SAVE THE DATE: 9/26 A FIELD DAY FOR MONARCHS!

Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus on white snakeroot, Ageratina altissima, Sharon, MAA monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, feeds on the nectar of white snakeroot flowers, Ageratina altissima, during its southern migration in a Sharon, MA garden on September 26, 2019. This pair of natives co-evolved since the retreat of the last ice age, and they depend on one another, and the entire web of life, for their continued existence.

September 26th was like a dream to me. I looked out the kitchen window while doing the dishes, and there were several monarchs in my gardens, all at one time. I’d seen one or two here and there this season, but never a parade of several at a time, like that day. I dropped the dishes to a could of soap bubbles and dashed out with my camera.

Later, on arriving at a Sharon, MA client’s gardens, Monarchs flew up every time I turned a corner on the mowed paths that snake around many beds where clouds of white snakeroot are now in bloom. I counted at least two dozen monarchs at least twice, and twice saw four monarchs on one snakeroot. It was like living and working in a dream where the monarchs have recovered and are robust in numbers again. It wasn’t a dream, but it was a remarkable parade of flight and feed that I shall not forget. Of course there were other native butterflies, like spangled frittilaries, and native bees, like Bombus sp., and other native plants in bloom.

We can all make a difference in our yards, our gardens, our landscapes, our containers, one plant at a time, by design. Please join me doing so!

SUSTAINABLE LAWNS, HEALTHY LANDSCAPES, WETLANDS AND WATER RESOURCES

 What’s so great about a great lawn?

  • Do you want a lawn that looks like a lush golf course? It’s going to cost you…and your neighbors, your town’s water quality and other natural resources. The typical best-in-the-neighborhood MA lawns are a mix of bluegrass, rye and fescue turf grasses. These are all cool season, non-native grasses that do not naturally do well here in our summer heat and droughts; these lawns need lots of time, energy and money to look as good as they do for as long as they do.
  • The conventional practice is to follow the conventional high-input “advice” of landscape chemical companies’ and landscape vendors’ marketing efforts, including expensive fertilizer, insect and weed killers, bacteria and fungus killers, plus frequent mowing and watering.
  • Your resulting “chem” lawn may look good, but it has negative and potentially hazardous impacts on your health and that of others; your wallet and that of others; and the wetland and ecosystems that filter pollutants from your water and mitigates flood damage, pollinates your food (everything we eat was once a plant), and provides natural settings for recreation and relaxation for you and others—among many other free but essential life services.
  • Add it all up and you may realize what many others already know: that a “chem” lawn is actually more expensive and damaging than you ever thought. So ask yourself, “Is it really worth working and paying for a perfect lawn?” “Why should I care?” and, “What are healthier alternatives that save me money and time?”

What’s a sustainable lawn and why would it benefit you?

