Author: Zidack, Heather

Tips on Selecting a Flowering Tree

By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

If there’s a spot for a spring flowering tree in your landscape, now is the time to look at the trees showing off their floral splendor. Do you find one or two particularly appealing. Take note of the various flower colors, tree shapes and sizes. Once you’ve selected an alluring flowering tree or two, do a bit of homework.

Many of the spring flowering trees have several cultivars and they may vary in flower color, leaf variegation, mature height and width, fall color and so on. Pick the one that fits your location. Will the plant be in sun or shade? Is it going to be positioned as a specimen tree or incorporated into a foundation planting or a border? Will it add multi-season interest with attractive foliage, fruits or seed pods, or interesting bark? What insect or disease problems is it prone to?

A redbud tree in flower on the UConn Campus
A redbud tree in flower on the UConn Campus. Photo by dmp2024

Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are bursting with blossoms right now, at least on the Storrs campus. The extremely abundant, purple-pink peas shaped blossoms practically cover the tree. At maturity, trees reach about 20 to 30 feet tall with a slightly larger width, ending up in a roundish shape with a flatter top. After flowering, heart-shaped leaves develop while faded blossoms give birth to small, flattened legume seed pods that contrast nicely with the plant’s dark, scaly bark. Cultivars are available with white or more true pink flowers, variegated foliage, weeping forms and attractive fall foliage colors. Redbuds tolerate full to part sun and well-drained soil but avoid hot, dry locations for best establishment and flowering.

Dogwoods are a favorite of many. Their pink, white or red colored bracts dazzle especially in filtered sunlight. Dogwoods are native to the eastern and central United States where they are usually found as an understory tree. Most cultivars grow to about 30 feet in height with about the same width at maturity. The large 4-inch blossoms mature to form shiny red fruit much loved by birds. These exceptionally beautiful plants favor a cool, moist, acidic soil with adequate amounts of organic matter. Dogwoods struggle when faced with heat stress, drought, and pollutants so site carefully.

Another flowering tree that also does best in more natural settings, especially those with moist soils is our native shadbush or serviceberry (Amelancher canadensis). The name, shadbush, comes from the fact that this plant typically blooms when the shad return to fresh water to spawn, usually right about now. This plant can be grown as a single stemmed specimen or a multi-stemmed large shrub. Mature trees reach about 20 feet in height but there are shorter, more shrub-like cultivars. Shadbush sports white flowers in 2-to-3-inch racemes. Dark fruits are attractive to many animals plus both the gold autumn foliage and gray bark are very attractive.

Carolina silverbells in flower.
Carolina silverbells in flower. Photo by dmp2024

A standout for me this time of year is Carolina silverbells (Halesia carolina). A multitude of white, bell-shaped blooms adorn the branches of this 20-to-40-foot tree. Although it is native to southeast U.S., it is hardy to zone 5. Autumn color is not notable, but the tan 4-winged fruit persist well into the winter and stand out against the stark winter landscape and silvery grey bark. Be sure to check out ‘UConn Wedding Bells’, a very floriferous cultivar discovered by UConn Plant Science professor, Dr. Mark Brand. It has a smaller, rounder form with flowers larger than the species.

The star magnolia (M. stellata), as its Latin name implies, is definitely a stellar landscape plant. Gorgeous, lightly fragrant 3-to-4-inch blossoms grace the dense cluster of stems. Mature plants reach up to about 20 feet with a slightly narrower width. Plants do produce red fruits but most drop before they mature. I was delighted to find a seedling after I lost the parent tree in that late October snowstorm we had a number of years ago.

Other worthy spring flowering trees to consider include the flowering crabapples and cherries that have many exciting and lovely cultivars. A great place for information on woody plants is the UConn Plant Database (www.plantdatabase.uconn.edu). If you need more information on selecting a tree or any plant for your landscape or on other gardening topics, feel free to contact us, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at (877) 486-6271, visit our website at www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.

 

Eastern Tent Caterpillars

By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Tents in a tree

Eastern tent caterpillars, Malacosoma Americanum, are native to North America and are noticed mainly because of the silken tents they build in the forks and crotches of trees in early spring. While most tents are found on black cherries, they can also be found on other trees such as apple and crabapple. They are readily visible since tents are constructed before leaves fully expand. There is only one generation per year.

These caterpillars are hairy and dark when small, and later instars have two yellow lines along the back. A white medial stripe goes along the sides of the body, and this is flanked by two yellow lines. There are blue blotches along its side as well. Bottom hairs on the body are rusty brown. Forest tent caterpillars are also hairy, but they do not make tents, and their bodies

are blue with white dots on the back. Handling should be done with gloves on as some people may have sensitivity to the hairs.

Egg masses are black, laid on small branches of host trees the previous year, and the egg mass rings around the branch. Sometimes they are mistaken for small black knot galls. 150-300 eggs may be in each egg mass. Caterpillars typically hatch as black cherry leaves begin to expand the next spring. Caterpillars feed on leaves and buds and rest communally by day in the nests they construct from silk.

While they can almost defoliate small trees, these caterpillars usually have completed their feeding stage in time for the trees to put out new leaves by early summer. The more tents there are on small trees, though, the greater number of caterpillars there are, so damage will increase.

While protected from many predators while inside the tents, there are birds that will tear the tents apart to feed on the caterpillars inside. Both the black-billed and the yellow-billed cuckoos are known for their ability to do this, and native vireos will also seek out and rip apart the tents.

Mature caterpillars leave the host plants in early summer in search of suitable sites to pupate within a silken cocoon they will spin. Moths emerge later that year. The moths have a fluffy light brown body, and the wings have three bands with the center being narrower than the outer bands and a lighter brown in color. The center band is bordered on both sides by thin, creamy bands.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Tents in a tree

Occasionally, eastern tent caterpillars have outbreak years where large numbers of the tents can be seen on the same tree. Fresh buds may also be consumed if trees are severely defoliated. When found on residential properties, tents can be swept apart by rakes or brooms, exposing caterpillars to predators, or knocking them off the trees. If warranted, foliage can be sprayed with a biological product called Bacillis thuringiensis subspecies, Kurstaki, or BtK, which only harms caterpillars and not other insects. Caterpillars will ingest the product as they feed on the foliage.

Most healthy trees can tolerate severe defoliation from eastern tent caterpillars. If concerned, look for egg masses in the winter on trees that had been damaged the previous spring. Remove them, if possible, or crush them, or prune the branch off below where the egg mass is found. Or let them be if the trees appear to have recovered. Letting nature take its course with native insects on native trees can often benefit birds and other predators. Do not confuse them with the notorious gypsy moth caterpillars which do not make silken tents or nests of any kind.

If you have a question about tent caterpillars or other gardening topics, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr,uconn.edu or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

 

 

 

Eastern Tent Caterpillars

By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Tents in a tree

Eastern tent caterpillars, Malacosoma Americanum, are native to North America and are noticed mainly because of the silken tents they build in the forks and crotches of trees in early spring. While most tents are found on black cherries, they can also be found on other trees such as apple and crabapple. They are readily visible since tents are constructed before leaves fully expand. There is only one generation per year.

These caterpillars are hairy and dark when small, and later instars have two yellow lines along the back. A white medial stripe goes along the sides of the body, and this is flanked by two yellow lines. There are blue blotches along its side as well. Bottom hairs on the body are rusty brown. Forest tent caterpillars are also hairy, but they do not make tents, and their bodies

are blue with white dots on the back. Handling should be done with gloves on as some people may have sensitivity to the hairs.

Egg masses are black, laid on small branches of host trees the previous year, and the egg mass rings around the branch. Sometimes they are mistaken for small black knot galls. 150-300 eggs may be in each egg mass. Caterpillars typically hatch as black cherry leaves begin to expand the next spring. Caterpillars feed on leaves and buds and rest communally by day in the nests they construct from silk.

While they can almost defoliate small trees, these caterpillars usually have completed their feeding stage in time for the trees to put out new leaves by early summer. The more tents there are on small trees, though, the greater number of caterpillars there are, so damage will increase.

