Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Winter Birding for Backyard Gardeners

During the remainder of this now frigid winter, there is an activity in which most backyard gardeners engage. Assisting with the winter survival of backyard wildlife is a satisfying endeavor, especially in suburbia, where native habitat is constantly shrinking. Many of our songbirds are non-migratory, constantly on the lookout for food and water, during the difficult winter months. We can do much to ease the struggle of those feathered friends... after all, birds provide song, color, beauty and insect control from spring through fall, along with their migratory counterparts, so why not encourage their presence year 'round?

One of the least expensive, highest energy and longest-lasting treats we can provide is raw suet, available in chunks at the supermarket. A big suet feeder, made of vinyl-coated wire mesh, will hold a large quantity of suet which will last for quite some time, without refilling. I like to hang suet in several locations, so all birds can enjoy this treat. High-fat foods are necessary to maintain body heat and insulate feathers against the snow, cold rain and plummeting temperatures of winter. All backyard birds seem to relish suet, especially the shy Downy Woodpecker, whom you may want to provide with his own upside-down suet feeder. Why? Because the pesky starlings, that also crave suet, will crowd out less aggressive birds; however, woodpeckers and many of the smaller birds can easily feed by clinging upside-down, while most starlings cannot. I did have one "smart" starling solve the mysteries of flipping upside-down during flight, but with great difficulty and he soon went back to the big suet cage.

Another source of heat and energy are preformed suet cakes, made to to fit within smaller, square suet feeders. These are handy, can be stored in the freezer and are easily popped into the suet cage, as needed. They often include special treats like peanuts, nut meats, seed, fruit, berries or even insects (popular with woodpeckers and mockingbirds). Do-it-yourselfer? You can render raw suet over low heat (keep kids away from the stove and hot fat). After it's completely cooled, and before it solidifies, stir in sunflower seed, seed blends, nuts, orange bits, raisins, etc. Pour into molds and store in the freezer, until needed. Here's another project - one the children will enjoy... Mixing this dough requires lots of muscle, but it's a fun project. The basic recipe is 4 cups cornmeal, 1 cup flour, 1 cup peanut butter and 1 cup shortening - mix well and pack into pine cones, suspended from lower tree limbs or that recycled Christmas tree. Fill mesh onion bags or suet feeders with the mixture and hang near bird feeders. Fill in tree bark crevices with the dough and enjoy the antics of nuthatches, titmice, chickadees as they retrieve this tasty treat. Freeze any leftovers for refills.

Turn up the heat... one more way to increase the fat content of the backyard bird is to fill most feeders with black oil sunflower seed. As you might guess, this seed is rich in natural oil, further insulating birds against the elements. All birds will enjoy this sunflower, so you can simplify your feeding chores and storage issues. However, if you care to cater to their particular preferences, there are other seeds and blends to explore. Striped sunflower (high-fiber, less oil) and sunflower kernels (no messy shells) are eaten by just about everyone. Downy woodpeckers will dine from specially-designed feeders, preferring nut meats, peanut hearts, sunflower kernels, and white millet.

Other preferences - To some extent, you can regulate backyard visitors by offering specialty seeds and blends. Peanut hearts are relished by most birds. Surprisingly, cracked corn, in limited quantities, is eaten by a variety of birds and is chiefly a digestive aid. White millet (avoid coarse red millet, which attracts pigeons and other "undesirables") is a treat for the cardinal, finch, sparrow, junco, nuthatch, titmouse, mourning dove and pheasant. Tiny black Niger (commonly, "thistle") seeds are sought out by the smallest birds and mourning doves. The white hard-shelled safflower (squirrels dislike this one) is eaten by the cardinal, mourning dove, titmouse, chickadee, nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, evening grosbeak, rose-breasted grosbeak, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow and house finch. Look into specially-designed feeders for the seeds and mixtures you plan to offer. Low, platform feeders are great for offering safflower to the ground-feeding cardinals, white-throated sparrows and mourning doves. It keeps the seed dry and doesn't attract squirrels.

Speaking of squirrels... At this moment, I have no doubt that top engineers continue to devise yet more ways to discourage and baffle those persistent gray squirrels. Pole baffles, hanging baffles, special mechanisms and weighted perches designed to foil these furry, gray-suited "engineers" are mounted in backyards even now, under scrutiny and attack by squirrels who always seem to enjoy a challenge. Try mounting a twirling feeder (away from bird feeders), whose four metal arms hold dried ears of corn. It's fun to watch the squirrels spinning 'round for their lunch!

