8/30/13: In the garden this week

Sky-blue aster (Aster Azureua)

Sky-blue aster (Aster azureus) is just coming into bloom–the second aster to bloom in my garden this year. Fall blooming is late this year: New England asters, boltonia, and goldenrods are all still just showing buds. Sky-blue aster, like all members of the genus but even more so, is a favorite food of rabbits, so only a few manage to bloom in my garden. This one is tucked in back of some taller plants, among some little bluestem grass, and it just manages to poke its flowering stalk toward the front of the border each year. This is my favorite aster–the color is exquisite, and this photo doesn’t do it justice, You’ll just have to grow it for yourself. It’s low-growing, likes full sun, and isn’t fussy about soil.

If you are a person who fertilizes your lawn, this is the time to do it, around Labor day. I do not advocate fertilizing lawns, preferring to use a mulching mower instead and nourish grass plants with their own excess growth, but if you feel you absolutely must, do it only now, around Labor Day, and use an organic product. This is a good time because warm-season grasses are still growing actively and cool-season grasses are about to begin an active growth period, so the products you use are most likely to actually be taken up by the plants and used, rather than washed away.

Here are some other things you should do in the garden this week:

– plant your fall vegetable garden: cool-weather crops such as lettuce, arugula, peas, and mustards (brassicas).

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to fertilize or water. We received a bit less than 1″ of rain this week.

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– harvest squash and beans before they get large and tough. Pull up bean plants when they stop producing. Pull up and discard (do not compost) warm-weather plants such as cucumbers, squash, and beans that are attacked by insects or disease.

– continue to stake tomato plants firmly as they grow and remove all suckers. While plants are producing fruit, cut back on watering to prevent cracking. If the weather continues hot and we get no rain next week, you might give an inch of water.

– identify pests before taking action: most insects are harmless or beneficial, and many harmful ones can be easily removed by hand-picking. Expect pest populations to decline naturally as the weather cools down.

– take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores: carry out remedial or cosmetic pruning as needed.

Enjoy the long weekend, the last one of summer, in the garden!

 

Advertisements

Transitioning to fall

DSCN0926

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is a highlight of my fall garden. This highly agreeable plant grows in a variety of conditions (it’s supposed to like much wetter conditions than my site provides), is trouble-free, self-seeds readily, and is easy to divide and share but is never aggressive. You may be familiar with its cousin, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), named for its bright red flowers that are the color of a cardinal’s hat. If you have a wet site, that plant may work for you–it’s less tolerant than great blue lobelia, so I can’t grow it. In nature, you often see it growing along pond shores. Both species like at least a few hours of sun and grow perhaps 3 feet high.

Lobelia is at the height of its bloom right now; it began about two weeks ago. When it begins to bloom, I know that fall is coming. And to me, fall means asters and goldenrod and white snakeroot. Look carefully at the bottom right of the photo above, and you’ll see the heart-leaved asters (Aster cordifolius) just beginning to bloom.

Heart-leaved aster is a shade-loving species. There are many shade-loving asters, all with lacy, fragile-looking, small white flowers. But there’s nothing fragile about them. Take a walk in the woods anywhere in the northeast in fall and it’s hard to miss them.

Asters, lobelia, goldenrod, and snakeroot provide autumn color in my shade gardens, taking over the role the spring ephemerals played a few months ago. Notice the foliage of Canada anemone, Solomon’s seal, and columbine in the photos. Those plants all bloomed in the very same place in spring. The fall bloomers are not quite as showy, but they’re very welcome all the same, and they provide the same environmental service, providing pollen for insects and, later, seeds for birds.

DSCN0937

If you don’t grow any fall-blooming natives, consider planting them next spring. That will give you a whole year to look forward to them.

Six jars of jam

DSCN0833

Last week, I produced 4 jars–count them 4 whole jars–of pectin-free jam from my elderberries and aronia berries plus some prune plums bought at the market (4 pounds of fruit made 4 small jars of jam). It’s quite delicious, tart and sort of wild tasting. Aronia is very astringent and doesn’t taste quite like other fruits we’re used to eating.

Then, over the past week, as the plums on my American plum trees ripened, I picked a bowlful every other day until I had about four pounds of fruit. I stewed half of it with honey and a cinnamon stick and a little bit of water and put it in the fridge to eat with yogurt and granola. The other half I macerated with sugar last night, and tonight I made 2 more little jars of jam (for a total of six). Right now, it’s cooling down after being sterilized in a boiling water bath.

DSCN0883

DSCN0915

DSC_1168

DSC_1169

DSCN0925

Did you ever see anything such a gorgeous color as those plums? They’re orange-red on the outside with a lovely whitish bloom, and the flesh is apricot color.

OK, enough about my fruit/jam obsession. Please forgive me–I grew up in a small apartment in Queens, and I never made jam before last year.

8/23/13: In the garden this week

DSCN0914

Rudbeckia triloba (brown-eyed susan) is still going strong; note the about-to-open pods of orange butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) at the bottom left. Although the garden is showing many signs of fall, some perennials will continue to bloom for at least another month, and some, such as asters and boltonia, have barely begun. There will be food for pollinating insects and for birds for many months to come.

