Even though most of the trees are still bare and must of us awoke to snow on the ground this weekend, spring has arrived and with it are some of the most beautiful blooms of the year.
Spring Flowering Bulbs
The crocuses have all but faded, but the daffodils continue to bloom, brightening up the drab landscape with their cheery yellows and oranges. They have recently been joined by the hyacinths. With their overpowering fragrance, these flowers add to springs color palette with their cool colors of pink and purple.
You may have noticed some small purple flowers known as grape hyacinths. Not a true hyacinth, the inflorescence of this flower is a cone of small purple flowers that almost looks like a miniature clump of grapes.
If you want to bring some spring cheer inside (highly recommended), it is best to give daffodils their own vase as their stems secrete a substance that is harmful to other flowers.
One of the great joys of spring is the appearance of spring ephemerals. These native plants grow in wooded areas and only have a short time to flower before the trees above them leaf out and block their sunlight. When you are walking through wooded areas in the spring, make sure you watch your feet or might step on the delicate flowers of the bloodroot or the hepatica.
Other Spring Blooms
From the showy flowers of the andromeda bush to the subtle flowers of the lungwort, the more time you spend out side the more flowers you’ll notice.
Many spring flowering plants are considered weeds. You may think that dandelion in your lawn is unsightly, but the bees beg to differ. Dandelions are an important source of pollen and nectar for bees in the early spring as are other spring flowering ‘weeds’ like purple deadnettle and henbit.
What about Fungus?
Now fungi aren’t plants, so they don’t have flowers, but they can add color to the landscape. In the spring cedar-apple rust galls that overwintered on juniper become more noticeable as they produce gelatinous tendrils that release spores into the air. Some of these spores will find their way to apple trees where they can cause problems by infecting the leaves and the fruit of the tree.
Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!
There are beautiful plants deer don’t like to eat! Incorporate these perennials, annuals and shrubs in your landscape to create an attractive yard with three seasons of bloom. Also learn about physical and scent strategies to reduce deer browsing in your yard
Learn how to grow food in your backyard. This session covers the 5 keys to a successful vegetable garden: location, soil preparation, plan, planting choices and good maintenance. No green thumb needed to get started.
Butterflies, birds and the other pollinators need host plants for nectar, food and lodging. By introducing three seasons of key pollinator plants into your garden, you can create a pollinator-friendly habitat in your front and back yard. Discover the best planting arrangements as well the many colorful and hardy plants attractive to pollinators
No matter what type of garden you have, chances are you will encounter problems. Join us for a presentation introducing home gardeners to alternative pest control methods to use before reaching for a pesticide. When a pesticide is necessary, learn about product selection and proper application techniques to protect yourself as well as the environment. This presentation will focus on less toxic alternatives and provide proper safety tips when using or storing pesticides.
Learn how to grow food in your backyard. This session covers the 5 keys to a successful vegetable garden: location, soil preparation, plan, planting choices and good maintenance. No green thumb needed to get started.
Native plants are the best choices for Long Island gardeners. Not only are they vigorous and attractive, but native plants support our pollinators. Discover the increasing array of handsome native plants that can you can incorporate in your landscape.
Create the proper habitat for these magical creatures by providing them with nectar sources from appropriate flowers and sugar feeders. If you build the right garden for them, they will come! Discover amazing facts about these tiny birds while viewing photographs of them in action.
What should you do with all your vegetable scraps? Join Holly Wise, Consumer Horticulture Resource Educator, for composting basics. She will explain the composting process and the benefits of using compost in your gardens. She will provide a recipe for making it. Along with discussing the different types of compost systems.
Pollinators are in trouble, but luckily each of us can have a part in ensuring a healthy environment for them. Join us for an in depth and interactive look at how to plan and create a pollinator garden on your property. Whether you have acres or just a front porch, you can create pollinator habitat. This is a two-part class with some at-home work.
