Upcoming Talks

Many thanks to the garden clubs of Teaneck, Bergenfield, and Glen Rock, which have invited me to speak at their November meetings:

Thursday, November 10, 7:00, Teaneck Garden Club, “Sustainable Gardening,” Rodda Center, Multipurpose Room B, 50 colonial Court, Teaneck (enter from Palisades Avenue); for more information, http://www.gardenclubofteaneck.org/ElaineSilversteinxi2016.html

Monday, November 14, 7:30, Bergenfield Garden Club, “The Birds and the Bees: Attracting Wildlife with Native Plants,” Coopers Pond Building located at the park entrance on W. Church Street

Tuesday, November 15, 7:45, Glen Rock Garden Club, “Naturescaping: Restoring Sustainability to the Suburban Landscape,” Municipal Annex, 678 Maple Avenue


Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a wonderful all-around native shrub for fall color, summer fruit, and spring flowers.


It’s complicated

Today’s NY Times carries a terrific opinion piece about how very, very complicated nature is and how hard it is to intervene. I encourage you to take a look. And then perhaps read my screed on not feeding the birds. Something to think about.


The bird condo


March 30, 2015

Look at all those nest holes! I refer to this tree as the condo. The bird activity in the area is continuous, and there are lots of wood chips on the ground. This Norway maple is slowly succumbing to wet rot. As branches die, we have them removed if they pose danger to people or property. Otherwise we leave them in place, although we sometimes cut them shorter, again, if they might cause danger. This branch was cut shorter in 2008 and has been continually inhabited at least since then, but there still must be vacancies.

3/27/15: In the garden this week


Spicebush (lindera benzoin) is one of the earliest native shrubs to bloom. This easy-to-grow and adaptable plant thrives in part shade and is not fussy about soil. Look for its delicate chartreuse flowers in about two weeks.

Here in the central part of Bergen County, the snow is gone, although in more northern towns quite a lot remains. The temperature has reached the 50s for the first time, springlike temperatures are predicted for the week ahead, and we’ve had the kind of gentle rain that encourage birds to search for insect food in lawns. All week I’ve been catching glimpses of pairs of hairy woodpeckers and cardinals, and the bird condo in my front yard is sporting new nest holes. Skunks have emerged from hibernation. Hazelnuts are in bloom, and spicebush buds are swelling. It finally really is spring.

I know you’re dying to be out in the garden, so here are some things you could be doing this week:

direct sow seeds of early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes. They’ll germinate and grow slowly at first, but with any luck you’ll have fresh salad greens in about 6 weeks. Sow a new crop every two weeks to ensure a continuous supply of spring greens until the weather heats up.

— as you see new growth emerge, begin to clean up your perennial beds. Grab a handful of stalks hear the ground and gently bend them to break them off. Rake the detritus away and either compost it on site or, if you don’t have room for it, take it to your town’s compost center. This week I’ll begin clearing the shady gardens where spring-blooming perennials grow; by the first week in May, all the beds will be cleared and ready for division or additional plants.

— once you can explore your entire property, evaluate the winter’s damage. Don’t remove dead wood or broken branches unless they pose hazards to people or property, because they might be supplying food or shelter to winter-weary creatures, but see what will need doing. How much mulch will you need? Will your evergreens need spring pruning to remove winter damage?

— it’s not too late 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 inch layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area now to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant in April or May.

monitor your garden for bird activity. Spring migrants are arriving and winter residents are very active at foraging and nest building. If you’re not seeing this, maybe your garden lacks winter food. There should still be perennial seeds, berries of less desirable plants, and leaf litter and dead wood for the birds to search for insects. If you’re not seeing birds now, consider what you can do this season to attract them: for example, plant native perennials, stop pruning dead wood quite so aggressively, stop using pesticides.

order your perennials and woody plants now to get the best selection. (Most local nurseries sell only a very few native species, so I rely on mail order and on specialty nurseries that are up to four hours away.) If you wait until it’s time to plant, nurseries will be sold out of many species.

— buy your vegetable seeds and start them indoors according to this schedule so the seedlings will be ready for spring planting.


This picture was taken in late December, but even now there are a surprising number of colorful berries left on the coralberry shrubs.

Robins have arrived


This picture was taken on March 4, 2014, one year and one week ago. But today I saw the same scene–a small flock of newly arrived robins looking for food on the few spots of ground that are bare of snow. (Check out the Robin Watch website for up-to-date news about this year’s migration.) So at this point, it looks like we’re about a week behind last year’s exceptionally late spring. Based on that, because phenology tells us that natural events tend to happen in a set sequence, I’m predicting that crocuses will be in bloom in about a week and native hazelnut shrubs and spicebush in 10 days to two weeks. Check back here to see if I’m right!

And don’t forget that it’s time to start seeds of many warm-season vegetables indoors, including, finally, tomatoes.

Addendum: Today’s NY Times features an op-ed piece by Doug Tallamy about the environmental value of native plants.

Another winter visitor

_DSC0077 This majestic creature perched in the large maple in our backyard for over an hour this morning, slowly surveying the area for prey. I hope it eventually got a nice big rabbit. My husband, who is reponsible for all the good photos on this blog, took over 100 pictures from a second floor window.

ID help once again, please! Is it a Cooper’s hawk once again? And isn’t it GORGEOUS!

Addendum March 9: I’ve been told that this looks like an immature red-tailed hawk.


Dead wood and other messiness


Dead wood and snags (standing dead trees) are something you don’t see a lot in the suburbs—we tend to keep things neat. But take a look at the dead branch in the center of this picture, the one with all the holes. The tip of this branch fell off, but we left the rest of it in place instead of having it pruned off. It’s prime real estate for many cavity-nesting birds. There are always several nests in it in spring, and in winter, it’s a natural feeder.

As wood rots, it becomes invaded by insects that live in the soft wood and under the bark. Birds look for and eat those insects. A dying or dead tree is extremely valuable to wildlife—it supplies both food and shelter.

This particular tree is one of the two Norway maples on our front lawn, and it’s slowly dying of wet rot (yay!). As branches succumb, we have the tree pruned selectively. If a branch overhangs a sidewalk or driveway, we remove it. If not, we leave it. Once all the branches die, I’ll leave the trunk in place as a snag and plant shrubs and vines around it. But in the meanwhile, we’ll enjoy its long, lingering death. This picture was taken in April 2011:


One important caveat: this is a dying tree of a nonnative, invasive species. If it were, instead, a healthy tree of a native species, I would have dead wood pruned away to protect the tree’s health. So if you have to decide what to do about a dead branches or unhealthy tree, weigh the wildlife value of the dead wood carefully against the overall health of the tree.