Going Buggy: Let’s Talk About Tussock Moth Caterpillars

September 2nd, 2018 § 4 comments § permalink

On the Left, Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae), and on the Right, White-Marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Orgyia leucostigma)

Suddenly, it’s September, and everywhere I look, there are hints of a changing season. One of the first autumnal signs I’ve noticed this year is the appearance of fuzzy, colorful, and boldly-patterned Tussock Moth caterpillars. Although these hungry little critters do tend to skeletonize the foliage of certain trees, and sometimes, during large infestations, they can cause trouble with crop trees, their late-season noshing is usually a minor aesthetic issue, (Hickory Tussocks mainly munch deciduous elm, ash, oak, willow, nut and of course, hickory trees, while White-Marked Tussocks and Definite Tussock Moths, usually prefer apple, birch, elm, maple, cherry and sometimes conifers such as balsam fir and larch).  However, the black and white, Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae, pictured atop, at left), has recently caught some bad press as a “venomous caterpillar”. So, what’s the scoop?

The Definite Tussock Moth (Orgyia definita), is Easy to ID with its Yellow Head and Body, Black spots and White-Blond Hairs. 

Indeed, the spines of many Tussocks –including, but not limited to the black and white, Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar— do contain a venom to ward off predators. When handled, this venom can rub off on the skin, sometimes causing a red, stinging, itchy rash. For most people, the reaction is mild, and can be treated with ice and over-the-counter rash medication, however some individuals –particularly children and adults with sensitive skin– will experience more discomfort than others. For this reason, it’s best to avoid handling all Tussock Moth Caterpillars, unless wearing gloves. Most wild creatures do prefer to be left alone, so I try to simply observe and enjoy insects, and all other wild things, from a respectful distance, without touching or disturbing them at all.

For more information about Tussock Moths and their Caterpillars, visit BugGuide.net or MothAndCaterpillars.org.

Look, But Don’t Touch! Some People Experience Allergic Reaction to Tussock Moth Caterpillar Venom. Avoiding Contact is the Best Defense. Most Creatures Prefer Not to be Handled Anyway. 

Article and Photography copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths…

May 20th, 2012 § Comments Off on Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths… § permalink

 Luna Moth (Actias luna) –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

One of the best parts about teaching is having the opportunity to further my own education. And when I am asked a great question that I can not answer, I get especially excited by the chance to do some research and learn something new! Yesterday morning, I presented a seminar, “Designing with Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden”, at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The attendees had a number of great, familiar questions about plants and plant care, pollinators and insects in general. But when I was asked how to attract Luna Moths (Actias luna) to the garden, I admit that I was stumped. I’m a horticulturalist, and while I have taken entomology classes —and continue to study and work with insects almost daily in my gardening career— I’m certainly no expert in the field. So, when I returned to my studio, I consulted Whitney Craneshaw’s comprehensive Garden Insects of North America. I was surprised by what I learned, and thought I’d share it here with all of you…

Moonlight Flight of the Luna Moth –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

Luna Moths (Actias luna) are members of the giant silkworm —or in adult phase, royal moth— family (Saturniidae). Approximately ten days after eggs are lain by an adult, the giant, green Luna Moth caterpillars emerge and begin feeding upon foliage of native trees and shrubs; including Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Willow (Salix ssp), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Sumac (Rhus), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White Oak (Quercus alba), Hickory (Carya), American chestnut (Castanea dentata), as well as the leaves of other nut and fruit bearing shrubs, trees and shade trees. In spite of their voracious appetites, Luna Moth caterpillars pose little threat to trees and shrubs, due to their modest numbers. Predators of the large —2.5″— caterpillars are numerous; including wasps and many other insects, as well as birds and rodents. Once the adult Luna Moth emerges from its chrysalis, it only has about one week to live, and during this time, its sole mission is reproduction. Such a large moth —with a wingspan of 4.5-5″— must dodge many predators, and slow flight makes the Luna Moth easy prey for nocturnal creatures like bats and owls. Of course, the adult Luna Moths still has plenty of free time to find a mate, as it doesn’t need to spend the week seeking food. Luna Moths emerge from their cocoons without mouths, and never need to eat! The females attract males by emitting a chemical into the night air (Luna-fume?), and lay their eggs beneath the leaves of trees; preferably those of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Usually, there are two cycles per year with moths taking flight in late spring and again in mid-late summer.

So how to attract Luna Moths? Try planting trees and shrubs preferred by the Luna during it’s larval stage —all listed above— and be mindful about protecting natural habitat for wildlife. Once plentiful, the Luna Moth is now considered endangered in some areas of the United States. Avoid use of insecticides and herbicides (even organic methods such as Btk and insecticidal soap can kill Luna Moth caterpillars if sprayed indiscriminately) and unnecessary clearing of understory trees and shrubs in their environment. They may be rare, but keep your eyes open at night: if you head outside at dusk, or just before dawn during the early summer, you may get lucky and spot a moonlight flight of the Luna Moth!

Illustrations and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Out With The Old & In With The New: Creating A Lush & Lively Indoor Oasis …

January 3rd, 2012 § 6 comments § permalink

Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: A Scene from My Wintertime Oasis. Clockwise from back: Cycas revoluta, Agave geminifolia & Kalanchoe ‘Manginii’

I kicked my Christmas tree out yesterday (p.s. Sorry Mr. Balsam, I will miss your sweet fragrance, but you were growing stale and it was time for a fresh start). Of course no sooner did I shove that big boy out the door than I began to long for something fresh and new to fill the void. Luckily, I have a growing collection of houseplants —many transitory summer residents of the balcony and terrace, seeking seasonal shelter from the cold— and they’ve been begging to move beyond their cramped corner in my studio.

This gorgeous orchid has just begun to bloom (Paphiopedilum Magic Leopard #1 x Paphiopedilum fairrieanum). Some orchids prefer dry, desert-like conditions, and others prefer tropical heat and humidity. Click back to my previous post on orchid obsession for resources and easy-care, species suggestions.

And while it’s certainly true that there’s a plant for almost every indoor situation, finding the right place for each species can be a challenge. Cacti and succulents thrive in hot, dry conditions; making them perfect winter residents for homes with wood stoves and furnaces. But other houseplants prefer cooler temperatures and high humidity. Just as you would investigate the cultural requirements of a perennial or shrub before choosing a spot for it in your garden, it’s wise to get familiar with the needs of your houseplants in order to provide them with the best microclimate within your home.

Most herbs, like this rosemary plant, prefer full sun and infrequent watering throughout the winter months. Situated beside a south-facing glass door in the kitchen, this plant provides fresh flavor to many dishes and refreshing scent beside the compost bin and dog dish (is that your bad breath, Oli?)

If you have pets or small children in your home, it’s very important to familiarize yourself with toxic plants and either avoid them entirely, or situate them within enclosed terrariums, high upon shelves, or in out-of-the-way, closed-off rooms. Revisit my post ‘Dangerous Beauty’ for helpful links, online lists and other toxic plant resources. And no matter how careful I am, inevitably some insect pest or other finds its way into my home and onto my houseplants during the winter months (even fresh cut flowers sometimes provide a ‘free ride’ to bugs!). Click back to my previous post on the subject of insect infestation for some non-toxic solutions and trouble-shooting resources.

