Monthly Tips from EAGC’s Horticulture Committee
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Horticulture Tips – November 2019
Going Away This Winter? Inexpensive Ways To Keep Your Houseplants Happy
Those of us lucky enough to escape the cold winter weather need to figure out how to keep our houseplants hydrated & healthy for what can often be weeks. One method is to convince a trusted friend or neighbor to take over the responsibility – either by home visit or by taking the plants into their own home. This is very effective solution, if you’re fortunate to have such a friend/neighbor. For the rest of us, there are some DIY methods that may also work, depending on the plant and the length of the vacation.
Some preparation is needed before any of these techniques are attempted. The first step should be determining the watering needs of each of your plants. Keep track of how often they need watering and how much water is needed. Shortly before you leave, trim your plants so they’ll require less water during your absence.
Spread a thin layer of mulch on top of the potting soil to slow evaporation. Try moss, coconut coir, stones, or pebbles. And move your plants away from sunny windows, which will also help slow evaporation. Some plants, especially those requiring less moisture, may be temporarily moved to a cool basement or garage, so long as there’s enough light for them there.
And finally, on the day you leave be sure to soak the plants thoroughly so that they’re draining from the bottom. Then it’s time to set up one of these automatic watering systems. (It’s a very good idea do a test run of any watering system before leaving for your vacation.)
The most elementary of watering systems, you’re using a wick to draw water from a reservoir into your plant’s soil. Depending on the size of the pot and how long you’ll be gone, the reservoir can be anything from a small bowl to a milk jug. Choose a natural fiber wick – cotton, twine, something that readily absorbs water.
Then place your reservoir of water next to and higher than the plant. Cut a piece of wick to put inside the reservoir, touching the bottom, with just enough remaining outside to reach the pot’s soil. Place the remaining end of the wick inside your pot so it’s laying on the soil. The water will travel through the wick and into the soil as needed. Be sure the wick is wet and relaying moisture to the plant before you leave. You can also cover the reservoir to slow down evaporation.
As an alternative method, you can place the pot over the reservoir and poke the wick up through the drainage hole in the pot – this reduces evaporation and helps to keep the soil at the base of the plant moist.
Another simple variation of the wicking system uses a resealable plastic bag full of water with a wick in it to pull the water out at steady rate. Thread a fine needle with cotton thread and tie the two ends in a large knot. Push the needle through the bag near the bottom, centered, but not on a seam. Be sure not to accidentally poke extra holes in the bag.
Now fill the bag with water, which will start wicking out of the needle-hole and dripping down the thread. Lay the bag on the soil surface, with the thread spread over the soil. This is what’s going to water your plant. Two warnings: test ahead of time to make sure your needle hole allows the right amount of wicking for your plant’s needs; and not all plants will be happy with this method of watering, which keeps the soil continuously damp.
DIY drip systems are also very easy to set up using nothing more than plastic or glass bottles. For a smaller plant, clean out a small plastic bottle and poke or drill a few small holes either at the top of the bottle itself or in the cap. Then fill the bottle with water, put the cap back on, quickly flip it and push it into the just-watered soil. Be sure to push it far enough in that the holes are covered by the soil.
For a larger plant, use a wine bottle. Fill it, hold your thumb over the top, flip it and quickly push it into the soil.
These bottles work great for a shorter vacation or with regular monitoring, but simply increasing the number of bottles per plant, thinking that you will be providing water over a longer period of time, will only increase the rate of water dispersion and possibly drown your plant.
This watering solution involves filling a sink or tub with several inches of water and setting your watered potted plants in it. You may want to place a towel or newspapers in your tub to soak up water and slow the evaporation. But keep in mind that the pots need to have drainage holes for this to work. The water bath technique may be a great option for smaller houseplants, but it’s not for large plants that are difficult to lift. It also won’t work if the tub is in a location where there’s not enough light for the plants.
To create a mini greenhouse, you’ll need a clear plastic bag that is big enough to fit comfortably over the plant. You also may need sticks or stakes to hold the bag up and away from the plant.
