Category Archives: Insects

Don’t Spring into Spring Clean-Up just Yet

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

Spring is finally here, a time for new beginnings. The days are getting longer, birds are singing their hearts out and the snow has melted for the most part, but it’s still too soon to do any kind of clean up in your yard. It may be tempting to get out the rake or leaf blower just because it’s sunny and leaf bags are on sale at your local box store, but we need to hold off just yet for the sake of helping other creatures and pollinator species who are still asleep.

Although we are all anxiously waking up from our own personal winter hibernation–whether it be mental or physical–many creatures around us are still sound asleep in the leaf litter or below the mulch and we should not disturb them just yet. When you clean up your yard too soon, all for the sake of aesthetics or curb appeal, you are essentially removing all of the beneficial insects in your vicinity, like those responsible for making your flowers bloom or for your fruit and vegetable plants to produce food.

Some beneficial pollinators overwinter in the hollow stalks of perennials and under rocks. Examples of insects local to us that are still in diapause state are butterflies (like Mourning Cloaks or Question Marks), lacewings, ladybugs, mason bees and parasitic wasps, which all spend the winter either as pupae or adults hidden away in your yard. Even Luna moths and black swallowtails spend the winter months in cocoons or pupa that look just like a crumpled brown leaf, so be on the lookout for those.

It is best to wait until the temperature is consistently 10 degrees Celsius before you start raking leaves, turning soil, or using a leaf blower. Personally, I like to play it safe with the 10 For 10 rule: 10 degrees for 10 days. This allows nature to take its course and it allows me to have enough time to observe my property and familiarize myself with the various kinds of flora and fauna that emerge post-winter.

If you do decide you feel so inclined to “tidy up” this early, do it with purpose and be mindful of the sleeping and living creatures that are still hidden away. Take your time, look for any signs of beneficial insect stages and either take note and leave it for a later date, or carefully cut and set it aside in a natural area so solitary bees and others insects can still use the refuse for food or shelter. Refrain from adding more mulch because it can trap certain kinds of beneficial bees, beetles and flies that burrow in the ground (almost 70% of Canada’s bee species nest underground). For more information on how to properly “clean up” your yard read Nesting and Overwintering Habitat for Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects PDF by the Xerces Society.

But again, the best thing to do is wait and to try to remove as little from your property as possible.

So in the meantime, what can you be doing instead of gardening?

  • Get outside, go for walks, enjoy the little things; notice the bulbs emerging naturally and gracefully from the cool earth, poking their way through the leaf litter- now is the time to enjoy the scilla, crocus, pushkinia, galanthus and helleborus
  • Continue to sow vegetable and annual seeds indoors and plan your garden; what are your goals for this year, however big or small?
  • Early spring is the best time of year to be on the lookout for invasive pests and plant species and begin to develop an Integrated Pest Management plan; gypsy moths, garlic mustard, european buckthorn, and goutweed are commonly found throughout the Peterborough area
  • Focus on spring cleaning your tools, your patio furniture, tidying your deck, potting bench or shed; put more focus into the inanimate things
  • Celebrate the beginning of spring by honouring the maple tree, it’s delicious sap and syrup, and the work that goes into providing us all with natural liquid sugar; maybe consider ordering a maple for your own yard
  • Repot indoor plants if needed
  • Read up on and think about ways you can increase pollinator habitat on your property or within your community, no matter the scale

There is so much that you can do while resisting the urge to rake or blow. Relax, enjoy the much needed sunshine that the vernal equinox has brought us after the long winter and try to go at the same pace nature is. Patience will pay off in the long run once you remember that gardening isn’t just about plants.

Great resources for more information about pollinators that spend the winters in our gardens and why we should hold off until mid-April to start yard work:

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for pollinating over 30% of the foods that we eat? Many pollinator species are at risk due to climate change, habitat loss, and pesticide exposure.

So, what are pollinators and what do they do? Bees and other insects, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other small birds all need a constant source of food from early spring through to fall. They are looking for pollen-bearing flowers with fairly easy collection of nectar and pollen.

