Thursday, December 11, 2008

Y u l e

Yule, is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, much celebration was to be had as the ancestors awaited the rebirth of the Oak King, the Sun King, the Giver of Life that warmed the frozen Earth and made her to bear forth from seeds protected through the fall and winter in her womb. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spiced cider."
Yule Lore

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Decorate Outdoors with Delicious Ornaments

... It's for the birds!

Decorating your landscape with healthy snacks is a fun and easy way to share seasonal cheer with neighborhood birds.

As temperatures drop, it becomes more difficult for birds to find enough food to fuel their bodies. Help them out by choosing a live tree or shrub that is strong enough to support the weight of your feast and your feathered friends. Evergreens are preferred, but not necessary.

We've compiled some simply fun ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

If your departed perennial flowers (such as black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers, daisies, seedum, etc.) are still available, hang the seed heads with a pretty ribbon. Goldfinches love their seeds, and may even use the string or ribbon hanger in their nests.

A bagel or mini-bagel sliced in half and spread with peanut butter, lard, or honey, and coated with bird seed makes a nice, edible ornament. Of course, you can do the same with pine cones, thick apple slices, and many other edibles.

Dried Corn Cobs tied with a red bow also make festive, nutritious decorations.

Do you juice? Make a citrus birdseed feeder from the halves of oranges or grapefruit. Start by poking holes near the top, then let them dry out to harden. String leftover Christmas ribbons through the holes and fill them with bird seed before hanging.

Garland may take more time to make, but how festive is a traditional garland of cranberries, popcorn and/or cereal (with a hole in the middle). Use strong string, such as cotton quilting thread or floss. For a more striking look that makes dining easier for the birds, group several strands together. It is easier if you use a long needle (1 ½” or so) and strong thread (such as for hand quilting or floss). Tie a loop at the end for hanging and to keep your treats from sliding off the end.

This wintry Christmas season treat our feathered friends by decorating with delicious decorations. Be sure to place this feast where you can enjoy it from the warmth of your home.
"From December to March,

there are, for many of us, three gardens -

the garden outdoors,

the garden of pots and bowls in the house,

and the garden of the mind's eye."

- Katherine S. White

Treat Wintry Walkways

While Protecting your Precious Plants:

Most of us are quite familiar with the damage that road salt and spray inflict upon vehicles. Plants, trees and shrubs on roadsides feel the burn of salt on their foliage and roots. Sensitive plants near your driveway and walkways may feel the burn from the slush that melts off your car and ice melt you use. Just like on your car, the damage may not be apparent for some time as the salt works its way into the soil to the roots.

Along your driveway and walkways:

  • Avoid shoveling salty snow onto garden beds, the base of trees and shrubs or your lawn or your near your water well - if you have one. (I know, just where DO you put it?).
  • If traction is all you need, use sand or granular kitty litter (clay).
  • Avoid Sodium Chloride and table salt which are too harsh for landscapes.
  • Use Calcium, Potassium or Magnesium Chloride (white pellets) which release slower and are less toxic to plants. Use cautiously, though, because they are corrosive to concrete and metals.
  • Use a combination of ice melt and sand, so you use less caustic materials.
  • Liquid solutions are more effective than dry, so dissolve a small amount of ice melt in enough hot water to melt the solids (approximately two parts water to one part salt). Keep in mind that this will corrode metal. Use a plastic hand sprayer for small areas such as a deck, walkway and steps. It’s easiest to spray before the wintry weather begins.
  • If possible, wait until the precipitation (sleet, snow, etc.) and your shoveling are done, before applying deicing materials.

To reduce roadside damage:

  • Set up something to block the sand, salt and snow such as a burlap screen, snowfence, hay bales, etc. near sensitive hedges.
  • Wrap salt-sensitive plantings with burlap.
  • Hose off heavy salt applications and direct the spray of water towards the street (on a sunny, warm day to avoid creating black ice).
A combination of these tips will greatly reduce damage to your plants this winter,
...Oh, and remember to bend your knees while lifting each shovelful of snow.

Christmas Cactus Blossoms

Setting the Stage for this....
Once you find the right setting for a Christmas Cactus in your home, sometime between October and April your home will be graced by some of the loveliest flowers.

Christmas cacti aren’t particularly fussy, but they do know what they like:

· A brightly lit area.

· Temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees for best growth and bloom.

· Water when soil is dry to the touch. Don’t let it sit in extra water.

· Share with family and friends (or rescue broken joints) by simply place the bottom of a joint in sandy soil. Keep it moist and out of direct sunlight. It will take root within three weeks.

· When the flowers are done, feed with an all-purpose, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer once a monthly until you see new flower buds starting.

