Monthly Tips from EAGC’s 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
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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