While protected from many predators while inside the tents, there are birds that will tear the tents apart to feed on the caterpillars inside. Both the black-billed and the yellow-billed cuckoos are known for their ability to do this, and native vireos will also seek out and rip apart the tents.

Mature caterpillars leave the host plants in early summer in search of suitable sites to pupate within a silken cocoon they will spin. Moths emerge later that year. The moths have a fluffy light brown body, and the wings have three bands with the center being narrower than the outer bands and a lighter brown in color. The center band is bordered on both sides by thin, creamy bands.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Tents in a tree

Occasionally, eastern tent caterpillars have outbreak years where large numbers of the tents can be seen on the same tree. Fresh buds may also be consumed if trees are severely defoliated. When found on residential properties, tents can be swept apart by rakes or brooms, exposing caterpillars to predators, or knocking them off the trees. If warranted, foliage can be sprayed with a biological product called Bacillis thuringiensis subspecies, Kurstaki, or BtK, which only harms caterpillars and not other insects. Caterpillars will ingest the product as they feed on the foliage.

Most healthy trees can tolerate severe defoliation from eastern tent caterpillars. If concerned, look for egg masses in the winter on trees that had been damaged the previous spring. Remove them, if possible, or crush them, or prune the branch off below where the egg mass is found. Or let them be if the trees appear to have recovered. Letting nature take its course with native insects on native trees can often benefit birds and other predators. Do not confuse them with the notorious gypsy moth caterpillars which do not make silken tents or nests of any kind.

If you have a question about tent caterpillars or other gardening topics, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr,uconn.edu or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

 

 

 

Container Gardening, Insect Habitats an other May News

May is for Container Gardening, Healthy Insect Habitats & Gardening with Climate Change in Mind

"Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration." 

-Louise Erickson


Container Gardening

Different kinds of container gardens
Gardening in containers takes all forms. Photos by H.Zidack

May is a mad dash to get our spaces in shape for outdoor entertaining and vegetable and flower gardening. Container gardens have become a universal tool for gardeners of all types as they can meet all sorts of needs.

• They allow plant lovers in rental spaces to enjoy planting with minimal impact
• They provide great accessibility to gardeners of all ages and abilities
• They allow temporary solutions while larger projects are in progress
• They give gardeners an opportunity to plant where soil is poor or where rocks/tree stumps prevent them from digging into the ground
• They give us an easier opportunity to change our minds! Experiment with color, texture, and style - if you don't like it, change it the next season!
We've seen this method come a long way in the past few years It's being used for ornamental plants and fruit and vegetable plants, alike. Some even mix the two in an effort to bring both productivity and beauty to a small space.

The best thing about it, is that it doesn't take up a lot of space, time, or energy to keep going. And new advances are being made all the time as new "container friendly" varieties are hitting the market for all types of plants.

We have a few suggestions for you if you're considering container gardening this spring:
• Many gardeners refer to the "Thriller/Filler/Spiller" method of design where a central plant is surrounded by plants that will fill in and cascade over the edge of the container.
Give your plants enough space to perform well in their container. This is incredibly important for vegetables and herbs that will be producing for you!
• Use soilless potting media in your containers.
• Pre-made mixes (sometimes called "recipes") can be found in larger drop-in pots that can be placed into a decorative container when you bring it home! Hanging baskets can be another alternative - just remove the hangers.
Select an appropriate container. The material and size of the planter you choose should be something you consider. Any plants that need to go in for the winter should be in planters that can be easily moved or carried inside. Additionally, different materials need different maintenance and care from season to season.


Healthy Habitats for Beneficial Insects

Butterfly in a garden

Creating a garden or habitat within your space to support beneficial insects can be the most effective thing you can do if you have the space. Select plants that are known to support the various life stages of insects you hope to encourage in your garden. For example, parsley is a great herb to host swallowtail caterpillars.

A thriving garden will host beneficial insects including pollinators, predators and parasitoids. Additionally, a few "bad" insects in the mix provide a food source for some of these beneficials and ensure you have a healthy balance in your garden ecosystem. Never panic at the first sight of trouble. Investigate further and monitor a problem as it develops. Always use Integrated Pest Management practices when considering treatment for any pest or disease you find in the garden.

