Sunday, April 21, 2024

Year of the violet

I can't believe how many violets I've seen this spring. I have quite a few in my front flower beds, but they are everywhere, especially in untreated lawns where they contrast nicely with the dandelions.

Last summer the lawn across the street sported a lot of clover. This year I called the lawn guy and told him, I miss my clover. His response was, No one has ever said that to me. So while I agreed to them applying a pre-emergent, I am going to spot treat the weeds myself, in the hopes that my yard will include wild strawberry, clover, and violets in the future. Next year we will probably skip the pre-emergent as well.

The redbuds have peaked weeks earlier than usual, much to the delight of a variety of bees that are usually stuck with creeping Charlie and dandelions this time of year. Flowering crab is everywhere, including in my backyard. A feast for the eyes.

One city park I like to visit in the spring is Foster Park. The flower beds are a riot of tulips. I don't consider myself a tulip person, but now I want to plant them in my yard.

My one bone to pick with the city parks department is they don't label plants, not even trees. I'm not very good at tree identification, especially before they leaf out, and would really like to know what this one is.

This pic is to remind me that I like blues and purples together, sort of like the violets and grape hyacinth in my own yard. I've grown forget-me-nots before, but they don't last. I'm surprised they are considered invasive in the Midwest.

I don't just sit around looking at pretty plants in the spring. There has been some spring cleaning - today was spent in the garage - and some clearing out of the old, to make room for the new. These old bones are not used to so much movement, though. I need some aspirin.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Pop! goes the serviceberry

The serviceberry shrubs in the backyard popped this weekend. They should produce a lot of fruit for the robins come June (which is why another common name for this plant is Juneberry).

Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'

According to The Spruce website, there are nine different types of serviceberry. The ones in my backyard, Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance', are also known as Apple Serviceberry. The ones in the front yard are Allegheny Serviceberry, specifically Amelanchier laevis 'Cumulus'. They bloom a bit later, and the fruit forms later as well. They are more tree-like; one site says they will get to be 10 feet tall, another says 20-25 feet tall. I'm hoping for taller.

When a tulip blooms in my yard, I have to take a picture before a rabbit eats it. Despite the upheaval from the landscape renewal, there are still grape hyacinth and violets growing here and there, and it looks like the daffodils were scattered about. Every year I promise myself to dig up the daffodil clumps that are not blooming well, but maybe I won't have to.

The AC was serviced today, just in time for warm temps. Despite the high pollen count, I have doors and windows open, to air out the house. I'm ready for spring.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

A trillion cicadas

Nothing says August around here like the drone of cicadas. For the first time since 1803, Brood XIX, or the Great Southern Brood, and Brood XIII, or the Northern Illinois Brood, will appear together in an event known as a dual emergence. I'm not likely to see it, as northeast Indiana is not their home territory. It looks like Illinois and Missouri will be hit the hardest.

Do cicadas bite? No, nor do they sting. But they are lousy fliers and landers, so may become a slimy nuisance on streets and sidewalks. Don't let your pets gorge on them, though.

Cicadas are actually good for Mother Nature. They drill holes in the ground, thereby aerating soil (and my clay soil could use a LOT of that kind of help). The slits they make in trees cause "flagging", a natural pruning of trees; when the limbs start growing again, they will be stronger and yield heavier fruit. Dead cicadas make great fertilizer, so throw them into the compost bin or let them rot where they fall.

Whatever you do, DO NOT try to kill them, especially with sprays as you will kill other bugs that you want to keep around. Just let nature take its course.

(Most of this information came from this article in the New York Times and this one in Smithsonian Magazine.)

Brood XIII (blue dots) and Brood XIX (red dots). Gene Kritsky / Mount St. Joseph University

Closer to home, I've seen something emerging along the south side of the house. At first I thought it was some weed spreading rampantly. Then I remembered what it is: dame's rocket. Technically, it's invasive, but I find it rather easy to get rid of, but I don't. It's quite pretty when it blooms.

Dame's rocket - not pretty yet

The garage setup for the seedlings was not the best (plus I kept forgetting to turn the lights on and off). The past few days, I've been putting them outside once the temps are above 50 in the morning, taking them in before the temps fall below 50 in the evening. They are starting to put out "true" leaves.