How can we help? There are many ways that we can help in our own gardens. We can provide habitat for pollinator birds and insects by installing nesting boxes both for birds and cavity nesting bees. Fallen trees and an area of bare ground will provide access for ground nesting bees and butterflies. Pollinators really prefer a little less manicured garden!

A pollinator hotel, although brush and logs on the ground are just as good. It’s important to keep in mind that these hotels require regular upkeep. Because they host pollinators at a higher density than a natural nesting site, disease and pathogens can quickly spread among visitors.

Water is another necessity and a shallow container with a couple of small rocks in it is the perfect drinking spot. Try to avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost instead which is better for both your plants and the pollinators.

What plants to choose – plant native when ever possible. Native plants have co-evolved with pollinator species and are well adapted to our local conditions. Pollinators can more easily access single bloom flowers such as echinacea and asters as their stamens and pollen are more exposed. Plant species in clumps to provide a target for pollinators, bees tend to gather pollen from one type of plant at a time. Provide host plants as butterflies such as the Monarch, lay their eggs on specific plants for their caterpillars to feed on. In the Monarchs case milkweeds are the only plant that they will feed on.

Try to have plants to provide four season interest, this can include grasses as they will provide shelter and food. Aim for at least three different species of plants blooming in each of the growing seasons. Study your site to determine the amount of sun and wind exposure and how much water will the plants receive?

Pollinators locate their food sources by sight and smell and the bees will go crazy around plants such as lavender and anise hyssop. Honey bees love white, yellow, blue and purple flowers.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners in conjunction with the City of Peterborough and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have installed a pollinator garden with all native species at the McNamara Park. This is a City owned park on McNamara Rd. which runs off Guthrie Drive and along the Otonabee River across from the OFAH building. It is a very peaceful park with many trees and seating areas. It is well worth a visit and may give you further ideas for helping our pollinators in your own garden. You can make a difference!

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

Beware the caterpillar

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Fall is my favourite time of the year to bicycle; not too hot and the scenery on trails in the Kawartha Lakes is beautiful. Asters and golden rod are in full bloom; the sumacs and Virginia creeper are just turning red, whilst the maple trees are slowly turning various shades of orange, yellow, red and brown. My only problem is trying to miss all the caterpillars, grasshoppers, and chipmunks, not to mention the odd rabbit or snake that crosses my path. I can’t count the number of times I have almost ended up in a ditch.  Everything mostly jumps or slithers out of my way, though, with the exception of the woolly bear caterpillars.

Photo taken by author whilst out riding

You would think that these caterpillars would be fairly easy to spot, but at this time of year, and probably at my age too, I tend to have problems distinguishing them from leaves, especially from a distance. The caterpillars normally emerge around this time of year, slowly inching their way across the paths.

Picture of woolly bear caterpillar (taken by author)

The woolly bear caterpillar will emerge from its larva in the fall, and overwinter in its caterpillar form. It does this by finding a safe spot to hibernate under leaves or bark or inside rocks or logs and then freezing solid. It is able to survive being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant, which is a substance that protects its tissue from freezing. The search for a safe hibernation spot is why you see so many of these caterpillars crossing roads and paths.

In the spring the caterpillar will wake up hungry, eat for a few days and then spin a cocoon emerging after a couple of weeks into an Isabella Gypsy Moth.

There are many old wives tales that specify that the size of the brown bands in the middle of the caterpillar or the number of brown bands will determine how hard a winter we will have. This was investigated in 1948 by Dr. C. H Curran who was the Curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. To read more about this, please refer to the following article: https://www.almanac.com/content/woolly-bear-caterpillars-and-weather-prediction

Whilst I eagerly await the time when all the caterpillars have finished crossing roads and paths and begun their hibernation, I will continue my daily bike rides looking down at the paths whilst attempting to ensure that I do not cycle into any more ditches.

