Tipping Point

Interesting that the first day of winter is the tipping point in which we move, moment by moment, towards more light with each passing day. The actual solstice is just that, a moment in time where the sun is directly over of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere. Astronomers and Scientists use this day as the first day of winter. But for those of us not looking up at the stars or down at a microscope or computer, December 1 is considered the first day of winter by meteorologists. Their forecasts are being put to the test as Mother Nature asks us to work with the uncertainty of an unstable climate. Now is the time to celebrate your roots and plan for the new shoots of spring!


Did you know it is possible to shorten the lifespan of a tree by applying too much mulch? As the weather finally warms the race is on to spread mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture for the drier months to come. The conventional (not so green) rule of thumb is the 'more is better' approach however that can cause  more harm than good in the landscape.  

Mulch volcanoes kill trees

Mulch volcanoes kill trees

Imagine that you are wearing a turtleneck in the hottest months of summer? While trees may not wear clothes they have a fundamental structure that does not thrive when imposed upon. When mulch is applied above the trunk flare where the trunk meets the ground, it can signal cells in the trunk to send new roots to stabilize the tree.  Unfortunately, those roots often are misguided and circle the trunk slowly creating a noose around the base of the tree. Eventually the tree shows signs of stress and often at that time it is too late to save the tree.  Better mulching practices can go a long way to supporting healthy growth while still suppressing weeds and retaining moisture in your landscape.

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The Tree That Never Sleeps

Old friends that used to live in the garden state sought a life where the garden grows year round in the beautiful country of New Zealand. I was fortunate enough to travel to Waiheke Island near Auckland on the North Island to learn more. A naturalist explained to me that the ecology is quite fragile there because, as an island, it has long been subject to visitors introducing exotics and they have their fair share of work to restore balance to the local ecology. 

One of the most notable natives along the tour was an ancient Puriri Tree (Vitex lucens). Unlike the life cycle common to trees in  the eastern US, the Pururi Tree flowers and fruits continuously in a never ending cycle of reproduction.

Our trees go dormant just after dispersing their fruit in various seed forms and are now quietly awaiting spring to flower. This tree, however, never sleeps!  It is one of the reasons its aptly nicknamed the Mother of the Forest and rumor has it that it was the inspiration of James Cameron's Tree of Souls in the movie, Avatar.  It is a vital host for the lovely Ghost Moth that, in its caterpillar phase, can take shelter there for up to five years before it goes thru its transformation into a moth.  

I marvel at the possibility that the Mother of the Forest could have something to do the fact that New Zealand ranks in the top five countries in the world on Social Progression--an index measuring the multiple dimensions of social progress, benchmarking success, and catalyzing greater human wellbeing. 

Perhaps Mother does know best!

Decking the Halls

Happy Solstice!

At 11:48 PM here in the Garden State, the solstice will take place which marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year. Taking some time to put on a thick pair of gloves and nip some boughs of Holly is a colorful way to brighten the home on this occasion. 

And what purpose did it serve to Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly? According to ‘Ancient Wisdom Tree Lore’, Holly is associated with the death and rebirth of winter in both Pagan and Christian lore.

Deck the hall with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la la.

'Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Fill the mead cup, drain the barrel, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Troul the ancient Christmas carol, Fa la la la la la la la la.

See the flowing bowl before us, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Strike the harp and join the chorus. Fa la la la la la la la la.

Follow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la la la la la.

While I sing of beauty's treasure, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses! Fa la la la la la la la la.

Laughing, quaffing all together, Fa la la la la la la la la.

Heedless of the wind and weather….

In Arthurian legend, Gawain (representing the Oak King of summer) fought the Green Knight, who was armed with a holly club to represent winter. A bag of leaves and berries carried by a man is said to increase his ability to attract women….sounds suspiciously familiar to Mistletoe!  So what better way to celebrate the passing of the darkest day than to deck your home with a little Holly and celebrate the return of the Sun! 

Yuletide Trimming

evergreen pruning

As we all prepare for the holiday season, why not take to your own back yard to generate some of your own holiday greens? For centuries, the evergreen has remained a powerful symbol of life, especially in the shorter, less productive days of winter. While pruning is essential to the health of the plant, unfortunately, the tradition of pruning in this country actually does more harm than good!

Indiscriminant trimming of evergreen shrubs at the wrong time of the year by way of an electric shear or lopper is a guarantee of more maintenance in the long run.

Pruning by electric shear was adopted by a fast-paced American culture that wanted the manicured look of European and Asian inspired gardens without the time and effort it takes to achieve such results. The genus Taxus, or Yew, is one of the most popular victims (and most resilient) to fall prey to this management practice. What appears to work for one type of plant does not work for all plants. When shrubs and trees are pruned without respecting the plant's growing habit, it often leads to a weaker plant that is prone to insects and disease.

Pruning evergreens just after Thanksgiving—just in time for holiday trimming—is an opportune time to take care of your evergreen plants such as Buxus, Ilex, Juniperus and Taxus. Investing time in your own back yard will not only save you money spent on decorating, but also save your plants in the long run.

Burning Bush Sets off a Three-Alarm Fire

Nothing gives pleasure like the fireworks display of autumn color in the garden state but not all foliage is harmless. In fact the fire red of Euonymus alatus (aka Burning Bush) sets off alarm bells to those who know its invasive quality in our woods. Burning Bush has commonly been used for screening hedges but it is quick to escape the tidy confines of property lines and invade our forest seen here not far from where the is picture was taken.


Why is this cause for concern? Its fruit, spread by birds, does cause harm and it is considered (as Doug Tallamy says) a biological pollutant  that eliminates diversity in our woodlands. With its deer resistance and ability to grow rapidly in a variety of growing conditions, Burning Bush quickly out-competes our native under-story. The shrub and tree layer that exists under mature canopy trees is critical to our local food web. And we are connected to that web either directly or indirectly through common ground, air, and water.

In some states, this plant has already been banned from the landscape trade, but NJ will not likely take action since it is such a reliable plant for the parking lots that dominate our garden state.

How can you take action? At the very least, prune the hedge by August 15th to eliminate further distribution of fruit.  At the very best, choose something different! AlterNATIVES like Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood) or Aronia arbutifolia  (Chokeberry) are just a couple of many to consider.

This is not what's making you sneeze!

Goldenrod (botanical name : Solidago) is a classic case of a flower being judged by its color! But, this plant does not cause the harm that you think it does. A sneaky similar weed called Ragweed is the culprit. But, because Ragweed does not have showy flowers, Solidago gets the blame!

This kind of discrimination is common, because Solidago is seen along all our highways and byways (and for good reason). Goldenrod is a tough plant and there are a variety of species within the genus of
olidago offering a wide range of adaptability, blooming as early as August and as late as October. And what does it have to offer? According to Doug Tallamy it supplies cover, seed, pollen, nectar and food for 115 species of caterpillar.

Now, that may not ignite the fire for you to let it go wild on your property, but a plant with such strength got the attention of Thomas Edison. Goldenrod naturally contains rubber. Edison's experiments identified the species that yields as much as 12% rubber. In fact, the tires of his Model T, given to him by Henry Ford, were made from Goldenrod.

Is Goldenrod in harmony with the existing landscape? With so much at stake with pollinators, Goldenrod plays an important role and works beautifully populating roadsides, meadows, and naturalized areas. As a result of its endurance, nurserymen have selected varieties that are well suited for the back yard. SO the next time you see this weed, try being a little more appreciative as to how it serves the bigger picture.