Beneficial Insects in the Home Garden

 

In recent years, the concept of "insect hotels" has been increasing in popularity. It is important to realize that these structures are considered a fantastic tool in a tool box of many things that are needed to preserve these populations of pollinators, parasitoids and predatory beneficial insects. They can be great educational tools or supplemental habitat when absolutely necessary. Native insects are well adapted to finding shelter in gardens and habitats locally created by you, your neighbors, and surrounding areas.

If you choose to host one of these in your garden, be aware that it is not a 'set it and forget it' type of garden decoration. Take all the precautions to ensure that you are maintaining a healthy habitat by cleaning out nesting each year, monitoring for signs of distress, and purchasing sustainable and safe materials for the insects to be using.

 

More about Insect Hotels


Gardening with Climate Change in Mind

The Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture at UConn has been spreading the word about gardening in a changing environment.

Dr. Mark Brand has been working to develop cultivars that are equipped to adapt with changing environmental conditions and stressors like drought and heat. His lab also works to improve native shrubs to help with their adaptability in our changing climate as well.

Read More

Dawn Pettinelli from the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab & Home and Garden Education Center joined Catherine Shen & Charlie Nardozzi on Connecticut Public to discuss ecological gardening and strategies for gardening for the environment.

Listen to the Podcast


Native Plant Highlight: Pinxsterbloom Azalea

Pinxsterbloom Azalea flower up close

Rhododendron periclymenoides is a native deciduous shrub found in wet woodlands, stream and pond edges and sometimes in open areas where soils are damp. Showy clusters of pink flowers appear in May before leaves expand. This native makes a good addition to a shade garden where it will be out of the afternoon sun. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees frequently visit the flowers.

Learn More about Rhododendron perilymenoides


Native Butterfly: Red Admiral

This common native butterfly is one of several migratory species, and one of the first to migrate north in early spring. They can be found in moist areas near woodlands, and they visit garden flowers from spring through late summer. The most common host plant of the caterpillars is stinging nettles, which is one reason most people never see them. When the butterfly folds its wings, it reveals the undersides that resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. Red admiral's often land on people to get salts from sweat.

Learn More About the Red Admiral


Native Bird: Mallards

Mallard ducks normally lay 4-14 eggs between March and June and the young are on their own after 8 weeks. A maintenance worker at a golf course stopped traffic so this mallard and her ducklings could safely cross a busy street on their way to a reservoir. The nest was an eighth of a mile away on a grassy pond edge.

 

Learn More about Mallards


Vegetable Gardening Resources

During the growing season, UConn Extension publishes a regular pest alert. Additionally, the New England Vegetable Management Guide offers a lot of information about specific vegetable crops.

While the target audience for these publications is usually commercial growers, home gardeners can learn a lot from these materials including identification and management of common pests in your veggie gardens!

If you ever need confirmation on an ID or have additional questions about what you read in these reports, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at the Home & Garden Education Center! We're happy to help your gardens thrive.

4/26/2024 Vegetable Pest Alert

Read Previous Pest Messages

New England Vegetable Management Guide 2023-2024


May 2024 Weather Outlook

A seasoned gardener always keeps their eye to the sky at any time of year! NOAA's National Weather Service released their discussion about how weather patterns will continue to shape this winter season. 

May Temperature Map May Precipitation Outlook

 


Upcoming Events and Things to Do

  • Visit a farmers market! Many start opening in May and continue throughout the summer.
  • Attend a Memorial Day Celebration, Memorial Day is observed May 27th this year!  Most towns in the state host their own parades and activities on the long weekend to honor those who bravely served and sacrificed for our nation.
  • Get out and garden! The growing season is finally here!

