10/6/17: In the garden this week

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New England asters began blooming late this year (because the deer and rabbits ate them down to the ground repeatedly all season), but they’ll continue through October.

I don’t know about you, but I could have done without the return of summer temperatures. A little more precipitation would be nice as well (last night rainfall was less than a quarter inch). In other words, wouldn’t it be nice to have fall, with crisp days, chilly nights, and lots of colorful leaves?

Although warm, dry weather is not good for fall planting, there are still lots of things you can do in the garden:

water new plantings this week: there’s been almost no precipitation for the past 4 weeks. In any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this season or last fall. The soil is very dry, so even perennials planted this spring might be in need of a little extra water. 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 will water my new trees and the clients’ gardens I oversee this week; last Sunday I’ll even watered some of the perennials I put in this past spring.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers. This is particularly important as the season winds down. Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove them before infestations become serious. Throw out infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material).

— because of the warm weather, tomatoes continue to ripen their fruit, but be sure to cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes. And keep picking: don’t let the fruit rot in the garden.

continue to plant cool-weather crops such as lettuce, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, and peas for fall harvest. I’m betting on a warm fall, which means an extended season.

extend a garden bed or start a new one (it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn): mow the grass very short, then spread a 3-4” layer of shredded cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch next spring. You can scatter seeds there now as you collect them.

collect seeds. Seed of purple lovegrass and of little bluestem is ripe, as are seeds of joe pye weed, penstemon, prairie onion, and monarda. Some aster seeds will be ripe soon. Milkweed seed needs to be collected almost daily. I try to harvest just when the pods split open so I can easily separate the seeds from the down.

— 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 this fall, be sure to water newly seeded areas frequently: grass seed will only germinate if kept moist, so give seeded areas a light sprinkling several times a day. If you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. If the lawn is doing well, let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Do not water, or if you feel you absolutely must water, water infrequently and deeply. And always remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

— plan for next season: Do it now, while the garden is still growing. 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.

— do not clean up the perennial garden until spring: the seeds that remain will feed the birds all winter; the stems and dried leaves will shelter innumerable small creatures; and the detritus the ground harbors next season’s butterflies and moths.

Enjoy the garden this week, and think good thoughts about rain, followed by crisp, colorful autumn leaves.

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White snakeroot, a native plant that volunteers in gardens and along roadsides. Sometimes I think it’s a bit too enthusiastic, but the pollinators love it.

 

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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.

2/17/17: In the garden and beyond

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True, the snow is nearly gone and we’re in for some warm weather, but don’t be fooled into thinking that winter is over.

Are you ready for 60 degrees in February? That’s predicted for the coming week. But no matter the weather, remember that it’s still winter. Don’t begin cleaning up your perennial garden for at least another month or six weeks. But here are some things you can be doing in your garden in the next couple of weeks:

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. We have received approximately an inch of precipitation each recent week (rain or snow), so no need to water right now, but check back here frequently for updates. 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.

— are your shrubs overgrown and in need of size reduction? Time is running out to work on winter pruning of woody plants. The best time to do this is while plants are dormant, but with the predicted warm weather, woody plants may break dormancy soon. Contact me for coaching if you would like to learn to do this yourself, or for an estimate if you would like me to do it for you.

— 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 next 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; lately I’ve seen nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, juncos, several species of sparrows, woodpeckers, kinglets.

— plan for next 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.

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.

Enjoy the garden and nature this week and always.

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American hazelnut is the first shrub to bloom in my garden, usually by mid-March. These male catkins are still dormant, but they will elongate and release pollen in just a few weeks.

 

4/8/16: In the garden this week

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Serviceberry buds have reached their “string of pearls” stage. Gorgeous!

It’s cold again! A cool spring means that most plants stay in bloom longer, so enjoy the early spring bloomers. And if you want to brave the weather and get out into the garden this week, there’s plenty to do:

— you should have cleaned up the vegetable garden last fall, but if you didn’t, do it now! Remove dead plants and weeds, spread compost or rotted manure to prepare for spring planting.

— continue to direct-sow seeds of cool-weather crops such as lettuce, mesclun mix, spinach, arugula and peas. They’ll germinate and grow when the weather is warm and stall when it turns cold. But cold weather won’t hurt them, and you’ll have spring greens as early as possible.

