Beauties and Beasts

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Since January, I’ve been training to become a Certified Master Gardener. Currently a “Master Gardener Intern”, I’m amazed how much more I’ve learned, gardening since age seven. Learning about the diagnostic aspect has been my favorite – like “plant CSI”, identifying diseases, bugs and other issues.

Gardening’s long been in my blood – a need to be outside and in earth. As any gardener can attest, sometimes things aren’t always perfect. We’ve had a late season, a wet spring, and a ‘buggy’ summer. I’ve noticed more, ahem, “imperfections” in my garden, appreciated more breathtaking beauty outside than inside any art museum, and also considered that invaders from outer space had landed on some of my plants.

After planting veggies this year, all was going pretty well, until in June I noticed “holey” leaves on my potatoes (and I don’t mean blessed). The culprit? Little orange and black, three-lined potato beetles. Pretty, with their Halloween coloring, but damaging.

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For control, I picked them off into a jar of soapy water, also checking under the leaves where eggs are laid. Spraying under leaves with non-toxic, organic kaolin clay keeps bugs off or depositing eggs.

Eggs underneath leaves should be destroyed.

Eggs underneath leaves should be destroyed.

Recently, Japanese beetles appeared, which start out as grubs in the ground.

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And yet ANOTHER use for those beloved mason jars...

And yet ANOTHER use for those beloved mason jars…

I’ve learned a valuable lesson: do not use bag traps that lure beetles! The pheromones that lure the beetles actually bring more beetles to the yard! I’ve been vigilant in picking them off into soapy water, which hasn’t been too big a task. I’ve less beetles attacking my plants than previous years, and no mess. Chickens like to eat grubs, so there’s population control there, too.

Regardless of the weather, I’ve enjoyed beautiful blooms this year.

I was thrilled to see my foxglove bloom this year - a biennial, it was worth the wait.

I was thrilled to see my foxglove bloom this year – a biennial, it was worth the wait.

I love the color of early spring poppies that bloomed this year.

I love the color of early spring poppies.

A tulip tree bloom.

A tulip tree bloom.

A rose after rain...

A rose after rain…

I love the look of bee balm - like firecrackers!

I love the look of bee balm – like firecrackers!

I love the blue of my sweet blueberries.

Oh – the blue of my sweet blueberries!

My hostas are a sea of purple blooms right now.

My hostas are a sea of purple blooms right now.

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It’s not all “wine and roses”. Not everything thriving is a “good” plant. Invasives, like Oriental Bittersweet, can choke and kill other plants and trees. On the Connecticut state “Banned” list, unfortunately, many don’t realize just how bad it is, using the vines with orange berries for fall decor!

Bittersweet vines

Bittersweet vines

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Pulling out bittersweet shows its tell-tale orange roots.

Always wanting to garden organically, I cringe when in garden centers, overhearing homeowners say they “just spray everything” with broad spectrum, toxic pesticides! Doing so wipes out good bugs, too –  those that are beneficial, pollinators, and “good bugs” that help keep “bug thugs” in check (plus it’s toxic for us)! There’s beauty and balance in nature. All my work and time spent is rewarded when I see blooms, and notice the “little world” that occurs within my garden and woods.

Ladybug beetles are good at eating things like aphids...

Ladybug beetles are good at eating things like aphids.

A tiny pollinating visitor landed on my daughter!

A tiny pollinating visitor landed on my daughter!

A bee using a coneflower as an umbrella during a summer shower.

A bee uses a cone flower as an umbrella during a summer shower.

 

 

I took this photo of a monarch butterfly on milkweed. Earlier in the day Master Gardeners released monarchs at the Extension Center in Bethel, CT.

I took this photo of a monarch butterfly on milkweed. Earlier that day Master Gardeners released monarchs at the Extension Center in Bethel, CT.

I love the contrast of colors of the katydid on my lily. Most critters are just "passing through" and cause no issues.

I love the contrast of colors of the katydid on my lily. Most critters are just “passing through” and cause no issues.

Noticing things like frass, chewed holes, and spots are clues to what’s happening with a plant.

This artichoke at the Master Gardener Display garden has an aphid infestation, but look at the ladybug larvae (red arrow shows her) that is having a feast!

This artichoke at the Master Gardener Display garden has an aphid infestation, but look at the ladybug larvae (red arrow shows her) that is having a feast! Soon she will be a ladybug!

There's frass on the brassica...

There’s frass on the Brassica...

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And the culprit. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a natural pesticide, a bacteria, making caterpillars sick when eaten. At the Display Garden, the plants can be saved and still be considered organic.

