Monday, May 20, 2019

Wonderous Wildflowers

Oklahoma Wildflowers

In spite of the recent storms that descended with terrible velocity, the wildflowers have continued their spectacular show and any drive will offer the sight of our beautiful naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 90 million years ago and today they are the most abundant and diverse plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore not seed so they were able to reproduce without the aid of pollination. However with the emergence of seeds plants needed wind, birds, or bees to propagate. From this necessity arose the showy flower forms we see today as they sought to lure pollinators with their color, scent, and beauty.

As gardens evolved, flowers were genetically modified and became altogether different from their wild ancestors who grew freely, unattended and yet thrived. However after several centuries of excitement over the ability to alter flowers, gardeners became concerned the original native plants might be completely lost. In the early 1900’s garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) began a campaign to preserve the beautiful ‘flowering incidents’ occurring in woodland settings.

In the 1970’s Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) recognized that urban expansion could possibly cause extinction of many wildflowers and placed their preservation on the national agenda. In 1982 Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes created the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin Texas to collect, identify, and preserve native plants of America. In her honor the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Texas Wildflower Center in 2012 as it celebrated the 100th anniversary of her birth. Following the former first lady’s lead, Wildflower Societies sprang up in every state and the status of wildflowers was finally changed from noxious weed to treasured gem. Stretches of hi-way are now adopted by dedicated volunteers and across the nation their beautification efforts are evident.

Oklahoma’s Native Plant Society, formed in 1986, states their purpose is ‘to encourage the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma's native plants‘. With the society’s encouragement the Indian Blanket Flower was chosen as our state wildflower that year. A darling red flower with bright yellow on the tips of the petals, it has an evolving center that changes from green to deep red as it matures. It may be seen on every hillside, in every bar ditch, beside every Oklahoma road... beautifully blooming to brighten our day.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Too Much Rain and Garden Pests

We have received over ten inches of rain in as many days and the North Canadian River is beyond its banks, weaving a new course. Those who were fortunate and farmed the rich river bottom land will lose crops as they remain under water and even the wheat seems a bit yellow at its base from too much rain. The rainfall has exceeded all state records and many people have been left with a swamp instead of a garden and those who live North of us have been under water for weeks with cattle losses irreplaceable. 
*By comparison in 2010-2011, we received no rain from October until mid-April with ate winter temperatures reaching over 80 degrees for weeks.…many gardeners lost foundation plantings and well- established shrubs for no amount of applied irrigation could suffice to save them.

In spite of too much rain and too many overcast days the storms have provided us mild and pleasant temperatures, with Mother’s Day the most perfect one in years. And the storms been quite interesting to observe. We have had everything from a gentle afternoon drizzle to fierce downpours with lightning flashes that lit the sky, gigantic claps of thunder, and driving horizontal rain. Often the winds quickly escalated to over 70 miles per hour and one night through the blaze of lightning, various lawn items could be seen flying past the window! These rains have truly altered the landscape of the garden and the plants have grown inches with the nutrients coming from the sky.

Lightning is produced in thunderstorms when liquid and ice particles above the freezing level collide and build up large electrical fields in the clouds. When these electric fields become large enough a giant "spark" occurs between them…like static electricity. This process causes oxygen and nitrogen to combine in the air and fall to Earth within the rain. Since nitrogen is the major ingredient in fertilizer, we may thank the storms for the greening of our world.

A true plus of saturated ground is the ease of weeding, however under the canopy of plants that have leaped and partially collapsed with growth from the rain is a host of thousands (perhaps millions) of voracious mealy bugs (rolly pollies) which came as a total surprise to my garden. These pests will literally suck the life out of tender recently emerged plants. Fortunately, Epsom Salt, a favorite of past gardeners, will deter them when sprinkled at the base of the infested plant. Further, a low bowl of beer will make the slugs disappear… it seems they are teetotalers.
*Assign children the task of ‘collecting’ mealy bugs… they truly enjoy the fact they roll into a protective ball.  

Monday, May 6, 2019

Aphids and Lady Bugs!

In the Garden

By Catherine Dougherty

Aphids...and Ladybugs

Happy May! The rain has been very wild, with inches falling over the past week… we seem to have received plenty, however I know we shall wish for it by July. The cool cloudy days have been the impetus for rapid aphid reproduction... bright daylight tends to impede it. Aphids are known throughout the world as perhaps the single most destructive pest known to both farmers and gardeners alike. They arrive in the spring and with the damp and favorable conditions this year they seem to be in great abundance, making their presence known throughout all of central and western Oklahoma.

Known as plant lice, greenflies, or blackflies they are small sap-sucking insects who will literally suck the life out of plants. A little-known species of the aphid family is the white or wooly fly, that tiny dab of white thread-like fluff that jumps when you jiggle the plant they are resting upon. Fossils indicate that Aphids have been present for 280 million years and today there are approximately 4,000 aphid species found throughout the world. These tiny monsters can migrate great distances by riding on winds looking for a fresh food source... one of our lettuce aphids arrived on the wind from Australia.

As with most invasive garden pests, aphids are extremely adaptable to ever-changing conditions. In fact, if a host plant becomes ill or conditions become overly crowded, some aphids are able to spontaneously sprout wings to fly to a new food source. They have specialized mouth parts that enable them to stick a straw-like mouth piece into a plant stem and begin sucking the protein from it, therefore making it ill. They secrete a chemical that allows for free-flowing fluid from the plant while exuding droplets of a quick-hardening fluid that surrounds their body with a shell for protection.

During feeding Aphids also produce a fluid called 'honeydew' which is a sticky goo which may be found on any surface where aphids have resided. An unusual side effect of this substance is that when it hardens it turns black creating a sooty mold fungus... roses are the most frequent victims.

This honeydew is a food source for several species of ants who actually 'farm' the aphids, causing them to produce honeydew by a process of 'milking' by a stroke of their antennae. These ants manage thousands of aphids which are called herds and to assure survival of their food source, the ants gather aphid eggs and protectively store them for the winter. In the spring, the ants carry the newly hatched aphids back to the plants to settle in and once again become their grocery store. (*Sarcastic note: 'Thanks ants'.)

Heavy aphid infestations will cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow with stunted plant growth and aphids can actually cause a plant to die a slow death of dehydration, since liquids have either been drained or compromised. Aphids are simply not allowed in the garden as they provide nothing but destruction... unless you are an ant.

Therefore, they must be exterminated and instead of spraying a pesticide which will kill beneficial bees, butterflies, Praying Mantis, beetles and everything else, purchase a flat of lady bugs. Each Ladybug will eat over 75 aphids a day and are able to discover them in their secret hiding places... plus discovering ladybugs in the garden is a delight for every child and those of us who still retain childish joys!

*They may be ordered online for as little as $12 for 800 voracious ladybugs. They arrive in a few days….get some this week! Photo: The great Lady Bug Release.