Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Native Annuals Wrap Up for 2014

For the past 6 or 7 years I have been interested in using native annuals in my landscapes.  By working with species that are adapted to local climate and growing conditions they can behave essentially as highly mobile perennials, moving around the garden by reseeding to find their optimal spots.  In some gardens this could be a problem with too many randomized plants.  Personally, I like the spontaneity of getting something growing unexpectedly.  (If they do get out of hand I can just pull them up or transplant them to a more desirable location.)
This Partridge Pea reached about 3' in height.  They can look gangly
in a manicured garden, but fit well into a naturalistic setting.

This year I started a number of new native annuals from seed.  In addition, I had some reseed from last year.  Here's a rundown on their performance in 2014.  I'll start with the best.

In early to mid summer the best performers were actually plants that had reseeded themselves from 2013:  Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides).  Also the biennial, American Bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum) put on a big show.

The Partridge Pea has spread a little from it original planting.  This is an early transitional species, looking for gaps in the in the ground layer to germinate.  It can be pushed out of a densely planted area if there are no gaps.  
The seedpods of Partridge Pea curl up when they release the seeds.  These could look nice in a flower arrangement.
The American Pennyroyal forms dense low border 9-12" tall.
There is a little Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) mixed in.
The Pennyroyal grew from a mixture of seed originally planted in spring 2013 and reseeding from plants in that fall.  The main feature of this plant is the strong minty scent that persists in the dried leaves and stems.  The blue flowers are tiny and grow from the leaf axils in late summer.  


These Amercan Bellflowers are at the back of a garden, an appropriate location.
They can get 5-6' tall in a sunny site.
In full sun the American Bellflower can get quite tall and unwieldy.  It grows well in shady spots reaching a more manageable height of only about 3'.  The blue flowers are very attractive to bees. Unfortunately deer seem to like it as well.  Although they left it alone after applying a repellent.  Pruned plants will produce a second flush of flowers.  

The narrow foliage of Plains Coreopsis allows to mix well
with other plantings without blocking the view.


In mid-summer and still continuing was Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria).  I transplanted some spindly seedlings in late June and by mid July they were taking off and blooming.  There was a little deer browsing early on, but this seemed to taper off after a treatment with Bobbex.  The native range of this Coreopsis includes Maryland so I am hoping that these will successfully reseed in the garden.

The two annuals that are still going strong into mid-fall are Yellow Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum) and Scarlet a.k.a. Hummingbird Sage (Salvia coccinea).  

I only got a couple of the sneezeweed to germinate, but once in the ground it took hold and has been blooming strongly since mid-August.  One trick with these is that the tiny seeds that I brought come massed together in few 1/16" spheres.  These need to be broken up and spread over the soil surface to germinate.  I mistakenly treated most of these spheres as seeds and planted them too deep resulting in no germination.  

The bright yellow flowers of this Yellow Sneezeweed do not need to be deadheaded.
Just as well, I hope to get some reseeding from these.
The Salvia germinated easily and after growing in trays for a few weeks were transferred to the garden or into pots.  These plants spent 6-8 weeks growing before they were ready to bloom.  Despite the wait, the blooming has been strong since early August.  This species also does well in pots. but it is kind of tall and you may want some other plants to fill in around the lower leaves.



The tubular flowers of this Salvia did attract our hummingbirds earlier in the season.
At 24-30" it shows up well among other garden plants.

Some other annuals I tried that grew but did not excel this season were Sulfur Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis 'Pan') and Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata). The Cosmos suffered from too much competition from other plants and from being nibbled on by the local fauna.  I expect it would have done better in a more protected location.  The Sunflower germinated well in the garden but was overshadowed by the Annual Sunflower I paired it with.  The Spanish flag matured very late in the season with significant blooming starting in September.  It's blooming well now in late October, but all the supporting plants are fading away.  Spanish Flag is native to Mexico (part of North America); I don't expect to see this one reseed.

The fact that we have not had a real frost yet in our area has really extended the blooming season for these plants.  Some I expect to survive a light frost, while others will be killed immediately.  

