WANTED: DEAD NOT ALIVE received an Educational Excellence award at the Sharon Garden Club’s September Garden Medley on September 9, 2017. The exhibit featured potted exotic invasive plants and illustrated some of the environmental damage that invasives cause. Carol Lundeen of Easton and Brenda Minihan and Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks of Sharon played roles as invasive plant sheriffs, engaging visitors in conversation and offering invasive plant checklists, images, and ideas for native plant alternatives.
Exotic invasive plants have no natural predators and diseases that would naturally control their growth. Some invasive plants have escaped from our home gardens and public plantings into natural areas and cause profound environmental and economic damage. Massachusetts has developed a list of problematic plants. Some are even illegal to sell, including Norway maple, Japanese maple, burning bush, all hollow-stemmed honeysuckles, garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, and Japanese knotweed.
The exhibit also included a “Talking Tree,” a young pin oak tree that posed the question, “When I turn one hundred years old, what do you hope I will say?” Visitors then wrote their answers on a card and tied their card to the tree with yarn. The tree will be planted at the Unitarian Universalist Church in the center of Sharon.
The sheriffs urge folks to learn about the species considered invasive in the area, generate a list of those on your property or in your town, create a plan for eliminating them, and execute your plan. Contact the Sharon Garden Club or Carol Lundeen for further information.
Hints of fall are in the air, and the Sharon Garden Club is celebrating on September 9th with our September Garden Medley fundraiser. Join us from 11-4 to explore the learning and fun at our two locations :
- a horticultural guided garden tour (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- a Standard Flower Show (62 Bullard Street, Sharon)
- an elegant boxed lunch in the garden (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- a garden shoppe (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- live folk music (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- artists at work (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- unique raffle items (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
You’ll probably find me in a stall at the barn at 70 Maskwonicut Street, the stall converted into an art exhibit for pollinator-friendly plants and a jail for nasty butterfly-killing invasive ones. WANTED: native pollinator plants, alive; WANTED: dead invasive plants.
What a delight to be gardening in Cambridge and have hardworking European honey bees show up in their pollinator hats. Who keeps the bees, what’s the history of the queens, and who most enjoys the honey? I want to meet these people and the hives and learn their story. Ah, I’m so lucky to have clients who appreciate these little wonders of the world.
My general idea of a successful organic garden is to plant the right native plant in the right place in the right plant and soil community and let nature have its way. Native plants thrive in our native soils, support the local ecosystem by helping our birds and bees thrive.
Just today in my backyard I observed a wren arriving at its birdhouse with a caterpillar and heard the choir of baby wrens competing with open mouths for that nutritious meal.
Think about it. Everything we eat was once a plant, and without insects such as caterpillars and bees, we’d have no plants and no food. So plant a native next time, and you’ll be doing yourself and your neighboring ecosystem a big favor.
I love to garden until after sunset and well into dusk. That magic hour of dusky sky and light turns flowers and bugs and leaves and all things natural into a magnet for me. Like the way snow changes the way everything looks, the fast fading sky changes each bud and leaf and petal, minute by minute. And the biting bugs? I make sure I’m their least appealing option so I can stay out in the night’s coming as late as I can…and I can already detect day lengths shortening even as the days become warmer.
Please join me at 7 p.m. tonight at the Easton Garden Club’s monthly meeting where I’ll be leading a free soil testing workshop and also presenting a brief tick talk. The meeting is at the Covenant Congregational Church on Centre Street, in the basement gymnasium. More comprehensive testing from UMass for fertility or fertility plus organic matter is available at a small extra cost. The Club will provide bags and ship your sample to UMass.
For each garden area you want tested, bring one clean one-quart clear glass jar and lid, with 3-1/2 cups of dry soil.
THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT SOIL TESTING is to properly sample and let your soil air dry. Info and instructions are below.
What to Bring:
1 Clean, dry one-quart clear glass jar with fairly straight sides, with a tight fitting lid for each sample you want tested. A pasta sauce or mason jar works quite well.
3-1/2 Cups of dry soil in your jar for every sample you want tested. **REMEMBER to properly sample and dry your soil before putting it in your jar.
How to Sample Your Soil:
The most critical step in soil testing is collecting the sample. It is important that you take the necessary steps to obtain a representative sample; a poor sample could result in erroneous recommendations.
