10/20/17: In the garden this week

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Not this year. Native plants, like this Virginia creeper vine, require crisp, cool nights to develop good fall color. This year the leaves turned a wimpy mottled reddish green.

Is everyone as sick of warm, dry weather as I am? I feel like I’ve moved to South Carolina. I want a beautiful northern fall.

We’ve had barely an inch of rain since the beginning of September; normal rainfall is over 4 inches per month. And temperatures remain stubbornly high–more than 10 degrees above normal most days. Tomorrow is supposed to be close to 80 degrees once again (a normal high for this time of year is in the low 60s). I look out my window at a backyard of persistent green. NOAA Predictions are for a winter with above-normal temperatures but normal precipitation.

What does this mean for the garden? A lot of chores we normally do in September, such as putting the vegetable garden to bed or feeding the lawn, can be put off until late October or even later (I’m still picking tomatoes). And we may have only a very short window for cold-dependent chores like shrub pruning, which should be done when the plants are completely dormant.

But there are always things you can do in the garden this weekend, if you can bear the heat:

water new plantings this week: there’s been almost no precipitation for the past 6 weeks. In any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water thoroughly 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 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.

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). Fall-planted cool-season crops are not doing well this year!

— 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.

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 are almost done. 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. However, because of the warm weather, I would still hold off on fertilizing. 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 always. It’s not too cold for a cookout!

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Also not this year. My native shrubs, usually so colorful, seem exhausted by the hot, dry weather. They look dull and dispirited.

 

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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.

 

9/8/17: In the garden this week

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This is what one of my perennial beds looked like at this time last year: a lovely combination of summer and early fall flowers and grasses.

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Here’s the same bed, today. Where have all the flowers gone (sorry)? The very mild winter allowed lots of plant-eating critters–deer and rabbits and woodchucks–to live and reproduce, and they love those native perennials. Phlox did not bloom in my garden this summer, and there will be very few asters or boltonia flowers. New seedlings of Rudbeckia triloba, a short-lived perennial, seem to have been crowded out by the little bluestem. I have a lot of work to do in this bed next spring.

It feels like fall is coming early. The evenings and mornings are crisp, and many trees are already showing color. I hope it’s a sign of a cold (dare I say normal?) winter. However, the National Weather Service is predicting above-normal temperatures for the Northeast over the next three months. We must adjust to the new normal: zone 7 rather than zone 6; more fungus diseases of plants; more insect pests.

At least rainfall has been normal this year, even slightly above average (approximately 52 inches for the past year versus a normal of 49). The garden doesn’t look nearly as tired as it usually does in September; I’ve had to water my newly installed trees only two or three times. Normal rainfall is good for the street trees, too: they really suffered during the drought of the previous two growing seasons.

The weather over the next few days promises to be perfect for gardening, so here are some things you might address:

no need to water new plantings this week: we received approximately 2 inches of rain the past week. But in general, in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this season or last fall. Perennials planted this spring should be well-established by now. 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 not water my new trees or the clients’ gardens I oversee this week.

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 badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material).

— as tomatoes ripen their fruit, 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.

plant cool-weather crops such as lettuce, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, and peas for fall harvest.

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. You’ll be able to plant right through the mulch and thatch next spring. You can scatter seeds there as you collect them.

collect seeds. Coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day. So does seed of daisy fleabane, a lovely native annual. It pops up in different parts of my garden each year. Seed of purple lovegrass and of little bluestem is ripening, as are seeds of nodding joe pye weed, penstemon, prairie onion, and monarda. 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. Now that the nights are cool, it’s a good time to reseed bare areas. But 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. Let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Lawns certainly do not need water. 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.

Enjoy the garden this week!

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Although the critters have eaten most of my sun-loving asters this season, they’ve left the shade-lovers, which are just as important for pollinating insects. This garden, which is along the sidewalk in front of our house, is full of native geraniums and columbine in the spring, asters in the fall. If you look carefully at the upper left, you’ll see ripening dogwood berries.

 

6/30/17: In the garden this week

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Rudbeckias will start to bloom very soon: this is Rudbeckia subtomentosa, the earliest one in my garden. It’s a large, tough plant, and it blooms nonstop from late June through September.