Peperomia are wonderful, easy-care  houseplants. This particular cultivar, P.caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’, has become one of my all-time favorites. Read more about this beauty in my previous post, ‘Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name’ by clicking here.

In addition to providing a pet-proof glass barrier for poisonous plants, terrariums also increase humidity and create endless possibilities for beautiful display of small, tender plants and objects. Learn how to make a terrarium and find more resources on my Indoor Eden page by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Oh, What a Fashionable Dresser! Meet Widget the Walking Stick …

September 30th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Hello Widget! What a Snappy Outfit You Have There …

Meet Widget the Walking Stick. And isn’t he the most fashionable fella? While installing a new garden for a client last week —design post forthcoming— I happened to notice what appeared to be a colorful stick, stuck to my boot. As I bent down to get a closer look, I met the curious gaze of a rather large and beautiful Walking Stick (I later learned this friendly guy is a well-known, local resident; dubbed ‘Widget’ by his human friends). Luckily my camera was nearby, and when I sat down to snap a photo, the dapper little gentleman decided to march up my leg to have his portrait taken. How thoughtful! Turns out he was as interested in me and my moving camera lens as I was in him and his colorful costume …

Look at the length of his bright orange antennae! 

According to Whitney Cranshaw’s Garden Insects of North America (a great book for gardeners and backyard entomologists, by the way), Walkingsticks or Stickbugs (Diapheromera femorata) can be found throughout North America —more frequently east of the Great Plains— and are most common in the northern and mid-Atlantic regions of the continent; particularly surrounding the Great Lakes. Although they rarely cause significant damage, all walkingsticks are leaf chewers. The diet of these curious insects includes the leaves of black locust, black cherry, oak, basswood elm, birch and hickory trees. Females lay eggs in soil throughout the latter part of the summer and fall, which will generally hatch in spring. However in colder climates, eggs can remain dormant for up to two years.*

During my brief encounter with Widget the Walking Stick, I observed a naturally curious —dare I say “intelligent looking”?— and very friendly insect. Amazing what you can find in the garden, when you slow down and open your eyes! One of the greatest rewards of organic gardening is the opportunity to meet such fantastic creatures. To help protect fascinating insects like Widget, remember to limit or altogether eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden. Keep in mind that even organic insect controls should be applied in a carefully considered and targeted manner, and only when absolutely necessary. Widget thanks you, and so do I!

*Entomological Information Source: Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw, is available by clicking here, from amazon.com

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Native Pollinators: A Close Up Look at The Humble Bumble Bee …

July 7th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Bumble Bee on Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (Speedwell)

Now that summer is in full-swing, my garden is just buzzing; filled with pollinators of all kinds. And on warm, sunny mornings, the Wildflower Walk literally hums with the sound of bumble bees. This fuzzy, sweet-looking insect is rarely aggressive and only stings when it is threatened with harm. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very important pollinators of our agricultural crops and wild plants. But unlike the naturalized, European honeybee, our North American native bumble bee does not keep substantial quantities of honey in its hive. Because they only store enough food to support the colony for a couple of days, bumble bees must continuously forage when not in hibernation. All bees, including the bumble bee, are extremely sensitive to pesticides —including organic insecticides— and their health and welfare, so directly tied to our own, is critically dependent upon responsible garden and farm practices.

Bumble bees visit many kinds of flowers throughout the growing season. But like all pollinators, bumble bees do prefer some blossoms more than others. When certain plant species are blooming —particularly Ajuga reptans, Veronica, Salvia and Lespedeza— my garden is literally buzzing with activity. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very effective pollinators; gathering from one or two species at a time (this behavior is known as constancy, and it’s key to the pollination of fruits and vegetables we humans depend upon). Bumble bees and other bees communicate with one another in various ways. Ever wonder how a bee knows where to go for food? Bumble bees actually let one another know which flowers have already been visited by marking those blossoms with scent. These fascinating insects have a language all their own; one we are only just beginning to understand …

When I snapped the photo above —amused by the sight of a bumble bee raising one of its middle legs— I thought perhaps it was stretching. Surprise, surprise! I recently learned that this is a defensive behavior. The bumble bee was warning me to back off, because I (and my camera lens) got too close for comfort!

Recently, while out capturing images of early morning bumble bees visiting the blue Speedwell (Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’) along the Wildflower Walk, I noticed a bee raising one of its middle legs. It struck me as amusing, and as I came in closer for a shot, the bee extended its leg even further; looking a lot like a karate kick! After downloading the photos, curiosity got the better of me and —doing a bit of research on the fantastic bumblebee.org website— I discovered that by raising its leg, the bumble bee was actually trying tell me that I’d come a bit too close for its comfort. The bee wanted me to move away, but ignorant of its social cues, I came even closer! What I thought a fascinating experience was actually quite unpleasant for the bee, and it was striking a defensive pose. Sorry friend! I’ll pay much closer attention to your signals next time.

Do you enjoy listening to the hum of bumble bees on a summer day? Invite these native pollinators into your garden by providing a steady supply of blossoms throughout the growing season. Some early blooming spring flowers for bumble bees: Salix discolorHamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis x intermediaVacciniumViburnumCercisPierisEnkianthusAjuga reptans, CrocusRhododendron and spring blooming Erica and Calluna. And to attract bumble bees later in the season, try planting some of the following summer and fall blooming flowers for bumblers: Lupine, Aquilegia, Nepeta, Aesculus, CornusVeronica, Asclepias species, Perovskia, Lespedeza thunbergii, Clethera alnifolia, Hamamelis virginiana, Itea virginica, Sedum, Asteraceae, Monarda, Agastache, Penstemon, Lavendula, Mentha, Allium, Stachys, Althea (single flowered), Lavendula, Valeriana, Salvia, Thymus and most other herbs. Check out the links below for more flower lists and information on supporting bees of all kinds in your garden…

For more fascinating information about the humble bumble, visit the bumblebee.org website by clicking here.

And for information on the honeybee, and other bees —plus great tips and useful information for supporting all pollinators— visit thehoneybeeconservancy.org by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies…

May 30th, 2011 § Comments Off on Of Sunshine and Swallowtail Butterflies… § permalink

A Perfect Spot for Sampling Lilac Nectar – An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’

Sunshine at last! Finally, after weeks of rain and fog, golden light returned to the garden this week. And suddenly, the sultry air is filled with Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies —bright as the sun itself— fluttering about blossoming trees, shrubs and perennials; looking for a place to rest and a sample of sweet nectar. Here in my garden, the voluptuous French white lilacs —Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’— seem to be the flavor of the week.