— start vegetable seeds for warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and squash. You can find a list of dates for starting seeds in this post.

— Weed! Dig up wild garlic and dandelions and pull garlic mustard. It’s too late to pull western bittercress, which has already gone to seed. 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.

— as weeds and lawn grasses begin to grow, neaten the edges of your perennial and shrub beds. It’s easier to do it now, when the weeds’ and grasses’ root systems are relatively small, than it will be once the weather turns warm.

— it’s really a bit too early to divide and plant perennials, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve been dividing and moving very hardy, early appearing plants for a couple of weeks now: purple lovegrass and Junegrass (but not little bluestem, which isn’t in active growth yet); ginger, shade asters, sedges; coreopsis and sun-loving asters are among the plants that are extremely cold hardy and surviving early division quite well.

— if you’re planning on ordering native plants from specialty nurseries, get your order in as soon as possible. Many companies are already sold out of the most popular plants. Reputable companies will start shipping in late April or early May.

— 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. And it’s much too early to fertilize the lawn. Wait until Memorial Day. Even better, don’t fertilize at all this year. I bet the grass will do just fine.

What’s in bloom in your garden?

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Native plum tree is in full bloom, while most native trees aren’t even thinking of leafing out yet. The light-green growth at top right is a Norway maple. The big ash tree at center left is still bare.

11/6/15: In the garden this week

The Thain Family Forest in the New York Botanical Garden, the largest old-growth forest in New York city. This weekend is a great time to enjoy the autumn colors.

The autumn colors are particularly beautiful right now, so try to get out and enjoy them this weekend. And after the unseasonably warm spell (almost too warm to do all the weeding and raking I’ve done this week), we’re due for cooler, more autumnlike weather. Perfect for walking in the woods. If you don’t have time to go to the NY Botanical Garden or up to Harriman State Park or even to the Ramapo Valley Reservation, take a stroll through the Thielke Arboretum in Glen Rock. The red maples are gorgeous.

And after your relaxing autumn walk, come home and work on preparing your garden for winter as well as for next season:

— It’s not too late to plant hardwood trees and large shrubs. You can plant most hardy trees until the ground freezes. Be sure to mulch well and water thoroughly: give at least 1 inch of water per week until the ground freezes, and then again as soon as it thaws in spring.

Water new plantings: newly installed plants still need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, continue to water all perennials and woody plants installed this season. How do you know when you’ve provided an inch of water? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

Clean up the vegetable garden carefully. Discard (do not compost) infested or diseased plants. Clean up meticulously as each crop finishes producing. This year’s diseased plants, left in the garden, are the source of next year’s infections.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, keep harvesting. We could get a killing frost at any time. We have been enjoying a delicious fall crop of arugula.

— This is a good time 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″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— Now that you can water, there’s time to reseed bare areas of lawn. Most lawn grasses will grow until the temperature dips below 40 degrees. But if you seed, water several times a day until the grass is at least an inch tall. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Measure and mulch the bed now so you’re ready to plant in spring.

Keep a garden log. Right now, before you forget, write down this year’s gardening successes and failures as well as plans for next year. The best thing about gardening is that there’s always next year.

Apply an antidessicant spray to broad-leafed evergreens such as rhododendrons and azaleas. These plants are particularly stressed during cold winters. The spray, which forms a very thin plastic coating on the leaves, helps prevent evaporation.

You’ll notice that I don’t advise you to clean up your perennial garden in spring. I prefer to wait until fall. Because I plant, and encourage my clients to plant, only native plants that produce seeds and fruits, I leave everything in place for the winter. Even though I don’t hang feeders, my garden welcomes more birds throughout the winter. They eat the seeds on the plants as well as those that fall to the ground; the plants supply cover to the winter foraging flocks as well. And this year’s stalks will be much easier to break down next spring than they are right now.

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If you leave the season’s growth until next spring, your perennial garden will welcome birds with food and cover all winter long. This picture was taken at the end of November last year.

9/19/15: In the garden this week

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Despite the drought, New England asters are putting on their usual autumn display, although individual flowers seem a bit small than usual this year.

