Color, Color Everywhere – or maybe not!

By Brooke Moore, New Windsor, Senior Master Gardener Volunteer

This article appeared in theSeptember 2019 Issue of Gardening in Orange County. Click here to subscribe!

We live in a colorful world filled with plants, animals, and objects that are brightly colored or, in some cases, patterned, or even singular in color.  As humans we often think that the rest of the world sees itself and its surroundings in the same way that we do. But nothing could be further than the truth.

A cirlce filled with dots of varying sizes all in arying shade of red except for the green dots, of varying shades, that form a large 'W' spaning the width of the circle.
An Ishihar plate, used by optometrists and ophthalmologists to test for color blindness.
As a teenager I had a wonderful friend, John, who was the first person I knew who was colorblind.  Not just color insensitive, as many are, but truly and completely unable to perceive any color at all.  His experience of the world was totally opposite to mine, as I am one of the lucky or in some ways unlucky people who perceive way more color than most people do.  His daily view of things was more like that of a rabbit, who see in shades of darkness and light and contrast.

Close up of a blue human eye.
Human eye

Learning more about how he saw the world and experienced paintings, gardens and simple things like traffic lights began my interest in color and how we can manipulate our surroundings based on adding or subtracting colors from a situation.

Close-uo of the head of a fly - white head, lots of black hairs and large red eyes in which you can see teh individaul lenses
Fly eye

The animals who live among us and in our gardens perceive color in many different ways, and they interact with the plants we grow depending on what they see and how they see and interpret light.

All eyes use reflected light to create images that are the basis of sight.  As humans, we have sight that can determine the shape, size and special relationship of objects, and we have sight that is color-based.

Close up of an owl eye - bright yellow eye surrounded by white, brown and black plummage
Owl eye

The same is true for animals.  Birds have keen color sight that helps them with foraging for food, identifying prey and recognizing others of their species.  Many scientists have been astonished to discover that some birds may not be able to see all the colors of their own plumage, while other birds can see more than enough colors to find and attract a mate.

Bird Vision
A graph with absorbance on the y-axis (0-1.0) and wave length (330 nm - 700 nm) on the x-axis. There are four lines on the graph, all of them bell shape-esque. The grey line peaks at 370 nm, which falls in the ultraviolet range. The blue line peaks at 445 nm, which falls in the blue range of the visble light spectrum. The green line peaks at 508 nm, which falls in the green range of the visible light spectrum. The red line peaks at 565 nm, which falls in the yellow/orange range of the visible light spectrum.
Humans usually have three types of cones allowing them to perceive light in the visible spectrum.  Some animals , including birds, have four types of cones which allows them to see ultraviolet light.

Birds see more colors than humans as they are able to use ultraviolet (UV) light due to having four types of cones in their retinas – in contrast to humans who have three types of cones.  Different species of birds have more or fewer cone cells in their retinas and thus different ability to see colors.  The ability to determine subtle differences in shades of colors is an evolving ability in birds and thought to be something that aids in adapting to change in environment and availability of food sources.

Color Vision
State Types of cone cells Approx. number of colors perceived Carriers
Monochromacy 1 200 Marine mammals, owl monkey, Australian sea lion, achromat primates
Dichromacy 2 40,000 Most terrestrial non-primate mammals, color blind primates
Trichromacy 3 10 million Most primates, especially great apes (such as humans), marsupials, some insects (such as honeybees)
Tetrachromacy 4 100 million Most reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, rarely humans
Pentachromacy 5 10 billion Some insects (specific species of butterflies), some birds (pigeons for instance)

The UV reflection from the waxy surface of fruits and berries makes them stand out from the green of foliage – and birds are better able to find them.  Red berries are seen  best and will be eaten first, so also growing some plants that produce orange or yellow fruit will extend the feeding season.

Top picture: A sinlge stem with two flower buds and one small yellow flower with four petals. Bottom: The same photo taken in UV light. The flower is now white with a black center.
Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) photographed in visible light (top) and ultraviolet light (bottom).

Many insects also reflect UV light, making them more attractive to birds as a food source.  Certain bird eggs reflect UV light and help birds to identify their own eggs and reject those put in the nest by other birds.  Many flowers have nectar guides  that reflect UV light.  These  marking are visible to bees and butterflies allowing them to easily find the nectar at the center of the flower.

Deer have poor color vision limited to short (blue) and middle (green) wave lengths of color.  They may have some UV sensitivity but not much compared to birds.  Foxes do not see green and have little ability to see blue, red or yellow.  So, these animals are not using color in the garden to find or choose what they eat!

The head of a deer standing with its face brushing up againsta purple flower.Understanding which animals use color to find and choose food can help us in identifying plants to put into our gardens, and plants to leave out.  It also can put to rest myths like deer choosing red tulips over yellow daffodils -because they are making a choice based on taste and smell, not sight.

Pest Watch: Bagworms!

by Susan Ndiaye, Community Horticulture Educator

pinecone like structure hanging on an evergreen tree

Have you ever noticed one of these structures hanging on a Colorado blue spruce or an arborvitae?  They kind of look like pine cones, but not exactly.  Well, they aren’t pine cones, but silken bags spun and decorated by bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeform).

Bagworms are moths whose larvae feed on evergreens such as spruce, juniper, pine and arborvitae.  The larvae can also feed on deciduous trees such as maple, elm, birch and sycamore.  Bagworms defoliate the trees and shrubs they infest.  In large numbers, bagworms can cause significant defoliation, which can lead to the death of the plant.

Bagworm Lifecycle

In late spring, bagworm eggs, which overwinter in their mother’s silken bag, hatch and caterpillars emerge.  These caterpillars begin to form new silk bags, and as they eat, they cover it with bits of leaves.  As the caterpillar grows, it expand its bags.   Then in late summer the caterpillar firmly attaches its bag to the plant and pupates.

Adult male bagworm - clear winged moth with furry brown body
Adult male bagworm

Complete metamorphosis from caterpillar to moth takes about four weeks.  Adult male bagworms emerge from their bags as clear winged moths and begin to search for a mate.  Adult female bagworms are wingless moths and never leave their bags.  After mating females produce 500-1000 eggs before dying.  Their eggs overwinter inside their mother’s silken bag and the whole cycle begins again.