I did a little research on spicebushes, as I was wondering why the landscaper planted only one in my backyard. To produce fruit, there needs to be both female and male plants. Mine appears to be a male, so I was wondering if I should get a female. The answer is no. Even though they are native, they tend to be invasive. Also, they grow to be 6-12 feet tall and wide, so one will take up quite a bit of room. It's for attracting the spicebush swallowtail, and they don't eat the berries.

Otherwise, I've been piddling about in the yard. The asters I planted last fall have survived. I've taken in the orange stakes that mark the edges of my driveway and sidewalk (didn't need them this past winter - sigh - I miss snow). The grass has been mowed a second time.

Sunday, March 31, 2024


Almost everything outdoors is swelling or starting to emerge from the chilly ground. Some things develop earlier than others: the serviceberry in the backyard looks like it is ready to pop, while the 'Cumulus' variety in the front yard has barely started. I have my fingers crossed that flower buds don't get nipped by frost. That has happened to some of the magnolia in the area.


I used to start a lot of plants from seed, but no longer, so I also don't have a very good setup for doing so. Consequently, once the zinnias and amaranth popped up, I moved them to the garage where they are under lights. Not the best situation, but it stays above 50 out there this time of year, so I hope it will be okay until I can move them outside.

Today was the first mow of the season. I felt a bit guilty making all that racket on Easter Sunday, but WeatherBug is predicting days of rain, so I didn't want to wait.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024


I *finally* got around to starting seedlings. Or at least doing what needed to be done to get them started.

Something new to me is starting wild strawberry and wild petunia from seed. The seeds need to be pre-treated by stratification. The gardener mixes the seeds with damp sand to help break through the seeds' dormancy mechanism and allow germination. The mixture sits in the refrigerator for a given amount of time, 60 days for these varieties, at which time the seeds have hopefully sprouted and may be planted directly into the garden. Fingers crossed!

The other seeds that needed starting were zinnias and amaranth. This process is more "normal" - fill little pots with potting soil (I chose to top the potting soil with vermiculum), moisten the medium, then plant the seeds. Ordinarily, I would place the pots on a warming pad, but this year I have too many for that. The flats are in a room that is fairly warm and protected from Beau the Feline Destroyer.

Each packet of zinnia seeds contained 40 seeds, although they are so small I was skeptical. However, when I counted them out, there were 41 seeds in each. A while back I learned that the gardener does not need to use more than one seed per pot, so that is what I did here. There are some leftovers in case some of the seeds don't germinate.

If the zinnia seeds seemed tiny, the amaranth seeds made them look like giants. The package contains 100 seeds, but all I needed were six. In this case, I did plant two per container, just because they are so small.

By the way, amaranth is a ancient grain, but I plan to use my plants for dyeing yarn.

It feels like March around here, especially with the wind - in like a lion. Around town, forsythia is blooming and magnolias are budding. The birdhouses are cleaned and hung. The lawn is green and will soon need to be mowed. The yard awakens.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Mulch volcano or donut?

One sure sign of spring is the proliferation of mulch, especially on commercial properties. Mulch is good for keeping down weeds, BUT. All too often the mulch is piled up around a tree like a volcano.


Mulch should be applied like a donut or lifesaver. The point is to leave the trunk flare exposed. One would think the landscaping companies would know better - or maybe they do, but don't want to take the time to be careful.


Even the landscaping company that redid my yard made this mistake (along with a few others). I rectified the situation myself. For more information, go here. The tree you save may be your own.

(Another mistake the landscaping company made was to apply mulch under the Japanese maple and 'Limelight' hydrangea. Both have shallow roots that need to breathe. I *told* them not to mulch under those two, but did they listen? NOOOOOO.)

Other signs of spring:


Witch hazel


Yesterday was *gorgeous*. Since we were facing two days of rain, I tackled the fall cleanup. I don't get on the north side of the house much in winter, so was surprised to see the goldenrod still relatively intact. Something, probably a rabbit, chewed on the asters I planted in this bed; I hope they survive (the asters, not the rabbits).