As you approach this long Fourth of July weekend, filled with outdoor activities, take some time to reassess your garden: would you like to spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time on lawn care? would you like to see more birds and butterflies? Do you see fireflies? (You should, unless you poison them with lawn chemicals and insecticides.) Do your plants attract pollinators? (They should, unless they are sterile hybrids.) How could your outdoor environment be more sustainable and environmentally friendly?

Here are some additional seasonal tasks you might address during this long hoiday weekend:

water new plantings: We received almost no rain in the past week, so perennials and woody plants that you planted this spring or last fall need supplemental water: at least an inch of water, not just a little sprinkle. In addition, if you are still planting despite the hot weather, be sure to water well after planting to settle the new plants in the ground. In dry weeks throughout the growing season (weeks 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’s 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. Remove the flowers from basil plants as they form, and cut down the plants to make pesto as soon as you have enough leaves for a batch. If you don’t grow basil, it’s not too late to buy a flat and plant it out this season.

— be sure to properly tie, stake, and prune your tomato plants. Most tomato cages are much too small: 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.

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Monarda didyma, the red species, doesn’t do as well in my garden as the more familiar pink/lavender Monarda fistulosa. This year it’s quite lovely, and both are excellent pollinator plants.

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 or diseased trees that might fall down.

Enjoy the garden and the fireflies!

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A view of one of the pernnial beds taken this morning.

 

 

3/24/17: In the garden this week

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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.

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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.

4/25/14: In the garden this week

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My plants arrived yesterday, so I have no time to write this post. I want to be in the garden. That’s where you should be this weekend, and this is what you should be doing:

plant perennials: the cool weather is perfect for establishment of strong root systems. Be sure to rough up the roots when planting, give them a good soaking to eliminate air pockets on the soil, and keep them watered during dry spells for the entire growing season.

plant cool weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and peas. It you have room, sow a row each week. Keep the seedlings well watered. DO NOT plant warm-weather crops (almost anything besides the ones I listed above) until sometime in late May.

reseed bare lawn patches while the weather is still cool, or, better yet, plant something else such as native perennials or shrubs. Lawn grasses will not grow in a spot that is very shady or very wet. DO NOT feed the lawn until Memorial Day (if you feel you must feed).

enjoy this lovely spring. I can’t wait to get out in the garden, but I’ll just leave you with this photo of one of my American plum trees (Prunus americana), taken this morning. The photo doesn’t do it justice, and there’s no way to capture the heavenly scent.

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11/1/13: In the garden this week

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Please excuse the bad photo–the wind was blowing and the little blue flowers I was focusing on sway in the slightest breeze. But aren’t those blue harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) lovely? they bloomed throughout June and July and are now reblooming with all their might (and as you can see, my favorite Rudbeckia, R. triloba) never stopped). The harebell is definitely on my list of plants to buy more of next spring. Notice the lovely red color on the Penstemon as well. Many native perennials turn brilliant colors in fall.

Now that the gardening season is just about over, take time to review the season, clean up the garden carefully, and continue to do routine chores like weeding. Here are the chores you might consider in the coming weeks:

– continue to harvest your fall vegetable garden: cool-weather crops such as lettuce, arugula, peas, and mustards (brassicas).

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to water unless you are also reseeding (see below).

– early fall was the time to renew your lawn. If you fertilize your lawn (although this is not something I recommend), do it soon, before the lawn goes dormant, using a slow-release organic product. If patches have been reseeded, continue to water them until the temperature stays below 40 degrees.

— if you have places where grass won’t grow, consider planting something else next spring!

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– think about next year’s perennial garden: what needs to be cut back, moved, divided, replanted?

– allow winter squash to ripen after harvesting.

— we have had a killing frost, so remove dead plants: tender annual flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums, eggplants, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes. Compost healthy plant material, discard plants that were attacked by insects or disease.

– take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores, such as fall cleanup, but do not prune now that woody plants are actively shedding their leaves. Now that we’re getting some rain, do some weeding.

collect the leaves you need for the coming year’s compost pile

— many trees and shrubs can be planted in fall, but be sure to provide winter protection (mulch) and to keep watering until the ground freezes and again in spring if needed