Management

Because bagworms are protected by their silken bag, management can be tricky.  For smaller trees and shrubs the best tactic is to remove and destroy the bags by hand.  Unfortunately, this is not possible in all instances, especially on larger trees and shrubs.  Insecticides are most effective right after bagworm eggs hatch, when the caterpillars are small.

But how does one know when the eggs are going to hatch?  Well, it turns out that there is a “Bagworm Forecast” that you can check in the spring to determine  the best time to apply insecticide.  The maps provided by this forecast are updated daily and available six days in the future, so you can plan ahead.

For recommendations on pesticides, check out the resources below.  And as always, make sure you read and follow all the instructions on the pesticide label including the use of personal protective equipment.  The label is the law!

If you need to spray a larger tree, you may need to contact an arborist.  Click here to find a certified arborist near you.

Fun Facts

As females don’t fly, you may wonder how bagworms spread.  Bagworm caterpillars can balloon, or use their silk threads to catch the wind and travel long distances.

Despite relatively little protection for overwintering bagworm eggs, research at Purdue University found that it takes a 24 hr period at -0.6 ° F or below to kill the eggs.  So if you live in Orange County New York don’t expect a cold winter to kill off your bagworms.

Here is a video of a bagworm feeding!

Video from Purdue University Landscape Report (https://www.purduelandscapereport.org/article/824/)

Resources

Bagworm – Penn State University

Bagworms – Cornell University

Bagworm Forecast – USA National Phenology Network

Bagworms on Landscape Plants – University of Kentucky

Cold weather in January 2018 may have killed bagworms in some parts of Indiana – Landscape Report, Purdue University

Urban Sanctuary

Urban Sanctuary

By Cecelia Lillard, Florida Master Gardener Volunteer and James Alton Thomas, Greenville Township Senior Master Gardener Volunteer

This article appeared in the August 2019 Issue of Gardening in Orange County. Click here to subscribe!

This article profiles an urban lot that was transformed into an oasis for body, mind and soul as well as for wildlife.  This lot belongs to a local Master Gardener and illustrates how much privacy, beauty and biodiversity can be created with thoughtful design and considered plant choices.  We’ll review the design principles employed in this yard and then take a look at the ecological needs fulfilled through the design and its implementation.

A bright green garden - houses in the background and bright lush green garden in the foregroundFirst and foremost, this design provides privacy and the sense that the space is an outdoor room.  The lot is 50′ wide and faces southeast.  The edges of the property are bordered by deciduous and evergreen trees.  The tall Norway Spruce provides a strong anchor for the southern border and creates a shade garden for almost half of the yard, while the mature deciduous trees provide both frame and boundary for the property.  Given that this garden is in shade much of the time, plant textures are emphasized in throughout the space.  Since the plants are in groups instead of individual plants, the various textures become harmonious and interesting rather than chaotic to the eye.  The repetition of plants by massing gives the design a simplicity that helps quiet the mind and gives one an opportunity to linger in areas and simply enjoy the beauty of a plant’s texture and color.

A beautifully green garden with trees in the background and a small grassy area with a large planter in the foreground
The central planter provides the main focal point of the yard and is the only place where we find a traditional lawn.  The repetition of red in the plants helps to unify the yard and gives the focal point additional structure.  The use of evergreen boxwoods around the base of the container ensures that the focal point will be held even in winter when the planter is moved indoors and allowed to go dormant.

The lawn around the focal point draws the eye to the back of the circle where a stone path peeks between the low shrubs and groundcovers.  The curving shape of the path gives the landscape a sense of movement and entices one into the farther spaces.  The copper birdbath provides another focal point that draws the viewer’s eye and invites the viewer to another part of the garden that is more private.  The red pole, which supports an unseen, yet occupied birdhouse, gives us a hint that there is more to that part of the garden than we can see and provides a touch of mystery.

A lush green gardenThe yard evokes a feeling of balance with the shrubs softening the borders of the property and the understory trees filling the gaps between the shrub layer and the canopy of the deciduous trees.  The varying heights of the plants provide visual interest and contribute to the feeling of privacy that is created in such a small space.  The repetition of color throughout the garden contributes to the sense of balance, with the yellow-greens contrasting with the darker greens, yet not competing with them.

Seasonal interest was also a major consideration in the design of this space.  There is year-round interest provided by many elements of the garden.  The plants were chosen not only for their texture, but for their bloom times and flower colors as well.  There is a continuous supply of flowers in the garden throughout the spring and summer and into fall.  The changing color of the leaves of the trees and shrubs during the autumn supplies the visual interest that flowers provided the rest of the season.  In the winter, the evergreens take center stage, furnishing a stark contrast to the more delicate structures of the deciduous plants.

Overall this garden creation has a feeling of unity, where all of the parts work together to create a coherent whole.  The massing provides a rhythm that is relaxing and the multiple textures provide interest within that rhythm.  The reiteration of certain colors also unifies the space by visually connecting different areas of the property.

green stripped caterpillar with a red head on a leaf stem
Rosy Maple Moth Caterpillar  (Dryocampa rubicunda)

Looking at the yard from an ecological point of view, the property provides all the layers of a forest garden:  tall tree layer, low tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer and, of course, the root layer.   The tall tree layer consists of both deciduous and evergreen trees.  These trees provide food in the form of seeds and shelter within their branches to birds and squirrels.  The leaves of the deciduous trees also supply an important habitat for insects, including butterflies and moths, providing spaces to lay eggs and food for growing larvae.

A back beetle with orange stripes and long antenna on the white florets of a Queen Anne's Lace flower
A longhorn beetle on the umbelliferous flower of Queen Anne’s Lace

Since the garden was designed to be in continuous bloom for more than half the year, it can be considered an insectary.  There are various flower shapes throughout the garden, providing food for many different types of insects.  Some insects prefer umbelliferous flowers, while others prefer flowers with central florets like asters.  The diversity of flower shapes and bloom times helps ensure that beneficial insects will have a continuous food supply and will help keep invasive and/or problem insects at manageable populations.