For additional information, the following is an interesting article: https://blogs.massaudubon.org/yourgreatoutdoors/why-did-the-woolly-bear-cross-the-road/

Adding Diversity to Garden Design

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

In June this year, I was sitting with my son on the deck looking at the backyard. He asked me why I had so much grass in the garden. Now, he is definitely not a gardener, so I was a little confused until I realized he was referring to all of the daylily leaves. I felt it my duty to point out the stunning delphiniums, peonies, irises, and lupins which were all in bloom. I also tried to explain that in another month or so the garden will be a riot of colour when all the daylilies and coneflowers started flowering. Daylilies have always been my favourite plants; they are hardy, drought tolerant, low maintenance and beautiful in bloom. See our blog post from July 22 describing how daylilies are the perfect perennial. I probably have at least fifty different varieties, all of which I bought over from my last garden four years ago. But as I sat there looking at the garden I did wonder if maybe I should add more diversity.

thumbnail_garden in latespring
Author’s garden in late spring

Shortly after, I was watching my new favourite garden show on Netflix, ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don. If you have not heard of him, Monty Don is something close to a hero to most British gardeners. In this episode, he was relaying a gardening principle to the couple that were designing their new backyard.  He mentioned that for simplicity and cohesiveness “no garden needs more than seven different plants”.  I was trying to remember where the back button was on the remote as I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, but he did partially redeem himself when he clarified that statement by saying that you do not have to take this too literally, but that a good garden can be made with just seven different plants. My current garden design is more of an English cottage garden, informal with little space between plants and if I was going to add more diversity this summer, I would definitely have more than seven different plants.

I spent this summer with pen and paper in hand walking around the garden, asking myself if I really needed 20 different variations of pink daylily, some of which even I struggled to tell apart or did I need the same daylily variety in four different places in the garden. I also noticed the daylily blooms had very few insects compared to the spectacular activity around the native plants. I made copious notes in my notebook and labelled many plants I wanted to move or give away. Because of a rising concern for environmentalism and climate change, I also wanted this to be reflected more in my garden. To do this I decided I needed to do the following:

  • Plant more native plants. I have collected seed from most of my native plants including swamp milkweed, culver’s root and liatris and will use these to fill in over the next few years.
  • Add more edibles to the perennial garden. I tend to edge with swiss chard, beets or cardoon. I don’t actually eat the cardoon but I love the foliage on the plant.
  • Choose more plants that have multiple functions, i.e. yarrow which attracts insects, is drought tolerant, is a nutrient accumulator bringing nutrients from deep in the soil and storing them in the leaves, has attractive flowers in many colors, and can be used as a manure tea.

thumbnail_Garden in August
Author’s garden in summer

I’m excited for next year to see the changes I’ve made. I’m hoping that I have still kept the basic structure of the garden design with the emphasis on the summer color whilst adding more variety, especially pollinator and native plants. I learned this summer that a garden design does not have to be static; it can evolve as your values and beliefs evolve.

The design of your garden can be very personal, ever changing, reflecting who you are. For me it is somewhere where I feel at peace with the world–there is nothing I like more than taking a cup of tea out to the garden in the morning and just sitting and looking around.

Attracting Birds 1

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

The end of February, I saw a Cardinal at the bird feeder the first time this winter. They are such a beautiful bird, and one doesn’t see them that frequently. If it weren’t for our bird feeders, I don’t think I’d ever see one.

asparrow-3537687_960_720 (3)

Birds are a very important part of our garden environment. They eat seeds, berries and most importantly for the Gardener, they eat insects. One of the most common birds to visit my feeders are chickadees. They enjoy both sunflower seeds and peanuts. In the summer they eat more insects including aphids, whitefly, scale,  caterpillars, ants and earwigs. Other insect eating birds that visit my feeders are cardinals, nuthatches and grosbeaks. Although they eat very few insects, if any, finches are are welcome visitors to our feeders just for the pleasure they give us. I do all that I can to encourage the  visits of all birds.

Although it may not seem like it at times,  bird feeders aren’t the primary food source for birds, foraging is. Birds rely more on the nutrition provided by seeds in bird feeders in the winter  as  the supply in their environment dwindles and they need to go further afield to find other sources of food. To keep the birds coming to my garden, I keep my bird feeders out all year. It is such a pleasure to have their visits.

In subsequent posts, I will talk more about bird feeders, bird food, and providing an environment to attract birds to your garden.

Links:
Attracting Bug Eating Birds
How to Attract Bug Eating Birds to your Garden