Monday, March 24, 2014

Dylan Winter and the Starling Murmurations

North Americans know the Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) as a pest. It was was introduced when the head of the "American Acclimatization Society", a wealthy drug manufacturer named Eugene Scheiffelin, released 60 birds he had imported from England in New York City's Central Park in 1890. He released 40 more the following year. Scheiffelin wanted to introduce all birds mentioned in William Shakespeare's works to America in order to help European immigrants feel comfortable in their new home.

Not surprisingly, the starlings didn't confine themselves to Central Park. They now inhabit North American in large numbers. Eugene Scheiffelin's name will live in infamy.

Beside being unattractive birds, they can be aggressive toward smaller species. Starlings often displace Purple Martins from their homes. They eat bird food intended for others. Large flocks leave quite a mess behind. Despite their reputation, starlings are wonderful at controlling insect pests. Furthermore, their flights can be amazing, especially in flocks of thousands.

Enjoy the following video: Dylan Winter and the Starling Murmurations.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Another Pest On The Loose: The Redheaded Flea Beetle.

Yet another pest is on the loose, apparently moving southward from New England. Now it's the redheaded flea beetle (Systena frontalis). It has recently become a serious nursery pest, and if it's a problem for plant nurseries, it can become a problem for you.

xpda [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

The redheaded flea beetle munches on roots and leaves of woody plants, vegetables and perennials including crape myrtle, hydrangea, roses, buddleia, forsythia, blueberries, cranberries, cabbage, beans, beets, sedum, salvia, hibiscus, rudbeckia and coreopsis. After overwintering in the soil, the larvae hatch and start on the roots. Heavy infestations can completely girdle plants.

The larvae are slender and white. Adult redheaded flea beetles are about 1/16 inch long, black with reddish heads and have long antennae. As the name suggests, they jump when spooked.

Gardeners probably won't see them when they're feeding in the root zone, but will notice skeletonized leaves from feeding adults. Redheaded flea beetles seem to be more abundant in rural gardens adjacent to row crops such as soybeans and corn.

So far, there aren't any sure-fire remedies for redheaded flea beetle infestations. They might be caught with sticky traps. They feed on certain weeds, so their numbers might be reduced if gardens are kept weed-free. Researchers are working on chemical combinations they hope will do the trick. Systemic insecticides containing dinotefuran and bifenthrin seem to work well. Dinotefuran is pretty expensive.

Pesticides should be applied in mid- to late spring when larvae are most active. Always follow label instructions when applying chemical pesticides.

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Mount Hope Garden Cemetery, Bangor, ME

Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME. circa 1877

Beneath those rugged Elms, that Yew-Tree's Shade,
Where heaves the Turf in many a mould'ring Heap,
Each in his narrow Cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the Hamlet sleep.

From "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard", Thomas Gray (1716-71)

For centuries, Christians have laid their loved ones to rest in, under and around their churches. Churchyards filled with graves remind worshipers and passersby alike of their mortal end. They help us focus every Sunday on primary issues, shooing away less important fancies of worldly pursuits.

Be that as it may, churchyards have presented problems for urban churches for lack of space. By the 1830s, cities were stuffed with mouldering heaps. The blog, Victorian Gothic, records, "In the early 1800′s, New Yorkers looked with horror upon Trinity churchyard, which had become so densely packed with bodies that its burial mounds rose several yards above street level."

The advent of the Victorian Era (1837-1901) heralded new inventions, new prosperity, social upheaval, new philosophies and new ideals. David Charles Sloane details in The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History, how the problem of overcrowded churchyards gave rise to a pleasing solution: the rural cemetery.

Mount Hope, 2nd garden cemetery in America. Bangor, ME

Rural cemeteries were laid out as landscaped garden parks providing places for memorializing, reflectiing, strolling and even sight-seeing. All of which was right convenient for city-dwellers. While it might sound a bit weird to sight-see among the dead, I think of two cemeteries here in historic Savannah, GA that draw thousands of visitors each year: Bonaventure Cemetery and Colonial Park Cemetery.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts was the first of its kind in the United States, followed closely by Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine. Mount Hope's walking tour map shows how its plan nicely follows the contours of the landscape.

Mount Hope Cemetery may be home of the oldest Civil War monument in the country, Soldiers Monument, dedicated in 1864. The Second Maine Infantry Regiment served in battles at Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Mount Hope is also the resting place of a few more notables. Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln's first Vice-President is buried there, as well as his children, Sarah Hamlin Batchelder and Charles Hamlin. Both are said to have witnessed President Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865.

Al Brady, notorious gangster of the 1930s, is buried there. Brady began his life of crime in his native Indiana. He eventually made his way, along with gang members Clarence Lee Shaffer, Jr., James Dalhover, and Charles Geisking, to Bangor. Following the death of John Dillinger, Al Brady moved up to be the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1. He and his gang were on the run. Maine, with its vast forests, seemed like a good place to hide. Posing as hunters, they attempted to buy Tommy guns at Dakin's Sporting Goods. It was their odd choice of hunting weapons that gave them away. When they returned to Dakin's to check on their order, the Brady Gang, except one, was gunned down by FBI agents.  A plaque in a downtown Bangor sidewalk marks the spot.