I did plant a couple of winter annuals, Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii), out in the garden in late summer.  I'm keeping an eye on them, but have not seen any definitive germination yet.







Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making a Plan to manage Japanese Stiltgrass


My wife and I have been on a campaign against invasive plants on our property.  Our two main targets are garlic mustard and Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum.  The spring time is when our focus is on garlic mustard, when the ground is soft and before it begins to flower.  In late summer our focus switches to stiltgrass.  I am trying to come up with a program that works for me: how can we eliminate as much stiltgrass with the least amount of work and without causing too much collateral damage. 

This is a shady area that used to be mowed.  The stilt grass has moved into
the gaps and is crowding out the native vegetation.
We've been pulling plants from planting beds as they appear (compulsive behavior), pulling larger plants and weed whacking in late summer.  Recently a friend pointed out how much stiltgrass was growing in the lawn.  I realized that this lawn weed may be creating a large mass of seed that could easily recontaminate the surrounding woodlands.  So I'm now including the lawn in the project. 

The Plan

As the weather has gotten cooler I could see how stiltgrass has taken over large swaths of the lawn.  This effectively creates bare spots that are prime territory for stiltgrass to resprout in the spring.  Remembering that one of the best to control lawn weeds is to have a thick turf, I decided that I should be more aggressive about filling in those bare spots with desirable plants. My general plan is as follows:
  • Pull in early August.  This allows a second crop to germinate, but not enough time to mature before frost.
  • In natural areas minimize disturbance to soil and encourage existing native species.  Cut stiltgrass low when flowering starts, about mid to late August to early September.
  • In disturbed areas (lawn) try to add more competitive ground covers, like cool season grasses to get established before stiltgrass germinates in mid-April (WVa).  
This will be a 5+ year program to get rid of the current crop of seeds already in the ground.  There will be continued outside pressure from surrounding areas infested with stiltgrass. 

Japanese stiltgrass is turning brown in the lawn early October.
This thatch can be slow to break down,
leaving a gap for more to germinate in spring.

In late fall and winter stiltgrass appears as a persistent golden-brown thatch.  The usual invasion route is into areas of disturbance in an otherwise natural space.  Deer are also vectors for the spread of stilt grass.  They often bed on top of stiltgrass infested areas, then carry the seed with them, dropping it along their paths.  While they will sleep on stiltgrass, deer do not feed on it.  Instead they feed on native vegetation, further helping stiltgrass to outcompete native species.

In late August/early September a flush of growth is a signal that stiltgrass is maturing and seed production is about to commence.  Waiting to cut the grass at this time does the maximum damage to its reproductive cycle.  Early season mowing or whacking of stiltgrass stimulates early flowering and a lower, harder to remove growth habit.  Pulling stiltgrass early in the season creates openings that allows additional germination.  By waiting until late in the season these late germinated seedlings will not have time to mature before they are killed by the colder temperatures. I really like the idea of tricking it into germinating late in the season.  Also plants pulled out before the seed has matured can be left to decompose.  After the seed has ripened in mid- to late-September plants should be bagged and landfilled to prevent spreading of the seed.

I found this recommendation by West Virginia forester, RussAnderson:
"If the area where stiltgrass control is desired includes a lawn that is infested, all regular mowing of that portion of the lawn should cease around July 15 and allowed to grow for a month before mowing again. Normally, during this 30 day period the stiltgrass will significantly  outgrow all other lawn cover making it both easier to identify and easier to kill. To ensure the highest proportion kill possible in the stiltgrass the best option is to mow the lawn, especially where the stiltgrass is present at the lowest blade setting. Completing the mowing during the hottest and driest conditions possible will further enhance the kill in the stiltgrass. If the mowing of the lawn is successful, regular lawn grass will begin to fill in the dead spots almost immediately. If the stiltgrass is mowed before it is allowed to go to seed the number of stiltgrass seedlings on the lawn will greatly decline in succeeding years."

It's hard to leave an area of lawn unmown.  But if this works, consider all the labor and chemicals saved compared to removing stiltgrass by other means.  Also this can be a positive step by NOT doing something (mowing for a month), rather than continually mowing. 

