1/29/16: In the garden this week

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This picture was taken immediately after this week’s big snowstorm. Notice all the seeds that still remain on this aster. There’s plenty of winter food available, and birds have been flocking to it.

A big snow, followed immediately by lovely, springlike weather. The snow is already half melted. Temperatures in the 50s are predicted for much of next week. This is so different from the last two winters, when the cold was unrelenting and the storms just kept coming.

Once enough snow melts so you can reach your shrubs, it will be time to resume winter pruning. Most shrubs eventually outgrow their sites in a home landscape, and winter, when plants are dormant, is the best time to prune them back, or rejuvenate them. This is also a good time to walk around your property, check for storm damage to trees, and call your arborist if you see any potentially dangerous branches.

And this time of year there are the new garden catalogs to admire (and perhaps to drool over). Get out your notes from last year, see what’s on your wish list, and see what’s available. Many native plants sell out early, so it’s a good idea to place your order as soon as possible, even though reputable companies won’t ship until sometime in April.

Enjoy planning this year’s garden this week!


Just a few of the catalogs that fill my mailbox daily!



Welikia and the Napa Valley

Today’s Science Times has a fascinating article about a historical geology project that aims to restore some part of the natural beauty and accompanying natural functions to California’s Napa Valley. Using a wide variety of historical records, scientists are rediscovering and recreating some of the native plant and animal life and restoring parts of the original ecosystems. Functions such as flood control, which are lost with the disappearance of wetlands, are returning, as are many bird species that had once graced the area.

A similar project has been carried out closer to home, in New York City. The Welikia (“my good home”) Project has systematically recreated the original ecology of first Manhattan Island and then the four outlying boroughs. Information about the original geology and ecology of different parts of the city, which was once a remarkably rich and diverse collection of ecosystems, can be used to restore the natural health of parks and other open spaces.

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Eastern black bear, once a common resident of Manhattan Island. Image courtesy of wbsm.com/flickr

Good deals on native plants


Our lovely native pachysandra, Pachysandra procumbens (on the right) combines beautifully with ferns and other shade lovers. This lovely and highly useful plant is hard to find, but it’s available locally this spring–read on!

Right now, through January 21, Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin is offering free shipping on spring orders. This is a significant savings: shipping charges can easily reach 20 percent or more of the cost of your order. Order now and specify your spring delivery date (the third week in April is usually a great time to get plants in the ground in our area). But be sure that the plants you order are native to this area–Prairie Nursery sells midwestern natives, and the range of some does not extend to this area. Before ordering, check the USDA Plant Database or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to be sure.

A little closer is the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, which offers an annual spring plant sale. Order your plants now and pick them up at the center in late April. This sale includes fewer species than Prairie Nursery offers, but it offers some hard-to-find plants, including Pachysandra procumbens.


Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) is another lovely and hard-to-find native available at the Native Plant Center in Westchester.

Saving ecosystems starts at home


Ripening serviceberries in June will draw birds to your garden

Bergen Audubon has a new program to certify backyards as natural areas. Check out their website for more information and an application. The program is similar to the National Wildlife Federation’s certified backyard habitat system or the butterfly garden certification program of the North American Butterfly Association.

All these programs have the same goal and go about it in the same way: they require you to provide food, water, cover, and a variety of native plants. They’re all based on the same premise: that in the suburbs, the environment is the sum total of all of our backyards, so the small steps that each of us take, especially planting a variety of native plants, will greatly improve the environment for wildlife of all kinds.

As you plan this year’s garden, keep the birds and bees in mind.

red admiral

A red admiral nectaring on blooming ninebark in spring. Want to see butterflies this year? Plant natives!

1/8/16: In the garden this week


Little bluestem is beautiful all year although by this time every winter, many of the seeds are gone.

Happy new year! Since the weather turned cold, I have been too busy with winter pruning to post here. Now that it’s finally cold and looks to stay that way for a while, get out those clippers and saws and loppers and get to work on your shrubs. Most shrubs need some reduction in size after they’ve been in place for a while, and now’s the best time to do it.

In addition to pruning, it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps to put some of them in place as you plan next season’s garden. Garden catalogs are arriving–as you enjoy all those gorgeous pictures, think beyond beauty to a plant’s role in the vital ecosystem you can create right in your own backyard.


Catkins–in this case, the male flowers of American hazelnut–decorate the shrubs all winter. In the spring they’ll release pollen for the tiny female flowers, and in August there will be hazelnuts for the squirrels.