Full bloom


Serviceberry (Amelanchier) is finally in full bloom–wasn’t it worth waiting for? For more information on this wonderful and underused plant, see this post. For a look at serviceberry trees in bloom, hurry to the FairLawn Arboretum on FairLawn Avenue between Radburn and Well Drive. Walk to the back, where you’ll see three exquisite trees in bloom. But hurry. It won’t last long.


4/25/14: In the garden this week


My plants arrived yesterday, so I have no time to write this post. I want to be in the garden. That’s where you should be this weekend, and this is what you should be doing:

plant perennials: the cool weather is perfect for establishment of strong root systems. Be sure to rough up the roots when planting, give them a good soaking to eliminate air pockets on the soil, and keep them watered during dry spells for the entire growing season.

plant cool weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and peas. It you have room, sow a row each week. Keep the seedlings well watered. DO NOT plant warm-weather crops (almost anything besides the ones I listed above) until sometime in late May.

reseed bare lawn patches while the weather is still cool, or, better yet, plant something else such as native perennials or shrubs. Lawn grasses will not grow in a spot that is very shady or very wet. DO NOT feed the lawn until Memorial Day (if you feel you must feed).

enjoy this lovely spring. I can’t wait to get out in the garden, but I’ll just leave you with this photo of one of my American plum trees (Prunus americana), taken this morning. The photo doesn’t do it justice, and there’s no way to capture the heavenly scent.


What plants talk about

While you’re out there gardening–ripping out weeds, moving plants to new locations, dividing perennials–spare a thought for the way those plants are reacting. Are they silently screaming “Ouch”? Or perhaps they’re politely saying “excuse me” and introducing themselves to their new neighbors. New research, presented in a recent Slate article and a PBS documentary, suggests that plants not only react to their environments but also think and communicate with one another. For example, a plant that’s attacked by a pest not only creates a chemical defense to protect itself but also somehow warns other nearby plants. That’s probably why I rarely see aphids on more than a single branch tip in my entire garden.

I’m still going to add new species to my garden and move plants around each spring, but I’m going to be even more careful about choosing the right sites. After all, those plants already have enough to do without struggling to adapt themselves to the wrong soil, sun, or moisture conditions.

Spring gardening



The lovely native red maples (Acer rubrum–red flowers) are in bloom right now, as are the wretched invasive Norway maples (Acer platanoides–green flowers).

I’ve finally been able to make time for gardening over the past three or four days, and I’ve got most of my perennial beds cleaned up, meaning I’ve removed last year’s stems and leaves and set them aside for composting as needed. Because of the warm, sunny days, many plants are showing signs of growth, but because of the very cool nights, just as many are still dormant, so I’m very careful about where I dig. Because my beds are planted so thickly, I have very few markers. There are just too many plants for me to be able to mark them all! I do try to mark all new plants, because I may not recognize them when they come up the next spring.

The prairie beds, also known as sunny borders, still look very sparse. The shade garden, which is full of early emerging spring ephemerals, is almost solid green, although there are few flowers yet. Fern fronds are starting to unfurl. I am gradually dividing shade-lovers to fill in the newly expanded shade garden in the front. It’s a nice break from clearing perennial beds.

Lawns are finally greening up, but it’s much too early to feed them. I know that the Scott’s commercials tell you to fertilize twice in spring, but this is totally unnecessary and goes against current horticultural knowledge. If you must fertilize your lawn, only two yearly applications are necessary, around Memorial Day and Labor Day, and both should be organic products. This is a good time to reseed bare patches (although early fall is better), or to decide that you have places where grass just won’t grow. There’s still plenty of time to plant perennials or shrubs instead of lawn.

This is NOT a good time to prune woody plants, except to remove diseased or damaged growth. Plants are in active growth, and they have no energy to spare to heal the wounds that pruning causes. Early bloomers like forsythia can be cut back after they finish blooming. but don’t prune late bloomers in spring or you’ll get no flowers this year.

Here are some pictures taken in the Thielke Arboretum today:


Skunk cabbage is leafed out. Here it’s framed by the delicate yellow flowers of spicebush.


Fern fronds, skunk cabbage, and the tiny emerging leaves of Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense).



Slowly, slowly

A cool spring is a long-lasting one. The cool temperatures mean that plants wake up slowly–which of course is delightful for ornamentals but annoying, to say the least, for food crops. I planted early spring greens on Aprill 3, and they’ve barely germinated. We had two very warm days early this week, which seemed to wake everything up, so that forsythia, magnolias, ornamental cherries, red maples, and other early bloomers came into full bloom. Then it got cold again, so they’re staying there. It’s quite lovely.

I don’t have any early bloomers as showy as a hybrid magnolia or cherry in my garden (the very early, very showy cherries and magnolias are all sterile hybrids of mostly Asian species), but I don’t lack for lovely spring-flowering shrubs. Right now, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is in full bloom


I’m pretty sure these are male flowers–if you look very closely, you can see the stamens. Go take a walk in a wet woodland this weekend, and the whole place will be lit up with these tiny flowers. In late summer, spicebush produces bright red berries that birds adore.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier) flowers are opening tantalizingly slowly.


Compare this picture to one of the same branch taken last week. Notice how the individual flower buds are now visible.

A long, slow spring allows more time for savoring. Try to get out to the woods soon to enjoy it.

Dutchman’s breeches


I planted the tiny corms of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) more than 15 years ago. It’s never bloomed abundantly for me, because it prefers richer soil than I have, but most years I see a few flowers around April 1. In recent years it hasn’t bloomed, so last year I divided the patch and moved the corms around, hoping to find a spot the plant liked better. Today this one bloomed in the original spot.

Dutchman’s breeches is named for the shape of the flower, which does look like a tiny pair of pantaloons hanging upside down. The plant is only a few inches high; it blooms in earliest spring and disappears very quickly. It’s in the same genus, Dicentra, as the bleeding hearts, which have showier pink flowers. Our native bleeding heart, D. eximia, which is about 8″ tall, will bloom soon. The showy old-fashioned bleeding heart is D. spectabilis, and it’s not native. The fourth member of the genus you might know is D. formosa, a non-native that’s very similar to D. eximia. If you have a shady spot with rich soil, D. cucullaria and D. eximia are well worth a try.