The Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia), also known as a flower crab spider, isn't really an insect, of course; but this arachnid is so beneficial to your garden that I decided to include it with beneficial insects. According to Planet Natural Research Center, spiders are the most effective of all beneficial 'insects' and are even more beneficial than birds at controlling insect pests in the garden. In fact, planting flowers in your vegetable garden is a great way to attract spiders to the garden and take advantage of their veracious appetite for insects.
Crab spiders are a type of ambush spider, which means they typically select a flower and sit in wait for insects to visit the flower where they quickly attack and overpower the poor, unsuspecting insect.. Because they can change colors from white to yellow, the goldenrod spider often blends into the background, making it difficult to see. The crab spider above has made her home on a wild daisy and is predominately white. Those found on goldenrod or other yellow flowers appear yellow.
But, don't be fooled into thinking all goldenrod crab spiders are plump and white. The male is much smaller with dark markings. The photo above shows both the female crab spider on the center of the daisy and the male on the right.
Sulfur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) is a delightful summer flower that is often viewed as a noxious or invasive weed. This plant is not native to the United States. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and was brought to the U.S. sometime before 1900.
It can be found in backyards, along ditches or in fields and other scrub areas. It is most commonly found in areas where the soil has been disturbed, but it can also appear in undisturbed areas.
While this plant may become a nuisance, especially when it springs up in lawns, gardens and flower beds, its heart-shaped petals give this flower plenty of appeal.
Columbine (Aquilegia sp) grows wild throughout Maine. With approximately 60 to 70 species, you may encounter a variety of colors as well as slight variations in the size and shape of the blooms. All are bell-shaped with petals that curl upward and inward to form what some think resembles an eagle's talon. In fact, it is this unusual shape that likely earned the genus the Latin name of Aquilegia, a derivative of the Latin word aquila meaning eagle.
In my area of Maine, columbines typically range in color from nearly white to shades of pink and purple.
Red and yellow columbine can also be found in Maine. Columbines bloom in early summer and can be found along roadsides, along the edges of wooded areas or in partially shaded areas in meadows. These striking flowers typically naturalize easily and are ideal for adding to wildflower gardens.
The Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is one of the first wildflowers to appear in Maine each spring. These flowers can be found in ditches along the roadside or in areas that receive full sun in the spring. They are a favorite with children because they can be picked by gently pulling the flower from the soil. Its long root is white and tender and is often intact when the flower is pulled.
I grew up called these flowers cowslips and did not learn until a few years ago that a cowslip is the name of a flowering plant in Ireland.and England. According to Plantlife, the European cowslip probably derived its name from frequenting areas around cow manure or places where cows had "slupped". It seems likely that when my ancestors encountered the Trout Lily here in Maine they called it a cowslip because it looked similar to the European wildflower.
The Trout Lily earns its name from the mottled brown and green spots on its leaves that look like the sides of a brook or lake trout. Trout lilies produce two (sometimes three) mottled leaves. A single bloom appears from the center on a long slender stalk. Each bloom contains three sepals and three petals which all fold backwards to expose six brown stamens.
Look for Trout Lilies in early May soon after the ground has thawed and ferns begin to appear. This photo was taken on May 7 in USDA plant hardiness zone 4.
Until recently, if anyone had asked me what my favorite herb was, I would have said lemon thyme. But that was before I discovered lemon basil. This delightful little herb has sure given my love for lemon thyme a run for its money.
I grew some lemon basil in my Aerogarden this spring and was delighted to discover how flavorful and versatile it is. I have used it in eggs, on pasta, in stir fries and as a secret ingredient in other sauces and recipes. I haven't found anything yet that lemon basil doesn't enhance its flavor.
It is great for making pesto. I made mine with lemon basil, walnut oil, chopped walnuts and Parmesan and it was wonderful.
I have also been using it to make compound butter — or as we call it in my house herbed butter. I like it with chopped lemon basil and minced garlic. I pack it in jelly jars and store them in the freezer for later. This compound butter is great to spread on toast or to use to make garlic bread and is even tasty on veggies. You can use it soups or sauces any time you want to boost flavor.
Need more info on making compound or herbed butter? Check out How to Make Herbed Compound Butter. for instructions.
If you haven't tried lemon basil, add it to your list of herbs to grow this year. It germinates quickly and is easy to grow. Follow the growing guide for basil.
Both zucchini and yellow squash are technically summer squash, They have thin skins and tender flesh. They must be eaten or frozen within a few days of harvest to preserve their flavor and texture.
Here in Maine, we tend to refer to the yellow straight neck or crookneck squash as summer squash and simply refer to zucchini as zucchini. This works well until you visit a produce stand selling golden or yellow zucchini.
The question arises:
How do to tell yellow summer squash and yellow zucchini apart?
Yellow straight or crookneck summer squash are shaped differently than yellow or golden zucchini. The fruit is swollen on the blossom end and tapers to a narrow neck near the stem.
Yellow or golden zucchini is shaped like a green zucchini. The fruit is cylinder shaped and does not narrow at the stem end.
Do Yellow Summer Squash and Yellow Zucchini Taste the Same?
No. Golden or yellow zucchini does not have the nutty texture and flavor of yellow squash. It tastes more like traditional green zucchini, but tends to be sweeter and a bit softer than many green varieties.
Golden or yellow zucchini can be cooked or eaten the same way as yellow summer squash and can be substituted in recipes, but will produce subtle changes in the flavor and texture of the recipe.