Educational Opportunities & Workshops


    May Gardening Tips

     

    • Plant vegetable starts after all danger of frost is gone and the soil is warm. This is usually the last week in May.
      • Direct seeding of beans, corn, cucurbits and melons can be done at this time as well.
      • Peppers & tomatoes like warm weather!
    • Put nets over ripening strawberries to protect them from birds and other wildlife.
    • Lily leaf beetles often show up first in spring on leaves of the crown imperial (Fritillaria). Check both sides of the leaves and down inside the center whorl of leaves. Also check the undersides of leaves for tiny orange eggs. The larvae have orange, brown, or greenish yellow bodies that are sometimes hidden under their excrement. Hand-picking the adults and the egg masses is the easiest control method.
    • Aphids and lace bugs will appear soon. Spray with water or use a low-toxicity insecticide to control them. Asian lady beetles are a beneficial insect that feed on aphids.
    • Remove any tree wraps or guards you placed on young trunks for winter protection.
    • Clematis vines like cool roots so apply mulch or plant a low-growing ground cover to shade the ground.
    • Use fresh potting soil in your containers as old soil has fewer nutrients and may contain harmful bacteria and fungi.
    • As night temperatures moderate into the 60's, move houseplants outdoors. Help them with the transition by putting them outside on warm days and bringing them in on when nights are too cold. Avoid putting them directly into full sun or windy locations.
    • Hummingbirds and orioles return to northern states by mid-May. Clean and refill feeders to attract these colorful birds to your backyard or fill hanging baskets with flowers that will attract them such as petunias, salvia, and fuchsia.
    • Aerate and moisten the compost pile to speed decomposition.

     

    More May Gardening Tips


    This Month’s Newsletter Contributors: 
    Pamm Cooper, Dr. Nick Goltz, Dawn Pettinelli, Marie Woodward, Heather Zidack 

     

    DIY – Grow Flowers for Cutting

    By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

    Cut flower arrangment
    Fresh cut flowers - Photo by dmp2024

    Do you just love fresh flower arrangements for the table or even that single bloom in a vase by your bedside? Wouldn’t it feel great to just stroll out your back door, clip some blossoms, bring them inside and enjoy their beauty? There’s no reason that you can’t. Even a small yard or garden space can yield blossoms for cutting.

    While many of us have flowering perennials and even woody plants that make for great arrangements, perhaps a dedicated cut flower planting would provide many more stems for cutting and not create any empty spaces in our garden designs. When planning your cut flower garden, first decide where it should go. The majority of blooming plants need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day, a well-drained, fertile soil and adequate water during dry spells. As with all garden plants, a soil test is a great way to find out what is needed to add to soils before planting but without a soil test, follow the directions on fertilizer packages.

    There’s still time to prepare new beds for cut flower plantings but another alternative would be to turn over part of the vegetable garden to cut flower production. Probably your vegetable garden already has great soil and is located in a sunny area.

    The hardest part of designing a cut flower garden is selecting what plants to grow. There are so many beautiful and exciting flowers to choose from. A good suggestion is to grow easy flowers at first and then progress on to more demanding ones. Another important factor to consider is which flowers need to be purchased as transplants (or started inside earlier under lights) and which can be easily grown by sowing seeds directly in the garden. While there are a number of flowering plants that can be started by direct seeding, you’ll get faster blooms if you purchase or grow your own transplants.

    Zinnias planted in a row
    Zinnias - Photo by dmp2024

    Some that I typically grow each year from seed are zinnias, the tall African marigolds, cosmos, bachelor buttons, calendulas, nasturtiums, and some sunflowers. Cool weather calendulas and bachelor buttons can be sown now but wait until later in the month to plant the rest. A number of cutting annuals will self-seed if blossoms are allowed to mature and the beds are not heavily mulched. Some that spring up for me include ageratums, verbena, ammi, nigella, and wheat celosia. If you have some known self-seeders, wait a bit longer to prepare or till beds to see what sprouts.

    Those best purchased as transplants include rudbeckia, snapdragons, cleome, stock, strawflowers, globe amaranth, tithonia, asters and amaranth. Some might have tiny seeds or be slower to germinate or just need a longer time until they produce flowers so starting with transplants may be a good option.

    Two annual bulbs that are great for cutting are gladioli and dahlias. A few glad corms can be planted every other week until about mid-June to provide a summer full of spiky, colorful blooms. Dahlia tubers planted mid-May generally start producing blooms by late July but continue until a heavy frost.

