Tag Archive | pollinators

What’s All the Buzz About?

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

WEB_sphinx-moth2The water streamed out the end of the hose I held to water the impatiens beneath my birch tree. It was then I heard the familiar buzz of a hummingbird zoom by. Despite being among the most fascinating birds of summer, as the days roll by their presence is more familiar and I become accustomed to their antics. But something was different this time. Though it hovered and darted from blossom to blossom with the same agility and precision as a hummingbird, the flying creature was slightly smaller than usual. It was then I realized it was no bird at all, but a moth earning a similar nickname, the hummingbird moth. It’s more common name is a White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata).

I dropped the hose and ran to get my camera. When thinking of moths, many may envision images of drab, brown winged creatures most commonly seen hovering around illuminated porch lights. The Sphinx Moth, however, is a colorful insect with nearly a 4” wingspan which is most often seen in early evening sipping nectar with a long proboscis from a wide range of flowers, much like hummingbirds. In my garden, they seem to enjoy zinnias, petunias, salvia, coral bells and impatiens.white-lined-sphinx-moth-0870b-ron-dudley

If you’d like to attract this beauty to your yard, consider adding some of the host plants for the caterpillars, including apple, evening primrose, elm, grape, tomato, purslane, four o’clock and Fuschia. The caterpillars in our area are generally a bright green with spots lining its body and a small horn, resembling a tomato hornworm. While they seem like an exotic species, they are really quite common throughout the United States and southern Canada. They also occur in South and Central America north through Mexico and the West Indies as well as Eurasia and Africa.

Keep a watchful eye on your garden this summer, especially when that familiar hummingbird flies by. It may not be a bird at all. Instead, you might just be witnessing one of these fascinating moths.

 

Advertisements

Flowering and Fruiting Issues in Solanaceous and Cucurbit Crops

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

GettyImages-107981379-584ba6b35f9b58a8cd1bc980Often, this time of year, I get calls from gardeners asking why some vegetables are not fruiting. Unpredictable spring and summer weather temperatures can adversely affect crops, especially tomato, pepper, and eggplant in the Solanaceae family, and winter squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, and summer squash in the Cucurbitaceae family. These plants rely on a certain range of temperatures to initiate flowers, bring them to maturity, and produce fruit. Fruit production can be affected any time during this process.

Temperatures at night have the greatest impact. If temperatures are too hot or too cold for even a few days during flowering, plants may abort flowers or fruits. For solanaceous plants, daytime temperatures above 85 F for several days, nighttime temperatures above 70 F, or nighttime temperatures below 55 F cause fruit to abort. If you think back to 2012, which had high daytime and nighttime temperatures, low fruit production is understandable. In fact, temperatures over 104 F for four hours can cause tomato flowers to abort.

Temperatures and Pollination

tomatbbee2018wTomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are self-pollinating, but cucurbit flowers must receive multiple pollinator visits for complete pollination to occur. Squash, for example, requires an average of 12 visits by a pollinator to set fruit. And it has to happen fast. Pumpkin and squash flowers open at temperatures above 50 F; cucumber and watermelon, above 60 F; and muskmelon above 65 F. But these flowers only stay open and viable for a day in the case of watermelons, muskmelons, and cucumbers, and half a day or less for other cucurbits.

Also, all cucurbits are not alike. Some plants have separate male and female flowers, or female flowers only, or have perfect flowers, with male and female parts in the same flower. If they have separate male and female flowers, usually male flowers open first. Early in the season, more male flowers are open than female flowers, but you need both to produce fruit! As the plant ages, the proportion of female flowers increases. Cucurbits are affected by other factors that influence whether a flower will be male or female. Cool temperatures promote female flowers in cucumber, squash, and pumpkin. Conversely, high temperatures promote male flowers and delay female flower development. In pumpkins, temperatures of 90 F during the day and 70 F at night lead to abortion of female flower buds.

Light levels also affect flower development in cucurbits. High light levels promote female flowers; shade can reduce those numbers. The bottom line is that a lot can happen between flowering and fruiting!