Here's that same shady area after weed whacking and raking up the cut stiltgrass (upper left).
Pink flags indicate the location of desired native species left in place.

Weed whacking stiltgrass from hard to mow areas should be done in this late August period.  Cutting as low as possible removes both the upper flowers as well as the lower cleistogamous flowers hidden in the stems.  If there are native species going to seed in the area, waiting until they mature can help reestablish native populations.  In some smaller areas I surveyed for native species and flagged them so that they could be avoided while whacking the stiltgrass.  

Cool season turfgrasses

Since each fescue plant is so small the seeding rate
 is fairly high, 5 lb/1000sf, to get good coverage.
Tall fescue is a good choice for high traffic sunny areas, but this is not a North American species.  Since my focus is on using native vegetation and natural appearance, I am using a mostly native fine fescue blend. (Eco-grass from Prairie Moon) of red and creeping fescues for the shadier areas.  In the wilder areas I am trying a blend of native grass species.  This is an experiment to see if I can get good cover with these prairie species used in a lawn-like environment.  However, a prairie is managed much differently than a lawn and there is a good chance that this approach will not be successful.  Many of these native grasses need a year or two to put down roots before top growth takes off.  Ideally these species should be allowed to mature for a season or two before they get chopped back, by mowing or grazing.

For sowing, I first used an iron rake to clear out the stiltgrass thatch.  (Looking back, if had done this in early September I could have limited the stiltgrass seed production even more.)  This also loosened the soil surface.  Then I broadcasted the seed.  Finally I used the flat edge of the rake to push the seed in closer contact with the soil.  To get good germination and establishment of the seedlings the ground should be kept moist.  I usually try to time fall seeding with the weather forecast to take advantage of rainfall to get the grass started.

About 10 days after seeding with Eco Grass a fine green haze is covering this previously barren area.
Most commercial turf grass blends contain annual and perennial ryes which are fast growing and fill in quickly.  The fine fescues used here do not grow as quickly and it will take longer to have that full look.

Native Grasses

With that in mind I decided to try this as an experiment.  I selected species that tolerate grazing, where they would be eaten back to 3-5 inches, since mowing it is a similar action.  Since I am fall sowing I selected mostly cool season grasses, with the hope that they will get established before the stiltgrass germinates in the spring.  Also, there are warm season species in the mixture to try and fill in the gaps when the weather warms.  The grasses I selected where mostly native to Maryland or the mid-Atlantic region.

Name
Botanical Name
Season
Exposure
Seeds/pound
Sun mix ratio
Shade mix ratio
Canada rye
Elymus virginicus
cool
Part
100K
8
4
Virginia rye
Elymus canadensis
cool
Part
100K
4
2
Side Oats Grama
Bouteloua curtipendula
warm
Full
150K
6
1
June Grass
Koeleria macrantha
cool
Full
2000K
1
0
Fall or Beaked Panicgrass
Panicum anceps
warm
Part
--
0
1
White clover
Dalea candida
--
Full
260K
4
0









I made up two seed blends one for full sun and the other for part shade.  The majority of the seeds are cool season grasses.  The weight ratios for each are listed in the table above.  When making up a seed blend you need to account for the number of seed per pound and the seed viability, usually listed as pure live seed (PLS) which is seed purity times the germination rate.  This is my first time trying this so I can't be sure that it will work.  I did put some seed into a new meadow area that will not be mowed regularly.  This will serve as my 'control' group.

A better way to sow these native grass seed would be to use a seed drill and put them in 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.  Instead, I sowed them the same as I did for the fine fescue, but at a much lower rate (pounds/sf).  The recommended rate for Eco Grass is 5 lbs/1,000 sf while for Canada rye it is on the order of 3 oz/1,000 sf.  Since the ryes and other native grasses are much larger plants when mature, compared to a single fescue plant, it takes only a few seeds to get the same coverage.

June grass has a seed similar fescue is size;
however, the resulting plant is much larger

Side oats grama has a lot of husks included, but
these are accounted for in the PLS calculation  

Virginia and Canada ryes look similar.  