    There really are quite a few potential cut flower candidates to choose from. Feel free to select whatever colors and flower forms appeal to you most. From a designer’s viewpoint, consider what colors would be most compatible with where you want to place arrangements indoors. Also, whether making more formal arrangements or informal bouquets, flower shape plays a prominent role. Often the most attractive arrangements are filled with an assortment of shapes featuring a focal flower, spiky exclamation points, mounded shapes to hold the arrangement together, greenery for filling spaces and delicate airy springs to lighten the mood. I find mints, artemisia, and ferns make good fillers while grasses, kalimeris, boltonia, and white wood asters provide an airy touch.

    The majority of annual flowers do fine at about a 9 by 9 inch spacing so you can pack them in pretty close. Do note that for copious blooms, a fertile soil and adequate water are essential. Maintenance also includes dead-heading, or removal of spent flowers to encourage the production of more blooms. Keep an eye out for plant pests as well.

    Even beginning gardeners can set aside some space to grow beautiful flowers for enjoyment indoors. Try out a few this year, make notes on their performance and change up the plant rooster as they gain your approval or not.

    For cultural information on growing various species of cut flowers or on other gardening topics, feel free to contact us, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at (877) 486-6271, visit our website at www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.

     

     

     

    Gardening for Climate Change with Connecticut Public

    Connecticut Public: Where We Live - 4/26/2024
    This year, we're gardening with climate change in mind

    Dawn Pettinelli from the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab & Home and Garden Education Center joins Catherine Shen & Charlie Nardozzi on Connecticut Public to discuss ecological gardening and strategies for gardening for the environment.

    Start Now For a Rosy Summer

    By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

    A rose shrub in full bloom
    Proper care of your roses will give you lots of blooms. Photo by dmp2024

    The warmer days of spring will soon be upon us and it is time to think about spring rose care. Any winter protection such as mounded soil, mulch, leaves or rose cones that were placed around grafted bushes should be removed. Release any stems that were tied for winter protection. Fertilize your plants when new growth sprouts with a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or and natural organic equivalent at the rate recommended by a soil test or follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the package. Generally, the fertilizer is sprinkled around the base of the plant and gently worked into the top of the soil.

    Repeat blooming roses are heavy feeders and ideally should be fertilized monthly through July. Stop fertilizing at this time as later fertilizations may result in tender new growth late in the season that may not have time to harden off properly. Roses that bloom only once in June are usually only fertilized once in the spring. These include many ramblers and climbers, species roses and antique varieties. Rose books often recommend a dose of Epsom salts for each rose to supply magnesium. If you use a dolomitic limestone to modify the soil pH, however, the plants will most likely have enough magnesium available to them and additional magnesium will not improve growth or branching. Note that according to the American Rose Society, roses prefer slightly acidic soil so strive for a pH between 6.0 and 6.5..

    climbing hybrid tea rose ‘Climbing Tangerine.’
    This climbing hybrid tea rose is called ‘Climbing Tangerine.’ Photo by dmp2024

    Most types of roses benefit from a spring pruning with the exception of climbing roses which are generally pruned immediately following flowering. Roses are pruned to improve their appearance, to remove diseased or dead wood and to increase the quantity and quality of flowers.

    Polyanthas, floribundas and shrub roses do not require much pruning. Any canes that are damaged or broken should be removed as well as canes that are rubbing together. If just the tip of the stem is winter killed, cut back to sound wood just above a healthy bud. Rose bushes that are really overgrown can have about one-third of their canes removed from the base.

    Hybrid teas and grandifloras usually require more severe pruning. After eliminating all dead and damaged wood, cut back to 18 to 24 inches. Make your pruning cuts at a slant slightly above a bud, preferably one oriented away from the center of the plant.

    If your roses are grafted, it is also important to remove any suckers arising from the rootstock.

    Spring is a great time to add a few more roses to your garden. Roses are soil either bare-root or as container plants. Those sold in containers can be planted either in partial leaf or full leaf. Mail ordered bare-root stock, however, should be planted when it is still dormant. It is best to plant bare-root roses as soon as you get them. If planting has to be delayed for a day or two, remoisten the packing material and store in a cool, shady location. When it is time to plant bare-root stock, unpack the plant and place the roots in warm water for an hour or two. Cut off any dead or injured parts and plant immediately after soaking.

