6/23/17: In the garden this week

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June is bustin’ out (couldn’t resist) in a perennial bed glorious with yellow sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and bergamot/beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), plus grasses and numerous species that have finished blooming or not yet bloomed. This border gets full sun and was originally planted over 20 years ago. The soil, which is very sandy, has never been amended in any way.

During the past few years of drought, I had forgotten what a gardening season with normal rainfall looks like. I had forgotten how the plants grow so exuberantly that I have to keep cutting them back along paths, in front of patio chairs, near the air conditioner, how quickly tomato plants grow (more on that below). And what it’s like not to have to exhort clients to keep newly-installed plants well watered until they’re established. It’s a pleasant change.

As I write this, the predicted rain has just started. Can I confess that given a choice between a dry weekend and a good soaking rain, I’d vote for the rain in most cases? But the thing about gardening is that we don’t get a choice.

Here are some things you might consider in your garden this week (after the rain stops, of course):

water new plantings: We received about 1 1/2 inches of rain in the past week, so no watering should be necessary this week. However, you should always water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground. In dry weeks (those with less than an inch of rainfall), you need to water all plants installed this spring or last fall. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? You can make a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old plastic container or tin can placed among the plants. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

— all vegetables, including tender crops like tomatoes and peppers and corn, should be planted out by now, and it will soon be time to remove early greens like lettuce and spinach. Water deeply during dry periods, particularly when the weather is hot, and watch carefully for pests and diseases. Removed diseased plants promptly to prevent spread.

— be sure to properly tie, stake and prune your tomato plants. Most tomato cages are pretty useless: the plants outgrow them before they start to bear fruit. And unless tomato plants are properly pruned, by pinching out the suckers, they will be so bushy that they’ll be especially susceptible to fungus infections like verticillium wilt. You’ll find general guidelines for growing tomatoes here and specific watering instructions here.

—  It’s a bit late to clean up the perennial garden or to divide and replant. Once the weather turns hot, plants put their energy into top growth and blooming. I would no longer move or divide plants, but if you continue to plant, water very thoroughly and keep an eye on those new plants. They will need extra water.

it’s too late to fertilize your lawn or to reseed bare patches, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Here’s a suggestion: don’t feed at all this year. The lawn will look just fine. Or wait until around Labor Day and use one application of a slow-release organic fertilizer. Avoid pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Pesticides kill butterfly and firefly larvae and native ground-dwelling bees as well as “bad” insects. And garden chemicals are not so great for kids or pets either; common herbicides, in addition to killing butterfly host plants like violets, are carcinogens. Best to avoid them.

— it’s also a bad time to prune woody plants. The plants are using so much energy growing, flowering, and fruiting that they have little to spare to healing a wound. There will be short window of time later in the summer. Of course, continue to prune diseased or injured plants at any time and to remove any safety hazards, such as overeager shrub that block sidewalks.

And don’t forget to count the fireflies! The more you see, the healthier and more sustainable your garden is.

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We moved the patio chairs forward to get out of the way of the raspberries. The elderberries (white flowers in background) are especially tall and vigorous this year.

Second flush

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Look closely at the foliage of this oak tree (swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor). Notice the small, reddish new leaves at top right and bottom left, as well as all the chewed leaves.

This is a closeup of the oak tree we planted in the front yard last year, taken today. Many trees put out a small second flush of new leaves around this time if growing conditions are good. It’s just another sign that we’re getting normal amounts of rainfall this year.

Notice as well that quite a bit of chewing has occurred on these leaves. You can see both tiny holes and marginal bites. That’s just fine. One of the reasons you choose an oak tree is that it supports more species of insect than any other tree. Insects eat plants. But in a well balanced ecosystem, with a variety of native plants, they never do serious damage. A few chewed leaves is a small price to pay for native insects and the birds that eat them.

Look closely at your garden to see if things are in balance.

6/9/17: In the garden this week

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You’ve seen this perennial border before, in its High Summer mode, dominated by yellows and purples. Now, in early summer, white prevails as junegrass (Koeleria macracantha) begins to bloom at Penstemon digitalis reaches its peak. Columbine straddles late spring and early summer.

Because of the cool, wet spring, the garden is gorgeous. But because of the mild winter, it’s overrun with chipmunks and woodchucks and deer. The chipmunks seem to be using my herb pots as a larder; they dig in the soil every night. I’ve never found them to be a problem before. Someone is eating tarragon, and oregano, herbs that have always been immune before. And I doubt very much if either asters or boltonia will bloom this year. Critters are repeatedly eating them right down to the ground. It’s happened before, and the plants will survive, but it’s distressing all the same.

