Saturday, April 6, 2013

How to Get an Amaryllis to Bloom Again

During the Christmas holiday season, there are many amaryllis bulbs for sale in garden centers, box stores, and catalogs.  These bulbs have been prepared by the supplier so they are ready to bloom and will give stunning displays for your holiday enjoyment.  But what about after they bloom?  Do you throw them out or can you get these bulbs to bloom again another year?  With very little work, you can enjoy your amaryllis bulbs for years to come!
Successfully rebloomed amaryllis bulbs

After the blooms are spent, cut the flower stalk off down to an inch or so from the top of the bulb, but leave the foliage that by now has grown from the bulb.  This foliage is very important and will allow the bulb to produce a bloom for the next year.  Continue to water as you would a house plant during the winter.  After all danger of frost has passed and when you would usually take house plants outside, put the pots containing the bulbs outside.  Some folks will plant the bulbs directly into their flower beds.  I find leaving them in their pots makes bringing them inside in the fall so much easier and doesn’t turn into one of those things that you don’t have time to do before frost.

Throughout the growing season, if the bulbs are in their pots, water every day and fertilize about every two weeks.  Place the pots where they get good morning sun, but some late afternoon shade, so that they won’t dry out too quickly.  In the hottest part of the summer, the soil will be completely dry by the end of each day.

Right before frost (around here most likely sometime in October), bring the pots into the house, basement, or a protected garage.  Stop watering and allow the foliage to wither and dry.  Keep the bulbs in a cool dark spot ; cover them with newspaper, if necessary, to keep them dark.  Remove spent foliage as it dries.  Enjoy the holidays leaving your amaryllis bulbs right where they are.  If you want amaryllis blooming for the holidays, you should purchase new bulbs because your bulbs from last year need a resting period.

After the holidays, when the January days make you long for the outside, it’s time to replant your amaryllis bulbs.  Begin by removing them from their pots.  You will be amazed at how the roots have grown!  Tease the roots to remove the spent potting soil.  A few of the smaller roots will break off, but that’s not a problem.  Squeeze the bulb.  It should be nice and firm; discard it if it feels soft or has a rotten odor.  You may even find that your bulb has produced some small bulbs beside your main bulb.  It will take several years before these are ready to bloom, but you will want to pot them up as well.

Before potting, I suggest hydrating the roots overnight.  Place the bulb in a waterproof container without drainage holes.  Put enough water in the container so that the roots come in contact with the water, but the bulb doesn’t.  The roots will absorb some of the water and be nice and plump when planted the next day.

Many times small plastic pots are provided with the bulb when first purchased.  I suggest using pots that are a bit sturdier and possibly deeper than the ones that came with the bulbs. The pots should be about two inches larger in diameter than the bulbs.  Clay pots are particularly handy because they are heavy.  When the bulb blooms, it may become tall and heavy, and a clay pot will help keep the pot from tipping over.

Use a good quality potting soil when re-planting your bulbs and make sure to push the soil in around the roots, pressing firmly.  Situate the bulb in the pot so that most of the bulb is out of the soil and all of the roots are in contact with the soil.  Water the soil deeply allowing the excess water to drain from the pot.  The soil may settle some.  Don’t allow water to sit in the saucer; water sparingly until growth begins.

Place the pot in a sunny, warm location, about 68 degrees.  After several weeks you will begin to see a bud peaking out of the center of the bulb.  As the first floral stalk lengthens, rotate the pot a half turn every day or so to keep the plant from bending.    If the foliage begins growing first you most likely will not get a bloom with that particular bulb.  Don’t give up, however, just repeat the process for another year, making sure to allow the foliage to grow to its maximum potential to produce the bloom for the following year.

Growing Pansies, Virginia Style

Imagine a northerner’s surprise when she first saw Virginia pansies blooming in January snow!  These cool weather lovers don’t seem to notice frost and can be over wintered, with some success, as far north as zone 6.  Yes, these cool weather plants are perfect for adding color to the garden in early fall and winter and then again in spring. 
Pansy blossoms in spring

Here in zone 7, it’s best to plant pansies in the fall, preferably September, so that they can establish their root systems before winter arrives.  Be sure to:

·         Choose healthy, young plants, preferably without any blooms.   They should be compact, not leggy, and have roots that are still white.

·         Choose hardy varieties.  Generally those with medium size blooms are best for over wintering. 

