Warm reds

It’s cold and windy outside, but the garden is enlivened by many remaining leaves, fruits, and even flowers in lovely shades of orange and red.

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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

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Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)

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Native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervivens, unknown cultivar)

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American hazelnut (Corylus americana)

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Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

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Viburnum trilobum (cranberrybush)

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Sustainable . . . soybeans?

Sustainability is a hard concept to pin down, and usually we  don’t associate it with the huge farms in the midwest that grow soybeans and corn to be turned into processed foods. I mean, a monoculture–a corn field, or a bean field, or a lawn, for that matter–is, by definition, not sustainable.  So since everyone in the developed world isn’t going to start cultivating little vegetable plots and living off the land, how do we make our food supply more sustainable? It’s a big question, and it’s why a lot of people today buy their vegetables from CSAs or local farm markets and try to avoid processed food.

It seems that the CEO of Unilever, a huge industrial producer of food and household products (think Hellman’s mayonnaise, Lipton tea, Maille mustard, several brands of detergent), decided several years ago to make the company sustainable. Today’s NY Times has an article about his efforts and about many of the different aspects that go into sustainability. The title says it all: “Unilever Finds that Shrinking Its Footprint Is a Giant Task.” Among other topics, it touches on energy, packaging, farming practices, law, international agreements. If, like me, you think you understand what “sustainability” means, I encourage you to read the article. You’ll begin to comprehend just how complicated it is to simplify our highly industrialized world.

[By the way, the CSA I’ve belonged to for the past five years is Hesperides Organica in Waldwick, NY. Check out their website. Tomorrow is the day to pick up the end-of-season Thanksgiving or Harvest share. More vegetables than you every expected to see in your life. They’ll last us through most of the winter.]

11/20/15: In the garden this week

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Ready for winter: the fallen leaves mulch the beds, and the seeds from perennials and grasses will feed the birds through the cold months.

Finally, a good soaking rain: over an inch and a half fell in the past two days, and we really needed it. But the weekend promises to be dry and cool, perfect weather for working in the garden. Here are some things you could be doing now:

— It’s not too late to plant hardwood trees and large shrubs. You can plant most hardy trees until the ground freezes. Be sure to mulch well and water thoroughly: give at least 1 inch of water per week until the ground freezes, and then again as soon as it thaws in spring.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, continue to water all perennials and woody plants installed this season. How do you know when you’ve provided an inch of water? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

Clean up the vegetable garden carefully. Discard (do not compost) infested or diseased plants. Clean up meticulously as each crop finishes producing. This year’s diseased plants, left in the garden, are the source of next year’s infections.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, you’re most likely still harvesting. We have been enjoying a delicious fall crop of arugula, but we could get a killing frost at any time.

— This is a good time to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— Now that you can water, there’s time to reseed bare areas of lawn. Most lawn grasses will grow until the temperature dips below 40 degrees. But if you seed, water several times a day until the grass is at least an inch tall. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Measure and mulch the bed now so you’re ready to plant in spring.

Keep a garden log. Right now, before you forget, write down this year’s gardening successes and failures as well as your plans for next year. Do you want to move a shrub or add some color or start a vegetable garden? The best thing about gardening is that there’s always next year.

Apply an antidessicant spray to broad-leafed evergreens such as rhododendrons and azaleas. These plants are particularly stressed during cold winters. The spray, which forms a very thin plastic coating on the leaves, helps prevent evaporation.

You’ll notice that I don’t advise you to clean up your perennial garden in fall. I prefer to wait until spring. Because I plant, and encourage my clients to plant, only native plants that produce seeds and fruits, I leave everything in place for the winter. Even though I don’t hang feeders, my garden welcomes more birds throughout the winter. They eat the seeds on the plants as well as those that fall to the ground; the plants supply cover to the winter foraging flocks as well. And this year’s stalks will be much easier to break down next spring than they are right now.

Check out my two latest columns on composting and recycling your leaves on your property. And enjoy the garden this weekend!

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Coralberry is full of fruit for birds and will retain this lovely color for most of the winter.

Before and after

Instead of blowing your fallen leaves out to the curb this year, use them to fertilize your lawn. It’s really, really simple. All you have to do is mow (or order your lawn-care service to mow) without using the leaf-catching attachment. The mower will chop the leaves into very small pieces that will break down quickly, returning nutrients back to the soil.

These pictures of the same area of lawn were taken this morning, before and after mowing:

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Before mowing . . .

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. . . and after

These are leaves of Norway maple trees, which are tougher and leatherier than those of many other species, but they respond very well to this treatment. Try it this year. Why throw away the fertility of your soil?

For more ways you can use your leaves to improve your landscape, see my latest Backyard Environmentalist column, or google the term “leave the leaves.”

11/6/15: In the garden this week

The Thain Family Forest in the New York Botanical Garden, the largest old-growth forest in New York city. This weekend is a great time to enjoy the autumn colors.

The autumn colors are particularly beautiful right now, so try to get out and enjoy them this weekend. And after the unseasonably warm spell (almost too warm to do all the weeding and raking I’ve done this week), we’re due for cooler, more autumnlike weather. Perfect for walking in the woods. If you don’t have time to go to the NY Botanical Garden or up to Harriman State Park or even to the Ramapo Valley Reservation, take a stroll through the Thielke Arboretum in Glen Rock. The red maples are gorgeous.

And after your relaxing autumn walk, come home and work on preparing your garden for winter as well as for next season:

— It’s not too late to plant hardwood trees and large shrubs. You can plant most hardy trees until the ground freezes. Be sure to mulch well and water thoroughly: give at least 1 inch of water per week until the ground freezes, and then again as soon as it thaws in spring.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, continue to water all perennials and woody plants installed this season. How do you know when you’ve provided an inch of water? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

Clean up the vegetable garden carefully. Discard (do not compost) infested or diseased plants. Clean up meticulously as each crop finishes producing. This year’s diseased plants, left in the garden, are the source of next year’s infections.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, keep harvesting. We could get a killing frost at any time. We have been enjoying a delicious fall crop of arugula.

— This is a good time to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— Now that you can water, there’s time to reseed bare areas of lawn. Most lawn grasses will grow until the temperature dips below 40 degrees. But if you seed, water several times a day until the grass is at least an inch tall. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Measure and mulch the bed now so you’re ready to plant in spring.

Keep a garden log. Right now, before you forget, write down this year’s gardening successes and failures as well as plans for next year. The best thing about gardening is that there’s always next year.

Apply an antidessicant spray to broad-leafed evergreens such as rhododendrons and azaleas. These plants are particularly stressed during cold winters. The spray, which forms a very thin plastic coating on the leaves, helps prevent evaporation.

You’ll notice that I don’t advise you to clean up your perennial garden in spring. I prefer to wait until fall. Because I plant, and encourage my clients to plant, only native plants that produce seeds and fruits, I leave everything in place for the winter. Even though I don’t hang feeders, my garden welcomes more birds throughout the winter. They eat the seeds on the plants as well as those that fall to the ground; the plants supply cover to the winter foraging flocks as well. And this year’s stalks will be much easier to break down next spring than they are right now.

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If you leave the season’s growth until next spring, your perennial garden will welcome birds with food and cover all winter long. This picture was taken at the end of November last year.