Happy new year

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These chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia) brighten a dreary winter day.

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Seeds of asters and goldenrod are still abundant, and birds are busy in the garden all winter.

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And coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) will decorate the garden throughout the winter. 

Happy new year to all, and here’s to a greener 2016!

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12/25/15: In the garden this week

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Lilacs budding and feebly blooming in late December. See the picture of the bottom of the post for a more normal winter display.

It’s official–this winter can only be described as freakish. The front page of today’s New York Times features an article about all the plants blooming out of season at the NY Botanical Garden. The experts there (my alma mater) agree with my assessment that the warm winter isn’t likely to harm the plants, but it is likely to diminish the coming spring’s floral display.

The warm weather does extend the gardening season. Here are some things you might do in the garden this week:

— As long as the ground remains unfrozen, you can get a jump start on spring by keeping up with your weeding. In my garden, dandelions and wild garlic are still growing lustily–they like the cool temperatures–and I’m seeing lots of little western bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) in wet areas. This is a winter annual, which means it will bloom and set seed very early in spring, so it’s a good idea to pull it now. The soil is nice and damp, perfect for weeding.

— 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 during dry spells until the ground freezes, and then again as soon as it thaws in spring.

— 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 have been scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering during dry spells. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (not this week), 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. 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. The growth of the fall crop of arugula has resumed with the warmer temperatures this week.

Plan next season’s garden. Catalogs have begun to arrive! As you leaf through them, make notes, and then go outside and imagine how the plants will look. With the ground bare of snow, you can walk your property and make notes about what you see. Do you want to move a shrub or add a perennial border or start a vegetable garden? The best thing about gardening is that there’s always next year.

Try to take time in the midst of holiday hubbub to get out and enjoy the garden. You might see some lovely winter berries like these:

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Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) holds its berries for much of the winter, but the birds will finally eat them all.

 

A warm, wet winter

NOAA‘s one-month weather model predicts warmer-than-average temperatures for the Northeast; the three-month model predicts both above-average temperature and precipitation. Many people are enjoying the warm weather we’ve had this fall. From a horticultural point of view, however, a warm winter is a disaster for a number of reasons.

First of all, fooled by the warm weather, many woody plants are showing swollen buds if not actual flowers. My lilacs, fooled by the warm temperatures, are making faint efforts to bloom right now. Any energy a plant expends now is energy it will not have in spring, and worse case, plants can be killed if they leaf out before a sudden cold snap. Expect a less-beautiful than normal spring.

Second, a mild winter will mean large populations of deer and rabbits next season. The last time we had a very mild winter, the critters repeatedly ate many perennials down to the ground: phlox, asters, and boltonia never bloomed that year. The past two cold winters have finally given the plants time to recover.

Third, insect pests and diseases will be more prevalent than usual after a mild winter, because cold weather kills off fungal spores and insect eggs. In particular, the last two cold winters slowed the steady advance of pests that are moving north along with global warming, such as the southern pine bark beetle. A warm winter will allow them to resume their northward advance.

And last but not least, a warm winter will encourage the northward march of many invasive plants. For example, butterfly bush is now highly invasive in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey and is becoming a problem in our area. Miscanthus grass is extremely invasive in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. How long do you think it will be before it becomes a serious problem here as well?

Sure a warm winter brings some benefits: lower heating costs, less snow removal, less salt on the roads, less danger of accidents. But it’s not all good!

12/18/15: In the garden this week

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A tangle of dormant perennials supplies abundant winter food for birds. A sustainable native plant garden should feed the birds all year long.

We got some good rain this week–more than 1.5 inches–but in general the long-range prediction of a warm and wet winter season for the Northeast  is only half accurate. It certainly is warm, but it hasn’t been particularly wet. We’re due for a mild freeze over the weekend, but temperatures are predicted to return to the 50s and 60s after that. So the weather remains perfect for gardening chores. Here are some tasks you might consider:

— As long as the ground remains unfrozen, you can get a jump start on spring by keeping up with your weeding. In my garden, dandelions and wild garlic are still growing lustily–they like the cool temperatures–and I’m seeing lots of little western bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) in wet areas. This is a winter annual, which means it will bloom and set seed very early in spring, so it’s a good idea to pull it now. The soil is nice and damp, perfect for weeding.

— 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 during dry spells until the ground freezes, and then again as soon as it thaws in spring.

— 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 have been scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering during dry spells, and our total rainfall for the past 30 days has been well below normal. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (not this week), 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. With colder weather, the growth of the fall crop of arugula has slowed, but it may resume with the warmer temperatures this week.

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. With the ground bare of snow, you can walk your property and make notes about what you see. 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. Apply it only once per season.

Try to take some time in the midst of the preholiday rush to get outside in the garden or to one of the many beautiful parks and forests that grace our region. A nature break is relaxing and restoring.

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The Glen Rock area of the Saddle River County Park in winter–a great place for a walk in the woods.

A bright winter day

Last week, on a lovely but warm winter day, we took a lot of pictures of the garden in winter, and I thought they cheer you up on this very dark, wet day.

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Last summer Eupatorium purpureum, or sweet joe pye weed, grew 8 feet tall in my garden–scroll down through this post to see it in bloom. This winter the seedheads tower over the perennial border.

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The native perennials are brimming with seeds for birds, some that remain on the plants and some that fill to the ground. All winter, we watch the mixed-species foraging flocks come to feed.

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Little bluestem is beautiful in all seasons. In winter, it’s silver and gold. In summer, it really is blue.

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Hazelnut catkins–the male flowers that will bloom in very early spring–hand from the slender stems like decorations.

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Spicebush will be the first native shrub to bloom (I hope it holds off until spring). All winter long you can see the round green buds.

12/11/15: In the garden this week

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The lovely berries of coralberry (Symphoricarpus orbicularis) supply winter interest for humans and winter food for birds.

True to predictions, it’s been a warm fall and looks to be a warm, wet winter. All the better for gardeners: there are lots of gardening chores we can be doing. For example:

— As long as the ground remains unfrozen, you can get a jump start on spring by keeping up with your weeding. In my garden, dandelions and wild garlic are still growing lustily–they like the cool temperatures–and I’m seeing lots of little western bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) in wet areas. This is a winter annual, which means it will bloom and set seed very early in spring, so it’s a good idea to pull it 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.

— 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 have been scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering during dry spells, and our total rainfall for the past 30 days has been well below normal. 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.

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. Apply it only once per season.

A warm winter will lead to an overabundance of garden pests like deer, rabbits, chewing insects, and fungal diseases next year. Think snow!

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Is your garden full of winter food for birds? Native grasses, goldenrod, and Rudbeckia are still full of seed in my garden, and the bird activity is continuously fascinating.