Papillon. Poetry in Motion…

Thank you, sweet papillon, for pausing to show off your bright, beautiful colors


More Information on the Tiger Swallowtail, and How to Attract this Beauty to Your Garden

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is commonly found at the edge of North American deciduous forests from early-mid spring through autumn. Adult females lay their eggs on host plants; including Ash (Fraxinius), Basswood (Tilia), Birch (Betula), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Lilac (Syringa), Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Poplar (Populus), Sweetbay (Magnolia) and Tulip Trees (Lirodendron). When caterpillars emerge, they hungrily eat their way through foliage, pupate and re-emerge as beautiful butterflies. The entire process takes little more than a month. In springtime, adult swallowtails feed on the nectar of flowers —particularly those forming clusters— such as lilac (Syringa), wild cherry trees (Prunus serotina), phlox, daphne, abelia, and viburnum. Later in the season, they feast upon the nectar of verbena (particularly Verbena bonariensis), butterflyweed and milkweed (Aesclepias), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), asters, stonecrop (Sedum), butterflybush (Buddleja species*), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), bee balm (Monarda), phlox, heliotrope, pincushion flower (Scabiosa), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), gayflower (Liatris), and many other cultivated trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wildflowers. Provide a continuous supply of flowers and caterpillar host plants throughout the growing season to keep swallowtail butterflies in your neighborhood.

Sadly, a large number of butterflies are inadvertently killed each year —particularly as caterpillars— through the use of pesticides. Even organic methods of pest control can be harmful to beneficial insects, and should only be used in a targeted manner. Although Btk is an organically approved pesticide (made from a bacterium found naturally in soils), commonly and safely used to control harmful worms, it will kill beneficial caterpillars if used indiscriminately. So please, use organic pest controls sparingly, and with great caution. Familiarize yourself with all stages of the swallowtail butterfly lifecycle and pass along the information to your neighbors and friends.

For more information about butterflies and how you can attract them to your garden, visit my previous posts here: “Butterflies on My Mind”, and also here: “On Magic Wings”. More free information about lepidoptera (butterflies) may be found online at the non-profit website,  Butterflies and Moths of North America. In addition to these resources, there are also many excellent books available on gardening with butterflies in mind, as well as books on the butterfly lifecycle and identification for both children and adults. Click here to browse top rated butterfly titles at Amazon.com.

*Caution: Buddleja davidii is considered an invasive plant species in some regions of the United States and Canada. Please see my previous post,  “Butterflies on My Mind”, for more information on butterflybushes, and useful USDA links.

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Hazy Color Drifts Carpet the Garden: Tiny Gifts of Early Spring…

April 16th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Spring Heath (Erica carnea) Begins Blooming in Early April (click here to revisit my Erica carnea plant-profile post from last year). Here, Sprawling Across the Ledge  in the Entry Garden…

The Pink, Hazy Blur of Spring Heath is Particularly Lovely Against Grey Sky and Cool Stone. On a Blustery Day, I Can’t Help but Think of Katherine and Heathcliff, Wandering the Bluffs of Wuthering Heights.

In New England, sparkling blue skies and warm, sunny days are few and far between during the month of April. More often than not, the heavens are filled with dusty grey clouds, and the tawny, bare land lies chill and dormant, waiting for milder days. Such is the scene this weekend, with cold, raw air nudging me indoors every half hour or so, to huddle beside the warmth of a blazing fire.

Yet despite the blustery wind and cool temperatures, there are signs of spring here, and color has begun to return to my cold-climate garden. Tiny, early-flowering bulbs and ground-covering blossoms —mass planted in drifts for effect— carpet the walkways and ledgy outcrops. Spring heath (Erica carnea) is the earliest of the low-growing woody plants to blossom here. You may recall my post about spring heath, “Love on the Rocks”, from last April. Bold sweeps of spring heath and various heather ( including Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ & ‘Silver Knight’) were planted in the shallow pockets of soil between the stone; combined with ‘Sea Green’ juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’), and creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug) along the entry walk. These tough, resilient shrubs and ground-covering woody plants wake up from winter slumber looking every bit as beautiful as they did when they retired for their nap. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all roll out of bed looking so lovely?

Opening at About the Same Time as Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Crocus, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) Carpet the Shrub and Perennial Borders Along the Walkway in my Garden…

On the other side of the entry garden, where the soil is deep, moist and rich, a mixed border of shrubs and perennials springs to life from the ground up. Eager to greet the new season, the tiny blue blossoms of Chionodoxa —commonly known as ‘Glory of the Snow’— begin forcing their way through the frozen earth before it has had time to thaw. A welcome sight to these weary eyes after such a long winter, I note that honeybees and other pollinating insects happily greet my emerging drifts of early-blooming bulbs and ground covers as well.

Native to the alpine regions of Tukey, Cyprus and Crete, Chionodoxa (a member of the hyacinth family) is extremely cold tolerant, and tough (USDA zone 4a-9b). When mass planted in moist, well-drained soil in autumn, the blue, pink or white bulbs will slowly multiply, naturalizing beautifully beneath trees and shrubs (this bulb prefers neutral soil, but will tolerate slightly acidic to slightly alkaline conditions). In cool seasons, blossoms will last approximately 4 weeks, and when planted between later-emerging perennials, glory-of-the-snow’s foliage will fade and wither without drawing attention, as it slips into summertime dormancy. This low, ground-covering bulb (2-6 inches high, depending on species and cultivar) is one of my springtime favorites. For such a tiny flower, it sure makes a big impact. In particular, I find  blue Chionodoxa especially lovely when planted in great sweeps across lawns. Viewed from a distance, masses of these blue, starry flowers form a moody haze; ethereal, wistful and undeniably romantic in a rainy landscape…

They Remind Me of Fallen Stars, Scattered on the Garden Floor.


Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Beautiful Gardens Beneath Glass: Terrarium Care and Maintenance…

January 7th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

The Allure of Moisture – Mist and Water Droplets Inside a Garden Beneath Glass. Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar.

We are expecting a bit of snow this afternoon in Vermont. Nothing major is predicted by way of accumulation, but there will likely be a blanket of white covering the ground tomorrow morning. I love snow, but there’s a long, cold season ahead of us, and I know that soon I will begin pining for the smell of moist, fresh earth. Already my skin and hair are crying out for lotions and potions. Of course, I’m not the only one craving moisture. Many of my houseplants prefer humid conditions, and in a dry house heated with a wood-burning stove, it’s difficult to meet their requirements.

I count Orchids (like this gorgeous Paphiopedilum hybrid) among my most favorite plants!

One of my favorite winter activities is terrarium making. I love to create and maintain beautiful gardens beneath glass. Many plants love the humid micro-climate provided by an enclosed terrarium, including some of my favorites: begonias, ferns, ivy, moss, orchids, and violets. And because they are relatively easy to care for, I often give terrariums as gifts. Over all, a simple Wardian case or glass jar terrarium is the perfect indoor container garden for someone new to horticulture. Of course most living things have needs, and a bit of care is required in order to keep all plants, including those enclosed inside a terrarium, healthy and beautiful. However, if you carefully construct your garden-beneath-glass —click here for a tutorial— you can avoid many of the more common pitfalls (stagnation, rot, fungal/bacterial infections and/or insect infestations).