    • SOIL AND WATER: Turf grasses naturally want to send their roots down about 6-12 inches into loamy topsoil that contains about 10% organic matter, such as compost. Established lawns want to be watered deeply (one inch of water) once a week, or one inch twice during hot weather. That way, their roots never dry out for extended periods and thus they don’t go into summer brownout/dormancy. Most irrigation systems are not programmed to water lawns on this kind of schedule. Instead, most water lightly several times a week, never delivering enough water to penetrate fully to the whole root system, so the water is largely wasted. What if you don’t have appropriate soil to support a robust lawn? See three bullet points below.
    • TEST YOUR WATERING SYSTEM: You want one inch of water per week for established laws, so how do you find out how much water is actually being delivered? Before you turn on your sprinkler or your irrigation system comes on, put out a bunch of clean cat food or tuna fish cans to collect water. (Ask your friends and neighbors if you don’t have your own supply). After the system runs, use a ruler to measure how much water is in each can. If it’s not a little over an inch—the ruler will displace some water and increase the reading on the ruler—increase the run time and test again. Repeat adjustments until you get about an inch.
    • SOIL TESTING: Get your soil tested to find out what kind of soil you have, your pH, your organic matter, and what amendments you can add to make your soil more ideal for your turf grasses. The most crucial part of soil testing is getting a truly representative sample. UMass has easy to follow recommendations for soil sampling, and they test soil for a reasonable fee. Learn more at https://ag.umass.edu/services/soil-plant-nutrient-testing-laboratory
    • IF YOU DON’T HAVE IDEAL SOIL:
      1. Follow the recommendations from your soil test.
      2. Adjust your expectations and know that any lawn is a living work in progress.
      3. Good or poor soil, add ¼ to ½ inch of compost to your lawn every year late in the fall, after your last mowing. Over the winter it will improve your soil quality and improve lawn health. Do this every year, along with allowing your mowed grass clippings to fall and decompose in place, and you will not need to spend time and money fertilizing.
      4. Lime in the fall only if your soil test results call for it.
      5. If you feel you must fertilize, NEVER FERTILIZE WITHIN 100 FEET OF A WETLAND, VERNAL POOL OR POTENTIAL VERNAL POOL (or according to your local bylaw specifications). Beyond 100 feet (or according to your local bylaw specifications) of a wetland, vernal pool or potential vernal pool, apply an organic, slow release fertilizer just one time—and never just before or during a heavy rain—to your lawn between April 15th and October 15th. Limit that application to a maximum of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.
        Organic fertilizers have non-water soluble nitrogen that releases to the soil at a steady rate over time. They help to build a healthy soil food web, as compared with conventional chemical fertilizers which are water soluble and result in nutrients (and your money) washing away as pollution into our waterways before they’re needed by your plants. A couple of readily available organic fertilizers are Espoma Garden-tone and Espoma Plant-tone. These are typically made of ground up feathers and bones rather than conventional petrochemicals.
      6. Consider lawn alternatives
        1. Instead of turf grasses, use native, low-input sedges. Pennsylvania sedge, for instance, needs mowing only once a year and is drought tolerant after getting established.
        2. Add white clover to your lawn seed mix. Clover moves nitrogen from the soil to the ground and makes it available to green up your lawn
        3. Turn part of your lawn into an ornamental planting bed. Include native plants that are well adapted to our native soils. If well planned and designed, you’ll be saving time and money, supporting pollinators, improving water quality and the environment.
      7. SUN: Pay close attention to how many hours of mid-day sun each area of your lawn gets. Get a high quality grass seed mix to match the sun exposure. You can do many things to improve your soil—but changing the amount of sun your lawn gets is usually a bigger undertaking.
      8. MOWING: Set your mower to cut no lower than three inches. Use a mulching blade and let the clippings fall onto the lawn, where their nutrients will recycle right back into your soil, increasing your soil’s organic matter for free. Also, save time and money by not raking your leaves in the fall. Just mow them with a mulching blade and without a grass catcher, and leave them to in place to decompose. Again, free organic matter. Note: If mowing leaves a thick layer of leaves, though, spread them out with a rake so the grasses can still get some sun.
      9. WEEDS: Weeds don’t stand a chance if your turf grasses are robust, aka appropriate for where they’re growing and therefore nice and dense; grown in good deep soil with proper nutrients, organic matter, soil chemistry, water and sun.
      10. INSECTS: Most insects, approximately 99% by number of species, are native insects that play a crucial role in the food web that supports our environment, that in turn supports people. Properly identifying and learning the life cycle of pests is the most important step in managing them. Many are beneficial. If you don’t want to learn about it, get help from a natural or organic horticulturist to learn if you have a normal amount of bugs or an infestation that needs management.
      11. BACTERIAL AND FUNGAL CONDITIONS: Most bacterial and fungal conditions in lawns occur because the lawn’s cultural conditions—including soil nutrients, pH and organic matter; sun exposure and water—do not favor a robust lawn planted with non-native, cool season grass species. You can spend lots of hazardous chemical resources and still not get the results you want.
      12. AERATING YOUR LAWN: Most lawns do not need to be aerated annually. Lawn areas that have high traffic have compacted soils that make it very difficult for grasses to thrive. Most of us are familiar with the fact that plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but this is only what the plant does above ground. Plants’ roots do the opposite, taking oxygen from the tiny spaces between tiny soil particles. If the lawn soil is compacted or constantly wet, your turf grasses’ roots cannot get the oxygen they need to thrive, and the above-ground portion of the grasses will not do well. If you choose to aerate, do not use any device with a solid spike shape, as these will only compact your soil further. Instead, use a tool or machine that has cylindrical-shaped fittings that will remove plugs of soil. These greatly reduce compaction and bring oxygen into the soil for the roots.
      13. WHEN TO TOP DRESS OR INSTALL A NEW LAWN: The single best time by far is September, for a long list of reasons.