Place a damp towel in the bottom of the plastic bag. Put the well-watered plant on the towel and tie the bag shut, trapping as much air as possible inside. Avoid having the bag cling to or push against your plant – use stakes if necessary. And no matter how much your plant likes bright light, make sure the plastic-covered plant is not exposed to direct sunlight – heat will build up inside and cook your poor plant to death!
You can find capillary mats at gardening centers, but it’s simple enough to make your own. You’ll need:
Section of 1-inch-thick styrofoam cut to fit inside the tray, leaving about 1 inch from the edge of the tray on all sides
Section of absorbent fabric such as wool, felt, or cotton cut to fit the styrofoam so it hangs down and touches the tray on two ends
Put the styrofoam in the tray, fill the tray with water, and place the saturated fabric on top of the styrofoam and hanging down into the tray. Then place your just-watered potted plants on top. The fabric will serve as a wick, watering the plants from the bottom.
Here’s a sink used with a capillary mat:
Horticulture Tips – October 2019
October is a month of transition in New Hampshire. Summer is not quite over but autumn is pushing its way into our lives. Time to cut back the garden and get your yard and house ready for the upcoming winter. Why do we spend time caulking and making our homes so weather tight? It is not just to keep the cold out and the heat in. We want to keep pests from moving into the house.
Who are the pests that want to move into our homes this month? Some are familiar and some are new to our area. Are they harmful? They are not, neither to us or our pets. They will not damage our homes, but they can be a nuisance.
The familiar ones are:
• The Cluster Fly – They look like large houseflies but are slower and tend to gather around the windows, especially in attics or upper stories of your home. They are the last of several generations to have hatched during the summer. This generation just wants a warm place to spend the winter. They are easily eliminated with a fly swatter. They do no harm.
• Spotted Lady Bugs – The red ladies with brown spots are native to NH. They are about ¼” long and tend to be a bit oval. Some may try to enter your home, but not in the numbers that the pesky multicolored Asian ladybugs do. Our native ladies are harmless and do not bite. They are beneficial in the garden as they eat aphids.
• Common Brown Stinkbug – These bugs are harmless. They do not bite or destroy your belongings. They just emit a horrible smell when crushed or threatened. They are easily vacuumed up. I prefer to capture them under a glass and release them back outside where they have to deal with the cold. The photos shown after the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug show the differences between species.
The newer and perhaps unfamiliar pests invading our state and our homes are:
• Brown Marmorated Stinkbug – These guys are new to the state arriving in 2010. At that time there was a huge influx of them in Portsmouth. They tend to mass on buildings the first 3 weeks of September. Although the building color doesn’t seem to matter, the proximity to trees does. The adult is about ½” long. They are attracted to crevices especially on cars, trailers, RVs etc. Distinguishing markings include, dark and light banding on the antennae as well as along the rear edge of the body. Like other stink bugs, they do not bite, but they smell bad when handled.
• The Multi Colored Asian Ladybug – These ladies first appeared in NH in 1994 and have proliferated since that time. They are attracted to light colored buildings with lots of nearby trees. They look very different from the Spotted Lady Bugs. Most of them have a white body segment behind the head with a black M shaped marking. They vary in how many spots they have and are smaller than the normal ladybug. They work their way into your home through very small spaces and you can find them anywhere. Although usually harmless they can bite when handled.
• Boxelder Bug – This is the newest pest to arrive in NH. It is still uncommon, but will be found when boxelder maples are planted in an area. They do not usually eat other species of maples. Like the stinkbugs they start massing on buildings in September. They too are attracted to crevices on vehicles. They do not bite. The best way to not have these guys around is to avoid planting Boxelder Maples.
• Western Conifer Seed Bug – These bugs arrived in NH in the late 1990s. The adults are about ¾” long. They feed on pines, white spruce, and hemlocks. Like stinkbugs, they smell when handled. They are easily distinguished from stinkbugs.
The best way to keep these critters from sharing your home is to seal up your house. They can crawl into tiny spaces between shingles, around air conditioners, and windows. Once they are in, you can vacuum them up and toss the bag or relocate them back outdoors.
Just know that they won’t destroy your household belongings or pose a threat to you. They are just critters trying to find a way to survive the winter. That said, they can be annoying.
