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Horticulture Blog May 2020

May 29th:


Have you noticed that when we have hot weather the weeds grow twice as fast? Especially this one.

This particular weed has vexed me for years. It’s called vetch. It’s a pretty enough vining plant, which produces lovely purple flowers and attracts many pollinators.


This is a close-up of the flower this particular kind of vetch produces.

There are 140 types of vetch.They are members of the legume family and add nitrogen to the soil. However, if they are growing some-where you would rather they not be they are weeds. They say a weed is any plant that grows where you don’t want it.


Vetch wraps itself around anything near by way of tendrils. It’s difficult to pull because the roots are very long. I used to challenge myself to pull an entire vetch root. I quit trying after I had pulled a 3-foot root that broke before I got it all.

Notice the seed pods!


May 27th: Asian Jumping Snake Worm


Photo Credit: CCE Tompkins

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but since a lot of you are digging in your yards now, planting vegetables, flowers, or landscape plants, it seems a good time to review the Asian Jumping Snake Worm.They are in New York, in Clinton County, and you should recognize them if you see them. They are an invasive species, still being used in some areas of the country as fishing bait, and being transferred in soil, mulch, and transplants. Of course, not all soil, mulch, and transplants, but you want to avoid having them moved onto your property.

This very short video will introduce you to the snake worm.

Suppose you see one or more that you think are snake worms, Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the worm close to the surface of the soil?
  • Does it thrash and behavior oddly when disturbed?
  • Does your soil look like used coffee grounds?
  • Is the clitellum (the narrow band around their body) smooth as opposed to raised?
  • Does the clitellum completely encircle the body and is cloudy or gray?
  • If you suspect Asian Snake Worm, call us or email Jolene at jmw442@cornell.edu

You won’t see large snake worms until late summer, but be on the lookout for smaller versions.

This fact sheet from Cornell’s website is loaded with information. Unfortunately, there is no ‘fix’ at this time.



May 26th: What is this? A Beetle? A Bug?


photo by Jolene

Is this a May beetle, a June beetle, or a June bug? I found it on my patio Sunday morning and have to admit I was dismayed. I hate the way these things fly like they’ve been drinking and crash into the wall, or your face if you happen to be outside at night near a light. This is a beetle, not a bug. You can tell because it’s wing covers, called elytra meet in the middle. May beetle or June beetle? Depends on whether it put in an appearance in May or June.

These beetles are members of the scarab family. The grubs from which they develop are underground and damage plant roots. The adult eats flowers, and leaves, especially on the plants you prize most highly. The Japanese beetle is a scarab beetle as well.


This is the boxelder bug.Note how the wings do not come together in the center, but rather are almost in an X. The boxelder bugs sometimes come in huge numbers and are a terrible nuisance.


May 22nd:

We all have spiders in our landscape, and it’s a good thing. Most spiders are ‘good guys’, beneficials that prey on other insects to the benefit of our garden. My favorite spiders are the funnel spider and the black and yellow garden spider.Both have interesting webs, built to their specifications by their own spinnerets.

undefinedGrass spiders (family: Agelenidae) are also known as funnel weavers because the web they construct is a horizontal sheet with a small funnel-like tube off to the side or center. They are brown spiders with two thick, dark, longitudinal stripes through the cephalothorax and tapered abdomens with long, prominent spinnerets. Grass spiders can be 1/2–3/4-inch long. They are not considered large, but they are very quick.

The funnel is a protected place to hide. When an insect falls or lands on the non-sticky sheet web, the spider rushes out to take it back into the funnel. The webs, which become visible when covered in dew or debris, are constructed in bushes, grass, flowerbeds and wood piles around windows, light fixtures and corners around the house. A large number of grass spiders can live in a small area, but each web has only one female.


Females spin orb webs (spiral sticky threads suspended on non-sticky spokes) with a conspicuous white zigzag structure in the middle called the stablementum. Spider experts disagree about why these spiders spin stablementa. Earlier the stablementum was thought to give stability to the web. Now the thinking is that the stablementum attracts insects or keeps birds from flying through the web. All spiders are carnivores that prey primarily on insects. Black and yellow garden spiders find their prey by sensing vibrations in the web. They eat anything that doesn't tear itself loose from the web. At night, females consume the sticky strands of the web and spin new ones. It is thought they gain some nutrition from minute insects and even miscellaneous organic matter caught in the web. After mating in late summer or early fall, females lay several hundred to a thousand or more eggs inside a brown, silk, spherical cocoon about an inch in diameter. The spiderlings hatch but do not emerge from the cocoon until the following spring. Unfortunately for them, parasites and predators, including birds, prey upon these hapless spiderlings so that only a few survive the winter and even fewer survive to become adults the following season. There is one generation per year.


