Q: I saw this insect fly like a butterfly near my garden, but when I landed I realized that it definitely doesn’t look like the butterflies I recognize. What is this?
A: I love these guys. This is the the curse, an insect group closely related to dragonflies that has a more extensive appearance. They have the same lifestyle as dragonflies – aquatic juveniles (called nyyad) that have gills and live in either stagnant or running water, and have a carnivorous diet. Both naiads and adults catch other insects (as well as tadpoles or even small fish for naiads) and welcome visitors to the park. Dragonflies and damselflies do not bother people, and although they do not hunt pest insects such as mosquitoes, horse flies or wasps, they are good assets that they must keep their pest numbers low.
This individual is ebony gem, a local species known for its dark wings and beautiful iridescent blue-green body. Their favorite habitat is the forest near streams, where these neids live in moving water. The males have darker wings than the females, although both have such a gentle, butterfly-like flight with floppy wings that they seem to bounce over vegetation before deciding where to settle. They sit while waiting for potential mates, competitors, or prey to fly.
The huge eyes on the heads of dragonflies and birds are a good indication that these insects are very visually oriented creatures, and it is often difficult to get close enough to observe them closely because they can be fickle. We have over one hundred and fifty native species, in a wide range of colours; Many groups also bear hilarious common names such as dancers, goblins, forktails, dragonhunters, shadowdragons, spinylegs, and meadowhawks. Males and females often differ in body or wing pattern, which can make identification a little tricky, although I encourage everyone to experience the diversity of species you can find in any pond or stream on a summer’s day.
Dragonflies and damselflies are very adept aerial acrobats, capable of hovering and even flying backwards. It is these traits that allow them to steal prey directly from the spider’s web while not being caught. They can even catch and eat each other – which shows that they are really good at what they do if they can hunt species that can equally maneuver.
Q: I had a mother who blooms in the fall I planted it in the ground during the winter, and it appeared this year. I heard I have to pinch it in the summer. When and how do I do this? Or is it important?
A: It doesn’t matter if you don’t mind a larger plant or flowering time in summer instead of fall. If a tall mum has tall neighbors to lean on (or a stake to support), or stunted companions to hide her bare “legs,” there’s no harm in experimenting to see if you like the look and combinations with other flowers.
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Pinching accomplishes two goals – creating a denser, more compact plant, and delaying flowering. Plants that bloom in fall rely on daylight stimuli to stimulate flowering; When the length of the night darkness reaches a certain threshold, they begin to produce buds. With this type of mum, this threshold is reached before we prefer to bloom, so we pressure to delay this process by forcing the plant to regrow, which results in stunted bud growth for a few weeks.
Growth hormones and plant sugars accumulate at the tips of branches and branches, causing the end bud to grow while the lower buds remain on the stem in a kind of hanging animation. Pinching removes this dominance and stimulates the growth of shoots below. As those waiting buds now receive more growth hormones and sugars, they respond and develop, giving the plant a more bushy habit as many of the growth points have replaced the original. Not only does this shorten the plant in the process, but it also causes it to produce more flowers since you now have more branch tips around the plant.
Chrysanthemums are sold as annuals to technically display fall color, which means they have a less reliable winter hardiness in our area. Those sold as mums perennials, which tend to be of a different genus or species, do not need this treatment, although they may flop a bit by the time they bloom.
Although mother pinching can begin in the spring, you can still do pinching now, around the time window between the summer solstice and the fourth of July. Try not to pinch later than mid-July or else you risk not having time for the plant to fully grow and open flowers as they regenerate.
The act of pinching is exactly what it sounds like – using your fingernails to snip off the tips of the branches, just above the node (the point where the leaves adhere to the stem). You can use garden clippings or hand shears instead if you prefer. As for how much growth to remove, you can remove only a few inches or up to half the height of the current plant.
Some introductions of modern mum cultivars do not need pinching to remain compact or to delay flowering until fall.
The University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center offers an appendix of free gardening and pest information in extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click on “Ask for an extension” to submit questions and photos.