Monthly Tips from EAGC’s Horticulture Committee
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September 2018 Horticulture Tips
Weeks of heat? Days of rain? Mobs of mosquitoes? Weeds wearing you down? It is not uncommon for gardeners to feel overwhelmed at this time of year. A recent conversation between garden podcasters/bloggers Margaret Roach (awaytogarden.com) and Joe Lamp’l (joegardener.com) reminded me of excellent coping strategies.
List making is one of my favorites. So while I am still in Maine (and anticipating utter mayhem in my Stratham garden) I plan to take an hour or two this week to apply a critical and thoughtful eye to my plantings here – legal pad, pen, and camera in hand. I’m guessing that some of the things on my mind are on yours too.
Plants that Should be Moved
Sometimes we made a bad decision; sometimes growing conditions change; sometimes we don’t like a plant combination. Here’s an example: two years ago I planted a purple sage, an oregano, and chives among some perennials in what was then the sunniest spot available. After some serious tree thinning this summer, I now have a sunny spot that is also handy to the kitchen. I calculate that Spring will be a better time to move the herbs, but right now I can prepare a bed for them and clearly mark and photograph their present location. So those two tasks are top priority on my list, with a reminder for May transplanting added to the Spring list.
Some plants can be moved in the early Autumn. Those hardy souls include daylilies and hostas. If you do move plants now, reduce stress by watering well in advance; trimming off some foliage; and rinsing and trimming the rootball, removing any dead bits. I like to soak the rootball in a solution of Superthrive overnight or for several hours, and often add a teaspoon or two of superphosphate in the bottom of the new planting hole. The latter stimulates root growth. At this time of year exercise extra caution about transplanting shallow rooted plants prone to heaving – heucheras for example.
This is a good time to make a list of any gaps in your garden, with your thoughts of what might be a good filler or replacement to move in now or next Spring. Just think how much easier Spring will be with a list of what you want to purchase or transplant. For instance, all Summer I have been irked by a lovely Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ that really needs something around its ankles. I’m thinking of a froth of Lady’s Mantle on one side (added to the Spring shopping list) and on the other side a fringe of Hakonechloa macra aureola (on the list to snitch from a thriving nearby colony).
Deadheading and Seed Saving
While it is not a good idea to go crazy “cleaning up” your garden, removing the old blooming stems of daylilies, Siberian iris, and hostas is always on my list somewhere around the mid level priority – a chore that can be delegated if I have a volunteer. My visiting sister-in-law recently relieved me of scores of those ugly stems.
Near the top of my deadheading list is Eupatorium rugosum (white snakeroot) whose clusters of small white flowers lend a meadow-like feel to my semi-wild garden. It is, however, a prolific self-sower and is high on my list for a good shearing before it goes to seed. Deadheading such plants can save lots of tedious work in the Spring, pulling up unwanted seedlings.
Digitalis grandiflora, a short-lived perennial yellow foxglove, is a different case altogether. It is on my list for late Summer. When the seedheads are nice and dry, I bend some of the stems over so the seeds will fall around the mother plant. Others I cut and shake out over a sheet of newspaper and then funnel into labeled envelopes. They go on my list for early Spring sowing. You can do the same with some annuals – poppies and calendulas for example.
Pruning and Pinching
This is a good time to walk around your garden and start a list of plants you could have pruned early in the growing season or just after blooming. Looking at the Monarchs flitting about my Joe-Pye weed I wish I had pinched or pruned some of them to promote branching so I would have more blooms for butterfly fodder, plus plants of varied heights and extended bloom time. On my list for late June.
Other plants, such as nepeta and some salvias, will rebloom at least somewhat if given a timely shearing or selective pruning. Keeping a list of these will provide a reminder.
This is a good time to make a list of woody plants needing pruning and to research the appropriate timing. I often feel that the best time to prune is when the spirit moves me. Currently on my list for pruning and trimming now is a very old bayberry in need of rejuvenation and a volunteer pagoda dogwood (thank you Mother Nature) that needs some shaping up. My 2019 summer list will include pruning my native deciduous rhododendrons that bloom in June and early July.