If I don't see sufficient germination by next spring I will go back to a standard turf grass blend.  It's better to fill in with something than leave space for stiltgrass.

15 days after seeding I'm seeing some new grass growth in some of the sunnier areas.
The shade areas are not showing definitive signs of new grasses.


We were surprised to find this obedient plant
blooming late in the season.  I don't know if this is indigenous
 or if it escaped from an earlier planting by a previous landowner.

Other strategies

Broad spectrum (glyphosphate) and grass specific herbicides are effective on stiltgrass, but they may impact surrounding vegetation.  I found a mention of using a dilute solution of Fusion® (grass specific herbicide) to kill stiltgrass with relatively little collateral damage to native perennials and grasses.  Another tool is the use a preemergent herbicide in spring.  However, since stiltgrass continues to germinate throughout the spring and summer, a single treatment alone would not be effective.  A preemergent would also suppress germination of other desired species.


One of the side benefits while pulling stiltgrass is that it gets you looking closely at plants and nature.  We've spotted a number of interesting plants this year while thinning out the overgrown edges of the woodlands.  Most recently I spotted a dark pink Obedient Plant among the grasses.

References

The following are some additional websites with useful information on dealing with Japanese stiltgrass: 



Monday, September 29, 2014

Butternut Harvesting

Butternut tree in late September.  The nuts
have been falling for about 2 weeks
We are fortunate to have a mature Butternut, Juglans cinerea, growing close to our house.  It casts a pleasant amount of shade, not too dense.  Like its close relative the black walnut, Juglans nigra, it does produce juglone, a substance that inhibits the growth of many plants.  Growing alone in a lawn, this has not been a problem with ours.  Our tree does have a moderate case of Butternut Canker or Butternut Decline.  We had the affected branches removed this past spring and this year it looks a lot better.  Long term I expect the disease to continue.

Despite this ailment, out tree does produce quite a few nuts.  This is supported by the large number of seedlings within a hundred feet of the parent.  Normally there are just a few nuts on the ground, but this year there are hundreds of them.  I had been told that the squirrels would swoop in and carry them away, but so far I haven't seen many of them.  Rather than just tripping over these nuts on the lawn I decided to give harvesting them a shot.




Butternuts fresh off the tree are covered with a bright green, sticky husk.  As they age the husk shrinks and becomes darker. The best nuts for harvesting those that have fallen recently.  One site recommended only using nuts freshly shaken off the tree.  My tree is pretty firm and its limbed up quite high, so I just opted for the greenest ones off the ground.

Butternuts are oblong, kind of like a football or rugby ball.  Walnuts are nearly round.

This butternut has been on the ground for a few days.
The husk is stuck more tightly to the shell.








I didn't harvest any of these dark nuts.  There is a greater probability that they may be starting to rot and they are definitely harder to peel. You can check nut quality ahead of time by putting them in a bucket of water.  Those that sink are good, but floaters have voids in them and should be discarded.


Here a relatively fresh, green nut ready for peeling/dehusking.
I found that the serrated edge on my favorite soil knife was very effective at dehusking the butternuts.  Before getting started I put on older clothes and a sturdy pair of gloves.  The husks contain substances that leave dark brown to black stains.  After being exposed to air they get darker.  I didn't want to get any of the juice on me or any of my pavement.


Here's the first cut through the husk.
The green husk is about 3/16" thick and juicy.
The first thing I did was make four cuts lengthwise through the husk with the serrated blade of the knife.

The freshly exposed shell is light brown,
but it darkens quickly when exposed.
Next, I put the blade in one of the slices and twisted the blade causing a chunk of the husk to pop off.  With this opening, I could press the edge of the blade against the cut edge of the husk and the rest of that section of husk peeled off.
Here's a freshly peeled nut with all the pieces of the green husk.

I repeated that for the remaining four segments.  After the first dozen, I could dehusk a nut in less than a minute.  Still, this is not how I would like to spend an afternoon.  A corn sheller can make the job easier.

After 3 minutes the moist interior of the husks had turned black.
This stain can be difficult to remove from surfaces and clothing.

