From The Editor: My Backyard Bulletin

The good blooms, the bad pests, and the pretty pots!

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Baby robins in my wisteria.

Well, we just got the June issue of Turf out the door to arrive on your doorsteps or inboxes within the next few weeks. Which means I can breathe a sign of relief. So today, instead of eating lunch in front of my computer, I walked around my backyard, sandwich in hand, checking out the state of my gardens, plantings, trees, etc. (Obviously, I work from home.) I do this whenever my workload, the weather, and the season allow—even daily ideally. I love noticing the details of what’s grown, what’s blooming, where the foxglove and columbine have located themselves this year…. each day truly brings something new. (I should note my personal ecosystem is a tiny patch of land in USDA Zone 7 in suburban NJ.)

The Good

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Geum in my side garden.

Today, I grabbed my camera because I knew the baby robins nesting under my wisteria were getting big. And they didn’t disappoint in letting me get a photo. (Momma Robin wasn’t as thrilled as she watched from the boughs of my Autumn Blaze maple.)

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Brunnera in my side garden.

I decided I might as well document a few other things. Here’s just a taste of a few things in bloom in a narrow side yard I converted from turfgrass. I originally intended it to be a cutting garden but realized the odds were ever not in my favor. Patchy sun, thick clay soil, etc. It’s been a survival of the fittest scenario that, while a major diversion from its original intention, is evolving into its own kind of beauty.

The Bad

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Aphids vs. ladybug on my penstemon. Go ladybug!

Of course, with the good comes the bad. I’d already noticed aphids attacking my “Onyx and Pearls’ penstemon. I had blasted them all off with a hose just a few days prior, but naturally, they were back. I also noticed the abundance of ants. Where you have aphids, you often have ants since they form a mutually beneficial relationship. Ants protect aphids from predators, while aphids feed ants a sweet honeydew which they excrete. I’d learned this years before with my euonymus. With the euonymus, I eventually had to put out ant traps, but the aphids have been under control ever since. I may have to try this again if water blasting and ladybug release (natural aphid predators) doesn’t work. I did find a ladybug on my mountain mint so I moved her over to the penstemon to have a feast. And it made a great picture!

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A spotted lanternfly instar in my garden.
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The gross but necessary “Tape of Death” on my maple tree.

Another pest insect I found in my backyard today was a spotted lanternfly (SLF) nymph. I had already killed several I found on the side of my house. I had known they were coming since last Fall. At that time, I spent more energy than I care to admit in taping my maple tree and personally smashing literally hundreds of the invasive pest (see gross picture) that seemed to swarm to my tree like a beacon. (Last March I reported that researchers have observed that SLF have a strong preference for specific trees—like maples. In one study of a 0.1-square-mile shopping center where only 31% of the trees were red maples, they held over 94% of the SLF population!) So despite my killing spree last Fall, I could still see egg masses that were just too high to reach and I knew I would pay the price in Spring. At least SLF is mostly a “nuisance” pest in the majority of landscapes, rarely killing healthy trees or ornamentals—though they can be a definite stressor. (For treatment options, click here.)

And The… Pretty!

BackyardBackyardMoving on from the annual predictability of pest insects, I thought I’d share some combinations from my planted pots on the backyard patio. To get more bang for my buck, I’ve started mixing in more succulents (which I overwinter as house plants); perennials such as herbs, heuchera, sedums, and creeping jenny (which overwinter in their outdoor pot); and annuals that may last if it’s a mild Winter (dusty miller). Other plants I’ve overwintered in a dormant phase in my basement for many years in a row include geraniums and oxalis.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my backyard garden. Let me know if you want to see more articles like this. And share your photos and observations from your own yard or client landscapes!!

All Photos: Christine Menapace

For more Turf articles on plants and landscape design, see:

Are You Planting Invasives? Here’s Some Alternatives

The Science Against No Mow May

New Plants & Ideas For 2023

The Landscape As Ecosystem