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)
Partial to full sun
Moist, well-drained soil
Ann H, EAGC Horticulture Committee
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