Other food sources include weed seeds and berries from wild areas, as well as perennial seeds and persistent fruits on your garden trees and shrubs... a good reason to include plants that that offer winter food sources. Some landscape specimens like flowering crabs, viburnums, winterberries and cotoneaster provide valuable winter fruit. My resident, wintering mockingbird survives on a diet of suet and berries. Leaving taller, staked perennials all winter adds to the natural food supply - Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Joe Pye weed and Helen's flower offer seed into the winter and can be cut back in spring.

Shelter can easily be provided with birdhouses and roosting boxes. Fall-mounted birdhouses will be claimed early next spring for nesting. Try to include evergreens of all sizes, if space permits. Pines, spruces and firs are large-scale habitats, but upright and pyramidal yews, as well as upright junipers (birds love the berries) offer smaller-scale shelter and nesting sites. Feeding stations should be positioned near sheltering plants, providing protection from weather and hawks, along with accessibility to food.

And last, but not least - water! In the Northeast, we're experiencing a dry, open winter that has suddenly turned frigid. With the local pond frozen, it's time to provide an open source of water. Normally, birds obtain some moisture from snow, but there has been almost none, so far. Birdbath heaters and heated birdbaths that are thermostatically-controlled, are widely available. It's still important to keep the vessel clean and water changed, daily. Another option is a flexible, shallow, black rubber feed pan. Set it on cement blocks or bricks in a sunny area, knock out the ice and replace with fresh water, daily. The black color attracts the sun's warmth, keeping the water open for a longer time. Birds will get used to this source and stop by for a drink, whenever you change it. I try to change it twice, on the coldest days.

If you employ just some of the above techniques, you'll be assisting wildlife, while bringing nature up close for your own enjoyment. Place feeding stations in easy view from kitchen tables, easy chairs and other such prime observation points. Keep field guides handy, for correct identification of the many bird species you attract. Children usually enjoy this aspect of backyard birding... eager to identify all newcomers. Take that same enthusiasm, along with the children and field guides, on a winter hike through local preserves and Audubon trails. Identify plant species, new birds, animal tracks and other signs of winter wildlife. All too soon, another gardening season will be upon us!

Photos & Text: ©2011 Deb Lambert
PLEASE NOTE: If you are reading this article on a website or blog, other than my own, it has been posted there without my knowledge or permission!  I'd be grateful for an emailed "heads-up" if you notice such thievery!

Help stop theft and plagiarism of the intellectual property displayed within my many blogs, the blogs I maintain for Corliss Bros., and the content of my website.  The "feed scrapers" that appropriate my material, insert advertising into my text and display my entire articles (complete with photos) have already stolen unknown quantities of my copyrighted works.  Sadly, other garden writers/bloggers are experiencing similar theft, so we must all remain vigilant, assisting each other in this effort.  We'd all be grateful for your vigilance, as well.  Thank you ~ Deb Lambert, 'GardenAuthor'

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Winter's Siren"

Winter’s Siren

(At once alluring and alarming, the
wind is as intriguing and dramatic
as the winter elements with which
it fraternizes.)

By Deb Lambert

She began at high noon...
an almost imperceptible rhythm,
irresistible to the graceful willow,
who responded with gentle dance.

A mere whisper,
she rifled through the stiff,
rustling grass of last autumn.
Not content with such
slight disturbance of early winter peace,
she began coaxing motion from the
pendulous arms of a weeping cherry,
forcing even the rugged, gnarled,
outstretched fingers of an ancient oak
to succumb to her insistent cadence.

A rough passage along the mighty Atlantic
has not improved her temperament.
With the rise and fall of her clarion call,
does this siren of winter summon her compatriots.
Like conscripted forces, plunging mercury
and rising moisture trail in her wake,
bending to her will,
with unquestioning obedience to her orders.

She exhales across the pond,
glancing back in satisfaction at the tempered glass.
Overcome with glee at her handiwork,
she begins the dance in earnest.
Like a whirling dervish... faster, faster, faster!
She spins round and round - higher, higher...
rising, flying up the basin’s steep slope.
Attaining the summit, she celebrates in song.

Under cover of this moonless night, an unseen
army marshals forces, mounting a midnight offensive
on the northeast corner of my abode.
The eerie voices rise in sudden crescendo,
led by those unmistakable soprano notes.

A momentary hush... then a gentle moan.
She moans as she seeks passage where the
mullions and muntins secure the glass panes.
Her voice rises in mournful howl,
like a wolf, denied entrance thusly.

