October 4, 2019

The Importance of Pollinators

Toni Leland

butterfly and bees on milkweed
Native Milkweed & pollinators
The University of Connecticut has a terrific agriculture and natural resources college, offering
educational events to the public on a regular basis. I attended the Native Plants and Pollinators Conference this week and learned so much about pollinators.

Most folks immediately think of bees when they hear the term "pollinator," but even though the bee-types make up the largest segment of the term–more than 70% of the world's plants depend on pollination by bees (The Bee-Friendly Garden, Frey & LeBuhn, 2016)–we also depend on butterflies and wasps, flies and hummingbirds to keep our plants and trees flourishing.

butterfly and bees on stonecrop sedum
Stonecrop Sedum Feast
The current interest in the decline of honeybees and bumblebees is growing as homeowners learn more about planting the landscape with pollinator-friendly and pollinator-critical flowering plants, as well as education about pesticides. 
My own gardens are 85% native plants that attract these important pollinators.

In her talk, "Asters & goldenrods: Autumn's Pollinator Banquet," Heather Holm described some of the most interesting traits of the Bumblebee (Bombus), which is a solitary bee. For instance, the first Bumblebees you see in the spring are the queens. They are large, and vigorously foraging on the earliest blooming flowers and trees as they prepare to make a nest.

male carpenter bees on zinnia
Male Carpenter Bees on Zinnia
Once the queen has formed her underground nest, she lays an egg in each cavity and stays underground from then on. The queen is able to decide which sex her offspring will be, and the first batch of small Bumblebees that you'll see are all females. They are the workers. They forage and carry pollen and nectar back to the nest for the queen to use for the next batch of eggs.

When that group hatches, they are all males. Once they leave the nest, they never return. So when you
see a Bumblebee resting on a flower early in the cool morning or in the evening, it is a male.

Bumblebee on wild rose
Bumblebee buzz-pollinating wild rose
Only female Bumblebees can sting; even though the males might seem aggressive, they are harmless.
Bumblebees are the only pollinators that can "buzz pollinate," which means they can access the pollen from flowers that have no anthers by crawling into the throat of the flower, then vibrating to shake the pollen onto their bodies.

Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana
Hummingbirds love Obedient Plant
Holm's talk also included the elements responsible for the decline in our pollinators: climate change, insecticides, other pesticides, nest site disturbance, flowerless landscapes, competition from introduced non-native bees, fragmented habitat, and pest and pathogen transmission. Some of these things we cannot change as individual gardeners, but we can certainly modify our own pollinator habitats. Use natives, plant with seasons in mind, and be chemical free in the garden. You can also use plants that are suitable for the various pollinators: tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds, plants with high pollen and nectar production for the bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and flies, and colors that are known to attract each type of pollinator.

Every small thing we each do could make a big difference in the future.

September 27, 2019

What Now? October in the garden

Toni Leland

winterberry, ilex, shrub, boulder, fall gardenDon’t those cool breezes feel fabulous? Today I saw the first “V” of geese high in the sky, their voices echoing through the trees through the neighborhood. Fall is my favorite season, a panorama of color and change as the earth prepares to rest for a while. But not for us gardeners! We’ve enjoyed the fruits of our labor all summer, and now it’s time to clean up after the party.

If you haven’t done so already, get those hardy spring flowering bulbs into the ground: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and the like should
hyacinth, bulbs
be planted now. To protect these tasty morsels from rodents through the winter, try placing barricades over the planting site, using chicken wire or hardware cloth, old window screens, boards, or plant saucers weighted down with rocks. Several bulb-dip products also claim to repel pests.

begonia, tender bulbWhile you’re rooting around in the soil, dig your tender bulbs and tubers, and give them a chance to dry a little before storing them. Gladiola, dahlias, begonias, and cannas need to be out of the ground
before it freezes. Ideally, the foliage should be yellow and withering by now; cut off the stalks to about 8 inches above the bulb/tuber/corm, then place in a dry location for about 2 weeks. When the stalk is completely dry, knock off any remaining soil from the bulb/tuber/corm, and store in a cool (not cold) dry place for the winter. Begonias and dahlias should be stored in slightly moist peat moss; gladiolus corms can be simply placed in a paper bag. Canna tubers should be lightly wrapped in newspaper and loosely packed in paper bags.

houseplant, weeping fig, ficus, treeDid you give your houseplants a summer vacation on the porch or in the garden? If so, bring them in right now! The longer they stay outside this month, the harder the shock when they are moved
indoors. If they’ve been out in the open, move them to a sheltered spot (a covered porch or deck) for a day or two. Check them for insects–especially whiteflies–and, if need be, spray with organic insecticidal soap to eliminate any pests.

If you’re like me, you couldn’t resist those huge exotic tropicals that
mandevilla, tender, tropical, pinkgrow and bloom profusely. Bougainvillea, mandevilla, banana plants, elephant ear–gorgeous, but sadly not winter hardy here. Want to try your hand at keeping them? You might have some luck with one of the following: 1) if you have a sunroom or heated greenhouse, the plant will maintain active growth; 2) try taking cuttings to root for new plants in the spring; or 3) put the plant in a cool dark place and allow it to go dormant.

Once you’ve taken care of the individual plants that need special attention, it’s time to focus on the more general chores. Continue to water any new plantings or perennials that were divided and moved last month; remember your shrubs and young trees, as well. Continue mowing as long as the grass is growing. If you can, reseed and repair dead areas as we go into what is hopefully the rainy season. Another round of weeding will help your landscape’s appearance, as well as stave off Nature’s last efforts to reseed for spring. And lastly, clean leaves and debris from your flower beds and lawn. Slugs and other undesirables hibernate under this dark, moist decaying matter, and clumps of leaves left on turfgrass will kill it, leaving ideal places for weed seed to take up residence.

hand tools, gardening
Think you’re finished? Not yet–clean and store your garden tools so they’ll be sharp and in good working order next spring. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of cleaning tools on a regular basis throughout the season. After each use, remove soil from digging tools; moisture in the soil will rust and pit the metal cutting surfaces. If you wash your tools, dry them thoroughly before storing. Keep an oily rag in your garden tote to wipe down pruners, loppers, shears, and clippers after each use. Before storing for the winter, rub linseed oil into the wooden handles of your rakes, shovels, and hoes; spray or wipe the metal parts with either household oil or a lubricant like WD-40®. When spring comes, you’ll be glad you did all this in the fall.

And now, you can curl up with a good gardening book!

gardening books