Monday, April 27, 2009

Creature Feature

Lady Cow, err Bird...uh Bug!

Whatever you call them, beetles from the family Coccinellidae are one of the most beneficial insects in the garden. The shells of the adult lady bug vary in color from red to orange and dark yellows. All of dark black spots but in differing numbers and arrangements. It has been estimated that there are nearly 5000 different varieties of lady bugs in the world and at least 400 types in North America. Most of these vary regionally and have adapted to fit in their local climate.

While most people have very fond feelings for the adult lady bug, the larvae of the Coccinellidae family are so evil looking that one has a hard time resisting the temptation to stamp the life out of them then and there. However, doing so would be a big mistake and is an example of the necessity of knowing your insect before seeking its death.

The benefits that the lady bug provides are many. Primarily they are a major predator of insects from the Hemiptera family with their favorite prey being the aphid. In a healthy ecosystem, wherever you see an outbreak of aphids you are sure to see a lady bug or two having a feast. Unfortunately, the over use of chemicals may disrupt the natural predator/prey cycle. When you kill both beneficial and harmful insects, it is the sad case that usually the harmful insects rebound quite quickly with large, uncontrollable populations.

Lady bugs are available from many sources that sell natural pest control products and are marketed as biological control. While it is very gratifying to release a boxful of lady bugs into your yard, don't be so naive as to believe that they will remain inside the boundaries of your yard. In fact, the only ones that may stay are those with bent wings and missing legs. As mentioned earlier, there are a large number of lady bugs and each one is adapated to a specific climate. Any lady bugs that you buy will certainly move on to preferred climates and those that hang around may not make it through the winter to reproduce the next year. Whatever your situation, the best way to make biological control happen in your yard is to promote a healthy ecosystem with a balanced predator-prey cycle.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Courtney's Tool Box

Weed Fabric - More of a nuisance than the weeds?

It has been a common practice in the landscape industry and among do-it-yourself homeowners to install weed fabric in planter areas under the mulch for the purpose of deterring weeds. Many products are available ranging from black plastic to thicker mat-like fibrous materials. The idea is to install a barrier between the mulch and the soil so weeds will not be able to take root. While this may seem like a good idea, the reality is that it's a very temporary solution to a long term problem - and the negative consequences of installing weed fabric are long term too.

Of all the weed barrier products, plastic - whether clear or black - is probably the worst. It creates an impermeable barrier to water and air, which are both necessary for plant root growth. Plastic also deteriorates rapidly. It does not go away however, it just falls apart and starts moving to the surface where it soon becomes unsightly. Other products, while they do allow water and air to pass through somewhat, still create an unnatural barrier in the soil. All weed fabrics are extremely burdensome when it comes time to make changes to the landscape. If you have ever had to remove weed fabric, it's easy to understand that it would be better if it was never there in the first place! Furthermore, the effectiveness of weed fabric is only temporary. It only takes a few months for mulch (both rock mulch and organic mulch) to begin to decompose and create a nice new fertile layer on top of the weed fabric where weed seeds will readily germinate. You may argue that these weeds can easily be pulled because they are not rooted in the soil. True, but the same is true for weeds growing in a 4 inch thick layer of mulch.
Maggie Wolf tugs on a piece of weed fabric in the Conservation Garden Park. Weed fabric in the Garden is being systematically removed.
So, if weed fabric is not a good idea, then how do you prevent weeds? Well, it takes work! Unfortunately there is no easy way to do it. However, there are three things you can do to drastically reduce the amount of weed growth without using weed fabric.
1. Maintain a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch on the soil. This can be rock or wood mulch or whatever you prefer.
2. Where practical, use a pre-emergent herbicide which prevents seeds from germinating in the first place.
3. Minimize the amount of water you apply to the landscape. Nothing grows weeds like water! Drip irrigation applied only where it's needed by plants will produce far fewer weeds than spray irrigation broadcasted everywhere.
It also helps to control weeds regularly while they are small. Whether you pull them or spray them, don't let the problem get out of control. Happy gardening and don't let those weeds get the best of you!
- Courtney

Katy's Bloomers

What's blooming now

Even with the weather making its unpredictable changes from warm to cold and back again the Crocuses seem to be a dependable indicator that spring is on its way. We have a wonderful array of Crocus bloom ranging in colors from deep purple, lavender, bright yellow, to white and even some striped varieties. Their bright yellow stamen and style are a great accent to all these colors and a welcome sight for the few brave bees that have already made an appearance.

Also highly anticipated is the appearance of the Miniature Iris in the woodland landscape. With their stunning rich purple color and a hint of yellow they really are a happy surprise among the browns of winter. The Lenten Rose graces us this time of year with its Victorian eloquence. The Miniature Daffodils have also delighted us with their bright yellow color and their hint of green foliage.

The Pasque flower is our newest appearance found in the perennial yard. From their soft, furry foliage appears a beautiful six-petaled magenta flower with yellow stamen. It’s a graceful delight for any photographer or the passerby who takes time to examine its wonderful characteristics.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Plant of the Month - April

Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

March is supposed to come in like a lion and out like a lamb. Most years it comes in like a lion that morphs into some sort of lion-lamb monster in the middle and end up worse than it started. I am writing this as another in a long line of blizzards is storming outside. Very appropriate for April 1st.

Pasque Flower is one of the few intrepid plants that bloom during this unpredictable time of year, giving gardeners everywhere a feeling that maybe, just maybe, there is hope for warmer and more seasonable weather ahead. The Pasque Flower is named from it's tendency to bloom near Easter (paschal means of or pertaining to Easter) and is often seen poking through snow drifts and even before developing much foliage at all, it will push out a multitude of dark-purple to lavender goblet shaped blooms with bright yellow centers.

It grows natively in Eurasia with a range that extends from the British Isles to France and on to the Ukraine. Due to it's hardiness (USDA zones 4-8) it also flourishes in Utah and many other areas of the United States. It reseeds easily and will spread gently in areas where it is happy. Far from being invasive, this tendency to spread actually helps to develop showy clumps from just a few original plants.

The foliage of the Pasque Flower is finely-dissected, meaning fern-like. Buds, stems and leaves are covered in silky hairs and often appear light or gray-green and eventually develop into handsome clumps that range from 8-10" tall and wide. Once finished flowering, the blooms develop into equally interesting, if not showy, plumed seedheads. Removing spent blooms will not promote further flowering but will remove the seeds, so decide if you want it to spread before deadheading.

Flowering color is somewhat variable in the species but are more consistent with certain varieties. 'Alba' produces consistenly white flowers while the blooms on 'Rote Glocke' are more red in hue.