There’s magic in growing your own food, whether it’s a just-picked tomato or a handful of fresh strawberries. However, growing your own food doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t even need a large space. Join us and learn what you need to know to get started, focusing on smaller spaces, including raised beds and using containers for your fruits and vegetables. Learn the importance of good soil, when and how to plant, how to use seeds and transplants, what grows best in this area, how to deal with pests, and where to go for help.
Scientists are limited in the amount of data they can collect by both time and money. With help from members of the general public, known as citizen scientists, researchers are able to crowd source data collection collecting more data from more places helping them find answers to real-world questions.
So if you want to do something fun and educational that contributes to the advancement of scientific knowledge, consider becoming a citizen scientist.
This project focuses on migration and seasonal changes. People all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico, report sightings of birds, monarchs, frogs, and other organism. Watch as reported sightings are mapped in real-time as waves of migrations that move across the continent.
iNaturalist lets you photograph, identify, and document what’s around you. Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. By sharing your observations with scientists, you will help build our understanding of the natural world.
In studying life, scientists have overlooked many regions. Some regions have not been studied because they are so remote. Others because they are so diverse that it is hard to know where to even begin. Then there is the great indoors, which we believe has been understudied in part because it is so immediate. This project aims to document the species that live indoors with humans.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world contribute bird observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology each year, gathering data on a scale once unimaginable. Scientists use these data to reveal how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, disease, climate, and other environmental changes. Your participation will help trace bird migration, nesting success, and changes in bird numbers through time.
Celebrate Urban Birds is a citizen science project focused on better understanding the value of green spaces for birds. This project connects people of all ages and backgrounds to birds and the natural world through the arts and fun neighborhood activities.
The goal of this project is to gather this information on bird sightings, archive it, and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education. e-Bird also develops tools that make birding more rewarding. It provides the most current and useful information to the birding community from photos and audio recordings, to seeing real-time maps of species distribution and alerts that let you know when species have been seen.
NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. Their database is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.
The Tick App allows people living in high-risk areas for Lyme disease, like Orange County New York, to participate in a tick behavioral study. Participants complete daily logs and report ticks. The app provides information on how to remove ticks, prevent tick bites, and general information about ticks. When enough people are involved, it can also provides information about blacklegged and deer tick activity in our area.
This citizen science project’s mission is to better understand the distribution and abundance of breeding monarchs and to use that knowledge to inform and inspire monarch conservation. People from across the United States and Canada participate in this monarch research. Their observations aid in conserving monarchs and their threatened migratory phenomenon, and advance the understanding of butterfly ecology in general.
Monarch Watch strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. They engage in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration.
Each fall Monarch Watch distributes more than a quarter of a million tags to thousands of volunteers across North America who tag monarchs as they migrate through their area. These citizen scientists capture monarchs throughout the migration season, record the tag code, tag date, gender of the butterfly, and geographic location then tag and release them. At the end of the tagging season, these data are submitted to Monarch Watch and added to their database to be used in research.
In the past twenty years, native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare. During this same time, ladybugs from other parts of the world have greatly increased in both numbers and range. This is happening very quickly and no one knows how, why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity. Citizen scientists involved in this project help scientists answer these questions by photographing ladybugs and submitting the photos along with information about when and where the ladybugs were found.
A project of Cornell University’s Garden Based Learning, this web forum provides an avenue for gardeners to share knowledge. Gardeners report what vegetable varieties perform well – and not so well – in their gardens. Other gardeners can view ratings and read the reviews to decide which might work well for them. Researchers use the information gain new insight into the performance of vegetable varieties under a wide range of conditions and practices. The information gathered is also used to make a Selected List of Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners in New York State.
Native pollinators play an essential role in the pollination of flowering plants, including native plants and wildflowers, garden plants, as well as cultivated crops. Some native pollinator species have suffered population declines over the last few decades. Participants in this study submit photographs and/or specimens to help determine the conservation status of a wide array of native insect pollinators in non-agricultural habitats.
iMapInvasives is an on-line, GIS-based data management system used to assist citizen scientists and natural resource professionals working to protect our natural resources from the threat of invasive species. Citizen scientists are provided with resources to help them identify invasive species. Their invasive species findings are aggregated with data from a wide variety of sources contributing to early detection of invasive species as well as analysis of management strategies.
