2020 Garden Update

Last Sunrise of 2020
The last sunrise of 2020 at my home here in Virginia -- amazingly vivid colors in the atmosphere this year

2020 Garden Update. Wow, wow, wow! 2020 has been quite the year! And what an understatement. So many things happened this year that I eventually had to make a list. Who knew that our “normal” lives would change so much? I sure was surprised.

Super cute toad
This reddish toad was hanging around my backyard all summer

As far as the garden goes, we started out 2020 by having a fairly light Winter (almost zero snow!) and an early Spring. Bulbs were coming up and trees were beginning to bud. Everything seemed to be on track for a great year. Then something called the COVID-19 Pandemic shut down most businesses in my area in mid-March. Schools were closed and “virtual learning” became the norm. Face masks became the norm as well as fashion statements. Usually, in the past, I only wore a mask outside when the pollen count was super high. Life did not continue as normal. “Normal” was no longer the normal that we once knew. Social distancing, once considered to be standoffish, became the norm.

2020 Crocuses
Crocuses that came up out of nowhere in 2020

No trips to the garden center or big box stores for me for a while. A rush of online ordering meant that plant seeds were in low supply. Everyone seemed to be starting their own veggie and herb gardens for the first time. I ordered my organic herb and flower seeds online from Whole Foods Market of all places! That’s the only place I found them in stock.

Seeds available at Whole Foods Market
Plant seed packets were scarce online in early 2020 after the shutdown so I was luck to find some at Whole Foods Market for delivery

Most of our garden centers stayed open as “essential” businesses and services and were busy havens for those who wanted to get outside for some fresh air. Local parks and neighborhoods were filled with people out walking on almost a daily basis. I ventured out of the house maybe a dozen times for trips to the post office and grocery stores over the past 9+ months of shutdown. Didn’t get to my favorite garden center this season to view all their wonderful holiday decorations as my annual “fun” solo outing. Maybe next year…. It’s gotta be better next year…right? But let’s talk about gardening happenings in 2020 that were really mostly awesome.

Awesome blue skies in 2020
2020 brought us some very clear and very blue skies

2020 brought some very different garden metrics this year. Probably the most interesting of all: The vast number of berries on the berry-producing bushes this Winter. And the most exciting: The increasing number of different types of birds that visited my property this entire year and the vividly colored sunrises and sunsets. Lots of other anomalies happened in 2020 as well. Most of us had time to get out into the garden and tidy up a lot more often due to self quarantine and social distancing.

Garden Meme 2020
2020 self-quarantine did help us tidy our gardens (image credit: Memezila)

Normally, they live inside storm window tracks but this year I had a lot of grass-carrying wasps inside the house. Supposedly, if you have these wasps nesting in your window tracks, it’s a sign that good things are to come. We normally have them in the storm window tracks but rarely do they venture inside the house. Additionally, I kept finding ichneumon wasps inside as well.

Outside, there were spiders galore but not a lot of spider webs — until September — and then they were everywhere! I’m a fan of most spiders so I’m regularly relocating them back outside when I find them inside the house. Also, my dog likes to chase them so he is officially the Spider Finder. This cute jumping spider hung out for a few days inside my screened porch and then disappeared.

Jumping Spider
One of the cutest happenings of 2020 was this friendly little jumping spider

This year of 2020, we had far fewer bees and butterflies. I thought it was likely due to a neighbor having his property professionally sprayed repeatedly for mosquitoes. For whatever reason, he thinks that spraying insecticides is better than dumping his standing water and generally cleaning up his property. 2019 had brought loads of monarch butterflies! This year, I saw only two monarchs. We had maybe a half dozen swallowtail butterflies. I saw very few bumblebees and carpenter bees visiting my flowers — other years there were tons. Normally, we also have honeybees from local farms stopping by. I saw no honeybees this year. And the jury is still out as to whether that professional mosquito spraying is actually “safe” for humans and pets. If so, why was that lawn service employee with the backpack insecticide blower wearing what looked like a gas mask? Covid protection? Maybe this year, but the same odd headgear was noted previously.

