Joys of spring

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Snow day

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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.

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

5/6/16: In the garden this week

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As soon as the sun comes out, native columbine (acquilegia canadensis) will leap into bloom, and hummingbirds will appear. This plant does best in poor, dry soil.

In the spring, I can either work or blog, and usually I choose to work! And all the rain we’ve been having is great for planting, and the cool, cloudy weather is wonderful root growth. I’ve been trying to plant ahead of every predicted rainy spell. Finally, a week with enough precipitation for newly installed plants!

Because the weather turned cool, the arrival of spring finally slowed down, and we’re right back on schedule. The catbirds arrived this week, almost the same date as the past couple of years. Flowing dogwood and lilacs are in bloom, birds are extremely active, spring ephemerals will bloom as soon as the sun comes out. The last trees to leaf out, ashes and hackberry, are swelling their leaf buds.

This is the busiest time of year in the garden–the height of planting season. It’s easiest to establish new plants while the soil is still cool, so get your new plants in the ground as soon as you can. Consider a native tree or large shrub for a Mother’s Day gift. In my garden, last year’s lovely red chokeberry is in bloom right now.

In addition to buying Mom a present and taking her out for brunch, here are some things you could be doing in your garden this week:

divide hardy perennials and grasses. Many of the toughest native plants–many grasses, asters, rudbeckias, boltonia, columbine, to name just a few–have been in active growth for weeks. I start dividing as soon as each species is ready, and I try to do it right before it rains (saves watering). I’ve been at it for about a month and have enlarged several beds to receive the divisions. And as usual, I’ve given lots of plants away to friends, clients, and local parks and natural areas.

Harvest cool-weather crops such as lettuce, mesclun mix, spinach, arugula and peas. Plant parsley and dill plants, but hold off on basil for another couple of weeks.

— you should have started vegetable seeds for warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and squash a while ago. (You can find a list of dates for starting seeds in this post.) Hold off on putting these tender crops in the ground for another couple of weeks–until at least May 20.

Weed! Dig up wild garlic and dandelions. Pull garlic mustard if it hasn’t yet set seed. This noxious weed is particularly easy to remove–grab the base of the plant, and unless the soil is compacted, you’ll get the whole root system in one firm tug. Once it’s gone to seed, it’s too late to remove it. Mustards go to seed particularly early, so it’s a good idea to pull them as soon as you recognize them. And they’re easy to pull.

Plant! The weather is perfect. Most reliable mail-order nurseries have started shipping. Once the plants arrive, get them in the ground as soon as you can. If you must hold them for a few days, open the boxes, water as necessary, and keep them in the shadiest spot you can find.

— if you or your lawn service has sown grass seed, water several times a day until the grass is up. Otherwise you’re just scattering birdseed. Otherwise, the lawn certainly doesn’t need watering. And it’s much too early to fertilize. Wait until Memorial Day. Even better, don’t fertilize at all this year. I bet the grass will do just fine.

Happy Mother’s Day! enjoy the garden this week!

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Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is in full bloom now. Red chokeberry (A. arbutifolia) has prettier fruit, but black chokeberry has larger flowers and its larger fruit are more attractive to birds.

 

 

Earth Day: In the garden this week

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Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is unfurling its fronds right now. This native fern grows in deep shade and poor, dry soil and remains green all winter.

Happy Earth Day! Instead of the usual Friday list of garden chores, here are some photos of the garden taken yesterday.

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Native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is stalking out and will begin to bloom very soon.

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Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) will bloom very soon. This plant does great in sun or shade.

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About a dozen species of violets are native to New Jersey, and all are hosts to fritillaries.

Enjoy Earth Day in the garden (and don’t forget to water newly installed plants–we’re having another dry spring.)

5/29/15: In the garden this week

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The highlight of the late-spring shade garden is Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis), a plant that spreads a bit too enthusiastically. Also in bloom are columbine, native geranium, and Virginia waterleaf. It looks like the sweet joe pye weed will be as tall as it was last year.

