Wordless Wednesday–Be Kind to Pollinators


What on earth is this? Obviously it’s a root ball. It’s actually a house plant that I had taken out of a pot and was getting ready to discard because it was too scale infested to keep.

Whenever I lecture on indoor gardening, I always get the question about hitchhiking pests. Usually I tell the story about bringing in the baby bird by accident, and then I say that after that incident, I never really worry about anything else I might bring in. If I find an earth worm or something else in the plant, I am usually delighted and if I find beetles, I just take them outside for the birds.

What you really can’t see here–the camera couldn’t focus well enough–was a colony of tiny ants. They were living in the plant in my house and I never knew it. This happens quite frequently, actually. They never come out of the plant. They make happy little homes–colonies, I suppose–in the root ball of the plant, and I am never the wiser until I go to transplant it.

In this case, the “white dots” you see are what I believe to be the nurse ants. I am not an entomologist by any stretch of the imagination. But these ants were moving the white matter about and were quite perturbed that I was disturbing them.

So, rather than hurling this plant onto the compost heap, I just gently laid it down next to it to give the ants time to disburse and to find a new home outside–and well away from my house.

As it turns out, the compost pile is quite near my shade garden. Perhaps someday, these ants will pollinate some of the native plants there. One can only hope.



Easy Pre-Planted Containers Redux

About 10 days ago, I had a photo from a box store of an urn planted with a hibiscus standard and some annuals beneath it. I said in that post that I was worried that the annuals beneath the hibiscus would want a combination of  sun and at least part-shade and therefore would struggle. You can read the post and see the photo here if you’d like.


Two weeks later the Spoiler and I were back at the same box store. We found this container with a similar mix of annuals. But by the time he saw me looking at it, it was all over. He really fell in love with the colors. As for me, being the practical sort, the cost of the container with the annuals was less than it would have been for me to buy the far fewer annuals that I usually buy to plant the pot I usually plant up for this spot. So if a few wind up fading–or need to be relocated–that’s okay too.


Two days later than that, I was at a large nursery where they grow all their own stock. I found this container that seemed to be bright and cheery. I would have preferred it without the verbena (the red plant) which always gets powdery mildew for me–but hope springs eternal. It’s been two very dry years so perhaps it won’t this year. And if it does, I’ll try the milk and water spray to keep it down. If not, it’ll cut it out of the arrangement. No need to have a ratty looking plant in this basket all summer.

Usually I plant my own containers so we’ll see how these pre-planted ones do. I am still going to do a few of my own. I can’t just stop gardening completely that way. It’s just not me!

If You Can’t Beat It, Eat It?

Foraging has come back into vogue (if indeed it every went out of style) and one of the “trendiest” plants to eat is the invasive plant garlic mustard (alliaria petiolata). I started to read about this just about the time I started my blog in 2010 and it has now exploded online with recipes for garlic mustard pesto (most commonly) and garlic mustard horseradish made from the roots of the plant (most recently. The plant has a long tap root so I can see that it would be good for this).

I have been in a somewhat winning battle with garlic mustard on my property–I just about think I have it all and the stuff comes roaring back from somewhere. I was shocked to find a patch this large when I went to take my photos! But that’s why it’s an invasive, right? Still, I have knocked it back substantially from when I first realized that it was running amok on our property and I now try to keep at least the second year (flowering) plants ripped out so that they don’t create more plants. My neighbors do not do the same which is why I fear I can’t completely eradicate it (that, and the fact that I don’t dig up all the first year rosettes, meaning I will have plants every year for many years).


Garlic mustard is a bienniel, meaning the first year it forms a harmless looking little rosette. You can easily overlook it. These are the rosettes. Just perfect for pesto. I think this patch formed when we removed a bunch of invasive brambles last year. So we traded one invasive for another, apparently.


The following year it sends up a flower stalk  and then flowers and sets seed. That’s when it’s most important to get it out, if you’re only going to do it once and do it before it goes to seed! This is the flower stalk. Luckily I didn’t find too many of these.

But if you’re going to make pesto, why not get the tender, first year rosettes and save the trouble of letting the plant flower at all?

And since this is a gardening blog, not a cooking one, I will let you all seek the recipes for pesto and horse radish out there on the web. I haven’t tried any myself so I can’t recommend one. Just make sure, whatever you do, that you have properly identified the plant (as always) and that it hasn’t been sprayed with anything. Then enjoy!

Wordless Wednesday


It’s finally spring at my house.  A week of temperatures right where they should have been has made my perennials bloom–finally!


The above two plants are both ajugas. The first is planted in the ground and this one–so far–lives in this hypertufa trough. This is its second season there.


This is a double Knockout rose. I had it for one of my lectures.  I particularly like the way it looks with the blue glass spiral. It won’t stay here all summer but for now, it’s nice.