A monarch visits flowers
A monarch butterly visits coneflowers in 2019

Because of the vast numbers of different kinds of birds that I haven’t noticed visiting here in the past, an abundance of assassin bugs, we had very few Japanese beetles. The JBs had been on the decline for a few years anyway. They tend to congregate on my grapevines and climbing hydrangeas. I’m glad to see them go.

Robins, the usual sign of Spring, seemed to gravitate to my property all year round. Most days saw dozens of robins hopping across my yard looking for earthworms and insects. This year also brought different types of warblers and even a family of brown thrushes. I saw just a few hummingbirds this year as my usual pink and red flowers didn’t perform much at all this year.

Anna's Hummingbird
Hummingbirds are fun to watch and beneficial to the environment

We had lots of frogs and toads this year. My dog, Atticus, kept finding toads. He thinks he would like to eat the toads but I’m pretty sure that they taste bad. He doesn’t believe me though.

Addy wants the toad
My dog Atticus was convinced that I would EAT the toad before he could get to it

I saw at least two kinds of frog tadpoles in my ponds this year. Usually we get three kinds at least: green frogs, gray tree frogs, and bullfrogs. There was no “late” hatch in November in the whiskey barrel pond this year. The bullfrogs usually lay their eggs late in the season and their tadpoles overwinter in the ponds. It’s believed that the bullfrog tadpoles have a “jump” on other tadpoles born in the Spring. Not sure why there were no bullfrog tadpoles. There were several frog hatches from Spring through late Summer. The frogs have figured out that the whiskey barrel pond doesn’t contain fish — so their eggs won’t be devoured by the fish. Smart frogs.

A young frog emerges from the pond
A young frog emerges from the whiskey barrel pond

2020 saw the emergence of the early 2021-era BROOD X cicadas that will be taking over the landscape in my area in Spring. I was able to snap a few photos and even took an award-winning video of this BROOD X cicada. He appeared to be waving at me…or waving away the camera due to shyness. Either way, he was “cute” and had a nice little personality. He hung around on my outdoor teak table for a few days then disappeared. I saw a few of the usual annual cicadas as always. Head to Cicadamania for more information on cicadas. There’s also an app called Cicada Safari that you can use to report cicada sightings in your area.

Early emerging Brood X cicada
Brood X cicada emerges a year early and wins a prize in a Virginia Tech contest

Lots of snakes including copperheads visited the property this year. Our hot tub’s motherboard was zapped by a close lightning strike and we chose not to fix or replace the hot tub. Additionally, due to lack of use, it became a mouse hotel. The little critters chewed through the insulation and made little mouse condos. That is, until the black rat snakes found them and it was time for a feast.

HotTub Demo reveals mouse tunnel
HotTub Demo reveals mouse tunnel inside insulation

My husband was in process of dismanteling the hot tub components when a venomous copperhead snake arrived to check it out. We are guessing that the copperhead snake was attracted by the mouse odor. Ugh. We usually don’t see many copperheads as they tend to hang out down by the creek that runs through the back of our property.

Young copperhead snake
A young copperhead snake on our driveway was attracted to the mouse odor in the hot tub components

My snake-loving buddy Mark came to remove and relocate the young copperhead snake. Mark is also a member of the Virginia Herpetological Society and a licensed wildlife removal expert.

Mark picks up copperhead snake
My friend Mark came to relocate the copperhead snake to another location

Fox families were few and far between in 2020 and thankfully none with the dreaded mange. One robust and loud raccoon family was seen off and on. A pack of three coyotes arrived a few years ago and are aggressively hunting in our area. That doesn’t stop the neighbors with cats from allowing their cats to roam at all hours! One cat on a nearby road was caught and killed by a coyote — all caught on tape by the owner’s outdoor camera. The coyotes run really fast — that is how I can tell they’re not foxes when I see their movement. Also, the coyotes camouflage nicely into the environment so not easy to see them. I have seen the pack of three running at night on my back property. They appear to be wary of humans. I’m not interested in exploring that idea too closely though….

