by Keith Riddick, Middletown Master Gardener Volunteer
With all the uncertainty in the world right now, many people have turned to gardening as a way of growing their own food as well as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. This isn’t the first time that people have turned to gardening during a time of societal upheaval. Most of us weren’t around, but many families started their own gardens during World War II. Back then, they were called Victory Gardens. Food and money were short during the war years, and fresh fruits and vegetables were sometimes hard to come by. Victory gardens gave people more control over their access to fresh produce and allowed more food to be sent to the troops that were keeping our country free.
Wait! Isn’t gardening a lot of work? It can be, but doesn’t have to be. If you are starting a garden from scratch, it will involve work to prepare the soil (removing sod, large rocks and testing the soil for fertility). However, if you want a garden bed already prepared for you, consider renting a garden bed at a local community garden. There are several community gardens located throughout the Orange County with raised beds full of soil and ready for planting. Chances are there is one not too far from where you live! There is a short list of community gardens at the end of this article, but there are many more located throughout the county.
During this time, community gardens are taking precautions that allow members to safely grow food. Although community gardens usually have communal garden tools, at the moment, you should bring your own tools. Other considerations include limiting the number of people in the garden at one time and finding safe ways to water your garden plot with the communal water source. When you join a community garden, make sure you are aware of and follow all the rules set in place to keep you and your fellow gardeners safe.
Another perk of community gardens are community plots, like an herb garden, for all to share. Many also have compost bins for recycling organic material like vines, stems and leaves leftover after you have harvested the edible part of a plant. This debris decomposes and is then returned to the garden beds as a type of fertilizer.
Maybe a community garden isn’t right for you at this time and you don’t have any space in your yard either. In that case, you can grow vegetables in containers. Whether you put them on your patio, your deck, or even your balcony, as long as the plants get enough sun and water you should have a bountiful harvest. You just can’t beat the terrific taste of fresh produce picked straight from the garden, so grow a garden this summer!
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.
Signs of spring abound! Bird songs fill the air. Buds on the trees are starting to unfurl. New shoots are breaking through the soil. And flowers are beginning to bloom!
Here are some of the flowers to look out for as you venture outside for a breath of fresh air.
When most people think of maple trees, flowers aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Red maples are native to the eastern United States and happen to be one of the first trees to flower in the spring. Their bright pink to red flowers result in the production of thousands of winged fruits called samaras, colloquially referred to as helicopters. After ripening on the trees for several weeks they will fill the air and litter the ground.
Although many people equate the yellow blossoms of the forsythia with the beginning of spring, the forsythia is not native to New York; it actually native to eastern Asia. This fast growing shrub is a favorite among homeowners, because it is tolerant to deer, resistant to Japanese beetles, and rarely has disease problems. If you are looking for a native alternative to forsythia, try spicebush (Lindera benzoin). This medium sized multi-stemmed shrub has fragrant yellow-green flowers in early spring and supports 12 species of butterflies and provides berries for the birds.
One of the many joys of spring is the emergence of all the spring flowering bulbs. Some of them are already blooming: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils (my favorite flower!). Despite its sometime unsightly appearance, make sure you leave the foliage alone until it turns yellow and dies back. This allows the leaves of the plant to produce food through photosynthesis. This food is stored in the bulb and will be used to produce even more beautiful flowers next spring!
Hellebores are also flowering! This evergreen herbaceous perennial is native to Turkey, but does well here in Orange County. It grows well in full or partial shade and has beautiful white to pink to purple flowers that bloom in late winter into early spring. Hellebores are rarely damaged by deer and as they are evergreen, after their flowers fade, they make an attractive ground cover
As you are out enjoying the sunshine, what other signs of spring do see or hear or smell?
Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!
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.
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.
First 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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)
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.
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 CucumberBeetles (Acalymma vittatum and Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi)
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.
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.
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 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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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 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!
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.
Currently, there are 70 active Master Gardener Volunteers in Orange County. These volunteers help Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County disseminates research-based information to the community. Volunteers go through an intensive training to increase their knowledge of gardening and landscaping. Once they complete the training, they are required to volunteer 30 hours a year, which includes six hours of continuing education.
Master Gardener Volunteers write for the Gardening in Orange County newsletter, answer gardening questions on the “Garden Helpline”, participate in community and school gardens, read to school children, and we provide workshops to the community on a wide range of topics.
Master Gardener Volunteers come from different backgrounds and careers. Here are just a few stories of their stories.