I've always struggled with identifying azaleas and rhododendrons. Just as soon as I thought I had it figured out I'd run across a nice pot of what I thought was azaleas and then discover the plant label said rhododendron.
As it turns out there was a good reason for my confusion. Azaleas and rhododendrons are not completely different plants. Azaleas are a species of rhododendron. In other words, all azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.
I probably wasn't wrong when I thought I found a pot of azaleas, but the producer who labeled it as rhododendrons wasn't wrong either. This is one case where two opposing opinions can both be correct.
How Can You Tell If the Flower Is an Azalea?
The main identifying characteristic of an azalea is the presence of 5 to 6 stamens in the center of the bloom while other rhododendrons typically have 10 (or more). Stamens are the male part of a flower and look like a slender stem with pollen on the end. They are often brightly colored with yellow or orange pollen.
There are other clues, of course, but none of them are hard and fast rules. For example, many azaleas are deciduous (they lose their leaves in the fall) while many other rhododendrons are evergreen. However, some azaleas are evergreen and some rhododendrons are not, notes Gardenia. The presence of deciduous or evergreen foliage is not a reliable way to distinguish whether your shrub is an azalea or another species of rhododendron.
As a general rule, azalea shrubs are smaller than other rhododendrons, but there are both large and small species of rhododendrons. Azaleas also typically have smaller leaves than traditional rhododendrons, but there are both small and large leaf rhododendrons, too. The size of the shrub or the size of the foliage is not always a reliable way to distinguish the two.
Both produce flowers in shades of white, pink, red, purple and peach with some varieties sporting yellow or orange blooms. They bring the garden bed to life in late spring or early summer. Whatever you choose to call them, these flowering shrubs produce a mass of color and are sure to brighten your garden bed.
Whether you call them tent caterpillars or armyworms, these insect larvae can become a nuisance in home gardens and backyards. The nests appear in the spring and are filled with hundreds of tiny caterpillars. The caterpillars venture out of the nest to feed on the tree's leaves during early morning or late evening and return to the nest during the heat of the day.
These caterpillars are Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) and can be found throughout the eastern part of the U.S., including Maine. They are often referred to as armyworms, but this technically isn't true. According to Merriam Webster, armyworms can be any number of insects larvae that travel in groups and devour crops. Armyworms may devour your garden, but the Eastern Tent Caterpillar typically eats the foliage of the host tree.
According to the University of Kentucky Entomology Department, the Eastern Tent Caterpillar nest increases in size for 4 to 6 weeks before the caterpillars leave the nest for good in search of a place to spin a cocoon and morph into small reddish-brown moths.
While they do not always pose a problem for homeowners, there is a bumper crop of them them every few years. When this happens, they can defoliate host trees and can be found crawling on lawns, decks and even in the pool, making them a nuisance. Getting rid of them can be a challenge once they have left the nest.
Natural Methods for Getting Rid of Tent Caterpillars
Sometimes the easiest method of getting rid of tent caterpillars or armyworms is to physically remove the nest. If you catch them early when the caterpillars and nests are small, physical removal is easy.
Organic Pesticide Recipes - White Oil Spray
There are several variations of the oil and soap mixture as a natural pesticide. These formulas work because the soap helps the oil stick to the insect's body and blocks its breathing pores. It is unclear how cayenne pepper or ground cinnamon increases the effectiveness. While some sources claim you must use a true soap and avoid dish detergents that contain degreasers, others report success with Dawn Dish Detergent.
Avoid spraying when the temperature is above 90 degrees as it may cause foliage to burn.
Last fall many of us who feed the birds noticed that we had fewer birds and fewer varieties of birds at the feeders. It seemed to carry through the winter too. However, with the arrival of spring I have noticed a much wider variety of birds than I have ever experienced before. I'm not sure it is because I have more bird feeders or if there is another reason.
Last night I noticed this little warbler flitting from branch to branch in my chokecherry tree. I thought he was eating the buds of the chokecherry blooms, but with some further reading it seems he may have been nabbing spiders and insects.
This tiny warbler is called a Northern Parula (Setophaga americana). According to All About Birds this bird migrates and spends the winter in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America and returns to northern areas to breed in the summer months.
The Northern Parula does not typically visit bird feeders, but this one seems to enjoy the trees my bird feeders are hung in. I suspect that tiny insects attracted to the budding chokecherry blossoms are providing a tasty meal.
I recently found this wire/metal basket at a secondhand shop and purchased it for a few dollars. I immediately had visions of lining it with moss and using it as a planter.
Last night, I gathered moss from the nearby woods and and lined the basket using care to press the moss into the wire so that the entire basket was lined.
Next, I filled the cavity with humus-rich soil that would hold moisture and keep the moss moist.
I then added some seedlings from my greenhouse and tucked them firmly into the soil. As you can see, I used pastel-pink and white petunias with a small dusty miller for contrast.
Today I will visit the plant nursery for a a small trailing plant to spill over the sides. I'm thinking of pale blue Lobelia or white Bacopa, but I may change my mind, depending on what other other flowers I find.
I topped the planting off with a few stones and tucked moss into any openings to cover the soil.
This planter will need to be displayed in a shaded or semi-shaded area and kept moist to keep the moss from drying out, but I have just the spot for that. I will tuck it into a corner of my garden that receives morning sun and falls into the shade by late morning and gets indirect light for the rest of the day.
I have learned from experience that even though full sun is recommended for petunias, mine do remarkably well with several hours of early-morning light and afternoon shade.
I am looking forward to watching this basket of flowers grow
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