May 21st: Spiderling

I was sitting on the bench on my porch the other day and saw a black speck coming towards my face. If it hadn’t been about eye level I wouldn’t have noticed it, as it was about the size of the period at the end of this sentence . Fortunately, I had this experience before and knew what it was.

It was a spiderling, parachuting down on a near-invisible line of silk. This behavior is called ballooning. The spiderling, after leaving its mothers egg sac, or for some spiders, carried on her back, use the organ on the rear of its abdomen to spin silk.These organs are called spinnerets.


The silk the spider spins is very fine and sticky in order to catch insects in the web. It’s strong enough to build a nest or cocoon for its offspring or to wrap prey. It’s so strong and flexible that scientists are trying to replicate it in the lab.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the common spiders in our area and the differences in the webs they build.

Now, a funny spider ha-ha for you:

Q: How do you spot a modern spider?

A: He doesn't have a web he has a website


May 20th: Dealing With Lawn Ants


Photos by Jolene

Ants that build mounds like the ones above are a nuisance, and possibly an eyesore, but do little or no damage to your lawn or landscape.They may disturb roots as they tunnel underground, but they do not eat them. If you find it necessary to dispatch them, avoid a lawn insect killer that kills all insects. Spot treat or set out ant baits. If they are coming inside use a perimeter product around your foundation following label instructions, of course. I don’t usually recommend a chemical fix for a problem if there are other remedies, but who wants to clean up ants in the house every day? Not you, and not me for sure. Let me know if you want more information about ant problems.

You frequently see ants on peonies. It’s not true that peonies need the ants in order to bloom. The ants on peonies are tending to aphids.They watch over them, and protect them in order to collect the honeydew, a sweet sticky substance, that aphids secrete. The ants stroke the aphids with their antennae in order to obtain more honeydew.

Because ants love sugar, I find that they climb the shepherds hook that I hang my hummingbird feeder on.Through trial and error, I have discovered that petroleum jelly spread on the Sheppard’s hook about a foot off the ground will block the way of the ants.It’s inexpensive, easy to apply with your finger or a cotton swab., and doesn’t melt in the heat of summer. I love inexpensive, do-it-yourself, non-chemical solutions to garden problems. Don’t you?


May 19th: Ants!!!


On Sunday I found an ant wandering about on my bathroom floor. On Monday I found three. It seems that every year about this time I start finding ants in the bathroom. Not a pleasant thing to see while you’re brushing your teeth.

The pictures above are taken in my yard and walkway. These are pavement ants, and the same type that visit my bathroom. My bathroom has no outside wall or window so I know these little fellows are coming from under the house, through tiny cracks in our concrete slab.

You might think I would stock up on insect spray, but you would be wrong. The best way to rid your home of these ants is to bait them. Not with worms of course, but with a borax bait trap.These traps, which are found in any hardware store or any store that carries gardening supplies, and pre-baited and placed along the path that you think the ants are taking. They don’t kill quickly, like an aerosol ant spray would, but they are very effective if you are patient. The main difference is that an aerosol kills on contact, but if there is a nest, and there probably is, you will see more ants eventually. A bait attracts the ants you can see and they carry some of the poison back to their ant friends in the nest, and hopefully the queen.

Note that I said poison. It’s imperative that the baits be kept away from pets and children. Read and follow the directions.

Tomorrow I’ll deal with the ant hills outside and what you can do before they are large enough to trip over.

IDL INSECT DIAGNOSTIC LABORATORY Cornell University, Dept. of Entomology, 2144 Comstock Hall, Ithaca NY 14853-2601


May 18th:

40 Years since Mt. Saint Helens Erupted

Forty years ago today, Mt. Saint Helens in the state of Washington erupted, killing 57 people, erasing Spirit Lake, destroying 140 miles of road, taking down forests like matchsticks caught in a windstorm, and clogging rivers with downed trees, debris and tons of ash. I lived about 50 miles as the crow flies from Mt. Saint Helens at the time.