Goldenrod (before cleanup)

I am SO glad I had the landscaping redone in my yard. The cleanup took just a few hours instead of days. Some nasty weeds are already staking a claim, though, so that is the next yardening task on my to-do list.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Rough trip

A week ago we visited the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area to view the sandhill cranes. There were plenty of cranes, but no dancing, not even much feeding going on. They just stood or sat there. Maybe it was naptime or something. If you want to watch a video of their dancing, check this one out.

My son and his girl friend were supposed to meet up with us there, but they spent most of the day in the ER (all is okay). Then the restaurant we wanted to eat at is closed on Mondays. At least the rest of our plans panned out: a visit to the Chesterton Art Center and coffee at the Red Cup, where my son and girl friend caught up with us. So not quite what we planned but an okay day.

On the homefront, I saw a mute swan fly overhead on Sunday, probably heading for Eagle Marsh. I heard it before I saw it: the wingbeats "sing". Check out this short vid for a sample.

In my own front yard, signs of spring: Crocus tommassinianus 'roseus'. The snowdrops are popping up, as well as some regular croci. It's hard to not get one's hopes up for an early spring.

Friday Clio has a "temperament check" with a local doggy daycare. She will be so excited. Meanwhile, Finn, my 13(?) year old cat has been diagnosed with stage 2 kidney disease. I had noticed excessive drinking and peeing lately. Once I determined that it was him and not Beau, off we went to the vet. All we can do right now is feed him a special prescription food, which fortunately he likes and Beau does not. Otherwise, Finn seems fine. I hope he sticks around for a while.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Rough week

One of my dogs, Watson, passed away this past week. He had been sneezing a lot lately, then the sneezes turned bloody. The vet tried to do a nasal flush, which broke off parts of a tumor. During the procedure, the dog went into a coma and stopped breathing. They ventilated him for several hours, but it was no use. I arrived to be with him at the end, when the ventilator was disconnected, and I sat with him while he slowly passed.

It was all very sudden - I prefer a long goodbye - and poor Clio doesn't know where her friend and pack leader has gone. The spark has gone out. I've been taking her on longer and more varied walks, giving her extra attention, plan to find her a doggy daycare where she can romp with other mutts once or twice a week. Without Watson, she doesn't see the point of running around the backyard. They weren't bonded, but good playmates.

On one of my last walks with Watson, we visited the neighborhood pond, where we saw this muskrat. When I see one, I want to believe it is a beaver, but beavers are about twice the size of muskrats. An otter would be WAY cool, but they prefer rivers.

Meanwhile, the weather continues to be erratic. We received more snow, but most of that is gone and tomorrow temps will be in the 50's. We are heading to the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, to view the sandhill cranes, who hopefully will be doing their mating dance.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Rite of February

Gardening catalogs start arriving here just before Thanksgiving, but I force myself to wait a bit before ordering. Nothing like pretty plant pictures to hold the February doldrums at bay. The hard part is not going overboard and ordering one of everything.

From Prairie Moon Nursery
  • Ruellia humilis - Wild Petunia Seeds: Packet 
  • Fragaria virginiana - Wild Strawberry Seeds: Packet 
  • Asclepias syriaca - Common Milkweed 12 plants 
  • Silphium perfoliatum - Cup Plant 3 plants
From Pinetree Garden Seeds
  • Profusion Double Mix Zinnia seeds 
  • Hopi Red Dye Amaranth seeds
From American Meadows
  • Trifolium repens - Dutch White Clover seeds (5#) 
My yard has a lot of mulched areas, especially in the backyard. The dogs trample everything that tries to grow there, but I'd like to get some groundcover started around the shrubs, hence the wild petunia and wild strawberry. I spoke with the lawn service that treats the grass, as I miss the white clover and wild strawberry that used to grow with the grass, so for this year, I will spot treat the weeds myself and try to re-establish the clover and strawberry.

We had another spate of 50-degree weather this past week - my daughter and her friends went kayaking - but now it is more winterlike. Some of the plants are a bit confused, like the hairy beardtongue and daffodils. I have to keep reminding myself that spring is still a while away.