One of our bow hunters perched in his tree stand caught this coyote on camera (Photo Credit: BGentile)

Aggressive vultures this year mostly by being fed food scraps by neighbors. Never before have I been outside and nearly “attacked” because I did not have food for these vultures. Scared me.

Vultures that my neighbors feed
The vultures that my neighbors feed have gotten aggressive this year — 2020

In 2019 we were really overrun with lots of deer. They certainly enjoyed eating the buds off my azalea bushes. In 2020, we had very few deer except one family. Usually the doe, buck, and fawns don’t hang around together as a family unit. This year, that’s the only deer grouping that we saw on the property. One Sunday morning, I saw the doe and her fawn. Then along came the buck. That buck was so tame. I was inside my backyard black chain link fence (he was outside the fence) and just talking to him. He just stood there, curiously listening to me, completely unafraid or timid. Eventually, the buck laid down in our front yard and stayed there for about 4 hours. Normally, we have tons of acorns which attract the deer. This year, we had almost no acorns. To the dismay of our bow hunters, I’m pretty sure the lack of acorns was a main driver to the lack of deer.

Large stately buck  in 2020
This lovely buck spent some time napping in my front yard one Sunday while his doe and fawn grazed on my azaleas

2020 brought us a bear. Yes, a BEAR. A yearling bear was discovered traveling about a 12 mile path between Fairfax Station, Virginia and Annandale, Virginia — and back. Strangely enough, I found out about its adventures from our local Animal Shelter after one of our GoogleNest cameras spotted the bear overnight in our driveway in August. I contacted the animal shelter and was referred to a Fairfax County wildlife officer who was working with State of Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources to track the bear’s activity. I remember seeing that bear when it was a cub in 2019 on my back property. I had thought it was a very large raccoon but it didn’t ramble along like the raccoons do.

A bear visits my property
A young bear visits my property in August 2020

Another set of 2020 observations: Plants that normally flower a lot — didn’t. Plants that don’t usually flower much — flowered a ton. My peonies usually flower abundantly. This year, I had only TWO peony flowers. TWO! Across about 30 plants. I thought maybe something was eating the buds but only the two buds had formed.

Peony flowers
This year my multiple peony plants only produced TWO flowers!

Same with berry production. Something very strange: The wild hollies that we have in the wooded areas that never had berries before are now overloaded with berries! Also the euonymus bushes and the nandina bushes were laden with berries. With the limited number of pollinators this year, I’m not really sure how those berries developed. We’ll chock it up to 2020 weirdness.

Holly berries
2020 brought tons of berries to the wild hollies
Nandina bushes with lots of berries
The nandina bushes had a lot more berries than usual
Euonymus Berries
Euonymus bushes have very unique berries and were very colorful and overloaded in 2020

Amazing leaf color in the Fall displayed quite a show this year due to several feet of rain received. Last year in 2019, my Davis weather station measured about 30 inches of rain. This year, it will likely close out with over 48 inches of rain. And that is with very little measurable snow in 2020. Unbelievable. I have an additional rain gauge that is battery operated as a backup and it’s measured 42 inches so far this year. I’m guessing the Davis weather station’s measurement is more accurate also because it has no tree canopy overhang yet the backup one does.

