Garden Talk: August 4, 2014

From NGA Editors

Tree Check Month for Asian Longhorn Beetles

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The Asian longhorn beetle (ALB) is one of the biggest threats to trees in this country. This invasive insect, first discovered in the U.S. in 1996, arrived accidentally from Asia in wood cargo packing. It attacks a wide range of deciduous hardwood trees, including ash, maple, elm, birch, horsechestnut, sycamore, willow, and poplar. Since its arrival in this country, it has led to the loss of nearly 130,000 hardwood trees, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in efforts to control infestations in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Massachusetts. Forty-five other states are currently considered at-risk for infestation.

The rather striking looking adult beetles are bullet-shaped, 1-1/2 inches long, glossy black with irregular white spots. Their size may give you pause, but they are harmless to humans and pets, and don't bite or sting. Their most distinctive feature is their 2-inch long antennae banded with black and white. But it's the white, worm-like larvae that hatch from eggs deposited within the tree that do the damage, tunneling deep into live trees and eventually killing them by destroying their water and nutrient conducting tissues.

One of the best ways to halt the spread of this pest is to enlist the help of the public in locating new infestations. In fact many initial infestations were found by members of the public, not by pest specialists. To encourage people to check trees on their property and in their community, the USDA has designated August as Tree Check Month. They are asking everyone to take even just 10 minutes annually to check trees for both the adult ALB and any signs of the damage to trees, then report possible infestations. What are you looking for? Besides the beetle itself, look for round, pencil eraser to dime size exit holes on the tree, shallow pitted scars in the bark, sawdust like material on the ground or tree branches, and dead branches in the crown of the tree.

Another important way to help is by not moving firewood. Purchase it where you will burn it to avoid inadvertently moving the ALB to an uninfested area. States currently fighting the ALB -- Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio -- have quarantines in place and special guidelines for handling wood. Check with local authorities for more information.

To learn more about the ALB; how to identify it and signs of tree damage; what trees are at risk; how to report a possible infestation; and what else you can do to protect trees and make others aware of the danger, go to the USDA's Asian Longhorned Beetle. (Image courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

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Award Winning Veggies

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All-America Selections recently announced six 2015 Vegetable Award winners, including Regional and National winners. Three are varieties that will make great fall gardening choices for gardeners in upcoming seasons.

'Bopak', the first pak choi to be selected as an AAS winner, was chosen as a Regional Winner for the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Mountain/Southwest regions. Ready in just 60 days from seeding (5 days earlier than other varieties), 'Bopak' boasts tender leaves with crisp sweet stalks that taste great. The attractive, upright, uniform, and dense plants can be harvested as baby plants or grown to mature size. Either way, they are delicious cooked or raw. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart; then thin to 10 inches apart when plants are 2 inches high, and enjoy the tender thinnings in a salad.'Bopak' can also be grown in spring until the weather heats up.

The frilly, dark green leaves of National Vegetable Award Winner 'Sandy' lettuce are almost too pretty to eat! This oakleaf type lettuce shows exceptional disease resistance, especially to powdery mildew, and is slow to bolt. It can be grown as cut-and-come-again baby lettuce or as mature, loose heads. 'Sandy' looks great in a container along with cool season flowers or combined with the colorful stalks of 'Rainbow' chard.

'Hestia' Brussels sprouts was selected as a Regional Winner for the Southeast and Mountain/Southwest regions, only the second Brussels sprouts variety to be granted an AAS Winner designation. The erect plant maintains its nice habit throughout the season and was judged notably more uniform than comparison varieties. And unlike others, it will develop a sweet flavor without exposure to cooler temperatures.

To find out about these and other 2015 AAS winners, go to AAS. (Image courtesy of All-America Selections)

Busy Bees

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Want to know what it's really like to be busy as a bee? Tune into the live bee cam at the People's Garden Apiary located on the roof of the Jamie L. Whitten Building at USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC and get a front row seat to the activity of approximately 40,000 Italian honey bees. You'll see female worker bees that have been busy collecting nectar and pollen to convert into honey.

The two beehives at the People's Garden Apiary were installed in 2010 and 2011. The beehives consist of stacked, wooden, box-like sections called supers, each holding 8-10 wooden frames that contain a thin sheet of wax foundation. The bees build their combs on these foundations. Italian honey bees were selected for the People's Garden Apiary because they are most often used in commercial beekeeping in the United States. Approximately 18 gallons of honey has been extracted from the hives since 2010.

To help you encourage and protect pollinators in your own neck of the woods the folks at USDA list some simple steps you can follow to create a pollinator friendly garden. Go native by choosing plant species found naturally in your ecoregion; try to have flowers blooming in your landscape throughout the growing season; plant each kind of flowering plant in large patches so it's easy for pollinators to find and move among plants; use a diversity of plant species; and limit or eliminate the use of pesticides.

To check out the bee cam, watch a webinar about creating a successful pollinator garden, or download a pollinator planting guide specific to your ecoregion, go to People's Garden Bee Watch.

The Best Joe-Pye Weeds

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One of the most stunning plants in a late season garden, Joe-Pye weed dazzles with large clusters of pink, purple, or white flowers on plants that can rise as high as 6 or even 8 feet tall. These towering beauties add drama to the fall garden, but not everyone has enough space to use such expansive growers. Fortunately, breeders have come up with more restrained cultivars, such as the aptly named 'Little Joe' and 'Baby Joe' that fit more easily into many landscapes. Joe also has a number of attractive relations that add interest to the autumn garden, including hardy ageratum and white snakeroot. All do best in moist soil in full sun to light shade, and all are butterfly magnets.

If you were familiar with these plants as members of the Eupatorium genus, prepare to learn some new names. Those pesky taxonomists have been at work and now the plants commonly called Joe-Pye weed are classified in the genus Eutrochium. White snakeroot, of which the dark purple-leaved cultivar 'Chocolate' is probably most commonly planted, is now Ageratina altissima, while lavender blue-flowered hardy ageratum is now Conoclinium coelestinum. (And no one is sure who Joe-Pye really was; some say he was a Native American medicine man who used his namesake plant medicinally.) So you may see either the new names or the older ones in catalogs and references and on plant tags.

To help you choose the best among these varied plants, the Chicago Botanic Garden has just released the results of a 4-6 year evaluation of 26 taxa of Eutrochium and related genera done at its USDA Hardiness Zone 5b and AHS Heat Zone 5 garden. Plants were rated on a scale of one to 5 stars. Four plants received a 5-star rating: 'Chocolate' white snakeroot; 'Little Joe' coastal plain Joe-Pye weed (E. dubium); and two cultivars of hollow Joe-Pye weed (E. fistulosum), 'Carin' and 'Bartered Bride'. All showed superior flower production, robust growth, and good disease resistance and winter hardiness. Additionally, there are quite a few others that achieved 4-stars.

To learn more about Joe-Pye weed and see the complete evaluations, go to Chicago Botanic Garden.

 
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