    Roses require a minimum of 6 hours of sun each day for maximum bloom. An area with good air circulation will cut down on disease problems. Soil type is not as important as drainage. Roses will not tolerate wet feet.

    When planting grafted plants, set the bud union, which is the point where a rose cultivar is grafted to the root stock, about one inch below the soil level. Roses require about one inch of water per week. If at all possible do not get the leaves wet when watering as this promotes the spread of diseases such as black spot.

    Roses benefit from the application of an organic mulch like shredded bark, pine needles or cocoa bean hulls. Mulches not only keep weeds down but help conserve moisture. If you have any questions on roses or other gardening topics, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr,uconn.edu or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

    It’s Spring! Time to Feed the Plants!

    By Dawn Pettinelli, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

    Plants need nutrients to grow and develop just like we need vitamins and minerals. They get most of their nutrients dissolved in the water they take up with their roots. When we add fertilizer to the soil around our garden plants, we are adding vital plant nutrients.

    Native Connecticut soils are typically low in pH and low in nutrients. Our native plants have adapted to our native soils but most of our garden plants are not from around here. Zinnias and tomatoes are from South America, bluegrass lawns and lilacs hail from Europe and rhododendrons from Asia. Our native soils may not supply the nutrients they need so it is up to us to do so.

    Of course, the best way to know which nutrients and how much to add is with a soil test. April is a very busy month at the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab (www.soiltesting.cahnr.uconn.edu) but there is still time to get your soil tested before planting.

    Without soil test recommendations, always follow the directions on the fertilizer package. Applying too much can injure your plants plus excessive nitrogen and phosphorus can wind up in our waterways. Before fertilizing, calculate out the square footage of your garden or lawn. You don’t need to measure exactly; you can measure a pace and then walk down the length and across the width of your gardens to get a rough estimate of area. For odd-shaped beds or lawns, break them down into more square, oval or rectangular areas and add them up.

    All fertilizers come with 3 numbers on the package denoting the percent, on a dry weight basis, of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitogen promotes green, leafy growth, phosphorus encourages fruits and roots, and potassium is for all round health and tolerance to stresses like drought, cold and disease. So, fertilizers with a higher nitrogen number would be most appropriate for turf grasses, trees and shrubs, while ones higher in phosphorus are generally used in vegetable and flower gardens.

    Adding fertilizer to perennials with a watering can and a hand rake.
    Fertilizer spread around a perennial. Photo by dmp2024

    Whether you select a synthetic or natural organic fertilizer is a matter of personal choice. Both are beneficial to plants. For annual plantings, whether vegetable or flowers, it would be ideal to mix the fertilizer into the top 6 inches of soil. That’s where most of the roots will be so it makes sense that the nutrients they need are there too. Put down the fertilizer, as well as any limestone or other amendments shortly before planting. Long season annuals, like tomatoes, pumpkins and marigolds would appreciate a second application of fertilizer, referred to as side dressing, about 2 months after the first one.

    As you are cleaning up your perennial beds and see the new shoots popping through the soil, add some fertilizer around plants and carefully scratch it in. Do the same for bulbs. It is harder to fertilize if the beds are heavily mulched. Not much fertilizer spread on top of mulch will make it to the plant roots. Rake or pull away the mulch, sprinkle some fertilizer directly to the soil around your plants and replace the mulch.

    For trees and shrubs, fertilizer should be spread under the whole canopy as a healthy root system will grow at least as wide as the branches and perhaps even more so. Do your best to remove the mulch before fertilizing. Typically trees and shrubs are fertilized once a year in the spring. Once they have reached their mature size, often the fertilizer is cut down to half rate as woody plants can recycle many of the nutrients they need.

    Lawns can be fertilized now but pay attention to the moisture level of the soil. With all the rain that we have been experiencing, the soil is pretty soggy in spots. Stay off wet soils as they will become compacted. Most lawns do well with just a spring and fall application of fertilizer. If the clippings are left down, they supply nutrients plus add organic matter to the soil. Be sure to set your spreader on the proper setting.

