Lyn Chimera is a Master Gardener, consultant and lecturer.
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By Lyn Chimera
One of the things I do as a Master Gardener is man the Hotline to answer people’s gardening questions. In the past month we have had many calls about Maple leaves with black spots, maple leaves dropping early and people spotting the Killer Hornet. Here is some information on both issues.
Tar spot on Maples.
Info adapted from the Cornell fact sheet.
WNY is experiencing an increase in tar spot this season. There are actually several different fungi in the genus Rhytisma that infect the leaves of maples and cause raised, black spots to form on upper leaf surfaces. (see photo) The diseases are called "tar spots" because their appearance so closely resemble droplets of tar on leaf surfaces. Tar spot alone is rarely serious enough to threaten the health of trees, but sometimes there can be so many spots that the tree becomes unsightly. Heavy infections can also cause early leaf drop, a condition that causes homeowners to have to rake before autumn officially arrives. Norway maples are not native and brought the fungus with them when they came from Norway. It is a common street tree because it can withstand the stress of growing in less than optimum conditions. Norway maples are not the only trees affected by the fungi in the genus Rhytisma. Tar spot also infects silver, sugar, and red maple as well as their relative, box elder.
For more info on Tar Spot: http://plantclinic.cornell.edu/factsheets/tarspotofmaple.pdf
The best way to control is to rake up and remove all infected leaves. Spraying of fungicide is not
recommended since tar spot doesn’t severely harm trees and the fungal spores travel in the air. You would have to spray the whole neighborhood to make a difference. If you want to plant a tree it’s always best to choose a native that is suited to our area and your site.
Note: If maple leaves crinkle and turn brown in June or July, another common disease of maple may be present. Refer to the Cornell fact sheet on Anthracnose of Trees and Shrubs for more information.
The Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is another question we’ve been hearing a lot about. The name you’ve heard on the news is Murder Hornet. Just the name makes one worry. The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet at 2 inches long! (see photo). It was initially spotted in British Columbia and Washington state in 2019. The nests found were destroyed. This hornet is problematic because it attacks and destroys honeybee hives and is aggressive toward people. Because the Asian Giant Hornet looks similar to some large hornet and wasp species here, we are getting many calls of sightings of the “murder hornet”. None have been confirmed.
Two of the most common insects people see here that they think are the Asian giant hornet are The German yellowjacket (Vespula germanica) and the European Giant Hornet (Vespa crabro L.)
The yellowjacket is colored in black and yellow and the abdomen typically has a small spade-shaped black mark on the first abdominal segment and a series of black spots down both sides from the second to the fifth segments. The adult European hornet worker is approximately 1 inch in length with yellow and brown coloration.
Sharon Bachman, the Invasive Species person at the Cooperative Extension, explained the visual difference between the Asian giant hornet and others. The yellow and black bands on the AGH are solid stripes while the other large species have irregular stripes with “crown like” protrusions. Bottom line is the Asian giant hornet has not been identified outside the northwest so you don’t have to worry. The Hotline is a free service to those living in Erie County.
If you have a garden related question, need a soil pH test, insect, or disease identification you can call 716-652-2432 ext. 137, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9-12. Due to Covid the offices are closed so your call will not be answered directly. Leave a message and a Master Gardener volunteer will get back to you during those hours. Some volunteers are working from home and others are at Cornell Cooperative Extension 21 S. Grove St. on the first floor.
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Now is the best time to plan for improvements &/or changes for next year. Give us a call!
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By: Lyn Chimera
Whether you live in the city, suburbs or in a rural area, lawns are a big part of the landscape. People have treated lawns as a status symbol for centuries. The movement began in Europe where having a manicured lawn was only available to the wealthy who could afford the workforce to keep it looking good.
Unfortunately having that perfectly manicured lawn is still a status symbol for many people. They want their lawn to look like a golf course. Anyone who has tried to have that perfect lawn realizes what a lot of work it is to keep it that way. Not only is it time consuming but costly as well. There’s the lawn mower which needs gas and yearly maintenance, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides which are not only tough on the pocketbook but very hard on the environment
Let’s look at a few facts. Lawns across America use about 9 BILLION gallons of water a DAY! That’s the main reason during the drought out west watering lawns has been banned. The EPA reports that 50% of that water is wasted through evaporation and run off. According to 1971 NASA report lawns take up 3 times as much space as the next irrigated crop, corn. On top of that around 90 million pounds of fertilizers and about 75 million pounds of pesticides are used per year.
