Sunday, April 25, 2010

Daffodil Show

Franklin County Master Gardeners won 1st Place at the 2010 Daffodil Show in Chambersburg this weekend in the class for Educational Display!  The theme of the show was "Symphony of Daffodils." 
Ours was Madame Butterfly in which we set up the Pollinator Display.   We would like to thank Connie Schmotzer from York County Master Gardener Program for graciously sharing her files for the creation of the text boards on our display.
The stage decor was beautiful!

Yes, I am a Recovering Perennial Snob...

but please don't tell anyone.  I admit at one time when I was a young sprout myself, I was proud to say only perennials could be found in "my" garden.  As my gardens have aged along with me, we have both become more relaxed.  I have learned to embrace the beauty and need of annuals in my perennial garden; but I rely only on self-sowers and know, the easy annuals.  These annuals add a relaxed feeling to the gardens and are wonderful fillers.  Like Diane Linsley, I now refer to my garden as a cottage garden rather than a perennial garden...besides, it sounds more romantic.

Of course, two of my favorite easy annuals are spring bloomers.  Could it because it is now spring?  Larkspur is the annual that opened my eyes to the beauty of easy annuals.  Who would not love a beautiful flower that starts as seeds sown in the fall.  Now that's my kind of gardening.  According to Greek legend, Achilles' mother requested that her son's armor be given to the most heroic Greek warrior during the Battle of Troy. To the dismay of the brave warrior Ajax, the armor was awarded to Ulysses. Dejected, Ajax threw himself on his sword, and small blue delphiniums or Larkspurs sprung from the blood that fell to the ground. Delphinium petals are marked with the Greek letters AI, the Greek cry of mourning.

Forget-me-not is another easy flower I welcome in the spring.  The famous forget-me-not story involves a German knight gathering blue flowers for his lady love along the banks of the Danube. He is said to have scurried down the bank to gather the flowers just as a “freshet” (flash flood) roared down the river. As he was swept away forever, he tossed the bouquet to his lady with three immortal words, “Forget me not.”  While romantic, forget-me-nots are rampant reseeders, so be sure to tear out some plants before they go to seed to control or throw the seeds where you would like more.

Come summer these flowers will become my favorite easy annuals:
  • Cleome, more commonly known as the spider flower, is an old- fashioned flower that attracts humming-birds.
  • Calendula is one of the few easy seeds that demands to be covered lightly in soil.  I love the new lemon-colored calendula.
  • Cosmos is one plant that doesn't mind being crowded.  I opt for the smaller cosmos so they do not overpower my perennials...after all, I'm still a perennial lover at heart.
  • Sweet alyssum  There is a reason this flower is called sweet...the aroma on a hot summer day is one to remember.
  • Scarlet flax.   I discovered scarlet flax three years ago.  This is one easy annual that demands attention.

    Reseeding annuals fall into two categories, hardy and half-hardy.  Half-hardy annuals need warmer temperatures to germinate and are best sown in the spring after the last frost date the first year.   Hardy annuals can usually be sown in the fall.  It is important to know what type of annual it is  before sowing.  Two excellent sites, Self-Planting Gardens  and Wildflower Information, give some great tips on self-sowing.  I frequently purchase from  Wildseed FarmsSelect Seeds, Swallowtail Garden, and American Meadows. These sites also offer a wealth of good information.

    While I tend to remain true to those easy annuals I have already mentioned, I will generally try some new flowers each year.  This year my new annual is Gomphrena Fireworks.  Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of self-sowing is that I never know what flower will show up in any one spot.  Usually it will turn out to be a spot that is better than one I would have picked myself...just as it is in nature.

        Saturday, April 24, 2010

        Bluebird Update

        Saturday, April 24th - there's an egg in the nest.

        Why are Bluebirds blue?

        Check out these photos from Cornell's Nestwatcher's Resource Center.

        UPDATE: Sunday 4/25 at 9:00 AM - Two eggs in the nest.

        UPDATE II:  Wednesday 4/28 at 3:30 - Five eggs in the nest.

        UPDATE III: Thursday, 4:30 PM, first of the falcons has hatched!

        UPDATE IV: PGC issues another Press Release:

        “After several weeks of nest building and waiting, the bluebird nestbox camera now is allowing viewers to follow along with an active nest that presently contains five recently laid bluebird eggs,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “The best way to get Pennsylvanians – in fact most Americans – excited about wildlife is to show them what makes wildlife so irreplaceable and priceless.