Horticulture Tips – September 2019
Off With Their Heads!
One of my most reliable garden flowers is the Shasta daisy, Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky.’ Large white, petal-like florets surround a yellow center of densely packed florets, making the daisy ideal for a sunny garden. In my small cutting garden full of stronger colors, the clump of 3-ft. tall Becky daisies provides a bit of neutral relief for the eye during the summer months. The flowers are long-blooming, reliable, drought tolerant, and, as a bonus, they provide a fine cut flower with a long vase life.
Daisies require so little effort from the gardener, asking only for sunshine, good soil, and a little watering during dry spells. However, there is one chore that I personally find enjoyable: deadheading or removing the spent blooms during the growing season. Deadheading isn’t something that is done all at once. I deadhead the daisies one by one as they fade or turn brown and am rewarded with a second blooming of white all summer and a border full of appreciative pollinators.
Deadheading not only makes the daisies more attractive, their energy is redirected to the second bloom, a lateral flower lower on the plant. It’s important not to just deadhead the fading flower head. I follow the stem down to a healthy lateral flower bud and cut the stem of the faded flower just above the bud. The second flush of daisy blooms will produce smaller and shorter flowers, but just as lovely.
It’s mid-September now and my Becky daisy blooms are few and the foliage is looking a bit tattered. Soon there will be no more flowers. When that time arrives, I will sheer the entire clump back to the basal leaves of the plant. Flowers will be gone but, instead of bare ground, I will be left with a mass of green foliage that will persist through the fall season. How nice all that green will look surrounded by colorful perennials and annuals still in bloom.
Ann H., EAGC Horticulture Committee
Horticulture Tips – August 2019
August is the last full month of summer. It’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to the growing season, but this is a month that I really enjoy being outdoors working around the ornamentals and few vegetables I grow. The sedum should be in bloom, ripening tomatoes should be heavy on the vine, and hydrangea shrubs should be strutting their stuff. The hot colors of my echinacea, rudbeckia, blanket flowers, and coreopsis dancing among the tall Becky daisies is all the thrill I need during this last full month of summer.
‘Celebrity’ Tomatoes in August
Our temperatures will fluctuate these weeks but the heavy humidity of July has lifted and that makes all the difference. It’s a time of lighter chores in the ornamental garden, mainly deadheading and spot cleaning up both annuals and perennials, perhaps adding a bit more mulch to beds, and maybe re-edging the borders. As bare areas open up in the garden, it is fun to add a few pots of annuals to round out the color.
Allium ‘millinenium’ in August
Right now is a good time to start looking for those perfect hydrangea blooms for drying. I look for blooms that are starting to fade or change color but the tiny flowers on top are just beginning to open.
‘Little Lime’ Limelight Hydrangea in August
August is when we can divide our clumps of bearded iris and we can divide daylilies when they complete their blooming cycle. And with lawn care, it’s time to raise the heigh of the mower blades, mow less often, and stop watering to allow the grass to go dormant. Have you noticed all the heavy dew covering the landscape in the morning? Take advantage of that moisture by sprinkling a little grass seed in bare spots.
‘Hyperion’ daylilies in August
Time to stop feeding your woody shrubs, trees and perennial flowers to prevent new growth that won’t survive the cold of winter. These plants need to put energy into toughing up to survive the upcoming winter season. The annuals can continue to be fertilized as their life cycle will naturally end with freezing weather.
And now, the most rewarding part of gardening is to start thinking about and planning for the upcoming growing season. I look forward to perusing the many colorful bulb catalogs arriving in the mail, companies that will ship bulbs to me when the temperature is perfect for our climate.
Horticulture Tips – June 2019
Which fertilizer should I use? Feed the soil instead, says Lee Reich
This article is excerpted from the website, AWayToGarden.com. Margaret Roach is interviewing Lee Reich.
WHAT FERTILIZER should I feed my (fill-in-the-blank) plant? A lot of you ask that question, about things ranging from magnolias to tomatoes. Soil fertility, and how to best achieve it, is today’s topic, with long-time organic gardener and author Lee Reich who, among his three postgraduate degrees, has one in—you guessed it—soil science.
