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!
Many exciting changes are taking place above and even below ground. Today marks the autumn equinox coming from the Latin origin “equal night." On the brighter side that also means "equal light" as the Northern and Southern Hemispheres receive equal amounts of sunshine.
The extremes in heat and rainfall have signaled an early autumn for the landscape especially those plantsalready in stress or whose roots are not yet established in the ground. Even as plants begin to go into dormancy there is still much activity underground without the demand for what is needed to grow above ground. As much as this day officially marks the end of summer, it also ushers in the days to reap what is sown after a a long growing season. Hope you can take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labors!
This is an invitation to play in the mud after some much needed rain! One of the best ways to determine when to water is to take a closer look at what kind of soils you have. Soil is the foundation of the landscape and without a better understanding of the type of soil you have, landscaping can be a costly experiment. The topography or grade above ground is directly related to what is below. For example, low lying coastal areas are predominantly sand as opposed to the Highlands which are predominantly rock. And between those two extremes there is everything in between!
While soil testing is optimal, a quick way to determine how fast water infiltrates your soil is to scratch a few inches below the surface to scoop a handful of earth. If the earth holds its form easily like clay then watering less frequently (not allowing soil to completely dry out) is recommended. If the earth easily crumbles in your hand similar to sand then watering more frequently is recommended. You can also test the soil moisture by seeing how dirty your hands are afterwards. If the earth easily brushes off your hands then it is time to water!
The thundershowers of summer are upon us and it can be misleading when it comes to establishing new plants in the landscape. Rain that falls fast and furious does not necessarily soak deeply into the soil but moves quickly across it. When plants are trying to establish their roots, downpours like these refresh the plant but do not always provide sufficient water to the root systems. Weeds on the other hand have evolved to grow with the bare minimum! You might notice weeds explode onto the landscape with the weather systems that we have been experiencing as of late. Keeping weeds away from newly established planting is necessary to support balance of resources (air, light, and water). It also brings you closer to understanding that soils have quite an impact on how often the plant needs water. More on that in the next post of this water wise series!
Real rain showers thankfully mean freedom from watering in this early dry spell of wind and heat. Natural rainfall is always best but while summer storms are so far and few between, the questions what, when, where and how long to water are answered by more questions.
- Are the plants established or new to the landscape?
- Are the soils similar to clay, sand or somewhere in between?
- Are the plants wilted in the morning or only in the afternoon?
- Are the plants exotic or native?
As the summer kicks off into full swing, 360 will elaborate on the answers that will make for a water wise landscape.
Feeling the high temperatures of the last month makes it hard to believe today is actually the first day of summer! In celebrating the official start to summer and the longest day of this year, it is worthwhile to take a moment to view the rising moon this evening. It is the first full moon solstice since 1948 and is called the strawberry moon. According to the Farmers Almanac "the Algonquin tribes knew it as a signal to gather ripening fruit." In Europe, where strawberries are not native, it was also known as the full rose moon or the honey moon. If you look closely at native Amelanchier trees (Common Name: Shadbush or Juneberry) the birds have already picked them clean of their viable fruit. Perhaps paying attention to this month's sun and moon can make the difference between a basket that is full or half empty!
Rolling down the windows this time of year can awaken your sense of smell or trigger hay fever! Preservation of farmland has been a long and arduous process in one of the most densely populated states in the nation. Thankfully there is an increasing appreciation of what it takes to yield food off the land and farmers markets connect us back to our heritage as an agricultural state. Unfortunately this tradition of cutting fields has morphed into a tradition of mowing lawns that yields little in the way of useful crops.
While the sun shines you can hear countless mowers, trimmers and blowers all removing what could, at the very least, be one of a few necessary ingredients in a compost pile. If you are not ready to part with some part of the lawn that requires unnecessary maintenance then consider making the most of lawn trimmings that come off your own land.
It's the most COLORFUL time of the year! Eye candy abounds as nurseries are stocked with every possible combination of beautiful blooms. And just like sugar, it is hard to resist rows and rows of colors, shapes and sizes for infinite combinations that delight the senses. As a recovering plant addict whose addiction began while selling plants at the local garden center years ago, I can tell you it is a hard habit to kick at this time of year.
Since there are more choices than ever, it can be helpful to consider where you invest your seasonal planting dollar. For every plant purchased there is an obligation to feed and water that plant so placement makes all the difference in maintenance. I ask clients where they spend the most time outside so that they gain the most benefit. If you enjoy the constant color that annuals provide as compared to the sequential color of perennials, then be sure to include annuals that can support bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Fuchsia, Lantana, Nicotiana, Pentas, and Salvia are just a few that become a destination for your favorite winged things!
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.
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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As spring flowers unfold in the landscape, nature is already preparing for the future. The winged samaras of the maple trees and the catkins of the birch trees are only two examples of the abundance of seed that is a result of countless flowers that are pollinated in early spring.