As serviceberries ripen (Amerlanchier), the bird activity in the garden reaches a frenzy. The berries in each cluster ripen one by one, and each morning the ripest are gone. If you grow this wonderful native shrub or tree (and you certainly should), try to taste at least a few berries yourself.

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Guess which serviceberry will be gone tomorrow morning?

Here are some tasks you might address in the garden this week:

water new plantings: Despite the rainy spring, we received less than half an inch in the past week, and the weather is about to turn HOT. If you’re still planting, water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground, and hand water as needed. It’s hard for plants to establish in hot weather. Also, this week you should water all plants installed this spring or last fall. Be sure to check your town’s watering regulations—many local areas have recently adopted more stringent rules.

How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? You can make a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old plastic container or tin can placed among the plants. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week. I will be watering this weekend.

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The ash trees we planted last year have grown a lot! I will continue to water them during dry weeks this season, and they were treated to prevent emerald ash borer infestations last month.

— all vegetables, including tender crops like tomatoes and peppers and corn, should be planted out by now, and with the coming hot weather, it will soon be time to remove early greens like lettuce and spinach. Water deeply during dry periods, particularly when the weather is hot, and watch carefully for pests and diseases. Removed diseased plants promptly to prevent spread.

—  It’s a bit late to clean up the perennial garden or to divide and replant. Once the weather turns hot, plants put their energy into top growth and blooming. I would longer move or divide plants, but if you continue to plant, water very thoroughly and keep an eye on those new plants. They will need extra water.

it’s too late to fertilize your lawn or to reseed bare patches, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Here’s a suggestion: don’t feed at all this year. The lawn will look just fine. Or wait until around Labor Day and use one application of a slow-release organic fertilizer. Avoid pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Pesticides kill butterfly and firefly larvae and native ground-dwelling bees as well as “bad” insects. And garden chemicals are not so great for kids or pets either; common herbicides, in addition to killing butterfly host plants like violets, are carcinogens. Best to avoid them.

— Support a local farmer by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) this season. CSAs allow you to support small-scale, sustainable agriculture and help limit the environmental effects of factory farming. You’ll also find that the produce tastes much, much better than what you buy in the supermarket. For the past 5 years or more, we have joined Hesperides Organica, a family-run farm located in Hawthorne, NY. They deliver weekly to various locations in Bergen County.

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Compare this border today with the way it looked in April when I did my annual spring cleaning. Looks pretty different now and will look even more different in July.

 

5/14/17: In the garden this week

Flower cluster of grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa), the loveliest dogwood of all.

Flower cluster of grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa), the loveliest dogwood of all. This plant will bloom within the next week or 10 days.

These next couple of weeks are the loveliest of the year in the garden, and we will miss it all—we are going on vacation. So I thought that in this post I would look ahead a bit and tell you what to expect in the next two or three weeks. In that time, the garden will switch from spring to summer.

It’s delightful that the drought of the past two years seems to have lifted. Rainfall is slightly above average for the past 30 days and normal for the year to date. As a result, we are enjoying a truly lovely spring. And the relatively cool temperatures mean that all the beauty around is lasts a bit longer than it would if the weather suddenly turned hot. It gives us all a longer spring planting season as well. I like to stop planting when the weather really warms up.

So here are some things you could be doing in your garden over the next few weeks:

water new plantings if the weather turns dry: Rainfall totals are finally normal or even a bit above, at least in the short term. We’ve received approximately an inch and a half of rain this weekend, so no need to water. But always water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground, and check back here weekly for updates: In any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all plants installed this spring or last fall. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? You can make a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old plastic container or tin can placed among the plants. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

plant trees and other woody plants. Don’t wait too long—the earlier you plant, the more time trees and shrubs will have to establish before the weather really heats up. Same goes for perennials and grasses. The earlier the better. If you must keep planting once the weather really turns hot, be sure to water copiously.

provide prophylactic care for trees. Several native tree species are at great risk of succumbing to invasive insect infestations. Hemlocks should be sprayed with dormant oil (which is not a pesticide) in early spring and early fall. Ash trees should be treated for emerald ash borer. The best time is while they are leafing out, so it’s a bit late. Consult a qualified arborist if you’re not sure if you have hemlocks or ashes; he or she can then recommend the best treatment options.

— continue to start vegetable seeds indoors. You’ll find a schedule here. Get the vegetable garden ready for the coming season by weeding, raking the soil smooth, and adding compost or well-rotted manure. Compost can simply be spread on top of the soil; manure should be mixed in, and make sure it’s not fresh manure. Once the soil is prepared, you can plant seeds of cool-weather crops such as mesclun, spinach, arugula, peas, and beets in the garden. Do not set out warm weather crops like tomatoes, squash, basil, and eggplant until the last week in May. Right now the nights are still too cool, and the plants will not grow properly.