The best source I know for perennial plant care is Tracy DiSabato-Aust’s The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. For trees and shrubs I turn to my old edition of Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, but an internet search can yield much useful information if you are careful with the sources.
So get out your pad of paper and pen, ready to make your lists and set your priorities. If planting bulbs is on your list for the Autumn, check out my September 2017 tips on sources for getting top quality bulbs delivered to your door.
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August 2018 Horticulture Tips
A Sting Operation
It’s August now. We’re slowly approaching fall and it’s the time that many of us have black and yellows visitors attending our outdoor activities. These visitors are a nuisance and they can be life-threatening to those with a venom allergy. They are never invited to human events but still seems to crash our late summer picnics or park visits, and they can disrupt our activities in the garden. This interloper is the yellow jacket, a wasp that is responsible for half of all human insect stings.
Early in the summer, these insects can act a little threatening but if I’m careful not to provoke them, we can co-exist in the garden. Unless there’s a real infestation or a nest too near, I have a live-and-let-live philosophy because they are actually beneficial in helping with an overpopulation of often-damaging insects in the garden and play a role in pollination. You can watch them buzz around flowers in the summer and disappear beneath leaves hunting all day for insects to feed on for needed protein for the developing larvae back in their nest.
Yet the yellow jackets we are beginning to encounter in August and later in the fall are a different matter. They are bad-tempered and more aggressive. As fall approaches, the workers’ diets turn more to sugars as they scavenge the landscape, and that can bring them to a nasty encounter at your picnic…. or having several lurking around your hummingbird feeder.
There are less than perfect ways to eliminate the wasps with poisons or traps, but the good news is that days are numbered for all but the queen yellow jacket. Workers will begin to die off from our ensuing cold weather, and the fall-fertilized queen must start a nest from scratch next spring. Who knows…. perhaps that’s the real reason these yellow jacket worker wasps become so angry and ill-tempered in the fall.
Ann H., EAGC Horticulture Committee
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July 2018 Horticulture Tips
When you mention allium, most folks think of the lovely globular blooms of ornament onions blooming in mid-spring. Showy globes of tall allium follow the tulips in my garden giving us bright waves of purple flower umbels early in the season.
But there’s another beautiful allium in my garden that blooms in late summer. It’s Allium ‘Millenium,’ a clumping hybrid that delivers a profusion of lilac-pink flowers about one foot in height. They provide us with the oooo’s and ahhhh’s at a time when most of the garden has just given up color.
Right now, it’s the second week of July and buds are just forming on my 5 plants, but below are a few photos of blooms from August, 2017.
I was happy to learn that the Perennial Plant Association has chosen ‘Allium Millenium’ as the 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year. Annually since 1990, the PPA has showcased perennials that are “suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease-free.” I can attest to the PPA’s description of Allium ‘Millenium’ as a butterfly magnet. It is also a pollinator magnet… bees flock to the 2” flowerheads for several weeks.
I was first introduced to Allium ‘Millenium’ when I was employed at Rolling Green Nursery. I was blown away by the profusion of bright flowers when a lot of perennials were either done or waiting for a second flush of color. Although I admired it, I hesitated bringing one home because of the ornamental onion’s reputation for profuse reseeding. I didn’t want to be pulling up babies every spring. Well, guess what… this hybrid puts a lot of energy into the blooms instead of heavy self-sowing. However, after the blooms dry to a light tan, I shear off the globes because the foliage is so lush, green and glossy and will take you through the rest of the summer and fall.
Since my original purchase, I have easily divided the clumps both in the spring and the fall. It makes a fabulous pass-along plant for grateful gardening friends. Thumbs up all around for the ornamental onion, Allium ‘Millenium.’