…and they don’t like cold drafts or rapid changes in temperatures. This will cause the loss of flowers and flower buds until next year.

To encourage your cactus to rebloom, try to induce a mini cold-snap right in your home. Here’s how:

· Give it nighttime (only) temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees (brrr);

· Or if temps are between 60 and 70 degrees, then twelve hours of nighttime darkness (even a dark corner or lightly covering with a dark cloth for those hours will do);

· Or fifteen hours of nighttime darkness if temps are above 70 degrees.

Enjoy a Merry Christmas ...and a more colorful winter... with your Christmas Cactus!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Things Gardeners are Thankful for:

  • The physical strength and agility necessary to garden with gusto.
  • Every plant that survives transplant, a cold winter, and slugs.
  • Each friendly face at the Greenhouse that shares a bit of their garden wisdom.
  • A successful garden.
  • The lessons learned from our struggles in the garden.
  • The life lessons gained through garden.
  • All the farmers who produce good crops every year to supplement our own gardens.
  • The miracle of growth which gardeners experience regularly.
These were inspired by a list I stumbled upon here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"You're supposed to get tired planting bulbs.

But it's an agreeable tiredness."

Gail Goodwin

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When is it too late to transplant perennials? trees? shrubs? bulbs? Bulb info, too.

Bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes. Most other plants will do better if they have time to spread their roots before the ground freezes. We recommend planting before the end of October.

If you have transplanted late in the season, be sure to water your plants daily until the ground freezes. Then give them three to six inches of mulch. Keep the mulch a few inches away from trunks and stems to discourage pests.

Some not always obvious tips for Bulbs:

  • Remember to plant pointy side up and roots down.
  • Although some bulbs will bloom in the shade, most bulbs will do best in a sunny spot. If you find that some of your bulbs aren’t flowering as well as they did, perhaps they have spindly stems, transplant them to a sunnier spot with a dose of bone meal in the soil around (but not touching) the bottom of the bulb.
  • If you don't have the specific directions handy (say you're transplanting bulbs from a few years past) a general guide is to plant bulbs 2.5 times deeper than the width of the bulb. The bigger the bulb, the deeper your hole.
  • Give your bulbs an extra treat by digging your holes or trenches a little deeper than the bulb needs to be planted, then sprinkle in some Bone Meal topped with a little soil so the bulb doesn't sit directly on the food but will reach it once it spreads its roots. The reason: Bulbs love Bone Meal in their soil, but not touching them. Direct contact with Nitrogen can burn the bulb, which only needs the phosphorus and potash from bone meal.
  • When you begin to see bulb foliage peeking out in early spring, feed them bulb food. The nitrogen builds stronger stems to support the weight of the flowers.
  • Plant crocuses and other early bloomers right in your lawn. They usually finish flowering before you’re ready to get the mower out.

Outsmart squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rabbits (rodents) and deer:

  • Blood meal helps to deter rodents, but too much may burn your plants.
  • Commercial and home-made remedies help to deter deer (Deer Away, Critter Ridder, and especially Plantskyd) and also some rodents.
  • Intersperse a variety of unappetizing bulbs (daffodils/ narcissus, hyacinths, frittilaria, windflower, dwarf iris, early stardrift, glory of the snow, and winter aconite) with the tulips and crocus that are so tasty. Now the potential diners are looking for a needle amongst your haystack of bulbs. They may eat one or two, but will most likely get discouraged before mowing down all your tulips.
  • There are hundreds of herbs and plants which deter rodents and insects including Allium (species include decorative flowers as well as chive, garlic and onion plants).
  • If you’ve had trouble with critters in the past, consider lining your planting hole with ½ inch of sharp sand or gravel or chicken wire to discourage diligent diggers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What to do with all those falling leaves...

The autumn leaves, falling, falling, falling....

Wondering whether it's best to rake then compost leaves or to mulch them (so they can feed your lawn as they decompose). While opinions vary, generally if your grass is still growing and there is only a light layer of leaves, you can run your mulching lawn mower over the leaves and let them feed your lawn. Caution: too thick a layer of mulched leaves can smother your lawn.

Some options for your leaves:

  • If you have a bag on your mower, bag them and add them to your compost pile.
  • Pick a crisp fall day (or two or three) and have fun raking huge piles of leaves to jump in...before composting them.
  • Make leafmold mulch by bagging your loads of leaves, making holes in the bags and storing them out-of-sight outside. Next spring mulch your garden beds with the leafmold (alkaline), or save it to use as a winter mulch.
  • Have lots of mighty oaks nearby? Concerned that the tannin (tannic acid) in oak leaves is too acidic to compost or mulch with? It's true that they contain tannin, but some of their acidity is lost in the decay process. If you are composting, sprinkle the leaves with lime or wood ash to further reduce the acid. Add a layer of dirt after each foot or so of leaves will help them breakdown more quickly.
  • While leaf blowers are an option for dry leaves, you need to justify the cost, odor, noise, and environmental impact.
  • Another option is to employ an industrious youth or two to do the dirty work for you...if you're lucky, they'll even bring their own equipment!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Best time for pruning shrubs and trees

It depends what you are pruning. Prune flowering trees and shrubs just after their period of heavy bloom. Wait until winter to prune deciduous trees (maple, oak, etc.).

