Monthly Archives: September 2009

Ladybug, Ladybug …

September 29, 2009. Looking for a worthy fall project to engage youngsters in outdoor activity?  Check out the Lost Ladybug Project.  It’s another of those citizen scientist programs – like Project Budburst, Firefly Watch, and Frogwatch USA I noted in previous posts.  Lost Ladybug asks individuals of all ages to watch for and photograph ladybugs that frequent the area in which they live or work.  Then the organizers want everyone to upload photos to the Lost Ladybug website so they can be identified and mapped along with thousands of other ladybug photos.

The project began a few years ago, as a coordinated effort between 4-H Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and researchers at the Cornell Institute for Biological Teaching, at Cornell University in New York.  Since inception, the project has now grown into nationwide effort.

Go to www.lostladybug.org to see all the project details.  There you’ll find some cool, kid-focused projects and information,  all centered on finding, photographing, and learning more about ladybugs.

Ladybug-2 9-09_edited This effort tickles my gardener’s heart.  Ladybugs, such as this one found in my garden just last week, are a welcome sight.  Their main diet is aphids, the soft-bodied plant-sucking bane of so many healthy garden plants, but ladybugs will also dine on other soft-bodied pests. Plus, in south-central Connecticut, late summer and early fall often brings masses of ladybug beetles to light colored buildings – they really seem to like white – so this is a good time to get out that camera and join the Lost Ladybug Project.

To view many photos of different types of Ladybugs (which are actually beetles), visit The Bug Guide.  Hmmm … now which of the many beetles depicted there best matches mine?

Saving hydrangea blossoms

Peegee hydrangea-1 9-09 September 25, 2006.  As you scramble to enjoy as many blossoms as possible before frost finishes them off, don’t pass by late blooming hydrangea.  I find these some of the easiest blossoms to save.  Mind you I only have one hydrangea paniculata  tree (the peegee type) and one macrophylla ‘Bailmer’ (an endless summer variety) in bloom right now, but I cut blossoms off of both, with stems as long as makes sense for each blossom.  I arrange each in a vase arrangement, fill the vase with water, and walk away.  No more water, no more fuss.  The blossoms simply dry in the indoor air … and they hold most of their color.  This technique works when you wait until after the blossoms begin to turn either from white to pinkish or blue to purple/green.  It does not work with freshly opened hydrangea blossoms.

Right now, there are vases of hydrangea blossoms in many rooms of my house.  There’s even a large stoneware jar filled with huge paniculata blossoms adorning a front porch table.  After other outside pre-frost chores are done, I’ll pick off any browned petals, dump the water, and keep many arrangements through fall.  I’ll save other dried hydrangea blossoms for seasonal displays through winter (more on these uses as the holidays approach).

hydrangea macrophylla dried-3 9-09_edited hydrangea macrophylla dried 9-09_edited hydrangea paniculata dried 9-09_edited

If you don’t have a hydrangea paniculata tree , or the oak-leaf quercifolia shrub from which to pick, now is a good time to visit the local nursery to find one for early fall planting.  Just protect small trees/shrubs from browsing deer.  I used to surround mine paniculata tree with 4 foot tall chicken wire held upright with metal fence posts, but once the bulk of it grew taller than local deer, I was able to stop this practice.  Now the deer only browse on the lower branches and blooms, but there are still plenty for me to enjoy as well.  And, using the technique listed here, I’m able to enjoy hydrangea blossoms year round.

Moving plants back inside

September 23, 2006.  In my house you don’t need to look at the calendar to know that fall has arrived – signs of the change of season become more evident daily.

coleus cuttings 9-09_edited Freshly cut coleus stems now live in water-filled glass jars on a bright window sill.  I take cuttings from the tips of the healthiest looking coleus in my gardens, and wash them in water that contains a small amount of dishwashing liquid. This, hopefully, will remove any tiny aphids hiding underneath the leaves. Once roots sprout, these coleus will become brightly colored potted plants that will help soothe my need for brightly colored plants during cold weather months.  If I manage to prevent aphid infestations, these coleus will also serve as starters for some of next year’s coleus plantings.

P6290484_edited The potted indoor plants I moved outdoors after the weather finally warmed are slowly finding their way back inside. A jasmine was still in bloom when moved to its current indoor spot.  Last winter this plant bloomed through November and again in February – filling the room with sweet jasmine scent.

potted tropical hibiscus with ageratum 9-09_edited Two potted tropical hibiscus, also still in bloom, will soon be doused with insect-killing Safer spray.  One of these plants has lived through 17 years of moving outdoors in summer and indoors in winter.  The parent plant produced an offshoot that I’m training into the single-stem, tree-like standard pictured at left.  Both hibiscus benefit from full-sun locations during summer months.  To offset their bright orange color, I under plant with purple and blue flowering annuals – here you can see this year’s blue ageratum – which I’ll remove before bringing the plants inside.  The hibiscus will continue to bloom – often through Thanksgiving – then I’ll cut them back harshly, leaving only minimal leaves.  The pair will soon sprout new leaves from the remaining stems, and with light bi-monthly fertilization from late January onward and continued pruning for shape, they will be ready for re-acclimation to outdoor light once temperatures remain above 50 degrees next spring/summer.

Two scented geraniums – I think they are peppermint – that spent the warm days soaking up full sun, will also come back inside.  These survive cold seasons in a room that receives a hour or two of morning winter sun and otherwise bright light, but they always require a serious pruning after a month or so of coming back inside.  Often I will water root scented geranium cuttings for future plants, but usually do not do so until January or so.

The rest of my indoor greens – ivy, rabbit’s foot ferns, a variegated bromeliad, and a potted lemon grass I kept alive through last winter to see it thrive in warmer outdoor temps – will come back in as I rearrange furniture to make room.

potted gerbera daisies 9-09_edited Plus, for the first time I will try to overwinter gerbera daisies that grew so nicely on my deck this summer.  I’d love to hear from anyone with experience saving gerberas from year to year – maybe you can pass on some tips?