5/30/14: In the garden this week

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My garden is so lovely right now that I have a lot of trouble tearing myself away. The ninebark shrub (Physocarpus opulifolius) and columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) show no signs of letting up, and the pollinator activity during the warmer parts of the day is incredible. The very cool nights will ensure a lengthy show for mid- and late-spring bloomers like these, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons. But many summer bloomers that have usually begun by now are still just showing buds. The last perennials in my “prairie,” Hibiscus moschato, emerged only last week. I thought the cold winter had killed them.

Because the nights remain cool, you can probably safely continue to plant shrubs and woody plants for another week or so, but beware of hot, sunny days. Newly planted material needs ample water to as it grows new roots and adjusts to its new environment. Perennials will need extra water for at least a few weeks. Woody plants will need it for the entire growing season; very large plants, for more than one season.

Here are some things you can attend to while you’re admiring the garden in this lovely spring weather:

plant warm weather crops such as basil, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, and beans, as well as annuals such as begonias. Begin to stake tomatoes and other large plants immediately on planting. Pick spring greens often and remove them when they begin to bolt.

IF you feel you must feed your lawn (which is completely unnecessary), apply a slow-acting organic fertilizer according to the package directions. And then don’t fertilize again until Labor Day.

– If you are continuing to plant and divide and move perennials, be sure to keep them well-watered after you plant, especially if the weather turns warm and sunny.

do not do any pruning except removal of dead or diseased material while woody plants are in active growth. They are using all their energy to accomplish the vital tasks of leafing out, blooming, and setting fruit. They have no energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next window of pruning time will come in midsummer.

— for better bloom next year, remove the flowers of spring-blooming shrubs such as lilacs after they finish blooming. The exception, of course, is fertile, fruit-bearing shrubs such as native species. The gorgeous flowers on this ninebark will turn into interesting looking fruit capsules in shades of reddish tan. The many tiny seeds will feed the birds next winter.

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Growing tomatoes

If you’re among the many people who put in tomato plants over Memorial Day weekend, a few simple suggestions will help you achieve a delectable crop (Although the moment you begin to grow any food crop, you begin to realize how difficult it is, and you develop a great respect for farmers). So using proper cultural practices certainly will help, but it won’t ensure a great crop. If we get 22 inches of rain in August like we did a couple of years ago, your tomatoes will crack on the vine.

1. Tomatoes are subject to many, many pests and diseases, so start with plants that are resistant. For example, the letters “VFN” after the name of a tomato variety means that it’s resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes, three of the most common problems. Read the label carefully. However, “resistant” doesn’t mean immune. Your plants can still get diseases, so it’s always important to use proper cultural practices.

2. Plant in a place with full sun and soil rich in organic matter. This is the place to use your compost. It also makes sense to try to grow your tomatoes in a different part of your garden each year.

3. Give the plants plenty of room. When planting, most people underestimate the size of a mature tomato plant. It’s understandable–you look at those tiny seedlings and stick them in the ground, perhaps a foot apart. Then you carefully place a 4′ stake or 3′ high tomato cage and look forward to coming back in six weeks or so for tomatoes. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way.

By August, that tiny seedling can easily be 8′ tall and full of side branches. Most likely, it will pull down that puny support and lie sprawling on the ground. Tomato plants are vines, not shrubs. They keep growing all season, and they keep putting out side branches, or suckers. The plant gets immensely crowded, the sun can’t reach most of the leaves, and air can’t circulate. Diseases take hold, and fruit production suffers.  So space your plants at least 2′ apart–3′ is better–and use stakes that are at least 8′ high.

4. Tie and stake your tomato plants properly. As the plant grows, be vigilant about removing suckers (side branches), and keeping the new growth tied to the support.

5. Water and feed wisely.   Tomato plants are fussy about how much water they need, especially when they’re producing fruit.

A third post from last year summarizes the most important rules. Good luck. Notice there are no pictures in this post? That’s because I’m not growing tomatoes this year.