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This zucchini has blossom end rot; the plant lacks enough calcium.

This zucchini has blossom end rot; the plant lacks enough calcium. An organic fertilizer for tomatoes will aid the plant.

A panoramic view of the Bethel Extension Master Gardener Display Garden, where I have enjoyed volunteering and learning from Master Gardeners. Harvests go to food banks and shelters.

I took this recent panoramic view of the Bethel Extension Master Gardener Display Garden, where I’ve enjoyed volunteering and learning. Harvests go to food banks and shelters. Thank you to Lorraine Ballato, Advanced Master Gardener, who has shared so many great tips with me.

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Beautiful, peaceful and rewarding. UConn Extension Center, Bethel, CT.

Wish I would have paid closer attention to my potted rose. It went from this...

Wish I would have paid closer attention to my potted rose. It went from this…

to this because of little "invaders".

…to this (top). Bottom photo shows frass, right photo are the culprits.

One day, I noticed strange things dangling on my azaleas: funny, fleshy-looking growths on  leaves, looking like little “ears”. I had discovered galls. These freaky-looking things occur on different plants from different sources, and are really interesting!

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Azalea leaf gall is caused from a fungus, thriving in wet weather. My plants weren’t too badly affected, and chemical control isn’t really recommended anyway. Azalea leaf galls are even edible (no thank you)!  I trimmed away affected areas before white spores appeared, making sure to clean up and discard any of the debris. Sanitation’s important in any garden: cleaning debris from under plants, trees, and bushes and sanitizing tools between cuts or before going to another plant can drastically cut down on all sorts of issues.

I’ve noticed other, very interesting plant galls. I love the cringe-factor reaction galls draw from my 13-year-old daughter, who thinks knowledge of such garden things “creepy and cool” is pretty neat. Galls on plants and trees can form from different sources like fungi, bacteria, viruses, or insects and mites.

Some of my maple tree leaves have Spindle Galls formed from mites. (These generally don’t cause harm).

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I noticed these tiny, bright red galls on veins of a sugar maple leaf. They’re formed from a maple gouty vein midge (Dasineura communis), a fly that feeds on the leaf from inside the gall, then breaks through to the other side. Neat, right?

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Maple gouty vein midge galls on the underside of a leaf.

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On a walk, I noticed little galls on grape vine leaves.

The  underside  of leaves of a Staghorn Sumac.

The underside of leaves of a Staghorn Sumac.

The following two photos were shared with me by Plant Pathologist, Joan Allen, from the University of Connecticut. Can you guess what this is? No, it’s not something from outer space…

Photo courtesy Joan Allen, University of Connecticut

Photo courtesy Joan Allen, University of Connecticut

It’s a Juniper tree with Cedar Apple Rust! This fungal disease needs two host plants for its life cycle. This tree looks like it’s been decorated!

Photo courtesy Joan Allen, University of Connecticut

Photo courtesy Joan Allen, University of Connecticut

Gardening to me isn’t just having a green lawn, pristine flowers, or delicious fresh veggies. There’s a whole world within our world, and good, bad, and sometimes even ugly aspects are part of it. I’m embracing that, and enjoy noticing these wondrous happenings.

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What’s happening in YOUR garden? Let me know you stopped by in comments!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

 

Leave a comment 16 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Thank you Nicole for this very informative article, as well as, pictures! I’m a visual person and the close up photos were fantastic showing “the good, bad, and ugly” in the garden settings! Thanks for the tips on staying organic with the pests that need to be treated! Enjoy your beautiful plants and continued good weather!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Cindy!
      I am so glad you enjoyed it! I love taking photos of what I see outside. It’s fun to look back each season and see how the garden looked each year or what bugs we battled or beautiful butterflies we notice. Today in my flower bed my daughter and I saw two Monarchs! We haven’t seen any in our yard in years! Thanks for stopping by! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. Dori Troutman says:

    Nicole,

    Great post. My daughter and I had a major infestation of aphids in our flower garden, which is a big deal as it was completely wiping out our zinnias…. rows upon rows of gorgeous zinnias. We tried Neem Oil and had some success. It was so important for us to go the organic and safe route. We were finally able to get it under control, but in the mean time I really worried about the good bugs that were being effected even by the Neem Oil. And we also picked off beetles and put in soapy water… by the thousands! :-) I’ve heard the same thing about the beetle bags – you’re just asking for trouble by inviting the whole neighborhood of beetles for supper! :-)

    What an awesome class the Master Gardener class must be. I’ve always dreamed of taking it. Someday! :-) And yes, there is a whole lot to gardening that most us of have no clue about. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I think being in the garden with the butterflies, bumble bees, and other bugs is just about the happiest place to be!