Zones 3 or 4 to 9
Full sun/part shade
Reseeding less a problem for this ornamental onion
Ann H., EAGC Horticulture Committee
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June 2018 Horticulture Tips
Mid-June Garden Chores
June may be my favorite time in the garden. Spring rains and cool weather have done the job for us on New Hampshire’s seacoast. The gardens are flourishing with lush green growth. Garden tools are cleaned, oiled, and sharpened. Weeds have been pulled. Boxwood are trimmed. Containers of annuals are filling out nicely. Borders are edged. Two inches of organic compost topped with fine 50/50 leaf mulch/compost have borders looking neat and tidy.
Early mornings and late afternoon you can often find me just sitting outdoors savoring nature’s bounty. I’m enjoying what is growing and waiting and watching in anticipation of summer blooms…. lavender, daisies, daylilies, the campanula, heuchera, and others, along with ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, and our juicy tomatoes that will soon pop in the garden.
Mid-June brings a relaxing break from the heavier chores of early spring and the work to come under the hot summer sun. I call mid-June the ‘Twixt-Season, a short lull between seasons when the list of garden chores might be shorter.
I’m not totally slacking off in mid-June. Before summer brings us her heat along with insect pests, diseases, more watering and more weeding, here are a few things I am minding in the garden today:
• I keep new plants, water-loving plants, and containers watered. I like to hit them first thing in the morning before the sun creeps above the forest tree tops. I never want to see a plant flagging in the mid-day sun.
• I am deadheading early flowering plants and pinching back blooms on annuals.
• I never stop checking plants for diseases or insect pests.
• I am staking tall flowers when they become floppy. I keep a ready supply of metal stakes handy for tall blooms like peonies and baptisia.
• Every day, I train a multitude of wayward tendrils of our clematis to the trellis
• I continue to mow grass 3-inches high, the recommended height.
• I have pinched off any side suckers from tomato plants from the first stems up to first branch of blooms. And I’ve rooted one of the suckers for a whole new tomato plant.
• I freshen water in birdbaths daily!
• And I change hummingbird food twice a week. I’ve discovered long ago that there’s nothing my hummers love better than cold nectar readymade and stored in the refrigerator.
Enjoy these last days of spring and happy ‘Twixt gardening to you!
Ann, EAGC Horticulture Chair
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May 2018 Horticulture Tips
The Beautiful Oxydendrum Arboreum
Many years ago I read that a world famous botanist (whose name I forget) was asked that if he were on a desert island and could have only one plant or tree, what would he choose. He chose an Oxydendrum arboreum, so I went right out and bought one.
It is also called a Sorrel tree or Sourwood and is a native in the east and southeast of the US to zone 5. It is deciduous with small shiny green leaves similar to Mountain Laurel. These leaves turn the most handsome shade of cordovan red, very polished and leather looking in the fall.
It has clusters of creamy white flowers in late July that resemble lilies-of-the-valley and sometimes the tree is referred to as a “Lily of the Valley Tree.” It is truly a lovely sight in the fall near yellow beech trees. I have seen it listed as growing to 75-feet, but I have never seen it anywhere near that size.
This tree leafs out quite late – so late that I was ready to cut down my new tree. I thought it was dead and had not survived the winter. Fortunately, I had bought a replacement first, and then I had two!
This has been my favorite plant for years. Since it is such a lovely ornamental tree, I wonder why it has been so underused in landscapes!
Connie, EAGC Horticulture Committee
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April 2018 Horticulture Tips
Preparing Your Tools for Spring Gardening
There are five basic tips to keep gardeners on track caring for their garden tools.
Gather – Group –Assess the Damage
Clean and Disinfect
Lubricate – Oiling
1. Gather, Group, Assess:
Basic tools: digging, cutting, sprayers, and your garden gloves.
Hoses: check for cracks and leaks, check for gaskets.
Wheelbarrow/Carts: check tires for pressure and wear, check handles for rough spots.
Decide what needs TLC and what needs replacing.
2. Clean and Disinfect:
Remember safety with goggles and gloves.
Give everything a good washing and make sure you dry thoroughly.
Disinfect tools by using isopropyl alcohol swabs.
