Garden Gossip with Ted Smith

Well, I finally feel comfortable saying that it looks like summer might actually be here. The full moon has passed so the danger of frost should be minimal. Daytime temperatures are high enough to make even the most heat-loving plants happy. All we need now is a nice gentle warm rain and it looks like that might even be on tap for the weekend. The stars are aligning for everyone who prefers spending time in their gardens over any other place.

In today’s Garden Gossip column we’re going to take the time to walk around the yard and garden while looking at a few jobs that need to be done. We’re officially entering the busy season.

One question that I get multiple times a year relates to the many tulips and daffodils that are currently doing their best to usher in the warm weather with a healthy dose of good cheer. Every year people ask if they can cut the unsightly left-over foliage down once their flowering bulbs have finished. The truth is that you don’t want to do this. While those leaves may not look so good once the flowers have finished blooming, they still have a critical function to fill. Your tulip and daffodil bulbs have spent an incredible amount of energy producing those lovely flowers. Now they need a chance to recover so that they can do the same thing again next year. The way your bulbs recover is through the process of photosynthesis. For this they need the leaves to be left for as log as possible to collect the sun’s energy and send it down to be stored under ground until it is needed again next spring. Once your bulbs are sufficiently replenished, the leaves will die back naturally and the bulbs will begin their long rest until next year. Once your tulip and daffodil leaves have completely browned down, they can be safely removed from the garden.

Another job that should be taken seriously right now is some preemptive pest control. If you have any young shrubs or trees in the yard, now is the perfect time to run some regular patrols looking for tent caterpillars. Tent caterpillars are fuzzy little leaf eaters who can defoliate an entire tree in a matter of a couple weeks. While this seldom kills a tree outright, the defoliation will set the tree back considerably, cause any fruit to be lost, and weaken the tree making it susceptible to potential opportunistic infections. The “tents” are easy to spot at this time of year as they are made of caterpillar “silk” and are generally found in the forks of branches. The tents are small to start (which is the perfect time to remove them), but grow as the caterpillars do. Tent caterpillars travel all over the tree by day eating leaves and retreat to the safety of their tent when they need to rest. Pulling the tent off when the caterpillars are all at home and squishing it underfoot is the best way to be done with this serious pest. Routine checks of your trees and shrubs can save a lot of heartache down the road.

Another pest situation that should be dealt with right now relates to young fruit trees. There are a number of borers, most in the clearwing moth family, who love to bore into the stems of young fruit trees right around ground level. Their activities almost always result in the death of the young tree. If you have rodent shields around the trunks of your young fruit trees, they should be removed for the summer. The dark moist environment created between these guards and the trees’ trunks is ideal for the egg laying adult moths. Long grass and weeds around your young trees creates a similar hospitable situation so the area around any young fruit trees should be maintained as clean, open and free of grass as possible.

Human pests are also a timely issue right now. We are nicely into mosquito season as I type. The only saving grace of this drought we’re in is that there are not many situations available for mosquito egg laying. Since female mosquitoes require small amounts of stagnant water in which to lay their eggs, making sure that nothing is laying around your yard to catch and hold the impending rain would be prudent. Old tires, watering cans and anything else that is capable of holding even a cup or two of rainwater should be removed. With just a little proactive effort you can maintain a yard that is very unattractive to mosquitoes.

These are just a couple of tasks to consider over the next few days. With the current weather pattern everyone will also be in a mad scramble to get their gardens planted. With the exception of peppers, just about everything else can start finding it’s way to the garden. Just keep a wary eye open for those rogue late season frosts!