All those different fertilizer formulas in the garden center, labeled for particular kinds of plants, seem to imply that we need to add something, no matter what. But is that always the case? Lee, the author most recently of “The Ever Curious Gardener: Using a Little Natural Science for a Much Better Garden,” talked with me about building healthy soil and growing healthy plants.
Margaret: So I’m asked, as I said in the introduction, I’m asked about this a lot—the “What fertilizer to I need on my fill-in-the-blank?” Are you asked that a lot too by people?
Lee: Yes. And marketing goes a long way to having them think they know what fertilizer they need.
Margaret: Right. So what’s Lee’s basic fertilizer philosophy? And you do cover this in the book, “The Ever Curious Gardener,” but tell us what’s sort of the basic idea? How do you think about fertilization?
Lee: So my basic philosophy with fertilization is very simple. And first of all, it is organic. And there’s a reason it’s organic. And I could tell you the reasons, but organic fertilization is better than non-organic fertilization. And then it becomes a question of what exactly is organic fertilization?
Lee: So organic fertilization means, really, the organic in organic gardening comes from organic materials, which are bulky materials, like straw, wood chips, compost, anything that was, or is, living. So the whole thing is that this is really the best way to nourish plants. And there are certain situations where you might have to do it non-organically, very specific situations. But generally organic fertilization’s best, because this is how plants have evolved to feed best, and also it’s simpler.
So my go-to fertilizer, and it can’t really be termed as a fertilizer, because you have to have a certain level of nutrients in something for it to be called a fertilizer. And my go-to fertilizer, except it’s not a fertilizer, is compost. And compost is not legally a fertilizer, because it’s not high enough in nutrients. It’s not concentrated enough in nutrients, but this is exactly what I’m looking for. Something that’s not concentrated in nutrients. Something has all this bulk material associated with it that really benefits the soil in so many other ways.
You know, it’s analogous to, people used to think, like in the ’60s, probably people came up with this idea, just take a pill, you won’t have to eat, you’ll just take a pill, and it will provide all your nutrition. And then they began to realize the benefits of fiber in the diet. So organic materials are to a plant diet, what fiber is to a human diet. It doesn’t provide a high concentration of nutrients, but it provides many of the benefits and also, at the same time, adequate nutrients. [Above, Lee’s compost bin system.]
Margaret: Right. And so, in a way, when you said a minute ago, something about like you’re following the way that plants have sort of evolved being fed, I think of the forest, right? And I think of trees dropping their leaves beneath them. And even herbaceous plants, you know, withering at frost, or whatever. And all that bulk, organic, fibrous material falling and eventually degrading into the soil. In a forest, that would be the duff layer. I think of that as like high fiber, organic, bulky fertilization, even though it’s not technically fertilization. Is that what you’re saying is the inspiration?
Lee: Yes, exactly that. There is one difference, though. So I grow a lot of fruits and vegetables.
Lee: Especially with vegetables, which really take up a lot of nutrients in the soil, you can’t just keep removing vegetables and not add more than just their leaves as they fall to the soil, or even digging them back in. So you have to add something extra. So that’s why I actually make compost, or people can buy compost also. There’s a lot of good places to buy compost nowadays. And I just add extra compost to the soil. Basically, that’s the only thing. I have very intensively grown vegetables, and that’s the sole way that I feed them.
Horticulture Tips – April 2019
OH DEER, FOLLOWUP
(AKA PROTECTING SHRUBS IN WINTER)
It has been a long and difficult winter here on Pine Rd. As I told you in my Hort Moment in October, I tried a variety of methods to deter the deer this winter. There was varied success.
The deer still visit. I took this photo on March 22nd.
Hands down, the best success I had was with the plant covers. All the shrubs stayed intact and green since they were completely protected from wind, snow, ice, and deer.
The shrubs wrapped in burlap did not fair so well. This was partly due to the way my contractor wrapped them. I believe burlap works best on vertical specimens. Mine are mostly horizontal in nature, azaleas, etc. They suffered from snow load and deer. I cleaned them off after each storm, but the snow weighed them down. Ice was worse in that it was harder to remove.