     

  • ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

GARDEN REVOLUTION TALK IN SHARON

Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks Garden Revolution Talk, Sharon

Beautiful historic gardens inspired us in the past. What inspires us to-day? And what does it mean for our backyards and our sense of self? Gardening teaches us to notice, to be patient, but the biggest lessons come when we embrace a new reason to care about what we plant and how we maintain our gardens. Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks explains at her “Why We Need a Garden Revolution” talk at the Unitarian Church of Sharon on May 3rd. Ellen maintains an extensive mostly-native plant garden at her Sharon home, and also oversees the plantings and Memorial Garden at the church.

If you care about your chickadees, what does this range of numbers mean: 350 to 570? My environmental and social justice pal Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks let us know at her “Why We Need a Garden Revolution” talk at the Unitarian Church of Sharon, MA on May 3rd. The answer is, 350 to 570 is the number of caterpillars one pair of chickadees needs every day to nurture their chicks from hatching to fledging. That’s just one pair of one kind of bird! Ellen inspired us to think and be mindful about every plant and practice in our gardens, and whether and how each helps or harms the natural systems that support all living things.

Ellen, who manages the church’s extensive gardens, showed examples of native plants at the church’s gardens and at her own home through the seasons, and how they support or harm our native pollinators, wildlife and local ecosystem at large. She even talked about plants she introduced to her gardens on purpose, only to find out years later that they were actually exotic invasive look-alikes of native plants. For example, she thought she was planting yellow marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), but they turned out to be fig buttercups (Ranunculus ficaria, or, Ficaria verna), which are on the MA list of plants that are prohibited from sale.

After about three years they had spread like a spring carpet of yellow, in part because they aggressively reproduce by three different mechanisms. Once she realized her error, Ellen  took responsibility and removed them by hand, an intensive but organic gardening practice. It took three seasons to bring their numbers to a reasonably manageable level.

Ellen also reminded us that one of the Unitarian Universalist Church’s guiding principles is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. She urged us to think carefully and learn about the impact of each of our plantings, as every plant in our landscapes matters, and your landscape supports, or doesn’t, those chickadees who need all those caterpillars every day to raise their young.

The design of her home garden, also in Sharon, features primarily native plants with mowed and gravel paths that sweep around her layered ornamental planting beds and stone walls, leaving the visitor wondering with curiosity what lies just past the next curve. Each of her beds have themed names, such as Mountain Laurel Hill, the Meadow and Old Rose Garden. Some of her favorite native plants are mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia – obviously – with an area named just for them; apothecary rose, Rosa gallica, which though not a native has been cultivated by people since the MIddle Ages; and various goldenrods, which support at least 115 species of butterflies and moths.

GROW NATIVE MA ANNUAL PLANT SALE – JOIN ME JUNE 1st!

Help Massachusetts communities and wildlife thrive by joining me at the annual Grow Native Massachusetts Plant Sale. You’ll find over 2,000 plants covering 120 varieties, and I (and other experts) can help you make smart selections for the particular conditions of your planting area. Just look for me in a blue volunteer apron from 8-11. Shop early for best selection.

From 9-2:30 at the UMass Waltham Field Station at 240 Beaver Street, Waltham 02452, you may find:

  • Perennials sorted by sun, shade and part-shade, and all types of soil conditions
  • A large selection of evergreen and deciduous ferns
  • Grasses and sedges, both cool and warm season
  • Trees and shrubs at small sizes so you can take home in your car. Native trees and shrubs do the most to increase biodiversity and to enhance the wildlife value of your landscapes.

AND new for this year: sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora), bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)—custom grown just for this sale, as these are top native herbaceous plants for supporting the entire life cycles of our butterfly and moth pollinator friends, and a whole lot of bees’, too.

All plants are native to the eastern United States—the majority indigenous to New England

Learn more: https://www.grownativemass.org/programs/plantsale
Download a list of the species available at the 2019 Native Plant Sale

 

How, When and Why to Stake Your Tall Perennials in Early Spring

How to stake your garden perennials in spring

Supporting tall perennials like peonies, before they get tall, is best done by late April, as shown here in a Cambridge, MA ornamental garden. If you don”t support them on time, their stems may break, dashing their flowers to the ground, especially during heavy rains and windy weather. The constantly-blooming garden was designed by Cheryl Salatino of Dancing Shadows Garden Design.

