Fantail Willow Success

Last March, I bought a few dried stem of Japanese fantail willow (Salix udensis) at a local floral store to use in our garden club’s Asian floral arrangement workshop. It is a willow shrub that seems to grow normally but for some reason that is not fully understood, mutant stems begin to appear on an otherwise normal looking plant. Here and there, one or more stems begin to merge together or fasciate into flat stems that can end in unusual curls. Fasciation can occur on any plant and experts believe the effect may be caused by either hormones, genes, bacteria, fungus, virus or the environment.

 

The stems I purchased last year were used in arrangements, then put away to dry for future arrangements… that is all except one tiny twig. That one twig I placed in a glass of water and sat it in a sunny window to root.

fantail willow 3/7/2019

It did produce fine roots and in the spring, I plopped it into the garden when the soil had warmed enough to support the plant. Like all willows, it grew fast.

Fantail Willow 2019

When it was about 2 1/2-ft tall, I noticed one thick shoot on the side was beginning to widen and merge multiple small stems that soon mutated into a beautiful elongated fantail. Success! I was delighted but totally surprised because I’d read that it usually will take 3 to 4 years to develop this weird condition.

fantail willow 2019

Soon the shrub will turn a golden yellow and the leaves will drop. In late winter, it will develop a profusion of tiny puffs of pussy willow catkins. It is then that I’ll harvest the stem to incorporate into my floral decorations…… and next spring I’ll donate the shrub as a transplant to my daughter who has much more garden space than I.

Fantail Willow 2019

In her lovely landscape will be an endless supply of fantail willow for both of us!

Triplets

The signs were there. I knew I had a hornworm on one of my tomato plants.  Bare branches, nibbled tomatoes, and caterpillar frass (waste) were the giveaways. The hornworm starts at the top of the plant stripping leaves and scaring small tomatoes. It can be a dreaded pest in the vegetable garden defoliating tomato plants and other plants like potatoes and peppers.

They are fairly inactive during the daylight hours so I just followed branches until I came upon it resting in the shadows of the plant.

But oh…. I saw other movement. This tobacco hornworm has company. There are siblings. Gosh, I’ve never had triplets before.

three tobacco hornworms 2019

The tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) is identified by the red curved ‘horn,’ the soft red protrusion you can see at the tail end of the body. It also has 7 white stripes along the body. There’s a tomato hornworm with a dark ‘horn’ and white v-markings along the body.

tobacco hornworm 2019

So what am I going to do? Nothing. It’s fall.  I have no tomatoes turning red. This plant is my smaller one with smaller green tomatoes. I’ll do nothing to harm the caterpillars because I admire the very last stage of development.

If you have seen the magnificent adult stage of the Manduca sexta, a large moth, darting in and out of garden blooms, you can’t help but be impressed. Its wingspan is almost 5″ and it is quite agile. It hovers over flowers and can easily be mistaken for a hummingbird. I call it a hawk moth but it’s known elsewhere as a Carolina sphinx moth and other terms.

1920px-Manduca_sexta_MHNT_CUT_2010_0_104_Dos_Amates_Catemaco_VeraCruz_Mexico_female_dorsal

Yep, the tomato season is over for me so I willingly offer this one plant to the caterpillars. They can be destructive but as pollinators and a food source for other organisms, they have an ecological role in nature.

Sombrero ‘Lemon Yellow’

The Sombrero series of coneflowers come in a wide range of colors from red and pink to orange and white. I grow more than one variety but the showy ‘Lemon Yellow,’ a large flower that provides a vivid floral display in the cutting garden is a winner. Oh my, what a wonderful compact Echinacea hybrid for a compact garden like mine!

Sombrero 'Lemon Yellow'

The flowers stand about 2-feet high above sturdy stems with nice green foliage that extends to the base of the plant.  And like all coneflowers, the Sombrero series is adaptable to a wide range of garden conditions… drought, heat, humidity and poor soil.

The ‘Lemon Yellow’ is not only a showstopper in the garden, the bees, the butterflies and all our hummingbirds spend 3 months feasting on the nectar rich blooms. I deadhead some the flowers to encourage more blooms, but the dried seedheads provide food for our dwindling population of birds during the winter. I leave a good number of blooms on the plants for them.

And the best news of all…. the bunnies have not put these flowers on their dinner menu. How sweet is that??

 

BMSB is coming to a garden near you

It’s the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and it’s been detected in my garden. And, yes, I did a little freak out when I saw it. It isn’t a very nice insect to have.

According to UNH’s Anna Wallingford, Extension State Specialist, Entomology & IPM, “BMSB is an invasive insect that was accidentally introduced to the US some time ago. It was first reported in Pennsylvania in the 90’s where it was mostly considered a nuisance pest. By the early 2000’s it was considered an agricultural pest in the mid-Atlantic states. In 2010, tree fruit and vegetable growers saw catastrophic losses due to BMSB damage.

Piercing-sucking feeding by huge numbers of stinkbug adults and nymphs leaves fruit bruised and beaten up, sometimes shriveled, definitely unmarketable. It’s really hard to distinguish BMSB feeding damage from native stink bug damage, other than the sheer scale of damage when outbreaks happen. BMSB has remained a serious pest for mid-Atlantic growers and parts south – in crops like peach, apple, sweet corn, tomato, peppers, raspberries, snap beans…holy moly, you name it and this stinkbug loves it.”

Two days ago, I was observing the hydrangea blooms for other pests that have overwhelmed our garden this September… bald faced hornets and yellow jackets that seem to be attracted only to hydrangea blooms. I’ve never seen so many. They dive deep into the flowerhead and you’d never know they are inside until they pop to the surface. Needless to say, I haven’t cut any blooms for arrangements this year.

I was photographing the pesky yellow jacket above when I noticed an unusual stink bug scurrying across the flowerhead behind this one. Whoa! Could that be a BMSB? I’d only seen pictures of the insect before this, but I knew those white sections on the antennae are the best giveaway.

It was moving fast and ducked behind flower petals within seconds. I caught a couple of unfocused photos before it disappeared and I sent them off to UNH. I heard back that, although blurry, the photos do indeed look like a BMSB.

BMSB 2019

The agent wrote, “That certainly looks like a brown marmorated stink bug, although I can’t be 100% certain due to the photo quality. It wouldn’t be surprising, given that they are known to reside in the Seacoast region. Their numbers have been fairly low this year, but they are still present.”

And he added, “At this point they may be laying eggs, so you may look for clusters of their light green, barrel-shaped eggs on the underside of leaves.”

The BMSB is categorized as a “nuisance” insect in NH, but with milder climate in the Seacoast region, experts say it’s just a matter of time before we will have larger problems especially with fruit orchards! According to reports, it’s not time to freak out yet and it’s reassuring that the good folks at UNH are keeping an eye on the problem. If a serious problem arises in New Hampshire, they will let us know. Meanwhile, I’m watching my two tomato plants a whole lot closer!

BMSB map courtesy UNH:https://extension.unh.edu/blog/over-informed-ipm-episode-016-brown-marmorated-stinkbug-bmsb-part-i-when-freak-out