Herbs and Butterflies

Bees, birds, and butterflies adore blooming herbs. They’re easy to grow from seeds and add color and interest to your gardens — and you’ll enjoy having those fresh herbs for cooking! You can scatter the seeds in a sunny spot in early spring, cover lightly with soil, and keep moist until they sprout. Want to experiment? Try growing them straight from your spice rack! Use organic whole seed, rather than ground or powdered spices. Their ability to sprout will also depend on how they’ve been stored and processed.

Here are a few to try:

Fennel (foeniculum vulgare) – fennel is a fast-growing herb that adds delicacy and height to flowerbeds. It reaches 3 feet tall and has abundant clusters of tiny, buttery yellow flowers. Many butterfly species, including black and anise swallowtails, flock to fennel both for its nectar and to use it as a host plant for their very hungry caterpillars.

Caraway (carum carvi) – the crescent-shaped seeds are produced by a plant that looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, thanks to its clusters to tiny white and pinkish flowers. This biennial reaches 2 feet tall and may not flower until its second year. As a host plant, it’s fantastic for black swallowtail eggs, while yellow-green sulphurs and metalmark butterflies stop by to snack on its nectar.

sesame

The flowers of the sesame plant

Cumin (cyminum cyminum) – with delicate white bloom bursts, cumin looks like a smaller, daintier cousin of Queen Anne’s lace. The ridged seeds grow into branching annuals that stand 18 inches tall. Soak seeds overnight before planting for faster germination. Small to medium-sized butterflies love to land on the flowers.

Sesame (sesamum indicum) – humans have been using sesame seeds for more than 4,000 years, making it the oldest known oil crop. This robust and drought-tolerant plant has tubular flowers that resemble foxglove blossoms and dangle from leafy stems that can reach up to 3 feet. Sesame flowers can self-pollinate, but they still produce sweet nectar to tempt wandering pollinators such as butterflies and bees. Monarchs and fritillaries visit, as do sphinx moths and hummingbirds.

Dill (anethum graveolens) – this annual adds appealing contrasts of color and texture to

Dille

Lacy dill in bloom

flowerbeds thanks to feathery fronds and bright yellow flowers. Not only is dill irresistible to anglewings, tortoiseshells, and sulphers, but it’s also a favorite host plant of black swallowtails.

Coriander (coriandrum sativum) – this plant has a split personality. It’s round seeds are common to Indian cuisine, but its fresh leaves are what we know as cilantro. Clusters of delicate white, pinkish, or pale lavender flowers top these 2-foot annuals. From New England to Montana, naturalized coriander grows across the United States.

 

Drought Tolerant Plants for Wisconsin Summers

As I write this, we just had two major rain storms pass through the area — one of them bringing high winds and doing a lot of damage. However, having lived through Wisconsin summers, I know there is a high likelihood that we may see little or no rain through July and August. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have these plants in your garden because, being native Wisconsinites, they’re used to living through droughts!

26342116902_d90828a60b_b

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers well-drained sites in light to medium shade. Hummingbirds love this flower.

If native plants are chosen to match your conditions, they will thrive with minimal watering where others fail. To gain the full environmental benefit of lower water usage, it’s absolutely necessary to choose the plants that thrive in the conditions at your location. All native plants are “water-wise” to some extent, but to maximize their full potential, choose those naturally adapted to your specific conditions — soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Native plants create a naturally balanced ecosystem. When you plant natives in the landscape, birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will soon follow. Because these plants and animals evolved together over thousands of years, they have developed interdependent relationships. Monarch butterfly caterpillars safely consume the toxic sap of the milkweeds. Karner blue butterfly larvae rely solely on leaves of wild lupine. Fritillary butterflies need violets for their larval food source. These are only a few of the necessary relationships between our native flora and fauna. The variety of species that even a small-scale native garden attracts is often amazing!

photo4-e1421667689725

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is tough and beautiful! As other plants die off during a drought, Rudbeckia retains its beautiful colors.

Butterfly-Purple-Cone-Flowers_ForestWander

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) grows 3 to 4 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some additional species to try in your garden:

  • 0_Baptisia_australis_(Y)

    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) grows 3 to 5 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

    Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)
  • Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  • Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)

 

I Love, Love, Love Lavender!