As you can see from the photo, once the tips of the plants worked their way through the burlap, the deer followed right behind, nibbling the tops of the branches. Another azalea has suffered, maybe from bugs, I am not sure. I am hoping it will recover.
When using burlap, YOU NEED TO STAKE AROUND THE SHRUBS before wrapping the burlap. I think I would put in tall stakes, wrap the burlap and leave the top open so the snow, etc. can dissipate naturally.
The final method I used was to surround some of the shrubs with old cat cage panels. This has worked well in previous years. In fact, I was tempted to buy more of them. However, I feel I may have lost one of my azaleas this year. In fairness to the cages, it probably was weather related. Maybe too much ice and wind along with all the rain in November, followed by cold temps may have frozen it. I am holding out hope, but a look at the leaves isn’t promising.
The constant change in temperature and multiple storms of mixed precipitation was just hard on everything. Last week I was watching TV in the evening and heard what sounded like cardboard being ripped up. The cats were asleep, so it was not them. The next day I discovered that the bark on my 8 ft tree stump had all disintegrated and was in a heap at the base of the tree. Unfortunately, it is where I had planted a climbing Hydrangea a couple of years ago and it was all set to spread horizontally this year.
I screwed the section of bark that attached to the plant in the ground back onto the stump. Many branches had been detached in the fall, so I have spread them around the base of the stump buried in soil and mulch. Hoping they will survive and send up more shoots. However, the dreamed of climbing flower spectacle will not happen for a couple more years.
All is not gloom and doom. Most of my plants are beginning to peek their heads out of the ground. The goldfinches are turning color and I believe I have a pair of nesting bluebirds in a house.
This ends the saga of protecting plants from deer. I am going to find more plant covers. I have discovered they are available in sizes up to 52” square, which will cover most of my guys.
Have a Happy Spring!
Linda V., EAGC Horticulture Committee
March 2019 Horticulture Tips
The Rhododendron yakushimanum was found only 50 years ago on an island outside of Japan and it immediately became accepted as the most beautiful rhododendron in the world. That’s what I thought the first time I saw one, and am still in awe of its beauty each spring.
It is a small plant, 3-4 feet high and it likes woodland conditions of filtered shade. It needs acid soil, moist and rich, likes about 3” of mulch (pine needles are good), and needs to be watered once every 2 weeks in a dry season. It grows well in zones 5 & 6. Planted in the right place it needs little care and is easy to accommodate in the garden because of its small size, however, planting the shrub around a foundation should be avoided because of the runoff of lime from cement or brick home foundations.
The glossy, leather-like leaves resemble suede or velvet underneath the leaves. It blooms in our New England gardens in April, starting with deep rose-colored buds that slowly turn to lighter and lighter shades of pink, until opening nearly pure white. It should be placed where you can walk by it every day in bloom.
It has a habit I love about all rhododendrons. In the winter, you don’t need to check with the weatherman. If it is freezing or below, it turns its leaves into pencil thin tubes and you need only glance out the window to know it’s very cold outside.
The Rhododendron yakushimanum, or just Yacu, is also called Yacu Princess. The name rhododendron comes from the Greek ‘Rhodo’ (rose) and dendron (tree).
Connie, EAGC Horticulture Committee
February 2019 Horticulture Tips
Thoughts on that winter white stuff…
Most of us live in New England because we like to experience the rhythmic changes of the seasons …. even the challenges of winter. Winter is one of my favorite times of the year. I even like shoveling snow (mind you, not the icy, sleety variety). I like seeing those neat lines of cleared walks and drives. When the work is done, I do so enjoy looking out the windows at the mantle of snow in the yard from my warm and cozy home. I started to think about how the snow really affects our yards and gardens …
We all know the negative aspects of the snow. That snowstorm that drops that heavy wet snow – too much and too quickly – that weighs down and splays the branches of our shrubs. I find the best way to prevent damage is to deal with the snow as it accumulates, often working my way around the yard gently shaking the snow off the branches – often several times during the snow event. If the snow load “freezes” before I can get to them, I end up leaving them be and hoping for the best. … and promising to get serious about using more burlap wraps next year!
