Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

August 2010

blogroseA few weeks ago I posted a picture of one of my favorite roses, Rosa glauca, which features fantastic purple foliage. The flowers are cute enough — they’re pink and have five petals, like a wild rose, but they take a backseat to the foliage.

Then in late summer, the hips put on a show by turning glowing shades of orange and red. They attract birds, too. Plus, it’s very hardy — all the way to USDA Zone 2 (40 degrees below zero)!

So with a rose like this, who really needs flowers?

blogRudbeckiaHenryA cool new-ish black-eyed Susan: Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’, which grows 5 feet tall, 3 feet wide and is hardy in Zones 5-7. It makes a great cut flower!

A nice summer scene outside my door.

Swallowtail butterfly on lantana

Swallowtail butterfly on lantana

Summer ends in a whir of wings in my yard. While some gardens are winding down for the season, mine is revving up with late-season flowers that cater to the sweet appetites of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. Perennials such as hyssop (Agastache), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), join the 24/7 dessert buffet provided by long-blooming annuals, including begonia, lantana, cardinal climber, Pentas, petunia, salvia, and zinnia.

Where have these thumb-size iridescent cuties been all summer? No doubt they’ve been noshing on native blooms and bugs in fields near my home. Just this week, though, I spotted a female hummer hovering in front of my kitchen window as if to say, “Hey, you! Didn’t you have a feeder hanging in this very spot last year?” It’s true: Hummingbirds have amazing memories. They return to the same nectar-rich gardens each year.

August and September bloomers are especially important to the Ruby-Throated (the only hummingbird species that resides east of the Rockies) because they fuel a marathon migration to Mexico and Central America that begins a few weeks from now. The males leave first, followed by the females and offspring. Hummers double their weight for the 2,000-mile trip, taking time to top their tanks in gardens that also serve sugar water, the avian equivalent of an energy drink.

After spotting my first dazzling diner, I wasted no time filling my collection of hummingbird feeders and hanging them within view of every room of my house. One of my favorites is a window-mounted model available at Wild Birds Unlimited. It adheres to glass with suction cups, awarding closeup views. You can purchase packaged instant nectar, but I prefer mixing up small homemade batches made from 4 parts water (boiled, then cooled) to 1 part sugar. Contrary to popular belief, the solution need not be tinted with red food coloring. I clean feeders every few days and refill with fresh sugar water.

By Labor Day, most Rubies will be gone. In the meantime, I’m going to relish these final days of summer, the sweetest season of all.

Japanese beetles are one of the most notorious garden pests. They begin as grubs—a significant turf pest in the Eastern U.S.—then turn into those little green beetles we see flying around in summer,  chewing up our roses, hibiscus, beans, etc. The list of victims is a long one. Japanese beetles are such a serious pest, the species is on those “shoot-on-site” lists that ag-intensive states such as California maintain. Just like the Medfly (those of you on the West Coast know what I’m talking about), if a Japanese beetle is detected in California, they call out the bombers.

Japanese beetles -- eating and, um, engaging in a certain activity with Darwinian implications.

Japanese beetles doing the two things they're best at—eating and multiplying .

East of the Rockies, however, the beetle has spread widely, covering pretty much every state. In some places I’ve visited (on the Eastern Seaboard), I’ve seen the beasts so thick, they attack roses like flies on a rotten piece of meat. Seriously. Swarms. They’re usually not quite that bad here in Iowa, but it’s been heavier this year than I’ve ever seen it before. I blame it on the heavy snows that insulated the ground here all winter.

It’s been bad enough that, for the first time, I felt the need to do something about it. I first tried a homemade trap. “Works Great!” the message boards said. Mash up some fruit, add sugar, water, and put it in a milk jug. So….a few days later I went out to inspect my catch: 1 cucumber beetle and a mason bee. No Japanese beetles. Meanwhile, a few feet away, a bean vine was covered with them.

So I bought one of the commercial traps—this one manufactured by Bonide—that uses pheromones to lure in the beetles.  A couple days later, the bag was  full of hundreds of the nasty little things. It worked! It’s pretty disgusting to see a bag full of writhing bugs. At some point, you have to get rid of the things. What do you do with them? I haven’t figured that out yet. They’re still in the bag.

A commercial, pheromone-based trap. It works!

A commercial, pheromone-based trap. It works!

It is satisfying to see such a great result, although the truth is, you’ll never eliminate Japanese beetles. The key is grub control. Not so tough in your own yard, but there are always plenty of untreated lawns nearby. Given their excellent flying ability, the adult beetles can and do converge on any attractive food source anywhere close enough to fly to. So you might keep the populations down with a trap or other control, but the reality is that you just have to tolerate a certain amount of damage.

We’re used to showing off pictures of great gardens in the pages of our magazine and Web site. So it’s a real treat when you turn the tables on us and share pictures of your great gardens.

And it’s exciting right now that we have two photo contests going on right now where you can show off photos for a chance to win cash prizes!

Home: It’s Where Life Happens is a contest where we’re asking you to show off little tidbits of your life — whether it’s dining on a patio, relaxing in the back yard, or maintaining your garden. The grand prize is $5,000 and the winning photo will be published in an upcoming issue of Better Homes and Gardens® magazine. This photo contest runs through September 30, 2010.

We’re running the Best Blooms photo contest through the end of August, 2010, and we’re looking for you to show off the prettiest flowers in your landscape (such as this awesome shot of bougainvillea from reader sholland205). We’ll have a different winner each week in August; each winner will get $250. Best of all, you get to vote, so upload your photo this week for voting next week.

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