Mount Hope was a site for the filming of the movie, Pet Sematary, based on Stephen King's novel. Presently, Stephen King is a resident of Bangor.

Ominous raven. Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, ME

Mount Hope is a fine place to visit any time of year. Each season blankets it with a different covering and sets the stage for another mood. Follow the links below to see Mount Hope Cemetery in May.

A scene in Mount Hope Cemetery.

Office and Visitor Center.

Memorial Fort to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Bluet covered hillside. Mount Hope Cemetery.

Lilacs in bloom.

Webber Waiting Room.

Ubiquitous Arborvitae (Tree of Life).

Peirce Memorial to the 2nd Maine Regiment.

View of the Mount.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A New Pest on the Loose: Crape Myrtle Bark Scale

There's a new garden pest on the loose. It's an insect called Crape myrtle bark scale (CMBS), and it's spreading very quickly across the southeastern U.S. Crape myrtle bark scale was first observed near Dallas, TX in 2004, and it's spreading eastward.

CMBS appears as white or grayish felt-like encrustations on the wood. At first they may be found in branch crotches or near pruning wounds, but heavy infestations are capable of covering the tree.

Since most gardeners don't spend much time inspecting crape myrtle crotches, the adult insects are usually missed until black sooty mold is discovered. Sooty mold is a black, powdery fungus that is usually associated with aphid infestations, so the real culprit may not be identified correctly.

Crape myrtle bark scale probably won't destroy our crape myrtles, but a heavy infestation and all that sooty mold sure will make them look ugly. It also stands to reason that a ton of insects sucking on the trees and sooty mildew coating the leaves can weaken them.

There are a few things you can do to combat CMBS:
  • Be aware that CMBS may target hybrid crape myrtles first. If you have hybrids, check them closely every now and then.
  • Look for black sooty mold on the bark, remembering that sooty mold may result from aphids and CMBS.
  • Washing the trunk and limbs as high as you can reach, working with a soft brush and dishwashing soap. This will help to remove female scales, eggs and the black sooty mold.
  • Though horticultural oil spray hasn't been shown to be effective, it sure can't hurt. Horticultural oil works by covering the scales and suffocating them. Spray with enough force to get the oil under loose bark and into tight crevices. Spray thoroughly.
  • Winter is a very good time to wash your trees and spray with horticultural oil because the leaves are off and it's easier to see what you're doing, and higher application rates can be used without hurting the plant.
  • Systemic insecticides applied as a soil drench are known to be effective. Be sure to read and follow all label instructions. It's best to spray during May or June. Don't expect instant results because it will take a few weeks for the chemical to spread throughout the plant.
  • If you prefer to avoid systemic insecticides, let lady beetles do the work. Lady beetles love to eat aphids and baby scales.

For more information, check out the following link: Texas A/M:

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Question about planting ornamental grasses over a septic system

Q. I have a septic system that I would like to plant ornamental grasses over. This is located on a slope of about 30 degrees. The soil is mostly clay. The area receives 4-5 hours of sun per day. I'm located in north Georgia. I enjoyed your article in Nov./Dec. of Georgia Gardening. Any information or resource you might provide would be appreciated.

By SuSanA Secretariat - Septic tank Uploaded by Elitre, CC BY 2.0

A. Planting grasses over your septic system is a good idea. If septic repairs are needed, grasses will recover more quickly than shrubs.

If planting over the drain field, I suggest you plant shorter grasses because root systems tend to be commensurate with top growth. Tall grasses like Cortaderia, many Miscanthus and Panicum species have deeper roots, which you should avoid. If planting over the septic tank itself, you could theoretically plant taller Miscanthus, Panicum, Agrostis, etc., because the concrete septic lid would prevent root penetration. But septic tanks usually are not buried deeply, so tall species might not have enough soil to grow anyway.

You should also consider whether you want full coverage of the area such as a lawn substitute, or clumping grasses which tend not to grow together. If you want clumping grasses, some good ones include Festuca ovina var. glauca, Helictotrichon sempervirens, Muhlenbergia capillaris var. filipes, some dwarf cultivars of Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Honey', 'Burgundy Bunny', 'Little Bunny', Carex hachijoensis (syn. Carex morrowii). You could also use grass-like plants such as Liriope muscari 'Aztec', Liriope muscari 'Variegata', L. muscari 'Densiflora'

If you want creeping grasses, some good ones include Carex pensylvanica, Festuca rubraHakonechloa macra, or grass-like plants such as Liriope muscari 'Royal Purple', Liriope spicata, Ophiopogon japonicus.

I've not provided an exhaustive list.

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