—  After cleaning up the perennial garden, continue to plant perennials and to divide and move them as they emerge. The earlier you divide or move perennials and grasses, the quicker they will establish. Even finicky, hard-to-divide plants will respond well. And it’s much easier to divide and replant a few plants at a time than to dig up an entire bed. IF the weather turns hot, either stop planting or increase the amount of water you provide.

the cool weather is a great time to reseed bare patches of lawn, but be sure to keep the seeded areas moist until the seed sprouts. It’s too early to feed your lawn, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Wait until Memorial Day, and then use a slow-release organic fertilizer. Or best of all, don’t feed at all this year. The lawn will look just fine. Avoid pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Remember that pesticides kill butterfly and firefly larvae and native ground-dwelling bees as well as “bad” insects. And garden chemicals are not so great for kids or pets either; common herbicides, in addition to killing butterfly host plants like violets, are carcinogens. Best to avoid them.

— Support a local farmer by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) this season. CSAs allow you to support small-scale, sustainable agriculture and help limit the environmental effects of factory farming. You’ll also find that the produce tastes much, much better than what you buy in the supermarket. For the past 5 years or more, we have joined Hesperides Organica, a family-run farm located in Hawthorne, NY. They deliver weekly to various locations in Bergen County.

I hope you’re enjoying this lovely, slow-to-emerge spring as much as I am. It’s very hard to tear myself away from the garden.

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Canada anemone, Anemone canadensis, is a lovely ground cover, but it can be a bit of a thug in the garden. Be sure to plant it where you can contain it.

5/5/17: In the garden this week

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Chokeberry (this is black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa) is in full bloom now. In August, it will produce large black berries for birds (and jam); in fall, the foliage will be brilliant orange and red.

Planting season is in full swing, and I am grateful for this very rainy day. The ground was getting too dry to plant without watering first, and I’m in the middle of a very busy planting season. I like to finish planting perennials, grasses, and shrubs before Memorial Day, although you can plant later if you can water frequently. Roots grow best when the soil is cool.

You’re probably thinking about preparing your yard for outdoor living: setting up the patio and grill, uncovering the pool, planting ornamentals. Give some thought to sustainability as well as to livability. Consider planting native perennials instead of annuals (less watering, less work every spring); using fewer chemicals on the lawn (less expensive, kinder to the environment); welcoming pollinators and birds (planting natives, avoiding pesticides). Maybe there are some areas of lawn that could be replanted as flowers or vegetables. Maybe you can water less often this season.

In addition, here are some seasonal gardening tasks you might do this week:

water new plantings: Rainfall totals are finally normal or even a bit above, at least in the short term. We’ve received approximately an inch and a half of rain today so far, so no need to water. But always water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground, and check back here weekly for updates: In any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all plants installed this spring or last fall. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? You can make a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old plastic container or tin can placed among the plants. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

plant trees and other woody plants. Don’t wait too long—the earlier you plant, the more time trees and shrubs will have to establish before the weather really heats up. Same goes for perennials and grasses. The earlier the better.

provide prophylactic care for trees. Several native tree species are at great risk of succumbing to invasive insect infestations. Hemlocks should be sprayed with dormant oil (which is not a pesticide) in early spring and early fall. Ash trees should be treated for emerald ash borer. Consult a qualified arborist if you’re not sure if you have hemlocks or ashes; he or she can then recommend the best treatment options.

— continue to start vegetable seeds indoors. You’ll find a schedule here. Get the vegetable garden ready for the coming season by weeding, raking the soil smooth, and adding compost or well-rotted manure. Compost can simply be spread on top of the soil; manure should be mixed in, and make sure it’s not fresh manure. Once the soil is prepared, you can plant seeds of cool-weather crops such as mesclun, spinach, arugula, peas, and beets in the garden. Do not set out warm weather crops like tomatoes and eggplant for another few weeks.

—  After cleaning up the perennial garden, continue to plant perennials and to divide and move them as they emerge. The earlier you divide or move perennials and grasses, the quicker they will establish. Even finicky, hard-to-divide plants will respond well. And it’s much easier to divide and replant a few plants at a time than to dig up an entire bed.

it’s much too early to feed your lawn, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Wait until Memorial Day, and then use a slow-release organic fertilizer. Or best of all, don’t feed at all this year. The lawn will look just fine. Remember that pesticides kill butterfly and firefly larvae and native ground-dwelling bees as well as “bad” insects. And garden chemicals are not so great for kids or pets either; common herbicides are carcinogens. Best to avoid them.

— Support a local farmer by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) this season. CSAs allow you to support small-scale, sustainable agriculture and help limit the environmental effects of factory farming. You’ll also find that the produce tastes much, much better than what you buy in the supermarket. For the past 5 years or more, we have joined Hesperides Organica, a family-run farm located in Hawthorne, NY. They deliver weekly to various locations in Bergen County.

