Horticulture Tips

   Monthly Tips from EAGC’s Horticulture Committee


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December 2017 Horticulture Tips

What is your best Christmas tree memory when growing up? Whether your family had a faux tree or cut down an evergreen each year, the Christmas tree was a special part of the holiday season. Christmas traditions change as we grow but Christmas memories of the people you love last forever. Enjoy the following sweet memory of a member of our horticulture committee about a special time spent with her dad at Christmas:

 

Christmas Tree Memories

Sunday my husband Wally and I decided it was time to put up the Christmas tree. The artificial tree has been with us for a long time and in recent years needed some jerry-rigging with the lights.  When Wally started splicing wires, I called time out. Off we went to find a new tree, which in turn, got me thinking about the Christmas trees of my childhood.

Being the tallest daughter at the time, I was Dad’s assistant in choosing the live tree.  It was always cold and, as a teenager, I didn’t look forward to the job.  And please, Dad, don’t go to that tree place where my old boyfriend works. Too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, it took some time to find the right tree and some extra boughs as well.

Now home in the garage, I’m turning the tree while Dad takes a critical look.  There are gaps.  Out comes the electric drill and jackknife.   Skillfully Dad drills holes in the trunk at perfect angles to receive the boughs.  Then he carves the ends of each bough and slips them into the trunk.  No more gaps.  Perfect tree.

All the while, Dad and I are talking about Christmas, school, and friends.  It was a special time, just the two of us.

Sunday before turning in, I looked at our new perfectly shaped artificial tree and silently thanked my Dad for so many good Christmas memories.

Meredith, EAGC Horticulture Committee

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November 2017 Horticulture Tips

Partnering with Nature

What a summer for a tomato harvest! My four plants were overloaded with large fruit and I’m convinced that the success is due in part to the Bombus impatiens, the Common Eastern Bumblebees that nested in our garden this summer.

Tomatoes are self-fertile, meaning they act as both mother and father to their own seeds, a strategy known as “selfing.” But the pollen inside the anther needs help moving to the stigma. A tomato blossom is fertilized by motion…. wind or by tapping on the cluster of flowers to release pollen…. but the most effective pollinator of tomato blossoms seems to be the trusty bumblebee. Tomato flowers are ignored by most bees, but here comes the plump little bumblebee to save the day by “buzz pollinating” the blossom. Have you ever watched the bumblebee on a tomato blossom? It pulls down the anther, hangs on and vibrates, causing pollen to be released onto the bee’s belly. A bit of pollen exchange with the stigma and the job is done. Hundreds of these perfect tomato pollinators lived all summer in a nest nearby.

Early in the spring when the weather was still cool, I decided to try and entice bees to nest in the garden. I constructed a simple bee house from a fallen tree to attract solitary bees (semi successful…) and I prepared a site that might tempt ground-nesting bumblebees. I made some holes on barren dry soil and covered the loose earth with grass clippings and dried leaves. My efforts were rewarded. A queen moved into this bit of real estate and set about growing her colony.


My summer gardening was shared with an explosion of beautiful bumblebees. Although the bumblebee can sting repeatedly, it’s typically docile and we worked inches from one another all summer… me deadheading, planting, edging, weeding or watering as they buzzed around me or landed on me, often using my shirt as a resting spot. We co-existed and I was never stung.

Our pesticide-free garden supplied a continuous food source… from early rhododendron and crabapple, to later blooms like summersweet, alliums, hosta, hydrangeas, herbs, lavender, holly, and a favorite, the garlic chives that I grow in pots. All summer long the bumblebees fed on nectar and gathered pollen to feed their expanding family of young.


Wild bees pollinate a goodly percentage of the world’s food and the populations are declining. The greatest threat to the bumblebees is the loss of adequate habitat. I was happy to give a small assistance to the Bombus impatiens and was richly rewarded with my abundant tomato harvest. Only the mated female bees will survive the winter but my fingers are crossed that next summer will bring another bumblebee adventure.

Ann H, EAGC Horticulture Committee

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October 2017 Horticulture Tips

The Common Witch Hazel

I can’t think of a better time than the Halloween season to feature a native understory tree with a spooky name, the witch hazel…. although the witch hazel is NOT associated with witches or Halloween at all.  The name ‘witch’ has origins from Old English wice, meaning pliant or bendable.  And, according to lore, the Y-shaped witch hazel branches are the divining rods that bend toward the earth to find underground water.

This genus of small trees and shrubs contains five species and close to 100 cultivars, many native to Asia. The indigenous tree we see growing around the New Hampshire landscape is the common witch hazel (H.virginiana), native to the eastern United States. It’s rather ordinary looking in the summer with its large, oval leaves, but amazingly, late fall brings us fragrant ribbon-like blooms.