· Early-flowering shrubs (Rhododendrons, Azaleas) should be pruned immediately after they have finished blooming because that's when they set the buds that will bloom next spring. Unless, of course, if it has grown out of control. You may be sacrificing some of next spring buds, but whatever you haven't cut off will still flower.

· Late-summer blooming shrubs bloom on new growth from that spring (Rose of Sharon, butterfly bush aka buddleia) so prune them anytime after they flower in late summer right up until the following spring without sacrificing any flowers.

· Deciduous trees - Autumn is NOT the ideal season to prune. When deciduous trees are dormant during the winter, it's easier to prune them without the leaves. You can see the structure of the tree more clearly, it's easier to see damage and where corrective pruning is needed. Plus without leaves, it's easier to access the parts you need access to.

· Evergreens and Shrubs should be pruned after flowering. Holly, Winterberry, etc. can be pruned late fall for Christmas decorating. Coniferous plants that put out their entire year's new growth all at once in late spring (pines, spruces, and firs) can be pruned while the new growth is still fresh and pale green. Do not prune them back to old wood because they will not produce new shoots from those sections. Prune Conifers that grow throughout the summer (yews, arborvitae, and junipers) once in early summer and again, if necessary, later in the season. They can also be pruned more heavily, down to old wood if necessary.

· Formal hedges can be pruned at any season, as needed, except at the end of summer (when pruning may encourage new growth that will be susceptible to winter damage).

  • Any time of year you can lop off any damaged, diseased or dead branches before problems spread.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

“The unmulched garden

looks to me like some naked thing

which for one reason or another

would be better off with a few clothes on.”

by Ruth Stout

Winter Mulch

Winter mulch insulates shrubs and flowers from severe temperatures and frost heaves. Repeated cycles of nightly freezing and daily thawing can heave small or shallow rooted plants out of the soil, leaving their root systems exposed. Apply winter mulch after the ground has frozen, but before the coldest temperatures arrive. In the Spring mulched soils will warm up more slowly protecting plants from sprouting before the last frost. If you applying your winter mulch before the ground has frozen:

  • The soil will stay warmer, longer, confusing your plants.
  • The soil may not freeze as deeply preventing some plants from becoming dormant during a mild winter.
  • You may inadvertently attract rodents looking for a warm over-wintering site.

Winter mulch should be loose material such as straw, hay, or pine boughs that will insulate the plants without compacting under the weight of snow and ice. Remember to leave an inch or so of space around plants to help prevent diseases flourishing from excessive humidity. Be sure to remove weeds before spreading mulch

Pine needles are a good mulch for acid-loving plants (Rhododendron, Azalea, Strawberries, Hydrangea if you want more blue). Pine needles last a long time and don’t compact easily under snow and ice. Gloves are recommended to avoid the pointy needles and pine sap.

Lawn clippings should be just 2-3” thick as it can compact and rot (slimy and smelly). Avoid lawn clippings with herbicide. Spread clippings immediately to avoid heating and rotting (more slime and odor).

Leafmold will be written about in an upcoming blog entry about raking

can be spread 3-4” deep. It is excellent material which will enrich your soil.

Leaves can be applied 3-4” deep. Best to chop dry leaves with a lawnmower or shredder in the fall and compost before spreading. Whole leaves will compact if wet or blow away if dry. Chopping will reduce the volume and facilitate composting. Also, see upcoming Blog entry about raking.

Bark chips, wood chips, or composted bark can be spread 2-3” thick. Smaller chips are easier to spread, especially around small plants. Excellent for use around trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens.When spreading mulch around trees, keep the mulch an inch or two away from the trunk.

Bark mulches are usually made from the by-products of pine, cypress, or hardwood logs. Most common are shredded bark and bark chunks. Bark mulches resist compaction, and will not blow away.. Some shredded barks, such as cypress, decompose slowly. Bark chunks (also called nuggets or decorative bark) decompose most slowly but do tend to wash away.

Wood chips can be gathered inexpensively from your town or utility company for little or no cost. They make an excellent mulch that resists compaction, stays put, and weathers to a nice gray. Warning, these can contain seeds from trees and other plants that can sprout and create weed problems, and attract pests.