        “We decided to set-up and use this live webcast to help us educate the public about the importance of wildlife, how to make backyards friendlier to wildlife and also provide a way for folks to simply get closer to bluebirds. Last year, it was a huge hit, and we expect that the broadcasting of this year’s activities again will be well received.”

        New this year is the installation of an infrared video camera, which will enable visitors to tune in after dark, too.

        That last bit reminds of all the times I checked on the nest last year and thought there must have been technical problems, because it was so dark. It eventually 'dawned' on me what the problem was.

        Monday, April 19, 2010

        Gypsy Moths are Hatching

        Redbuds are in bloom and oak trees are leafing out, so that means that gypsy moth egg masses are starting to hatch.

        The previous two years saw cool, wet Springs in the Middle Atlantic States which promoted the spread of a fungal disease, Entomophaga maimaiga, of the gypsy moth caterpillar. That disease, coupled with management measures, and their natural Boom-Bust multi-year life cycle greatly reduced their numbers to the point where Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will not have to spray for them this Spring. That doesn’t mean we should relax our vigilance to keep these destructive pests at bay. In 2007 we experienced the outbreak phase with extremely high caterpillar numbers,

        severe defoliation

        and tree loss,

        as you can see from these pictures taken that year in Quincy Township.  In 2008, surveys gave some hope that the population was declining, but as this picture from Adams county can attest, there were still significant outbreaks.

        Unlike other states that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service's  program to suppress Gypsy Moths, Pennsylvania requires that a request from the landowner be submitted before evaluation to conduct a spray operation can even take place.

        Monitoring in 2010 will give some warning of the next outbreak phase, but landowners frequently don’t request treatment until caterpillars are noticeable and it is too late to spray that year.

        Because of program deadlines and the moth life cycle, it takes a year to get program approval. Since the selective, organic compound bacillus thuringiensis (BT) that is used in DCNR’s program must be eaten by the caterpillar during its early growth stages, spraying at the right time is also crucial. This is why the program often seems more reactive than proactive.

        So, during the next few weeks, carefully check your oak trees to look for the caterpillars. If you think you see them, or if you experienced an outbreak in years’ past, and want to be considered for potential spray operations next year, please contact the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office at 263-9226, if you live in Franklin County, or the local coordinator in your county.

        For more information go to DCNR’s gypsy moth site, and click on the link to the Gypsy Moth Suppression Program.

        My counterpart in York County, Diane Oleson, wrote a great article for Penn State's Forest Leaves quarterly newsletter, where much of the information for this post was derived.

        Wednesday, April 14, 2010

        Bug of the Week

        Michael J. Raupp, Ph.D., a Professor of Entomology and Extension Specialist at the University of Maryland in College Park, just south of us, maintains a webpage called “Bug of the Week”. Each entry has pictures, and usually video, as well as further links to other sites for more information.

        This week’s entry, What goes in must come out, discusses those two overwintering insects that we get lots of questions about, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, and the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis.

        You can access an index of archived entries at the site by clicking on the Bug of the Week button on the left once you go there, and then selecting "Previous Entries."

        Dr. Raupp, along with his colleague Dr. Paula M. Shrewsbury, did the research that was the source of George Weigel’s quote to us at last year’s Master Gardener banquet, that:
        “More than half of landscape damage is done by a mere three pests -- lacebugs, mites and scales, and since those bugs have fairly specific targets, it's really only about a dozen plants that end up accounting for about three-quarters of the bug damage in a typical landscape.”
        I added a link to Bug of the Week in the Links to Other Sites section to the right.

        Monday, April 12, 2010

        They're Back!

        One of the more popular features of this blog last year, based on the comments and emails I received, was the link to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Web Cam in a nesting blue bird box.

        The webcam is up and running again this year and can be viewed here.  From the press release:
        “The best way to get Pennsylvanians – in fact most Americans – excited about wildlife is to show them what makes wildlife so irreplaceable and priceless,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “We decided to set-up and use this live webcast to help us educate the public about the importance of wildlife, how to make backyards friendlier to wildlife and also provide a way for folks to simply get closer to bluebirds. Last year, it was a huge hit, and we expect that the broadcasting of this year’s activities again will be well received.

        “The nestbox camera provides the public a closer look at the entire nesting process of bluebirds. I’m not sure how many people have ever seen a bluebird form a nest by plowing the materials with its wings. But nest-forming is a fascinating example of nature at work. And it’s something you’ll never see unless you’re checking out our nesting camera.”
        Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also has a web cam on a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons.

        UPDATE: 4/14/2010 - There are 5 eggs in the Falcons' nest!

