Joys of spring

dsc_5731

In about a month, the shade garden in front of the house will look like this: orange columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and pink wild geranium (Geranium maculatum).

I just spent a glorious hour clearing my shade beds of last fall’s leaves and the winter’s detritus (all carefully raked on to the leaf piles to preserve overwintering insects and their larvae). I realized a week or so ago that all the snow that fell on the driveway had been thrown on to the very spot where my earliest spring ephemeral, Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), is planted. Now that the snow is gone and the rain stopped, I raked that garden clear and uncovered emerging leaves of columbine, wild geranium (both in bloom in the photo above), asters, tiarella, heuchera, Virginia waterleaf, and, of course, last  year’s ferns. It was lovely to see them all.

My very dry, sandy soil won’t support some of the showiest spring ephemerals, such as bloodroot and Virginia bluebells, and oh, how I wish it could. But here are some plants that come up reliably for me every spring.

DSC_5686

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), surrounded by foliage of fern, columbine, and shade aster, will bloom in April.

_DSC4549

Don’t forget that violets are natives as well, and they are an important butterfly host plant. I encourage them in the lawn and in the shade beds.

DSCN1730

Dutchman’s breeches, the earliest flower in my garden, usually blooms around April 1. It was buried in snow until very recently. No sign of it yet.

_DSC0700

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum Virginiana) will bloom in May. Solomon’s seal needs a wetter site than I have so it doesn’t spread much; the waterleaf loves the dry soil.

_DSC0792

Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) is a great groundcover for part shade. It spreads almost a bit too enthusiastically.

What plants are popping up to delight you in your garden?

Galapagos I: the usual suspects

_DSC7116

Galapagos penguins: the only penguin species found in the northern hemisphere (just barely). All photos by Bruce R. Thaler.

_DSC7440

Blue-footed boobies: the stars of the show. Their eyes are blue too.

_DSC8030

Frigate birds soaring above the boat . . .

_DSC8277

and showing off on land.

_DSC7566

Galapagos flightless cormorant–these guys are fascinating!

_DSC8200

Swallow-tailed gulls, the only gull that hunts at night (hence those huge eyes).

What, no giant tortoises? Yes, we saw them too. And lots, lots more.

3/24/17: In the garden this week

DSCN0322

With more settled weather, the vegetable garden could look like this in about 2 months.

Normally I scatter seeds for mesclun and other cool-weather greens around mid-March, hoping for a harvest in mid-May. This year, right now, my vegetable plot is almost clear of the foot of  snow that fell on it 10 days ago, so I may be able to plant this week. The weather seems to grow increasingly unpredictable, making it very hard to tell, even for the coming week, what garden tasks might be doable. But here are some you might consider:

water new plantings: in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, and the ground is not frozen, water all plants installed this spring or fall. Right now precipitation is at normal levels, and it’s predicted to rain all week, so no watering will likely be needed, but keep an eye on it. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

— continue to start vegetable seeds indoors. You’ll find a schedule here. Get the vegetable garden ready for the coming season by 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 plant seeds of cool-weather crops such as mesclun, spinach, arugula, and beets.

— Don’t clean up the perennial garden yet. It supplies food and cover for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife all winter. Wait another few weeks, even a month, until most plants are in active growth.

but do collect seeds. Even though I’ve been collecting seed since last summer, plenty remains for the birds. Mixed-species foraging flocks visit daily to take advantage of the bounty; through the winter I saw nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, juncos, several species of sparrows, woodpeckers, kinglets. And robins are back!

— plan for the coming season: Notice things that did great and things that didn’t, make lists of areas you want to improve, areas of lawn you could get rid of, places that are getting sunnier or shadier and need new plantings to suit. Did you have enough fall color in your garden? If not, plant some colorful native shrubs in the spring. Is there plentiful food for birds now? Plan to plant native perennials and shrubs on spring. And place your orders early, because native plant nurseries run out of the most popular species.

it’s much too early to feed your lawn, no matter what your lawn-care service tells you. The grass plants can’t possibly use all that nitrogen while the weather is so cool, so it just runs off into our streams and ponds. 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.

join a garden club or native plant society: you’ll meet like-minded gardeners, learn a lot, and find out about local resources. For example, join the Native Plant Society of New Jersey and find about the activities of our Bergen-Passaic chapter, or join your local garden club.

— 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.

Now that the snow has melted, it would be great to get out into the woods to see the earliest signs of spring. Pussy willow and skunk cabbage are blooming, native hazelnuts bloomed before the storm, and spicebush will bloom very soon.

DSC_4475

The delicate green flowers of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) will turn into bright-red berries in August. This wetland understory shrub does equally well in dry soil as long as it doesn’t get too much sun.