Pansy decorated with snow and ice
Pansies prefer a slightly acidic, well-drained soil with a steady supply of moisture.  At least partial sun is important.  When planting, be sure to:

·         Dig the soil 6 to 8 inches deep and add compost or well-rotted manure.

·         Tease the roots apart to help them spread out and become established in the soil. 

·         Space plants 6 to 8 inches apart and plant them at the same level that they were in their pots.

·         Pat the soil around them and add several inches of mulch.

While they’re tough, pansies are bothered by a number of pests, including slugs, snails, and aphids. 

When blooms increase in spring, pinch off the dead ones and the seed capsules every few days.  And finally, when the weather gets seriously hot and pansies become leggy and sluggish, it’s time to remove them and replace them with summer annuals. 


Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato is a 1940s non-commercial tomato developed by Marshall Cletis Byles of Logan, West Virginia.  As might be expected, he didn't like his given name, so he was known locally as "Radiator Charlie" because he operated a small auto repair shop at the base of a steep hill that was notorious for making trucks overheat.  Radiator Charlie became interested in gardening after he began working with his family, at age 4, in the cotton fields of North Carolina.  He didn’t have any formal education or actual plant breeding experience, yet he would go on to create a most remarkable variety of tomato that would carry his name.
Green tomato
Sometime during the early 1940s, Radiator Charlie decided that he wanted to develop a very large tomato, so he set about trying to locate the largest tomatoes that he could find. He soon located four varieties: German Johnson Pink, Red Beefsteak, an unknown Italian variety, and an unknown English variety. From these, he grew 10 plants which he cultivated in a very unorthodox, unique fashion. He planted 9 of the plants in a circle and then planted a German Johnson Pink in the center of the circle.  Radiator Charlie then cross pollinated the German Johnson's flowers with pollen from each of the 9 plants in the circle and saved seed from the resulting tomatoes. The next year, he planted the seeds and selected the best seedlings. The very best of these again went to the center of a circle, while the remaining ones were planted in a circle around them. Again, the plants in the middle were hand pollinated with pollen from those in the circle. Byles repeated this process for the next 6 years until he had created a stable variety that met his needs. After that, he never grew another type of tomato. The resulting variety became known as the Radiator Charlie's Tomato and soon established itself as being very desirable. Every spring, gardeners from as far away as 200 miles away came to buy tomato seedlings from Radiator Charlie for the rather substantial price of $1.00.

Radiator Charlie sold so many of his new tomato plants over the next few years that the profits paid off the $6000 mortgage on his home! After that, the tomato variety became forever known as Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato! In 1985, Radiator Charlie shared some of his seed with the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which formally introduced his tomato to the general public.  Ever since then, it has been a very desirable tomato variety. Radiator Charlie" Byles died at the ripe old age of 97.

Wildflowers on the High Bridge State Park Trail

Do you and your garden have the summer blahs? Do you yearn for colorful blooms that don't require much attention? Then let's take a walk on the new High Bridge Trail from the River Road parking lot out to the historic old bridge. Mother Nature's garden along the trail is packed with color -- white, purple, yellow, blue and orange. Many of these plants are beautiful and have interesting stories associated with them.
Passion flower
All along the east-bound side of the trail you'll find lots of creeping vines bearing unique looking round white flowers with purple fringes. These are maypops or passion flowers, which are much loved by hummingbirds, bats, and bumblebees. Early settlers used the fruit to make jam. Spanish missionaries, however, had a more unique use for the plant. They used the various parts of the flower to explain the last days of Christ to converts. They were the first to use the name passion flower.
Field or pasture thistle
On the west-bound side of the trail, there are numerous pasture thistles bearing bright pink or lavender blooms. Because of their spiny leaves, thistles have suffered from bad PR since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and God said “Cursed be the ground because of you. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you.” Early American settlers, however, found that the down from the dried flowers was excellent for stuffing quilts and that honey made from thistle nectar was especially tasty.
Black-eyes Susans
There are also black-eyed Susans, butterfly weeds, chicory, Queen Anne's lace, pokeweeds, and yarrow on both sides of the trail. With their yellow “petals” and black/brown cone-shaped centers, black-eyed Susans are one of the most widely recognized and beloved wildflowers. Blooming from May until frost, they have one of the longest bloom periods of our native plants. The name comes from a song that was popular in 18th century London: “All in the dawn the fleet was moored, the streamers waving to the wind, when black-eyed Susan came on board.” The black-eyed Susan is a native of the western plains and was accidentally spread to the East through contaminated clover seed.