Tip: If you have rust issues – spray tool with vinegar, wrap in paper towel, spray again until wet, lay in plastic container and let sit for two hours. Rinse and clean. You can do a quick rinse in a baking soda solution to neutralize the acidic vinegar. Rinse with water and dry.
Rinse with the hose and scrub with stiff bristle brush is needed. Use steel wool if surface is rough.
Tip: Keep a stiff brush hanging near the spigot.
Soap and water is fine. “Scrubbing Bubbles” foaming cleanser was actually recommended for pruners. Rinse well after and DRY. If there is a buildup of “gunky” residue on the blades, you can try a brass bristle brush, SOS pads/steel wool, WD-40, Goo Gone, or a citrus based blade cleaner (woodworker type).
These should be cleaned after each use following device instructions.
Unless you have all stainless steel tools, your clean and dried tools need to be lubricated to protect them from oxidation. You can use boiled linseed oil, light machine oil, WD-40, or even mineral oil. Coat all surfaces, soak for a few minutes, then wipe away any excess.
Wooden handles need care. Check for rough surface, sand if needed, then either give it a good rubbing with a boiled linseed rag or varnish/paint.
Tip: Several articles suggested the “Sand Bucket” method for maintenance just like grandpa used, but not for jointed tools! Take a bucket deep enough to cover the metal part of tool, fill it with coarse sand add enough boiled linseed oil to make it damp moist. After cleaning and drying tools, plunge them into this bucket for quick lube. The bucket is good for years of use.
Tip: Boiled linseed oil has a small amount of solvent. You should let the tool air out for about 24 hours before putting into soil. Also, if you use a rag with the linseed oil, don’t wad it up or put in a closed container. It could be combustible.
There are professional sharpening services available and most good pruners have replaceable blades. To do it yourself, there are many sharpening tools, such as flat file, diamond files, 2 sided whetstones, and other “gadgets.” Safety goggles and protective gloves should be used. You don’t want the small metal filings causing injury. Inspect the cutting edge of the tool or blade for damage, then decide if it worth sharpening or needs replacement. Always stabilize your tool to prevent injury.
Take note of the angle of the bevel on the cutting edge. You will need to work your tool at that same angle. Some tools are beveled on only one side so only sharpen that side of the blade. If there is a burr on the non-cutting edge, you may smooth it carefully.
For a digging tool, you will file in one direction, forward in a smooth motion.
For a pruning tool, you will move in small circular motions from the inner area to the edge.
For a folding saw, brush toward the saw tips with a brass brush.
Wipe away any filings, then lubricate.
Tip: While you are working with a hand held lopper this is a good time to check the tension on the bolted joint. You should be able to hold the tool in front of you, with the blades up, hold one handle and try to swing the other handle out to the side. If the tension is correct, the handle should hold in about a 90 degree position. Adjust the bolt as needed. If it’s too loose, the cut can be ragged; if it’s too tight, you will work too hard.
5. Storage System:
Now that you have worked so hard to get those tools ready for another season of gardening, think about how you store them. Moisture is the tool’s enemy. Even leaving them in contact with a concrete floor can cause issues. There are many methods to store the tools such as hanging on the wall, in an old barrel or plastic trash can, or PVC gridded cubes. Hand tools can be stored in the garden area inside a mailbox or other “dry” unit.
Cleaning, lubricating and sharpening are ongoing tasks throughout the season, as is putting the tools away each time. I promise to do better by my trusty garden tools this year. Now cleaning and sterilizing all those pots … that’s a challenge for another day!
Pat, EAGC Horticulture Committee
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March 2018 Horticulture Tips
“In Like a Lion….”
I consider March a winter month in New Hampshire. It “roars in like a lion,” but often takes us by the hand and gently “goes out like a lamb” by April. We have had our fair share of bad winter storms in 2018 but March still remains a month of promise. It’s a time to dream, peruse catalogues, and start seeds indoors.
Here are some March tips that I like to follow:
Birds are a part of the garden and the going has been tough with so much snow. Seeds are buried beneath the snow and the berries have long since been eaten. Think about supplementing with birdseed, nuts, and berries. While you’re out there, empty the birdhouses of old nests.