In full-throated screams does she proclaim
her anger and frustration.
Madly clawing, ripping at the cedar shakes,
her fury raging unabated.
Surely she can lift one corner, find one crevice
and drive her frosted breath inside.

She cannot.

And so, winter’s siren must content herself
with idle threats in the dark,
with hurling loose grit
in an attempt to scour bare
the cedar skin of my home,
as she blows the drifting snows
up to the sills and smothers the world
in a blanket of white.

For now, shall I sleep
snug in my fortress,
serenaded by this siren of winter...
moaning, howling, screaming.

©Deb Lambert 2009

Friday, May 31, 2013

In Praise of the Japanese Tree Lilac

Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk'... a highlight of the
mixed planting, in front of Corliss Bros. Garden Center

What's not to like? Hardy from Zones 3-7. So hardy, that it's often planted as a street tree, here in the Northeast. Available with a multi-stemmed base, or pruned to a single trunk. At 15-25' in height, by about 15' wide, it is grown as a large shrub or small tree. While variously described as oval to rounded, my particular specimen (not pictured) has developed a distinctly broad pyramidal shape.

The bark is reddish brown, reminiscent of a cherry tree - seen to best advantage in the winter landscape. The large, pyramidal flower trusses are creamy white, making a big impact, even from a distance. The sturdy, deep green foliage is not prone to mildew, as are many shrub lilacs (also resistant to the scale and borers that sometimes plague other syringas). Japanese Tree Lilac is quite tolerant of wind, as long as its requirement of a moist, well-drained soil is met. While striking as an individual specimen, this syringa is breathtaking when massed, in a large-scale planting.

A butterfly magnet ~ Notice the tiger swallowtail seeking 
nectar from one of the uppermost blossoms.  This one spent 
its larval phase on my Angelica and stayed after 
metamorphoses to enjoy my tree lilac.

And speaking of breathtaking, the fragrance is almost overwhelming during the three weeks that this syringa blooms. This June bloomer (sometimes into early July) is a baffling, somewhat musky combination of lilac, rose and hyacinth. Different times of the day, I pick up various predominant scents. Positioned near a bedroom window, the perfume fills my room and on a hot day, a window fan pulls in and distributes the scents throughout the house. A simple pleasure ~ being lulled to sleep, enfolded by fragrance, on a hot June evening.

I have always been, and remain, an unabashed fan of Syringa reticulata!

©Deb Lambert 2008
Photos: ©CBI/DJL

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Pain of Poison Ivy

The Pain of Poison Ivy

Before we discuss precautions and seek relief from home remedies, let me say right up front that I am not a medical professional, nor a professional herbalist… merely a concerned gardener, wishing to share important and helpful information about this “green scourge.”  Folklore, hearsay and personal episodes aside, never, ever let the ill-effects of contact with “leaflets three” go unresolved.  Sometimes severity of contact, as well as your personal tolerance/allergic reaction, will necessitate a trip to the doctor or nurse practitioner for professional assistance and is recommended for a rash that impacts the face, eyes, lips, causes uncontrollable itching, or becomes infected.  A severe reaction, such as that caused by inhaling burning poison ivy, may include swelling and difficulty breathing.  If so, dialing 911 or proceeding to the emergency room, is the proper reaction.

1. What does it look like?

Whether you call it by its botanical name (Rhus radicans or Toxicodendron radicans), or just poison ivy, the first step in interacting with this all-too-common pest (green monster?) is ID - become familiar with this plant.  Leaflets three, let it be!  Deep green, slightly wavy or scalloped leaf edges, with reddish stems.  Found growing as a ground cover, rambling over stonewalls or anything in its path, and climbing high into trees.

2. Where does it grow?

Everywhere!  Full sun, dappled shade, wooded areas, open fields, wet areas near waterways and hot, dry locations… a very adaptable pest!

3. When is it dangerous?

Always!  All parts of this plant contain urushiol and can produce allergic reactions at any time of year.  The oil is potent indefinitely, remaining viable on clothes and tools for years!

4. Can you burn it?

No!  Doing so can produce horrific results, especially when the smoke is inhaled into the lungs.  When burned, poison ivy oil becomes airborne… likewise with the use of mowers and line trimmers.  Remain vigilant, so you can avoid this three-leaved menace… when avoidance in the backyard is impractical, then turn to controlling its spread.  Such commercial controls are non-selective, so use with care, or you’ll kill desirable plants.  Even more environmentally-sensitive controls (commercial or homemade) may include vinegar (regular white or 20% horticultural strength), citric acid, clove oil and other such components, but are also non-selective, so take care.  They’ll also require a few repeat applications - eventually, repeated burning of foliage by these materials weakens the roots and discourages regrowth. 