On weeding

I love to weed–there are few activities that produce such instantaneous and satisfying results. Someday I’d like to write a book, a very long one, about weeding. I’d describe the root structure of every type of weed I’ve ever encountered and then explain the best tool and the best method for removing it. And the best time of year as well–for example, now is the time to remove mustards such as cress and garlic mustard, which go to seed very quickly.

Below are just two common weeds and a description of their root structure and why it’s difficult to remove them. And don’t get me started on the many different species of grasses and their different roots.

 

Mugwort, Artemesia vulgaris, spreads by rhizomes. If you just pull it, the roots remain and the plant grows back vigorously. The plant is not nearly as pretty as this illustration makes it look!

File:StellariaMedia001.JPG

Chickweed, Stellaria media. No rhizomes, but fine, hairlike roots that spread widely and break when you try to pull the plant out.

Of course, there’s a new horticultural school of thought that says you should never pull weeds out–instead, you should simply cut off the top growth. If you do this repeatedly, the plant will die, but “repeatedly” is the key. It can take two years, so imagine doing it in a large garden! I have had success with this method for hostas–it took dedicated weekly removal of all foliage for two years. But I only had a few hostas leftover from the previous owner of my property. And even that was certainly easier than digging out large hostas with enormous root systems.

A book on weeding would have a chapter on the definition of a weed (not violets!), types of root structures, weeding methods, weeding tools, things not to do (black plastic, chemical herbicides), and a very long appendix listing weeds of the northeast, with photos of the plant and of the root structure. Somehow I don’t think it’s an economically viable project.

 

Snow day

dsc_5731

Spring will come, so prepare for it now! Today wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are sleeping under a foot of snow, but they will bloom in little more than a month.

What better time than a snow day to prepare for spring in the garden? Are you one of those people who doesn’t plan for spring until the weather warms up? There’s a problem with that approach: the best suppliers of native plants are sold out of the plants you want long before you’re ready to order. Right now, today, when you have a little extra time, go online (you’re already there!) and browse native plants. Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon, and Toadshade Wildflower Farm are all excellent, reliable mail-order suppliers and growers. Toadshade is right here in New Jersey.

While you’re online, do a little research. Check out the website of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey: read about native plants, find local suppliers, and register for the annual meeting, to be held this coming Saturday. Or take a look at the fabulous website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, with its searchable database of native plants. Or check out the Xerces Society for fascinating information about pollinators and the plants they love.

Finally, for the simplest way to plan and order a pollinator garden, Glen Rock residents can take advantage of the Environmental Commission’s preplanned butterfly garden project. But hurry up! The order period ends tomorrow.

_dsc1979

If you want to enjoy a colorful garden this summer, the time to plan and order is now.

3/10/17: In the garden this week

_DSC0033

Right now it looks like this outside . . .

DSC_4272

But yesterday it looked like this. And tomorrow?

Yesterday shorts, today snow boots. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s not spring yet–no matter what the weather on any particular day, it’s too soon to remove last year’s growth or plant new perennials. And it’s too late to prune. So what can you do?

water new plantings: in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, and the ground is not frozen, water all plants installed this spring or fall. It’s snowing today, so no need to water right now, but in general precipitation has been below normal for the past 30 days. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. I total the weekly rainfall and decide whether to water my new trees or my clients’ new plantings each week.

— start vegetable seeds indoors. You’ll find a schedule here.

— Don’t clean up the perennial garden yet. It supplies food and cover for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife all winter.

but do extend a garden bed or start a new one (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. Or use a thick layer of leaves (12″ or more). You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch in spring. You can scatter seeds in the mulch as you collect them.

collect seeds. Even though I’ve been collecting seed since last summer, plenty remains for the birds. Mixed-species foraging flocks visit daily to take advantage of the bounty; through the winter I saw nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, juncos, several species of sparrows, woodpeckers, kinglets. And robins are back!

— plan for the coming season: Notice things that did great and things that didn’t, make lists of areas you want to improve, areas of lawn you could get rid of, places that are getting sunnier or shadier and need new plantings to suit. Did you have enough fall color in your garden? If not, plant some colorful native shrubs in the spring. Is there plentiful food for birds now? Plan to plant native perennials and shrubs on spring. And place your orders early, because native plant nurseries run out of the most popular species.

–and speaking of planning this season’s garden, if you live in Glen Rock, you can order a preplanned butterfly garden designed by me for the GR Environmental Commission

join a garden club or native plant society: you’ll meet like-minded gardeners, learn a lot, and find out about local resources. For example, join the Native Plant Society of New Jersey and find about the activities of our Bergen-Passaic chapter, or join your local garden club.

— If you live in Bergen County, take the Parks Survey.  It only takes a few minutes, and it allows you to say what you would like to happen to our precious remaining open space.

— 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.

Maybe we need a reminder that it’s still winter out there! Enjoy the garden this week!

DSC_4475

Spring always comes, and with it the lovely blooms of spicebush (Lindera benzoin).