The soggy ‘Mud Season’ will follow the snow. One gardening rule to follow is not to cultivate the soil until it’s crumbly. If you dig or even walk on wet soil, you will destroy the structure and drive out air that is important to plant growth. To test whether your soil is ready, squeeze a fistful of soil into a tight ball. If water streams or drips, the soil is not ready for cultivating. If the soil is moist and no water is dripping, poke your finger into the soil ball and if it falls apart, the soil is workable. Sandy and loamy soils are ready much faster than clay. Sadly, you may have to wait until April to dig in the garden.
Once the snow melts and you can actually see the ground, it is a good time to remove old, worn out foliage before the flush of new growth on perennials, such as European Wild Ginger, Heuchera, liriope, Lenten Rose, Epimedium, ornamental grasses, and ferns. You could leave the leaves on, but it’s much more attractive if you tidy up.
March is possibly the last best time to prune because buds will soon begin to swell. Cut out dead or crossed branches and shape your shrubs. Best not to prune spring-flowering shrubs now or there go your blooms!
It’s a fun time to cut forsythia, pussy willow, and crabapple branches and force into bloom indoors. Cut at an angle, split the end, and perhaps peel a little bark there, too. Place in clean water and you should have blooms in a couple of weeks. The pussy willow are great to dry for flower arrangements once they’ve reached their peak.
Because I encourage beneficial insects in my garden, I wait until the weather warms to 50° for a few days in order to clean up the borders. Many insects overwinter in leaf litter, like bees, moths and butterflies. Removing winter protection may expose and kill them.
To speed up the month, create a terrarium like I did in this tiny greenhouse I found in an Exeter nursery. They also carried miniature ferns so I assembled this mini-woodland setting to satisfy my March gardening itch.
If you need to emerge from your own winter hibernation, here are some New Hampshire March Happenings that signal the approach of spring.
• St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 is the perfect time to add a little greenery to your home. Buy a shamrock plant and celebrate spring with a green centerpiece.
• The 23rd Annual NH Maple Weekend is coming up on March 24 – 25, 2018 and it’s a fun time to visit a sugar house near you. You will tour the facility, meet the owners, watch the process, and sample fantastic goods. We always come home with our year’s supple of syrup.
• The Seacoast Home & Garden Show, Whittemore Center Arena, Durham, NH on March 24, 25. It’s a fun place to see and meet landscapers and get great garden ideas.
• Attend Seacoast Winter Farmers’ Markets. Great place to buy healthy herbs.
Happy Spring! Ann, EAGC Horticulture Committee
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February 2018 Horticulture Tips
Humidify Your Houseplants
In this climate, gardeners only have one outlet for their plant-nurturing instincts: houseplants. And low humidity is probably the biggest hurdle we need to overcome during northern winters. The humidity level in heated homes can drop to 10 to 20% in winter, especially when heating systems are trying to keep up with the super-cold days we’ve experienced this winter. This humidity level is bad news for houseplants, which prefer a level closer to 50%.
It’s important to remember, though, that while winter air is drier, plants experience a slower rate of growth during the cold weather. Less watering is needed to keep them hydrated and overdoing it in the hopes of raising humidity can lead to root rot. The soil on the surface will dry quickly, so that’s not a good indicator that the plant needs water. Poke your finger into the soil and check to see if it is dry an inch or two below the surface. That’s when it’s time to pull out the watering can.
To provide more humidity for your houseplants during these dry months, here a few tried and true methods:
• Cluster your plants in groups. Plants release water through their leaves by transpiration and grouping them together will allow them to humidify each other.
• Set up a humidifier near your plants.
• Congregate your plants in a more humid room like a bathroom or kitchen, if you have space.
• Dust your plants – dust collected on leaves can reduce the amount of moisture the leaves absorb.
• Place your plants on or near a tray of water. Raise the bottom of the pots above the water level by placing stones in the tray and setting the pots on the stone.
• Pot your plants in a good quality potting soil mix that contains organic matter to hold water.