Once peeled the husked nuts get washed with a jet of water then air dried.  Currently I am air curing the nuts in their shells for for about two weeks.  It is recommended to store them in the dark at about 60 F and 70% humidity.  This curing step is supposed to develop a better flavor.

The next step will to take the nuts out of their shells.  One site says to soak them in warm water for a day before cracking the shells.  I did a quick deshelling test with my 3# steel mallet.  A few taps broke the shell nicely.  The nut meat had a greenish cast and tasted a little raw, but there was a richness to it that I hope will dominate when the curing process is complete.

Once shelled the nutmeats can be stored in the refrigerator for a few few months, or longer in the freezer.  I'm not sure how best to use the nuts: raw, boiled or roasted, all three?  I should have a verdict on this process in a couple of weeks.  Being a newbee at this I would really appreciate any comments from more experienced gatherers out there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Visit to Coastal Maine Botanic Garden

My first visit in to the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens was in 2008, one year after opening.  There was lots of construction going on then.  Even so the gardens were very enjoyable to see.  Now that major construction is done and the plants are more established, I would say that the gardens are spectacular!  

This view over the Learner Garden of the Five Senses captures the care
that is taken in both the design and maintenance practices at the CMBG.

This bed of late-flowering Sneezeweed looked just like in the catalogs.





While the gardens do not consist entirely of native or indigenous species, these species do make up a major component of the plantings.  One of the goals of this garden is to show the people of this area what they can grow successfully in this northern climate.  





Considering this latest visit was in the second week of September, I was pleased to see so many of the plants were in full bloom, proving that Maine does not shut down after Labor Day.  Also while walking around the gardens I saw several staff members hard at work caring for the plants.  The results were clearly seen in how clean the beds were and how healthy the plantings looked.
These red and yellow flowers of  Blood Flower, a South American species of milkweed, really pop.
The North American butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) has similar form but is all orange.
One of the first plants I saw at the garden was Asclepias curassavica, Blood Flower, a South American native perennial, but grown as an annual in the US.  There is a Monarch Butterfly Waystation at the garden, so there are a preponderance of milkweeds, as well as other pollinator friendly plants.  An area for collecting and protecting Monarch chrysalis' is located in the Children's Garden.
Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed at CMBG.
Tussock Moth caterpillar on a Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata, in Maryland.
I'll admit I was jealous.  Back home in Maryland we've seen only one Monarch Butterfly so far this year.  And the only caterpillars on my milkweeds have been for the native Tussock Moth.  

The Children's garden contains many fun plants, bright colors and activities for kids.  Adults can also appreciate the playful nature of the planting themes in this area.

I've been looking at some classic labyrinths, but this pattern looks a lot more fun!
Not everything in the Children's Garden is a plant.
This is a play on a bedding planting.
  
One of the intensely designed gardens there is the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses, which was completed in 2009.  It has areas with plants that appeal to each of the five senses:  Taste (mostly culinary species), Scent, Touch (textured plants and hardscape), Sight and Sound (water features, croaking frogs and air movement through the plants). The design allows for maximum accessibility for disabled.  A detailed description of this garden has been posted on-line by Gregory Harris

These planted walls in the 'Taste' section make the plants more accessible for visitors to reach.
Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye Weed were two of the dominant species in the garden.

The Kitchen Garden was one of the first designed areas completed.  It demonstrates creative ways to grow edible plants.  Particularly using natural materials for trellising and mixing flowers for pollinators with food plants to get both an improved visual experience and better results with beneficial insects.

Zinnias and Purpletop Vervain are two of the flowering components of this edible garden.
The Greek Columnar Basil in the middle of this bed adds a strong structural feature.

While I have not explored many of the natural trails at CMBG, I did make it down to the water to get some beautiful views of Back River that abuts the property.