    If you have questions about fertilizing or if you have any other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr,uconn.edu or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

    Watch for Bulb Diseases

    Dr. Nick Goltz, UConn Home & Garden Education Center; UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab

    Gardens in New England come to life in spring thanks, in large part, to bulbs! Spring bulbs are reliable, perennial color-bringers and seem equally at home in landscapes and containers. Daffodils (Narcissus spp.), grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.), and tulips (Tulipa spp.), are just some of the bulb plants that grace our gardens this time of year, and they remind us that the blooms of summer alliums aren’t far behind. While these plants might seem effortless to grow, they are not without their fair share of disease issues!

    Purple streaking and weak root systems associated with Fusarium rot.
    Purple streaking and weak root systems are symptoms associated with Fusarium rot. Ed Kurtz, budwood.org

    One common disease of bulbs we see here in Connecticut is Fusarium wilt and bulb rot.

    Bulbs generally prefer average to loamy soil with good drainage. When planted in clay soils or following long periods of rain in early spring, however, they are susceptible to rot diseases caused by fungal pathogens such as those in the genus Fusarium. The various wilt and rot diseases caused by Fusarium species can be destructive and sometimes difficult to control. Symptoms include wilting, brown lesions at and below the soil line, vascular discoloration, bulbs that are soft or spongey, and, especially with garlic (Allium sativum) and relatives, a purple-red discoloration of bulb tissue. Plants affected by this soil-borne fungal disease do not recover, so it is wise to be proactive with management and prevention.

    If your bulb plants do not emerge properly in the spring or emerge but wilt soon after, fail to flower, or display other symptoms associated with root rot diseases, pull them up and throw them away! Fusarium and similar fungal pathogens often survive the winter in the soil on diseased plant tissue from the year before, so it is important to keep your garden clean and to not compost diseased plant tissue, as most home compost bins do not reach temperatures necessary to kill pathogens. Fungi like Fusarium thrive in soggy soils, so do your best to prevent flooding and standing water where bulbs are planted. There are no fungicides that will completely control or eradicate Fusarium in a landscape, but some are helpful with preventing infection of healthy plants. Remember to always wear protective equipment and follow label rates and instructions if you choose to apply fungicides.

    Symptoms of tulip fire, Botrytis tulipae, on tulip flower and leaves.
    Symptoms of tulip fire, Botrytis tulipae, include leaf spots on leaves and flowers, often with dark boarders resembling burn injury, lending the common name. Sandra Jensen, Cornell University, Bugwood.org

    Another common fungal disease of bulbs grown here in the Northeast is Botrytis gray mold or tulip fire. Fungi in the genus Botrytis cause disease symptoms on many different host plants. Though it is often called “gray mold” when associated with other plants, for tulips, the disease is usually called “tulip fire” due to the spots it causes on leaves and flowers, often with dark borders resembling a burn.

    Botrytis fungi are very common and are capable saprophytes, meaning they feed on dead or decaying tissue and contribute to nutrient cycling in the environment, but can be problematic in managed landscapes. To cause disease, Botrytis fungi must first colonize and get nutrients from dead or declining plant tissue, such as fading flower petals, over-ripened fruit. Once the fungus is established in its host plant, it becomes more aggressive and invades healthy plant parts, causing brown lesions and decay.

    To prevent Botrytis gray mold and tulip fire, try to encourage good airflow around your plants. Many people plant their bulbs closely together, like eggs in a carton, but this can make bulbs susceptible to tulip fire over time when treated as perennials. Dig up your tulips when they appear crowded, and each year when dealing with a potential disease issue. Inspect bulbs before you plant them again, and discard bulbs that are not firm, discolored, or otherwise do not appear healthy. Rotate to new locations and avoid planting consecutively in the same spot if there has been a history of disease there.

    If you have questions about growing bulb plants, are dealing with a plant health issue, or regarding other gardening topics, feel free to contact us, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center by emailing ladybug@uconn.edu. You can also call us at (877) 486-6271, visit our website at www.homegarden.cahnr.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.