Monthly Archives: September 2010

Early fall sleuthing

It won’t be too long now before gardens in south-central Connecticut get nipped by frost, and that will be the end of juicy tomatoes such as these Sweet Million cherry tomatoes soaking up any last season sun.

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When I went out to check this plant a couple of days ago I found a late and unwelcome visitor had taken residence.  The visitor left signs, so I knew what to look for, but new gardeners might not.

What first caught my eyes were a few small brown droppings scattered on the stone edging directly below the outreaching vines.

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Then I looked up at the vines above and noticed stems with no leaves.

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When you come across these two indicators look for a tomato hornworm happily munching away. They eat tomato, pepper, eggplant, and potato plants. Find one and you’re likely to find more. Here’s a close-up, but if you were really sharp you might have noticed him on the left side of the plant in the previous photo.

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Tomato hornworms can quickly defoliate plants and will also munch away at the plant’s fruit. Throughout the growing season you should keep a watchful eye for their droppings and the defoliated stems they leave behind. When spotted, take time to inspect the three inch long caterpillars before sending them to their demise. If you see tiny white oblong objects projecting from the back of a tomato hornworm it is already on its way out.  These white objects are cocoons of the braconid wasp. This wasp lays eggs on the back of hornworms. Once hatched, wasp larvae feed on the inside of the hornworm. Since braconid wasps are beneficial insects in the garden, it’s good to let them complete their life cycle on the back of the nasty caterpillar dining on your plants. Don’t worry much about parasitized hornworms feeding further … they won’t eat much once they become a braconid nursery.

If a hornworm has not been found by braconid wasps, then hand pick and drown them to prevent further damage. Just make sure to bring really sharp sleuthing eyes to this task … it can be difficult to spot the well disguised caterpillars.

A quick read of a tomato hornworm bulletin from the University of Rhode Island offers a peak at a parasitized hornworm plus more on the lifecycle of hornworms and the adult sphinx or hawk moths from whence they come.

The last act of my hornworm – it had no braconid wasp cocoons – was to serve a photo model for my favorite photographer … even a hungry caterpillar can have a stunning portrait.

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I splurged.

I’ve been really good at not purchasing a lot of plants for my gardens this summer … too many other things to take care of and too little time. But when I ran across Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Summer Sorbet’ with its showy green leaf variegation and striking electric blue blossoms, I caved.

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I caved, came home, looked around for the right spot, identified two, then caved again. Summer Sorbet deux came to live here too.

My twin deciduous shrubs stand about 3 feet tall and wide. Both are a tad misshapen, but this minor issue will be easily remedied with a good late-winter pruning. The leaf variegation – in multiple shades of green, and the electric blue late-summer blossoms were just too much for me, and a host of bees, to resist.

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And to complement this beauty and striking color is supposed deer resistance. I say supposed since I’ve heard this before. Only time will prove whether the deer in my locale actually find Miss Caryopteris unpalatable … keeping my fingers crossed.

My Caryopteris twins will sit on either side of the steps leading to my long front porch. They will join a few boxwood, some perennials (Louisiana Iris, mounds of Campanula carpatica, Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina), and other small perennials, and they’ll add some much appreciated late season color to a spot that tends to look rather tired this time of year.

Have you splurged on a late summer purchase that you simply could not resist?  What caught your eye?

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Bloomin’ September

With just half an inch registering on the rain gauge in the last few weeks and minimal watering on this gardener’s part, it’s a wonder of nature that so many plants are still attractive. Connecticut is officially about 5.5 inches below normal rainfall amounts for the year.

Lack of rain does not stop the need to transplant and tidy, harvest and can, and ready houseplants for their move back inside. Between these tasks I pause at every opportunity to marvel at the beauty of late-season bloomers and colors.

Bright orange tropical hibiscus scream “LOOK AT ME!”

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Salvia stands deep, deep blue in front of coleus limelight.

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A late lavender blossom tries to show up zinnia angustifolia, an easy-to-grow-from-seed annual that quietly blooms till frost.

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Whites and pinks fill my gardens right now.

Here is a clematis paniculata dances above cosmos blooms. The clematis volunteered elsewhere but thrives after careful transplantation to it’s current location.

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Echinacea peeks out from behind a garlic chive flower. Lady chive must enjoy it’s bloom time now before it’s caretaker chops off it’s head to prevent it from propagating. Don’t let this late season beauty fool you – she will spread to all parts of your garden and, once sprouted, she does not give up her ground easily.

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Pink carries on in Sedum ‘Maestro,’ one of the late season blossoms bees love.

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But lavender comes to light in curly chives, set off here against the gray-green of santolina.

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And, purples show up in hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailmer’ and phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’

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Still, autumn’s shades are evident as summer draws to a close. Dogwood leaves dress in a fashionable plum and berries of Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ live up to their name.

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Today, garden bloggers take center stage at May Dreams Gardens where Carol hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Head to May Dreams Gardens to see the glorious blossoms shining during this last Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for summer 2010. Soon it will be time to embrace the beauty of autumn. Happy gardening everyone.