Straw makes a good winter mulch. It is inexpensive, suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and insulates well. On the other hand, it is not very attractive, may contain crop seeds, and is extremely flammable. It is important to purchase "straw" rather than "hay," as hay contains many weed seeds. Mulch 6 to 8 inches deep.

Use a Permanent Mulch wherever you want year-round mulch that doesn't have to be disturbed (along paths, around trees and shrubs). Permanent mulches still need to be replenished annually. Keep the depths less than 4 inches.

“A friendship can weather most things and thrive in thin soil;
but it needs a little mulch of letters and phone calls
and small, silly presents every so often
- just to save it from drying out completely.”
by Pam Brown

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Native Fall Color for your garden without encouraging Miscreants

What can a gardener with an awareness of invasive plants who is looking for brilliant fall color do? Just plant some alternatives: native plants that have similar attributes to invasive, non-native plants. Of the many native shrubs that end the year a punch glorious enough to rival Burning Bush/Euonymus, or any sugar maple for that matter, here are three of our favorites. Photographed above in mid-September you can already see the foliage beginning to darken:

Brilliantissima’ Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a native shrub that sports brilliant scarlet foliage in the fall, bright red fruit throughout most of the winter (for people and birds who enjoy tart treats), and it welcomes spring with charming clusters of white flowers. Red Chokeberry is hardy (USDA zone 4 and warmer), easy to grow, will tolerate drought once established, and will thrive in most soils. Although it is a slow grower, it can eventually reach 6 to 9 feet high, and half that wide. Even though Red Chokeberry grows upright, its suckers fill in to form a broad mound, or place compact plants in front to hide the sparse lower trunk. Although it will grow well in half-shade, full sun helps it to produce more fruit.

In autumn, Native Red Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) shows off branches dripping with brilliant small red berries that provide a welcome sight to songbirds mid-winter. It produces more berries when a male plant is located near up to five female plants. Although it is deciduous and will lose its foliage, Winterberry is related to the glossy evergreen Holly most of us associate with Christmas. Winterberry branches even hold onto their berries after cutting for beautiful holiday arrangements. In spring it has tiny, inconspicuous white flowers. It is hardy, easy to grow, and does well in most types of soil with few insect or disease problems. In wet areas it will produce suckers and form a dense thicket, while in dry areas it forms a snug mass and grows a bit slower.

Another native to the Eastern United States renowned for its autumn colors is Virginia Sweetspire ‘Little Henry’ (Itea virginica 'Sprich'). This dwarf cultivar of sweetspire measures in at a compact 24" x 36" (useful as a container plant). It is deciduous, but with fiery foliage to grace your fall garden. The foliage can drop as late as December, after which you can admire its crimson red stems. With showy white fragrant flowers (cylindrical racemes up to 4” long) in late spring/early summer it is a nice addition to butterfly gardens and will keep your bumblebees buzzing. In addition to tolerating sunny and shady areas, once established, Little Henry is drought tolerant and deer resistant. (Although I understand that deer will eat anything when they get hungry enough.) Little Henry prefers moist soils with lots of humus and even does well in acidic soil near pine trees. Little Henry is low maintenance and needs little pruning. Should you want to prune, do so after blooming.

Adding any one of these three to your garden this fall will reward your senses many times over next fall.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Burning Bush" or Euonymous

Autumn has once again begun to fill each of our senses in its special way. The crisp air smells cleaner somehow, and its light coolness forces us to shroud ourselves in sweaters. In early autumn the nighttime symphonies of crickets and their kin cascade through our bedroom windows. Possibly most striking to the senses, though, are the sights of fall. Verdant summer growth either slowly shrivels or exclaims loudly with a last burst of color. One plant that has captivated American gardeners with its brilliant fall foliage since around 1860, is unfortunately, no friend to our local habitats.

Known as either "Burning Bush" or Euonymous, (Euonymus alatus (Thunb.) Siebold, winged euonymus, winged wahoo, winged spindle-tree, Japanese spindle-tree) it is an invasive plant in this region. In it's natural habitat in northeastern Asia, it was kept in control by the limits of its environment and natural enemies (pests and disease). In the United States it has proven that it can reproduce rapidly and prolifically, survive in many soil types under various weather conditions, and grow quickly. Once it escapes from it's proper place in a suburban or rural garden, it has been seen within just a few years taking over woodland areas, fields, and coastal scrubland as its dense thicket literally overshadows native species and crowds out native shrubs. Birds spread Burning Bush' numerous seeds and they easily take root.

Come back soon to learn what a gardener looking for brilliant fall color can do.

Welcome to our First Blog entry!

Welcome to our blog about what's happening at Woodbridge Greenhouses in N. Scituate, Rhode Island.