        Victory Garden

        The first planning session for the season-long Victory Garden class took place this morning.  Cover crop was cut, the garden was tilled, raised beds were spaded over, and general weeding took place.

        Donna and Darl inform me that the class is not yet full, so talk it up with friends and neighbors.  It is probably the best deal that we offer, including not only the terrific information and hands-on experience of planning, planting, and growing a vegetable garden, but also the added bonus of bringing home the harvest.

        Look for an article in this week's Public Opinion about it.

        Contact the office at 263-9226 to sign up.

        A list of the rest of our Spring classes can be found at the link to the right called Upcoming Events and Workshops.

        Check out this History of Kitchen Gardens from Cornell University.

        My Father's Garden

        Way cool video:

        A little over 6 minutes. From professional film maker Mirko Faienza.

        Saturday, April 10, 2010

        Weather, IPM, Soil, and More ...

        Another one of my colleagues, Jonathan Rotz, the Franklin County Cooperative Extension Agronomy Educator, has installed a data gathering weather station over at the Horticulture Center Gardens.  He hopes to have the data available online, so that real-time local data will be available to farmers, growers, and us gardeners.  One benefit will be calculation of Growing Degree Days using precise local conditions for help in predicting pest emergence as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program.

        The station also tracks soil temperature and moisture at 2 inches and 1 foot as well as leaf wetness.

        So far, soil temperatures at the office are averaging about 51 degrees at 3 inches.  That means it's OK to sow cool season crops like arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, pac choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radish and spinach seed, which will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees.  With a soil temperature above 50 degrees, Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips can be planted.

        Still need to wait on beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and the rest.  Here's a good article on when to direct sow vegetable seeds, or transplant those started indoors, based on soil temperature.

        If you want to try to fool mother nature (always a risky venture) and artificially raise soil temperatures, you can build cold frames and hot beds, as described here.  Please use caution when using uncomposted manures.

        Friday, April 9, 2010

        Native Plant Tour Update

        My colleague, George Hurd, the Franklin County Environmental Educator, sends the pictures below from last night’s Native Plant Tour at Spring Haven Nurseries. Lots of Hellebores, Trilliums, Bluebells (a white one – how cool is that?), and other woodland Spring ephemerals. Nursery owners, Dave and Dianne Cornman have added bog beds and pitcher plants to their inventory since the last time I was there. No worries if you couldn’t make it, or if the rain changed your mind about attending. Our next general meeting, April 27 will take place there.

         I was pretty good, spending less than $25.00, getting another trillium, twin leaf, and something new that caught my eye – Merrybells or Bellwort, aka Uvularia grandiflora.

        Enjoy the pictures!

        Turf Wars

        The other day I watched with interest as a pair of bluebirds made an attempt to roust a pair of house sparrows from a bird house mounted on the side of our shed. I was conflicted in who I was backing.
        The house sparrows have been living there since we installed it last summer. Yet I would love to have a pair of bluebirds to watch. The bluebirds ran the sparrows out and seized the house.
        The sparrows went only a few feet to the lilac bush. Where they proceeded to voice their objections very loudly and without end. 

        I suppose seeing the new nesting materials being installed outraged them enough where they got up sufficient gumption to take on the bluebirds.
        At least the two males were actively going at it. Chasing each other away from the house. The battle ensued for several hours with each pair taking turns occupying the house for only a few minutes.

        The females on the other hand seemed to sit back dumbfounded and patiently wait for some sign as to whether they were moving in or moving out.

        Each of them taking turns possessing the perch on the house.

        At last, the sparrows won. Perhaps possession really is nine tenths of the law. I was sad to see the bluebirds go. Now there's only one thing left for my husband to more bird houses!

        Thursday, April 8, 2010

        A Symphony of Daffodils

        April 24–25, The Chambersburg Garden Club and Tuscarora Daffodil Group will present the 74th Annual Standard Flower Show and the 38th PA State Daffodil Show. The Theme is “Symphony of Daffodils”.

        Times for the Show: Saturday April 24, 2010 –1:30 to 7 pm, Sunday April 25, 2010 from 12 noon to 4 pm. Place: First Lutheran Church, 43 West Washington St., Chambersburg. Open to the public, free admission.

        Franklin County Master Gardeners will have an educational display highlighting our public outreach efforts on pollinators.