Peperomia make excellent terrarium plants. This Peperomia griseo-argentea (Ivy Peperomia) would provides a lovely color-contrast amongst darker leaved species, in a larger-sized terrarium. It can be found and purchased at Glasshouse Works online here.

Choose your plants carefully. Be sure to consider the mature size of each species and cultivar you place in your terrarium; especially if you are working within a small apothecary jar or glass cloche. Look up plants online, or consult a knowledgable greenhouse grower to be sure you have the correct information about your plants’ requirements and mature size. Always purchase terrarium plants from a reputable grower. If you aren’t certain of your plants’ history, it’s best to quarantine new specimens and monitor them for pests and disease before introducing them to a terrarium.

Visiting greenhouses —like the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College, a tiny section of which is pictured here— is a great way to learn more about horticulture. It’s also a fantastic place to get ideas and information about growing plants beneath glass!

If the soil in your terrarium is properly watered at the time of planting, and specimens are housed in a fully enclosed container —such as a Wardian case or apothecary jar—  then your terrarium may not need additional moisture for months. But if your terrarium is partially open, you will need to monitor the soil’s moisture level more carefully. Gardens surrounded by glass should be checked regularly to insure that the soil remains moist, but never soggy. The riskiest season for terrariums tends to be summer, when it tends to be hotter and brighter indoors.

Some plants prefer low-light rooms. For more information about this open-terrarium, click here.

The best location for most terrariums is a warm, indoor spot with indirect light. If you choose to fill your terrarium with plants that require bright light, then your terrarium may be situated closer to windows. But keep in mind that containers located in bright, sunny spots or near heat-sources should be checked regularly for proper moisture. Most enclosed-terrarium plants prefer low-light conditions. Cases and jars containing ferns, moss, and other forest-floor plants can be located in dimly lit rooms (see an example of a low-light terrarium here). If the container receives uneven light, occasionally rotate your terrarium in order to prevent lopsided growth.

Think of your terrarium as a tiny conservatory, and tend to its maintenance with as much love as you would any other garden in your care.

Although fertilizing most terrarium plants is unnecessary, it’s important that you groom and maintain your plants as you would in any other garden. Keep things tidy inside and out by cleaning the glass and picking out debris. Remove spent flowers and yellow, withered leaves with scissors or tweezers, and prune plants when necessary to maintain attractive shape. If one or more of the plants becomes too large for a small terrarium, remove it and place it in a larger case or container. And if a plant should begin to fail, or die, extract it immediately to avoid the spread of disease. Not sure of how to identify insects or what to look for in terms of disease? The books I mentioned in my previous post (below) can help with the general care of houseplants the very-useful, What’s Wrong With My Plant? will provide even more help with troubleshooting horticultural problems indoors and out.

Theoretically, enclosing a garden should eliminate most horticultural pests and diseases. But this is only true if the plants are pest and disease free upon entry! If you follow the yellow arrow in the photo above, you will note a stow-away I discovered on this Begonia. See the tiny white dot? Hard to notice, isn’t it? That is a mealy bug! (you can click to enlarge the photo, and look at the image below for more detail)

Of course, even the most cautious gardener occasionally runs into terrarium troubles. Sometimes, tiny insect eggs, microscopic bacteria and mold spores will escape detection and —unless you monitor the plants on a regular basis— develop into serious problems. At the first sign of trouble, attack insects and diseases by either treating or carefully removing the infected specimen. If your terrarium is large enough, insecticidal soap, horticultural oils and other treatments may be applied directly to the plants contained within, but in most cases, the safest and best course of action is to remove the plant.

Here’s a closer look at the mealy bug on my Begonia. So long, pal. It’s time to say goodbye with a good hit of insecticidal soap! I’ll be back to treat your kin to another soapy bath later!

I will be writing more about terrariums and indoor container gardening —including design, planting and care— over the coming weeks. For more ideas, posts, resources, links and information, visit the Indoor Eden page. In addition, Tovah Martin’s The New Terrarium is both an inspirational and useful resource for terrarium design, construction and maintenance. I own and highly recommend this beautifully photographed, well-written book.

Ferns and Moss in a Wardian Case at Smith College Lyman Conservatory’s Fern House

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar.

Nephrolepis cordifolia ‘Duffii’ and Begonia ‘Trade Winds’ with Sphagnum moss and Ceramic Ornament in an Apothecary Jar


Terrain is a great online source for terrarium supplies and beautiful, artistic containers.Click here or their image above to visit their website.

Find more indoor garden and terrarium ideas on the Indoor Eden page. Or visit the retailers linked below – all are known for fine garden products and terrariums.

Article and Photographs (with noted exception) ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden.

All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and may not be reproduced without written consent. Thank you!

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Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!

January 5th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

Pots in the Studio – Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ (About to Bloom) Shares Space with Other Succulents (Mustard pot: Crassula ovata ‘Minimus’, Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegata’. Green pot: Kalanchoe mangini and Crassula ovata)

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I take as much pleasure in my garden during the winter months as I do during the warmer seasons. However on the grey and stormy days, when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up, there is much to be said for houseplants in January! I spend a great many hours in my painting studio at this time of year, and with its cathedral ceiling and bright, indirect light, it makes a perfect winter home for larger pots and taller plants. However this one room is hardly the limit of my indoor gardening. In fact, my entire house becomes something of a winter oasis after the hard frost in mid-October, with plants distributed throughout the studio, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, entry hall and secret garden room. In short, there are green, and multicolored things growing almost everywhere you look! And I love to admire the lush leaves and colorful blossoms against a snowy backdrop…

I Love the Contrast of Rich Green Houseplants Against a Wintery Back-Drop (That Red in the Snowy Background is Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Beyond the Studio Door) Here, Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ is About to Bloom, and Looks Particularly Luscious… Especially to Aphids!

Right now, my collection of Kalanchoe is about to blossom, and the various cultivars all look delightful -particularly to the aphids attacking them! It seems that sometime over the holidays —while I was too busy to notice the early signs— these nasty little freeloaders hatched and multiplied on one of my beautiful plants! Well, I caught them -and not a moment too soon. I pulled out my neem/soap mix (an OMRI approved insecticidal soap), and set to work spraying all of the foliage on this particular plant —and those sharing the space nearby— until it was thoroughly wet.  Take that you sap suckers! Experienced gardeners usually know what to look for when it comes to aphids, but just in case you are unfamiliar with them, here’s a photo to help you identify the problem…

Aphids on Kalanchoe (After Spraying with Neem) You Can Click the Photo to Enlarge & Get a Better View of Them !

Of course, this unpleasant invasion lead me to investigate my other houseplants. And lo-and-behold, there on the fine foliage of my agave: scale! Ugh! Spritz, spritz, spritz; on again with the neem insecticide. I really dislike scale, and find it difficult to eradicate. If the neem/soap mix doesn’t do it, I will upgrade to horticultural oil. Although one of scale’s natural predators, the ladybug, is active in the warmer parts of my house, this overwintering insect seems to avoid the cool studio. I always carefully check for ladybug larvae (click here for photo) before spraying, because even organic insecticides can kill beneficials like ladybird beetles as well as —outdoors during the growing season— bees, other pollinators and helpful bugs. I will have to keep close watch on this scale situation and repeat application of neem or horticultural oil weekly. Scale can become a real problem indoors unless the gardener is vigilant.

Scale on Agave geminifolia (after spraying with neem) This image may also be clicked to enlarge.

Many of my houseplants move outdoors during the summer months, but some —like the giant Ficus pictured below— are permanent indoor residents. These larger plants require regular maintenance to look their best; including pruning, which is done from a ladder in some cases. It looks like I accidentally damaged a branch while turning this tree last month, so I’ll need to get up there and make a clean cut; removing the unsightly dead foliage…

This Giant, Door-Framing Ficus Gives My Studio a True Conservatory Feel. But it Looks Like I Need to Tend to a Few Branches with My Pruners… Time to Pull out the Ladder!

After my rounds today —feeling the soil for moisture and checking all leaves and stems for pests and disease— I felt that most things were looking pretty healthy. I try to keep my houseplants on the dry-side during the winter months, but it’s important to strike a good balance between sahara and monsoon. The plants living in my studio —mostly succulents and many trees which are not particularly fond of humidity during the winter months— don’t seem to mind the dry, cool air. I keep most of the humid-air-loving tropicals —such as orchids, citrus and the mini-greenhouses: terrariums— upstairs in my bedroom, where I run a humidifier both for myself and my houseplants. I also segregate plants known and listed by the Humane Society as potential threats to my cat and dog (click here for article and links). The studio is closed up unless I am in there (where I can monitor munching), as is the Secret Garden Room.

My Feathery Sago Palm (Cycus revoluta)  —Making a Winter Home in the Painting Studio— Is Looking Healthy and Happy

Although It is the Most Commonly Grown Houseplant, Few Ficus benjamina Manage to Reach This Monstrous Height Before Getting the Old Heave-Ho. I Inherited This Specimen a Year Ago, After It Had Outgrown Its Former Home. The Weeping Fig Arrived by Trailer, and Is Now About 15′ High. The Studio is a Bit Cool for This Plant, But it Seems to Like the Bright, Indirect Light.

This Indoor-Outdoor Pot Contains Plants Recycled from a Smaller Container They Outgrew (Clockwise from top: Kalanhoe pumila, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, and Echeveria cvs)

I May Not Have My Conservatory Yet, But I Can Still Fake It By Creating an Eden Indoors (Cycus revoluta in foreground)

Someday, I hope to have a tiny conservatory all my own. But until then, I can enjoy most tender plants inside my home by finding the right micro-climate to suit their optimal growing conditions and by carefully catering to their needs and desires. For help with houseplants of all kinds, I highly recommend Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I am a fan of this author in general —I adore her book Garden Stone, which I’ve mentioned here several times— and I think this book is particularly useful for indoor gardening. Pleasant thoroughly covers the essentials of growing over 150 common houseplants and —unlike some of the other books on my shelves— it is both well photographed and well written; with carefully organized, richly detailed horticultural information. Dorte Nissen’s The Indoor Plant Bible is another great resource, and with its compact size, tough cover and ringed-binder format, I find that it stays out near the houseplants where it is frequently used for quick reference. Both books are set up encyclopedia/dictionary style; with all plants arranged alphabetically by latin name. Barbara Pleasant’s book is also broken down by plant group (succulents/cacti, flowering/foliage plants). If you are new to houseplants, these two titles would be my top-shelf recommendations for indoor garden reference.

The Indoor Plant Bible and/or The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual are always on hand

It’s quite windy here today —and cold— so I won’t be spending much time outdoors. In meantime, I have my little Indoor Eden to content me and keep my color-loving eyes satisfied. My exotic houseplants bring a little bit of tropical warmth to my wintery world, and help me to more fully appreciate the stark and crystalline beauty of the landscape just outside the glass doors…

A Dusting of Sparkle-Dust on the Stone Terrace Greeting Me This Morning

And Flurries Swirled About In the Outdoor Dining Room

Reminding Me That, Of Course, Winter is Still a Beautiful Season


Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly Away Home…

November 10th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Ladybird beetles seeking shelter in my studio siding for winter’s hibernation

“Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home. You’re house is on fire, your children have flown”… Oh my goodness, but how that little ditty always freaked me out as a kid. Even now, although I do love it —especially when sung in a hushed and raspy tone— the song can still give me the heebie-jeebies. There are many myths attached to ladybird beetles —or lady bugs if you prefer— and according to one old-wives-tale, if you sing this song, the ladybirds will all fly away. Call me superstitious, but I happen to believe another common ladybird beetle myth… Have you heard that spotting a lady bug is good luck? And if it’s true, boy did I hit the jackpot! Last week, when temperatures rose (to around 60 degrees fahrenheit after the hard frost) ladybird beetles suddenly began filling the air —flying this way and that in the sun— seeking a sheltered place to congregate. Soon, thousands and thousands of lady bugs covered the siding on my studio, where they quickly aggregated in nooks, cracks and crannies. It was quite a colorful spectacle!

Of course ladybird beetles are one of the most familiar beneficial insects, and with the exception of only two harmful Coccinellidae species (the Mexican bean beetle and squash beetle) they always mean good luck for gardeners. There are near 200 species of lady bugs in North America alone, and with both larvae and adults feeding upon garden pests like aphids, mealybugs, scale and spider mites, they are one of the most effective garden-pest predators. I don’t want them to fly away! Please stay right here at my home lady bugs!

Two of the more common aggregating lady bug species, the convergent and Asian ladybird beetles (Hippodamia convergens and Harmonia axyridis, respectively) seek protection from cold temperatures in both natural and man-made shelters. Some homeowners consider the multicolored Asian ladybird beetle a nuisance, but if the the insects are a problem, they can be collected —gently with a vacuum cleaner—and moved a different location (encourage others to relocate lady bugs by emptying the vacuum in a cool shed, garage or other outbuilding – but not killing them!)

Although lady bug larvae are primarily carnivorous, most species of adult ladybird beetles are omnivores, and also feed upon pollen and other sources of sweet nectar. Throughout the growing season, ladybird beetles are attracted to flower and vegetable gardens, where they feed, mate and lay tiny yellow-orange eggs near food sources (like aphid-infested plants). Beware: lady bug larvae look very different from adult beetles. Immature lady bugs have long, tapered black bodies with yellow or orange markings, (click here to see a photo and previous post on beneficial insects).

During hibernation, lady bugs survive off their own stored body fat. But, if there are indoor pests to consume, they will eat those as well! Active ladybugs require moisture in order to survive. During winter, our houses tend to be hot and dry, and unless they have a source of water, lady bugs often perish. If you enjoy hosting over-wintering lady bugs in your home, be sure to run a humidifier and leave some sources of water available (shallow flowerpot saucers with rocks and a bit of drainage water work splendidly). Once spring arrives, the lady bugs will depart and begin hunting outdoors. Each individual beetle may live approximately two years! You can also make or purchase special, cute houses for lady bug and other beneficial insect-hibernation (including special houses for butterflies and bees).