5. Can you you walk in poison ivy and not get it?

Possibly; however, be aware that your shoes and socks (and possibly your bare legs, if wearing shorts) will be covered with the oily resin (urushiol) and that handling them puts you at risk of an allergic reaction.

6. How can people prevent getting it?

 Avoidance, through proper identification ~ children should be taught as early as possible.  Ivy Block is applied before any possible contact, when gardening, hiking, etc.

Are you a gardener with poison ivy issues?  This invasive pest can pop up anywhere the birds fly or the wind blows.  So, even if you’re successful at maintaining a “safe zone” around your yard, it will creep right back in without invitation, despite your vigilance.  Keep in mind that any garden tools may be suspect and that oils remain viable on them long after initial contact.  Long pants, long sleeves and gloves may narrow the chance of direct exposure… just be careful and meticulous with your cleanup regimen.  Protective gloves should be worn when handling and cleaning shoes, clothing and tools that have been contaminated with the oily resin.

Rubbing alcohol to cleanse exposed skin, followed by a thorough washing up with soap is recommended.  

Don’t pat Fido if he’s been romping in a patch of poison ivy, at least not until after he’s been bathed (wear gloves for that event!).

7. What to do if you do get poison ivy all over you?

Depending on extent, intensity and individual tolerance, that trip to the doctor often includes Benedryl, or similar remedy, to shorten your time of misery, quelling your system’s reaction to this toxin.

Sitting back with a tall glass of iced tea, while you wait for those home remedies or prescriptions to work, is a no-no!  No caffeine in any form - soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.  Intensifies the itch!  (Make it a lemonade.)

Tecnu!  Wash thoroughly with Tecnu, as soon as possible.  Put Tecnu in the wash with your clothes, as well.  It draws out the oils, even hours after initial exposure.  An alternative is to use dishwashing liquid.  The degreasing agents draw out the oil from the skin… within a few minutes of rubbing it into the rash, itch relief occurs.  Leave the dishwashing liquid in place overnight, wash off and reapply.  Skin often clears in a couple of days.  Either of the above can be used long after initial contact to dry the rash sites. The heavy duty laundry bar soap, Fels-Naptha, was always the traditional way to cleanse skin of oils, right after exposure.  You may find soap made from jewelweed to be effective, as well.  The aforementioned isopropyl alcohol seems to remove much of the oil and is followed by washing with soap.

Caladryl & calamine lotion often provide some relief during the healing process.

Lots of herbal and home remedies to lessen the misery of Poison Ivy.  Plant-based include jewelweed (Impatiens/touch-me-not), sweet fern, plantain (applied fresh as a poultice or boiled and steeped as a tea and applied to rash), rhubarb stems, burdock roots, aloe vera, honeysuckle, polk salad root, milkweed.  Many are brewed into a tea, allowed to steep and applied to rash… the tea is also use to make ice cubes for cooling, healing effects, when rubbed over the affected skin.

Baking soda paste applied to affected areas & allowed to dry.  Some folks soak in a baking soda bath.  Warm, prepared oatmeal, to which you add a little baking soda, is applied as a paste and allowed to dry.  Epsom salts are also made into a paste and applied to the rash or, soak the area in an epsom salt solution.   Aloe vera brings relief from the itch and hastens healing. 

Banana peel - rub the inside of the peel across affected areas for cooling itch relief.  Wash the area with hot water first, then follow up with the inside of that banana peel, applied to affected areas.  Some recommendations include laying the banana peel with the inside against the rash, encasing the area with plastic wrap and leaving this in place for about an hour… itching should be relieved and healing hastened. 

8. How come animals don't get poison ivy?

They can, although not according to vets and books on the topic.  Of our domestic pets, dogs are the most likely to break out with the telltale rash.  Less hair on their undersides accounts for this.  The allergic reaction may be blamed on another allergen or even an insect related issue.  Cats are generally well-protected with a heavy coat over the entire body.  If a pet has contacted the oils, don thick rubber gloves, before giving Fido a thorough shampooing to remove the oils from his fur.  A tea made of plantain leaves should relieve his rash and itching.

Although Fido may not exhibit a rash, he can be responsible for yours.  It’s important to remember that the oils remain potent on your pet’s fur for some time, and that they will be transferred to your skin, as you pet the animal. 
9. What benefit does poison ivy have to the natural world?