Brooke M., New Windsor Master Gardener Volunteer
Becoming a Master Gardener six years ago was the fulfillment of a longtime dream! I was introduced to gardening by my maternal grandmother who grew wild abundant perennial borders. She changed her color scheme regularly and encouraged me to see gardening like painting, providing joy in every glance. Being a Master Gardner lets me combine my skills from being a teacher, Museum Educator, and photographer with my absolute passion for plants. Going out to schools, garden clubs, and other public gatherings to share knowledge is one of my favorite things. Contributing to GOC by writing and editing is another. This year, helping to start a new school garden was the highlight. Nothing is more fun than hearing the laughter of children in the garden and seeing the wonder on their faces when they taste a fresh carrot. I have found new friends and opportunities in this program and it enriches my life.
When I was a child, my dad grew zinnias from seed and I know my love of gardening was cultivated by the beautiful gardens he created in our yard. I asked a thousand questions; he did not always know the answers, but he let me keep asking! I think he grew delphiniums for their beautiful (and rare) periwinkle color.
I bought my house in 1992, and shortly thereafter I attended the Garden Days sponsored by the Master Gardeners. I soaked up all the material and tried to apply it in my own yard. I subscribed to “Gardening in Orange County”. Now my gardens are filled with Milkweed and plants that the deer do not eat. My andromeda (Pieris japonica) is about 35 years old.
I became a Master Gardener because of all the wonderful people who answered all my questions on the “helpline” at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Middletown.
I have been a Master Gardener for 11 years now. I enjoy being in the company of other volunteers who love plants, trees, shrubs and flowers. Go ahead and ask questions. I am happy to help others cultivate their love of nature!
Doug M., Middletown Master Gardener
Although I have lived in Orange County all my life, the experience of purchasing and renovating a neglected property in Middletown ignited a love for gardening which changed my life.
My gardening obsession led me away from a career in interior design to attaining a Certificate of Horticulture from the New York Botanical Garden where I also discovered my passion for creating botanical artwork. With that change in place, my life was now consumed by horticulture.
I was drawn to the Master Gardener program because it is a stimulating and satisfying educational process where members are continually receiving and sharing information.
I am especially drawn to the design and artistry of gardening and have led programs on container gardening and botanical drawing. I also enjoy projects where I can get my hands dirty.
My four years as a Master Gardener have been rewarding, especially the shared experiences with other volunteers.
Jim H., Monroe Master Gardener
I have lived in Orange County for 21 years but I am a native of Texas. I grew up in the fruit orchards of Dallas County, Texas and every home of mine has had a garden. A career in High Tech Communication took me around the globe six times. I have experienced a lot of things in my life, but I am pulled to the challenge of gardens.
I love vegetable gardening and I want to pass on my passion to elementary children. I am involved with two school gardens in Monroe. The North Main Garden is located in a 100-year-old church courtyard next to the school. It is a pollination garden with six raised beds and the vegetables are donated to a local food bank. We work with the Ecology Club and teach classes on recycling and composting.
The Pine Tree Elementary garden was built with donations from the Girl Scout cookie sales. This garden is totally managed by 3rd grade students and it is a learning garden from the soil up! The students plant seeds, learn correct watering techniques, transplant material, weed and mulch. It is a hands-on endeavor with no smartphones or computers.
The Master Gardening Program has given me the opportunity to give back to my community. What keeps the gardens running is the look in the children’s eyes when they pick a ripe vegetable!
Joe G., Warwick Master Gardener
I’m the son of a passionate gardener and grew up in a small Connecticut town in the 1970’s. Dad had a huge vegetable garden and I spent many hours with him there, tending his plants and growing an area of my own starting at age 7. Giant pumpkins were my favorite.
My gardening passion grew and I worked for a landscaper through high school and college. My adult career is in packaging, so my gardening passion had to be limited to a hobby, but I became a Master Gardener in 2013 to deepen my knowledge and spread my passion to others.
My retirement goal is to operate a farm, which I decided to start in my 40’s rather than wait. I farm part time, growing Hops and Shiitake Mushrooms and benefit from the education and access to information the Cooperative Extension network has provided through the Master Gardening program. I enjoy creating and presenting educational workshops through the MG program and writing articles for Gardening in Orange County and the Time Herald Record.
Kate H., Cuddebackville Master Gardener Volunteer
I have lived in Orange County for over 40 years, but I am originally from California. What brought me to the East Coast was a position as an instructor, and clinic coordinator, in SUNY Orange’s dental hygiene department.
When I learned of the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, I was intrigued. I have always loved gardening, and I love teaching, so being part of a volunteer program where I could teach horticulture topics sounded perfect to me. I knew I would learn a lot when I started the MG training, but how much I learned, and have continued to learn for the past 11 years, is astounding!
