The Good Guys

I know, I know….one of the creepiest feelings is witnessing a spider race across your bedroom floor.  Personally, I can’t stand spiders inside my house.  It is simply no fun to be awakened by a brown recluse dancing on your leg…eek!  Outside it is a completely different story.  While fully recognizing their importance,  I also understand that, generally speaking, they are entirely harmless.  I love to watch them design their webs, using trial and error when finding their anchor points.  The Wolf Spider is amazing the way she protects her egg sac and then carries her young on her back until they are able to fend for themselves.  They are avid hunters and will even catch and eat other spiders.  For this reason, I try to respect their space and leave them completely alone.

My absolute favorite spider in the garden has been sorely missed this year.  Normally I would find numerous guardians protecting my beds from the

annual grasshopper onslaught.  This year, however, I have not seen even one!  The wonderful spider I am speaking of is the Argiope (an orb weaver or writing spider).  When not positioned in the web, this spider is a bit of a awkward creature, requiring slow and deliberate movements. 
They are non-aggressive and very goal oriented (eat, breed, reproduce).  The female will die as cold weather moves in, so she must insure her egg sac is placed in a viable position to be safe until the spring.  The color of the egg sac can vary from milky white to a dark brown (as seen in the picture), resembling a speed bag (used in boxing) and she will most likely situate it against a structure (if available) or under some type of shelter.  If she chooses the spot wisely, the entire brood will hatch in the fall, hibernate within the sac and then emerge the following spring.  The egg sac contains approximately 500 young but very few will survive to adulthood.

Speaking of creepy creatures, this next “good guy” is commonly victim of mistaken identity.  As you watch this video, understand that this is the larvae of one our favorite insects.  Impossible as it seems, this is a young Ladybug feasting on a meal of aphids.  We know how beneficial they are for cleaning aphids off of our beloved plants and the larvae have an equally insatiable appetite.  As the Ladybug is transforming into the adult, be careful not to destroy the pupa which is equally as unattractive as the larvae!  An interesting fact is that the majority of the Ladybugs we see are not native to this country, they are native to Japan.  In the 1980’s, the USDA performed a “successful” introduction of this insect into North America.  It is now considered a “pest” in some areas because this species prefers to hibernate inside our homes.  They will seek a nice warm place on a south or west wall or ceiling to rest for winter.  Unfortunately, there is usually not enough humidity to maintain their moisture needs and many will perish.  If you find them in your house, they will not bother anything and, provided they survive, will leave on their own.

One final good guy I feel the need to mention is the Praying Mantis.  Probably the most animated insect I can think of, the movements and personality of this creature warrant our undivided attention.   Known for their cannibalistic behavior, the young mantis quickly places distance between themselves and their birth place.  They immediately begin seeking their own territory as they understand that two mantises can not reside on one prime piece of real estate.  The size of these creatures can vary greatly.  I have seen a few that measured a full 4 inches long, while the majority were quite a bit smaller.  They are quite proficient hunters and will even use their “hands” as spears to impale and pluck their pray out of the air.  Grasshoppers, flies, moths and crickets are their favorite foods, but every once in a while, they will score a butterfly, hummingbird or another mantis.

As I wander though my gardens collecting seed or pulling weeds, I am always on the lookout for fascinating creatures.  In a normal year, I find many beneficial friends and usually discover something “new”, as well.  My son (who just turned two) is beginning to notice very subtle differences and details and will be ready to “hunt” with me next year.  I can’t wait!!

As always:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

Which Plants Were Troopers?

Finally!!  It appears as though we have interrupted the extreme heat marathon (20 days…wow!).  While almost nothing went unscathed and growing ceased to a halt, there were a few plants which seemingly took it in stride.  I do not have irrigation in my garden beds and also did not supplement any of my established plants.  Many pouted, a few were scorched and some even dropped some leaves, but the rest stood strong as if they were thoroughly prepared for such an event.  Sedum, Prickly Pear and Ornamental grasses did not even skip a beat which was of no surprise, but other plants which I was sure I might lose impressed me. My fear of losing many was generated by the fact that



this was the second stressor for them this year.

Earlier this season, I was presented with an additional challenge which (I am sure) placed extra stress on my plants.  The neighboring farmer hired an individual to spray a Round-Up type (non-selective) herbicide on the fields.  In doing so, my entire yard was dusted with the product.  Nearly every one of my plants was affected.  I have since lost a few and am still waiting to find out if it did permanent damage to others, as well.  This incident combined with the extreme heat undoubtedly made my plants extra nervous.  In consideration of this, I will spare you images of my personal plants and present much more appealing representations. Thank goodness we did not have a late freeze this past spring and that we are finally receiving some much needed soaking rain.  Not near the amount we need, but it is a start.

I would have to say that the toughest plant on my list which I was surprised about was Ninebark ‘Diablo’ (on right pictured with Dianthus flowers).  At around 6 feet tall, my plant has been in the ground for about 5 years now.  Displaying only minor symptoms of being sprayed, this plant also received very little heat scorch despite being in a 100% full sun area.  There are two Barberry bushes to either side which have lost quite a few leaves.

One of my favorite plants which moved up the list during this trial is Amsonia (hubrichtii and tabernaemontana).  While this plant was highly affected by the spray, the new growth which appeared soon after barely even wilted during this heat spell.  The feathery wands stood tall and proud.  I will be adding more of this to the garden next year.

While my Hostas, Astilbe, Ligularia and Toad Lilies took a beating (all appreciate cooler weather), the Eupatorium ‘Little Joe’ (dwarf Joe Pye) never even wilted and continued flowering which provided food for the many butterflies.  Just one more plant which I would like to have more of and should look very nice in front of the Amsonia.

Crape Myrtles are seemingly so delicate and fragile.  They barely even survive our zone and can sometimes be difficult to establish.  All three of my plants still look as healthy and strong as they did before the heat wave hit.  They are even blooming! In addition, all of my Caryopteris ‘Summer Sorbet’ and Baptisia australis (pictured to the right) also sailed through this wave…they had already finished flowering which helped.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) also took it rather well.  Much to the dismay of the butterflies and hummingbirds, blooming was placed in a holding pattern.  The day after our first hard rain, my shrubs were FULL of blooms.

Any time a blooming plant is stressed, there is a distinct possibility that they will diminish or shut down bud creation.  The blooming process takes an excessive amount of energy and while it insures reproduction, many plants will place more of their attention on overall survival. We would love to know how your garden handled the heat….drop us a line if you have the time!
As always:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead