your distance from their nests, and they will leave you alone.
More information about bees and wasps in MA:
May’s to-do list
As I begin to write this newsletter, it’s still feeling more like winter than spring. We are still having freezing overnight temperature readings, and snow flurries. If it weren’t for gorgeous springtime blooms around us, and the greening up of the landscape you could mistake this month to be October, not May. As long as the weather is dry, I try to work outdoors whittling down my garden to-do list. Top of my list this year is to divide my daffodils that just send up leaves without blooming. The daffodil’s wonderful ability to multiply and spread is eventually its downfall; they become too crowded with all the baby bulbs that are produced. Crowded daffodils need to be thinned out so the baby bulbs can have enough room to bloom. After dividing and replanting, the young bulbs take about 2 seasons to bloom again, but it’s a no-cost way of increasing your daffodil display.
I’ve found out first hand, unfortunately, that May is tick awareness month. I found an embedded tick on me, after a long day of clearing and burning brush. Ticks love to climb up and hang out at the tips of tall grass or shrubs. They wait for a warm blooded host to brush past, and then latch onto the host. My takeaway: 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. Take precautions for your family by wearing long sleeves and long pants while playing/working outside. Use insect spray or lotion labeled to repel ticks; do a thorough head-to-toe tick check on you, your kids, and your pets when coming in from the yard. Invest in a tick I.D and removal kit, and familiarize yourself with early onset symptoms of Lyme disease in humans as well as pets. Small steps can help you avoid tick bites and infection.
Some relevant ideas here: https://www.bostonglobe.com/section/Massachusetts-tick-information
White-footedMice are the primary hosts of infectious ticks. Other species of small mammals usually groom (eat) any ticks they find in their fur, but not mice. Anything you can do to eliminate mice in your yard will go a long way to decreasing the tick population. Our common Opossum is known for seeking out and devouring ticks. Countryside offers many options for tick management; please contact our spray program manager, Scott Higley for more information. email@example.com
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 early winter, 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, to see how they may recover.
I was happy to be able to plant garden peas on Patriot’s Day this season. There is still time to get some peas in the ground before hot weather commences; as peas are considered a cool weather crop. Just be sure to look for the varieties with an early harvest period. The package will say something like ready in 60 days or similar. They don’t need anything as formal as a trellis to climb onto, you can poke 4’ long brushy twigs into the ground as you plant your peas, and they will readily twine onto them.
Is your perennial garden still snoozing through our cool spring weather? 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.
After you’ve cleaned your garden beds of winter debris, edge and mulch your beds for a clean and professional look. Avoid colored mulch, as it is often made of inferior waste wood products and dyed to make it look uniform. Young plants and seedlings, especially, can be sensitive to dyed mulch. Countryside only uses natural hardwood bark mulch. Applying good quality mulch also helps keep weeds down, and conserves soil moisture.
Be on the lookout for the invasive pest known as spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). It has been reported in multiple locations throughout the state. Spotted lanternfly is a sap-feeding insect that has caused significant impacts to vineyards, orchards, and other agricultural commodities in states where it has become established. SLF will also attack maples, hops, blueberries, and over 100 other host plants.
Report any suspected sightings here: https://massnrc.org/pests/slfreport.aspx
Please contact our office for help with spring chores or information about tick control. (413) 458-5586 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Let your Landscape go wild!
I get a yearly reminder about invasive species, when I have to weed out the Bishop’s weed that never seems to go away; no matter how diligent I am. This year I have so far pulled out 2 five gallon buckets worth, and will definitely weed out a third. Aegopodium podagraria, also known as Goutweed, or Ground Elder, is an herbaceous perennial imported from Eurasia, and was widely used as a ground cover in years past. It is now on the invasive species list, but I still see the variegated form being sold online. Unfortunately many of the plants on the Invasive list were once considered favored ornamental specimens, until they weren’t.
