Wordless Wednesday


This small aster, a native, is growing out of a crack in my driveway between the driveway and a stone wall.  Above it, there are yellowing leaves of Virginia Creeper.  They should be a brilliant scarlet this time of year but the drought has affected everything.  The aster should also be about 3′ tall.


One of the few small trees still performing as it should.  Notice how even the hostas beneath it are wilted. This is a witch hazel.


The last of the late season hydrangeas,  this is a species paniculata grandiflora.


And finally the last of the tomatoes.  These were picked October 22, definitely the latest I have ever picked tomatoes.  The variety is Sun Gold.





Are Your Evergreens Doing This?


If your evergreens look as sad as as the one in this photo,  you might be understandably concerned. I have a few things to say about this.

First,  are you gardening in a drought area? If so, try not to stress. Because while this amount of yellowing is NOT normal on an evergreen,  if you have been gardening in a drought area, this could be normal for you this year.

All evergreens shed needles, roughly 1/3 of their needles each year.  That’s perfectly normal.  But trees under stress, such as drought stress, are likely to shed additional needles.

So what should you do?  Keep the tree watered. Deep irrigation is better than a few little soaks with a garden hose.

Don’t fertilize. Don’t add to the tree’s stress by fertilizing . That holds true for any plant, or even a drought stressed lawn.

And finally understand natural cycles and what is “normal ” and what isn’t.  That should help you feel better if your evergreens–either broadleaf or needled–suddenly have yellow needles or leaves.

Space Invaders


No, this is not some weird, pixilated version of fall foliage. It’s actually a great shot of a window screen with, of all things, one of those pesky fall invaders that are just looking to make a nice home inside your home.

This is the Western Conifer Seed Bug, a leaf footed bug (see how its back two feet have what look to be sort of protuberances on them? They are designed to mimic leaves).

This bug is an invasive species in my part of the world but other than finding its way into homes, it doesn’t seem to do a lot of damage where I live–it’s not like the Emerald Ash Borer or the Asian Longhorned Beetle both of which actually kill trees.

And once they’re inside, they seem to be fairly dumb and slow for a bug. This is one of the ones I always catch and throw outside for the birds. Then again, I’ve never stopped to ask what bugs think of us?

More About Fall and Pollinators

On Friday, I talked about the importance of leaving some leaves in the garden to help wildlife.

I said that it would even help over-wintering pollinators. This is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. Too many people think that once there has been a frost or a freeze, everything is “dead” in the garden. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Those of us who are long time bird feeders know that there is still lots of life in the garden in the presence of birds. And even though I have had to abandon my feeders for fear of bears (I will still toss out a small handful of seed in the morning for my friends, however!), I still have lots of birds–and believe me, it’s not the because of the few sunflower seeds I am providing.

When I lecture on house plants, I often joke that if I find an over-wintering grub or beetle, I will take it outside and toss it, calling to the birds, “fresh meat!” But really, they don’t need me. There are plenty of over-wintering insects, spiders and even natives bees right out in the gardens. That’s really why the birds are there. They just amuse us by coming to our feeders too.

I learned this first hand one winter when a tree-mounted feeder came down in a storm. I waded out in thigh deep snow drifts to put it back. What I was so surprised to find  were several beetles and a couple of spiders nestled in the crevices of the bark of the tree where the feeder had been. I guess they had been protected under the feeder.

We of course know that many of our native bees are solitary. They may burrow into the ground for cover over the winter or, in the case of orchard mason bees, find a twig or stick to call home. I can’t tell you how many bees I have dug up in the early spring when I am planting. But they are very docile–I have never been stung. And I always feel terrible when it happens–sort of like the snake incident I described Friday.

And I am always disturbing spiders in the garden as well. I feel less terrible about that but I have an uneasy relationship with spiders. I know they are the “good guys,” but they still are creepy to me.  Still, I never kill them–I just make sure I see where they are going so I don’t come upon them again.

Ground beetles are the same way. They are doing good work in the garden and need to be left alone.

So as we enter into this “quiet” season in our “northern” gardens, don’t think of them as dormant at all. There’s lots going on out there. If you’re adventurous enough, you can even get out there and find it!

Thought About Your Pollinators Lately?

I haven’t done as much with pollinators on the blog this year as I do some years. Some years I feature different pollinators every day for Pollinator Week (in June) or I talk about native plants for pollinators or have some other theme going. I think this year the overwhelming chore of trying to keep things alive in our drought sort of put me off my game.

But as our season winds up here in the northeast, and folks bring out their huge, gas guzzling, ear splitting leaf blowing machines, this is the perfect time to think about pollinators.

Where do they go? They’re not all monarchs, you know, that fly hundreds of miles to hibernate. Lots of them stay right on your property–or they would if you didn’t insist on blowing them to the curb or bagging them up with your leaves.

I am a raker (or I was prior to this year). I will never forget raking my wildlife garden and raking up a lovely 3 foot long snake. Because it was cool, the snake was rather docile, although I didn’t take the time to examine it too closely. I simply took the rake and placed it right back where I found it and stopped raking right that minute! Clearly the snake was using the leaves as cover from birds of prey.

Not everyone is so calm around snakes–I am lucky that they don’t bother me. But that’s just one example of the native wildlife that uses your leaf litter to hibernate.

Not all of us can have large piles of leaf litter on our property. For one thing, the neighbors might object, or the town. But smaller piles in an out of the way corner might work for most of us, particularly if those piles are tucked into a corner of a garden bed.

How is this going to help pollinators? In lots of ways! Native insects and butterflies will use the litter to overwinter. Birds will also use those leaves, come spring, to line their nests. Many birds nest before the trees fully leaf out. The leaves will act as a type of mulch, insulating the ground as well.

Think of the forest ecosystem and the important roles fallen leaves play there. And this fall, find a spot for a small pile of fallen leaves in your yard.

Wordless Wednesday


I know that I have talked before about what a rare year it’s been–snake plants that haven’t bloomed before, succulents blooming that haven’t, etc. But this is an orchid that has only bloomed twice in the ten years I’ve owned it (what does that say about my level of patience for house plants, I wonder?)

This orchid has more names than it does flowers. It is Perreira motes Leprechan ‘Haiku Mint.’ I expect because it’s a tropical orchid it needed the extreme heat we had this year to flower for me. But that’s okay. I expect extreme heat is going to be more normal going forward so I will be seeing more flowers.