As we have spent much of this issue discussing soil and the soil food web, we need to look at our garden through that lens.  In addition to providing mulch and habitat for overwintering insects, fallen leaves contribute to the soil structure and organic matter content in the soil.  These photos were taken in spring and we can see how full and lush the vegetation is early in the season.  This verdure is due not only to the care of the gardener, but more so to the health of the soil where these plants are growing.  The soil food web is very dynamic in an environment like this and the result is the beauty that we see in these photos.  May you be inspired to use these design principles and nourish your ecosystem to build a beautiful garden of your own.Drawing of a carm with icons highliting different management practices, soil health benifits, and soil organisms that are important to soil health. Click on the picture to learn more.

For links to resources that will help you design your own urban sanctuary, check out Cornell University’s “Site Assessment for Better Gardens and Landscapes“.

Click here to learn more about Backyard Conservation.

4-H Fair and Family Festival

4-H Fair & Family Festival, July 26, 27, & 28, Presented by: Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County, More information at cceorangecounty.org

Friday, July 26, 2019, 3:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Saturday, July 27, 2019, 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM

Sunday, July 28, 2019, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Join us for three days of fun and festivities for the whole family!

Sign: Cow Pie Bingo, Horse Show, Duck Derby, Movie in the Park, Food and Smooties, Petting Zoo, Arts and Crafts, Fun!For more information, click here!

Master Gardener Volunteers will be there all weekend answering all of your gardening questions, selling succulents and a facilitating a new activity for kids of all ages called “Bugs in Goo!”  Come on by our tables and check it out!

Location:

4H Park and Education Center
300 Finchville Turnpike
Otisville, NY 10963

 

What kind of insect is destroying my plants?

Biting / Chewing vs. Piercing / Sucking

By Susan Ndiaye, Community Horticulture Educator

This article appeared in the July 2019 Issue of Gardening in Orange County. Click here to subscribe!

Insects can cause a lot of damage to your plants.  Determining what insect is causing damage to your plant is key to developing an effective management strategy.  The first step is to examine the damage.

Biting/Chewing Insects

A leaf covered with holes and a small grasshopper
Chewing damage

Biting/chewing insects create holes in plant leaves.  The size and shape of these holes varies by  insect.  The three most common types of insects with biting/chewing mouthparts you may find in your garden are: grasshoppers, butterfly/moth larvae, and beetles (adults and larvae).

 Grasshoppers

Two mating diffrentail grasshoppers, the male sitting on top of the female
Differential grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis)

Grasshoppers are a sporadic pest and rarely cause substantial damage to garden plants.  During dry years when other plants dry out, grasshoppers may seek refuge and food in your lush green garden. Unfortunately, because grasshoppers are highly mobile they are difficult to manage.  If you have an ongoing problem with grasshoppers, you can reduce populations, by fall tillage as grasshoppers overwinter as eggs laid in the soil.

Imported Cabbageworm (Pieris rapae)

Imported cabbageworm larvae, a velvety green caterpillar with a faint yellow strip down the miidle of the back, hanging out on a leaf
Imported cabbageworm larvae
Imported Cabbageworm adult, a white butterfly with three black spots on the forewings perched on a rasberry bloom
Imported cabbageworm adult

Those beautiful white butterflies you see fluttering around your garden, may seem innocuous, but their larvae, the imported cabbageworm, can cause extensive damage to plants in the brassica family also known as cole crops.  These plants include broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, collards, kale, radishes, and turnips.  The caterpillar is bright green with a yellow stripe down the center of its back.  They start out chewing little holes in the leaves of the plants, but eventually consume the entire leaf leaving only the midrib behind.

A very holey head of cabbage a result of feeding by the imported cabbageworm
Imported cabbageworm damage on cabbage

To monitor for these pests, look for dark green frass or poop near feeding areas.  Once you discover a population of imported cabbageworm, depending on how numerous they are you can hand pick them off your plant.  The use of Bt (Bacillus thuringensis), a microbial insecticide is also highly effective on younger caterpillars.  This particular pest spends the winter in the pupal stage, so to prevent future infestations you can eliminate overwintering sites in your garden by removing plant debris.

Stripped and Spotted Cucumber Beetles (Acalymma vittatum and Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi)

A single stripped cucumber beetle, black and yellow vertical striped with an orange thorax, a black head and black legs and filiform antennae, on the orange flesh of a pumpkin
Stripped cucumber beetle

Although they are called cucumber beetles, these insects feed on much more than cucumbers.  The stripped cucumber beetle prefers plants in the cucurbit family (squash, pumpkins, melons, etc.) feeding on leaves, flowers, stems and fruits.  They can be especially detrimental to young seedlings.

Spotted cucumber beetle, a yellow beetle with black spotts, a back head, legs and filiform antenna
Spotted cucumber beetle / Southern corn rootworm

The spotted cucumber beetle is more of a generalist and feeds on cucurbits as well as beans, tomatoes, and ornamentals. The larvae of this beetle can do substantial damage on the roots of corn plants hence its other name, the southern corn rootworm.

 

A cucumber plant sith bacterial wilt, there is a scetion of health plant and a two foot vine with shriveled brown leaves
Bacterial wilt of a  cucumber plant

Cucumber beetles vector or transmit bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila), a common disease in cucurbits in which bacteria clog up the vascular system of the plant preventing the flow of water and causing the plant to wilt and eventually die.

One way to protect your plants from cucumber beetles is by using row cover.  This can be put on at planting and kept on until female flowers appear, then it must be removed to allow for pollination.

Sucking/Piercing Insects

Squash bug damage on a squash plant - edges of the leaf are brown with a yellow line between the brown area and the green center of the leaf
Squash bug damage on a squash plant

Sucking/piercing insects can cause of variety of symptoms including leaf malformation and leaf discoloration. The most common types of insects with sucking/piercing mouthparts are from the Order Hemiptera, also known as the “true bugs”.  This order of insects contains, stink bugs, squash bugs, cicadas, leaf hoppers, scale, aphids and many more.

Brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)

A brown shield shapped bug with white and black marmoration on the edge of the wings
Brown marmorated stink bug adult

Many people are familiar with this invasive species because the adults invade their home every fall looking for a nice warm place to spend the winter.  Although it can be an unwelcome house guest it also can cause major damage on fruits and vegetables.  Some of the brown marmorated stink bug’s favorite snacks include apples, peppers, beans, tomatoes, and sweet corn.

About 20 orange and black colored brown marmorated stink bug nymphs clustered around their egg mass
Brown marmorated stink bug 1st instar nymphs clustered around an egg mass

Controlling the brown marmorated stink bug can be quite difficult because they are highly mobile, feed on a large variety of plants, and adults are highly resistant to insecticides.  Monitoring for these pests is the best way to start.  Bunches of about 28 eggs are laid on the underside of leaves and should be removed and destroyed if found.  When the eggs hatch the 1st instar nymphs cluster around the egg mass making them an easy target for removal.  The bugs usually drop down when startled, so for hand removal, you can knock them into a container of soapy water.

Lots of research is being done to develop effective management strategies for brown marmorated stink bug.  One of the most promising avenues of research is on biological control.  A stingerless wasp known as the Samurai Wasp (Trissolcus japonicas) destroys 60-90% of brown marmorated stink bug egg masses in its native range in Asia.  This tiny wasp has found its way to the United States and as of 2018 has been found in twelve states, including New York.  Research is now being done to determine the effectiveness of rearing and releasing this tiny parasitoid.  Check out this video about brown marmorated stink bug and the samurai wasp.

Potato Leafhopper (Empoasca fabae)

Potatoe leaf hopper adult on a leaf
Potato leaf hopper adult
Neon green leaf hopper nymph on the underside of a leaf
Potato leaf hopper nymph

Despite their name, potato leaf hoppers feed on over 200 hundred different kinds of plants including potatoes, snap beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, egg plants, rhubarb, squash and sweet potatoes.  The nymphs are neon green and are usually found crawling around on the underside of leaves.  The adults only reach ⅛ inch in length. They are pale green and wedge shaped and fly away when disturbed.

hopper burn on bean leaves, edges of leaves are yellowing, entire leaf is distorted
Hopper burn on bean leaves

These little pests do not overwinter in our area, but instead overwinter down south and the adults are brought up each year by the winds arriving in late-May / early-June.  Although small, a few individuals can cause hopper burn on your plants.  Hopper burn reduces yield and is characterized by chlorosis, or yellowing, of the leaf edges.  Eventually these leaves begin to curl and turn brown.

It is easiest to combat these pest as flightless nymphs using insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils on the undersides of leaves.  Dusting plants with diatomaceous earth can also help deter these pesky bugs.

Squash Bug (Anasa tristis)

Squah bug nymphs, green with black legs
Squash bug nymphs

Squash bugs are pests of all cucurbits, but prefer squash (summer and winter varieties) and pumpkins.  Adults are a little over a ½ inch long and are dark brownish while nymphs are black, pale green or gray with black legs.  These insects feed mainly on the leaves and the stems of squash plants, but can also feed on the fruits.  Initially they cause a stippling on the leaves, but after heavy feeding the leaves begin to look tattered.

Squash bug adult laying eggs
Squash bug adult laying eggs

Squash bugs overwinter as adults, so at the end of the season cleaning up plant debris and mulch will remove overwintering sites.  Eggs are bronze colored and usually laid in clumps on the underside of leaves.  Removing and destroying egg masses can help keep squash bug numbers down.  Adults and nymphs are known to hide in mulch around the base of the plants, laying down a board or piece of cardboard will provide a hiding place for these bugs.  You can then remove the shelter and destroy all the bugs underneath it.  There are also some cultivars of both summer and winter squash that are resistant to squash bugs.


Of course there are lots of non-insect pests that can wreak havoc on your garden as well and whose damage can sometimes be confused with insect damage.  Snails and slugs have rasping mouth parts that create holes in plant leaves much like insects that have biting/chewing mouth parts. Spider mites having piercing/sucking mouth parts that cause stippling on plant leaves like the “true bugs”.

So as you try to determine what is causing damage to your plants keep in mind that different kinds of insects cause different kinds of damage and that determining the cause is essential to developing a solution.

Note: Pesticide recommendations are not a substitute for pesticide labeling.  Remember to read the label before applying any pesticide.  The label is the law!

Helpful References

Vegetable Insect-Mite Pests

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/vegetable-insect-mite-pests

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

https://www.stopbmsb.org/stopBMSB/assets/File/BMSB-in-Vegetables-English.pdf

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/stink-bugs-vegetables

 Grasshoppers

https://extension.umd.edu/learn/grasshoppers-life-cycle-and-control

Imported Cabbageworm

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/imported-cabbageworm-vegetables

http://idl.entomology.cornell.edu/wp-content/uploads/Imported-Cabbageworm.pdf

Potato Leafhoppers

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/potato-leafhopper-vegetables

Squash Bugs

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/squash-bug-vegetables

Striped and Spotted Cucumber Beetles 

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/cucumber-beetles-spotted-or-striped-vegetables

 

Charcoal as a Soil Amendment

This article first appeared in The Times-Herald Record on Saturday, May 11, 2019 in the Home & Garden section.

By Joe Gregoire, Orange County Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County

I’ve heard that adding carbon to the soil by mixing in charcoal is good for plants.  Is this correct?  Jessica from Monroe

burning wood in a fireplaceGreat question, Jessica.  And as I’ve just recently cleaned out my fireplace from the winter and wondered if I could use the ash in my garden, I’ve done a little research on the topic that I’ll share with you here.

