Monthly Archives: May 2016

Night Sky – Not Your Grandmother’s Petunia

I haven’t grown petunias for years.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s,  I grew a lot of them, usually starting from seeds. I grew multiflora and grandiflora varieties, singles and doubles. They were such an easy plant to grow.

Then in 1989 the Wave petunias were introduced. These plants are short (6″) but they spread into huge sheets of color, sometimes reaching up to five feet across. They were, and still are, a great plant to grow.

But in time I lost my love of petunias.

One reason is that rabbits really love petunias. As the rabbit population increased, growing petunias got harder and harder.

The other reason is that garden centers and seed catalogs started to offer so many new and interesting flowers to grow that were never available decades ago. I found myself getting tired of petunias in the same way that I’ve gotten tired of geraniums. They’re so 20th century – flowers that your grandmother grew!

Night Sky Petunia

Night Sky Petunia

That is until this year.

I found a new variety of petunia that caught my eye. It’s called “Night Sky” and it’s something I’ve never seen before. The purple blooms are spotted with white and each one is different with a unique pattern.

night sky 2I’m growing it in a tall container so that the rabbits can’t reach it. It’s tucked in with calibrachoa, lemon grass and a marigold. I’ll be watching to see how it grows and holds up during the summer.

But for now, I like it. It’s a petunia, but it’s certainly not your grandmother’s petunia.

UPDATE 7/5/2016

I’ve heard from one reader who found that their Night Sky petunia was getting more white with time. I’ve noticed that the one I have is getting more purple. So what’s up with that?!

I found a video from the company that developed this petunia and it appears that temperature affects the flowers. Warm days and cool nights will bring about more white in the flowers while warm days and warm night will make the flowers more purple. Also there are some growth regulators that grower use to being about the “perfect” mix of white and purple. That’s why the plants have a great mixture of white and purple for a time. Once the growth regulators wear off, then the temperature will determine the combination of colors.

I’ll keep watching this plant to see what it does during the growing season. Even with the changes in color, it still seems to be a good petunia.


Social Media, the Allium Leaf Miner, the PA Department of Agriculture and Me

Last week I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a post by Northeastern IPM (Integrative Pest Management) Center. In it, they described a new invasive insect named the allium leaf miner (Phytomyza gymnostoma). While this insect is common in Europe, it has now been detected for the first time in the Western hemisphere, with Lancaster county PA being the first reported case. Since this initial identification, the allium leaf miner has also been discovered in Lehigh, Chester, Dauphin and Delaware counties.

I though that this was interesting but I didn’t give it too much thought.

Three days later I was working in the garden and noticed that the onion plants looked strange. The leaves were wavy and they felt like they were wilted. Since we’ve been having so much rain I knew that they weren’t dry but I pulled one up to see if there was a problem with the roots. Maybe all of this rain had caused some kind of root rot.

Onions with Allium Leaf Miner Damage

Onions with Allium Leaf Miner Damage

When I pulled up an onion, it was clear that it had a healthy set of roots and there was no evident of root maggots. But I noticed that there were marks on the leaves and when I pulled the leaves apart and looked into the stem, there were a number of small maggots tunneling through it. Then I remembered the Facebook post and realized that this looked like the allium leaf miner and it was now in Lebanon county.

I pulled up all of the onions and used a few to take pictures. I didn’t want this pest to spread so I put the onions into the garbage instead of the compost bin.

Later, as I thought about it, I realized that I should let someone know about my discovery. If this new invasive insect was in another county, the authorities needed to know this. So I sent an email with pictures attached to the entomologist at Cooperative Extension and he instantly forwarded my email to the PA Department of Agriculture. I heard back from the gentleman there quickly; he thanked me for the pictures and asked some additional questions.

When you’re a gardener and an amateur entomologist, it’s exciting to be a part of the early stages of discovery of a new invasive insect. But there was one thing that I should have done that I didn’t think of at the time. Pictures are nice but for a confirmed identification, the Department of Agriculture needs a sample of the insect. I should have saved a few of the plants and delivered them to the local extension office for testing. Oops!

When I go out to the garden again, I’m going to see if the chives or garlic are showing signs of this insect. If they are, I’ll certainly be collecting samples. Also, in my next post, I’ll be describing this new (to the Western hemisphere) insect.

But for now, I’m just grateful for social media and the information it provided me about the allium leaf miner. I’m also happy to help provide information to those tracking this new insect pest.


A Lackluster Spring

(To those who follow my blog,  I apologize for being away for so long. Late summer, fall and winter was a time of some health issues that took my focus from writing. But I’m thankful for those who still view the site (100 or more views a day) and I’m back!)

This has been a terrible year for spring flowers.

In December we had temperatures in the 70’s and this caused the lilacs to start to bud. But the cold of January brought an end to the budding and the lilacs this year are a bust.

March was a warm month and all of the shrubs and bulbs started to grow. It looked like it was going to be a great season of early blooms but then came April with nighttime temperatures in the lower 20’s. Anything that had started to blossom was damaged and only the toughest of the daffodils survived the cold. The magnolia bush had started to bloom but the cold destroyed them.

peonyThe plant that I find the most interesting throughout this weird weather is the tree peony. By late March the plant was filled with leaves and buds. When the freezing nights of April came, I thought the plant would never recover but it did. A few of the buds opened but all of the rest of them just stayed there in a state of suspended animation.

It’s now the middle of May and the peony is green, bushy and heathy and still covered with buds that have yet to open. Recently I pulled a few of the buds off and cut them in half to see what was going on.

IMG_2222When cut open, I could see the stamens (male reproductive organs) and the pistil (female reproductive organ) of the peony but instead of being firm and health, they were soft and damaged. It’s clear that the cold weather injured these parts of the flower. Since the development of the flower depends on plant growth regulators that are produced by these organs, their impairment meant that flowering wasn’t going to happen. A few buds escaped the damage but most weren’t so lucky.

Yes, this spring was a bust. The weird weather caused all sorts of chaos for the flowering shrubs and bulbs. Flowers are one of the most fragile parts of a plant and this year was too much for them. The good news is that the plants are all fine and will live on to reproduce again another year. I have hope of seeing lilacs, magnolia, tree peonies and spring bulbs all flowering again – next year.