Natural history museums across the world share a common goal – to conserve and make available knowledge about natural and cultural heritage. The Notes from Nature project gives you the opportunity to make a scientifically important contribution towards that goal by transcribing museum records. Every transcription that is completed brings us closer to filling gaps in our knowledge of global biodiversity and natural heritage.
This is an official government website designed to accelerate the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science across the U.S. government. It includes a searchable database of a government-wide listing of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects designed to improve cross-agency collaboration, reveal opportunities for new high-impact projects, and make it easier for volunteers to find out about projects they can join.
If you happen to have a garden or have decided that this is the year to start one there are lots of things to keep you busy at this time of year!
Hopefully you waited until spring to clean up your garden to allow beneficial insects and other arthropods such as bees and butterflies to overwinter. Now that spring has sprung you should leave debris as long as you can to give these creatures a chance to emerge from their winter hiding places. You should start carefully removing debris from around blossoming plants. If you must cut back hollow stems, bundle them so any pollinators overwintering inside have a chance to emerge. As you are cleaning up be on the look out for praying mantis egg cases know as ootheca. This is one time when you should leave things till tomorrow!
Mulching is another spring time activity. There are many different types of organic mulch that will not only suppress weeds, but also add organic material to the soil as they break down. You don’t have to mulch everything, in fact many ground nesting bees such as bumble bees need a bit of bare earth to make their nests. And if you are mulching your trees make sure to keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the base of the tree so that it is not touching the bark.
There are lots of places online where you can purchase seeds. If you still have seeds left over from last year and don’t know if they are still good, don’t throw them out, try this simple home germination test.
sterile potting mix
It is important to use sterile potting mix to avoid disease issues like damping off. Do not reuse potting mix and do not use garden compost.
You don’t need to buy a fancy container to start seeds. Just make sure the container has been sterilized and has drainage holes.
You want to keep the soil moist, but be careful not to over water or you may have a problem with damping off.
Some seeds need light to germinate, but all seeds need light after they germinate. Once your seeds sprout a light source will help prevent them from becoming leggy. You can purchase grow lights or just use a soft white fluorescent bulb. Here are directions on how to build a Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame.
Most seeds will germinate between the temperatures of 55°F and 75°F, but the optimal temperature for each type of seed varies. You can create a mini-green house to trap heat and moisture. You can also buy heating mats to warm the soil. Click here to see Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination.
Out in the Garden
Gardening is an activity for the whole family! Children love helping plant seeds! Right now you can be direct seeding cool season crops in your garden such as beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. If you want to have a continual harvest, consider succession planting or seeding several smaller plantings of the same crop at timed intervals, rather than all at once.
While most people are busy seeding, some perennial plants are already coming up or even ready to harvest! Chives are a great example of a perennial that allows you add something fresh and green to your meals in the early spring. If you planted chives in your garden last year, they are probably already making their way to your table. This perennial of the onion family begins growing in early March and is able to be snipped with scissors and eaten soon after and throughout the growing season right up until the fall frost.
Another perennial making an appearance is rhubarb! Rhubarb is a great addition to any vegetable garden and as it is deer resistant and highly attractive it can also be used as part of your edible landscape. Although the leaves of rhubarb are considered poisonous, the stems of this spring crop that can be used to make the classic strawberry rhubarb pie as well as many other delicious snacks.
And as always, if you are having any issues in your garden, need help identifying the cause of a problem or figuring out a management strategy give us a call. Our Garden Helpline phones are staffed April – November, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. But you can always leave us a message or send us an e-mail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marine mammals, owl monkey, Australian sea lion, achromat primates
Most terrestrial non-primate mammals, color blind primates
Most primates, especially great apes (such as humans), marsupials, some insects (such as honeybees)
Most reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, rarely humans
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.
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!
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.
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.
Bumblebees – Bombus
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.
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.
Carpenter Bees – Xylocopa 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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.