Got peonies or other perennials that will get tall? Late April is time to protect their structure for season by properly supporting them by staking. Play the audio to learn about how I like to do my staking.

 

David Epstein’s “Weather and Gardening” Talk in Easton April 11th

David Epstein to speak at Easton Garden Club meeting

Meteorologist and horticulturist David Epstein will present “Weather and Gardening” at the
Easton Garden Club’s April meeting.

The Easton Garden Club invites the public to attend a free program, “Weather and Gardening” featuring David Epstein, meteorologist & horticulturalist.

When: Thursday, April 11th, 2019; 6:30 pm refreshments, 7:00 pm program
Where: In the basement gymnasium of the Covenant Congregation Church, 204 Center Street, North Easton
Cost: FREE

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. He spent sixteen years on-air at WCVB in Boston and currently is a meteorology professor at Framingham State University and Colby College.

Dave’s weather, climate and gardening content can be seen/heard/read regularly on the following media outlets: boston.com, Portland Press Herald, WBUR Boston, WBZ-TV, WGME CBS 13 Portland, and at www.growingwisdom.com.

The Easton Garden Club meets the second Thursday of most months (no meeting July, August, and December) at 6:30 pm at the CCC at 204 Center Street, North Easton. Members participate in workshops with natural plant material, listen to speakers on a variety of horticultural topics, and see demonstrations by professional designers and provide community service. New members are always welcome. Please visit www.eastongardenclub.org for more information.

TWO CHICKADEES WALK INTO A BAR…IN A SHARON FOREST

Carol Lundeen and Brenda Minihan as black-capped chickadees in the Sharon Garden Club's January 2019 presentation about the ecological harm of exotic invasive plants

Sharon Garden Club January 2019 program “Wanted Dead: Not Alive!” presenters Carol Lundeen, left, and Brenda Minihan take the role of a pair of black-capped chickadees in a skit that tells the tale of how the introduction of beautiful exotic invasive plants by early American landscape designers has had terribly destructive results for native wildlife and our local, regional, and national natural resources. Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks, not pictured, played the role of landscape designer “Fredericka” Law Olmstead in introducing the exotic plants to our country. Photo courtesy Marcia Podlisny.
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Shrubs to Prune in Late Winter – Which Ones and How?

 

hydrid Kordesii Rose ‘John Davis’

The hydrid Kordesii Rose ‘John Davis’ is a hard-working rose that blooms periodically from June to September on new wood. Prune it in late winter for the strongest show all season.

Late winter to early spring is a terrific time for pruning many shrubs. What should you prune and when? You could study pruning for an entire semester, but here are some basic guidelines. I recommend that you properly identify, then research, each particular kind of woody plant before you consider your first cut:

  • Safety first 1) If any part of a tree or shrub is within ten feet of any kind of electric cable or wire, stop and call a professional. 2) Wear gloves and sturdy shoes, and use only sharp tools like bypass (not anvil) hand pruners and loppers, and saws. 3) Sanitize your tools and gloves with isopropyl alcohol or a product like Lysol spray before you start, and again when you’re done pruning each individual plant.
  • General concepts Notice the overall shape of the shrub. Most flowering shrubs should be balanced and open in their center. Start pruning by removing all dead and diseased branches, then look for branches that cross or touch each other. Rubbing branches damage the bark tissue, inviting pathogens and pests, so remove one or both branches, depending on their condition, all the way to the base. Branches that grow from the perimeter towards the center should usually be removed. To shorten a branch or twig, cut it 1/4 inch above an outward-facing bud so new growth heads towards the perimeter of the shrub.
  • When does your shrub bloom? 1) For spring bloomers, pruning them during the late dormant period (late winter/early spring) will remove flower buds, which were formed last year after the shrub bloomed. No flower buds, no flowers, so wait until after they bloom this year. 2) For later bloomers, pruning them now, before they form this year’s flower buds, is ideal. These can also be pruned soon after blooming.
  • Roses Relax. Roses are simply shrubs that benefit from annual pruning. Prune in late winter to early spring (late dormancy) or when the buds start to swell. First cut out dead, broken, diseased and crossing canes. Put all your pruning debris in a trash bag and throw it away. Do not compost. Fertilize your roses with something like Espoma Rose-Tone or a good organic slow release fertilizer by following the directions on the bag. Climbers like to keep their main stems, so keep them fresh by pruning their lateral branches. Once the main stems are three years old, consider cutting one or two of them to their base to encourage new ones. Then cut one or two of the oldest every year. For shrub roses, cut up to 1/3 of the canes, the oldest, thickest woody ones, to their base as you open up the overall look to a vase shape. Cut to their base any super skinny canes from last year. For height, cut the remaining canes to about 1/2 their height, 1/4 inch above a robust outward-facing bud.