There are many beautiful, less intensely managed areas.  This view of Back River is from the Vayo Meditation Garden.   
If you are visiting Downeast Maine/Booth Bay, I recommend you spend a few hours at these gardens and you will see just how much and how well plants can be grown in northern New England.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

It's late August and I'm seeing Red.....and some other colors, too


In direct sun the red of this Lobelia stands in
perfect contrast to the green background.
This is the first year for my Cardinal Flowers, Lobelia cardinalis, to bloom and I must say it really pops on a grass green back ground.  I planted these as seedlings last year and they never got very big.  Part of that was due to deer browsing.  This year the deer ate a little early in the season, but did not come back after the buds began to form.  I don't know if that has to do with a change in the taste of the maturing plant, or if it was due to spraying the plants with a new deer repellent, Bobbex.  Besides delighting the eye, the cardinal flowers are a big hit with the butterflies.

This Scarlet Sage is growing in a partly sunny garden.


Before I had a place with moist soil I relied on this Blood or Scarlet Sage, Salvia coccinea, to get an intense shade of red in late summer.  It grows well in moist to dry soils and will tolerate some shade.  Scarlet sage is usually grown as an annual.  In the past it has reseeded itself in my warm zone 6 garden in Boston.  We'll see how it does in my less protected Maryland garden next year.  I have seen hummingbirds feeding on this sage, as well as many bees. 

This photo taken early in the morning contrasts the yellow of evening primrose,
Oenothera biennis, with the violet of NY ironweed, Veronia noreboracensis.
These two tall plants complement each other toward the back of this planting.
Another major presence in the garden is New York Ironweed, Veronia noveboracensis.  This year they are growing to 8 feet.  I cut one back by 1/3 at the beginning of July and it quickly grew back fuller than before.  This plant is very attractive to butterflies, it has about as many as a nearby exotic butterfly bush.

Wingstem is named for the rough appendages growing along its stems.



The predominant open meadow flower of late summer here is WingstemVerbesina alternifolia.   In the full sun they grow straight up to 3 to over 8 feet.   I have allowed a few to grow in the partly sunny gardens near the house.  Under these conditions they still grow tall, but they lean forward to get more sun, eventually flopping over.  Blooming period is about a month long, mid August to late September.

Under the shade of pines I am trying out several species of Goldenrods. The first to bloom is Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Solidago ulmnifolia.  As with the cardinal flower, these were browsed heavily by the deer in their first year, but this year they are reaching bloom (maybe with the help of Bobbex).  Other goldenrods I am trying in the shade are Zigzag, Bluestemmed and Showy Goldenrods.













The little whitish flowers of Jumpseed wiggle their way out of the undergrowth.
The foliage of this plant is tattered since it is often eaten by some as yet unidentified insects.
Another shade-tolerant native that is blooming now is Virginia Jumpseed, Persicaria virginiana.  Not particularly showy by itself, en mass it adds some interesting texture to a shady scene.  There are some forms of this plant with more colorful leaves and red flowers, but those are not in bloom just yet. 




Aromatic Aster is just beginning its long season of bloom.
One of the newer additions to the garden is Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolius 'October Skies'.  Despite its name it has started blooming in late August (this cultivar is actually named for the flower color, not the bloom time).  This cultivar is compact and densly blooming.  Growing to about 2 feet tall it is a great choice for near the front of a border.  In addition to the good-sized blooms the foliage of this little bush has a pleasing scent.

I just wanted to share this last image of a patriotic color combination of Hibiscus moscheutos, Lobelia cardinalis, and L. siphilitica. It's not a great photographic composition, but it is an example of red, white and blue native flowers blooming at the same time (mid-August).  

This photo could have been improved had I bothered to remove the
chicken wire protection from around the Hardy Hibiscus.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Garden Bugs

As I have been walking around the property I have seen a wide variety of insects. both good and bad.  Of course bad is based on the human perspective of what's eating the plants that I am interested in either for food or aesthetics.   The insect herbivores provide a link between the solar energy stored up in plant materials and animals higher up in the food chain.  The really bad insects are those that don't fit in with the food chain.  Those are the ones lacking a predator.  

Here are a few of the interesting bugs that I encountered in July. 

This moth is about 1.5 inches long.
Clymene Moth is said to be a common woodland species, though I have seen it only this once.  It is a daytime flier so it should not be difficult to spot.  The black cross on the tan wings certainly stood out. 
The larvae feed on a variety of plants, particularly Willows, Oaks and Eupatorium species.  