A pair of mallards have appeared at the neighborhood pond, and Canada geese are starting to migrate through this area. Maybe it's time to check out the sandhill cranes again.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Jumping worms?!?

While I am puzzling about the stink bugs that show up (one at a time) in my house, apparently there are bigger problems to worry about. Asian jumping worms are invading the Midwest. Wisconsin has had jumping worms since 2013, and now they are showing up in Indiana.

What's the big deal? These boogers destroy soil, mulch, and plants, leaving behind castings that do not nourish anything. And there are no known treatments other than collecting them and destroying them. I haven't seen any evidence of them in my yard, but I will keep a lookout for suspicious brown patches.

From the Wisconsin DNR

Here is more info: From the Wisconsin DNR, from Vermont Invasives, and from Indiana Native Plants.

(I can't help but wonder what Darwin would say about such a destructive creature.)

Meanwhile, we are having a ridiculously warm day. It won't last, but it is a bit disturbing.

I've been sick with a cold this past week. Not covid, not the flu, just a plain ordinary cold. In the midst of it, one can't help but wonder if recovery is possible, but eventually symptoms start to fade. I don't get sick very often, but when I do, I am IMpatient to be better. Illness is so boring.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Ice box

This has been a very cold week. No dog walking, as the street (we have no sidewalks) has an slick layer of ice beneath the snow. I confess I like looking at the white landscape instead of the gray and taupe one we usually have in winter. Alas, not enough snow here for cross country skiing and it is due to melt this week.

Despite the sub-zero temps (or because of it), there has been lots of bird activity. The robins have eaten all the winterberries, are now working on the hawthorn haws. It was 7 degrees out when I spotted these starlings bathing - they emptied the birdbath with their enthusiasm.

I follow the Garden Rant blog. While they don't stick to native plants, their postings frequently give me some good ideas. One of the recent postings mentioned that rattlesnake master seems to prefer it a bit damp, so maybe I'll reintroduce some near the rain garden.

I found two more squash bugs in the house this week, but both were already dead. What is the deal?!?

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Squash bugs

I have not grown anything from the squash family for years, but for some reason this winter squash beetles have invaded the house, one at a time. Unless it's the same beetle over and over again? I capture them and release them outside (except for the one that went down the garbage disposal), but then one shows up again. Now that we are heading for sub-freezing temperatures, maybe that will stop.

The snow I reported last week melted. Then we received some more, which also melted. But this bit of snow will stick around for a while, as things are going to be VERY cold for a while.

The wind reminds me of the winter of 1978, but without the avalanche of snow that formed drifts over six feet high. I was working at an "automated egg laying facility" at the time. Regardless of the weather, the chickens had to be cared for and the eggs processed. They sent manure trucks into town to pick us up, and we spent the night sleeping on the floor in the supervisor's house on the premises. The following winter promised to be nearly as bad, so I quit. There were more snowy winters after that, with resulting spring floods. We were living in the country by then; a creek that ran to the nearby river separated us from our neighbor. When her furnace went out, the repairman borrowed a canoe from us to reach her house. Fun times.

This weather has brought more bird activity in the backyard, including frustrated starlings who cannot get to the mealworms, thanks to the feeder design. There are plenty of other options for them, so no one is going to starve on my watch.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

White stuff

We are finally getting a little snow, emphasis on "little". It might not even stick around. But at least the ground feels frozen (less dirt for the dogs to track into the house), and it looks and feels like winter.

The seed catalogs are beginning to roll in, in ernest. I'll need some zinnia seeds, of course, but I am also contemplating growing a half dozen amaranth plants, for dyeing yarn. I can get both seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds., but they don't have milkweed plants, just seeds. I scatter seeds in the target area each fall, but so far, none have taken, so I'll get some plants elsewhere.

More birdfeeders are up, including a cylinder of "bark butter" - basically suet and peanut butter - and niger seed. I stocked up on millet from Wild Birds Unlimited, along with some ears of field corn for the squirrels, and a fresh suet block I have yet to hang up. The peanut splits remain the most popular offering to the birds, but I'm sure they will catch on to the rest soon, especially now that we have some snow.