The experts had been telling us for 2 months that the volcano was getting ready to erupt, but with nothing to see but burst of smoke, after the 1 st month not many people seemed concerned. Some were foolish enough to go into the ‘red zone.’ Outside the entrance to many small businesses you would find a snow shovel with a sign that read ‘Emergency Lava Shovel’. Then the North side of the mountain blew apart.

We lived close enough that we didn’t hear the blast or get the first ash fall because the force was so great that it reached 100,000 feet before it continued in a northerly direction. We were too close for it to fall on us that day, but subsequently we experienced several ash falls.

It was a dark gray, gritty substance that coated everything with several inches of the incredible stuff. Every inch of ground, trees, vehicles, roads, nothing was spared, especially when it rained along with the ash fall.

It was a dark and dismal time, yet there was something profoundly moving to experience that enormous power of nature. I’ll never forget it.


May 15th: Verbascum Thapsus


Verbascum thapsus , the great mullein or common mullein, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The common mullein goes by names such as Flannel Plant and Rabbits Ear due to the soft hairs on both sides of the leaf. It is a biennial plant, meaning it doesn’t produce flowers until its second year.

The large leafs in a whorled pattern are angled downward to direct rainwater to the roots. It can grow up to 6 1/2 feet tall, with yellow flowers covering a tall stem. It has a history of being used medicinally for many ailments, although none are suggested by me. It has been used to cushion the feet by placing it in shoes, and toilet paper, among other useful things.

Whether you consider mullein to be a weed or an interesting specimen plant, you should know that a single mullein produces as many as 100,000 to 180,000 seeds. The seeds can remain dormant for many years before germinating and growing. If you consider a mullein plant a gift of nature, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a gift that keeps on giving.


May 14th: Killdeer

Yesterday I suggested you check the trees for bird nests and completely forgot about the ground-nesting birds. These include ducks, geese, most shorebirds, plovers, and my favorite, the Killdeer.

Before we moved to Plattsburgh we had a small camp that we would come to a couple of times a year. On one such trip with my daughter in the car and my husband driving, we saw a wounded bird flopping around on the ground. My daughter and I expressed great dismay and asked what we should do to help it. My husband laughed at us, which we thought was very cruel and uncalled for. He told us the bird was not injured; it was using the “broken wing” ploy to keep us from getting close to her nest.

This was my first introduction to the killdeer.Besides being quite striking, it builds a nest in driveways, on rocks, gravel, fields, and dirt roads. ‘Build’ is an exaggeration.The killdeer scrapes a shallow indentation on the ground. Fortunately, the eggs are colored very much like gravel. If a predator, approaches it feigns a broken wing to lure it away.

Of course, in a field the danger is that the eggs, or young, will be stepped on. In the case of livestock, the killdeer fluffs itself up to frighten the offending cow or horse away. I don’t know how often this ploy works but you have to give it credit for trying.


Photo: Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds

Visit their site ( https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home?) for a wealth of information about hundreds of birds, including gorgeous photos, all kinds of interesting facts, and even sounds the birds make.


May 13th: Baby Birds and Spring


I took this photo of Lake Champlain Monday morning about 5:00 AM. I’m an early riser. It gives me a quiet time to think about things that need thinking about, after which I plan out my day. As I’m sure you know, plans have a way of changing when you least expect them to. If you’re flexible it’s easier to take it in stride.

The trees are just starting to leaf out, something we’ve all been waiting for. It seems as though one day they are bare and the next day they’re covered with new green leaves. Before that happens I hope you’ll take the time to look for bird nests.They are visible now but won’t be for long. If you notice birds picking up grasses, twigs, feathers, and various nest-building supplies, watch to see where they go with them. If you’re lucky you will know where the nest is. Don’t disturb it of course, but before long you might hear the sounds of baby birds telling their folks that they’re hungry. Life goes on.

May 12th:


An inchworm? A pale caterpillar? A dried up worm?


None of those!

It’s a catkin from my birch tree.


Catkin—From the Oxford Dictionary

the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers.


flower bloom floweret blossoming florescence efflorescence

  • the arrangement of the flowers on a plant.
  • the process of flowering.
  • oak, birch, willow, and hickory.

    Note: I used to think this was a seed head until Amy Ivy set me straight. Doesn’t look like much of a flower does it?