5/23/14: In the garden this week

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In my mini-forest, cranberry bush viburnum (V. trilobum) is in full bloom. It has large flower clusters with very large sterile flowers around the outside and tiny fertile flowers in the center, just like many sterile hybrids. This is a greatly underused viburnum. It makes bright shiny red berries that remain all winter–they must not be very nutritious for wildlife. The berries of most viburnums are snapped up the second they ripen in late summer. This is a large multitrunked shrub that does well in all soil types and in sun or shade. The reference books say that it prefers wet soil, but it does great in my sandy soil. Look for it and give it a try.

Here’s a closeup of those lovely flower clusters:

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Memorial Day weekend was traditionally the time to plant tender crops such as beans, tomatoes, and squash, as well as annual flowers (which to me are just a waste of time and water). Lately, as the climate has warmed up, the conventional wisdom has said that Mother’s Day is now the time (we’re now in Zone 7, not Zone 6 as we used to be). Because of the very cool spring, Memorial Day seems safer this year–I planted basil last week and hope to get a chance to put in a few tomato plants next week.

So if you get a chance, in the midst of all your barbecuing and beer drinking and socializing here’s what you might accomplish in your garden:

plant warm weather crops such as basil, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, and beans, as well as annuals such as begonias.

IF you feel you must feed your lawn (which is completely unnecessary), apply a slow-acting organic fertilizer according to the package directions.

– If you are continuing to plant and divide and move perennials, be sure to keep them well-watered after you plant, especially if the weather turns warm and sunny. I generally stop moving and dividing plants around the end of May.

do not do any pruning except removal of dead or diseased material while woody plants are in active growth. They are using all their energy to accomplish the vital tasks of leafing out, blooming, and setting fruit. They have no energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next window of pruning time will come in midsummer. The exception is very early blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, which can be pruned once they’re fully leafed out. Prune early bloomers in late spring or early summer to allow them time to make next year’s flower buds.

– continue to pull up garlic mustard. However, because the plant has already set seed, DO NOT COMPOST IT. The temperature that develops in most home compost piles is not high enough to kill weed seeds. Discard the plants instead (or, if you are sure the plants haven’t been sprayed, eat them–there are many recipes for garlic mustard pesto and other delicacies on the web). This is one invasive you can really get rid of, since it’s a biennial. Pull it up this year and next year, and it’s gone from your property except for isolated seedlings from time to time.

Our lovely native geranium, Geranium  maculatum, is in full bloom right now. This has got to be the world’s easiest plant to grow, as long as you have a shady spot that’s not wet. It’s a true spring ephemeral, meaning that it emerges, blooms, sets seed, and goes dormant in spring. Plants like this need light in spring, so they prefer to live under trees that leaf out fairly late, as many native trees do (notice in the picture at the top of this post that the white ash tree in the background is just beginning to leaf out).

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Enjoy the garden this holiday weekend!

 

5/16/14: In the garden this week

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In the perennial garden, columbine and tiarella are in full bloom; native geraniums are just starting to bloom; and Canada anemones and Virginia waterleaf are showing buds. The earliest viburnum to bloom, V. prunifolium, is in full bloom, as is chokeberry (see the photo below). Other viburnums, dogwood shrubs, and ninebark are showing buds and should bloom within the next two weeks. The earliest summer-blooming perennial in my garden, Penstemon digitalis, is beginning to put up flower stalks. And all the perennials have finally emerged from dormancy.

The cooler weather, particularly the relatively cool nights, is predicted to continue this week, so we can think of ourselves as still being in mid-spring for at least a week longer. So continue with your spring gardening chores:

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. The nights are still quite cool.

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).

— while the weather, especially the night-time temperature, remains cool, continue to plant and divide and move perennials. Just be sure to keep them well-watered after you plant, especially if the weather turns warm and sunny.

do not do any pruning except removal of dead or diseased material while woody plants are in active growth. They are using all their energy to accomplish the vital tasks of leafing out, blooming, and setting fruit. They have no energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next window of pruning time will come in midsummer. The exception is very early blooming shrubs, such as forsythia, which can be pruned once they’re fully leafed out. Prune early bloomers in late spring or early summer to allow them time to make next year’s flower buds.

