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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Do you know this culprit?

I was walking in the woods the other day when I came across a gall on this Hamamelis virginiana or Witch Hazel shrub.  I didn't have a clue what insect made this gall on the tree so I thought I would do a little research.  I found out that it is an aphid (witch-hazel cone gall aphid or Hormaphis hamamelidis) which in a "vampirish" fashion finds a nice juicy intersection of veins and then proceeds to suck the sap from her needle-like jaws.  As the aphid feeds on the plant, she is inadvertently jabbing the leaf with her beak.  This results in a reaction from the plant which rises up to form a Wilbur Bud** shaped house around her.  This is the gall which actually saps sugar and nutrients from the plant that are given to the feeding insect.  The galls have a way of tricking a plant into thinking that it is forming a new leaf, which allows the phloem to go into the gall and feeds the insect.  

Most plants are not severely affected by the aphids, but some can be.  Check out what galls you may find when you are next walking in the woods!

**side bar, if you have never experience Wilbur Buds, I strongly recommend you do so.  They are a candy factory in Lititz, PA, and they make the most awesome candy I have encountered!!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cardinal Flower

The common name of this plant alludes to the bright red robes worn by the Roman Catholic Cardinals.  The plant, Lobelia cardinalis, is a great addition to any damp or wooded garden area.  If you are always trying to attract hummingbirds to your  yard, this plant depends on hummingbirds for pollination.  It can be easily propagated from either seed, or sticking old stems in the ground.  The main catch with the plant is that it does not really like competition so you will typically find it growing where not too much else wants to grown.  If you plant it in your garden, the best way to keep it is to take a small hand rake and disturb the soil around where you planted the plant to eliminate it's competition.  

It can grow from 1'-6' in height and is quite showy.  This plant is looking for fairly moist or wet soil to flourish.  Here is a picture of cardinal flower that I found growing along the side of a creek today.  It was quite a pleasant surprise.  I apologize for the slightly grainy picture, the only camera I had was the one on my phone...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nesting Birds in July?

You may think that we are well past the nesting season, but there is a bird who is just building and sitting on her nest as we speak, American Goldfinches.

These bright yellow and black birds will lay 4-6 pale blue eggs in a nest that is  4-14 feet above the ground in the fork of the tree.  The eggs will hatch after about 12-14 days of incubation.  The young will actually have feathers and be fledged from their nest 10-16 days after hatching.  Look out for an influx of Goldfinches at your feeder in the upcoming weeks!

American Goldfinches like to use the material from thistles, cat tails, and similar fibrous materials to make their nest.  This seems to be one of the reasons that they wait until this late in the year to actually build their nests. 

Keep your eyes peeled while you are out over the next few weeks, you may either find some young Goldfinches, or a nest with a female incubating her eggs.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hidden in the Bushes

Check out this guy that I found on a property walk! He was almost camouflaged in the photograph!  I think we are looking at a Crescent of some description, but I did not have my trusty "Caterpillars of North America" guide handy for reference. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Whats Eating My Dill??

My friend was telling me about the cool caterpillars that dessimated her dill the other night.  She had decided that they were pretty, so she did not remove them from the dill plant.  They have since disappeared.  From her description of the caterpillar, I predict that they are off awaiting the moment when they become....Black Swallowtail Butterflies...They will also eat your parsley, so make sure there is enough to go around!

I know that you have your dill set aside to use in cooking, but let's be honest, maybe  you are a better chef than I, but I certainly have enough dill to share with some caterpillars that are going to become beautiful butterflies.  

The other common caterpillar "pest" on dill....Tomato Hornworm . It sounds terrible doesn't it?  Look how cute he is though!

Hummingbird Moth
When the Tomato Hornworm grows up he'll become a Hummingbird Moth   (Hemaris thysbe) also known as the Sphinx Moth...Note I used the quote on pest because to me, they are not a pest at all, in fact these insects are what I am gardening for.  I shamelessly attract insects so that they will keep some of the other insects in check and be a great attractant to local birds in the area.  I feel sorry for the insects, but planting plants that insects like in your garden is a great way to have a bird feeder that does not need to be refilled!

Black Swallowtail
 If you are gardening for wildlife (and cooking) dill is a great addition to your garden! When you see these butterflies flying around, you will know that they have escaped predation and are looking beautiful! 

The Trivia Question of the Blog.. Can you name the plants that the butterflies are near?

Friday, July 20, 2012

TLC held the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the Red Clay Greenway Project!The Kennett Paper attended the ceremony.  Click HERE for a link to the article.

Thank you to the Whitehorse Foundation and County Preservation Grants for assistance in funding to make the first stage in this project possible. 

Thank you to our contractor: Green Roots Landscaping for helping to make the first part of this trail a reality!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summertime Lawn Blues

Is your lawn currently a crunchy brown color? Are you sick of mowing in the blistering heat? There is another option available to you which will result in lower maintenance, more diverse plant species, and it will attract more wildlife to your yard.

You could convert your lawn to a meadow.  There are a few basic steps to the conversion method:

1. Remove/kill the grass from the lawn.
2. Choose and plant desirable seeds or plugs.
3. Actively weed/manage the meadow until it is established.

Some design things to keep in mind when you are planting your meadow are:
You always want to have some type of border or edge so that your neighbors do not think it is a field of weeds.  For suburban areas, it is a good idea to make sure that there is a strip of lawn edging the meadow so that it looks like it is something that has been purposeful, not neglected.

This is a hayfield to meadow conversion that was done by seed.  This photo was taken in year 4.
There are many ways to remove the grass from your lawn depending on your preference.  The main thing is that it should all be removed/killed or your planting will not work.