With visions of Heathcliff on the moors gathering fragrant bunches of heather and lavender, I’m swept up every time I use one of my lavender-scented soaps or walk through my garden and brush against the fragrant blooms of my lavender plants. I didn’t always have success growing the lavender, though. For a while, I had one as a houseplant until I overwatered it and sadly had to add it to the compost pile. Then, I had a couple in my garden that lived but didn’t thrive until I finally decided to do some research on why I was failing so often with this beloved plant.

Enter ‘The Lavender Lover’s Handbook’, a badly needed and now heavily well-worn gift from my daughter-in-law who knew of my love for the plant. This book, by Sarah Berringer Bader, has been a primary reason for the turn-around of my plants from surviving to thriving.

First of all, though, let’s talk about why you should include lavender in your garden:

  • it’s absolutely beautiful with foliage that ranges from various shades of green through gray-green to silver. The flowers come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white so versatility is huge!
  • the fragrance is incredible and, when dried, the flowers last long into the winter
  • grown in the right spot, very little to no care is needed. As long as the spot has full sun, good drainage, and plenty of room to spread out, you can focus on plants that require your attention. Lavender will take care of itself, thank you very much!
  • lavender attracts a range of pollinators — the good ones that not only pollinate your garden but also eat the pests you don’t want! Watch carefully on a sunny day and you’ll find bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, ladybugs, and praying mantises drawn to this delightful plant.

There are many, many lavender plants from which to choose so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re ordering or buying a plant that will thrive in your growing zone. Because lavender is exceptionally drought tolerant, it’s a great addition any area of your garden where watering is a problem. Consider combining it with other drought-tolerant plants like Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Gallardia grandiflora (blanket flower), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan). The purple / yellow combination of these plants will make a beautiful garden area.

Lavender and roses love growing together as well (see prior blog post here) and makes less work for you! While roses attract aphids, lavender attracts aphid-eating ladybugs. Roses do want more water than lavender, however, so you’ll want to mulch the roses to retain water. The flowers from both lavender and roses can be gathered and dried, but here’s where my skills leave me — utilizing the flowers for teas, soaps, baking, sachets, and crafts. However, with both purple and white lavender in my garden along with some beautiful yellow roses, I’m planning on learning these skills!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Authors in our Midst and at our Garden Conference – #2

Author Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio was my inspiration to become a Master Gardener. At the time, she was the editor of Birds & Blooms and a Master Gardener herself. Since then, she has branched out to pursue her goal of being a published author — and has been wildly successful. With 15 published books currently available on amazon, Stacy was the keynote speaker at our Garden Conference several years ago and a vendor this year.

Stacy’s most recent book, Plants You Can’t Killwas written with an eye toward inexperienced gardeners but there’s a wealth of information in the book for those of us who can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong! Loaded with beautiful photographs, it’s a book that should be in every gardener’s library.

From the amazon page:

“I kill everything I plant.”

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Give yourself a pat on the back because admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. And lucky for you, you can easily turn your brown thumb into a green one with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

Seriously—it doesn’t matter how many plants you’ve killed in gardens past. It’s time to put those experiences behind you and finally grow something in your empty and bare spots. This is the only gardening book you’ll ever need with more than 100 plant picks for every situation. You want veggies? We have ’em. You need to fill a big space? We have shrub ideas for you. You just want something pretty? We have plenty of that, as well.

The plants in Plants You Can’t Kill have been vetted by an amazing and famous panel of horticulture experts (this is just a fancy way of saying they went to college for gardening), so feel confident you’re not wasting money on yet another gardening book. These plants will actually survive your well-meaning, yet sometimes neglectful ways.

Ready for the most resilient, hardcore, badass list of plants known to gardeners? Find them and grow them with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Honey Bees

bee-hive1Honey bees are not native to the Americas; they were introduced from Europe in the early 1600’s for honey production. Honey bees are thought to have originated in Asia and expanded to North Africa and Europe. There are two species that are considered to be suitable for apiculture. In recent year there has been concern over “colony collapse” and the risk of not having enough pollinators for our agricultural industry. A hedge against this possibility is to encourage proliferation of native bees. The DNR has published a very good article on what an individual can do http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/2009/06/bees.htm#2 . This year the Outagamie County Master Gardeners will be installing various types of bee houses on the grounds of the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension.

Tom Wentzel

OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden