Thursday, May 21, 2020

How’s Your Garden Going?

A drooping, dying sunflower - photo by Robert UllmannThis Covid-19 spring has seen a huge surge in the number of people planting gardens. It seems that being stuck at home during planting season has been inspirational for many, while others are suddenly interested in where their food comes from. With so many rookies dipping their toes in the gardening pool, there are bound to be some garden failures and the ensuing loss of interest. If you are one of these struggling gardeners, don’t despair; most gardening flubs come from a few common mistakes that can be avoided or fixed.

If you haven’t planted yet and are getting ready to do so, you can avoid future problems before you begin digging. If you haven't planted a garden yet and wonder if it is too early/late, here is a handy tool for determining when is best in your planting zone (where you live). For more information on planting zones, this article is helpful.

A map of the US showing in the different planting zones in an array of colors.
US Planting Zones
A successful garden begins with great soil, a knowledge of the land you’re working with,  what pests might be there, and a thoughtfully made plan. Let's see how that works:

Soil – Back in February I wrote two blogs on preparing your soil to plant; one is about feeding your soil before planting and the other is about soil pH. The important take away from both of these is that you should know what kind of soil you have and enrich it before planning your garden.

A field of crops bordered by a row of trees and a pond in the background. It's all bathed in afternoon light.
Where You’re Planting – Most people don’t think about where the sun lands in their yard until they are forced to move their lawn chair from place to place during a barbecue. But any plants you plant will notice where the sun is right away. Full sun, partial shade and full shade are critically important distinctions that you need to determine before you decide what to grow. Luckily, this article painlessly walks you through this process.

A brown dog with his whole head in a hole in a garden.Pests – Insect and soil-dwelling pests can put the kibosh on your garden dreams. But not all common pests are all that common everywhere. A beetle may be more of a problem where you live than an aphid, although both are considered common pests. Do some online research, visit a local nursery, or contact your county extension office (find yours here) to see what you're up against so that you can prepare and/or plant accordingly. Don’t forget to protect against warm-blooded pests as well. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Birds, deer, rabbits, and squirrels can quickly appear and devastate a garden just when you are ready to enjoy it, while moles and voles will be out of sight underground as they feast on roots (check out our selection of excellent animal control products here). And then there is the family dog – no matter how much you love them, they can and will destroy what you’ve built. Here are some ways to dog-proof the area.

Two women in long skirts with scarves on their heads looking out over a field.Planning – Having a great plan is the key to success in many things, and gardening is no exception. It is in this step of garden building that you can avoid some common gardening concerns before they even start. First of all, bring all your ambitions down a notch. Instead of tilling up a whole quarter-acre, why not just a small plot by the back door to begin with? Gardens are physically taxing and time-consuming, usually more so than an inexperienced gardener expects. Start small and expand gradually to avoid that overwhelmed feeling that takes the fun out of the experience. Another way to encourage success is to only plant what you like. While this seems logical, a surprising number of people don’t follow this simple rule. If you are doing a vegetable garden, don’t plant what your family won’t eat and appreciate. If you are doing an ornamental garden, don’t plant a high maintenance, slow-growing plant; try one that is quick and beautiful instead. Your commitment to the project should be rewarded by something you like, otherwise, your interest will wane.

A little boy in red boots digging a hole in a garden.
Now that you are ready to get your hands dirty, here are some pointers for laying down the proper foundation for a successful garden:

Dig Wide & Deep - Plants need loose soil around them for air and water to move around and for roots to grow, so make sure you put them in a hole that is plenty big enough. This article says the hole should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the pot the plant came in. It is hard for a plant to come back from a too-small hole (unless you dig them up and transplant them), so it’s best to go big here.

Spacing – This is important as an extension of the previous point, but it also touches on the look you’re going for in a garden and the growing practices of various plants in a vegetable garden. If you want a lush flowerbed, plant those babies close together. Do the opposite if you are planting perennials that take years to fully mature. If you are planting vining plants with bush plants, consider what might grow over the other. Additionally, consider how you will access your plants once they start to produce for you. All in all, carefully consider where growth will take each plant.
Landscaping by the water using red mulch between the plants.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch – This important step is, unfortunately, often overlooked. No matter what type of garden you are planting, mulch is almost magical in its ability to hold moisture and soil in your garden. It is also very ornamental these days and comes in a huge variety of manmade and natural materials. Not sure what to use? This article should help.

Garden tools hung on a wall with the words "In case of zombies or yard work" written over them.Money Problems – Many people choose to start a garden as a way to relax and, perhaps, save a little money at the grocery store. And then the garden becomes a demanding money pit – not relaxing at all. Don’t go out and buy all sorts of gadgets and fancy gear. All you need are a handful of tools (see this article for the 5 basic and 5 nice-to-have items) and some old clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and sweaty. Plants and seeds can get pricey if you go straight to the big-box store, so get creative with other ways to acquire them (again, your cooperative extension may be helpful), this article has some excellent ideas.

A Lego-man toy with a red watering can in a planter.If you have already planted, some of the things that could go wrong may already be in place. This does not mean that you can’t take steps to mitigate the situation, even if it means moving plants or even scrapping the whole thing and starting over. Here is a video that shows how to revive sick and dying plants.

The same Lego man as before, now actively watering.Whether you planted a while back or are just getting started, if you want a happy, healthy garden there are two things to practice regularly and properly throughout the growing season: weeding and watering. Weed whether you want to or not; weeding is like doing the dishes, the longer you put it off the worse it gets. Everyone
knows that watering is essential, but how your water is at the heart of a great garden. Frequent, shallow watering does not get the job done and leads to uneven watering. Slow, deep, and less frequent watering is the better method. However, as with everything else, what you are growing and where you are growing should have a huge impact on your watering practices.

Happy Gardening!                                                                                                 Submitted by Pam

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What's This Bug? The Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper.

Close-up of a Psorophora ciliata - The Shaggy-Legged GallinipperThese days everyone wants to just get out and get on with their summer fun (except for those of us in AZ who are entering our self-imposed, heat-avoiding annual lockdown); but, remember there are hungry creatures out there waiting anxiously for your return. Case in point: The Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper (SLG). If you think this sounds like something you might hear on a show like “Moonshiners”, you aren’t far off. “Gallinipper” is an heirloom Southern term for an exceptionally large insect with a frightening bite. Which this is and it has hairy legs.

Close-up of a Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper mosquito sitting on a finger.So, what is this bug? It's a mosquito (Psorophora ciliata), but not your average skeeter. It’s unusual in many ways. First of all, the SLG is big (as you’ve no doubt deduced) – like 3 to 6 times as big as a typical mosquito. It’s fairly rare and does not appear unless there has been abundant wet weather. It’s also an aggressive carnivorous predator that prefers other mosquitoes as prey, but does not limit itself to them. On the up side, it’s not a vector for disease transmission to humans.

A map showing in gray the areas where the Shaggy-Legged Gallinippers can be found in North America.
SLG Distribution  
The SLG is a mosquito that is hard to miss and hard to forget. At about the size of a quarter, you will see these suckers coming. While their size may be intimidating, they are not the largest mosquito in the world. That honorific belongs to the genus Toxorhynchites and can be found worldwide. Toxorhynchites mosquitoes are huge, but at least they are not bloodsuckers. More on them here.

A flooded meadow with more water in than foreground and more green in the background.Although their territory is expanding as our climate changes, the SLG is primarily found in the Southeastern and Midwestern parts of the US. That being said, they have been reported as far north as Ontario and as far south as Argentina. Even though recent severe hurricanes and flooding have been followed by a rise in the SLG population, these are still uncommon mosquitoes. Everything has to fall into place for them to emerge in numbers, This is due to how they have adapted their lifecycle to respond to flooding events. SLG females have the ability to hold sperm until they find an ideal egg-laying time and location. They then fertilize the eggs as they are being laid and create an egg bank (which can contain a million eggs) for future hatching. For an SLG mom the perfect spot is not in standing water like many mosquitoes, it is on moist and low-lying ground that will likely flood at some point. This means they could be in anything from a drainage ditch to a woodland meadow. There the eggs will sit for as long as it takes for water to reach and cover them, then they will hatch. This waiting period can be years-long long, but the eggs are specially adapted to remain viable when dry and can easily overwinter. Once a hurricane or some sustained thunderstorms bring water to them, all these patient eggs will burst out all at once and the race will be on to start the next generation.

A close up of the head of the Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper Mosquito.
A female with her syringe-like proboscis
 Due to the transient nature of the pools from which the SLG emerges, these mosquitoes have a short eggs-to-adults period at just over a week. The adults then only live for a couple of weeks. Both of these are factors in why they grow so large and ferocious. They first grow big in their larval stage when they are eager carnivores, dining on other mosquito larvae and other aquatic invertebrates, and size matters when it comes to the ability to capture and consume prey. Likewise, being bigger and stronger for their short lives means that they can produce more eggs or sperm and do not need to feed to bulk up. Females may only need one full blood meal to get the nutrition she needs, which reduces the likelihood that she will seek out a human to bite and also puts her out of the disease-transmission game. However, by all accounts, you don’t want to get bit even once by one of these. It has been reported that their bite feels like a stabbing and is strong enough to go through two layers of cotton.

A black and white cartoon of people reading a large screen that says>< "Giant Mosquitoes Advancing On City"Here at ARBICO, we have some fabulous mosquito control options to arm yourself with before heading out there this summer. However, if you live in certain areas that are prone to flooding and/or hurricanes and still hope to be out enjoying nature in the coming months, be aware that you may get nailed by a large and strong lady mosquito. But, she’ll probably only bite once. Of course, she has billions of sisters that she hangs out with, so……

Submitted by Pam

Friday, May 8, 2020

May Flowers Are Here Again

An assortment of brightly colored flowersWe all know the time-worn adage about April showers and May flowers, but in these pandemic times it seems to be a metaphor for what we are all going through. Troubles rained down on us in April, but in May hope for better days is blooming. Mother Nature is moving forward, with or without Covid-19, and she’s giving us beautiful flowers to enjoy as we work our way into our new reality.

White Mayflower blooms
Before I get into all the flowers of May, I’d like to address the one that carries May in its name: the Mayflower (not to be mistaken for the ship that the pilgrims sailed on). Mayflower blooms spring from a creeping shrub found in undergrowth all along the East coast of North America. Their dainty white or pink flowers have a delightfully sweet scent and nectar that pollinators flock to. It is also known as Trailing Arbutus and is the state flower of Massachusetts.

Some of the most iconic flower beauties bloom naturally in May in the Northern Hemisphere. While many of these are commercially grown and available year-round, viewing these flowers in their “natural” habitat at this time of year can’t be beaten. Some of my personal favorites are:

Lovely lilacs in a glass vase. Photo by Rodion Kustaev on Unsplash.
Lovely Lilacs
Lilacs – It seems everyone likes the smell of lilacs (except for one child in my family who “is not a fan”), but not all varieties are equally fragrant (Syringa vulgaris is the one that has the strongest “lilac-y” aroma). If you decide you want to grow some lilac, be aware that it is prone to Powdery Mildew. Since this fungal pathogen is best treated pro-actively, you should be prepared to treat it as soon as possible. Our Powdery Mildew page has some excellent options to protect your plants.

An assortment of multicolored Snapdragon blooms. 
Snazzy Snapdragons

Snapdragons – These majestic towers of blooms remind me of my childhood in Virginia. My mother always planted these and we children were endlessly fascinated by their “mouths” and how we could make them open and close (I’m pretty sure we did that behind Mom’s back). Snapdragons may slow their flowering as summer heats up, but there are techniques to encourage them to keep blooming.  These flowers are susceptible to many common pests and diseases (see a list here), but the good news is that here at ARBICO we have something to combat each and every one of them.
Mixed peonies blooming in shades of pink and red.
A Plethora of Peonies
Peonies – This is an obvious choice for a list of favorites – they come in so many shapes, fragrances, varieties, and colors and all are as beautiful as the next. You can even eat them! It’s virtually impossible to not like peonies. To maximize their beauty in your garden, plant a number of varieties as some will bloom later than others. More on that and overall peony care, in this article here.

A magnificent white Magnolia flower amongst green leaves.
Magnificent Magnolia
Magnolias – This is
another flower that holds great personal nostalgia for me. A whiff of that unmistakable and delightful fragrance and I am transported back to my grandmother’s front yard in North Carolina. She had two huge magnolia trees growing on either side of the steps that ran from the front porch to the road. We children would climb those trees and spy on the adults as they visited on the front porch or we'd pretend we were in some sort of secret lair. This would be great fun unless our grandfather caught us up there – he didn’t like us climbing the trees and would holler at us until we scurried down. Nostalgia aside, I can’t say enough good things about magnolias – they make wonderful shade (and climbing) trees and their flowers are exquisite – beautiful and ridiculously fragrant. Read this to learn more about the regal magnolia.                   
Lily of the Valley flower against dark green leaves,
Lily of The Valley

Someone (probably a marketing-minded florist) designated a flower for each month. The flower for May is Lily of the Valley. Delicately beautiful, these little bell-shaped flowers hide the fact that they are toxic to humans and animals and considered by many to be invasive (more on that here). It may be best to appreciate these from afar and resist the urge to ring the little bell.

A row of purple Jacaranda trees with purple blooms and black trunks.
Jacaranda trees
All of the flowers I’ve mentioned so far are found in temperate parts of the world, but there are also flowers popping out all over the desert here in southern Arizona. One reliable May bloomer is the Jacaranda tree. When you see their purple, Wysteria-like blooms, you know the school year is ending (except in 2020, of course). These trees are not native to our area, but they have proven to be well adapted to our harsh climate and provide great shade. Cactus of all kinds are also blooming like crazy right now. Prickly pears are producing vivid flowers in a number of colors and saguaros are wearing their festive hats of white blooms and are often sporting the literal feather in the cap in the form of a white-winged dove (for more on this special relationship, see my blog from last year here).

Purple-ish prickly pear cactus with hot pink flowers.
Prickly Pear bloom
A black figure embracing orange and yellow flowers.If you see all this burgeoning beauty blooming around you and wish you could participate, it is not too late. This article has some great suggestions and advice to help you create a flower garden that you can plant now to bloom in late summer and fall.

When you feel overwhelmed by all the negativity floating around these days, look at a  flower and think of what Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
                      "Earth laughs in flowers"

Submitted by Pam

Friday, May 1, 2020

May Day In Many Ways

Different types of little flower-filled May Baskets hanging on a grey slatted fence.

May 1st is May Day, a day that has accumulated a lot of traditions and significance over the centuries. The first traditions around this time of year are aligned with the seasons and astrology. But in the last 116 years, the nature-centric theme of the day has been expanded to include specific man-made needs and recognitions. This newest version has nothing in common with the original, but they both remain important to those that commemorate the day and they both have a role in human history.

A woman in a white dress and a flower crown. There is a man in a green costume behind her. It's the May Queen and theGreen Man at the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland
May Day, like so many of our seasonal celebrations, has its roots in astrology and Celtic traditions. May 1st lands midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice and is known as a Cross Quarter Day, one of four in the Celtic calendar. In Ireland and Scotland, Cross Quarter Days were a time of fire festivals and on April 30th-May 1st they celebrated Beltane. Beltane was hugely important to those ancient people. It represented the greening of the world, ripening fertility, and the end of the dark months and entry into the light. In their world, the year was divided into two parts and May 1st marked a crucial point. Winter and the beginning of the year began on November 1 and midyear and summer (the all-important growing time) began on May 1st. At these turning points, the boundary between the natural and the supernatural came down. Witches, fairies, and other mythical beasts would be on the prowl. Sound familiar? In our time, we celebrate Halloween and All Soul’s Day as a direct descendant of their Samhainn festival, but somehow the spooky components didn’t carry down from Beltane to modern May Day celebrations. Nevertheless, there are people who still celebrate the Beltane Fire Festival around the world; Edinburgh, Scotland hosts one of best-known. They have a beautiful May Queen, a Green Man, White Women, Blue Men, and lots of drumming with naked and semi-naked dancing around a bonfire. It’s a Game of Thrones meets Burning Man kind of thing. Here are a bunch of videos about it and here are some cool pictures.