The good news is that downy woodpeckers, robins and about 60 other bird species, harvest the white berries to supplement their diet.  The bad news is that they are responsible for sowing the seeds, as they fly hither and thither across the wild terrain… and your backyard!  Raccoons, squirrels and other mammals also feed on the berries.  Stems and leaves are eaten by the Eastern Cottontail, White-tailed Deer and Muskrat.  The threadlike hairs from aerial roots are harvested by cardinals and goldfinches for nest construction.
10. Are there any medicinal purposes for poison ivy?

Seriously?  Actually, yes!  Well, evidently back in the late 18th century, after it’s introduction into England in 1640, medicinal properties of the fluid extracted from fresh leaves was discovered and it was used to treat a variety of internal and external maladies.  It is officially listed in the United States Pharmacopeia, and remains in use by homeopathic practitioners for rheumatism, ringworm and other skin disorders.

Poison Ivy Myth Busters…

Myth: As the fluid runs from blisters, it spreads the rash to new areas. You can “catch” it from contact with the fluid from someone’s blisters.  Answer: This fluid is serum, not the oily resin, so is impossible to spread in this way.  Increased rash usually indicates varying amount of initial exposure, as well as differing reaction on various skin areas.

Myth: That someone can roll around in a bed of poison ivy and never develop a rash.  Answer: About 30% of the population at large exhibits less sensitivity, but this can change with repeated exposure.  So, never say, “never!”

Myth: Exposure to sun breaks down the urushiol, rendering it harmless.  Answer: It can remain viable and toxic on objects for years, which explains why rashes show up in winter, long after plants have gone into dormancy.  Also suspect is wood, upon which poison ivy once grew.  Handling and burning such firewood may generate a reaction through both direct contact and smoke.

“Look, up in the tree… It’s a vine!  No, it’s a bush!  Wait, it’s a ground cover?  It’s Poison Ivy!”

Here we find bindweed and poison ivy co-mingling,  
as they scramble up a rough trunk, seeking sun.

Seemingly “Faster than a speeding bullet,” in its growth habit and ability to bring all gardening to a screeching halt.  If you’re one of the many gardeners allergic to the toxic substance called “urushiol” (ooh-roo-she-all) in poison ivy (Rhus radicans or Toxicodendron radicans), you’ve probably lost valuable time from your daily pursuits and suffered considerably from at least one case of poison ivy rash. 
Ortho® MAX Poison Ivy and Tough Brush Killer ~ In their own words… Kills weeds to the root •The tough weed solution, kills woody plants and vines such as poison oak, poison ivy, kudzu, willows, oak, wild blackberries and other listed plants.  •Guaranteed results  •Available in ready-to-use or concentrate formulation.
Roundup® Ready-To-Use Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer in the Pump 'N Go® Sprayer

Exclusive formula is strong enough to penetrate the tough waxy leaves of hard to kill weeds.
•Rain proof in 30 minutes.  •Visible results in 24 hours  •Kills the Root - Guaranteed!
Note: These products, although effective, are non-selective... ask us for suggestions on control within garden areas, or where poison ivy is adjacent to desirable plants.

“Leaflets three, let them be!”  If, despite this age-old quote, you manage to tangle with poison ivy (or even suspect you had contact), then turn to this remedy...
Tecnu®… Remove irritants from your skin that could turn into itchy problems. Use Tecnu® Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser after you have been outdoors to remove the rash-causing oil, urushiol (oo-roo-she-all) from poison ivy, oak and sumac.  •Use on skin, tools, clothes, pets.  We use and carry Tecnu® at Corliss Bros. Garden Center & Nursery!

Can’t get enough poison ivy, or least the discussion thereof?  A trip to this website will keep you busy with quizzes, facts, stories, controls and even a “Skin Rash Hall of Fame.”  Just click on “The Poison Ivy Site.”

Poison ivy appears to be on the increase, as never before; seemingly, with neither rhyme nor reason?  Not so! Your PI Update ~ Not the update we wanted, but something you should know… Based on recent experiments, Duke University researchers project that the rising levels of carbon dioxide will accelerate the spread of poison ivy and bump up the urushiol concentration. 

Poison Ivy… Big, bad and on the move… be careful out there! 

Questions courtesy of Michele, host of "Around Town" which airs on local Ipswich public access TV.  Watch for an announcement of our upcoming interview about poison ivy!

Around Town Show
Thursday 6:00 PM, Friday NOON, Saturday 2:00 PM, Sunday 7:00 PM
Verizon Channel 33 Comcast Channel 9

© Deb Lambert 2012

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cleaning & Mending for the Home Landscape

Deer, voles, mice and rabbits were responsible for most of the root, trunk and branch damage.  Deer with their antler raking, cause much trunk damage, in addition to browsing on favorite landscape specimens.  Voles tunnel around throughout the landscape feeding on, and often girdling, trees and shrubs.  Mice are adept at climbing, seeking the higher and outer tree portions.  Rabbits, standing atop a constant snow cover, were able to reach greater heights, as they nibbled on trunks, also quite capable of girdling trees.  As delicate plants like threadleaf Japanese maples lay imprisoned and blanketed by storm after storm, they were subject to an excess of rodent destruction, besides the deer damage.  This Japanese maple exhibits a combination of storm, rodent (mice) and deer damage.....

Guess who came to dinner!

Pick up winter debris - leaves, twigs, branches - from garden and lawn areas.  Trim away torn and broken limbs that cannot be repaired.  Cut all dead wood branch tips to live tissue.  Scratching the bark with your thumbnail, will expose underlying green tissue.  Clean pruning cuts will heal much more quickly… eliminate jagged bark edges, with a sharp pocket knife.  Dressing any trunk wounds, to encourage callusing, includes shaping the wound elliptically for proper water drainage.  Eventually, the edges will callus, with the callus rolling inward to meet the inner wood.  An application of
Phytech 50® will prevent excessive drying, as wounds strive to heal.  Coat all edges and inner surfaces with this protective blend of oils and waxes.  With sap rising and the threat of insects and diseases looming on the horizon, this becomes an additional step, not needed with winter pruning.  

Obviously, the weakest point is where two branches converge, in a V-shape… such a crotch is always subject to moisture collection, freeze damage and snow-load stress.  While any specimen can fall prey to the ravages of winter, those causing the greatest concern are small ornamental trees, like dogwood, Japanese maples, etc.

First, eliminate any excessive top weight, so as they foliate, there’s less of a foliage load.  Trying to mend splits is an easier task with two people.  First step is to scrape away some of those dried inner cells, to expose live tissue.   I like to coat both halves with vaseline to keep the cells pliable and fresh during the healing process.  Bind them together with clothesline or stout twine, temporarily.  Do NOT use wire, duct tape, electrical tape, etc. to bind such branches back together.  These cut off air circulation, hold moisture and will girdle the area.  Galvanized or stainless steel carriage bolts, nuts and washers are countersunk (bark will callus over) when trying to guy two branches back to their original growth pattern.  The last step is to apply Phytech 50® across the top and along the sides of the mended area, to prevent water damage and to keep pests and diseases at bay.  Lastly, choose a warm spell to perform these tasks, with temps in the 50-60º range for several days.

This Kerria japonica displays many broken branches, needing 
immediate attention, by cutting back to live dormant buds.  And 
as soils become friable, start feeding those stressed plants with 
a granular, organic fertilizer.  
 'Robusta Green' juniper ~ partially uprooted, 
with major splits in several places...

 Sadly, this balsam fir succumbed to a needle cast 
disease that started late last fall.  All remnants of this 
diseased tree must be removed, to lessen the chance of 
this disease spreading to another fir, nearby.

The butterfly bush suffered many broken branches and 
has been the recipient of exceptionally early spring pruning.

 Surprisingly, the 'Blue Prince' holly in front 
sustained little damage, despite remaining in a prone 
position... buried under snow all winter.  The 
'Blue Princess' holly in the background has also 
recovered nicely.

 This holly disappeared after the first heavy snowstorm 
and had snow shoveled upon it, but seems to have survived.

 A closer look at the center, reveals a little pruning and guying 
are in order.  But, overall, not too bad.

 This was a nice reward at the end of my landscape 
inspection... nestled in a warm spot by the foundation, 
this hardy little crocus announces spring.

And, the last Amaryllis blossom poses, as I turn 
my attention to the indoor plants.

 Just a reminder ~ keep feeding those birds until they're 
able to start dining on insects, providing us with 
valuable insect control.

One good thing about all that snow?  Just last week, as the 
snow melted from my banking of cotoneaster, an abundant 
crop of berries on the Cotoneaster 'Perpusilla' came into 
view... much to the delight of my backyard birds!

