Harden-off plants before transplanting into garden

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the time when gardeners buy many of their plants to transplant into their gardens.

Most plants sold in garden centers, especially the small plants in trays, have spent their whole lives growing under glass in a greenhouse.  As a result, they are quite tender and not always able to handle the conditions outdoors.

 

Symptoms of sunburn show up as light spots on the tips of these tomato plants.

 

You can help your new plants get off to a good start by acclimating them to your garden. The horticultural term for this is “hardening off”.

Here’s what I do with new plants: After bringing them home, I water them and set them in a sheltered area under partial shade for the first day.

On the second day, they get moved to a spot that gets a couple hours of direct sunlight; the rest of the day they’re back in partial shade. Each day after that, I expose the plants to another additional couple of hours of direct sunlight until they get full sun for an entire day. I usually stretch the process out over four to seven days, depending on the condition of the plant.

By the time the conditioning period is done, the plants are tough enough to handle the sun, wind and rain.

If you don’t have days to wait before planting, even a couple days of hardening off is better than nothing.

Bob

Remove seed stalks from spring flowering bulbs

Our daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are done blooming for the season. That doesn’t mean that we can forget about them. There’s still some work left to be done that will greatly improve our chances for flowers next year.

Right now the plants are beginning  to form seed pods at the end of the flower stalks — where the old flower is attached. This is normally what happens when the plants are left to fend for themselves.

Small pruning snips work great for removing seed stalks.
Small pruning snips work great for removing seed stalks.

The problem with seed pods is they take too much energy to grow and we don’t need seeds to grow tulips, hyacinths or daffodils. To conserve that wasted energy, we need to remove those flower stalks as soon as possible after the flowers have faded.

I try to cut the flower stalks as close to the base of the plant as I can being careful not to cut off the leaves. Plants need their leaves to produce energy for growth, reproduction and other plant functions.

Since I don’t plant as many bulbs now as I did in past years, this job for me is not as demanding as it used to be. This year I only have a few hundred stalks to cut.

Bob

Gypsy moth eggs hatch

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may remember a post from last fall. It was about a gypsy moth caught in the act of laying eggs. I decided not to destroy that eggs mass.

Last week, the eggs hatched. In the photo you can see how small and seemingly helpless they are at this stage of their life. They are less than one-sixteenth of an inch long. A single rain drop could probably crush a baby caterpillar if it landed right on it. Or, at the very least, wash it from the tree branch.

 

Over one hundred gypsy moth caterpillars hatched from this egg mass.

 

So how do these small caterpillars survive our spring rain storms?

Looking at the egg mass, I think I figured it out. The mama gypsy moth lays her eggs on the underside of a branch where the baby caterpillars are well protected from direct rainfall. I’m sure many get washed away but many survive to live another day.

This is also the stage at which they are most vulnerable to insecticides. You can imagine it wouldn’t take much spray to kill these pests now compared to later in the season  when they have grown into full-sized caterpillars.

Bob

Flowers attract hummingbirds

Bees and butterflies are fun to watch but, I think hummingbirds are the most fascinating visitors to a garden. No matter how many times you see them, they never fail to surprise and amaze.

Hummingbirds use a huge huge amount of energy in relation to their size.  Sugars found in flower nectar is source of this energy. Everyday they eat their body weight in nectar so they are constantly on the lookout for nectar-producing flowers.

You can encourage hummingbirds to visit your yard by planting the flowers they’re looking for.

They prefer red and orange tubular flowers but will feed on most brightly-colored flowers with nectar. There’s plenty of flowers that meet these requirements.

Hummingbirds like tubular flowers such as petunias and nicotiana.
Hummingbirds like tubular flowers such as petunias and nicotiana.

Here’s a partial list to consider: monarda, red salvia, agastache, honeysuckle vine, fushia, verbena, phlox, butterfly bush, daylily, trumpet creeper, cypress vine, coral bells, heirloom petunias, penstemnon, morning glory, bugle weed, red-hot poker, and many others.

Like people, hummingbirds also need protein and fats in their diet. They get those nutrients by eating gnats, mosquitoes and other small insects. So, having an area of wild plants — weeds — nearby will provide space for these small insects to grow.

Finally, hummingbirds need trees and shrubs to provide a place for them to nest and to escape from predators.

If you look around, you’ll probably see that most of the things hummingbirds need are already in your neighborhood.

Planting the right kind of flowers is the best way to get hummingbirds to hang out in your backyard.

Bob