August 23, 2019

Charlotte and her web draw family’s interest> Spider fastidiously tends house in summer garden

Normally I avoid spiders at all costs, but this year for some reason, I developed a fondness for one particular garden spider that spun a rather spectacular wed between two poles that support our pole beans.

My children and I affectionately came to know the spider as — you guessed it — Charlotte, and it was with amazement we came to know her ways: how she tended her web; how she scooted in for the kill when grasshoppers attempted to cross through her terrain; how she rocked back and forth, apparently trying to land a catch; how quickly she rebuilt her web after my youngest daughter accidentally dismantled it.

Charlotte’s kind generally sends chills up my spine and propels me to safer ground. But when I realized I was passing my irrational fear of these relatively harmless creatures on to my children, who quite sensibly would dive directly past the garden spiders to the ripened cherry tomatoes, I forced myself to accept these plentiful creatures for what they are: beneficial inhabitants of the miniature ecosystem we call our garden.

So every so often I went to Charlotte’s web and took notice of the changes going on there under the ash poles supporting her home. All summer, the black and yellow arachnid fastidiously tended to her house, or web, work, made her harvests and coexisted quite peaceably.

But these past few nights of fall’s cold certainly have taken their toll on old Charlotte. For about a week now, strands of her web that were quite taut have become frayed. And this morning when I awoke to temperatures around 45 degrees, Charlotte had abandoned her web and was found motionless on top of one of the ash poles.

Yes, autumn signals more than just the end of another season for some creatures. And for most gardeners, Mother Nature’s perennial message is met with mixed reaction. We want to at least begin to gear down for the long winter ahead, yet the chores seem endless. Most people have only begun to think about winterizing their homes, but they’ve made extensive plans for bulb plantings, await their orders and already anticipate spring’s flowers.

Next week, I’ll devote an entire column to bulb planting, but this week, I want to share several questions on bulbs that I received over the past month. Here are those questions and a sampling of questions submitted by other fellow gardeners:

Q: Do tulip bulbs last indefinitely or do you have to replace them after so many years? I know you have to separate them about every three years. S.L., Van Buren

A: Many Maine gardeners treat tulips as an annual, planting new bulbs each fall for next season’s enjoyment. If you have a perennial tulip bed, you’ve probably noticed that tulips propagate by bulblets — little bulbs that emerge from the sides of the original bulbs. These bulblets will in time produce their own shoots and flowers.

As you suggest, dividing or separating these bulblets from the masses will produce stronger, more prolific plants.

Q: If I have a flower bed where daffodils have perished previously, possibly from a virus, should I avoid planting other bulbs like tulips and muscari there in the future? D.H., Bangor

A: What a great question! I say, no, it should be fine to plant other bulbs in this particular bed.

Try adding some well-composted animal manure to your bed. This may improve the biological activity in your soil and improve the soil health, which will reflect in the health of your plants.

Q: Would you have an address for a nursery that specializes in wildflowers? I am looking for bunch berries and white trillium. E.U., Presque Isle

A: In spring a local nursery would probably be happy to order in some plants for you if it doesn’t already carry the plants. If not, you might try contacting Eastern Plant Specialties, Box 226, Georgetown Island, Maine 04548. The telephone number is 371-2888.

Q: I’m wondering if catchfly is an annual or perennial. I grew some in my garden several years ago and have had it return every year. The seed packet said it was an annual. H.R., Winterport.

A: Catchfly is indeed an annual but readily self-sows and typically will show up year after year in approximately the same spot in the garden. Its ability to establish with little intervention makes it a prime candidate for a homemade wildflower mix. Plants that grow from seed in this fashion are called volunteers.

Send gardening questions to the address below. I regret that I am unable to answer each question personally, so please don’t send an SASE with your question. If your club or organization is interested in posting a gardening-related event, allow at least three weeks’ notice before the event’s date.

Diana George Chapin is the NEWS garden columnist. Send horticulture questions to Gardening Questions, c/o Maine Weekend, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. Selected questions will be answered in future columns. Include name, address and telephone number.

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