Butterfly weed
The bright orange-flowered butterfly weed has many names, including pleurisy root and chigger weed. It is most commonly called butterfly weed because of its ability to attract many types of butterflies, such as monarchs, swallowtails, and coppers. In fact, the Delaware Indians called it “the plant where butterflies alight.” Butterfly weed has a deep taproot that enables the plant to withstand long periods of drought. It is a very popular bedding plant in Europe and England.
Chicory, which is a common roadside plant, adds a dash of bright blue to Mother Nature's garden. It is a native of Europe where the tender young leaves are very popular as salad greens and the root is roasted and mixed with coffee or used as a coffee substitute. In Belgium, the plant is still considered a cash crop. Chicory was probably introduced here as a hay crop in the 1700s. Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello and wrote to George Washington that it was “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have” to feed cattle and makes “tolerable” salads.

Queen Anne's lace
White blooming Queen Anne's lace, or wild carrot, is another European import that grows in just about any sunny spot from June to October. The plant has feathery leaves and tiny white flowers that form lacy, flat clusters. Each cluster has one tiny reddish-purple floweret in the center. This floweret is sterile and its sole purpose is to attract insects with its color. Scientists have observed a variety of insects on a single Queen Anne's lace plant, including bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles and flies. After the flower heads die, they curl up to form bird's nest shapes that eventually fall off and distribute seeds as they are blown about by the wind. According to legend, Queen Anne's lace was named for the English queen who was an excellent lace maker. When she pricked her finger, a single drop of blood stained the lace, thus the dark floret at the center of the lacy head.

Pokeweed is a tall plant that has reddish-green stalks and tiny, almost insignificant, white flowers with green centers that look like miniature tomatoes. These little flowers, however, are masters at attracting insects. Each flower has striations that appear very prominent to insects' eyes and lead them directly to the pollen. The flowers are followed by bright purple berries. Pokeweed has been much loved as a food source in the South. Early settlers gathered the plant's tender leaves and boiled them with bacon fat to make “poke sallet.” Harlan, Kentucky still hosts an annual Poke Sallet Festival and the governor is charged with protecting the annual crop. During the 1700s, the Portuguese used the juice of the berries to enhance the color of their red wines.

Yarrow adds another touch of white to Mother Nature's garden along the trail. It has very feathery almost fernlike leaves that first appear during the warm days in early March. The shoots are curly and, according to the Chippewas, look like squirrel tails. By July, the plant has become tall, sturdy, and decorated with numerous umbrels or clusters of white flowers, which help ensure the plant's survival by attracting insects. Another survival mechanism is the plant's strong camphor-like scent, which repels Japanese beetles and other chewing insects. In fact, this scent is so strong that it protects nearby plants also.
Wildflowers are nature's decorations - there to remind us to slow down and enjoy what's around us. So - the next time you're stressed or just have the midsummer gardening blahs, head out to the High Bridge Trail and enjoy Mother Nature's spectacular display of yellow, white, blue, orange, and pink flowers.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Visit Virginia Gardens for Great Ideas

Mock Orange Bloom at Old Lynchburg Cemetery

Do you need new design ideas to add some pizzazz to your garden?  Maybe some different plant combinations?  Would you like to see what plants thrive in this area and what conditions are best for them?  Well, a fun way to learn about gardening is to visit gardens!

 Virginia is a gardening paradise. It has an abundance of public gardens to visit. And many of the finest private gardens are open to the public during Historic Garden Week each April. Let’s talk about a few of these gardens.

Dovecote at Old Lynchburg Cemetery
Some of the earliest gardens in America were in cemeteries. An example is Old City Cemetery Museums and Arboretum in Lynchburg.  It is a 26-acre rehabilitated public cemetery established in 1806. Here you can see hundreds of historical plantings including rare trees, a lotus pond, a butterfly garden, a shrub garden and a superb collection of antique roses. 

Another must-see Lynchburg garden is the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum.   “This small garden is half my world…” the famed Harlem Renaissance poet wrote about her charming, colorful garden.  Her garden cottage, set among the flowers, served as her writing retreat.

Also in Lynchburg is Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, his magnificent octagonal villa retreat with its surrounding ornamental gardens.  Agricultural fields, orchards, and vegetable gardens were part of the original 4,000 acre plantation.  Ongoing archaeological work and restoration add to the historical experience of a visit.