We know that most plants bloom in the spring or summer, then develop seeds and go dormant all winter. Not so with the witch hazel. This is the only tree in North America to have flowers, ripe fruit, and next year’s leaf buds on its branches at the same time. While the blooms are open, last year’s seedpods reach maturity and loudly eject one or two tiny black seeds per pod 30-feet or more. If left undisturbed, the seeds will germinate in two years.

One might question how pollination can occur when blooms appear so late in the fall when most insects are inactive. The tree compensates by blooming for a longer period. I’ve seen blooms on a day in late December. Gnats, wasps, moths, and flies replace the summer butterflies and are rewarded with sweet nectar and, of course, the pollen.

From our window, we can count on a few witch hazels along a nearby woodland to brighten up the late fall landscape. Their yellow tassles are a refreshing contrast to the bare deciduous branches on surrounding trees. And because we’ve been charmed by witch hazel, I planted another in our landscape to brighten up the fall view from one more window. If you want to add a fall blooming woody plant to your landscape, do consider our native witch hazel.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Zone 3-8

Partial to full sun

Moist, well-drained soil

Generally pest-free

 

Ann H, EAGC Horticulture Committee

 

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September 2017 Horticulture Tips

It’s Bulb Planting Time!

Autumn is a wonderful time of year to garden – the days are cooler while the sun still has some warmth. The plants are happy too with the soil still warm at their roots. At our September 21 meeting I’ll talk about a range of autumn garden opportunities (trying to not think of them as chores!) but I am writing this to encourage you to make your plan for planting bulbs.

Our horticultural zone on the Seacoast is now officially 6a so maybe you should think about adding some spring-flowering bulbs that previously were out of our range. I have my eye on brodeiea and Dutch Iris. Keep in mind that small bulbs should be planted as soon as you get them because they tend to dry out after harvest. Though not recommended, larger bulbs can be planted until well after a killing frost, up to the time that the top of the soil is too frozen to easily penetrate.

While I buy some bulbs locally I rely on several mail order suppliers for variety and top quality. Although bulbs will be shipped soon it is still not too late to place orders, so here are some purveyors I use:

Brent and Becky’s in Virginia (https://www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com/) is a family-owned company that has been in the bulb business for over a century. They are best known for growing and hybridizing daffodils but offer a wide range of bulbs. They have an especially complete list of Alliums – 28 varieties! And for indoor gardeners there are more than two dozen varieties of Amaryllis (Hippeastrum).

Old House Gardens (https://oldhousegardens.com/) is a wonderful employee owned company. Most of the fascinating plants and bulbs they offer are gown in their own fields or elsewhere in the U.S. but they do import some bulbs. Many are so highly sought that they sell out early.

John Scheepers (https://www.johnscheepers.com/ ) and its wholesale sister Van Engelen (https://www.vanengelen.com/) are longtime bulb importers. The latter offers good value when you are buying bulbs in large quantities – such as when you are massing small bulbs or sharing an order with a friend.

McClure & Zimmerman (https://www.mzbulb.com/) have a small but carefully selected list of bulbs and plants. They offer an especially impressive variety of species tulips many of which look wonderfully exotic.

Messelaar (http://www.tulipbulbs.com/) is almost local – Ipswich, MA – but with strong connections in the Netherlands. You can order for delivery or pick up – the latter option is particularly attractive because you can get excellent advice from the owners. They have lovely Hyacinths for forcing in glasses of water and a very nice selection of Amaryllis and Narcissi for growing indoors.

Bulb planting advice is sometimes lengthy and contradictory. My advice is to not worry too much – most bulbs are very easy going and eager to please. They have even been known to turn themselves right side up when planted upside down. However, here are a couple of sites with useful tips:

http://extension.illinois.edu/bulbs/planting.cfm

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/62/

Fertilizing advice can be particularly contradictory or confusing. I lean toward taking the advice of Judy Glattstein, author of Bulbs for Garden Habitats, The American Gardener’s World of Bulbs (which I own and use), and Flowering Bulbs for Dummies (which I have not seen). She advises against using bone meal for a variety of scientific and observational reasons and advocates using “chemically treated forms of phosphorous and potash, muriate of potash, and superphosphate.”  If you do choose to use a fertilizer when planting bulbs put it down where the growing roots will reach it – so put a cushion of soil on top of the fertilizer and then place the bulb. Often, to save time, I dig a pretty broad hole and then plant my bulbs in a group of uneven numbers – 3, 5, 7, etc. Unless there is a soaking rain in the forecast, water in your newly planted bulbs thoroughly and deeply. Then take a well-deserved nap with dreams of spring flowers.

Becky

EAGC Horticulture Committee

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