– continue to pull up garlic mustard. However, because the plant is already setting seed, DO NOT COMPOST IT. The temperature that develops in most home compost piles is not high enough to kill weed seeds. Discard the plants instead (or, if you are sure the plants haven’t been aprayed, eat them–there are many recipes for garlic mustard pesto and other delicacies on the web). This is one invasive you can really get rid of, since it’s a biennial. Pull it up this year and next year, and it’s gone from your property except for isolated seedlings from time to time.

Soon it probably be time to plant summer crops and tender herbs such as basil. Check back next week for an update. In the meantime, enjoy the garden after the rain tomorrow.

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All at once

Spring began later than usual this year, but as predicted by many experts, later-bloomers have caught up with early bloomers, and now everything seems to be in bloom at once. It’s wonderful and glorious and hard to keep up. Right now, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and nannyberry (Viburnum prunifolium) are in full bloom in my garden, and cranberry bush viburnum (V. trilobum) isn’t far behind. This picture shows flowering dogwood, chokeberry, and cranberry bush (greenish flower clusters at top and bottom right) in my miniforest.

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I don’t like to play favorites, but the spring-blooming perennials are among the plants I love best. Today the first native geranium (G. maculata) opened, while tiarella is in full bloom and columbine is just beginning its show.

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I am so happy to welcome these good friends back to my garden year after year. It’s very hard for me to tear myself away from my garden in spring.

 

5/9/14: in the garden this week

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This picture was taken a few days ago–after the rain stopped this afternoon,  I noticed that the first dogwood flowers (the tiny green things in the middle are the real flowers) are open. There’s nothing like a careful survey of a garden you know intimately after a spring rain–the plants grow so fast they seem to jump out of the ground. Most of the last perennials to emerge are up now, the milkweeds and wild quinine. The only one I haven’t seen yet is wild petunia, Ruellia humilis.

Here’s a list of garden tasks you might consider, especially while the weather stays cool:

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. Same goes for woody plants. Plant while the weather stays cool.

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).

do not do any pruning except removal of dead or diseased material while woody plants are in active growth. They are using all their energy to accomplish the vital tasks of leafing out, blooming, and setting fruit. They have no energy to spare for making scar tissue. The next window of pruning time will come in midsummer.

— get out there and pull up garlic mustard. The plant is just coming into bloom, so now is the time, before it sets seed; the ground is wet, which makes weeding easy. This is one invasive you can really get rid of, since it’s a biennial. Pull it up this year and next year, and it’s gone from your property except for isolated seedlings from time to time.

Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is just coming into bloom . Here’s what the flower buds looked like a couple of days ago:

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Happy Mother’s Day and a wonderful spring weekend to all. It’s going to rain for a while, but think how lovely everything will look when it stops!

 

Lilacs blooming for Mother’s Day

used to be normal. This year, because of the unusually cold winter, that’s what they’re doing, but most years lilacs now bloom in this area around the third week in April. That’s a huge change that’s happened over no more than the past thirty years. Climate change is real, as a new report, the National Climate Assessment, makes clear. Here’s today’s lead in the NY Times, summarizing the findings, and here’s a link to the report itself.

In case you don’t think climate change will affect you personally, here are just a few possible effects: more insect pests such as mosquitoes and tree-killing borers and beetles as increasingly mild winters fail to keep populations down; more insect-borne disease; more major storms that knock down trees and cause extensive and expensive flooding; more invasive plants, as destructive species such as miscanthus grass (already invasive in the southern states) and kudzu move north; more flooding as the sea level continues its inexorable rise; more expensive food as drought tightens its hold on major agricultural areas.

Don’t be fooled by this year’s unusually cold winter. That’s just one year. More important are the trends, which are harder for us humans to see (until we remember that lilacs bloomed for Mother’s Day when we were kids). According to the Times article, “over the past half-century, the proportion of precipitation that is falling in very heavy rain events has jumped by 71 percent in the Northeast.”  More storms, more damage, more destruction.