Just why do we have all this lawn? What do we actually use it for? Some turf is productive like athletic fields, golf courses and recreational areas. We have to ask ourselves if this is the best use of our landscape space.
There has been much written about habitat loss and the reduction of much needed pollinators, birds and other forms of life. Lawn doesn’t support any of that. Nature needs our help and that’s why so many people are reducing their lawn and developing more sustainable landscaping. This movement has been dubbed “unlawning”. There are many ways to reduce your lawn and have that space contribute to nature.
One of the fastest growing ways to reduce lawn is to grow vegetables, fruit trees and berries. Many people have vegetable gardens in their back yards, but front yard gardens are gaining in popularity. Often the front or side yard is the only place that has enough sun to support growing food crops. Growing some of your own food not only enables your garden to be productive for nature but provides your family with fresh pesticide free fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables need pollinators so you’re supporting nature.
There are many ways to incorporate food crops; raised beds, in ground garden, containers or interspersed among your perennials. Meanwhile you won’t have so much lawn to take care of.
Another option for unlawning is to transform some of the lawn space to meadow or pollinator gardens. This doesn’t mean you have to have an unkept field in your front yard. A section of lawn could be parceled out to be a pollinator garden/meadow. These sections could be shaped and mowed around to make it look more purposeful. The same effect can happen with wide mowed paths through the area. Organizing like species of plants rather than a general mixture also makes the meadow look more organized and like a garden if that is the look you prefer. Using native plants that support nature are the most effective plants to replace some lawn. They are beautiful and are the easiest way homeowners can help support nature and be sustainable. For ideas on how this might look check out: https://unlawningamerica.societyrne.net/unlawning-strategies.html
I’m not trying to suggest everyone eliminate their lawns. Rather rethink areas that you don’t use that might be more sustainable for your families and nature. If you don’t want to reduce the amount of lawn, at least consider not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Lawns will do just fine without them. Also you don’t have to water the lawn. Grasses naturally go dormant when it’s dry. They will green up with the first rain.
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By: Lyn Chimera
Lessons from Nature
Would you like to have a healthier lawn and help the environment at the same time? The Safe Home for The Gnomes project is for you.
The Erie County Environmental Management Council (EMC) is an advisory board to the Erie County Department of Environment & Planning. Council members advise county government on local environmental concerns; and provide a liaison between the community and county government.
Reducing the overuse and misuse of chemicals in Erie County is a priority concern for the EMC. Launched in 2017, Safe Home for The Gnomes is a campaign to reduce the use of lawn chemicals. Homeowners pledge to maintain a pesticide-free lawn that is safe for children, pets and pollinators and receive a free lawn sign to let their neighbors know that their lawn is healthy and safe.
Garden chemicals when overused or misused can be harmful to humans, pets, wildlife and waterbodies. Collectively, residents control about 900,000 acres of lawn in New York alone - 75% of the managed turf in the state. The good news is there are many ways to care for your lawn that avoid putting family and neighbors at risk.
Ten EMC tips for a healthy pesticide free lawn:
Having a pesticide free lawn will save you time AND money as well as eliminate harmful effects on the environment. For more information about Safe Home for the Gnome and managing a pesticide free landscape please visit the Healthy Lawns page at: ERIE.GOV/HEALTHYLAWNS.
NOTE: Our Native Plant and Perennial Sale will be Saturday, May 22, 9-2. Between Amanda’s Garden and Lessons from Nature we will have the largest selection of native plants in WNY along with a good selection of perennials for sun to shade. A GREAT place to get healthy plants at a reasonable price.
Annual native and perennial plant sale
Saturday, May 22, 9-2
170 Pine Street, E Aurora
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By: Lyn Chimera
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Most of us have heard about mulch but just what is it and why should you use it? First of all mulch is basically any material used to cover the bare surface of the soil. Nature has been mulching itself forever. Tree leaves and plants at the end of the season decompose on site and provide soil cover and nutrients for the next season. We have created controlled habitats in our gardens and have to provide this necessary process.
There are multiple reasons to use mulch. The most common one people think of is to prevent weeds from growing. Who likes to spend the summer weeding?! However, other reasons are just as important if not more so; helping the soil retain moisture so you don’t have to water as much, keep the soil cooler which also cuts down on water evaporation and helps prevent cracking during dry periods, protect the soil from heavy rains and erosion, cut down on soil splashing up on the plants and lastly it gives the garden a finished look.
The two main types of mulch are organic and inorganic. Organic simply means it’s made from plant or animal materials that have been ground or composted. Organic mulches will eventually decompose and add nutrients to the soil. Inorganic mulches include stone and plastic sheeting and have no value for the soil.