First 6 Photos: ©S.R. Calef 2011
Remainder of Photos: ©Deb Lambert 2011

PLEASE NOTE: If you are reading this article on a website or blog, other than my own, it has been posted there without my knowledge or permission!  I'd be grateful for an emailed "heads-up" if you notice such thievery! Just go to my website at, scroll to the bottom of any page and click on the email button.  On behalf of my fellow garden writers and bloggers, I thank you for helping to protect our intellectual property!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Seed Catalog Reverie

Photos: National Garden Bureau

Ah... the annual migration of seed catalogs
Winging their way to my door
Coming to nest in my rural mailbox, until evening
Cold and slightly curled, within the postman's rubber bands,
These lovely portents of an embryonic growing season
Warm, unbend and release their precious promises
Here, on my kitchen counter

My supper cools to an uncomfortable level
As I contemplate this visual feast, spread before me
Each seed catalog more tempting than the last
Every variety a must-have
A lush depiction of my backyard Eden's potential
Certainly, no garden could be considered complete without
This tantalizing array of all things edible and ornamental

But, cooler heads should prevail...
I ought to immediately don my garden writer's hat,
Lose the hatless, creative attitude
And make sound, logical plant choices
Based on a lifetime of research, gardening
And the actual size of this suburban paradise
Memo to self - my "back-forty" is measured in feet, not acres

When one considers limiting factors, such as available sunlight,
One must be honest in assessment of this requirement
Realizing that three hours of late afternoon sun
Will not satisfy the needs of a specimen needing full sun
One would certainly think that a "professional" would not fall prey
To a cultural "pushing of the envelope"... a rationalization
Well, one would be wrong - I, too, succumb to the glossy promise!

After all, are we not mortal stewards of the garden?
Do we not wish for bumper crops of tomatoes
And the subsequent bragging rights, as we share our bounty?
Pineapple-flavored, smoky overtones, balanced acidity, sugary-sweet,
Small as a currant, big as your head,
Pear, heart, plum, egg, strawberry or cherry-shaped,
Ivory, yellow, green, streaked, purple, orange and, of course, red

Who knew?
It's just a tomato!
And you thought you were just growing tomatoes?
A tomato is a tomato is a tomato
Who knew these decisions could get so complicated?
And, called by any other name, would it be as sweet?
Methinks 'twould!

Not to wax philosophical,
But apply all these tomato truisms and variables to the whole garden
Mix in logic, honesty, frugality and a large pinch of common-sense
Trust your instincts
Try not to be lured into over-consumerism
And, for goodness sake, leave some seeds for the rest of us!

I bid you adieu
And with nose firmly pressed into catalog interiors,
I'll envision a growing season filled with delights for eye and palate
A culmination of my season-long efforts
As I lounge beneath an arbor and "peel me a grape"
Wake me when the seeds arrive
Rouse me when it's time to plant

But for now, tiptoe away
Tend to your own fantasy-gardens
And I'll tend to mine
Leave me to drift
Suspended on the wings of eternal hope
Leave me cocooned in the depths
Of my seed catalog reverie!

Deb Lambert ©2011
PLEASE NOTE: If you are reading this article on a website or blog, other than my own, it has been posted there without my knowledge or permission!  I'd be grateful for an emailed "heads-up" if you notice such thievery!

Help stop theft and plagiarism of the intellectual property displayed within my many blogs, the blogs I maintain for Corliss Bros., and the content of my website.  The "feed scrapers" that appropriate my material, insert advertising into my text and display my entire articles (complete with photos) have already stolen unknown quantities of my copyrighted works.  Sadly, other garden writers/bloggers are experiencing similar theft, so we must all remain vigilant, assisting each other in this effort.  We'd all be grateful for your vigilance, as well.  Thank you ~ Deb Lambert, 'GardenAuthor'

February Dreams

It is cold. A thin February sun gradually warms
the burgundy Quonset hut. The inhabitants, newly
arrived, have settled in for a winter nap. They lie
nestled, luxuriating in the warmth, while the
howling wind serenades them. They float... filled
with hopes and dreams, drifting on spring promises
and summer visions.

Suddenly, the door is yanked open and cold February
air pours into the hut. The residents are spooning,
still slumbering, when they are unceremoniously
roused and dragged from their cozy nest. They resist -
slipping and sliding, trying to elude the grasping hand
of the anxious gardener, intent on learning the secrets
they hold. Resistance is futile, for this winter-weary
gardener will drag them inside, gleaning knowledge
from their glossy pages... sustenance to feed the spirit
until spring...

February Dreams!

