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.


This is a Good Time of Year to Decide Where to Plant Evergreens

This week I’ve been helping a friend decide where to plant some evergreens in his yard.

Now is the perfect time to make those decisions because the leaves are gone from the trees and bushes.  Since evergreens keep their leaves or needles, their deep green color will stand out from the rest of the vegetation during the winter. So, it’s important to place them in the right spot.

We’re trying to  get a better idea how an evergreen will look in the yard space next winter and the following winters.

The other reason we’re doing the planning now is because we won’t be distracted by all of the spring time foliage of the other trees and shrubs. It’s too easy to get fooled into picking the wrong spot for your evergreen and regret the choice next winter.

We’re going to visually survey his yard and try to imagine how the evergreens will look in a different places around the property. Also, I keep reminding him that we need to keep in mind how big the trees or shrubs will get as they grow through the years.

Once we make the final decision, we’ll drive a stake in each spot to remind us of the planting spots. The actual planting will take place next spring.

This is not a fool-proof method but it gives us more information to help us make the best planting decision.


Female Gypsy Moth Laying Eggs

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a moth on a tree in the yard.  It took me a couple of seconds to  realize it was a female gypsy moth.

That  gypsy moth was in the middle of laying its eggs.  I could have destroyed it right there and then but decided against it.  I thought  maybe a few readers of this blog might want to see what an egg-laying  gypsy moth looks like.

The brown egg mass it deposited contains hundreds of eggs, most of which will survive the winter and hatch out next spring.  Cold winter weather doesn’t bother them at all. After the caterpillars  hatch from their eggs, they will climb the tree and start devouring leaves.

This female gypsy moth is laying an egg mass that contains hundreds of eggs.

The next time you’re outside enjoying your yard, it might not be a bad idea to look at your trees for signs of gypsy moth egg masses. They normally lay eggs on the trunk of a tree or on lower branches. You can also find them on backyard swing-sets, picnic tables, RVs — just about anything that’s left out side.

It’s a good idea to destroy these eggs masses as soon as you find them.  Scrape them off of the tree and throw them in the trash.  Don’t let them lay on the ground thinking that you took care of them. They’re pretty tough and will hatch even if left on the ground all winter.

Now I have a bit of a dilemma, do I take off that egg mass from my tree? Or do I leave it there until spring and take pictures of hatching caterpillars for this blog?


A Dogwood Makes Its Home

We have a wild area on our property that we keep for birds . It’s about an acre in size and is home to a wide variety of wildlife.

This spring, for the first time, we noticed a wonderful dogwood tree hidden in a rarely visited corner tucked in on the south side of  a pine tree. It is in full bloom and rivals anything you might find in a landscape nursery.

Our wild dogwood is about 18 feet tall.

It really is a stunning sight.

The tree is covered with large white blossoms.

We never would have had this surprise if I was sprucing-up this wild area every year with my brush cutter and weed-whacker. I probably would have cut it down long ago without even realizing what it was.

Sometimes, it pays not to organize the wilderness.


Conservation District Tree Sale Seedlings

The trees I ordered from the Monroe Conservation District arrived Friday. I drove over to pick them up first thing in the morning and got there shortly after they opened the doors.

My package  contained 50 trees — 25 white pine  and 25 white cedar– so it was small enough to carry in one hand. The tree seedlings look beautiful.

I placed my seedlings in a bucket of water for a while to re-hydrate them a bit before planting.

White pine grows very fast in our sandy, somewhat acid soil. I have never planted white cedar here but I’m sure that they will do well too.

Fifty seedlings doesn’t take too long to plant. I noticed other folks picking up orders that were much larger than mine. Some had several gunny sacks worth of seedlings. I mentioned to one fellow walking out with a large order that it looked like he had a big project on his hands — he just grunted and walked out to his truck with the last of his order.

Judy and I planted our  seedlings Saturday morning. The cool weather this week will help them get off to a great start.





Overwintering Potted Trees

The gardens outside are buttoned up for winter.  I took advantage of the cold temperatures a couple of weeks ago to heel in the last of the plants I wanted to save over winter. Usually I like to get this job done by the first week of December.

The only plants left were some of the potted trees that I’m saving for some bonsai and other projects.  In addition to my 15 years old bonsai, I tucked away a fewAlbertaspruce, some maples, a couple of tamarack and a small assortment of other potted trees.

There’s a nice sheltered area in our yard under some pine trees where the plants spend the winter.

I start out preparing an overwintering spot by digging a shallow hole that is about half the diameter of the pot. The pot goes into the hole sideways so that the plant is lying right on the ground.  I take the soil dug from the hole and cover the pot.

Next, I cover the buried pot and the top of the plant with mulch.  Usually I can rake up enough pine needles to do the job.  This year I decided to use wheat straw because of the number of plants I had.

Some old garden fence keeps the straw mulch from blowing away.

My success rate has been quite high using this method.  Placing the pot on its side keeps out excess water that may freeze and damage the pot. Laying the trees on the ground protects the branches from extreme temperatures.  The mulch protects the plants from exposure to the winter sun, which can dry out small branches.  Moreover, it serves as blanket to protect the plants in case we don’t get snow cover.

The soil hasn’t frozen yet and the plants haven’t been exposed to really cold temperatures so there is still time to get those valuable plants tucked in for winter.

This year it looks like I could have waited until the first week of January. I wouldn’t want to bet on it happening again next year.




Fall Webworms

Fall webworms are back.  They are really becoming more apparent as they grow and their webs get larger.

Fall webworms nests start to become apparent in late summer.