Organic mulches are the best to use because along with all the ways they help your garden mentioned above they will also help improve the fertility of the soil as well as the structure of the soil making it easier for the roots to grow and easier for you to dig. As the organic mulch decomposes during the season it adds life to the soil through microorganisms. It’s these microorganisms that feed the plants. Most organic mulch consists of items like composted animal manure, leaves, straw, ground wood, sludge and yard and kitchen waste.
Some of the most common mulches are made from chipped or ground wood, bark and branches. This is usually referred to as wood chips or bark mulch. In my opinion the large wood chip mulch is not the best option. It decomposes very slowly and adds little nutrient value to the soil. After a season or two it turns grey and the recommendation is to remove it and add fresh. Seems like a lot of expense and energy for mulch that is not that good at keeping weeds down.
Triple ground wood mulch is a much better option. You will pay more but it’s more effective at weed control and will add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Cedar mulch has become popular because of the color however the cedars are being harvested from cedar bogs in the south at a frightening rate. For this reason alone I don’t recommend using it.
Compost is a very affective mulch especially if you have “dirt” instead of good soil. Adding compost is the most effective way of improving your soil. When I started gardening my soil was heavy clay and almost impossible to dig. I mulched with compost for quite a few years and it made a huge difference. You can make your own or buy it by the bag or yard delivered to your driveway. A mixture of triple ground wood mulch and compost is ideal and available at many nurseries.
Mulched leaves are an ideal and FREE mulch. To use as mulch the leaves have to be ground up using a mulching lawn mower. I collect mulched leaves people discard at the curb in the fall and bag them for later use. They make a light weight (no back breaking shoveling of heavy mulch) excellent mulch. I use mulched leaves exclusively now except for one bed in the front which gets a lot of wind.
Mulches to avoid are the non-organic varieties. Stone mulch is not recommended. It’s heavy, expensive, doesn’t improve the soil, increases watering needs and is an ineffective weed barrier. It also absorbs heat which can be harmful to some plants and causes the water in the soil to evaporate faster. Plastic garden or weed barrier is also a very poor choice. You need to cover it with mulch to hold it down and it tends to migrate and show up above the soil after a while. Plastic weed cloth is also very hard to plant through and when weeds do show up are hard to remove.
Bottom line… use an organic mulch that includes some compost. It will make your gardening much easier and improve the soil at the same time. A win/win situation!
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There’s nothing that says Fall like seeing pumpkins everywhere. Putting one on your front stoop makes an instant decoration and it carries you all the way through November. How good is that!?
Pumpkins originated in the Americas where their use goes back thousands of years. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7,000 to 5,500 BC! Native Americans used pumpkins as a staple in their diet, as well as medicinally, centuries before the Pilgrims landed. When white settlers arrived, they learned to use pumpkins from the Native Peoples.
The name “pumpkin” has a long history. Native Americans called it “isquotersquash”. The first word for pumpkin given by early explorers was “pepon” which was latin for large melon. The French changed it to “pompon” and the English to “pumpion”. It was the American Colonists who changed “pumpion” to “pumpkin”. It’s been pumpkin ever since.
The tradition of carving scary faces in pumpkins goes back hundreds of years. It began with an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack”. Originally, scary faces were carved into turnips and potatoes to frighten away Scary Jack and other evil spirits. Immigrants coming to the US found pumpkins were a much better medium for carving. Thus, the Jack-O-Lantern became part of our Halloween traditions.
We usually think of using pumpkin for decoration or jack-o-lanterns, but it’s a wonderful and nutritious food loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. It also contains potassium and Vitamin A along with numerous other vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin pulp is used for everything from soups to breads, and of course, pumpkin pie. Don’t forget the seeds, they’re easy to roast and make a nutritious snack.
Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin rind and wove them into mats as well as eating the pulp. Today pumpkins are also used as containers for pumpkin soup and floral arrangements.
Selecting a Pumpkin:
For cooking pumpkins, the best selection is a “pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin”. They are smaller than the carving pumpkins and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. You can use the Jack-o-Lantern variety, but whatever you make will have a better flavor with pie pumpkins.
No matter what type of pumpkin you buy look for one with 2 or 3 inches of healthy stem. Stay away from ones with soft spots or blemishes. When using a fresh pumpkin for puree, one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin is the equivalent of one cup of finished pumpkin puree.
It’s really fun and easy to save the seeds from a pumpkin to plant next spring (A great project with children and grandchildren).