My wife spotted this Luna Moth while pulling out stiltgrass.  I think it had recently emerged from a cocoon because the wings appeared to be very flexible.  The large adult moths do not feed.  Their typical adult lifetime is about a week.   The larvae feed on several species of trees, including hickories, persimmon and sumacs.   

This moth was in a mass of stiltgrass
We found this lethargic moth in early afternoon,
these moths usually fly at night.

Three of the 6 yellowish spots can be seen
on the wing casings of this tiger beetle.
The 6-spotted Tiger Beetle is one of the fastest running insects.  I've seen them running on our pool deck at 2-3 mph.  Their top speed is 5.6 mph or the equivalent of 480 mph, if it were the same size as a human!   This insect predator is able to easily chase down its prey.  It can fly as well.

The larval form is also predatory.  It stays in a burrow and lunges out to capture passing small insects, like ants and spiders.



The largest of the leafhoppers at over 1/2 inch long is the Broad-headedSharpshooter, Oncometopia arbona.  This insect feeds on plant juices and shoots the liquid waste in an intense stream, hence the name 'sharp-shooter'.   It has the overall shape of other leafhoppers, but it is much bigger.   Leafhoppers are vectors for a number of plant diseases.  This one can carry a bacteria that causes Pierce's disease in grapes.  
The jewel-like coloring of this insect caught my eye.  It was tough to photograph
because it kept scurrying to the opposite side of the cucumber from the camera.

I only found this Mantis because it was moving,
otherwise it would have blended into the grasses.
At 4 inches, this is probably a Chinese Mantid.
The largest insect predator that I've spotted so far is the Praying Mantis.  The really big ones are actually imported Chinese Mantids.  The native Carolina Mantid is brownish-grey and about 2 inches long.  They feed on a wide variety of insects, whatever they can grab with their powerful front legs. Mantis are noted for their ability to rotate their heads 180 degrees.

We saw one on the outside of our kitchen window that had spotted a Japanese beetle on the inside.  It moved carefully into position and tried to grab the beetle through the glass.  After a couple of attempts I squished the beetle and took it out of sight.  The mantis then just walked away into a nearby hanging basket.  



This Cucumber Beetle is a bad actor in the garden.
I saw this green spotted beetle in the vegetable  garden the other day and while I did not know what is was, but I was pretty sure it was not something I wanted.  My method of choice this season for dealing with garden pests is squishing.  So that's what I did.  It took quite a bit of force to kill this beetle.  (Cabbage moth caterpillars are much easier to dispatch.)  I got a photo so that I could do an ID after the fact.  Turns out I made the right call.  This was a Spotted Cucumber Beetle.  These beetles feed on the leaves of cucumber and melon plants and can spread bacterial wilt that will kill the entire vine.                  


These moths hover near flowers and gather nectar through their long proboscis.
Hummingbird Moth at a Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa.
The Hummingbird moth is fairly common around here.  It flies during the day and makes a humming sound when it flies, similar to a hummingbird.  It also looks and feeds similar to a hummingbird.  This mimicry offer some protection from predators.  There are two common species in the US.  The one I saw recently is the Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis.  It dominant in the western US, but its range is from coast to coast.   The other species is the Hummingbird Clearwing, H. thysbe.  It has a red body and is found primarily in the eastern half of the US. 

The larvae feed on honeysuckles, hawthorns and Prunus species.  The pupae are found on the soil surface, or over-wintering in the leaf litter.
       

My favorite garden predator is the Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus. It is rather frightening in appearance in all its growth stages.  Like the mantis the wheel bug feeds on a wide variety of insects, but I am especially happy when it gets a Japanese beetle or a stink bug.  They move slowly to get close to their prey then grab hold and pierce them with their long pointed beak.  They inject enzymes to dissolve the insides of their captive.  While beneficial in the garden, they can inflict a painful 'bite' to humans if they are threatened with no clear escape.
Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a favorite of Japanese Beetles.
It is also a good place to find Wheel Bugs.  You can see
the dark beak sticking into the beetle.