Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Evergreen Hedges - Gone Wrong

Manicured, healthy hedges that are done right, add valuable structure to the garden. They help lead you along the garden path, or keep you out - depending on their purpose.

I want this post to be about what could of been done to achieve the desired look intended.

I witnessed the installation of this hedge - this past July. Everything in me wanted to go out and speak to the workers and owners of the home, but it wasn't my place and now I feel bad.

Ways this went wrong:

1)  Planting time: wrong month and what was the driest summer the GTA has seen in a long time. Hedges like this should be planted in late May and or mid-late September. Spring and early fall planting gives the plants a chance to acclimate to their new situation; when cooler temperatures allow developing roots to grow. Strong root development would give the evergreens more stamina in the heat of the summer.

2) Distance from the sidewalk: this is where most folks go wrong. I get you want to have a perimeter border to your property, but two major factors need to be considered first:
  • Municipal sidewalks are not your own: City of Toronto maintains them and provides winter maintenance and the occasional removal and repair of concrete. Since these yews were still young in stature, their mature size would eventually hug the sidewalk edge and you can't prevent outsiders from damaging the evergreens when they perform maintenance. Salt damage, the occasional "whoopsie" - you know, when the slice of a plough blade scrapes into your turf.  Not to mention any infrastructure they need to access below can easily cause hedges to be damaged. You need to think long term when designing a hedge location.
  • Foot traffic and dog urine. Enough said.
3) Not considering mature sizing when selecting their location. Depending on the evergreens chosen, certain cultivars require more pruning then others. To have nice thick hedges in the GTA, I'd recommend you allow at least 18-20" breadth of growth to help sustain its health. The aim is trimming the hedge nicely into shape as it fills in. These yews, I'm afraid, are too close to the walkway and will require more heavy shearing to maintain shape. You need to keep the foliage and branches away from foot traffic.

4) Position relative to sun/wind exposure.  This house faces North, placing the sidewalk on the north/west facing exposure. Sun refracts heat off of the concrete, not to mention the roadway, which has no boulevard grass to buffer the sun's rays or salt spray from salter trucks.

5)  Soil prep is key before planting. A trench should be dug twice as wide as the container and the soil should be thoroughly amended with amazing soil, mixed with existing soil prior to installation. A great top dressing of composted mulch would be a total bonus. 

Here is an example of how a hedge along a walkway can be done successfully...

Photo courtesy of Dirt Simple: 

Great hedging lines are enhanced with a buffer zone of mulched earth and a 2 foot turf boarder in front of the Yews. This will help keep foot traffic and municipal "paws-off", and prevent any possible removal or damage by others.

Well done, Dirt Simple!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Red Banded Leaf Hopper - Graphocephala coccinea

It's the beginning of October and as we start to prep for autumn clean up, I noticed our David Austin Rose has set a bunch of new buds and on closer inspection, I noticed these beauties.

Wow. I've seen dozens of leaf hoppers before, but this Red Banded Leaf Hopper (Graphocephala coccinea) is beautiful! I tried taking several cell phone photos, but at this size I couldn't capture their intense colour properly.

Leaf hoppers are sap sucking insects, and as they feed you'll see honeydew droplets excrete from their rear ends. If numbers were greater than the 5-6 that I saw on the rose, I would relocate them. Too many and they would suppress the sap from reaching the buds.

Completely yellow beneath, they can hop quite a distance from plant to plant anyways. I let them drink and do their thing. Incredible colour display, eh?

Nature is so beautiful.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Boxelder Beetle (Bug) - Boisea trivittata

You would think we have an epidemic on our hands with the way the media and public are going on about these tiny creatures.

Relax people, they are just Box Elder Beetles - Bugs, to be more specific. I've been gardening now for nearly 20 years and I see them EVERY autumn; gathering in large numbers and not once have I worried or fussed over their life cycle and purpose.

Boxelder Beetles basically eat what they are named after: Boxelder Maples, AKA Manitoba Maples (Acer negundo). Although they are also known to feed off of some fruit trees and other maples. They basically sap suck and any damage isn't noticeable on the foliage.

Acer negundo (Boxelder/Manitoba Maple)

These next photos I took, were a "sample" that was brought to me and the catalyst for me to make this post. Nearly each bug was dead. Brought in this container - having sat on the dash of a car, it's sad they clearly were dying from being taken away. I was further disappointed when I heard: "How can I get rid of them?"

Here is an up close pic:

I tried my best to be civil but I needed to emphatically educate them. On how important these critters are.

If you know anything about our natural environment around the GTA, you will have come across an Acer negundo (Manitoba Maples - Boxelder Trees) - I guarantee it.  They are everywhere. So this makes sense, no?  Logic dictates: great amounts of food source = more fauna and insects benefit from this food.

Pest Control Canada Photo of Boxelder Swarm

I am sure entomologists who study them will know more as to why numbers are higher some years than others. This is a phenomenon I have also been curious about.

The good news is - don't worry about them.  Actually, be grateful. If they are feeding on Acer negundo trees (which are becoming invasive and outgrowing other native shrubs and trees), don't you think this is a good thing? If they help suppress a bigger issue, then let's leave them be.

They gather on warm, sunny brick sides of houses during the autumn. I would too, if I had to find shelter during the colder nights of October. They are gathering and looking to overwinter in leafy matter, in wood piles, between patio furniture piled close to the house. So do yourself a favour: either clean up any mess around your house or just live with these insects. They do NO harm.

More great info on their life cycles and why:  Plant Natural: Boxelder Bugs

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