Ladybug Hibernation House available at Duncraft

To learn more about insects —both beneficial and ‘bad bugs’— and how to recognize and manage them, I recommend checking out the following blog posts and books: My post today on Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety, “Carts of Outdoor Plants Arriving Indoors? Watch Out for Stowaways!”, has a couple of great book recommendations and cultural tips, and further back on Garden Variety, check out “Good Bug or Bad Bug? Let’s See Some ID Please”. Also check here on this blog under the ‘Beneficial Insects’ header and ‘Entomology’ headers on the right side bar for previous articles, like this one on helpful insects, and other useful online resources. You will also find more entomological (the study of insects) book recommendations on the ‘Library’ page at left!

Ladybird Beetles Seeking Shelter in Numbers in the Siding!


Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Native Plant Seminar Discussions: Viburnum Beetle Alert…

May 17th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Healthy Viburnum trilobum foliage and flower buds

Over the weekend, I presented a talk on native plants for ornamental landscape use to a fantastic group of New England gardeners, and some very good questions were raised about alien pests and diseases of North American native plants. One of the gardeners participating in the workshop mentioned die-back on the cranberrybush viburnum, (V. trilobum, as pictured above), in her yard. Without looking at the actual shrubs, it is impossible to know whether the die-back is being caused by viburnum beetles or by late frost or some other defoliating disease. However, at this time of year, I am concerned about the appearance of viburnum beetle larvae. It is very important for gardeners in the northern/north central United States and Canada to be on the lookout for small, greenish-yellow, caterpillar-like larvae on viburnum. If you grow shrubs in this genus -particularly cranberrybush and arrowwood viburnum- and you begin to notice skeletonization of foliage, check the undersides of the leaves -using a magnifying glass if necessary- for beetle larvae, (see Cornell University photos below). Spraying larvae directly with insecticidal soap at regular intervals will help contain the infestation. But be sure to avoid spraying beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, when applying any pesticide, including organic oils and/or soaps.

Photo Kent Loeffler/via Cornell University – click link here for CU article

The viburnum beetle, (Pyrrhalta viburni) -shown above in its spring larval stage- is a highly destructive, non-native beetle introduced to North America. In North America, the beetle was originally spotted in Canada, and it has been moving southward ever since. The beetle was first seen in the United States in 1994 along the New York State, US/Canada line. This voracious insect has been slowly, but steadily expanding its territory in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, and has now been spotted on viburnum, (particularly the native arrowood viburnum, V.dentatum and cranberrybush viburnum V. trilobum), in a number of northern states in the US. Both larvae and adult viburnum beetles feed on plant leaves, robbing the shrub’s ability to photosynthesize. Unchecked, this insect has the potential to destroy the native populations of a number of viburnum species throughout the North American continent. Arrowwood viburnum, (V. dentatum), and cranberrybush, (V. trilobum), fruit is an important source of food to North American songbirds. Horticulturalists hope that over time, our native viburnum will develop resistance to these insect invaders, though widespread destruction of wild viburnum populations is feared.

Some viburnum appear to be more resistant than others to this invasive pest. However, the shrubs most vulnerable to destruction are viburnum with smooth, broad leaves, including many natives. For more information on this beetle, including varieties most susceptible, and other ways to spot and manage the pests, visit the Cornell University “Citizen Science” Viburnum Beetle Information Page, linked here. If you suspect viburnum beetle in your area, be sure to report the sighting to your local university extension service, in order to help with tracking and management of these insect invaders.

No viburnum beetles have been spotted on my compact cranberrybush, (V. trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’), yet this spring, though the insect infestation is here in North America to stay. All gardeners should be on the look-out for this destructive pest, so that it can be properly managed.

I would like to extend a special thank you to this weekend’s seminar participants at Walker Farm for their great native plant questions. I will be posting more articles and information from the seminar over the coming weeks. Please scroll down the blog to find additional native plant posts, information and resources…


Top photo is copyright Kent Loeffler via Cornell University Online. All other photos are copyright TGE.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Hello Friend – WAIT – Whose Team Are You On Anyway?

March 9th, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

It’s easy to recognize this friend as an adult. A ladybug rests upon Peperomia. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Hello friend… or foe? In all of life it’s important to know your friends from your enemies, but as gardeners this issue is especially important. We are conditioned to think of bugs as destructive, ‘icky’ and ‘bad’. Of course this isn’t always the case. Hardly. In fact, some bugs are easy to like – especially if they are beautiful. Butterflies and moths easily charm us with their colorful patterns as they dance on the breeze, and dragonflies delight us with their bright colors and aerobatic maneuvers. Honeybees seduce us with their sweet nectar, and their bumbling cousins are equally charming as they buzz about the garden. Perhaps the most famous of all, pretty red and black ladybugs have become the pin-up girls of the beneficial insect world. In fact right now, as I type this sentence, hundreds of these helpful creatures are emerging from hibernation in my house, covering my houseplants like a smattering of little red polka-dots.

But what about the other “good” bugs? Would you know a beneficial insect if you saw one? It’s certainly been a long time since my last entomology class, and I admit that I am a bit rusty. Although I can easily recognize most garden pests, and I know how to combat them, I am not always spot-on with my identifications. Part of the difficulty lies in the nature of insect metamorphosis. What? Yes, that’s right: metamorphosis. Remember that from school? And no, I’m not talking about Franz Kafka’s famous novella, (although that is one of my all time favorite, freaky-works of fiction). Most of us become familiar with the process of metamorphosis in elementary school, when butterfly caterpillars, (particularly Monarch and Swallowtail), are collected in containers during science class. Kids of all ages love to watch as a mature butterfly emerges, transformed after weeks inside a moody, magical chrysalis. All insects live out their lives in stages, and it’s important for a gardener to know how they look in their ‘baby’, (larval, nymph, pupa), phases as well as in their mature form.

Most experienced gardeners will recognize the black and orange ‘monster’, (pictured below), as a ladybug, (or ladybird beetle, also known as Coccinella septempunctata), in its larval stage. In one of the more dramatic insect transformations, this freakish-looking creature morphs into the cute little red and black beetle we all know and love. If you have never  seen one before, do get to know this chameleon, for it is your dear, dear friend. The ladybug is a garden hero, and it does an extraordinary amount of work before it even reaches adulthood. Aphids; mites; scale: these garden pests are the ladybug’s favorite foods. In fact, a single ladybug can consume thousands of destructive aphids, mites and other insects within its lifetime. Would you have killed this creature, (pictured below), if you saw it in your garden? Many do. Sometimes the ladybug larvae is mistaken for a pest, and other times it is accidentally wiped out with an application of insecticide intended for the very aphids it is actually consuming, (warning: many organic pesticides can kill beneficials, especially in the larval stage)…

But would you recognize it as a baby? (An immature lady bug feasting upon aphids. Photo: Vejezus via Wikimedia Commons)

The first step toward becoming a responsible, organic gardener is to recognize the natural things living around you, and to learn about the role they play in the ecosystem. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’, all creatures are part of the web of life, and we should respect them. Of course this doesn’t mean that I invite aphids to join me for dinner in my vegetable garden. Heck no. I plant my garden to enjoy –  and to EAT! But, I do try to work with nature, not against her, in order to keep my garden free of insect competitors!