        Dr. Holly Scaggins, the Virginia Tech contingent from the Garden Professor's blog, recently posted some interesting facts about our favorite Narcissus, sharing her research into the reasons why daffodils are such bad neighbors when it comes to sharing space in a floral arrangement:
        So is there really an effect and if so, what makes daffodil sap deleterious to the other flowers in the vase? The study “Effects of Daffodil Flowers on the Water Relations and Vase Life of Roses and Tulips” by W.G. van Doorn appeared in the Journal of Horticulture Science. Dr.van Doorn found the mucilage (sap) was indeed to blame, with just one daff shortening the vase life of both the tulips and roses by almost half. But what component?
        He split out the alkaloid fraction and the sugar fraction of the sap, and then added them as individual components to the vase water. He drew different conclusions as to the cause: the research indicated that the effect in roses is mainly due to the sugar and polysaccharide fraction of the mucilage stimulating bacterial growth. This clogged the rose’s vascular system resulting in bent neck. You’ve seen this before – the bud, yet to open, flops over, never to recover.
        These same sugars didn’t impact the tulips negatively but the alkaloids sure did. Even touching the sap to the tulip foliage produced a yellow spot. He was not able to distinguish which of the six alkaloids detected were responsible, but at least narrowed down the cause.
        Oh, and the reason they are left alone by squirrels, deer, and such:
        There is such a thing as “daffodil picker’s rash” which has been reported in the journal of Contact Dermatitis (Julian and Bowers, 1997). The authors attribute this rash to the “crystals of calcium oxalate in the sap, in conjunction with alkaloids, [which] act as an irritant, and also cause the characteristic sores.”  Said calcium oxalate crystals are found throughout the daffodil, in the bulb, stem, sap, flowers, etc. Micrographs show that these crystals are needle-sharp, and apparently very painful. This is why deer and bunnies will not eat your daffs.
        I plan to be a little more careful when I pick them in the future.

        Speaking of the Garden Professors - lookit who got a gold star for guessing last week's diagnosis problem correctly

        Tuesday, April 6, 2010

        A Rose is a Rose is a Rose...or is it?

        Although its name would lead you to believe otherwise, the Lenten Rose is not a rose, but a member of the genus Hellebore.  Helleborus  x hybridus  derives the name Lenten Rose from its flowers' resemblance to small roses, and the fact that its blooming season is very early, coinciding with the pre-Easter season of Lent.  If ever there was a plant that needed a new name, it would be hellebore. No part of that name sounds like something you would want. Sounds more like someone you would not want to invite to a cookout. Actually there are some 15 species of hellebores with ornamental appeal.

        Hellebores were mentioned in medieval medical texts as a treatment for worms and as a purgative. Gerard, the author of a famous 1633 English herbal, notes that Hellebores were to be found in many a London garden. He also mentions two species found growing wild in English countryside. It is possible that these were introduced as early as the 4th century A.D. by members of the Roman legions, according to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.
 states that if you were to go to your local nursery or garden center and pick up an unbloomed hellebore plant, chances are its color would range from shades of white to magenta, with various pinks and mauves (spotted or unspotted) being common.  Your plant would almost certainly be Helleborus x hybridus. There are endless combinations of spotting and veining, along with the possibility of doubles or semi-doubles. The flowers would have a range of  shapes and sizes, from round cup-shaped overlapping sepals to pointed star-shaped sepals. 

        Garden Guides offers some good information on hellebores.  In late winter, new evergreen leaves emerge along with a flowering stem which produces several 2 1/2-inch flowers. The flowers are extraordinarily long-lasting, persisting for six to eight weeks. Flowers are in shades of white and pink, changing color during their long bloom, with white flowers turning more greenish, and pink flowers becoming a deep, rosy tan. A mature plant forms a clump about 24 to 30 inches wide, and nearly as tall, and can have well over 50 blooms in various shades of color. 

        Lenten Rose like well-drained, fertile soil.  They will grow in full  shade,  but flower better with some sun. They are quite drought tolerant, requiring little extra watering once they are established. The foliage is evergreen, but when the new blooms emerge in late winter, it is best to tidy the plant by carefully trimming off the old, tattered leaves.  The leaves can cause a mild skin irritation, so gloves are recommended when handling this plant.

        Both the flowers and leaves are poisonous, making the Lenten rose a good choice in gardens where deer grazing is a problem, since they will not bother it. The University of Illinois Extension Service recommends Lenten rose as both a specimen plant and as a ground cover planted in mass. It makes a good companion for other early-emerging perennials such as bleeding heart, trillium and ferns.

        I have just recently become enthralled with Lenten Rose.  Once you discover hellebores (in addition to your favorite old gardening shoes and mulch), you will wonder how you ever gardened without this 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year...I know, I am a little slow.