Bright colors in fall 2020
Autumn 2020 brought lots of color to the landscape
Oakleaf hydrangea colorful leaves
My oakleaf hydrangeas had stellar leaves this year in bright purples, magentas, and oranges
Stately bright yellow and gold hickory
My favorite of all the trees on my property is this stately hickory that changes from lemon yellow to bright yellow to neon orange to a rich rust color each Fall
Oakleaf Hydrangeas show off with a bright red Japanese maple tree
Oakleaf Hydrangeas show off their color along with a bright red Japanese Maple

Quite a number of huge oaks that are very stately, not to mention well over 80 years old, are succumbing to a tree disease called hypoxylon canker that is spreading widely here on the East Coast. The diseased trees eventually get white or light gray patches on their bark. We like to blame it on the Tree Killer neighbor who cut down a lot of live and healthy trees upon his arrival (he doesn’t like leaves but also doesn’t understand their value or the trees’ value to the forest). The forest inhabitants do communicate with each other and can respond in kind. However, it could be due to cicada or other insect damage as well as the canker diseases that are running rampant. We have lost 10 huge oaks on our property over the past few years with more to come. And it’s not cheap to have them professionally cut down either.

Oak Tree Disease
One of the oak tree diseases called Hypoxylon Canker which is identified by silver gray patches on bark is affecting many oaks in my area

Trying to undo some of the mistakes of my past garden activities, I’m attempting to replace deceased and declining non-native plantings with native ones. Sure those butterfly bushes (buddleia) are gorgeous and bring on lots of butterflies and other pollinators. However, they’re also popping up all over the place. I’ve been pulling them up all year. Another invasive is the Chinese beautyberry bush which is popping up everywhere. There is a native Virginia beautyberry that I didn’t know about.

Super gorgeous butterfly attractant — the sweet-smelling flower from the Buddleia — butterfly bush!!!! (Photo Credit: Adroit Ideals)

I severely cut back an overgrown climbing hydrangea, also not native, which was taking over a trellised wall around our former hot tub’s location. It needed to be tamed so we could use the area again.

Overgrown climbing hydrangea
My climbing hydrangea which took a while to fill out and bloom needed to be trimmed back

The climbing hydrangea doesn’t look great after pruning but will recover over the next year.

Pruning back climbing hydrangea reveals garden art
By pruning back my overgrown climbing hydrangea, my garden art and trellis wall were again revealed

My husband has enlarged the small concrete slab into a nice concrete patio with a fire pit. That project’s not complete yet but I will post photos when done.

Expanded concrete patio
The death of our hot tub created a new project — expansion of the concrete slab into a larger patio and future fire pit

2020 also brought some memorable brightly-colored sunrises and sunsets. Maybe it was the lack of vehicle emissions in the atmosphere. Who knows. I just totally enjoyed them.

Pink Orange Sunrise
Pink Orange Sunrise
Reddish Sunrise
Reddish Sunrise
Yellow Orange Sunrise
Yellow Orange Sunrise

My herb garden in pots did ok this year. The basil didn’t last due to basil blight but that is expected. I planted some lettuces and arugula in my raised bed garden which did not take off at all. The organic potting soil must have been tainted and also not a surprise. I planted marigold seeds in early May which did not grow fast and did not actually FLOWER until mid-October. I got three flowers and then they died off. Sigh. Usually marigolds are prolific for me.

Lettuces didn't survive
My raised bed was planted with lots of lettuces, arugula and spring mix seeds and pretty much nothing survived
Late marigold flower
My marigold seeds were planted in early May and didn’t flower until mid-October

Here’s the last sunrise of 2020. Amazingly vivid colors in the atmosphere.

Last Sunrise of 2020
The last sunrise of 2020 at my home here in Virginia — amazingly vivid colors in the atmosphere this year

I hope you have enjoyed reading this 2020 Garden Update. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time outside in the garden and didn’t write a lot this year. If you get a chance, follow A Gardener’s Delight on Facebook. I do post there a bit more often.

Thanks for following A Gardener’s Delight blog and for giving me feedback on my postings. I’m not sure I can jump to 2021 fast enough! Let’s hope that 2021 brings happiness, good health, and love to everyone. Peace to all!

Jumping from 2020 to 2021
Can’t jump to 2021 fast enough! (image credit: googleimages)

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