Other gardens of interest in the Lynchburg area include: the Bliss Botanical Garden at Randolph College with many rare plants, the Miller-Clayton House Garden designed by famed Virginia landscape architect Charles Gillette, the Awareness Garden, honoring those whose lives have been touched by cancer, and the Appalachian Power Arboretum’s display of 60 botanically labeled trees suitable for planting beneath utility lines. All are hardy, beautiful, and available in the marketplace
Lady Jean's Garden House at Prestwould Plantation
The passionate green thumb of Lady Jean Skipwith lives on in the gardens of Prestwould Plantation in Clarksville.  You can stroll pathways that crisscross the garden beds laid out on a grid, and visit the octagonal summer house where Lady Jean spent hours recording in her garden journals during the late 1700’s. 

In Chase City the MacCallumMore Museum and Gardens features a fountain copied from one at the Alhambra, as well as, other items and ideas brought back from European travels by an aide to President Truman.  There are also a rose garden, an herb garden, a pink garden and a white garden. 
Orchids in Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond features an 11,000 square foot domed conservatory with orchids and tropical plants.  Also, a sunken garden, perennial garden, healing garden, conifer garden, and a rose garden.  There is a children’s garden with a tree house and a Japanese Garden.  The garden provides a learning experience in garden design and plant identification from well-labeled plants of many varieties.

Other public gardens in Richmond: Maymont Garden, an elegant, Gilded Age 100 acre estate with garden influences from all over the world; and Agecroft Hall, a late 15th century house moved from England and rebuilt on the banks of the James River.  It features a Tudor garden and a knot garden. And, of course not to forget, the Virginia House Gardens of the Virginia Historical Society combine 16th century Italian and English styles of gardening and are open by appointment.

Monticello Seen from the Flower Walk
Virginia’s love affair with gardening goes back to its earliest roots.  The Jamestown Settlement recreates how the first settlers and Virginia Indians grew their food.  Soon gardening became an aesthetic pastime. The James River Plantations and presidential homes, such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, and Gunston Hall, as well as  Colonial Williamsburg all have wonderful gardens to visit for time tested ideas on gardening. George Washington took great interest in the layout and management of his estate at Mount Vernon.  His design made use of axial lines inspired by baroque ideas.  But since he owned a copy of Langley’s New Principles of Gardening, he was influenced by Augustan Style as well.  As you can see, even our first president got inspiration from other gardeners. 

Thomas Jefferson designed his gardens at Monticello using ideas from well-known designers in England during the late 18th century.  Jefferson had been a keen horticulturist since his teen years and continually experimented with new plants including vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals.  There is much to see and learn at Monticello.

April 20 – 27, 2013 is the 80th Historic Garden Week in Virginia.  It is the oldest and largest statewide event of its kind in the nation.  From the Atlantic to the Blue Ridge, 191 private home and garden owners offer their hospitality.  Public and historic gardens will also be included.  The proceeds from the 8 days of America’s largest open house will be used to restore and preserve historic landmarks in Virginia.

So much to see; so much gardening information to learn; and such a fun way to learn.  Visit some of the beautiful gardens in Virginia! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Urban Farming: A Growing Phenomenon

Urban farming----urban and farming are two concepts that just don’t seem to fit together. Where are the extensive land holdings? Where’s the massive machinery? How about livestock? An urban farm is certainly not our historical picture of a farm. And yet, the largest growing segment in the farming census is that group of farms of 10 acres or less. Many of these farms are two acres and under.

Where are these urban farms? You may not find one in Manhattan, but visit the other boroughs of New York City and you’ll find some. Look to Detroit where urban decay has opened up vacant lots suitable for growing. Look around D.C., in Phoenix, outside of Richmond, and even in Lynchburg, Va. and you’ll find urban farms and market gardens.

 There’s a TV program called Growing a Greener World with the dot com address of the same name that documents urban farms on the outskirts of Manhattan. The old rose greenhouses near Lynchburg stadium are now occupied by a group called Lynchburg Grows. This group is refurbishing the old greenhouses, growing market crops, and employing disadvantaged workers. 

Successful urban farms by necessity are intensive farms. Close planting in raised beds, trellises, and small scale livestock operations all play into a successful urban farm. Aquaculture, the raising of rabbits, chickens for meat or eggs, and even the raising of earthworms can be important components of an urban farm. Enhancing fertility and maintaining that fertility are of utmost importance to a successful operation.