There is a long history to the practice of adding ash and charcoal to soil and is a proven method of soil improvement.  The pre-Columbian Amazonian peoples developed an understanding of the importance of soil carbon as they worked to meet their agricultural needs in their hot and humid rain forest environment.  Their warm, wet climate created conditions in which soil organisms quickly decomposed organic material – that was then absorbed into the rapidly growing rainforest flora.  When rainforests are cleared and plowed, this soil is quickly depleted of soil carbon and susceptible to erosion, making food production difficult to sustain on the same land for more than a few years.  However, archeologists have found that ancient Amazonian cropland contains large deposits of dark, rich soil called Terra Preta that was made by these ancient farmers between 2,500 to 4,000 years ago.  This Terra Preta contains high amounts of charcoal created through the process of pyrolysis (burning organic material in high heat and low oxygen) which preserves up to 50% of the carbon vs. converting it into CO2 gas through complete combustion.  Pyrolysis produces a very porous and stable form of organic matter through physically and chemically altering the composition of the biomass being burned.

pile of charcoal bitsUniversity studies have shown that adding charcoal (also called Biochar) to soil increases the soil’s water-holding capacity, reduces soil density, improves soil structure, and has been proven to reduce soil nutrient leaching and increase crop growth. Pre-packaged biochar can be purchased from retailers today or can be made at home by buying or building a biochar kiln for home use.  Many low-cost designs can be found online and enable the conversion of biomass (wood) into charcoal to amend the soil.  Biochar can be produced from a variety of materials – trimmings from woodland and yard maintenance, agricultural waste like corn stalks, and purpose grown biomass such as bamboo. The pH and composition of the biochar that is produced is directly linked to the material used to produce the biochar, so if making your own, be sure to avoid contaminants such as treated or painted lumber.

Biochar has many properties that have potential to enhance soil fertility and is a highly stable form of organic matter, as the 4,000 year-old Terra Preta demonstrates.  Organic matter in soil is important for retaining moisture and building soil structure through aggregation, which also provides pore space for drainage.  Soil organisms depend on this balance of air and water in soil to survive and thrive. With increased soil life comes increased soil nutrients to feed your plants.

If you have access to fireplace ash, this can be another ready source of charcoal and other beneficial soil amendments.  Wood ash is a good source of potassium, lime, and micronutrients (which are taken up from the deep roots of hardwood trees used for firewood, such as oak and maple).  It is best to add ash to the compost pile rather than directly to the garden, as the high concentration of lime can alter soil pH and may burn sensitive plants.  The alkaline nature of wood ash can also have a neutralizing effect on compost, as the decomposing materials in a compost pile can become somewhat acidic.  Do not use ash from a charcoal grill, as this ash may contain chemical residue from lighter fluid.

Because of the alkaline nature of wood ash, avoid using it around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries.  Wood ash can also be used as a natural repellent for pests such as snails and slugs who will resist crossing a line of wood ash laid around their favorite plants (the salts in wood ash are an irritant to these soft-bodied pests).  The wood ash needs to be reapplied after a rain or watering to remain effective.

Carbon in the soil is the key to soil life.  Growing plants exude carbon into the soil through their roots in the form of sugars produced through photosynthesis.  These exudates attract and feed beneficial bacterial, fungi and other microorganisms that live and die in the area surrounding plant roots, providing plants with nutrients they need to be healthy.  Our addition of carbon to the soil, in the form of charcoal, can provide additional material for this symbiotic relationship to play out in our garden soil.  And in doing so, we can play an important role in removing carbon from the air and returning it to the soil through our everyday love of gardening.

Click on the graphic below to learn more about soil health!

How can you improve your soil health? A link to an interactive infographic that explores soil management practices, soil helath benifits and soil organsim functions. (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education - SARE).
An Interactive Exploration of Soil Health and How to Improve It

To learn more about the benefits of biochar and current research on biochar visit:

Biochar – Cornell University

Biochar and Compost Facilities – Cornell University

Terra Preta de Indio – Cornell University

To learn more about using wood ash as a soil amendment check out:

Best Management Practices for Wood Ash as Agricultural Soil Amendment – University of Georgia

Guide to Using Wood Ash as an Agricultural Soil Amendment – University of New Hampshire

Wood ashes can benefit gardens and lawns – Oregon State University

Native Bees

Which Native Bee Is That?

By Susan I., Sparrowbush Senior Master Gardener

This article appeared in the June 2019 Issue of Gardening in Orange County. Click here to subscribe!

Even though there are almost 400 species of native bees in New York, these bees usually zoom right under our radar.  They work and nest on our property yet are often unrecognized and unnoticed (let alone understood) as the crucial pollinators of our flowers and food crops.  Most natives are not aggressive and sting only if provoked. Unfortunately, they often get mistaken for bellicose wasps or hornets and, sadly, are obliterated.

Bees evolved from insect-devouring wasps 100 million years ago.  Bees are wasps that went vegetarian.  They evolved away from hunting insects to bee species adapted for efficiently gathering more nutritious pollen to feed their larvae.

Three-fourths of our native Orange County bees are ground-nesters that dig tunnels or take over beetle or mouse burrows.  The rest nest above ground in straw-like stems, twigs, stonewalls, or in hollowed-out deadwood.  Most of them are solitary – meaning the queens build, gather, provision, and care for their nests all alone.  Males often look like a smaller version of their queens.

Close up of a bumble bee on an orange flower
Bombus pensylvanicus

BumblebeesBombus

Closely related to foreign honeybees, these charismatic bees have an iconic stocky, round shape and small wings that defy the aerodynamics of lift and drag.  The distinctive flat shiny spot on female’s back legs is surrounded by hairs to form a pollen basket.  They use this basket to transport pollen wetted with nectar, but, unlike the honeybee, they never stockpile it.  Bumblebees live in ground dwellings, not hives, and are distinguishable by their waist-less anatomy covered in black and yellow hair, especially on the abdomen.  Queens make their nests in animal tunnels or tussock grasses.  A queen will travel up to a mile for pollen to feed her young, usually referred to as her brood. The more flowers available for pollen, the larger her brood.  Colonies last only one season – compelling swift, and prodigious pollen collection, 15 times that of the honey bee.  Males leave the nest and do not normally return, spending their time feeding on nectar and trying to mate.

Bumblebees are flower generalists and are the preeminent pollinators of tomatoes.  To do this, they clutch the tomato flower and vibrate their abdomen to shake out the pollen found inside.