    – Dori –

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Dori, I agree! I am most happiest outside and in the garden, especially if my daughter is with me. I have plants there from friends that have traded and shared from their gardens, a quince bush my dad and I planted together the first time he ever visited (he doesn’t remember, but I do), and nothing’s better than dinner from whatever I’ve plucked that is ready to eat. As for the Master Gardening class, it’s been hard work, but I’ve met some amazing people, learned so much, and am really enjoying it doing something that was on my “bucket list”. 😉

      Here in Connecticut, two of my friends and I all noticed our zinnias were not what they have been in recent years. I think mine got planted late due to the bad weather. A dinner guest just brought me some pink ones yesterday as a hostess gift! I love them. Hope yours are okay after those aphids!

      Farmgirl Hugs,
      Nicole

  3. crlagroue says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog.. Great pictures too! Perhaps now the tables have turned..Now I can call you for advice, lol.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks, Russell! I have to say your yard and flower beds look great every time I visit! And your cacti collection is awesome. ~ Nicole

  4. Jan Sturgill says:

    What a coincidence! I have scores of squash beetles this year, though I usually have them in various quantities. Any ideas for a natural deterrent? I also thought that I had dodged the millions of tiny flies that hatch on my grape vines the last several years. I purchased Neem oil to spray on in the spring, but didn’t follow through. Drat…

    I know that yellow jackets have their place in the garden, and I usually can coexist with them. Last weekend they became very aggressive and I got stung on the back of the hand. I finally had to remove several nests under my potting shed patio so that they would quit bombing me! I made a natural spray with peppermint oil, with little or no success. Is there something natural to use that will keep the yellow jackets from rebuilding at the same site of the old nest? We have hundreds of nesting sites on our outbuildings!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Jan! For the squash beetles, use the organic kaolin clay that I mentioned. The trademark name is Surround. It’s a white powder that you mix with water (the amounts are on the package). Spraying under the leaves of things like potatoes, squash, kale, and cabbage keeps down those and other critters, keeping them from laying eggs underneath. It’s on the expensive side because it comes in such a big bag, but if you do what we did and chip in as a group with a few friends, it isn’t bad and it’s worth it. You’ll spray the underside of the leaves with it when you plant, and here and there during the season when it gets washed off by the rain. As for yellow jackets, I myself do not know of anything natural or homemade to deter them. We had a terrible time last year at my house with them. It was the worst I ever saw them, and we only had limited success with a more “natural” commercially sold spray, so I am not sure what to tell you there except be careful! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Beverly Battaglia says:

    I am so impressed, Nicole! The pictures are beautiful too. I never heard of “galls” before. We have azalea’s and I will have to tell my husband, Richard, since he is the gardener in our family. I think the red rose is gorgeous, and we had a rose that color on our property in Rockport, Texas. All our roses here have died. You sound like a real “Master Gardner” and I learned a lot I never knew. We learn all our life. I am very proud of you. Love,
    Mother

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks, Mom! I never noticed galls on my azaleas before this year. Now I notice things like that everywhere…I find it so interesting. Love you, Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Denise Ross says:

    Thanks for all your photos and information. I’m at the very beginnings of learning about gardening, in pots only for now, but I’m excited to always learn more. Thanks for sharing Nicole. I look forward to seeing and reading more about gardening :)

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks, Denise! I will be posting more in the future. So glad you enjoy reading my posts. Good luck with your gardening…it’s a lifelong passion that is an amazing, rewarding thing to do. Enjoy! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. Vivian Monroe says:

    Great article Nicole, loved learning more. I too, took a Master Gardener course back home in La., and learned so much, we received a huge notebook and I am always referring back to it for info. Be Blessed. Neta

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Vivian, Awesome! I love the notebook we got, too…such great info. They also recommended wonderful books, which I have been trying to purchase and build up a “gardening library”. So glad you liked the post…thanks so much! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Susana says:

    You are so I intelligent about plants and bugs….wish you could yell me about this……I have this plant that has been showing up in my garden. It has a yellow flower that looks like a Hibiscus but grows like a tree….three flowers on the top…then two, then one big flower.the leaves look like OkrA.I wish I could show you. But can’t send a photo. I know it’s a weed but is so pretty I let it grow.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Susana, Hmmm…sounds pretty. Without seeing a photo or knowing what state/zone you are in, I can’t say for sure. Is there an Extension office near you? Master Gardeners are there to answer those kind of questions. I’d love to see what it is. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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