This is not the same caterpillar we saw in the spring; those were the Eastern Tent caterpillar.

Because fall webworms emerge in late summer, they don’t have a chance to do much damage to trees but their webs sure are ugly.

Fall webworms feed on a wide variety of trees. In our area this summer, I’ve been seeing them on walnuts, oaks, mulberries, cherries and other trees.

There are a couple of options available for controlling these pests.  The simplest method is to manually pull the webs down and destroy them.  For those you can’t reach, use a chemical pesticide sprayed up onto the web.  You don’t need much because they are easily killed by most chemical insecticides.

Some people recommend spraying the biological insecticide Bt. Bt works best when the worm are small.

Try to resist the urge to burn the webs in place on the tree.  You’ll end up scorching twig bark causing more damage to the tree than the webworms.

Paper wasps are a natural enemy of the fall webworm. If a paper wasp nest is located in a place on your property where they aren’t disturbing anyone, think about leaving them there to help control the webworms.




Catalpa Trees in Bloom

Those trees covered with white flowers we have been seeing are Catalpa trees.  To me, a well-formed, fully grown Catalpa is an impressive sight.

A mature Catalpa tree blooming in rural Monroe County.


Catalpas have other positive attributes other than their flowers.  They grow fast compared to many other trees and can reach a height of 50 feet.   Catalpas tolerate the stressful growing conditions of a city environment, which is why so many were planted in urban areas.

In years past, farmers planted Catalpas to use for fence posts because the wood is resistant to rotting when in contact with the soil.  Nowadays, like everyone else, farmers buy their fence posts.

After flowering, long, slim cigar-shaped seedpods will form where the flowers once were giving the tree its nickname “Cigar Tree”.  These pods hang on all winter.

Not everyone likes Catalpa trees.  The branches are brittle and can break off during storms.   Some people feel its shape and large leaves give it a coarse, unrefined look.  I have to agree that a Catalpa struggling to survive in a difficult spot can look pretty ragged.   In addition, the flowers and seedpods make a mess in the yard after they fall off

Catalpa worms, the caterpillar stage of a sphinx moth, are sometimes found eating catalpa leaves.   Anglers use these worms for fish bait; fish love catalpa worms.

I remember when I was a youngster some Umbrella trees in my Grandmother’s garden.  There was a row of them, about eight feet high with a tuft of leaves growing out of the top.  Those trees were catalpas grafted with a bud from a dwarf form of the tree.   Every spring she would cut back the last season’s growth forcing the tree to form a new umbrella.   It made quite an impression on me.  The Umbrella tree form is still available at nurseries.

Catalpas are such a versatile tree, no wonder they have been so popular for so long.







Over-Wintered Orange Trees

We brought out our two Valencia orange trees during the warm spell we had earlier in the week.  I figured the really cold weather was behind us for the most part.  These trees are about 5 feet tall and are in 18 inch terra-cotta pots.

The two trees are part of an informal experiment I have been conducting over the past two years.  They were not kept in a greenhouse or even in the house in front of a south window; instead I put them into our semi-heated garage.  They each received some sunlight from a small south window; the size of window you would expect to find in a garage.

The temperature ranged from the upper 30’s F to lower 40’s F through most of the winter.  There were a few days when the heat was raised a bit up into the 50 degree F range.

I cut way back on watering.  They received water only five or six times during the whole winter.  I let the leaves start to wilt before I even thought about watering.  Then I watered just enough so the water began to drain out of the bottom of the pots.  Neither pot had a saucer under it so they didn’t stand in water.  They didn’t get any fertilizer either.

About mid-winter, the trees looked like they went into a kind of semi-dormant state.

Even though the trees seemed to be hibernating, the oranges that were on the tree last fall turned orange and ripened.  The fruit  didn’t get much bigger which is no surprise considering the lack of water.

There are quite a few oranges on our over-wintered orange trees.

Last night it got down to 33 degrees F and I left the oranges outside.  They looked perfectly fine this morning; they are used to the cool temperatures.

This is a good way to keep trees like these over winter if you are short on space in your house.  You don’t have room in the garage either? … well I can’t help you there.


March Is Pruning Time

The month of March is pruning time for most trees and shrubs. These woody plants have been dormant all winter. As the temperatures begin to warm up and the days get longer the plants begin to wake up. Pruning just before they break dormancy is best.

There are some exceptions to pruning in March. Spring flowering trees and shrubs are not normally pruned at this time because they formed their flower buds last year and are ready to open soon. Pruning those bushes now would mean you would  be cutting off all of those flower buds. Forsythia is probably the best known example of a spring flowering shrub.

We don’t normally prune maple trees this time of the year either. This is the time of year when the sap is running in maple trees. Pruning has the same effect as tapping a tree; it causes the sap to flow out from the wound. Although the maple is not hurt or weaken by pruning, all of that sap running out of the pruning cut can leave an unsightly stain on the bark.

Peach trees are pruned a little bit later in the spring after the weather warms up. May is better for peaches because they are actively growing and can heal quicker reducing the time the wound is open to infection.

Whenever you decide to prune keep in mind to make a proper cut. Never leave a stub of a branch after cutting. Cut back close to the limb from which you removed the smaller branch.

Always make your cut close to the limb. Don't cut so close that you cut into the limb itself.

Leaving a stub makes it extremely difficult for the tree to heal itself. Often the stub will die back and rot in place on the tree. This will leave an open area for fungus to become established and cause deeper wood to decay.

Warmer days are just around the corner. I plan on getting out and getting some pruning done this week.