Category Archives: Sharon MA

Is Bitter-cress a Weed to Worry About in Early Spring?

 

Bittercress blooming in early April in Sharon, MA

Hairy bitter-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.

 

Hairy bitter-cress is very pretty up close, but is it a weed? If you could ask your MA soil if it’s a weed, the soil would say, “Yes, it’s a weed.” If you ask the whole ecosystem of your MA yard, the system  would agree that it’s a weed.

This is hairy bitter-cress, a native to Asia, that as an exotic invasive plant has an unfair advantage over our native plants, blooming and casting its seed well before most of our natives have even formed flower buds. So, is it a weed to you? If so, better destroy those pretty flowers before they turn to seeds. If you need more info about how, please let me know!r-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.

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Why Are My Rhododendron Branches Dying?

Rhododendron, borer, Sharon, MA, insect, damage

Cross-section of a rhododendron branch with a hole in it. A Rhododendron borer has tunneled all the way through this branch, and the branch is dead.

Could it be rhododendron borers? I started spring pruning for an organic gardening client in Sharon last week, on one of those yummy sunny 60 degree March days. Near her front door are broadleaf evergreen shrub beds on either side of an elegant entry path. My goals were to prune out any dead, use selective pruning to open up dense areas and stimulate new growth for a more balanced and pleasing form of individual shrubs and their big picture impact, and scout for pests.

A dead branch on a rhododendron caught my eye. I’m always very curious about why plants and their parts fail to thrive, so I investigated a bit. I cut off a portion of the dead branch and in its cross section found a dead giveaway of a clue.

It looked like an electric drill had made a 3/16 to 1/4 inch diameter hole in the interior of the stem, parallel to the length of the stem, and I knew right away it was quite likely the work of a rhododendron borer. I kept cutting the branch closer and closer to the ground, and found that the borer hole went all the way down to where the stem met the root flare at soil level. It may be that a second year borer spent some time in the roots, then bored its way toward the tip of this branch, contributing to its demise. I’ll continue to watch carefully for signs of activity and damage, and remember that borers are just one of several flavors of rhododendron pests.

Dead branch on rhododendron, showing a borer hole in its cross-section.

This dead rhododendron branch shows a tunnel entrance created by a rhododendron borer in Sharon, MA.

How do you treat something like borers? Try the following methods, or contact me when you see damage and you need help gathering evidence and deciding how or whether to save your valued shrubs and trees.

Treatment for Rhododendron borers:

  • Look around for dead branches and cut a cross section of one. Look for other signs such as a borer’s exit hole through the branch, frass (insect poop that resembles sawdust), and the condition of the leaves and stems. Photography these signs for your records.
  • Be sure to properly identify the pest that is doing the damage. FYI there’s a separate and distinct Rhododendron stem borer
  • Cut out and destroy all affected tissue – or save a sample to send to a lab.
  • Whether there’s an effective pesticide for the two types of Rhododendron borers seems to depend on what extension service or licensed pesticide professional you ask, and in any case monitoring and prevention are the best next steps. This is an organic client who prefers organic treatments for the health of her family and the environment. An injection of nematodes into the stems may be appropriate if she has the stem borer. I’m looking into it.

Tips to help reduce borers:

  • Keep mulch at least 2-3 inches away from the base of of all plants where the stems meet the earth, including rhododendrons. Your mulch should never be more that 3 inches deep.
  • Keep shrubs well watered during dry periods. One inch of water per week is generally sufficient for established, healthy plants. More water than this is usually needed for plant establishment.
  • Avoid wounding shrubs, as wounds can make it easier for insects and pathogens to enter. If your plants have any branches that directly cross one other, they probably rub against each other when it’s windy, causing abrasion damage and creating entry points for pests and pathogens. Also, do not wound shrubs with lawn mowers and string trimmers.
  • If you don’t have an edged bed around a tree or shrub, make one large enough so that not only will your string trimmer no longer nick the trunk, but the mower won’t run over the root zone. A general guide is to edge out a bed that goes all the way to the drip line, defined as the area all the way from the trunk to the outermost circumference of the tree’s canopy . After cutting out and removing any lawn or weeds, etc. from your edged area, apply 2-3 inches of mulch to the bare soil.

Not all damage to rhododendrons is from borers. There are plenty more causes as well. So be careful, don’t jump to conclusions, get a positive ID, and get help if you’re not sure.

CONTACT ME IF YOU NEED A HAND

IF YOU’D LIKE ME TO HAVE A LOOK AT DAMAGED OR DISEASED PLANTS WITH YOU, I’LL PUT ON MY HORTICULTURIST HAT, HAVE A LOOK AND SUGGEST WHAT YOUR BEST NEXT STEPS MAY BE. CLICK HERE TO CONTACT ME

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Best plants for honey bees include anise hyssop, rosemary, poppy, bee balm, catmint, coneflower, borage, and thyme.

Sharon Garden Club Hosts Beekeeper Barbara MacPhee’s “Gardens for Honeybees”

Best plants for honey bees include anise hyssop, rosemary, poppy, bee balm, catmint, coneflower, borage, and thyme.

Plant These For Bees, a display at the Sharon Garden Club by guest speaker and beekeeper Barbara MacPhee. Suggested flowers for pollinators include anise hyssop, rosemary, poppy, bee balm, catmint, coneflower, borage, and thyme. [Photo by Dixie Buckland]

Beekeeper Barbara MacPhee

Sharon Garden Club presenter and beekeeper Barbara MacPhee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun honey bee facts from Sharon Garden Club presenter and beekeeper Barbara MacPhee, at our February meeting:

  • Among honey bees, it’s the worker bees (who are all females) that you see (and hear) collecting nectar and pollen. The males, called drones, maintain the hives.
  • It takes 1,152 honey bees flying a distance of 112,000 miles, harvesting from 4.5 million flowers, to produce one pound of honey. Now that is impressive, ladies!
  • In early spring, bees need early-flowering plants like snowdrops, Claytonia and dandelions to support their hives. Forsythia, while a traditional feel-good sign of spring for humans, has zero pollen and zero nectar. Consider replacing one with a pollinator-friendly native shrub like redbud or viburnum.
  • Later in the season, agastache, clover (yes, in your lawn!) and borage, plus winterberry and American holly, are some of the other plants that honey bees favor.

And my two cents: Think about it: just about everything you and I eat was once a plant, most likely a flowering plant. No pollinators, no food. Are you hungry to support pollinators now?

Visit the Sharon Garden Club online

 

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Miss Twiggy Aces RI Certified Horticulturist Exam

Rhus typhina winter twig with bud in leaf scar

Winter bud inset in a leaf scar of Rhus typhina, staghorn sumac in Sharon, MA. It looks like the face of a lion, which is how I remembered it for my RI Certified Horticulturist exam. [Photo Copyright 2017 Carol Lundeen].

Miss Twiggy.  That’s what my wife has been calling me  lately.  Our dining room table has practically been crawling with the winter twigs of trees, shrubs, and vines: messy, shedding, needle-dropping deciduous and evergreen winter twigs.  I’ve been studying them for six weeks for my RI Certified Horticulturist exam.  Why?  I’m a nature girl, and I love looking at things up close.

Did you have any idea that a winter twig could be so adorable as the one shown above?  Me neither.  Until Dr. Susan Gordon taught me how to notice and appreciate the diversity of these things.  I want to get so I can tell the winter twig of a glossy false buckthorn from a black cherry as easily as a dalmation from a beagle.  I aced both the written and ID portions of my exam Monday night.  I’m certifiably certified, so happy there’s so much more to learn, so thankful to everyone who’s helped me, and I can’t wait for the new gardening season!

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Reclaim the perimeter of your yard

Carol removes a stump after clearing the perimeter of a client's

Carol removes a stump after clearing a tangle of exotic invasive plants on the sloped perimeter of a client’s lawn in Sharon, MA.

Trees and shrubs, vines and weeds getting the best of the perimeter of your yard?  Reclaim it!  That’s what I did for a client in Sharon, MA, They were getting ready to sell their house, and I wanted to leverage their back yard with an expansive view to a trio of established but hidden ash trees on the edge of the property.  So I cut down a few small trees and hacked out their roots, removed lots of exotic invasive plants like multi flora rose, Asian bittersweet and garlic mustard…though the knot weed is still a work in progress.

Carol with a tree stump she removed for curb appeal in Sharon, MA.

Carol didn’t let this stump stump her. Her reciprocating saw and pry bar and patience did the trick. She did this to open the view to the large trees in the background.  It’s hard to see, but behind the iris is a native Viburnum shrub that had been hidden by overgrowth.

 

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