Where is the best place to locate an urban farm? As with real estate, it’s location, location, location. In Edmund Morris’ 1864 book, “Ten Acres Enough”, Mr. Morris documents his attempts at market gardening in New Jersey just across from New York City. A large population and access to horse manure were the key components of his success. Today’s modern means of transportation allow us some flexibility in location, but access to people still remains a foremost consideration.

Farmer’s markets have exploded over the last decade. This one factor has lead to the success of more market farmers and gardeners than any other one single event. These markets bring together a wide array of sale items in one location making these markets attractive places to purchase the freshest, most unique produce items available. Most markets offer reasonable rents, social activities for customers, and unique sales opportunities for vendors. The addition of on-farm stands, CSA’s, local restaurant sales, and wholesale outlets offer urban farmers many outlets for success.

How do you define success? Success may be supplemental income derived from one-eighth acre of land. A husband and wife might define success as a livable income from a couple of acres of vegetables and flowers. Or, a number of individuals might develop multiple acres over several sites with a di-versified marketing approach. Dollars and cents success was documented from a Maryland couple at a Virginia State University farm conference. The couple lamented that their previous year’s income was seriously impacted by both drought and unusually high summer temperatures. That year they were only able to generate $30,000 per acre income from their two acre operation.

A successful urban farm must sell high value items. A successful urban farm can increase their income by selling value added items in their sales mix. What are high value items? Lettuce, beans, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries come to mind. Two of the biggest money makers are tomatoes and squash, especially if you can bring these items to market prior to the normal sell dates for your market. High tunnel production, low tunnel protection, along with row covers and mulch now make it possible to beat the earliest marketing dates on many locally grown products. Corn is a low profit item and may be better purchased for resale to meet your customer demands. Value added items like jams, jellies, baked goods, floral arrangements, and Christmas decorations offer opportunities for higher incomes.

Eliot Coleman is a market gardener, inventor, and author growing products for market year-round in Maine. If you’re seriously considering growing for a profit, look him up on line or check out his “how to” books on most bookseller websites. Now, if crops can be grown year-round in Maine, we certainly have no excuse here in zone seven.

Eight billion and millions more each year------that’s the number of mouths that agriculture needs to feed worldwide. The U.N. estimates that we will need to double our food production in the next 40 years. High fuel prices, high fertilizer prices, rapid loss of good agricultural land to development, increased water demand for a host of reasons----this is not the picture we would like to see. As negative as these things are, urban farming offers a brighter side.
Visit any agricultural conference where Farmer’s markets are discussed and you’ll soon discover that the most successful ones are close to or in metropolitan areas. Remember, we discussed population being a real plus way back in 1864. The same is true today. With an urban farm, the population is right at your doorstep.

Conventional U.S. and worldwide farming is barely keeping up with food demands. We have more hunger than ever before right here in this country; let alone worldwide. Some of our food problems are logistical. Some of our food problems are political. All of our food problems are population driven.
Urban farmers will never compete with the corn, wheat, rice, or soybean farmers. What the urban farmer can do is take some of the production pressure off our commodity farmers. It’s sort of like the Victory Gardens of World War II where, by the end of the war, these gardens were producing around a third of our food needs for the entire country.

What are some of the pluses and minuses of urban farming? Number one on the plus side is, of course, population. Dense populations provide both good markets and available labor. Lots of buildings mean a lot of square footage for collecting rainwater. Many homeowners have the space but not the inclination to use it. Here’s your chance to perhaps make an agreement to use this space for a small percentage of the produce. Beginning farmers can start small and grow their business without giving up their current employment. Raw material for composting may be available just for the asking and supplies are usually more quickly available in urban areas.

On the downside, you have no way of knowing all of the former uses of a given property. Soil testing is a must! Lead paint was used for years and this buildup is especially bad in older residential areas. Old manufacturing sites offer up their own set of problems. To overcome many of these problems, consider growing above the ground in raised beds by bringing in fresh soil or new compost. Open space may be limited requiring you to use a number of different locations for your enterprise.
Urban farming, intense planting, organic gardening, moveable greenhouses, the farm to fork movement, and the list goes on as farmers and gardeners look for another way. People need food---and lots of it. Demand can only increase. Start small, grow from your own resources, and think outside the box. You just might be the one to fit all the pieces into a very profitable urban farming system. 

For more information about Lynchburg Grows, see:

For information about urban farming in Richmond, Virginia, see: Urban Farms: Cultivating Change - City Life.

The Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle: Invasion of the aliens

Asian multicolored lady beetle
Image: Iowa State University Entomology Image Gallery

Has your home been invaded by ladybugs (lady beetle) those cute beetles that smell vile when disturbed and that seem able to get through the tiniest of cracks? Read on to learn more about where they came from and what to do about them.

The Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)came into this country through several routes and is both a good lady and a bad lady.  As early as 1916, this insect was introduced in California by the United States Department of Agriculture to help control insect pests in trees. Lady beetles also eat aphids. During the 1970s and 1980s, planned releases of tens of thousands of beetles continued on the East coast of the United States and Canada. There are also indications that the beetle entered the country through the ports of New Orleans and Seattle. 

In the fall, many of us find lots of the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle congregating on our windows, under the shingles on our roofs, in our attics, and in other warm spots.  On warm, sunny days, they invade our homes, crunch under foot, drop into our food and generally make nuisances of themselves. When these little critters are disturbed, they defend themselves by exuding a yellow-orange body fluid that has a foul odor and can stain walls, drapes, carpeting, etc.   In addition, some individuals seem to be allergic to this body fluid and develop contact dermatitis or respiratory allergies.  

What to do?  

  • Seal all cracks, crevices and other possible points of entry.  
  • If they still get inside, use your vacuum cleaner to collect them. Cut a leg (about 10 inches from toe up) from a pair of panty hose and put it inside the vacuum cleaner hose; secure the panty hose leg with a rubber band and then vacuum.
  • Remove the panty hose, seal it, and dispose of it OR put the panty hose in a jar and store it in a cool place until spring when you can release the beetle so that they can help eat aphids.

The good and the bad beetle

When these lady beetles first appeared in Virginia in 1993, state agricultural specialists were not particularly concerned about them.  While they were definitely nuisances for many homeowners, they also ate aphids and other soft bodied insects that harmed trees. Since then, however, new field studies have shown that the adults feed on peaches, apples, raspberries, and grapes, especially when they have been slightly damaged.  Perhaps even more importantly, they have been termed a devastating contaminant in wine production throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States.  The beetles are often present on grapes when they are harvested, and are difficult to remove.  The beetles get crushed with the grapes and contribute their distinctive foul odor to the wine.

For more information, see: and also:

The Emerald Ash Borer: a Major Threat

(Photo: USDA)

Emerald ash borers are beautiful but destructive, and they've been found in Virginia. Continue reading to learn more about how they got here and what you can do to protect your trees.

Yes, it's true. We've been invaded by aliens. Lots of them, in fact. No, not the green ones with three heads and flashing eyes, but small multicolored ones with six legs. they don't arrive from another galaxy in saucer shaped spaceships, just by regular transportation from another country. Usually on a shipment of produce, such as tropical fruit, in wooden packing materials. the most popular ports of entry for these six legged aliens are the Lost Angeles area and New York/Newark. These aliens are arriving and staying at the rate of two+ new species every year. 

Once here, they don’t have as many natural predators as they did back home, so they become an alien menace, seriously threatening local ecosystems and the economy.  For example, the emerald ash borer ( Agrilus Planipennis Fairmaire) is a small, beautiful, jewel toned beetle native to Asia and Russia.  It entered this country in 2002 and promptly became known as the “green menace” because it has girdled and killed tens of millions of ash trees, resulting in damages of up to $20 billion.  First identified in Michigan and Ontario, Canada, it has now spread to 15 states, including Maryland and Virginia, where it has now spread throughout the state.

In urban areas the pest is most commonly spread through firewood where it can remain for quite some time.  There is also some evidence that the emerald ash borer can be spread through nursery stock and possibly mulch.  Because the borer is particularly attracted to the wave length of the color purple, some municipalities have blanketed their areas with distinctive looking purple traps. 
How can you tell if your trees are infested?  Look for small D shaped holes in the bark of your trees.  These holes are where the adult beetles have exited.  If you notice an unusually high level of woodpecker activity in your area that may also be an indication that the beetles are present since the birds like to feast on emerald ash borer larvae.

What to do?  Call your local extension agent’s office to confirm the infestation and get information on potential treatment of the pests.