The Right Tool Makes Everything Better

After an extremely dry 15 months, we had some rain the first week of May. It didn’t help the plants along as much as I would have hoped. Of course, what it did help along were the weeds.

Even without the rain, I think the weeds would have been sprouting. Our last two summers were very dry and yet there were still weeds. Perhaps the weeding wasn’t quite as much of a chore as it would normally be in a year with an average amount of rainfall but weeds will always be with us.


That’s why it’s important to stay ahead of them and it’s important to have the correct tools. One of the best tools I ever invested in was something called a Cape Cod Weeder. You can see it here in a “before” photo with weeds in the crack of my slate walkway.


And here is the result–weeds removed from two of the cracks of the walkway.  This tool is fabulous because it can get into narrow spots that a lot of other tools, like my beloved Cobrahead™ weeder, can’t for example.


The Cobrahead™ will make quick work of a patch of weeds like this: just a fast slice under the soil and these weeds are gone. I just lift them away with a minimum of soil disruption. And that’s the key: the less the soil is disrupted the better because the more the soil is disrupted the more you risk bringing new weed seeds to the surface and the more you risk ruining all the “good stuff” you have done with your soil. You don’t want to disrupt your beneficial bacteria and nematodes or earthworms.

So the right tool for the job makes everything faster, easier and better.  And weeding becomes something that might even be enjoyable–or at least not something to dread. And never something for herbicides!

Evidence of a Warmer Winter

It’s been a warm winter. With the exception of the month of April (which ran almost 2 full degrees colder than normal–now there’s a switch!), January through March were exceptionally warm. I don’t think that’s news to anyone. It followed an exceptionally warm December with temperatures near 60 at Christmastime! Craziness!

So it should be no surprise to me that my pests and diseases are on an accelerated schedule this year. Insects that I normally expect to see at Memorial day are showing up a full 3 weeks earlier despite the fact that it’s been so cold and raw for the month of April and early May. Interesting how that works.


The first insect I was shocked to see on May 6 was the larva of the pine sawyer. This black headed larva looks like a caterpillar and would decimate my mugo pine if I weren’t careful to notice its arrival. As it was, by the time I noticed what was happening, I had to prune off several dead shoots. That means the little critters had been ahppily munching away for some time already.

A spray of insecticidal soap (in the evening, after the sun leaves the plant, and after it’s cooler–not a problem for us right now, but for those of you with this problem where it might be warm. You don’t want to ever spray anything when the temperatures are above 80 degrees F) takes care of the living creatures but check back. More may hatch.

And sadly, my birds don’t seem to like these.

Also note, neem is not effective since these are not caterpillars!


See the faint markings on these rose leaves? Evidence of yet another sawfly larva, this time the rose sawfly larva. Again, this is usually a “Memorial Day” problem. Insects are getting a head start this year. When I saw the larva on the mugo pine, I thought I ahd better check the roses, and I was right, sadly!

This year I am removing my beloved David Austins. They are too disease and insect prone for me to keep them. Or as I put it in my “Easy Care Roses” lecture, they require too many “inputs.” One of the reasons they have to go is just this problem.

So I will be pulling them out this week, letting the garden remain empty during the life cycle of this nasty pest (except for the roses that are already there that don’t get this pest–we’ll see if they move) and then I’ll plant some easy care roses there like the Drift™ series.


This is the reverse side of the leaf. The tiny white “dots” you see along the mail mid-rib of the two leaves on the right two leaflets in the photo are tiny sawfly larva. Hard to believe that those little critters–which will grow into longer green caterpillar-like pests almost the identical color of the leaf–can do so much damage as to almost skeletonize the leaf, isn’t it?

So there you have it. My pests are very early this year–3-4 weeks earlier than they should be. Perhaps yours are as well. Get into the garden and have a look around!

Wordless Wednesday–Easy Pre-planted Containers–or Are They?


The Spoiler asked me if I was going to shame this big box seller when he saw me taking these photos.  That’s not my intention.  I  told him this was a “teaching moment. ”

I originally stopped to look at these planters because I liked them. They were bold and colorful and had a nice mix of blooming plants. Why wouldn’t I like that?

Then I noticed an issue.  The hibiscus standard is clearly going to want full sun, as are the marigolds and the dusty miller.

Everything else in that container is only going to want partial sun–the impatiens,  the variegated ivy, and there is a sweet potato vine that will take either sun or part shade (not visible in my photo).

So while I suspect that the container could be managed–put the impatiens side toward the house side, thereby giving it more shade, for example–this is just an example of why you either really need to know what you’re getting when you buy from a place that is not a garden center or you need to plan on perhaps replanting some things if you don’t.