I have also come to understand more about Cornell Cooperative Extension – what an incredible resource it is for the people of Orange County. Its scope of programs and outreach is amazing and inspiring.
I have been involved in community gardens, children’s programs, lectures, and workshops. They have been fun, interesting and satisfying. But what really amazes and delights me is the group of Master Gardeners themselves. They have a great variety of interests and specialties; they are talented, generous, and wonderful company! I feel lucky to be part of this group of volunteers.
Nancy F., Cornwall Master Gardener Volunteer
I graduated from the Orange County Master Gardener Program in March of 2016 following my retirement in 2015 as a Family Nurse Practitioner for Newburgh Enlarged City School District. My love for flower gardening expanded to vegetable gardening and a variety of gardening and health-related school programs. As a result of collaborations with the Orange County Department of Health Healthy Orange Team, the Newburgh Enlarged City School District’s Wellness Team and the Fuel Up to Play 60 grant, my journey lead me to my lifelong passion to be a Master Gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program.
The Master Gardener Program has provided me with opportunities for continued professional development in areas that require research-based gardening knowledge and has afforded me the opportunity to continue collaborations with other gardeners and associations.
A Master Gardener has many volunteer opportunities. I personally enjoy the Garden Help Line, writing for the Gardening in Orange County Newsletter, assisting student learning about bees, composting, flowers, vegetables, and bugs at the Orange County Arboretum.
Samantha G., Harriman Master Gardener Volunteer
My Master Gardener story is very simple. I have been a gardener ever since my mom said she would pay me a penny for every dandelion I dug up. I made ten dollars. Now I forbid dandelion removal in my yard! I came to Orange County in 2004, and promptly got a job in the Walmart lawn and garden department. I quickly realized that I was going to have to dig a little deeper to meet fellow gardeners and new friends. Lucky for me I noticed a small article in the local paper advertising the registration for the 2007-08 Master Gardener class. Although this really stretched my comfort zone, I knew that this program was what I needed to really become part of my new community. As a gardener I have very simple needs – a beautiful habitat in the middle of suburbia and a small garden to feed my family. As a Master Gardener it fills me with joy to show people how to find the answers for gardening success. I love to put the light back in their gardening shade.
I am a self-proclaimed succulent lover always in search of the most exotic, colorful, and unique plants. My cousin Denise lives in California where succulents thrive in the sunny dry climate. She is a member of the Contra Costa Garden Club and has been my go-to person when I need to find out about a particular succulent variety or care. My visits with my cousin in California consist of visiting succulent gardens and many mind-blowing greenhouses that grow only succulents. I have been known to buy dozens of plants, shake off all the soil and transport back in shoe boxes in my luggage to replant once I get home. (Check rules for your own state for transporting plants.)
Cacti (members of the family Cactaceae) and succulents (members of many different families) all have one thing in common – they all are adapted to conserving water. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. The name “succulent” is derived from “succulentus”, a Latin word which means sap or juice. Succulent plants are found in about 60 plant families and thousands of hybrid cultivars that differ in color, texture and size. Most people are familiar with succulents such as Jade, Kalanchoe and the popular Aloe. Not only do succulents come in many varieties and colors, they have the added benefit of blooming if they are happy in their space.
Succulents are known for their low maintenance and long lifespans, which makes them perfect for people who work all day, are on-the-go or just aren’t great at taking care of plants. Another distinction is that succulents are native to most parts of the world and love hot, dry weather. Because they store water in their leaves, they can withstand quite a bit of neglect. These plants are great for adding structure and vibrance to container gardens outdoors. However, even though these drought-resistant plants are simple to maintain, they still have preferences when it comes to location.
I am frequently asked how to keep succulents alive since there are thousands of different succulent cultivars, all growing with different care requirements and sizes.
Here are a few simple steps and tips so you can enjoy your succulent garden for years to come:
Treat your succulent garden as living art. Don’t be afraid to pull out a plant that has overgrown the planter or has died. Just replace with another succulent. Succulents are a great gift for a non-gardener. Decorate with flowers, berries, shells, or pinecones to theme up your succulent containers or vertical gardens. You can just pull out flowers once they have wilted or brown out and still have a beautiful creative piece.
OUTDOOR DO’S AND DON’TS
The best pot/container for a succulent is a shallow terra cotta or clay pot with a large drainage hole. The deeper the container, the more susceptible the plant is to rotting from wet soil. A 13-inch or smaller shallow garden dish is the perfect container and can hold a nice selection of succulents. This type of container is shallow enough that it won’t become waterlogged if left outside in the rain all summer. If you have created a vertical garden (one that hangs on the wall), keep it flat for at least one month until the roots have established themselves. Once the succulents have rooted you can hang it on wall.