Like most gardeners, sometimes when my plants are under siege, it’s hard for me to decide who or what is to blame. Even the calmest gardener can start to panic when a favorite cultivar is being skeletonized. Learning to recognize the tell-tale evidence left behind during or after an insect attack is one of the keys to gardening success. Recently I posted an article, “Help! Something Is Bugging My Plants, (And Me Too)!” on the Garden Variety Blog at Barnes & Noble. There you will find some helpful diagnostic resources. I also believe that a good, easily transportable, insect ID guide book is an excellent gardening tool. Below I have linked my two favorites, in order of preference. For quick reference, I am a big fan of the indestructible, laminated Mac’s Field Guide to bugs, which hangs on my garden gatepost all summer like a wild-west “Wanted” poster. One side has “good” guys, flip it, and on the other, “bad” guys are illustrated in all stages – very useful. While you are here today, have a look at the right hand side of this blog. Scroll down until you see the “Insects and Entomology” category – there you will find a list of useful links. Explore some of the free online resources listed there. Many of these sites offer fantastic images to help you identify common, as well as uncommon insects, and some offer excellent information on how to combat backyard pests in a safer way.

The garden season is on its way! It’s time to flip through the list of regular insect-characters, and familiarize yourself with the different players and costume changes you will encounter this year. Friend or foe? Before you start attacking, or laying out your welcome mat, it’s wise to spend some time getting to know your garden “guests”…

Your friend, Milkweed Assassin Bug, is one of  over 4,000 members of the Heteroptera order. (Photo credit: Ira Eskins via Wikimedia Commons)

Buy from Amazon : NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes & Noble: NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America

Buy from Barnes and Noble : NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders

Buy from Amazon: NAS Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders


Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © Michaela at TGE. All rights reserved.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced in any way without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world an link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn…

February 13th, 2010 § Comments Off on Go a Little Less Green for the Environment: Rethink Your Lawn… § permalink

The Front Wildflower Walk in my Garden in June…

Lush, wide, green and rolling; in America we love our lawns. We like to sprawl out on the grass for a picnic, gather on the neighbor’s lawn for a game of touch football , and set up our folding chairs and tiki-torches in the backyard green for summer barbeques. I like doing these things too, and I have a small lawn of my own in Vermont. But it’s important to remember that lawns, from and environmental perspective, provide little support for the ecosystem. In fact, the tremendous amount of water, fossil fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to maintain most suburban lawns makes our green-fixation downright irresponsible. And although green areas do reduce heat in cities, tightly cropped lawns do little to create habitat and provide food for birds, bees and the many other creatures sharing our world…

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’, attracts a buzzing dinner guest…


So, how do we balance our desire for outdoor recreational spaces with environmentally friendly landscaping? When I design gardens for suburban homeowners, I like to suggest a compromise: keep some lawn in the backyard for play-space if it is truly used, and devote the front yard to nature. Usually, the front yard in an urban environment is no more than a strip of earth between the front door and the sidewalk or road. This part of the property is often dry and dusty, and it is rarely used for recreation. Sometimes the area between the house and street is steep and difficult, or even dangerous to mow. In many neighborhoods, roadside turf grass turns brown and unattractive by midsummer, (if it ever looks good at all). There are far more appropriate plants for such spaces; plants that will provide food and habitat for wildlife. In may areas, simply replacing grass with clover or another flowering ground cover is an excellent choice. For the more adventurous, a front garden filled with a mixed selection of native plants can be both beautiful and rewarding. Although there will be initial expenses and work involved, replacing front yard turf grass with more viable plantings can eventually save money and make a home more appealing and marketable as well as ecologically friendly.

For experienced gardeners, alternatives to turf grass will immediately spring to mind, but for novices the sea of choices and garden plan decisions can often seem overwhelming. If you are at a loss for ideas, Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens is a great place to look for inspiration. This lovely paperback book is filled with hundreds of photographs of front yard garden designs, taken in a wide variety of climates. But more important, Primeau is quite practical, her book includes detailed plant lists and step-by-step plans to suit all climates, tastes and budgets. Usually I advise simple design plans and lower maintenance, native plants for new gardeners. Of course, what is considered a native plant will vary tremendously from one place to another, and this is where a bit of research comes in handy. It’s important that your garden suit your location. Perhaps one of your neighbors has a successful front yard garden. What plants grow well for them?  Most gardeners love to talk about plants and they tend to be very generous with advice. Also keep in mind that many communities have gardening clubs and plant swaps groups, and they usually welcome newcomers with a wealth of tips and information – sometimes even perennial divisions !  A small, neighborhood garden center is also a fantastic place to go for advice. Ask experienced, local nursery staff for some native plant recommendations. Be sure to mention that you would like to grow plants with open flowers and extended bloom periods to attract bees, butterflies and birds to your yard. If you are new to gardening, remember to start with a modest plan, and expand your garden as you develop confidence and success…


Why mow on a dangerous slope ? When terraced with natural stone, this ‘problem area’ in my garden became a lush, mixed border filled with shrubs, ground covers and perennials, blooming from early spring to late autumn…

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens( 2003 ed.): from Barnes and Noble

Purchase Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens (new 2010 ed.): from Amazon


An excellent choice for beginners to more advanced gardeners, mixed daylily gardens cover ground, (even those tough to maintain slopes), and bloom from early summer through frost. Expand the early spring bloom time by adding bulbs in the fall. This beautiful daylily combination in my front garden is from White Flower Farm

Hosta are a good choice for new gardeners with shady outdoor spaces. Hosta produce white to lavender blossoms, providing pollen for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and cool summer shade for other living creatures. Early blooming bulbs can be planted between hosta in autumn, to extend a landscape’s bloom period. The image above is from White Flower Farm


This article was originally written by Michaela (TGE), for The Honeybee Conservancy Blog as part of a volunteer, collaborative effort. Please visit the HBC site to learn more about this important cause, and how you can do more to help support and protect earth’s pollinators.

Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © 2010, All Rights Reserved : Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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A New Year’s Resolution for Gardeners: Making Informed Choices About Gardening Practices and Products to Support a Healthy, Natural Environment…

January 5th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

We  ♥ Mother Earth

The new year often brings about a desire for change and personal reckoning. We make promises, resolutions and plans to better ourselves and the world around us. Over the past couple of years, many people have committed to building environmentally conscious, self-sufficient lives. As a result, gardening, particularly vegetable gardening, has re-emerged as a popular interest and hobby.


This return to the earth is a good thing. But it is important to remember that even in our backyard vegetable plots and tiny rooftop potagers, the way we garden, and the products and practices we choose for our gardens, all have lasting consequences for our environment. Every action we take in the natural world must be considered carefully. Words like “organic”, “green”. “sustainable” and “eco” are being tossed about freely these days. Buzz words can sometimes be confusing and misleading.

