Monthly Archives: August 2009

Moonflowers

moonflower 8-09 I have just one question for anyone who has never planted moonflowers (ipomoea alba) – what are you waiting for?  Yes, in northern gardens they take some time to flower, and yes, they must be started indoors to insure adequate time for flowering before frost, but just look at the rewards.  The five-inch diameter blossoms in this photo opened last night and remained open into the cloudy morning – a few smaller blossoms had opened over the previous three nights – and the vines are covered with buds ready to open.

moonflower planter 8-09 In past years, I planted moonflowers so the vines would grow up and smother the posts on my front porch.  But this somewhat protected area only receives full sun during the height of summer.  Since moonflowers are true heat-loving vines, they struggled to blossom before the colder September nights zapped their strength.  So this year I potted three or four vines in a large container (at right) in a sunnier location, and provided the vines with six-foot tall bamboo stakes for support.  To add some color while waiting for the moonflower vines to grow, I added low growing ageratum and million bells petunias (both mostly hidden now).  As you can see the moonflower vines completely covered the bamboo stakes, and this weekend the blossoms opened – fully two weeks earlier than they had opened in a slightly less sunny location.  Now, we will can soak in the heavenly moonflower fragrance while we sit nearby on late summer evenings.

moonflower peeking 8-09 moonflower and buds 8-09 moonflower blossoms 8-09

Moonflowers are often included among plants for moon gardens – those with white blossoms and light foliage that will reflect the moonlight.  But, like all ipomoea, deer will browse any leaves they can reach.  Still, this does not keep me from planting morning glories and moonflowers.  After deer help themselves, the vines quickly recoup with new leaves and flowers.

The plants in these photos came from seeds soaked in water for at least 24 hours before I planted them into individual pots.  This year I did this in late April, but in warmer years I’ve started moonflowers about two weeks earlier. Each pot also gets a 10-12 inch stake to support the quickly growing vines.  Carefully protect the tender annuals from late frosts and acclimate them to outside sun as you would any other plant started indoors. Once planted in a permanent location outside, the vines will quickly encircle any taller supports – string, poles, or a fence.  Then water regularly – my large pot gets daily water – stand back, and watch them grow.

For me, planting moonflowers for their unique scent and pure white, elegant blossoms is as necessary as planting heirloom tomatoes for their flavor.  You just can’t find these pleasures any other way.

Sawflies

Macremphytus tarsatus, Macremphytus tarsatus, Macremphytus tarsatus.  Roll that off your tongue a few times … difficult … frustrating?  Explains how difficult it is to control sawfly – the common name for Macremphytus tarsatus, and how frustrating it is to walk outside to peruse your foundation plantings to find your red twig dogwood totally bereft of leaves.  And I do mean bereft … nude … free of vegetation … leafless … get the picture?

It seems I have been fighting to grow red twig dogwoods for about a decade now.  I was drawn by the lovely magazine and nursery catalog photos of the red  clump of branches standing tall while surrounded by blankets of snow.  What a cool contrast, I thought.  This would look great against a backdrop of blue/gray siding.  So I bit, I bought, I buried.  I waited, I watched, and after the first snow I was convinced I had found a striking, interesting focal point for one of my front yard beds during winter months.  In theory, the red twig would grow to about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, be covered in variegated cream and green – or solid green – leaves in spring, summer, and fall, thus acting as a center shrub on either side of my rather traditional looking house.  In theory, these shrubs would be an anchor for summer blooming perennials, and in the winter months their red twigs standing in pure white snow would be a focal contrast to the neighboring rhodies.

In reality, this is all a bunch of bunk!  Deer love to eat red twig dogwood leaves in summer – even though they have a rather unpleasant, fuzzy underside.  Deer love to eat red twig dogwood stems in winter – particularly when so much of their normal fare is buried under snow.  But deer browsing was not too bad.  Then I discovered sawflies.  These relatively attractive larvae – as caterpillars go – simply crave red twig dogwood leaves.  Just when I’m beginning to enjoy the mid to late summer fullness of my dogwood shrubs, the sawflies show up and totally denude the stems.

P5310637So a common sense gardener would simply control these pests.  I’m a common sense gardener … so I did some research.  Control generally means hand picking.  Ok … I do this with other annoying creatures like Japanese beetles and slugs.  But each dogwood leaf can have dozens of sawfly caterpillars grasping onto the undersides of leaves … every leaf.  And, by the time you realize you have a sawfly infestation, it’s too late.  The leaves are nearly gone, as you can see in this not too great photo, but you get the picture. Notice those twigs branching off the main stem?  Each was once surrounded by a leaf. (I could have spent more time getting a better photo, but I’m done with the whole sawfly thing … I’m just plain annoyed.)

So I think I’ve come to my senses.  This yard  – at least the foundation bed in front of the house – is simply not the place for red twig dogwoods.  This fall I’m digging them up.  Rather than chuck them I’ll probably plant them elsewhere and tell them they are on their own – left to ward off deer and sawflies as best they can.  If they don’t survive the uprooting, I’m ok with that .  Life is just plain too short for annual fights to grow something that simply does not work.  Will I miss the winter contrast?  Absolutely.  Will I seek an easy care, insect resistant, deer resistant replacement?  Absolutely again. 

But, the bottom line – or I could say the last leafless red twig – is whatever I plant will be easy care, and deer and sawfly resistant.

Magic Milk for Powdery Mildew

White lilac with powdery mildew - not sprayed_edited You know … the unattractive white powdery-looking spots that seem to appear from nowhere during mid- to late-summer?  These fungal spots begin on lower leaves and can quickly spread to cover leaf surfaces of entire plants.  Lilacs, phlox, bee balm, asters, dahlias, cucumber and summer squash are all susceptible, particularly if the plants do not have good air circulation (a problem I plant to avoid).  Not liking to spray fungicides, I’ve tolerated powdery mildew for years.  But when cleaning up paperwork this past winter, I found a note I had jotted down, likely while watching any one of gardening shows I try to take in during cold weather months.  The note said: powdery mildew; 1 part milk to 9 parts water; spray 2x weekly.

My guess is this tidbit of advice came from one of those shows HGTV deemed unworthy … probably Gardening by the Yard … but I can’t be sure.  It also may have come from an old Victory Garden show on PBS.  Anyway, I tried this concoction on all my phlox, one lilac (saving the others for comparison), and my cucumbers and summer squash.  In previous years all had been covered by powdery mildew.  The cucumbers and squash would simply succumb. The phlox would valiantly bloom on in spite of the truly unattractive appearance of its leaves. The photo at the top shows an unsprayed lilac … it just looks plain sad.   The photos below show a nearby lilac two weeks after just one magic milk spray.  The powdery mildew is not completely gone – you can see a few traces on the lower leaves – but is controlled.  Just one spraying of magic milk stopped powdery mildew in its fuzzy little tracks on my cucumbers and squash  leaves – though I will spray again for insurance.  The phlox leaves look better than they ever have by this time of year … two weeks after the initial spray only small traces of powdery mildew appeared – I re-sprayed.  

white lilac milk-sprayed for powdery mildew_editedwhite lilac previously milk-sprayed for powdery mildew_edited

I’ve not yet figured out exactly why milk works to stem the spread of powdery mildew – there must be a substance in milk that holds fungus in check – but I’d love to hear from anyone who can explain milk’s effect.  But the point is it works, it requires no special permit to use, and its nearly free.

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