Pinned mining bee specimen
Andrena nigrae

Mining Bees

These strong bees dig deep ground-nests leaving volcano-shaped mounds in sand, clay, grass or under fallen leaves.  Often their nests are aggregated and are easily spotted when females are orientating themselves to the “door” of their nest by flying in larger and larger figure eights around it.  Males can also be seen swarming around the complex, but instead of orientating themselves, they are looking for an opportunity to mate.  Although one hole leads to many underground “apartments”, each queen lives separately with her brood. The communities’ females exhibit an orderly morning exodus one at a time.

Our most numerous native bees, miner bees fly only from late April to July. They emerge to the surface at around 40 – 50 °F to absorb the sun’s warming rays, and take of flying when temperatures reach 50 – 60 °F.  They fly fast and are valued for pollinating early morning flowers that bloom before honey bees wake up.

Close-up of a carpenter bee on a wooden fence
Xylocopa virginica

Carpenter BeesXylocopa virginica

Common in Orange County, carpenter bees are the largest of our native bees.  Females resemble bumblebees – only they are larger and have a hairless shiny black abdomen. Males’ faces are yellow while females’ faces are black.  They are named “carpenter bees” because they cut precise round galleries for nests inside sound, undecayed soft wood.  They avoid wood covered with paint or bark and have been known to cut their galleries in fence posts, wooden benches and houses leaving what some would consider unsightly holes and stains.  Males are attracted to sudden movements and conspicuously hover closely to people or in front of nests.  They also engage in aggressive territorial battles for mating opportunities, but fortunately for us males cannot sting. Females can sting, but only do so when molested.  Adults emerge during the summer and fall and can live for up to three years.  Females will sometimes cohabitate with their daughters and, unlike most native bees, carpenter bees will reuse old nests. Carpenter bees are beneficial and important pollinators, especially of open-faced flowers.

Mason bee on board with
Mason bee apartment
Mason Bees

New York’s several species of Mason bees choose above ground nesting sites in preexisting cavities such as twigs, hollow stems, and beetle burrows.  Child and pet-friendly Mason bees are far too busy to be aggressive. They only sting as a last resort, and the venom they release is very mild.  If you’re allergic to honeybees, this solitary, docile pollinating rock star is easy to keep and a great alternative.  They cross-pollinate a wide variety of trees and plants instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one location.  You can help protect them in winter by leaving standing hollow-stemmed plants.

Close-up of a leaf cutting bee on a yellow flower
Osmia ribifloris

Leaf Cutter Bees

The female leaf cutter bee makes small circular cuts in living or dried leaves or petals.  She curls them up to carry back and line her nest.  Attracting these gentle yet vigorous pollinators requires growing plants with thin-walled leaves, such as roses, hostas, peas, and lilacs.  Because they build their nests near one another and are 15 times more valuable as pollinators than honey bees, they aid farms and gardens where lots of bees are needed. Unlike carpenter bees, solitary leaf cutter bees cause no damage to structures, because they lay their eggs in existing holes.

They are more round, cigar- or submarine-shaped than other bees and carry collected pollen on their abdomen.  Distinguishable from honeybees, they have no brown/yellow stripes on their abdomen.

Close up of a sweat be on a white petal that tuns red at the center of the flower
Agapostemon virscens

Sweat Bees

Sweat bees make up for their minute size with their incredible numbers and are among the most abundant and commonly seen bees in North America.  They are attracted to the proteins, moisture and salt on sweaty arms, legs, and necks.  Don’t swat!  Females will sting if brushed against or agitated, and they will release pheromones attracting more bees.

Up to twenty-four solitary females dig deep burrows in banks or on flat or sloping soil – they then share the entrance into the nest.  They are most active in late spring and summer.  Sweat bees have short tongues which makes it difficult for them to extract nectar from deep flowers.  For this reason, they are attracted to open-face flowers.

FYI – Wasps 

Paper wasp resting on top of its nest
European paper wasp – Polistes dominula

Although wasps are usually considered pests, adult wasps are considered beneficial since they capture insects for their developing larvae.  They also feed on sweet nectar (and can annoy picnics in late summer by scavenging on human food).

yellow jacket feeding on rabbiteye blueberry
Yellow jacket

Some of the more common wasps found in our area are yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps.  Yellow jackets usually build their nests in the ground or in voids found in buildings.  Their colonies last only one season and nests are not reused.  Bald-faced hornets are actually not true wasps, but a type of yellow jacket.  They are large black and white wasps that make the grayish papery, pear-shaped hives (mistakenly illustrated as Winnie the Pooh’s “honey bee hive”) found hanging from trees or shrubs.  Bald-face hornets also do not reuse their nests.  Like the bald-faced hornets, paper wasps also make papery nests, but their nests have open combs.

Bald-faced hornet nest 20 feet in a Maple tree 9 inches in diameter
Bald-faced hornet nest

Just remember that wasps are considered beneficial, so unless their nests are in an undesirable place, they should be left alone. One way to dissuade wasps from nesting near your home is to use an imitation wasp nest. (These can be crocheted or purchased.)  As visual creatures, when they see another “wasp” nest in the area they assume it’s another competitor and do not build there.

It’s clear that bees are good for our gardens and as long as our gardens provide reliable pollen and nectar sources, our gardens are good for the bees. Unfortunately our native bees are in decline due to loss of habitat, residual pesticides in their food sources, pathogens, mites and diseases.  Our first step in helping them is understanding them and their ways.  Protect their livelihood by proliferating their only food source – flowers – which renew and sustain them year-after year.  Here are a few other things that you can do to help protect the bees:

  • plant flowers in swaths
  • remember that although modified, doubled-petaled cultivars are ascetically pleasing to the eye, they have less nectar than native cultivars of the same flower
  • choose diverse flowers, preferably natives species
  • intersperse decorative flowers among vegetables
  • allow some of your herbs bolt, producing flowers
  • minimize your use of neonicotinoid pesticides which move systemically through the plant into plant pollen and nectar and can weaken bees’ immune systems.

Flower Power!

More flowers = Higher bee numbers!