Please feel free to contact Carol with any questions.

 

 

 

Native Winterberry Holly – A Feast for the Eyes and the Birds

Ilex verticillata, winterberry holly, in Sharon, MA

Ilex verticillata, or wintererry holly, adds curb appeal and attracts many species of local and migratory birds. This multi-stem New England native shrub is planted in a garden designed as a screen along a driveway in Sharon, MA.

You can hardly beat winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata, for its winter show of bright red berries. The berries are coveted this time of year by migrating birds and holiday decorators, so why not have one of these hard-working native shrubs for your own personal supply of winter delight and support birds, too?

The one pictured here serves as a screen between driveways in Sharon, MA. The screen design includes a variety of shrubs and a tree with different bloom times and colors, deciduous and evergreen, including Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), viburnumlilac (Syringa vulgaris), and a juniper tree.

The winterberry prefers moist, acidic soil and full sun, but can do well in part shade and tolerate some dryness if the soil is rich organic matter. As with all hollies, there are male and female plants, so you’ll need one male nearby to get berries on the females. Most nurseries are good at labeling the sex properly. When in bloom, you can tell the sexes apart on your own by a close look at the flowers.

 

 

 

WHY YOUR HYDRANGEAS DIDN’T BLOOM THIS YEAR

Panicle hydrangea in Sharon, MA garden

Why didn’t your hydrangeas bloom this year? Most likely they were either pruned at the wrong time of year or their flower buds were damaged by winter weather or foraging deer. This panicle hydrangea, recognized by it’s cone-shaped flower head, is in a Sharon, MA garden. still blooming in early October.

Why didn’t your hydrangeas bloom this year? Most likely they were either pruned at the wrong time of year or their flower buds were damaged by winter weather or foraging deer.

With so many species and numerous cultivars, hydrangeas confuse many gardeners and even landscape designers when it comes to understanding the best time of year for pruning. Many gardeners prune at exactly the wrong time, eliminating almost all flower buds for the entire season.

Most early blooming shrubs, including some hydrangeas, develop their flower buds during the summer and fall of the previous year. This is known as blooming on old wood. Other hydrangeas develop their flower buds in the spring every year, then bloom later in the season. This is called blooming on new wood. Hydrangea cultivars such as Endless Summer™ bloom on both old and new wood.

Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) develop their flower buds on new stems (new wood). Therefore they can be pruned back severely in the late fall or early spring to manage their size, and they will still provide flowers. Even after exceptionally cold winters where stems are killed to the ground, new spring stems will produce flowers. In our climate and soils, panicle hydrangea and smooth hydrangea are typically the easiest species to grow and provide the best show. Panicle hydrangeas, for instance, can bloom from July through October.

Common panicle hydrangea cultivars include: Limelight’, Vanilla Strawberry, Little Quick Fire, ‘Grandiflora’ aka PeeGee, ‘Fire and Ice’, Bobo®, ‘Bombshell’, ‘Little Lamb’, Quick Fire®, ‘Pee Wee’; Pinky Winky®, ‘Praecox’, and ‘Tardiva’. You can recognize them by their cone-shaped flower heads.

Common smooth hydrangea cultivars include: ‘Annabelle’, Invincibelle Spirit®, Incrediball®, and ‘Grandiflora’.

By contrast, hydrangeas that bloom in the spring bloom predominantly on old wood from flower buds that were formed during the previous summer and fall. They include bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata) and climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). These varieties should be pruned immediately after the flowers start to fade. You can cut off the just the flowers or cut the stem at any point you need to in order to control the size and shape of the shrub. If you prune later in the year, you’ll be removing next year’s flower buds.

If you know the type of hydrangea you have in your garden, it can take some of the mystery out of understanding why they’re not blooming as you expected, and knowing when to prune them. If you do not know what type of hydrangea you have, do not prune them. Remove only the dead wood in spring, then wait until they bloom to determine when to prune them the following year. If they’re planted in a favorable position in your landscape, they’re well worth waiting for.