Girls in multi-colored dresses dance around a Maypole at a festival.
A wicker basket holding long-stemmed pink roses.Apart from neo-paganic celebrations, bonfires are not generally included in modern May Day festivities. Instead, there are May baskets and Maypoles (which, not surprisingly, originated as female and male fertility symbols) and other customs that more closely align with Nature’s bounty than with supernatural entities. May Baskets were traditionally paper cones or everyday baskets, filled with newly-blooming flowers and maybe a small gift, and left at a loved one’s door anonymously. This custom is not as well-known these days, but we did this every year in my family as a gift to our mother. And she always acted surprised. Maypoles are a novelty these days as well, something you see at a Renaissance Fair or a school festival, but they were still relatively common well into the middle of the 20th century. There are lots of ways you can revive old customs and celebrate May Day, this article has some interesting ideas and informational nuggets. For instance, I had no idea that May 1st was the traditional day to move bees (By the way, if you’re interested in beekeeping, check out our bee page).

A graphic showing silhouettes of people holding signs and fists in the are and the words"Equal Rights For All Workers"Aside from being an ancient seasonal celebration, May 1st has become a day to honor the workers of the world – International Worker’s Day. In our country, this day of recognition has been colored as being a Communist or Socialist construct. But, that is deeply unfair to its origins and only reflects the eagerness with which Communist Bloc countries embraced it. International Workers Day grew out of the Labor Movement of the late 1800s, a time of sweatshops and child labor and appalling conditions in general for the average worker. At that time, workers of all ages were expected to work extremely long hours for extremely low pay. In an effort to bring some humanity to the situation, organizers began to demand 8-hour workdays. In Chicago on May 4, 1886 there was to be a peaceful demonstration in Haymarket Square to voice their demand. Out of nowhere, someone threw a stick of dynamite into the crowd and mayhem broke out. At the end of the day, eight people were dead, including seven policemen.
An old print of an an artist's depiction of the Haymarket Incident in 1886.
The Haymarket Incident, 1886
Four of the organizers of the event were ultimately hanged for what happened, even though they were nowhere near where the dynamite was thrown (the perpetrator was never discovered). Known as the Haymarket Incident, this day has affected every American worker since then. Outrage over the miscarriage of justice quickly translated into public support for the men’s cause and the 8-hour workday ultimately became law. In 1899, in commemoration of the sacrifices of the strikers, International Worker’s Day was designated for every May 1st. Unfortunately, some items on their wishlist for workers are still being withheld – including a standardized living wage, eliminating discriminatory practices in hiring and in the workplace and pay equity. The struggle continues and there are protests for workers' rights every year on this date. It seems we have not progressed as much in the last 121 years as we’d like to think we have.

An illustration of a plane with smoke coming out of an engine, It says, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is an emergency".One last May Day story (or should I say Mayday story?): As anyone who has ever seen a cheesy disaster movie knows, you always yell,” Mayday! Mayday!” into the radio when your ship or plane is going down. Not “SOS!” – with good reason, as it turns out. SOS had long been used as a distress message when using a telegraph, primarily because it has a simple and distinctive Morse code pattern (…---…). But, as planes took to the air and telephones came into use, it became apparent that “SOS” is not as clearly understood over a radio or phone. When spoken, it can easily be mistaken for something else, especially when communicating across languages. Although credit for the original idea is murky, the Mayday call, (a variation of the French term “M’aidez”, which means “Help me”) came into use in 1923 and remains the standard for emergency calls.

Black & white cartoon with some kind of animal creatures dancing around a Maypole-Giraffe with that has a daisy face. The words May Day blink on and off in hot pink letters.You can enjoy a May Day celebration any day – a May Basket becomes simply a basket of flowers given with love and support for workers translates into a vote for an increase in teachers’ wages or plain old kindness and gratitude for those working hard around us. You can also dance around in appreciation of Nature (costumes optional). But I would not recommended using the Mayday call just for the heck of it.

Submitted by Pam                                                     

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