As I watch a squirrel precariously balance on a branch outside in an effort to feast on the bountiful flowers of an Oak, I am reminded of what a precarious balancing act it is to co-exist with nature! With Earth Day recently celebrated on April 22nd and Arbor Day fast approaching on April 29, consider that this cycle of life yields so much more than the eye can see. While the spirit of spring is most vibrant this time of year, the bounty of the earth is all around us everyday of the year!
Driving around after some of the extreme fluctuations in temperatures, you may notice trees that are covered with brown flower buds that look like tissue paper. Those are what are left of the flowers of the non-native magnolias commonly called Star Magnolia (white flowers) and Saucer Magnolia. (pink flowers). From my view, these magnolias do not steal the show like our natives! While those magnolias have a wonderful architectural branching structure and nice ornamental buds for winter interest, they often get tricked into blooming with the first mild temperatures in April. In addition, those plentiful and enormous flowers tend to leave quite a mess even if they do make it thru the frost.
AlterNATIVES such as the Sweetbay Magnolia or Cucumber Magnolia are far better suited for the unpredictable climate and have so much more to offer in the way of fruit for the birds in the fall. So while we all are anticipating spring, consider planting some ornamental trees that will not break out of dormancy until its safe to bloom!
According to the Farmer's Almanac "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb" indicating the big transition into spring. This March has been like a pendulum swinging from extreme highs to lows asking us to adapt to the unpredictable nature of things. Native plants have evolved to adapt to these wild fluctuations. As I type the wind has been howling as another front comes in but already the first blooms of spring are long gone!
Only when traveling the highways can you see the blush of Acer rubrum or Red Maple as these trees color up to draw the honeybees out of hibernation. Red maples tolerate moist conditions so they are often called swamp maples. Since New Jersey is such a water rich state with so many lakes, ponds, rivers and tributaries, it is promising to see this first sign of spring practically anywhere you go. Typically one does not associate flowers with trees but those who suffer from allergies know this as the wind that kicks up is spreading all of that pollen. So enjoy the wild winds that blow because they are an integral way that life marches on!
As temperatures warm and there is less risk of snowfall, watching where your stormwater travels can reveal so many secrets about the landscape. Some of those secrets can provide solutions to problems that arise when water is unable to filter back into the ground close to where it falls. It is easier to see this now before plants leaf out and fill the landscape.
While lawn is often considered “green” space it is actually not very good at absorbing storm water. In fact, lawn areas recharge groundwater less efficiently than landscaped areas that include shrubs, trees, and groundcovers. New Jersey has an average of 38.37 inches/year of rainfall so you can get 17 cubic feet of stormwater runoff per year from one square yard of lawn.
To give you an idea of just how popular lawn is, the U.S. devotes a full one-fifth of its land to agriculture (637,500 square miles) for farmers to grow on, of which corn is the largest food crop. There are almost 50,000 square miles of lawn growing in the U.S.—almost three times as much as corn. There are a number of reasons why lawn is so popular but the alternatives can help you keep storm water from travelling far and in the long run that means cleaner drinking water for all.
To learn more, scroll up above to APPROACH and click on the LAWN and ORDER tab.
An easy way to leap into spring is to trick certain plants into blooming early indoors. Cutting branches of ornamental shrubs and trees in February and March is also a great way to get a head start on the season. Take advantage of some of the mild days in March to prune out old wood that is more easily identified in the winter months. The tips of those branches will have flower buds on them from last years growing season.
By putting the branches in water in a warm room (not in direct sunlight), the buds will break dormancy early providing you with a burst of color. Plants most favorable to "forcing" include Forsythia, Cherry, Crabapple, and Quince. Even though the vernal (spring) equinox is only a matter of weeks away, climate change has weathermen guessing what is Mother Nature's next move. Taking a moment to bring the beauty of nature indoors reminds us, while Mother Nature may be unpredictable, the simplicity of sunlight and water can evoke something constant.
Certain types of fruit from landscape plants can cause harm to wildlife and pets. Not all fruit are meant to be eaten in the gardens of this state and beyond. At this time of the year, hunger abounds in the natural world and anything that can offer sustenance is irresistible. The robins are swooping thru the area giggling in the way that they do in spite of Arctic temperatures because they have happened upon much need bounty. Unfortunately the fruit they are homing in on this particular observation is “Heavenly” Bamboo. Far from heaven, Heavenly Bamboo “does not help birds, it harms them containing cyanide and other alkaloids that produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide (HCN) which is extremely poisonous to all animals” according to Audubon. This can be very confusing in that some plants may be harmful for birds and pets while others are safe for birds like Winterberry Holly but can be harmful to dogs in large quantities.
It’s best to know the true nature of the plant before making the right choices for planting this upcoming season. It will go a long way to supporting your backyard habitat and protecting your pets. For more information on what plants may be harmful to your pets click here
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.