Sanguinaria canadensis in bloom
One of the numerous problems with the proliferation of these non-native plant species, is they will out-compete, and crowd out native plants. This begins a negative chain of events for the animals and other organisms dependent upon the native plant’s role in our ecosystem. By choosing to plant a native specimen, not only will you get a plant that is naturally resilient to whatever New England weather can dish out, it has evolved to be interdependent with the organisms that live in its habitat.
I think you can mark the return of our native hummingbirds, by when the dainty red and yellow native Columbine blooms, (Aquilegia canadensis) I believe the Columbine to be one of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird’s first natural nectar plants to bloom. I began to see bumble bees the day the Bloodroot flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) opened at my house. The Bloodroot is one of the very first native wildflowers to bloom in our area. If you move your gaze upwards, you may have noticed the bright red flowers of our Native Red Maple (Acer rubrum) very showy in early spring, when everything else is barren. For almost every type of non-native ornamental plant, there is a very good native substitute.
Aquilegia canadensis in bloom
The point I’m taking is that even though a trip to the local garden center will thrill you with row after row of perfectly blooming beauties, if we can make a conscious choice to include native plants in our landscapes, we will be rewarded with a diverse palette of plants to choose from, garden plants that won’t need to be babied along, and the knowledge we are contributing to our environment, not depleting it. I don’t think you need to pull out all the imported species of plants in your yard, but consider adding to the diversity by including native regional species, as you add or replace plants in your landscape and gardens.
There is a lot of information to explore online; the Audubon society has an extensive database outlining which native plants attract particular birds: audubon.org/nativeplants another good site is vtinvasives.org for plant recommendations.
There is something ethereal and almost otherworldly about a cherry tree in full bloom. Their blossoms appear to be made of silk chiffon. They are not as fragile as they look, and many are long lived and very cold hardy trees. Cherry blossoms are typically white or pink and bloom in the early spring, when we most long for bursts of flowers.
Prunus x yedoensis-Yoshino Cherry this is the Cherry species planted throughout the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. Yoshino Sherry flowers are pink in bud, and open to pure white. The effect is like billowing clouds while in bloom; the falling petals resemble snowflakes swirling down. Yoshino Cherry will grow 40-50 ft tall x similar wide. It will flower fairly well if planted in light shade, as an understory tree beneath Pines, but does its best in full sun.
There is also a semi-weeping form named ‘Snow Fountains’ that is suited for compact spaces, growing 6-12 ft tall.
Prunus subhirtella-Higan Cherry is a very hardy pink flowered form of cherry, tolerant to both cold and heat. Higan Cherry is very adaptable to a wide variety of soils including hard clay, once established. The cultivar ‘Autumnalis’ will flower both spring and fall. The cultivar ‘Pendula’ is a eye-catching weeping form that just gets more handsome with age. Higan Cherry grows 20-40 ft tall x 15-30 ft wide, depending on the variety.
Higan Cherry ‘Pendula’
Prunus sargentii-Sargent Cherry this upright and spreading cherry has distinctive reddish-brown shiny bark. The pink flowers open before the leaves develop, usually at the same time as daffodils bloom. P. sargentii produces purple-black fruit in mid-summer, and has good fall leaf color. Extremely cold hardy and long-lived, Sargent Cherry grows 20-30 ft tall x 20 ft wide.
Prunus x incam ‘Okame’ Okame Cherry grows into a distinctive upright, vase-shaped tree. The attractive bark is a polished coppery-brown with raised horizontal lenticels. Rich pink flowers bloom in late March-April. Okame Cherry can be used in groupings or as a unique specimen. Dark green summer leaf color is followed by a deep honeyed red color in fall. Grows 20-30 ft tall.
Prunus maritima-Beach Plum is our native fruit bearing tree found growing wild along the coastal areas of Cape Cod. This plant develops into a large shrub, 6 ft or more tall. Following early spring white flowers, highly prized purple-red fruit develop in late summer. It can be pruned into a more formal shape by removing the lower branches. Tolerates very poor salty, sandy and dry soils, hardy to zone 3.