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do as gardeners is to educate ourselves. There are many websites, magazines and books written to help inform gardeners about environmentally sound horticultural practices. If you are new to gardening, or even if you have been tending a plot for decades, publications such as Organic Gardening Magazine, and books, particularly Linda Chalker-Scott’s The Informed Gardener, and Jeff Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, are essential for up-to-date, accurate scientific information. I will be writing much more about this topic come springtime, but winter is also a great time of year to read and research these important topics, before you begin planting your garden.

If I can send one message out to new gardeners it is this: just because a product or practice is organic, it doesn’t mean that it should be applied or adopted indiscriminately. Take organic pesticides for example. Even OMRI, (Organic Materials Review Institute), approved substances such pyrethrin, rotenone and neem, can be harmful or deadly to beneficial insects, including honeybees and ladybugs. All pesticides, even organic products, should be used sparingly, and only as a last resort in gardens. The best way to avoid diseases and harmful insect infestations is to provide garden plants with the growing conditions they require, and to avoid mono-culture, (growing large numbers of only a few kinds of plants), and environmental stress.


For new gardeners, I highly recommend learning the basics of vegetable gardening from respected teachers and authors. Edward C. Smith’s The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible (10th Anniversary Edition), is an excellent place to start. In addition, Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, by author Fern Marshall Bradley, can serve as helpful reference to all gardeners. Also remember to take advantage of free, reliable online resources, such as beneficial insect identification sites. Three great online pages: The easy and fun Insectidentification.org, the comprehensive Texas A&M University Vegetable IPM site, and of course Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online all offer excellent photographs and descriptions to help gardeners recognize natural allies and pick up on small problems before they become large and unmanageable.

I am not a big New Year’s resolutions kind of gal, but January is a good time to turn a new leaf, (even if the trees are still naked). So if you are planning your first vegetable garden this spring, or even if you have been growing your own food for many years, I hope the first leaf you turn this year dangles from the tree of knowledge. Education is a life-long process. With the help of solid, scientific information, we can work with nature to cultivate a safer, healthier garden environment for all…

The Nasturtium Seat in the Potager at Ferncliff

Early Greens in the Potager at Ferncliff

The Informed Gardener by horticulturalist, Linda Chalker-Scott

Rodale’s Magazine, Organic Gardening (2-year)

Jeff Gillaman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line


Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

This article originally appeared as a guest post at The Honeybee Conservancy Blog, please pay this important non-profit cause a visit !

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use article excerpts or photographs featured here without contacting me first. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you !



Announcing Collaborative Work with The Honey Bee Conservancy: A New Series of Guest Posts Begins…

November 8th, 2009 § Comments Off on Announcing Collaborative Work with The Honey Bee Conservancy: A New Series of Guest Posts Begins… § permalink

Honeybee Conservancy Logo

I have recently been invited to guest-post a series of articles on gardening with bees in mind for The Honeybee Conservancy blog. The first installation, supporting pollinators by planting native plants, posted today. You can read the article by clicking here.

Honeybees as a species predate human beings by tens of millions of years, and they can be found almost everywhere on earth. Although honeybees have existed in North America for centuries, they are believed to have been imported, (as were many other things including people, animals, plants, and even 30% of earthworms), when Europeans came to the New World in the 1600’s. While honeybees may not technically qualify as a native North American insects, they have certainly become an important and beneficial part of our ecosystem. In the United States and in most other countries, honeybees also play a significant role in agriculture. Pollination is of course essential to the production of food, including most fruits and vegetables, and bees are the primary pollinators of these flowering crops. Bees also produce wax, a natural ingredient in many health and beauty products. And of course, bees are also responsible for golden, delicious honey – a delightful and natural sweetener many of us enjoy. Supporting bees and pollinators of all kinds is important to us, our economy and earth as a whole.

As gardeners we have the opportunity to help out all pollinating insects and animals by practicing ecologically sound, organic and sustainable gardening methods, and by supporting natural habitat and native plants. Over the coming months I will be writing more on this subject both for this site and for The Honeybee Conservancy blog, (an article will post on the first Sunday of each month for the next four months).  I hope all of you will pay The Honeybee Conservancy website and blog a visit to see the fine work this non-profit group is doing in support of bee pollinators throughout North America.

Thank you to Guillermo and everyone at the Honey Bee Conservancy for all of their educational outreach, wonderful collaborative efforts, and hard work on behalf of the bees. I am so pleased to be part of your buzz…

Visit The Honeybee Conservancy at www.thehoneybeeconservancy.org Today !


Logo at top belongs to The Honeybee Conservancy

Article copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced for any purpose without express permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…


Feeling Warm and Fuzzy on a Chilly October Day …

October 9th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Acronicta americana – American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

Ctenucha virginica – Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Estigmene acrea – Salt Marsh Moth Caterpillar

Brrrr. I think it’s officially time to pull out the woollies! There is a damp chill in the air on this gray October morning – it’s a good day to pull out a trusty old mohair sweater. As I stepped outside today, I happened to notice that I’m not the only one donning a few extra layers. On my early walks around the garden this week, I discovered dozens of warm, fuzzy insects dressed up in wooly costumes – all of them decked out in vibrant fall colors. If only I could knit! From spiky and eccentric to elegant and lacy, there is fashionable inspiration everywhere in the garden. Parisian designers – take note!

All of the furry creatures pictured above are moth caterpillars. Aren’t they beautiful? Look at those patterns and colors, (click any photo for a larger view). I am not an entomologist, nor was the study of insects my strongest subject in college, so I needed a bit of help in order to correctly identify each species pictured here. One of my more important gardening goals is to learn more about insects. Not only do I hope to review and enhance my understanding of the allies and enemies I commonly find in my potager, but I also want to better recognize butterfly and moth species by caterpillar – just for the fun of it. If you are looking to quickly identify insects online, a really good insect and spider database, (with useful field photographs), is available from from the University of Iowa Department of Entomology – it’s called Bug Guide . If you live in North America and enjoy butterflies, moths and caterpillars, (and want help learning to identify them specifically), you will also love these websites: Butterflies and Moths of North America and What’s This Caterpillar. There are other useful entomological resources listed on the blog roll at right, under the heading ‘Insects/Entomology’. I think these are great places to bookmark and explore – fun for kids of all ages.

The plant world is also decked out in some textural attire right now. Puffy, fuzzy inflorescences in the garden are all aglow in mauve, taupe and violet. These seductive, smokey hues and intricate details really shine in the early light of day – sparkling and shimmering with morning dew. On damp, rainy mornings I notice the delicate flora are all wearing drops of water like brilliant, crystal-encrusted gowns…

Cotinus coggyria, SmokebushCotinus coggygria (Smokebush)

Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ (Flame grass) inflorescence

pennisetum alopecuroides inflorescencePennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’ (Fountain grass)

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ between showers…

cotinus rain dropsCotinus coggygria – wearing a necklace of rain drops…

Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the sole property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced for any reason without express, written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond-friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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