Interesting Pumpkin Facts:
Today pumpkins come in many sizes, shapes and even colors. Check out your local farmers market or farm stand for some of the more unusual varieties.
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Trillium is one of the first spring natives to bloom and probably one of the most well-known native plants. Its beautiful image is used on many logos, advertisements, and artwork.
Trillium is one of the few plants that have the same common and botanical name. “Tri” means 3 and that is the key to identifying trillium. All of its parts are in 3’s or multiple of 3’s; leaves petals, sepals, stamens, stigmas, even the ovary has 3 compartments. There are over 45 varieties of trillium in the US, and 37 of those are native to the northeast.
Many people think that trillium is a bulb but it actually grows from a rhizome. Each year of growth is visible on the rhizome as a shrunken segment called a constriction, rather like rings in a tree, and can be used to approximate the age of the plant. The oldest one identified was over 70 years old! The rhizomes have specialized roots that pull the plant deeper into the ground. Each rhizome typically produces only one stem and flower however some mature ones can have two even three.
Seeds develop slowly taking 2 years to show above ground and up to 7-8 years to produce a flower and seed. This is one of the reasons they are so expensive to purchase and why illegal digging is such a big business. I have read that the trillium rhizomes available in pouches at big box stores are all dug illegally which is why they can be offered for such low prices. A nursery has to commit a lot of time and energy to produce a blooming trillium for sale. If you are purchasing a trillium ask where it was grown and stay away from inexpensive offerings.
Trillium are herbaceous perennials that grow in deciduous forests. They bloom in early May, just when the tree leaves are opening. Their 3 leaves grow horizontally out from the stem to capture the most light in the shaded forest.
If you have a moist deciduous shade area with a good layer of leaf mold they do well in home gardens. Since this is an endangered species in NYS it is illegal to dig from the wild. The 2 that are most common to find in nurseries are:
Trillium grandiflorum – the classic white variety that used to blanket our woods. The white blossom fades to a light pink which many mistakenly think is a different variety. They grow 8 to 16 inches tall and will spread through seeds. This variety prefers a moist, slightly acidic loamy soil.
Trillium erectum – purple trillium is also common in our woods but not near as frequent as the white. It also prefers moist slightly acidic soil with lots of leaf mold. Purple trillium is slightly shorter than the white variety, 6 to 12 inches.
One species I’m fond of but is a little harder to find is Trillium luteum. It has an upright yellow flower that does not open like the other trilliums mentioned. It also has showy mottled leaves which adds interest to the shade garden.
Trillium is endangered for a few reasons. Deer are the biggest problem as they find it extra yummy. People picking the flowers and digging from the woods as well as habitat loss are also causes. If you have the right conditions planting a few trillium will help preserve out native biodiversity. Give this amazing native plant a chance.
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I recently attended “Don’t Get Ticked” an informational program about ticks, conducted by Lynn Braband who heads the NYSIPM (Integrated Pest Management) program from Cornell. He covered the myths and facts. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. I for one don’t take tick protection seriously enough but will from now on. Lyme is now the most common vector born disease in the US so it needs to be taken seriously.
Ticks have 8 legs so are not bugs but related to spiders and mites. There are 3 types of ticks in our area:
All these ticks spread a variety of diseases but it is just the deer tick that carries Lyme.
Ticks hitch a ride on people and animals through an “ambush” technique. They can’t jump, fly or drop from trees so rely on grabbing on to you as you pass by. A tick will crawl to the end of a leaf or blade of grass from ground level to 1 ½ feet off the ground, hold on with their back legs and reach forward with their front 2 elongated legs to grab a hold on whatever passes by. Walking in the middle of paths so you don’t brush up against vegetation is a good way to avoid these hitch hikers. Long pants tucked into socks is another good method. Lynn suggested putting all clothing in a dryer on high as soon as you come in. The heat will kill the ticks. Spraying with DEET is most effective of the insecticides for ticks. He also recommended taking a shower within ½ hr. after coming in. This can possibly wash off ticks as well as give you the opportunity to check yourself.
If you do get a tick on you the most important thing about removing it is NOT to squeeze the body or head. That just forces more of their fluids into you. Use a very thin tweezer and place it between the head and your skin. Pull gently. There is also a tick removal device available at drugstores. If you want to check the tick for Lime disease put in a container in the freezer or drop it in a container with alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill it. Then take the tick to your doctor or the County Health Dept.
Some interesting facts:
An outstanding website with all the information on ticks, their life cycle and prevention is: https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/