Text & Photos: ©Deb Lambert 2009

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Amaryllis ~ Choosing, Prepping and Planting the "Queen of Bulbs"

The selections are amazing at this time of year... 
so many varieties!

While prepackaged amaryllis bulbs are convenient 
and ideal for gift giving, they're more likely to produce
one flower stalk, in contrast to these top-size bulbs... 

Top-size bulbs like these will usually produce 2-3 flower stalks, 
providing a spectacular indoor flower show... 
well worth the investment!

Hmm... Shall I go with huge (about 4" diameter) or
ginormous (about 6" across)?

Back home, with my purchase.  And my decision?  
The huge 4" diameter 'Apple Blossom' Amaryllis.

Time to get potting!  Takes about 6-8 weeks from potting
to bloom.  Before we start, it's time to address these shriveled
root tips for efficient water uptake.

With a sharp pair of kitchen shears or pruners, snip off
each withered root tip; otherwise, moisture absorption is 
hindered and rooting may be delayed.

A properly trimmed root system, ready for the next step...

Fill a pan with tepid water (I add a teaspoon of 
Neptune's Harvest Fish/Seaweed Blend) and suspend the
bulb above it.  This way, the newly opened root cells will
draw up the moisture, without risk of rotting the bulb.  
Allow it to remain thus suspended for several hours,
or overnight (my preference, to satisfy the bulb).

Pot choice?  Definitely clay, for stability... decorative ceramic 
pots are another choice, often favored for their decorative look.  
Plastic pots may suffice, but do not provide stability and care 
must be taken not to overwater. Here we see the three basic 
shapes available in terra cotta.  Left to right... standard, azalea
and bulb pan.  Choose the "standard" for adequate depth.

Diameter?  About two inches wider than the bulb diameter 
(measured at its widest point), so my 4" wide bulb requires  
that 6" diameter standard pot, shown above.

Soak the pot?  Absolutely!  That clay pot is porous and will 
continue to draw moisture from the root mass, until it becomes 
saturated.  Setting your pot in tepid water for 20-30 minutes
(until it's thoroughly soaked) before potting, eliminates this problem.
Alternatively, soak the potted bulb afterward.

Time to bring in the pea gravel and potting soil!

Put a clay shard or piece of screen over the drainage hole,
then add about an inch of gravel to ensure proper drainage.

Choose an organic-rich, well-drained potting soil like
my favorite Bar Harbor Blend® from Coast of Maine.

Fill the pot about halfway with potting soil, 
creating a little mound in the center, and pressing 
out air pockets with your hand.

Leave about 1/2 of the bulb exposed above the soil line.
Recommendations range from 1/3 to 2/3.  As you can see, I favor
the "2/3 rule," which greatly reduces the chance of overwatering.

I've chosen to soak the potted bulb, which provides its
first thorough watering.  Hereafter, water will be provided
from the top down, taking care to water around the bulb, 
not atop it. 

Why you'll want to rinse off that pea gravel!  Above, we
see it straight from the bag, dull and sand-coated... OK for
drainage stone, but not very decorative.  But, thoroughly
rinsed and it's a handsome alternative to white marble chips -
perfect for filling humidity trays.

Yes, the saucer is quite wide, intentionally!  When I water,
any excess will drain safely away from the root system, 
eliminating possible root rot.  Additionally, a constant water 
level can be maintained in the base of this over one inch stone
bed.  This amaryllis will have a constant supply of humidity - 
(without sitting in water) important with our relatively dry 
home air.  This does not replace your normal watering routine.
You may need to add water to that saucer on a daily basis.  
Apply this same system to any indoor plants all winter!

Do not overwater your newly planted bulb.  
Once or twice a week should suffice.  Once the flower bud tip
starts to protrude at the center of the bulb's neck, you may want
to increase watering frequency - possibly 2-3 times weekly.  It
will vary according to available light, temperatures and lack of
humidity, as well as pot type... obviously, clay will dry out sooner
than ceramic or plastic.

Light? About a half day of sun... morning or afternoon is fine.
Once flower stalks appear, move your pot back from the strong 
sun to bright, diffused light.  This will prolong flower life, 
allowing you to enjoy an extended flower display.

In another post... later, when you're wondering what to do with
that fading amaryllis, we'll cover the rest of the story and the
sometimes tricky scenario of re-blooming that bulb!

For now, we're left to anticipate an indoor flower show 
from the "Queen of Bulbs."

Enjoy your amaryllis!

Photos/Text: ©Deb Lambert 2010