Some of my many favorite succulents are Echeveria, Sempervivum, Sedums, Haworthia and Kalanchoe. Move outdoors early to mid-June. Most succulents can tolerate night temps of 50 degrees. Some varieties of Sempervivum and Sedums are cold-hardy and can survive our harsh winters.
Rock Garden walls, crevices or slopes
Winter/cold hardy Sedums are best for this type of planting as they have shallow root systems and spread easily. My favorite is a sedum called Angelina which has beautiful yellow flowers, and some varieties change leaf colors from green to gold in the fall.
Overwatering is the main reason succulents die. The key to watering is restraint! Remember they are filled with water. They are the camels of the plant world. If the leaves are plump, don’t water. If they look slightly shriveled or puckered it is time to water. Rain water is preferable to tap water. Water-softened tap is not recommended because of excessive salt content.
Succulents like bright light, but most cannot tolerate intense, direct sunlight outdoors all day. Morning or late afternoon sun is ideal. Most succulents need only 3 to 4 hours of sun a day. Never place in a southern exposure outdoors. The intensity of the light that a plant prefers depends on the species. Keep in mind that succulents have very different growing habits, some grow very slowly and others will double in size in a season.
While optimal lighting conditions depend on species, there are some general signs that indicate your plant is getting either too much or too little light:
Too much light: appears “off color,” “bleached out”, or turning yellow. Your plant can scorch on a dark wall in full sun and will likely not recover.
Too little light: stretches out and appears leggy and will weaken plant.
INDOORS – YEAR ROUND OR OVER WINTERING
If your succulents were outside, place them in the sunniest location in your home in winter. Best indoor location is an east, west or south windowsill. I also have a number of my succulents indoors under lights. I have 2 types of lights – the typical white grow- lights are fine, but I prefer the red and blue spectrum grow-lights specifically for succulents.
When your succulent garden is very dry, water it thoroughly. Every one or two weeks should be sufficient indoors depending on time of year. Succulents should be given just enough water so that they show no sign of shriveling.
These soft oval insects shroud themselves in a cottony covering. The presence of these cotton masses indicates infestation. Mealybugs dine on plant sap reducing plant vigor, distorting growth, and causing premature leaf shed. Minor infestations can be handled by dabbing the offending individuals with an alcohol soaked cotton swab. The alcohol dissolves their waxy protective coating leaving them susceptible to desiccation and other environmental stressors.
Spider mites are all but invisible to the unaided eye. These pests are often found on the underside of leaves shrouded in their whitish webs. Spider mites also dine on plant sap and cause a distinctive stippling pattern on infested leaves. Copious amounts of webbing indicate a large infestation, which means drastic measures must be taken such as removing all infested leaves. If the infestation is minor a strong burst of overhead watering can help eliminate the mites. Mites are not insects, so insecticides are ineffective.
These pinhead-sized insects appear as raised brown spots resembling marine shells. Like many other pests, they dine on the plant’s sap. Outbreaks of scale can be treated similarly to mealybug infestations.
During the growing season, a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10), which has been diluted to 1/4 strength, can be added to the water for each watering; or use specific fertilizer (foam) for succulents. Only use fertilizers on soil and not on the plant itself. My favorite is worm castings which will not burn the succulents and seem to cut down on pest infestations as well.
Sometimes it is very easy to identify the best way to propagate your succulents and other times it is not as obvious. However, before you start, the first thing to ask yourself is: What kind of plant do I have? If you don’t know, the easiest way to learn is to organize the information you know about your plant into categories. How is it shaped? Is it tall and thin, short and round? How does it grow? Does it grow all by itself, or are there similar tiny plants that poke up out of the soil near it?
Questions like these are the first ones to ask yourself when considering propagation. Some species can be propagated by separating pups from around the base of the plant. With others you can start a new plant by just placing one of the leaves on top of soil. If succulents start stretching and getting leggy, try pinching off the top, let dry out for a few days to callus over the end and then replant.
Ever wonder why some die after blooming? Some succulents may be monocarpic. “Mono” means “once”, and “carpic” means “fruit”. Therefore, once the single flower has come and gone, fruit or seeds are set and the parent plant can die. A monocarpic succulent flowers only once and then dies.
Monocarpic is, in fact, a strategy of many plants to produce progeny. Most monocarpic succulents produce many new plants before they bloom. So by the time they are ready for the bloom, they’ve already created enough plants to replace themselves.