In the bargain, humans get free pollinating labor assuring healthy vegetation and reliable fresh foods – and we get to revel in Nature’s door-prize of life – the magnificent, ravishing, inestimable flower.

Squash bee resting on a yellow flower petal
Squash bee – Peponapis sp.

For more information about Wild Bees of New York visit Cornell’s Pollinator Website (https://pollinator.cals.cornell.edu/wild-bees-new-york/).

Citizen-Science Training

Stop the Spread: Scout for New Forest Pests

Adult Spotted LanternFLy measuring 1 inch in length
Spotted lanternfly adult

Help survey the Hudson Valley Region for potential new forest pests. Reports of invasive pests newly detected in New York are causing great concern. These include spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) and jumping worms (Amynthas sp.). Reporting their presence and stopping their spread are urgent needs. You can help.

Spotted lanternfly (SLF) is an invasive planthopper that can feed on a wide variety of plants including grapevines, hops, maples and fruit trees. It is established in neighboring states and may be moving into our region.

This workshop will prepare interested individuals such as gardeners, hikers, landscapers and forest managers to scout for and identify SLF. Trainees will be asked to be “boots on the ground” to assist in the detection of the pest, to report it to NYS DEC and to help prevent its spread in our area. The biology, identification, potential damage, methods of spread, monitoring and management of SLF will be described. The Blockbuster Surveyor protocol and iMapInvasives app will be reviewed to track the current distribution and abundance (or absence) of SLF.

Identification information will also be provided for Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, the SLF’s favorite host; an emerging pest, Asian Longhorned Tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis; and Jumping Worms, Amynthas sp., which are in our region but under-reported.

CCE offices in the region will host the trainings in May. Register with the links below:

Questions can be addressed to Joyce Tomaselli, CCEDC, jdt225@cornell.edu, 845-677-8223 ext. 134

Lower HUdson PRISM LogoThis program is part of the Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management’s efforts to stop the spread of invasive species in the Lower Hudson Valley. Visit www.lhprism.org for more information on how the LHPRISM strives to address invasive species issues through its partnerships. Click on “Upcoming Events” or “Get Involved” to learn more.

Black-legged Ticks and Lyme Disease

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month!

The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is a very common in Orange County and is the only species of tick found in our area  known to transmit Lyme Disease.

In the spring months you are most likely to find black-legged tick nymphs. These poppy seed sized immature ticks can easily go undetected if the proper precautions are not taken.  This results in a  the highest number of  Lyme disease cases being confirmed in June and July.

Bar graph showing confirmed cases of Lyme Disease by month. January - April cases are below 10,00. May climbs to almost 20,000 with a peak in June and July with over 50,000 cases. August fall back to about 20,000 and Sept. - Dec. continues to fall starting a little about 10,000 in Sept. and falling to below 5,000 in Dec.
Confirmed Cases of Lyme Disease by Month of Disease Onset in the United States 2001-2017

In the fall adult deer ticks are more abundant.  Even though these  blood suckers are about twice as likely to carry Lyme disease then the nymphs, they are much larger and therefore  more easily detected and less likely to feed long enough to transmit Lyme disease.

The presence of ticks should not prevent you from enjoying the out-of-doors.  By avoiding tick habitat whenever possible and doing a daily tick check, you can minimize your risk of being bitten and contracting a tick borne pathogen .  Ticks usually hang out on shrubs and tall grasses, no higher than knee height.  Black-legged ticks prefer cool humid place like the woods, but can also survive in tall grasses and even on lawns.

Even if a tick gets on you, it usually doesn’t latch on immediately.  It first searches for a nice warm place such as behind your ears, in your armpits, or even in your belly button.  Conducting a daily tick check can help prevent tick bites.  Make sure you do daily tick checks on children as they are not likely to check themselves, which contributes to higher incident rates of Lyme disease among children than  adults.

Bar graph comparing confirmed Lyme diesease cases by age and sex. The highest incidence is for males age 5-9.

To safely remove a tick, use a point set of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin a possible. Do NOT grab the back end of the tick.
How to safely remove a tick

If you find an embedded tick, it should be removed promptly.  To properly remove a tick, use a very pointy pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.  Avoid squeezing the abdomen (large back part of the tick) as that can cause the contents of the tick be pushed into your body.  Although it is commonly thought that if not removed properly the head of the tick will remain lodged in your skin, this is false.  A tick uses its barbed mouth parts to puncture your skin and latch on.  The head is never embedded.  If you leave the mouth parts behind when removing a tick, it is similar to having a splinter and does not increase your risk of contracting a tick borne pathogen.

Don't Get Ticked NY LogoTo learn more about how to prevent tick bites check out the Don’t Get Ticked New York website.

Black-legged ticks can also transmit several other diseases including Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Powassan Virus, Borreilia miyamoti and Ehrichiosis.  For information about the symptoms and treatments of these and other tick borne diseases visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website or the Orange County Department of Public Health’s website.

For free tick identification contact the Orange County Department of Public Health.

You can also bring specimens to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County, 18 Seward Avenue, Suite 300, Middletown, NY 10940. (There is a $7.00 fee for up to 10 ticks.)

Neither Cornell Cooperative Extension or the Orange County Department of Health test ticks for disease.  For more information on where you can get ticks tested for disease visit the Tick Encounter Resource Center. (Tests cost about $50.)

Highlights of the Gardens of the Orange County Arboretum

By Nancy F., Cornwall Master Gardener

This article appeared in the May 2019 Issue of Gardening in Orange County. Click here to subscribe!

The Alpine Garden

A stone path running through the APline Gardne full of color and texture
The Alpine Garden at the Orange County Arboretum

Explore the Alpine Garden and its varieties of succulents, spruces, perennials and grasses, surrounded by rock formations and waterways.  If you take time to look around at all the different colors and textures, you will notice a very delicate plant known as the crown anemone or Spanish marigold (Anemone coronaria).