Unfortunately, the snow cover provides protection for those plant predator rodent critters. The mice and voles get a win-win. The snow protects them from the weather while munching on the plant roots and tender branches and giving them cover from their predators. Additionally, the bunnies can now have a higher reach on the plantings. As for the deer, they are a challenge no matter what the weather throws at us.
On the positive side, snow is a natural insulator (think of it as having an “R Value”), especially if it comes early and stays. Under that snowy mantle, the soil temperature is moderated. The plant roots may still be growing at a slow rate while anchoring the plant in place. The earthworms and microbes are still down there improving our soil. Contrast that to the effects of winter on the bare ground. The constant freezing and thawing cause the soil to heave, breaking the root structures and sometimes lifting a plant right out of the ground. Snow also protects the low-growing ground covers and evergreen plantings from the drying winter winds.
This insulating factor also discourages our spring bulbs and early perennials from popping up on a warm sunny day in late winter only to be zapped by the next freeze. The snow layer helps with the propagation of seeds. It gently presses the seeds in contact with the soil while providing that cool moist environment that most of our native plants require to germinate.
Snow melt adds to our aquafers percolating down slowly rather than the high potential for storm drain run-off with rain. Snow has long been called “poor man’s fertilizer.” Even though our air is composed of 78% nitrogen, it is in an inert stable form that is not accessible to plants. But as the snowflakes pass through the atmosphere some of the nitrogen manages to attaches to each flake then soaks into the soil. Weird Fact: The NADP – National Atmospheric Deposition Program (they measure all the stuff that falls out of the sky) reports that the nitrous oxides from vehicles and coal burning power plants have increased the fertilizing effect of snow. Good for the plants – not so good for the people!
A prior Hort Moment spoke to the changes snow brings to the appearance of our landscaping efforts. Our use of hardscape and plants gives us an entirely different view of our garden world. Plus the snow gives us a better opportunity to view our feathered friends.
Snow seemed an appropriate topic for a February “Hort Moment” – even though Mother Nature has not provided the Seacoast with its wintery blanket. Amazingly, north of the lake district, they have had ground snow since Thanksgiving. In fact, for us it is one of those awful years of frequent spells of “freeze and thaw.” It should be a bumper crop of frost heaves come spring! It is futile to think we can beat Mother Nature. We need to learn from our plants and adapt.
With the changing weather patterns, since snow cover isn’t dependable, we as gardeners may need to become more vigilant in our planning. We may need to reconsider our plant choices and locations. We may need to be more diligent hydrating our trees and shrubs in the fall and make better use of mulches. The winter dry winds may call for using more plant covers/burlap wrappings and applying anti-desiccant sprays.
Weather in New England is what it is … so grumble if you must, enjoy it the best you can … a hot drink and a cozy blanket can make it all good!
Pat N., EAGC Horticulture Committee
January 2019 Horticulture Tips
What Makes a Winter Garden Interesting?
The words “winter” and “garden” may not seem compatible in our sometimes-harsh New England climate, but there are a surprising number of ways to create an interesting and beautiful garden in our brown and/or white landscapes.
Winter in New Hampshire deprives us of lush greenery and mounds of blooms, but beauty is still outside our windows if we think of our winter gardens in terms of detail, texture, structure, movement and contrast. It’s a matter of choosing plants with winter interest in mind, allowing selected plants to remain throughout the winter, and gaining a new appreciation for the winter beauty of some plants that we may not have noticed before. Here are some areas of winter interest to consider.
The character of deciduous shrubs and trees shows most in the winter, when you really see the branches, providing us with contrast, shadows, and silhouettes that are especially stunning against snow. For striking texture and color, Paperbark Maples are best known for their exfoliating cinnamon-colored bark, and the River Birch for its curling, paper-like bark.
Shrubs, like this Staghorn Sumac, provide detail and structure that catch the eye throughout the winter. Evergreens are also one of the most important components of the winter landscape. They can provide structure and form for the smaller plants and shrubs in the garden.