    How about this one?

    From the University of Delaware http://udel.edu/~khshum/WebSite103/treetable.html

    Inflorescence- From the Oxford Dictionary-

    [ˌinflōˈresns, ˌinfləˈresns]



    the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers.


    flower bloom floweret blossoming florescence efflorescence

    the arrangement of the flowers on a plant.

    the process of flowering.

    Botany can be a tricky business until you get the hang of it. I’m still hoping that one day I will.

    I would appreciate some feedback friends. If I am covering topics you are interested in, let me know. If I’m not, let me know that too and suggest topics you would like to see.

    Send comments to Jmw442@cornell.edu


    May 11th: Ospreys


    Ospreys are unusual among hawks in possessing a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind. Barbed pads on the soles of the birds' feet help them grip slippery fish. When flying with prey, an Osprey lines up its catch head first for less wind resistance.

    Ospreys are excellent anglers. Over several studies, Ospreys caught fish on at least 1 in every 4 dives, with success rates sometimes as high as 70 percent. The average time they spent hunting before making a catch was about 12 minutes—something to think about next time you throw your line in the water.

    The Osprey readily builds its nest on manmade structures, such as telephone poles, channel markers, duck blinds, and nest platforms designed especially for it. Such platforms have become an important tool in reestablishing Ospreys in areas where they had disappeared. In some areas nests are placed almost exclusively on artificial structures.

    Osprey eggs do not hatch all at once. Rather, the first chick emerges up to five days before the last one. The older hatchling dominates its younger siblings, and can monopolize the food brought by the parents. If food is abundant, chicks share meals in relative harmony; in times of scarcity, younger ones may starve to death.

    The name "Osprey" made its first appearance around 1460, via the Medieval Latin phrase for "bird of prey" (avis prede). Some wordsmiths trace the name even further back, to the Latin for "bone-breaker"—ossifragus.

    The oldest known Osprey was at least 25 years, 2 months old, and lived in Virginia. It was banded in 1973, and found in 1998.


    May 8th: Hazardous Weather Outlook

    The National Weather Service has issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for northern NY, central Vermont, northeast Vermont, northwest Vermont and southern Vermont.

    If you woke up to snow flurries this morning your first thought, besides ’You’ve got to be kidding’. may have been about plants that you have planted, have on your porch, or perennials that have already come up. Since the temperatures for tonight are below freezing and tomorrow we can expect high winds, there’s good cause for concern. So what to do?

    If you have already put plants in the ground, cover them tonight with a light blanket or sheet, before it gets cold, and remove the covering in the morning. Don’t use plastic that touches the plant it’s not heavy enough and plastic transmits cold. You need something that breathes.If you have fruit trees that have started to flower, do what you can to protect them. If the flowers are damaged it will impair fruit production.Move potted plants into a garage, onto a porch, or a shelter of some sort.

    Milk cartons, milk jugs, plastic cups, 2-quart soda bottles, or anything that you can cut the bottom out of to place over individual plants may be readily available in your recycling bin. Secure them to the ground as best you can.Putting a brick or rock may hold them down.

    If you are in area that’s expecting snow, prop your covers up so that the weight of snow doesn’t damage your plants.

    Today and tonight-.National Weather Service—5-8-2020

    Strengthening low pressure tracking from the Ohio Valley across the

    south coast of New England tonight will spread a very late season

    snowfall northward into the North Country. Some accumulating snow is

    expected overnight and even into Saturday across highest elevations.

    Snowfall totals of 2 to 4 inches are expected across central and

    eastern Vermont and the northern Adirondacks, with the highest

    totals above 1000 ft. Higher summit locations from Mt. Mansfield to

    Killington could see up to 5 inches of snowfall. In the Champlain

    Valley, slushy accumulations of an inch or less are forecast. In

    terms of impact, some higher elevation roads may see a slushy

    accumulation with limited visibility and reduced travel speeds

    possible for a time tonight into Saturday morning.


    May 7th: Seeking Volunteers


    If you are an avid gardener and enjoy doing volunteer work teaching gardening to people of all ages, you might be a candidate for the Master Gardener Volunteer program. We are currently recruiting for training that begins in September. I know that’s a long way off, but there is an application and interview process that is time consuming for those of us holding the training. We only train every three years, and Essex County and Clinton County train together. If you think you may be interested, check out the information to the left of this blog under the Gardening headline, Volunteer to be a Master Gardener.