Late spring ushers in lovely blooming shrubs: ninebark, grey dogwood, and, very soon, elderberry. The first summer perennial–in my garden, that means Penstemon digitalis–is just open, and many others are showing buds. All the vegetables are planted. Because it’s been so dry, there’s not much weeding to do. It’s almost summer!

But there are always things to do in the garden:

water new plantings: Water the plot thoroughly before planting, and give all newly installed plants a good soaking as soon as you put them in the ground to settle them in and eliminate air pockets in the soil. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (like this week and the past three weeks), water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. 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.

harvest early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes. As greens bolt, or go to seed, pull the plants and plant something else. A row of beans, perhaps?

— If you started warm-season crops indoors, set them out in the garden now. It’s finally time to set out your tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, and cucumbers.

— now that all perennials have emerged, move and divide plants as necessary. This is the best time to divide perennials: root systems are small and easy to handle, and plants recover fastest this time of year. But be sure to water the plot before doing any planting. The soil is very dry.

— 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. Then plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you reseed bare areas, be sure to water often, especially now that the weather is hot. Lawn grass is really adapted to a much cooler climate than outs. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth. One inch of water once a week is much better than a few minutes each day. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

Enjoy the garden this week!

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A detail of that lovely anemone. If you plant it, be sure it has room to spread.

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

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

5/22/15: In the garden this week

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Our lovely native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a highlight of a spring perennial garden.

The drought continues! Despite all the predictions and lots of cloudy weather, we received well under an inch of rain this week, so the soil is very, very dry–unusual for this time of year. So watering new plantings is a high priority. Established plants, if they are sited properly, should not need supplemental water, however.

In addition to enjoying a Memorial day barbecue, here are some things you could be doing in the garden this holiday weekend:

water new plantings: Water the plot thoroughly before planting, and give all newly installed plants a good soaking as soon as you put them in the ground to settle them in and eliminate air pockets in the soil. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (like this week and the past two weeks), water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. 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.

harvest early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes.

— If you started warm-season crops indoors, set them out in the garden now. It’s finally time to set out your tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, and cucumbers.

— now that all perennials have emerged, move and divide plants as necessary. This is the best time to divide perennials: root systems are small and easy to handle, and plants recover fastest this time of year. But be sure to water the plot before doing any planting. The soil is very dry.

— 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. Then plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you reseed bare areas, be sure to water often. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth. One inch of water once a week is much better than a few minutes each day. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Another highlight of the spring garden is native geranium, Geranium maculatum. This plant thrives in dry shade and goes dormant after blooming and setting seed.

5/15/15: In the garden this week

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Flowers of columbine and false Solomon’s seal, and foliage of mayapple, white snakeroot, several different shade asters, among others grace a shady perennial border.

Mid-spring is my favorite time in my garden. The shade gardens in both the front and backyards burst into bloom, and although they’re not as colorful as the summer prairie gardens, they have their own quiet charm. As you can see, I like to plant many different species close together (it helps fool the rabbits and deer). In spite of the extremely dry spring we’re having, I have not watered these gardens.

In addition to admiring your handiwork, here’s what you could be doing in the garden this week:

— the soil is very dry, so water new plantings: Water the plot thoroughly before planting, and give all newly installed plants a good soaking as soon as you put them in the ground to settle them in and eliminate air pockets in the soil. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain (like this week and last week), water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. 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.

harvest early greens such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and mesclun mix, plus peas and radishes.

— If you started warm-season crops indoors, set them out in the garden now. It’s finally time to set out your tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant.

— now that almost all perennials have emerged, move and divide plants as necessary. This is the best time to divide perennials: root systems are small and easy to handle, and plants recover fastest this time of year. But be sure to water the plot before doing any planting. The soil is very dry.

— 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. Then plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: wait until Memorial Day to fertilize. If you reseed bare areas, be sure to water often. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it less frequently and more deeply to encourage deep root growth.

Enjoy your garden this weekend!

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Virginia waterleaf, an excellent groundcover or flowering perennial for dry shade, opens its first flower; Solomon’s seal is in the background.