Unlike many other plantings, shrubs can bring color to the winter garden. A Winterberry Holly bush provides beautiful red berries that persist right through the winter, feeding birds and providing winter interest when the landscape is otherwise white and brown. Other fruit bearing shrubs include other holly varieties, Cotoneaster, Heavenly Bamboo, Coralberry and Beautyberry.
In addition, rose hips are some of the most persistent winter fruit. Virginia Rose or Rosa Rugosa are hardy and prolific examples. For unexpected winter blooms, look to Witchhazel, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, and Pussy Willow, which all should bloom before March 21.
Witch Hazel in bloom
Although this isn’t the time of year for planting perennials, it’s the perfect time to assess your winter garden to determine where perennials will perk up next winter’s garden. When choosing a perennial with winter interest, look for unusual color, particularly interesting growth pattern, or texture that is unusual or colorful. It should also be large and sturdy enough to hold snow. Seeds and seedpods are an attractive bonus.
Perennials to consider are Hydrangea, New England Aster, Echinacea, Liatris and Chrysan-themum. Climbing Hydrangea’s exfoliating reddish brown bark also adds interest all winter. If you’re used to clearing all your beds of perennials in the fall, take time next fall to choose some sturdy perennials to let stand for the winter.
Grasses are an obvious choice for the winter garden. They provide form, texture, detail, and especially, movement. Miscanthus, for example, has feathery seed heads that rise above the snow up to 12 feet. Other sturdy grasses are Switchgrass, Indian Grass, Bluestem, Feather Reed Grass, and River Oats. Under heavy wet snow, all plants fall over, but as the snow comes off, many of these grasses will stand up again.
Lastly, if you’re looking for immediate interest outside your window this winter, make a winter container garden. Tuck miniature evergreen trees, stems of winterberry or curly willow branches into a weather-safe plant container or an outdoor planter. This will add both color and architectural interest to your landscape.
LuAnn, EAGC Horticulture Committee
December 2018 Horticulture Tips
Merry Christmas from the EAGC Horticulture Committee:
We’re sharing a version of The Night Before Christmas that all gardeners would love to come true!
A Gardener’s Night Before Christmas
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the yard
the branches were bare and the ground frozen hard;
The roses were dormant and mulched all around
to protect them from damage if frost heaves the ground.
The perennials were nestled all snug in their beds
while visions of 5-10-5 danced in their heads.
The new-planted shrubs, had been soaked by the hose
to settle their roots for the long winter’s doze;
And out on the lawn, the new fallen snow
protected the roots of the grasses below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
but a truck full of gifts of gardening gear.
Saint Nick was the driver – the jolly old elf
and he winked as he said, “I’m a gardener myself.
I’ve brought wilt-pruf, rootone, and gibberellin, too.
Please try them and see what they do.
To start new plants, a propagating kit.
Sparkling new shears, for the old apple tree.
To seed your new lawn, I’ve a patented sower;
in case it should grow, here’s a new power mower.
For seed-planting days, I’ve a trowel and a dibble,
and a roll of wire mesh if the rabbits should nibble.
For the feminine gardener, some gadgets she loves;
plant stakes, a sprinkler, and waterproof gloves;
A chemical agent for the compost pit,
and for pH detecting, a soil testing kit.
With these colorful flagstones, lay a new garden path,
for the kids to enjoy, and bird feeder and bath.
And last but not least, some well-rotted manure.
A green Christmas year round, these gifts will ensure.”
Then jolly Saint Nick, having emptied his load,
started his truck and took to the road.
And I heard him exclaim through the motor’s loud hum
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a green thumb!”
Richard Jauron, Horticulture Department,
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Adapted from The Gardener, November-December, 1983
November 2018 Horticulture Tips
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’
You don’t often see perennial grasses recognized by the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year, but in 2014 ‘Northwind’ switchgrass was given that honor… only the third grass to earn the title.
I have grown other native ornamental grasses during my long gardening years but it was a move to New Hampshire and the need for more compact plants in a smaller garden space that led me to the switchgrass ‘Northwind,’ a native prairie grass. Now I sing its praises to anyone who will listen.
