Monday, May 17, 2010

Pink Lady-Slippers (Cypripedium acaule)

Walking the dog this morning, I was thrilled to discover that our native Pink Lady-Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are up and in full bloom all along our woodland walking trails. This delicate beauty is often found in uncultivated woodland areas, preferring the dry, acidic soil and dappled light of a successional forest canopy. And I refer to these perennials as delicate, because they DO NOT transplant easily and their cultural requirements are specific.

When they are not in flower, they are often overlooked,
their basal leaves looking unremarkable before going dormant in September. Because if this, they are often at risk of getting bulldozed or weeded! This danger would be the acceptable time to try digging up and transplanting these beauties, so if you know of such a situation: William Cullina has put together a very comprehensive "Transplanting Guide"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"The Right Plant for The Right Place" = Green Gardening

Come and stop by the Dedham- Westwood Green Fair today at the Dedham Middle School. I'll be there all day, talking about Green Gardening. So, stop by and say Hello!
The best way to have a healthy, sustainable, glorious garden is to keep the following in mind:

1) Site Analysis – Before you plant anything you should assess the garden area. How big is the area (height and width)? How much and what kind of sunlight does it get? Do existing mature trees or a building filter the sunlight? Is it a steep slope or a flat area? Is it exposed to drying winds and pollution? Or is it nestled between a stonewall and larger plants? Is the soil sandy and infertile, or is it moist and boggy? It is better to gather too much data than too little.

2) Right Plant for the Right Place – or choosing sustainable plants. How big and wide will the plant grow? How much sunlight does the plant need? Does it require acid or more neutral soil? Does it want Moist, well-drained, sandy or infertile soils? What diseases and pests is it subject to getting? Is it hardy to zone 5? If you can’t find an exact match, pick the closest you can and understand what you will need to supplement to care for your plant.

3) Correct Planting Procedures – New planting procedures described by UMass of Amherst Landscape, Nursery and Urban Forestry Department: Dig hole 3 times as wide as root ball and no deeper. Cut away burlap, rope and wire from root ball. Backfill with un-amended topsoil from hole. Trunk flare should be level with existing grade. Mulch from organic materials should be 2” deep, applied over the planting area and should be kept away from the trunk (NO VOLCANO MULCHING!).

4) Effective and Efficient Watering – Typically shadier spots retain moisture better than sunny ones, but a slope will drastically effect where the water penetrates the soil. On average, established trees and shrubs need only 1” of water a week so supplemental watering is most effective applied with a slow drip, allowing the water to soak in deeply rather than watering a little bit every day. The exceptions are new plantings, annuals, some perennials, some lawns and vegetable gardens, which typically require more water.

5) Eradicate Invasive Plants – Check out the list of “Prohibited Plants” in Massachusetts as put out by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Gardening Chores

The blooms of Crabapple Trees (Malus sp) and Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) have been particularly glorious this year, and we have so many beautiful specimen all around Dedham, congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to keep them looking healthy. Mother’s Day is Sunday, remember Mom with a lovely blooming shrub or tree. Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum is May 9th, call or visit their website for more information.

Our early spring may have thrown your gardening calendar out of whack, so here is a list of May gardening chores and tips to help you out:
Fertilize bulbs blooming right now with 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer if you are planning to perennialize them (get them to bloom next year). Work about a teaspoon into the top of the soil around each clump. And leave the leaves; they are still gathering energy for next year’s blooms. Some bulbs like Tulips are often treated as annuals because of the pests, diseases and level of care needed to effectively perennialize them.
Also I have started to see signs of Winter moth caterpillar this spring, this is the little green insect which looks very much like an inchworm and they may be eating the leaves of your Maple, Oak, Crabapple, Cherry and other trees. If you suspect your trees are infested or you had trouble last year contact your arborist or landscape professional for assistance. There are organic treatments to control this non-native pest.
If you haven’t fertilized your lawn yet, now is a great time (May, September and November are the best times). Use a spring fertilizer or one with a ratio of 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). And leaving the lawn clippings on the grass after you mow also helps to return nitrogen to the soil.
Now is also the time to sow your annual flower seeds and vegetable seeds such as eggplants, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Plant these seeds directly in the soil. It is also very easy to grow many herbs and veggies in pots on a Deck or in a Patio space. This close proximity to the house can make it easier to monitor their watering and possible attack from bunnies and other pests.
Move your houseplants outside when evenings become reliably warmer. Remember they need to be acclimated; if you move a plant from the house to a full sun area chances are it will burn. Try moving them first to a shady spot in your yard and bring them out gradually. I put my houseplants under a big old Rhododendron, and I leave my Christmas cacti there until October.
And last but not least - Weed, weed, weed your garden. ‘One year of weed equals seven of seed’ if you let those annual weeds grow and set seeds you will be haunted by their offspring for years to come. Many annual weed seeds can remain dormant for years just waiting for the right time to come back and haunt you.

Q. I recall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) blooming around here about first or second week of May each year. I wonder if late April is unusually early, and if so what could be the cause?
A. Good question, and yes many plants are blooming “earlier” this year, and you may see some non-typical crossovers (plants blooming simultaneously which don’t normally bloom simultaneously). Bloom times are not clock work, estimated bloom times are based on averages, but this spring is “early”. As for “the cause” I won’t speculate on climate change as that is not my area of expertise, but I will say that soil temperature triggers many plants to start growing. More precisely described it is the accumulated warm soil temperature days, commonly referred to as Growing-Degree-Days (GDD), this year we have had 138 GDD since the first of the year. This is very high. UMass Amherst tracks GDD for most of Massachusetts, and I checked their archives and found that at this time last year we had 87 GDD but in 2008 we had 111 GDD. So, what does this mean for your Common Lilacs? They are fine with the variation in bloom schedule, as long as the winters don’t go below -25’ F and the summers don’t turn into southern Florida.