• Create a mini-greenhouse for your most sensitive plants. This can easily be made from an old aquarium, which can be fitted with a glass or plastic lid. Open it slightly for ventilation.
• Even simpler is to place a large, clear plastic bag on a waterproof surface. Arrange as many well-watered potted plants in the open bag as will fit. Pull up the sides of the bag over the plants and close it at the top, leaving an opening for ventilation. Use sticks, placed in the pots, to keep the bag from resting on the plants. Remember to keep these mini-greenhouses out of direct sunlight and check them periodically to make sure the soil is moist.
LuAnn, EAGC Horticulture Committee
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January 2018 Horticulture Tips
Our recent cold temperatures and extreme wind chills caused me to rethink my subject for this month. It is way too cold to be contemplating winter pruning….so we will save that for another time. This month I encourage you to cook for the birds overwintering in your backyard. Many of you have feeders full of sunflower seeds or other seed mixtures. In this severe weather our feathered friends need lots of high-calorie food rich in fat and carbohydrates. Like humans, not all birds eat the same thing. Below are some recipes to entice the particular birds that frequent your yard.
You can provide a new habitat for the birds when you discard your Christmas tree. Either chop off some branches and pile them up or stand your tree in a snow bank. Small birds love to eat under the branches out of the weather. The simplest food to put on the tree itself is peanut butter (I use crunchy) sprinkled with oatmeal or raisins. This will attract all the small Finches, Juncos, and Cardinals. Under the tree I sprinkle sunflower seeds and unsalted peanuts in their shells. You can also hang suet from the grocery store on the branches.
These fun recipes require some work. Many involve melting suet before adding the other ingredients. Yes, you can buy suet blocks with seeds in them, but these recipes are more interesting and should appeal to the birds.
Appl-icious Crumble Pie for Robins, Mourning Doves, Orioles, Bluejays
1 cup cornmeal
1 Tbl. Thistle seed
1 Tbl millet seed
1 Tbl sunflower chips
½ cup suet base
Press the mixture into a mini pie pan like a pie crust then refrigerate until hard.
Melt ½ cup grape jelly and pour it over the crust, half way to the top.
Cut apple into thin slices and then cut them in half. Arrange the apples on top of the jelly in a circle and refrigerate overnight.
You can release the “pie” from the pan or serve it as is on a stump or tray feeder.
Double-Dipped Cone – attracts Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches
This is a great treat if you have pinecones available in your yard.
Tie a string around the pinecone just under the stem.
Place waxed paper on your counter.
Melt your suet and dip the pinecone or spoon suet over the pinecone.
Sprinkle seeds of your choice over the pinecone
Melt peanut butter in microwave (about 3 ten-second intervals). Dip the cones or drizzle the peanut butter over the cone. A perfect treat to hang on your discarded Christmas tree.
Eggshell Salad – provides needed calcium and minerals – House Wrens, Juncos, Bluebirds and Cardinals love them
Make yourself 6 boiled eggs and save the shells for the birds.
Heat them in a 275 degree oven for 15-20 minutes to kill any bacteria.
Crush them into small pieces and serve on a saucer feeder with a bit of sand for grit.
Raisin-Berry Relish – Cardinals, Bluebirds, Robins, Sparrows
½ cup orange juice
• cup raisins or currants
• cups fresh or frozen cranberries
• cup brown sugar
Heat over medium high heat until it bubbles.
Then turn heat down to low, cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes—the berries will pop.
Fill ½ orange rind with the mixture, and cool.
Place outside on flat surface or under your Christmas tree.
Squirrels, yes, we all have them. So provide them some treats away from those you made for the birds. Yes they like peanuts, but they require other nutrients. They will eat grapes, squash, zucchini, carrots, and apples.
Hope you will try some of these recipes. They came from the book, Cooking For the Birds by Adele Porter. A copy will be available on the Promise Tree at the General Meeting, $5.00.
Linda V, EAGC 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)
Partial to full sun
Moist, well-drained soil
Ann H, EAGC Horticulture Committee
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