Enjoy the garden this week.

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Lovely foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is in full bloom now in my garden.

 

Columbine duskywing

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Native columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

Who knew that columbine has a species-specific butterfly? I didn’t until I noticed a few skeletonized leaveson a couple of plants–chewed leaves with nothing left but the ribs. Normally columbine leaves do not get chewed, and the plant’s only pest is leaf miners, which don’t appear until summer. Looking closely at the leaves, I saw a few more with damage only at the leaf margins, a sign that caterpillars were at work rather than, say, beetles.

Looking even more closely, I saw a few tiny green caterpillars clinging to the edges of a few leaves. (Sorry about the quality of this image–it was a very windy day.)

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Caterpillars of columbine duskywing, Erynnis lucilius, on native columbine.

I turned to my trusty Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies, which has an index to host plants as well as to butterfly species–an extremely useful feature. I looked up columbine and found that there is a species-specific butterfly, that its caterpillar is green with some yellow features, and that the season is correct. Bulls eye. I also found more about the species’s life cycle on the Butterflies and Moths of North American website.

For those of you who worry about insect damage to your plants, be aware that this small plant is in bloom while the chewing is going on. So if you want to see butterflies, hold off on the pesticides and be willing to tolerate a few chewed leaves.

Also, remember that ecological gardening takes time. I’ve been growing columbine for over 20 years, and I’ve never seen this caterpillar before. According to the references, this butterfly inhabits woodlands and rocky slopes (where columbine lives in the wild), not suburbs. So how did the mother butterfly find my columbine plants last fall? And think what would have happened if I did a rigorous garden cleanup in fall–the overwintering eggs probably would have been destroyed. Think about all the things that must go right for a few tiny caterpillars to survive.

Once again, this story shows that if you plant it, they will come. It’s always amazing.

4/28/17: In the garden this week

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Early spring ephemerals are subtle, like this Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum). The showier variegated species that’s more often found in garden centers is NOT native.

At this time of year I can either work in the garden or write about the garden, and most of the time I choose the former. But I want to briefly keep you up-to-date on seasonal developments:

water new plantings: Rainfall totals are finally normal or even a bit above, at least in the short term. We received approximately an inch and a half of rain this week, so no need to water. But be sure to water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground, and check back here weekly for updates: In any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all plants installed this spring or last fall. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? You can make a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old plastic container or tin can placed among the plants. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

plant trees and other woody plants. Don’t wait too long—plants grow roots when the soil is cool, so the earlier you plant, the more time trees and shrubs will have to establish before the weather really heats up.

provide prophylactic care for trees. Several native tree species are at great risk of succumbing to invasive insect infestations. Hemlocks should be sprayed with dormant oil (which is not a pesticide) in early spring and early fall. Ash trees should be treated for emerald ash borer. Consult a qualified arborist if you’re not sure if you have hemlocks or ashes; he or she can them recommend the best treatment options.

— continue to start vegetable seeds indoors. You’ll find a schedule here. Get the vegetable garden ready for the coming season by weeding, raking the soil smooth, and adding compost or well-rotted manure. Compost can simply be spread on top of the soil; manure should be mixed in, and make sure it’s not fresh manure. Once the soil is prepared, you can plant seeds of cool-weather crops such as mesclun, spinach, arugula, peas, and beets in the garden. Do not set out warm weather crops like tomatoes and squash for another few weeks.

—  After cleaning up the perennial garden, continue to plant perennials and to divide and move them as they emerge. The earlier you divide or move perennials and grasses, the quicker they will establish. Even finicky, hard-to-divide plants will respond well. And it’s much easier to divide and replant a few plants at a time than to dig up an entire bed.

it’s much too early to feed your lawn, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. Wait until Memorial Day, and then use a slow-release organic fertilizer. Or best of all, don’t feed at all this year. The lawn will look just fine. Remember that pesticides kill butterfly and firefly larvae and native ground-dwelling bees as well as “bad” insects. And garden chemicals are not so great for kids or pets either; common herbicides are carcinogens. Best to avoid them.

— Support a local farmer by joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) this season. CSAs allow you to support small-scale, sustainable agriculture and help limit the environmental effects of factory farming. You’ll also find that the produce tastes much, much better than what you buy in the supermarket. For the past 5 years or more, we have joined Hesperides Organica, a family-run farm located in Hawthorne, NY. They deliver weekly to various locations in Bergen County.

Plant something for the butterflies this week! You’ll reap the benefits all summer long!

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Tiarella is the star of the late-April shade garden. Ferns are emerging, and columbine and geraniums will open their first flowers in the coming week.