For more information, see:

The Virginia Department of Forestry also has information on the emerald ash borer:

To take a free, on-line course on the emerald ash borer, click here:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cotesia congregata

We all love tomatoes and are horrified when we find hornworms lurking about in our plants. One of our members not only found hornworms, but hornworms covered with tiny white “things.” Oh horrors! 

These “things” are the larvae of Cotesia congregata, a tiny beneficial parasitoid wasp. The wasp lays its eggs under the skin of a hornworm. As they hatch, the larvae feed on the hornworm’s insides and then chew their way through the hornworm’s skin. They then pupate or spin tiny oval cocoons all along the back and sides of the unfortunate hornworm, which eventually weakens and dies. 

The result: fewer hornworms and more tomatoes for us. So...if you see a hornworm covered with  tiny white ovals, rest assured that you’re about to find one less hornworm in your garden.

The Millbrook Rose

Located off Evans Mill Road in Buckingham County, Virginia, is the site of Millbrook Plantation, home of John Wales Eppes, a son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson. Eppes was a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and active in Virginia politics. After his wife Maria died shortly after the birth of their third child, Eppes moved to Millbrook, his tobacco plantation. The  house at Millbrook was subsequently destroyed by fire, but a graveyard and possibly the foundation of a greenhouse survive.

In the early 1990s, representatives of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants visited Millbrook. They found a rose bush surviving in the graveyard and carried cuttings back to the Center for study and propagation. The rose is a hybrid Gallica and is called the Millbrook Rose.

About four years ago, while at an antique rose propagation workshop at the Center, a Heart of Virginia Master Gardener who lives on Evans Mill Road was given a small offshoot of the rose. The rose is growing in her garden and seems happy to be home again on Evans Mill Road.

Winterizing the Garden Pond

When the plants in your water garden begin to die back, it's time to get your garden ready for cold weather. Read on for more information about which plants can survive, what to do to care for them during the winter, how to care for fish, and much more. A water garden can still be beautiful during winter.

As your water garden plants begin to have more spent leaves than new leaves, it’s time to think about winterizing the garden pond. Water lettuce and water hyacinth aren’t winter hardy in this area and don’t hold over well. As freezing temperatures make these plants unacceptable looking, remove them from your water garden and add them to the compost bin. Non hardy aquatic plants that can be wintered over as house plants should be removed from ponds or tub gardens and brought inside. Hardy plants in pots can usually stay where they have been all summer. Lowering them to the pond bottom isn’t necessary unless winter temperatures cause the pond to freeze below the rim of the pots. Hardy plants most sensitive to freezing are pickerel rush, Thalia, and arrowhead. These can be lowered to the bottom of the pond or covered with deeper water. 

Hardy water lilies should be left at their normal pond depth.  Remove stems and leaves of plants as they turn yellow. Don’t prune any new foliage growth that is initiated during the winter and stop any fertilization practices during the winter months. Some plants that have interesting foliage can be left un-pruned for dried texture while the pond is dormant.

Here in Central Virginia, fall weather means falling leaves. Keeping the pond clean can be as simple as the occasional removal of leaves from the pond’s surface. Once the leaves sink to the bottom of the water garden, they are more difficult to remove. Lots of decomposing leaves use extra oxygen and can lead to water quality problems if the pond freezes over completely. Some folks opt to cover their pond with netting so that the leaves can’t get in. I prefer to keep things natural so the birds can use the pond during the winter months.

A frozen pond isn’t harmful if the pond is relatively clean before it freezes over. The fish remain dormant below the ice right along with the plants, snails, and frogs. Never break the ice by striking the pond! Hitting the ice can burst or damage the air bladders of the fish causing death. Melt through the ice using hot water poured in a pan placed on the ice if you feel you must have an opening during extended frozen periods. To prevent the pond from freezing over completely, keep the water moving by operating the pump throughout the winter. You can usually run the waterfall during freezing weather, but you should disconnect statuary or fountain nozzles and direct the water flow from the pump straight up toward the surface. If electricity is interrupted during freezing weather, you’ll have to wait until the tubing thaws to turn the system on again. Remove pumps from above ground tub gardens.

Don’t feed fish during the winter or at any time the water temperature is below 40 degrees. Once winter is almost over and water temperatures reach 40-55 degrees, feed with wheat-germ food only. Use regular fish food once the water temperatures climb into the upper 50s.

Garden ponds can be beautiful during the winter months. If you operate the waterfall during the winter, you may see interesting ice formations created where water splashed and builds up. Watch for wildlife, especially birds, enjoying your pond.