If your water company is Ridgewood Water, you’re still under Stage IV watering restrictions. Here in Glen rock, that means hand watering only on odd/even days. Other local water companies have imposed voluntary restrictions, but those could turn into mandatory ones at any time. It’s been a very dry growing season, and that changes most people’s fall planting and maintenance plans, as I’ll describe below.

Despite the drought, native perennials are blooming lustily, if a bit late: some asters and goldenrod are only beginning to bloom now, and there’s little fall color compared with the last two years, which had cooler summers. But there’s still much to enjoy in the garden, and much to do:

water new plantings: newly installed plants and annuals, like vegetables, need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, 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, and this season is one long dry spell. How do you know when you’ve provided an inch of rain? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers: Continue to monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove pests before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). As the garden winds down for the year, clean it up carefully. This year’s diseased plants, left in the garden, are the source of next year’s infections.

— As tomatoes continue to ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits. Keep removing suckers. At time of year particularly, signs of various fungal diseases appear. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, keep them well watered, especially as they begin to germinate. It’s about 4 weeks until our average first frost date!

— this is a good time 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″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— 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. However, if you can’t water, don’t fertilize.

— Similarly, don’t reseed bare areas until you can water. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Measure and prepare the bed now so you’re ready to plant in spring.

— Almost all lawns are dormant now, and you probably haven’t mowed in weeks (yay!), but the grass will green up as soon as we get some rain. Mine showed signs of life after it rained last week.

— Hold off on fall planting. If you can’t water, don’t plant. Newly installed perennials, shrubs, and trees need frequent and thorough watering. But remember, there’s always next year!

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Virginia creeper is beginning to show some color, but the display is not as brilliant as it was in the last two years, which had unusually cool autumns.

9/4/15: In the garden this week

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Boltonia (B. asteroides) is one of the few plants that looks as good this year as it does in a year with closer to average rainfall. Individual flowers are about 1″ across; the plants have thousands of flowers and are about 6′ tall.

It’s been so dry that, frankly, my garden doesn’t look all that great. True, late-season perennials (Rudbeckia, Boltonia, great blue lobelia, asters, goldenrod, various Eupatoriums) and grasses are blooming almost as enthusiastically as ever, even if some are rather late. But foliage generally looks tired, early-blooming perennials are setting seed early, and woody plants are showing many signs of drought stress, such as drooping leaves, heavy or early seed set, dropping lower leaves, and brown leaf margins. (Of course, if you go for a groomed look rather than a natural one, you would have watered regularly, and your garden would look lush and lovely now.) My husband, who takes almost all the photos I use here and for my talks, hasn’t felt inspired to go outside and document the garden. The photos above and below were taken last year.

I haven’t felt inspired to be outside either. I’ve pushed back the beginning of fall planting for clients by at least a week because of the hot, dry weather; it makes sense to hold off on many early fall garden chores that people usually do around Labor Day (see below). But here are some things you might think about this week:

water new plantings: newly installed plants and annuals, like vegetables, need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, 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? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers: Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove pests before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). Cucumber vines are showing signs of wilt: remove them immediately to prevent the spread of this fungal disease. Pick frequently: smaller vegetables taste better.

— As tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits. Keep removing suckers. At time of year particularly, signs of various fungal diseases appear. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

— Tend the fall vegetable garden: if you seeded second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach, keep them well watered, especially as they begin to germinate. It’s about 6 weeks until our average first frost date!

— 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″ layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. Next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn during the summer and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— 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. However, because the weather is so hot and dry, hold off for about a week, and don’t fertilize when the soil is dry.

— Similarly, hold off on reseeding bare areas until the weather cools off a bit. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials.

— Let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. 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 (watering every day is likely to cause fungal diseases). But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow! If you follow my advice and hold off on watering entirely, your lawn is dormant now and you probably haven’t mowed in weeks (yay!), but it will green up as soon as we get some rain.

Take heart: the heat is predicted to end in less than 10 days! And in the meantime, happy Labor Day.

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Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), in a photo also taken last year. I can’t say that it looked quite as good this year, but it certainly bloomed nicely and has now set seed.