Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hummingbirds in the Garden

Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Last week while having my coffee and watching the rain I noticed a blur in the hedge next to my house. When it finally settled down on a branch I was surprised to see it was a hummingbird. As they migrate north they send out scouts to look for food sources. There is an overgrown honeysuckle growing in the hedge and that was what it had found. Last summer I had a couple hummingbirds come to the monarda I have planted.

Monarda- A hummingbird favorite

If you want to attract hummers to your garden you can start now by putting out a hummingbird feeder. If the scouts find it they will make it a regular stop on their route. They seem to be quite punctual as every day when I come home from work I see them at the feeder. I make my own sugar mix by heating a cup of water in the microwave and mixing in 1/4 cup sugar.

Trumpet Creeper Flower

You can also plant shrubs and perennials that attract these delightful birds. Plan your hummingbird garden with a variety of plants that begin to bloom early in May and continue to provide nectar through out the summer and into the fall. Yes, as a general rule, they seem to be attracted to red, tubular shaped flowers. Here is a list of plants to consider.

Shrubs                         Perennials                     Annuals
Trumpet Vine               Agastache                    Cuphea
Honeysuckle                Columbine                    Fuchsia
Rose of Sharon            Crocosmia                    Lantana
Butterfly Bush               Delphinium                   Morning Glory
Weigela                        Heuchera                      Nasturtium
                                    Lobelia                          Salvia
                                    Monarda                       Petunias

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Japanese Beetle Control

Japanese beetles love hibiscus!
You might think it is a little early to mention Japanese beetles but if you have plants in your garden that attract the little blighters you need to start planning your beetle strategy. I always say you need a multi pronged approach to beetle control and it helps to understand their life cycle to know which control to use when.

The Japanese beetle emerges from the ground in late June or early July and feeds voraciously on your roses, shrubs, trees and whatever else it can sink its little mandibles into and then they lay eggs in the soil. When the eggs hatch they are called grubs and they then feed voraciously on the roots of your grass. As summer turns to fall, they begin to migrate deeper into the soil to over winter. In the spring they move back to feed and then pupate. At this point they are not feeding, but turning into the beetle that emerges to start the cycle all over again. The upshot is you have two opportunities to kill them– in the grub stage and then as adults– and there are several types of controls available at each stage.

In the grub stage you can use a granular systemic insecticide that you apply and then water in. The grass roots take up the chemical (imidacloprid) and when the grub takes a bite– it dies. If you want an organic control you can use Milky Spore, which is a bacteria that kills the grub. It is available in a concentrated powder that you only have to apply once or a less concentrated granular form that needs to be applied six times over two years in order to build up an effective population of bacteria.

Japanese beetles feeding on leaves

Even if you can control the grubs in your own yard, Japanese beetles can fly several miles to find a mate and to feed, so you will still need to control the beetles at the adult stage. You can spray with Eight® or Sevin®, but they will need to be reapplied every 10-14 days. Or you can use a systemic drench. This is particularly effective if you have large trees that are hard to spray. It is a concentrate that you mix in water and then pour at the base of the tree or shrub. The roots take up the chemical (imidacloprid) and move it up to the leaves at about 4-6 feet a week, depending on growing conditions. The protection last 12 months. If you use it on roses, be aware that the chemical does not go into the flowers, so you will still have to use a contact spray on them.

Japanese Beetle Life Cycle

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Black Knot Disease

Branches afflicted with Black Knot

My friend Janice called last week to ask about a problem she was having with her ornamental plum in front of her house. It had black growths on some of the branches. I was pretty sure it was some type of fungus, but I didn’t know what or how to treat it. I told her to take a branch into Countryside and ask for KC or Kelly. They are both certified nursery professionals and have training in disease identification.

Kelly O'Leary
Nursery Staff

Well, the diagnosis was Black Knot. Kelly advised her to prune out the affected branches, cutting at least 4" back from the infected sites and to carefully bag the branches and dispose of them. You don’t want diseased plant material going into a compost pile or back in the woods where the fungal spores can continue to spread. After cutting out the infected branches Kelly recommended treating the tree with Bonide Fruit Tree Spray or any spray containing captan.

Black Knot affects plum and cherry trees. The fungus disrupts the twig growth and causes a tumor like growth. At first the swelling is light brown in color but by the second year the swellings have become hard and black. It takes a year or two before the disease even becomes noticeable and by the time you do see indications of the disease, it is usually too far gone for any remedy to work. As with all fungal diseases, it is easier to prevent than to cure.

Close up of Black Knot fungus

The best time to prune out the diseased wood is in the late fall or early winter when the tree and the fungus are dormant. This way you won’t be inadvertently spreading more spores. When you do prune make sure you dip your pruners in rubbing alcohol between cuts to again insure that you don’t spread the disease to healthy tissue.

We got about half way through the job of trimming when we realized that we wouldn’t be left with much of a tree when we were through. Janice decided to just replace the tree with a more disease resistant one. This time she is thinking of a crab apple. Though crab apples are also susceptible to fungal infections such as apple scab and fire blight, new varieties have been introduced that are very disease resistant.