    This is an excellent program where you learn in order to teach others. One of the best things about it, besides the satisfaction you get from the volunteering you do, is the company of like-minded individuals who love to garden.

    You don’t need to be an expert, we are all learning all the time, and you will be continuously trained at our monthly meetings. If you think this might be a good fit for you, and you have the time and willingness to dedicate some of it to the program, contact me at jmw442@cornell.edu.


    May 6th:

    Like so many tasks, from planting seeds to grub control, most gardening chores have a time frame when they are most effective. I’ve been getting many questions about spring lawn fertilizing so rather than have you waste time and money by fertilizing at a time when you are not going to get the results you are expecting, let’s get the timing right.

    If two applications of fertilizer are required due to the condition of your lawn, they are most effective around Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you fertilized last fall, you probably don’t need to fertilize until next fall.

    Right now, in early May, the grass roots are starting to grow and gather nutrients to support your lawn through the hot summer. Fertilizing now will result in a plush lawn at the expense of the roots. Let them prepare by waiting until Memorial Day.

    If you feel you need an herbicide or a weed-and-feed product, make sure the products you use will target the weeds you have. If you use the wrong product, you’ve wasted time, money, and added an herbicide to your soil. Most herbicides need to stay on the blades of grass, most fertilizers need to be watered in. Do you see the dilemma?

    This graphic from the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, Division of Water Quality Improvement is an excellent illustration of what our lawns are doing at various times of the year, and when the optimal time for amendments is.


    May 5th: Hollyhock



    May 4th: Magic in Growing Your Own Food

    I hope you are able to take advantage of the many offerings from Extension offices around the state and the country! We are all working together to provide you with information as we go into the gardening season. --Jolene

    At 7:00 PM on Wednesday, May 6, Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County is presenting the following zoom meeting:

    There's magic in growing your own food, whether it's a just-picked tomato or a handful of fresh strawberries. However, growing your own food doesn't have to be complicated and you don't even need a large space. Join Rosanne Loparco, Master Gardener Volunteer, and learn what you need to know to get started, focusing on smaller spaces, including raised beds and using containers for your fruits and vegetables. Learn the importance of good soil, when and how to plant, how to use seeds and transplants, what grows best in this area, how to deal with pests, and where to go for help.


    If you would like to see the Don’t Get Ticked New York program I presented last week, you will find it here on my blog. I welcome questions and concerns about any tick, garden, weed, pests, and plant diseases you may have.

    Contact me at jmw442@cornell.edu

    May 1st: Yam vs Sweet Potato

    I say that a yam and a sweet potato are not the same vegetable. I know the markets treat them the same, don’t stock real yams, or suggest that they are the same veggie, with different names. I beg to differ, when I was a child in Illinois we ate yams, not sweet potatoes.

    Yam vs Sweet Potato: according to Webstaurant.com

    Yams have rough, dark brown skin that is often compared to tree bark. Their flesh is dry and starchy like a regular potato. Sweet potatoes have smooth reddish skin and a sweet flavor. You don't have to worry about mixing them up while you're shopping because yams are very rare in American grocery stores. Thepopular canned yams that you see around the holidays are technically sweet potatoes.

    We also ate muskmelon, not cantaloupe. If you google muskmelon and cantaloupe most sites will tell you they are the same. The Old Farmer’s Almanac knows they are not.

    Question: What’s the difference between a cantaloupe and a muskmelon?

    Answer: These melons come from two different groups of melons, out of a total of seven kinds that are cultivated. A muskmelon is a member of the reticulatus group, characterized by a netlike ribbed rind and sweet orange flesh. A cantaloupe is a member of the cantalupensis group, named for Cantalupo, a former papal villa near Rome. This group is characterized by a rough, warty rind and sweet orange flesh.

    I’m not just being contrary here although I don’t want my childhood memories spoiled by someone renaming the foods we ate. I bring this up because when you are buying vegetable seeds or transplants it’s important to know what you’re buying. On one site I looked at there were 17 varieties of carrots; different lengths, thicknesses, sweetness, length of time before harvest etc. If I wanted a short carrot to plant in an 8-inch-deep container, and picked up seeds for carrots that grow a foot long, I would not have happy carrots.


    My very unhappy carrot!