Q: I saw this insect flying like a butterfly near my yard, but when it landed I realized it definitely didn’t look like the butterflies I know. What is it?
A: I love these guys. That is a spinster, a group of insects closely related to dragonflies, with a bolder appearance. They have the same way of life as dragonflies – aquatic juveniles (so-called naiads), which have gills and live in standing or flowing water, as well as a carnivorous diet. Both naiads and adults prey on other insects (plus tadpoles or even tiny fish for the naiads) and are welcome visitors to the garden. Dragonflies and dragonflies don’t bother people, and while they don’t exclusively hunt pests like mosquitoes, horseflies or wasps, they are a good asset for keeping pest numbers down.
This person is a ebony jewel wings, a native species known for its dark wings and beautifully iridescent green-blue body. Their preferred habitat is forests near streams, as these naiads live in running water. Males have darker wings than females, although both have that cute, floppy-winged butterfly-like flight that makes them seem to hop over vegetation before deciding where to perch. They sit while waiting for potential mates, rivals, or prey to fly by.
The huge eyes on the heads of dragonflies and dragonflies are a good indicator that these insects are highly visual creatures, and it’s often difficult to get close enough to observe them closely because they can be shy. We have over a hundred and fifty styles locally in a variety of colors; Many groups also have fun common names like Dancers, Sprites, Forktails, Dragonhunters, Shadowdragons, Spinylegs, and Meadowhawks. Males and females often differ in body or wing pattern, which can make identification a bit difficult, although I encourage everyone to experience the biodiversity, which can be found at almost any pond or stream on a summer’s day.
Dragonflies and dragonflies are very skilled aerial acrobats that can hover and even fly backwards. These traits that allow them to steal loot straight from a spider web without getting caught themselves. They can even catch and eat each other – showing that they’re really good at what they do when they can hunt down equally agile species.
Q: I had a fall flowering mother that I planted in the ground over winter and it will sprout again this year. I heard I should pinch it back in the summer. When and how do I do this? Or does it matter?
A: It doesn’t matter if you don’t mind a longer legged plant or a summer flowering period instead of fall. If a long-legged mother has tall neighbors to lean on (or a stake to support them), or low-growing companions to hide her bare “legs,” there’s no harm in experimenting to see whether 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 blooming. Fall flowering plants rely on daylight stimuli to stimulate flowering; When nighttime darkness reaches a certain threshold, they begin to produce buds. With this mother type, this threshold is reached before we prefer to let her flower, so we pinch to delay this process by forcing the plant to regrow and delaying bud development by a few weeks.
Plant growth hormones and sugars accumulate in shoot and branch tips, triggering the growth of that terminal bud, while buds further down the stem remain in a sort of floating animation. Pinching removes this dominance and stimulates the growth of buds underneath. As these lurking buds now receive more growth hormones and sugars, they react and develop, giving the plant a more dense habit as several growth points have replaced the original one. Not only will this shorten the plant, but it will also produce more buds since you now have more branch tips on the plant.
Annual fall color chrysanthemums are technically delicate perennials, meaning they have less reliable hardiness in our area. Those sold as perennial mothers, which are usually from a different genus or species, don’t need this treatment, although they might flop a bit by the time of flowering.
Although mother pinching can start in the spring, you can still do it now, around the window between the summer solstice and the 4th of July. Try not to pinch later than mid-July, otherwise you risk not having time for the plant to fully develop and open the flowers while it regenerates.
The act of pinching is exactly what it sounds like—using your fingernails to snip off the tips of the twig, just above a knot (the point where the leaves attach to the trunk). You can use pruning shears or hand shears instead if you prefer. As for removal, you can remove as little as a few inches or up to half the current height of the plant.
Some of the recently introduced mother strains don’t need pruning to stay compact or delay flowering until fall.
The University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center provides free garden and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.