Discover more from The Weekly Dirt with Jessica Damiano
Why do hydrangeas change color?
And aphids swarm New York City -- will your town be next?
As if the smoke from Canadian wildfires wasn’t bad enough, there have been clouds of gnat-like insects swarming people — horror-movie style — in New York City these past few days. And as it turns out, the “gnats” are actually flying aphids, according to experts.
The insects, known to us gardeners as sap-sucking, plant-weakening, honeydew-excreting, ant-attracting miscreants, apparently are reproducing more quickly and living longer for reasons that may include the past mild winter — as well as all that smoke.
I live about 15 miles east of the city border, and there haven’t been any swarms here — but I did find a bunch on my tomato plants, as I reported last week.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for more. You should, too, as it seems the insects are showing up in larger-than-normal numbers elsewhere, although not necessarily to the swarming extent seen in the Big Aphle (it just came to me 😂).
The Ohio State University Cooperative Extension declared 2023 “The Year of the Aphid” due to heavier-than-usual populations so far this year. Experts there blame an extended cool spring.
Who knows where they’ll swarm next…
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I loved your column in Newsday for many years. Now I enjoy your weekly email.
My son and daughter-in-law have a hydrangea that has not bloomed in years. This year, all of a sudden, it started to bloom. But there is more than one color going on.
I’m sure it will be beautiful, but they asked me if this was normal. My first instinct was to ask you! You always give the best advice. What information do you have about this? —Phyllis Viar
DEAR PHYLLIS: It always makes me happy when my former Newsday readers find me at The Weekly Dirt. Thanks for connecting here!
Without more information, I can’t be sure why the hydrangea hasn’t bloomed in years, but I can explain the wacky colors you’re seeing this year.
Most macrophylla hydrangea flowers bloom in pink, blue or purple. The color is dependent on the pH level of the soil the plant is growing in. A reading above 7, which is alkaline, produces pink blossoms; readings below 7, which are acidic, produce blue ones.
When the pH lands at a sweet spot just south of neutral, purple, blue-purple or pinkish-purple flowers often result.
Sometimes, the pH under one side of the plant is different than the other. In that case, you may see pink and blue flowers on opposite sides of the plant.
This also explains why you might purchase a blooming pink hydrangea at the garden center and plant it at home only to see the flowers turn blue. The pH of the soil in the nursery pot could be different than your garden soil.
In recent years, plant breeders have created cultivars that retain their color in any soil, so if you’re set on a pink hydrangea, consider Cityline Paris, Seaside Serenade ‘Hamptons’ or ‘Fire Island’, Starfield and Invincibelle Spirit I and II. Hydrangeas that bloom blue include Nikko Blue, Let’s Dance and Seaside Serenade’ Cape Cod’.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
If standard roses need pruning, do so immediately after they bloom. Waiting longer risks removing the start of buds that would become next year’s flowers.
👏 Sunday shoutout
“The Fourth of July weekend is the garlic holiday, Right?” asks reader Linda Santorello, who sent in this photo of her first-ever garlic harvest.
“I’m happy with it, she said. “Now I have all that garden real estate for a fall crop planting.”
That’s an excellent plan, Linda! (Don’t forget to cure that garlic. Here’s how.)
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
Last week: How to grow a cutting garden
The week before: My best water-saving tips.
A week prior: How to help smoke- and ash-plagued plants.
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 Random things I enjoyed this week
🌄My daughters and I spent three beautiful days in the Pocono Mountains, connecting with nature, getting luxurious spa treatments, doing yoga, taking art classes and exploring the property’s farm and gardens. I even tried my hand at archery (it turns out I’m NOT a natural).
📺 I started the new, star-studded season of Black Mirror on Netflix. I’m only two episodes in, but can already tell this is going to be the best season yet.
🧄 I harvested the remainder of my garlic (a banner year, finally!) and planted the rest of my 8-ball squash plants in the bed.
This newsletter is member-supported
This week’s newsletter was made possible by generous support from Lydia Piazz, Cathy M. and readers who wish to remain anonymous. THANK YOU!
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I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.