Close up of a purple crown anemone flower.
Crown anemone (Anemone coronaria)

The crown anemone’s  dark-centered flowers can be found in an array of colors from purple-blue, red, pink or white.  They are a perfect addition to rock gardens, flower bed, and containers.  They do well in full sun, but will tolerate light shade in very hot areas.  Soil preference is sandy loam. Crown anemones are propagated by underground storage structures called corms, which are similar to a bulbs and tubers.  Corms can be planted after the danger of frost, which is usually early May here in Orange County New York.  For continuous bloom throughout the summer, they should be planted every two or three weeks. (Note: The small corms should be soaked for several hours before planting).  For those people who garden in containers, you can create a stunning display by combining crown anemones with tulips and grape hyacinths.

 

The Asian Maple Garden

Large pink clower with yellow center known as the Peony 'Morning Lilac'
Peony ‘Morning Lilac’

One of the numerous attractions in the Asian Maple Garden is the intersectional Itoh Peony ‘Morning Lilac’.  This stunning flower was created by crossing a tree peony with the more common herbaceous peony.  Intersectional peonies have strong, short woody stems and large flowers like a tree peony, but die down to the ground in winter like an herbaceous peony.  These plants prefers a neutral to alkaline soil pH, and need good drainage.  Autumn is the best time for planting peonies.

The Nellie Mazur Perennial Garden

A metal plat with corn, cow and flower siloueetes cut out allowing the sun to stream through projecting the images onto the snow
Remember Agrisculpture : Seed Plates – Lovingly Rethought

The Nellie Mazur Perennial Garden is a lovely mix of shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Recently added is to this garden is a magnificent piece of Agrisculpture made by collaging (welding) found vintage and antique metal with new steel to create an entirely new form.  The piece is entitled “REMEMBER Agrisculpture: Seed Plates – Lovingly Rethought” is a 40 square-foot steel piece made from antique seed planter plates and gears.  It was commissioned by the arboretum to honor the late Farmer Mazur and his passion for seed distribution.

The Remembrance Walkway and Garden

A large black globe on a pedastool surrounded by a circular stine path and bed of red flowers
The Remembrance Garden

The Remembrance Walkway and Garden “honor[s] those who lost their lives and those whose lives have been altered by the tragic events of the September 11 attack on America”.  The September 11th Memorial features a stunning rotating granite sculpture of the earth surrounded by bronze plaques with the names of the 44 Orange County residents who perished that day.  A ceremony is held every year on September 11 to honor those that we lost.

The Raised Garden Beds

The Raised Garden Beds developed in 2002 are situated throughout the Arboretum and are home to a spectacular seasonal display of annual and perennial companion plantings.  Every year visitors anticipate the arrival of the colorful spring display of numerous tulip varieties found throughout the grounds.  The plants for the raised beds are grown in the arboretum’s Kosuga Greenhouse.  This greenhouse houses 28,000 plants which includes plants for the raised beds as well as plants for the Arboretum’s annual plant sale.  The purchase of new plants is made possible through the generosity of the Friends of the Arboretum and the patrons of the arboretum’s annual events.

The purple thistle like bloom of the Cardoon
Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Two of the plants that are highlighted in the raised garden bed for their uniqueness are cardoon and cotton.  Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), also known as the artichoke thistle or globe artichoke, is an herbaceous perennial in the aster family and is hardy in zones 7-10.  Unfortunately, Orange County New York is found in zones 5 and 6, so here it usually can only be grown as an annual.   This plant requires full sun in a sheltered location with fertile, well-drained soil.  The plant reaches 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide and is an architectural splendor. Its large, thistle-like flowers are quite ornamental.  The violet-purple flowers are produced in a heavily spined capitulum (head).  Choose companion plants that contrast with the blue to silver color of the foliage such as annuals with blue, purple or burgundy flowers.

A white flower surrounded by dark green leaves with dark magenta vains
Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum)

The second plant highlighted in the raised garden beds is the cotton plant (Gossypium hirsutum). The hibisicus-like bloom is initially white in color and later turns pink.  The flowers stay on the plant for a few weeks, before they wither and fall leaving behind seedpods known as bolls.  Fibers inside the boll continue to develop until the boll bursts open exposing white fluffy cotton.  This annual grows three to five feet tall and prefers full sun and moist soil.

The Rill

Bronze statue of Pan holding a pan flute
Pan – the god of woods, fields and flocks

During the warmer months, a bronze statue of Pan, the god of woods, fields and flocks is surrounded by running water.  The Rill was a developed by John and Connie Vanderberg  in 2005 and the Pan sculpture was donated by Ruth Ottaway.

The Al Durland Memorial Pond

Surrounded by grass and woodlands, the Al Durland Memorial Pond, is a peaceful aquatic sanctuary. One can enjoy its beauty and serenity on the large deck that runs along one of its sides.

The Apiary

Upclose view of a bee hive buzzing with activity
Honey bees tending their hive

The Apiary is buzzing with bee activity this time of year.  Our new beekeeper is starting classes for beginner beekeepers.

The Apiary is also a favorite site for the elementary school students visiting the arboretum with their classes to participate in the Garden Exploration with Master Garden (GEM) program.  During the bee portion of this program,  the students learn about the three different types of bees found within a hive – queen, worker and drone bees. They also learn all about honey production and the important role bees play in our environment.  The arboretum sells its honey at their Holiday Boutique that is open from the end of November until the end of December.

The Veteran’s Garden

Plaque with the following words: Dedicated to those who have served, are serving and will be servinf our Country - Orange COunty thanks...(words cut off)
Honoring our Veterans

The Veteran’s Garden at the Arboretum is dedicated to our Veterans of the past, present and future and hosts a yearly ceremony to honor our Veterans.

The Ceremony Garden

The Ceremony Garden is a large open field surrounded by a beautiful rose garden, raised garden beds, and towering trees.  This popular venue is available for rental through the Orange County Parks Department.

The Children’s Garden

The Children’s Garden was designed to get children outside and give them an opportunity to connect with nature.  The Children’s Garden  is both beautiful and educational.  It hosts a myriad of children’s events throughout the year from backyard bird feeding to a its annual Fairy Festival.

For more information about the Orange County Arboretum and upcoming events check out their website: http://www.orangecountyarboretum.org/.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County

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