Is the word ‘elegant’ appropriate to label an ornamental grass? Maybe the word ‘statuesque’ is a better description. Either word is appropriate I think. It is one of the easiest and most attractive ornamental grasses I have grown. I find it to be pest free, disease free, drought tolerant, deer resistant, and stands erect facing the challenge of wind, rain, sleet, or snow.
My three ‘Northwind’ grasses have grown to about 5’ tall, just about the height limit for the plant. The sturdy blades are an attractive blue-green shade during the summer. About mid-summer, airy plums of seeds are held erect and dance above the rigid foliage in the breezes.
It does not spread beyond 2’ to 3’ and because of its compact form and its vertical heights, it can be planted as an effective hedge. In the fall, the leaves turn a tawny yellow, then more of a light tan during the winter. Do I see little brown birds darting in and out of the plants all winter? Yes! I leave the tall grasses for both of us all winter and trim them back in early spring.
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’
USDA Zones 4-9
Ann H., EAGC Horticulture Committee
October 2018 Horticulture Tips
We all have experienced the joys of gardening. Most of us have suffered some losses from our inexperience or weather or pests. Many battle ground hogs, chipmunks, rabbits, and voles. Those of us living in Southern New Hampshire increasingly must deal with a creature which enjoys our gardens as much as we do——DEER!
The damage deer inflict on our gardens can be very destructive. Below is a picture of my neighbor’s arborvitae taken today. The neighbors took down a six foot fence last fall. The
deer enjoyed eating the trees all winter. After growing all summer this is what the trees look like now.
How do we ready our gardens for winter and protect against the munching of deer? There are many ways to attempt to do this. But first, we must accept that deer are native to our area and they will travel on paths ingrained in their heads. We can attempt to coexist.
1. They are sensitive to odors. They do not like garlic, and rotten eggs. You may apply repellents such as Liquid Fence, Deer Off or Repels All. My experience with these is that what smells bad to the deer also smells bad to me. Also, these products need to be reapplied every few weeks. I handle this task well before the snow starts to pile up. The deer usually migrate through my yard after the snow falls.
2. Fencing – Deer can leap over fences up to 8 feet tall. Our wonderful member, Terry D., installed deer fence around her property and successfully kept the deep out. She lived in a wooded area and the fence blended in. That may not be the solution for most of us. However, deer do not like to get stuck in areas they can not leap out of… so a fence inside a fence can be effective if the space between them is less than 5 feet.
3. Another method is to string fishline on stakes around your property. String it at a height of 3 ft. The deer bump into it and are scared off. My sister does this and it is effective for deer attempting to enter her yard from the woods. However, it does not stop them from walking down her driveway and having supper.
4. I have tried a variant on the prevention by smell. Tie bars of old fashioned yellow Dial soap or Irish Spring on branches of the shrubs you wish to protect. It worked well for a while.
5. Tie tin pie plates or streamers on stakes or in trees. The reflection off the aluminum will scare off the deer.
6. The best solution I have found is shrub covers. They are available in various sizes so you can protect shrubs as they grow. You can see that they deter the deer.
Alas, once the shrubs are protected they keep growing. Last year I covered the shrubs with bird netting. It worked well until we had the heavy wet snow in March. The deer took one trip through the yard and nibbled off all he buds. So, this year I am resorting to wrapping select shrubs with burlap. My rhododendrons and azaleas have a ton of buds on them and I really would like a spring with lots of flowers.
At my home, the deer usually do not show up until late January; but this year they have already started to eat the tops off the oak leaf hydrangea. So, they too will get covered. Coexistence does entail some effort.
The best solution to deer proofing is to plant deer resistant plants. Not fool proof but better than offering up hostas and azaleas that are candy to deer.
1. Deer avoid plants with fuzzy or hairy foliage.
a. Lambs ears
b. Lady’s mantle
2. Plants that contain compounds toxic to deer
b. False Indigo
c. Bleeding Hearts
3. Plants with heavy fragrance in foliage
b. Russian sage
4. Plants with thick and leathery leaves
5. Plants with spiny or prickly laves or stems
b. Globe Thistle
6. Grasses – they are hard to digest
a. Onion family
Hope that you find one or more of these ideas helpful.
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