After a couple of hot days and the nearest we’ve been to a dry spell this summer, we seem to be back to moderate temperatures and rainfall. We had about an inch of gentle rainfall this week, which is ideal during the tomato harvest.

Consider these chores this weekend:

– plant your fall vegetable garden: cool-weather crops such as lettuce, arugula, peas, and mustards (brassicas).

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to fertilize or water. We received about 1″ of rain this week.

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– harvest squash and beans before they get large and tough. Pull up bean plants when they stop producing.

– continue to stake tomato plants firmly as they grow and remove all suckers. While plants are producing fruit, cut back on watering to prevent cracking. Given the amount of rain we have received this week, there is no need to water.

– monitor the garden carefully for pests and diseases; remove and discard infected leaves on vegetable plants.

– identify pests before taking action: most insects are harmless or beneficial, and many harmful ones can be easily removed by hand-picking. Expect pest populations to decline naturally as the weather cools down.

– take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores: carry out remedial or cosmetic pruning as needed.

And as always, enjoy the weekend in the garden!

Native plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

DSCN0859

Today a friend (and fellow gardener) and I finally got to the new native plant garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Before you enter the garden, which includes a variety of habitats, both sun and shade, you see this wonderful border. Right now, joe-pye week (Eupatorium) and goldenrod (Solidago) dominate, and you can also see pokeweed (Phylolacca americana). It’s almost as messy as my perennial borders at this time of year, and I think, just as beautiful.

The shade garden, built around the garden’s original early-twentieth-century native plant garden and anchored by huge oaks and sweet gums, was the most appealing part of the exhibit on this very hot day.  We saw mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) with huge fruits. Mine never set fruit, and they always go dormant long before this time of year.

DSCN0869

We saw a striking composite, 6 feet tall and blooming in shade, that neither of us could identify. Turned out to be wingstem, Actinomeris alternifolia. I’ve never seen this plant offered commercially, but it’s certainly one to look for.

DSCN0872

The sunny part of the garden is all brand new; the different sections show off plants of different local habitats. Like the introductory border I showed you in the first photo, these gardens are all informal, mingling flowering perennials with grasses in a natural style.

DSCN0877

Here’s another joe-pye weed, this time a shorter one, with a Cassia species, either wild senna (C. helocarpa) or partridge pea (C. fasciculata), and native grasses. These plants are suitable for dry, sunny sites.

Finally we got a good view of the green roof of the new visitor’s center, planted with native prairie grasses and designed by New York Green Roofs. I was happy to finally see it, because it was designed by my teacher at NYBG, Chris Brunner, and we learned a lot about it during our course in green technology.

DSCN0880

 

 

The wilds of New Jersey

DSC_1122

Yup, that’s New Jersey. We hiked in Norvin Green State Forest near Wanaque today. Note the slight hint of red on the maples–it’s been a cool summer (but today it was quite hot).

Each year, we participate in the Invasives Strike Force, a partnership among several environmental organizations sponsored by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. The Strike Force is a citizen-scientist program that trains interested people to monitor hiking trails for invasive plants and then goes out and eradicates invasives along our lovely local hiking trails. You attend a training session and then are assigned a trail section, usually a 2-mile loop; following a specific protocol, you check that trail for invasive plants. I’m happy to say that we saw very few invasives on our trail section today, except near the roads, and those most of those we did find were still few in number so should be fairly easy to control.

We hiked through a beautiful second-growth forest primarily of oaks (red and chestnut oak) and red maple with an understory of witchhazel and a shrub layer of blueberries. The ground layer was very varied; in addition to gazillions of blueberry bushes, there was Solomon’s seal, ferns, sedges, Canada mayflower, hepatica, and many, many other plants. On rocky outcroppings there was little bluestem, a native prairie grass.

DSC_1119

And, of course, there was abundant wildlife, including numerous amphibians and lots of spiders.

DSC_1116

DSC_1129

Our dog, Fudge, always accompanies us on hikes and is expert at finding the trail when we are in danger of losing it. We think he must smell the presence of humans. The trails we were on today were little used and could have done with a few more blazes, but Fudge kept us going in the right direction. He’s not as young as he used to be, so he takes every opportunity to lie down in a cool spot.

DSC_1126

He’s lying in a patch of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum). Notice how it crowds out all other vegetation–a textbook example of invasiveness.

Wait ’til next year

The weather is still remarkably cool, and it’s starting to look like fall. The plants are getting ready–the hazelnuts have formed small catkins (the male flowers that will bloom in very early spring), and perennials that have basal leaves throughout the winter have formed them. We can’t go outside without disturbing the goldfinches among the sunflowers and the catbirds among the pokeberries and raspberries (they’ve finished off the grey dogwood and elderberries). Berries of spicebush and flowering dogwood will show color soon.

It’s time to think about next year. Whatever the season, gardeners always focus on how the garden can be better, but starting now and extending through the winter, it’s all about next year. How can I improve my tomato harvest?  grow cucumbers despite wilt? cut back those rampant Rudbeckias so the shorter plants can thrive? get rid of the bare spot on the lawn without using chemicals? make my garden m ore sustainable? It’s time to list this year’s successes and failures while they’re still fresh in my mind, do some research, make some plans, and then, wait ’til next year.

What’s on your list for next year?