Fickle Days of Winter
A teaching moment in my garden was learning about Western North Carolina’s interesting and sometimes challenging transition to spring. My first gardening year in WNC provided several days of 75-to-80-degree weather in February. Since my new neighborhood was fully bursting into bloom and I was eager to get into the garden, I happily started my early spring gardening activities. Much to my chagrin, I soon learned about the multiple stages of winter in WNC, including Blackberry Winter. I now know that it’s best to wait until Mother’s Day to install tender plants here. My lesson: Be wise. Be safe. Pause and do a little research before jumping into any new gardening activity.
By Catherine Pawlik, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
Editor’s Note: For more information about Blackberry Winter, see:
For an interactive map of average first and last frost dates in NC, see:
Supporting Nature’s Food Web
A teaching moment in my garden occurred when I witnessed some birds feeding on sawfly larvae which were feeding on my red twig dogwood. I had been hand-picking the pests for years, not realizing that they were natural food for the birds visiting my yard. I have since discovered that sawfly larvae are also food for lizards, frogs, ants, predatory wasps, and other beneficial insects. While other gardeners may not tolerate a defoliated red twig dogwood in late summer, I’ve decided to accept it.
There are many different species of sawflies—pine, dogwood, elm, rose, hibiscus, and others. Species are host-plant specific, meaning the dogwood sawfly isn’t going to migrate among host plants to attack pines. Although no one wants their prized thunderhead pine stripped of all its needles, a gardener may decide to ignore sawfly on an otherwise healthy red twig dogwood. Most plants will survive an onslaught of sawflies unless the infestation becomes very severe.
Watching the birds devouring sawfly larvae taught me a lesson: Pay close attention to how my garden supports a complex food web. Plants provide food and habitats for all kinds of animals—insects, spiders, butterflies, beetles, birds, squirrels—which in turn become part of nature’s food chain. Today, before I charge into the garden to do battle with pests, I take time to correctly define the problem and my action plan. What is the insect and is it harmful or beneficial? What is the plant’s susceptibility to damage? Is treatment needed? If so, what kind, when, and how? Gardeners call this Integrated Pest Management or IPM.
I’ve learned that removing one food source or habitat may disrupt the natural system, where even an insect pest contributes to the food chain. For now, I’ll continue to love my red twig dogwood both for bird food and its beautiful red stems in winter.
By Judy Lemanski, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
Editor’s Note: For more information on identifying and controlling sawflies, see:
For information about Integrated Pest Management, see:
Future Gardener Discovers a ‘Stick’
One morning I was sipping coffee on the patio and watching my three-year-old granddaughter pluck leaves off a nearby bush. “Gramma, Gramma. Come here quick,” she cried. “Look at the stick. Look at the stick.” I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. Then I saw it! A praying mantis, perched on a stem of the shrub and looking just like a stick! Maddie watched with amazement as it rubbed a front leg across its face, cocked its head, and then slowly crawled away! And I captured the teaching moment to tell my granddaughter (who hated bugs) all about the importance of good bugs in the garden. It was “just a stick,” but it led my little future gardener on scavenger hunts, searching for more bugs and making up stories about their lives in the garden.
Beth Leonard, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer