Common Mullein

plants in snow_castlewoodcynsp-co_lah_7289

After the storm earlier this week, snow blankets the fields, hiding most signs that anything ever grew there. But interspersed with the even white blanket and occasional dried grass leaves are spikes, sticking up like posts in the empty landscape. We’re finally noticing the dead and dried flower/seed stalks of Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

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Persecuting Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorant_PuebloCityPark-CO_LAH_6764

Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were birding around Kettle Lakes, a number of large ponds on U.S. Air Force Academy property. We exclaimed over the accuracy of a Belted Kingfisher’s dive to nab a fish for breakfast, in spite of the distortion caused by the air-water interface. A Great Blue Heron followed suit, coming up with a flapping fish in its beak.

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You (probably) Don’t Need an Exterminator

Monarch Butterfly_DBG-CO_LAH_9197The neighborhood where I live seems to be a magnet for door-to-door salespeople selling services. One company in particular has been particularly persistent in their marketing attempts—an exterminator.

The first time they rang the doorbell, I politely but firmly told the guy I did not want my yard sprayed. I consider a diverse arthropod population to be a sign of a healthy landscape. I particularly want insects around to feed the birds I feed. Moreover, I had just planted a pollinator garden, designed to attract bees, butterflies, moths, and other fascinating creatures;. The last thing I wanted was to kill my invited guests.

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Villainous Voles

640px-Microtus_pennsylvanicus_illustration
By Author: Bailey, Vernon, 1864-1942; Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942; United States. Division of Biological Survey – Revision of American voles of the genus Microtus (1900) https://archive.org/details/revisionofameric17bail, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37187840

In last month’s post on “Who Ate My Plants?” I described the following scenario:

The heavy snowfall took a while to melt, but finally your dormant lawn emerges from under its frozen blanket. Last time you saw it, it was perfect turf, smooth and even. But now, it looks as if an army had performed maneuvers across your yard! Shallow furrows run here and there around islands of still-intact grass. What in the world?!

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Teasel Isn’t Teasing

Teasel @BearCreek LAH 026Most of us are familiar with teasel. It grows in most states, including Colorado where it is designated a “List B” species in the Colorado Noxious Weed Act. That means that, if you live in Colorado (or several other states), you need to declare war on any plants on your property. Good luck.

Teasels are easily identified by the spiny flower head left behind after the petals have fallen, as you can see in these photos. There are two species listed as noxious weeds in Colorado—the Common Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), shown, and its lookalike cousin Cutleaf Teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus).

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Tiny Black, Jumping Leaf-chompers

Flea beetle damage on bok choy_BlkForest-CO_LAH_3411 Our family loves bok choy, so I always plant at least one block of the baby variety. And every year I harvest bok choy that looks as if it’s been peppered with buckshot. I can explain that I washed the leaves and they’re perfectly safe to eat, but really—who wants to eat leaves that were eaten by something else first? Ewww.

The culprit behind all those holes is an aggravating insect called a Flea Beetle. No, they aren’t really fleas, and they only bite plants, not people. If you look closely, you’ll see they’re shaped like beetles (fleas are vertically flattened). Still, they are very small, dark brown to black, and they can jump—just like fleas. And just like fleas, they can drive you crazy.

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IPM: Pest-eating Vertebrates, Part 2

Mountain Bluebird_Johnson'sCorner-CO_LAH_2843Last month I explained how amphibians, such as frogs and toads, and reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, are beneficial to our gardens. This time I’ll focus on birds and mammals. Inviting these wild animals into ours gardens is yet one more way that we can control the pests that dine on our flowers and veggies.

Birds
As an avid birder, I have up to a dozen feeders scattered around our yard. It may seem as if I’m doing the birds a favor, but it’s really the other way around! While most birds attracted to feeders eat seeds, many of those same species switch to bugs, with their higher protein content, during the breeding season.

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Is Your Garden in Danger from Gnomes?

gnome2-klbI’m taking a break from blogging to bring you an important message from the Utah State University Extension. There seems to be an annual increase in gnome numbers immediately after Christmas, so this is timely information.

Growing conditions in Ogden, Utah, where this video was created, are very similar to those along Colorado’s Front Range, so I’m sure you’ll find this advice very helpful.

Please sit back, relax, and learn how you can deal with invasive garden gnomes!

Gnome Management in the Garden

IPM: Pest-eating Vertebrates, Part 1

Eastern Collared Lizard_DesertMuseum-AZ_LAH_4796Here it is the middle of winter, and garden pests are out of sight and out of mind. Yet, we know that those critters are out there, waiting for warm weather to bring out the first sprouts of spring—just so they can gobble them up! It’s a very good thing, then, that there are other creatures biding their time, waiting to eat those garden pests! I’ve already talked about bug-eating invertebrates. This time I’ll focus on those animals with some backbone, so to speak. Being biologically minded, I’ve sorted these helpful vertebrates by which taxonomic class they belong to.

Amphibians
Toad_ColoNat'lMon-CO_LAH_3622One of the most helpful animals to welcome into your garden is a toad. Like frogs and salamanders, their close relatives, toads eat tons of bugs, and they don’t need a pond to live in. Experts say they eat up to 100 bugs every day, and while they don’t discriminate between “good” bugs and bad ones (they’ll nab anything that moves), it’s nice to see cutworms, grasshoppers, flies, and slugs disappearing into their wide jaws.

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IPM: Good Bugs and Other Garden Heroes

spider_dbg_lah_7406If we set a thief to catch a thief, then why not set a bug to eat a bug? Sometimes the best way to control an outbreak of an insect pest is to use another insect, or a close relative (such as spiders). Ladybugs, the most famous of these insect killers, are wimps compared to some of the other predatory critters in your garden. Lacewing larvae, ground beetles, praying mantises, wasps, hover flies, spiders… there are plenty of beasties who are more than happy to keep garden pests under control.

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