The first step is to determine the area that will be represented by the sample. For instance, your veggie garden might be one sampling area, your front island bed another, and your backyard lawn still another. Soil physical appearance, texture, color, slope, drainage, past management and current intended use should be similar throughout the area. It may be helpful to draw a map of the property and identify areas where you will collect samples.
Using a clean bucket and a spade, auger, or sampling tube collect 12 or more sub-samples to a depth of six to eight inches (four to six inches for turf) from random spots within the defined area. Avoid sampling field or plot edges and other non-representative areas.
Avoid sampling when the soil is very wet or within six to eight weeks after a lime or fertilizer application. Next, break up any lumps or clods of soil, remove stones, roots, and debris, and thoroughly mix sub-samples in the bucket. Once the sample is thoroughly mixed, scoop out a little more than one cup of soil and spread it on a clean sheet of paper to air-dry. A fan set on low will help speed the drying; do not apply heat.
#1. CAUTION: WET SOIL – DO NOT ENTER YOUR GARDEN – OR WORK ON YOUR LAWN!
- Our recent rains have left our soils saturated, and if you step into your shrub and garden beds now you’ll be causing mostly invisible but meaningful damage that makes it harder for your plants to thrive.
- Compacting your soil: plant roots depend on the spaces between soil particles to hold water and oxygen. When you step on wet soil, you compact these spaces and your plants suffer.
- One cup of soil may hold as many bacteria as there are people on Earth, never mind the fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms – most of which are beneficial to you most of the time. Together, these tiny beings are a living system called the Soil Food Web, and it’s best to not to step on them when the soil is wet.
- To test if your soil is dry enough, take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil crumbles easily when you open your hand, it is ready to be walked on or tilled. If it does not crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a few more days and test again before digging.
#2. GET YOUR SOIL TESTED – BEFORE YOU PLANT!
- Before planting is a good time to get a Routine Soil Analysis from the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab to check pH and fertility. This economical soil test will provide recommendations for liming and fertilizing as needed, as well as indicating the lead level in the soil.
#3. START YOUR COOL-SEASON VEGETABLES – ONCE THE SOIL DRAINS!
- Now is a good time to sow seeds of cool season crops such as peas, lettuce, chard, kale, arugula, spinach, carrot, radish, beet and turnips.
- Plant the seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Sow your spinach, beets, radish, carrots and lettuce thickly in rows and thin later to the desired spacing (read the label) and to allow them to develop properly. Root crops such as carrots, beets, and radishes should be thinned to a 2-inch spacing to allow the roots to develop properly. They can be thinned as soon as they reach small edible size.
#4. EAGER TO JUMP START YOUR LAWN?
- Your doctor wouldn’t give you a treatment without first making a diagnosis, right? Same goes with your lawn. Why treat your lawn for grubs or other turf insects if you don’t first discover what’s causing a problem? Grub populations are easy to evaluate, as are other sub-surface and surface insects. Once you diagnose properly, you can treat with a reasonable solution rather than automatically throwing money and chemicals at the situation.
- Start weaning your lawn off the expensive, stepped conventional petrochemical-based fertilizers by switching to a slow release, low-nitrogen organic fertilizer like Roots Fresh Start. Apply once in early spring after the soil has begun to warm up and apply again in early fall. The water-insoluble nutrients will be recycled and released by your friendly soil microbes slowly over the entire growing season as they’re needed by your turf, rather than getting flushed (along with your money) away with rain and any irrigation.
- Doing a lawn renovation this year? Wait until September for best results and return on your investment.
#5. MONITOR FOR WINTER MOTH CATERPILLARS
- Winter moth caterpillars cause damage to many different deciduous plants such as oaks, maples, cherries, ash, crabapples, apples and blueberries. their eggs typically hatch early-mid April, and the young larvae quickly start feeding on flower buds, leaf buds and young developing leaves.
- Winter moth egg hatch has not yet been observed for this growing season as of 4/5/17 in Massachusetts. Scouts are still reporting that winter moth eggs are orange in color and have not yet turned the blue color that indicates hatch is imminent. Eggs can be sprayed with dormant oil before they hatch, but the eggs can hide under pieces of bark and be hard to reach with spray.
- Once the caterpillars hatch, they’re eager to eat their host plants. Dormant oil will no longer work, but there’s a fairly safe treatment that simply takes their appetite away. It’s a kind of bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis var. Kurstaki. In some forms it’s approved for use on organic farms. Always read and follow the label.