Depending on the size of the area that you are planting, plugs can be an excellent way to go . You will see a result much quicker than if you start the project from seed.  The cost of plugs is more expensive than the cost of seeds.  If you decide to plant a meadow, it is important to make sure that you choose a good selection of NATIVE grasses and wildflowers.

It is very important to keep out weedy invasives when the meadow is first established.  One of the major invasive issues in newly planted meadows is Canada Thistle.  This plant can be quite noxious if it is not immediately removed from  your planting.  Once the meadow is firmly established, the amount of weeding maintenance will drastically be reduced, but you must be attentive for the first few years that your meadow is planted. 

There are many great resources that can help you with your lawn to meadow conversion project.  Your local cooperative extension office can be quite helpful in answering questions.  This is the link to those of you in PA:    Many land conservation organizations, such as TLC, will offer assistance in getting you started with your project. Our Landscape Visionaries Program would be happy to assist you with the meadow conversion.

Just think of that natural bird feeder that is just waiting to be planted in your front lawn.  You will be able to spend more time watching birds and much less time mowing as an established meadow only needs to be mowed once a year.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


This was a fun email and video that was passed along to me about European Starlings. Just to note, Starlings are non-native invasive species that were brought here by a society who thought to introduce all of the birds that were mentioned by Shakespeare in his works.  The other "pest" bird we have this group to thank: House Sparrow.  Though I do actively remove any Starling nest that I find, I did think that this email and video were worth watching.  The biggest problem with Starlings is their tendency to outcompete and remove our native birds from their nesting habitats. This is a great example of how something that is considered a pest on our continent is being protected on another continent.

I have not a clue who wrote the original email so I can not pass along credit, but thank you for the interesting words and wonderful video, we can surmise it is someone who still speaks the Queen's English with the added "u's" and varied spellings. 

Here’s another mystery of nature:
No one knows why they do it. Yet each fall, thousands of starlings dance in the twilight above England and Scotland.

The birds gather in shape-shifting flocks called murmurations, having migrated in the millions from Russia and Scandinavia to escape winter’s frigid bite. Scientists aren’t sure how they do it, either.
The starlings' murmurations are manifestations of swarm intelligence, which in different contexts is practised by schools of fish, swarms of bees and colonies of ants. As far as I am aware, even complex algorithmic models haven’t yet explained the starlings’ aerobatics, which rely on the tiny birds' quicksilver reaction time of under 100 milliseconds to avoid aerial collisions—and predators—in the giant flock.

Despite their tour de force in the dusky sky, starlings have declined significantly in the UK in recent years, perhaps because of a decline in suitable nesting sites. The birds still roost in several of Britain’s rural pastures, however, settling down to sleep (and chatter) after their evening ballet.

Two young ladies were out for a late afternoon canoe ride and fortunately one of them remembered to bring her video camera. What they saw was a wonderful murmuration display, caught in the short video - URL is below. Watch the variation of colour and intensity of the patterns that the birds make in proximity to one other. And take a look at the girl in the bow of the canoe watching the aerial display.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Echinacea purpurea

I was recently lamenting to a friend about the lack of Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in my garden.  I was all set to purchase some at a recent plant sale, but they only had some cultivars of Echinacea that were white, and I really wanted the straight species Purple Coneflower.  I think it's beautiful on it's own right, and does not need to be cultivated into crazy colors and shapes! At any rate, two days later, I was walking through a meadow, and what did I find but a wonderful clump of Echinacea.

These plants are touted by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation as attracting the largest number of native bees.  There is nothing not to love about these plants: they are a great purple color which varies with the amount of light they receive and the type of soil they live in, the flowers are long lasting, they make great cut flowers, they tend to compete well in your garden, they are beneficial to native pollinators and attract HUMMINGBIRDS, and if you are really good, you can make tea out of them. Have you heard anything that you don't like? Did I mention that they are fairly hardy as well? 

I took a closer look at the clump that I had come across in the field and noticed some activity at work on the plant.  Can you find the "bug" in my picture and can you identify it? 

Now that I've talked up Echinacea I really want some for my garden.  I will attempt to sneak some in when my husband is not looking as I have been put on a recent "plant ban." More to follow about that later.....

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Fisherman Bird

Every summer I get questions about this bird, so I thought I would share some information.  This is a bird on my positive identification list.  I can tell you when I have seen this bird  and I have noticed quite a few in the last couple of weeks, so I thought it was time to discuss the bird.  I have seen one on my way home from work most nights, hanging out by a pond on the side of the road.  I think they are very pretty and unique looking birds.

Green Heron's are smallish wading birds that are typically found by a pond, wetland, or occasionally a creek.  I like to call them the "fisherman" bird because they will actually use bait to help them lure fish to the surface. Some of the bait that they use includes: twigs and insects.  They nest in trees in small colonies, nothing as large as the Great Blue Heron Rookery that I mentioned in a previous blog.  

They are called "Green Heron" but they only look green in certain light . This photograph shows a pretty good image of what you would spot.

They are pretty good at standing motionless in hopes that you will not notice them as you walk past.  There was one heron that was continuously hanging out by a trail that I was working on, he would crouch down and attempt to disappear into the mud on the side of the bank. 

He would remain motionless for a good ten minutes until I either walked away, or he realized that I was not leaving and gave up the charade.   Happy Heron Hunting!!

Friday, July 6, 2012


Here are some rain garden update photos.  These pictures were taken in the last two weeks.  The Liatris spicata is the plant that you see blooming.  Notice how well the rain garden has filled in the last week.

It has been interesting to watch the bug activity increase around the rain garden.  When you plant the correct plants they will come!

The other exciting thing about this rain garden...I have not watered it since it was put in, and look how healthy it works...doesn't that makes some of you who are using a lot of water during this dry spell stop to think? 

The correct plants, planted in the correct place, do not need to be watered!

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