(BONUS #6.) CELEBRATE ARBOR DAY BY PLANTING A TREE ON APRIL 28
- Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. The best tree selection may be a native tree that is well suited to thrive in your yard with your existing soil, sun, water, and other cultural conditions. Have your soil tested before investing in your new tree or shrub.
AS ALWAYS,PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR NEED A HAND!
EMAIL CAROL OR CALL 617-327-9254
Hairy bitter-cress is very pretty up close, but is it a weed? If you could ask your MA soil if it’s a weed, the soil would say, “Yes, it’s a weed.” If you ask the whole ecosystem of your MA yard, the system would agree that it’s a weed.
This is hairy bitter-cress, a native to Asia, that as an exotic invasive plant has an unfair advantage over our native plants, blooming and casting its seed well before most of our natives have even formed flower buds. So, is it a weed to you? If so, better destroy those pretty flowers before they turn to seeds. If you need more info about how, please let me know!r-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.
Could it be rhododendron borers? I started spring pruning for an organic gardening client in Sharon last week, on one of those yummy sunny 60 degree March days. Near her front door are broadleaf evergreen shrub beds on either side of an elegant entry path. My goals were to prune out any dead, use selective pruning to open up dense areas and stimulate new growth for a more balanced and pleasing form of individual shrubs and their big picture impact, and scout for pests.
A dead branch on a rhododendron caught my eye. I’m always very curious about why plants and their parts fail to thrive, so I investigated a bit. I cut off a portion of the dead branch and in its cross section found a dead giveaway of a clue.
It looked like an electric drill had made a 3/16 to 1/4 inch diameter hole in the interior of the stem, parallel to the length of the stem, and I knew right away it was quite likely the work of a rhododendron borer. I kept cutting the branch closer and closer to the ground, and found that the borer hole went all the way down to where the stem met the root flare at soil level. It may be that a second year borer spent some time in the roots, then bored its way toward the tip of this branch, contributing to its demise. I’ll continue to watch carefully for signs of activity and damage, and remember that borers are just one of several flavors of rhododendron pests.
How do you treat something like borers? Try the following methods, or contact me when you see damage and you need help gathering evidence and deciding how or whether to save your valued shrubs and trees.
Treatment for Rhododendron borers:
- Look around for dead branches and cut a cross section of one. Look for other signs such as a borer’s exit hole through the branch, frass (insect poop that resembles sawdust), and the condition of the leaves and stems. Photography these signs for your records.
- Be sure to properly identify the pest that is doing the damage. FYI there’s a separate and distinct Rhododendron stem borer
- Cut out and destroy all affected tissue – or save a sample to send to a lab.
- Whether there’s an effective pesticide for the two types of Rhododendron borers seems to depend on what extension service or licensed pesticide professional you ask, and in any case monitoring and prevention are the best next steps. This is an organic client who prefers organic treatments for the health of her family and the environment. An injection of nematodes into the stems may be appropriate if she has the stem borer. I’m looking into it.
Tips to help reduce borers:
- Keep mulch at least 2-3 inches away from the base of of all plants where the stems meet the earth, including rhododendrons. Your mulch should never be more that 3 inches deep.
- Keep shrubs well watered during dry periods. One inch of water per week is generally sufficient for established, healthy plants. More water than this is usually needed for plant establishment.
- Avoid wounding shrubs, as wounds can make it easier for insects and pathogens to enter. If your plants have any branches that directly cross one other, they probably rub against each other when it’s windy, causing abrasion damage and creating entry points for pests and pathogens. Also, do not wound shrubs with lawn mowers and string trimmers.
- If you don’t have an edged bed around a tree or shrub, make one large enough so that not only will your string trimmer no longer nick the trunk, but the mower won’t run over the root zone. A general guide is to edge out a bed that goes all the way to the drip line, defined as the area all the way from the trunk to the outermost circumference of the tree’s canopy . After cutting out and removing any lawn or weeds, etc. from your edged area, apply 2-3 inches of mulch to the bare soil.
Not all damage to rhododendrons is from borers. There are plenty more causes as well. So be careful, don’t jump to conclusions, get a positive ID, and get help if you’re not sure.
CONTACT ME IF YOU NEED A HAND
IF YOU’D LIKE ME TO HAVE A LOOK AT DAMAGED OR DISEASED PLANTS WITH YOU, I’LL PUT ON MY HORTICULTURIST HAT, HAVE A LOOK AND SUGGEST WHAT YOUR BEST NEXT STEPS MAY BE. CLICK HERE TO CONTACT ME