Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Water is so precious – please help!

We may have just had a deluge of rain but this no way makes up for the dry winter and spring we have just experienced. We need so much more to replenish the freshwater that is available for human use, and to water our stressed out trees and shrubs. As concerned gardeners think about helping to reduce the waste by adopting some, or all the following options:

1.       Plant drought-tolerant plants in the landscape. For a list go to http://extension.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/drought-tolerant-plants-landscape

2.       Let the lawn go dormant in the summer. It will bounce back in September with cooler temperatures and more rain.

3.       Improve the soil by incorporating organic matter to assist the water holding capacity of the soil. Working aged manure, compost, leaf mold, or untreated lawn clippings into the soil will help enormously.

4.       In the vegetable garden group plants in blocks to provide shade for other crops. Less water is used to water an area where all the crops are grown closer together.

5.        Avoid using an overhead sprinkler where some of the water falls on pathways, driveways and paved areas. Drip irrigations systems are much more efficient and less wasteful.

6.       Mulch around plants, once the soil has warmed up, to conserve moisture around plants and to suppress weeds. 2 -3” of straw, shredded leaves, or grass clippings is sufficient.

7.       Direct rainwater from your downspout into a rain barrel. It is much better for your plants than tap water and reduces runoff and pollutants reaching the groundwater.
If we don’t have at least an inch of water in any week you do need to water trees and shrubs and any newly planted or transplanted plants, but a good watering a couple of times a week is so much better than a little every day. In fact if you are watering your lawn everyday you are doing more harm than good as you are encouraging a shallow root system and fungal diseases.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crabgrass control

They say that the best time to add corn gluten is when the forsythia is in bloom. In most areas this is happening now so if you have a crabgrass issue with your lawn it is certainly worth a try. Apart from suppressing the germination of weed seeds (and grass seed so don't use it at any time you have reseeded your lawn) it contains up to 10% nitrogen so will also help with the greening up of your lawn.
Crabgrass is an annual grass weed so pulling them before they seed in the fall also helps control this. It also likes compacted soil low in calcium so adding compost, lime and compost tea may help.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Those dreaded winter moths!

Yes it is that time of year again – well actually, this year it may be coming early thanks to our unseasonably warm winter and spring. If your oaks, maples, birches, apple, crabapple, cherries, blueberries and many other deciduous trees suffered from being munched last year you may need to take action. Timing is so important.

Right now the eggs of the winter moth are still on the branches and trunks of the trees waiting to hatch. Once they emerge they look for a bud of a host plant that is just about to open and they crawl inside. It has been speculated that this year the emergence of the caterpillar and the bud–break may not coincide leaving the insects hungry.

In some locations in Massachusetts the winter moth eggs could hatch as early as the third week in March but the host trees still have very tight buds. This will prevent the tinycaterpillars from entering them to feed and cause them to starve. But you still need to keep an eye on your trees for damage. There are effective and environmentally-friendly options for you to use. You can spray horticultural oil on the exposed eggs on the bark, or if the caterpillars have moved up to the buds or opening leaves, try dormant oil sprays that contains added insecticide, such as a Spinosad product. The oil is effective against the eggs while the insecticide acts to knock down any newly hatched caterpillars. More than one well-timed application may be necessary.

Although considered a safe product the Spinosad can be harmful to bees so please use carefully and preferably at the end of the day when bees are less active. We must be kind to the bees!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Starting seeds under lights

Have you ever tried to grow seeds indoors on a windowsill? Then you know how tricky this is and after all the effort you end up with leggy specimens you can't use. Why not try growing them under lights. It is so easy once you have it all set up and you do not need fancy lights, just some shop lights from the local hardware store are fine. Suspend the lights on chains so you can adjust the height as the seedlings grow, and keep them about 2" - 4" above the top of the seedlings. Add an automatic timer set to come on for 14 -16 hours a day.

To start the seedlings I use:
  • organic seed starting mix from a local hardware store.
  • containers with drainage holes - this can be anything from egg cartons, yogurt pots, cottage cheese tubs, or the box you bring home your surplus dinner (as I have used in the photo)
  • food storage bags to enclose the pot once you have set the seeds.
  • warming cable or mat, or if like me you can keep the unit indoors it is probably warm enough without needing any supplemental warmth. If you grow them in the basement you will need to use a heat mat.
  • Fish emulsion or organic fertilizer used at half strength once the seedlings emerge.
It is important to fill your container with premoistened mix. Use warm water and do not pack the sowing mix down in the container but allow it to remain loose. Sow the seeds twice as deep as their diameter and lightly cover with a layer of vermiculite. I mist the top to moisten before enclosing in a bag . Once the seedlings emerge remove the plastic bag, lower the temperature if they have been getting bottom heat, and keep them moist by misting with a spray bottle or watering from a tray underneath. Do not allow them to sit in water for too long. You may now start to feed them with half strength fertilizer every 10 days.

When two sets of true leaves appear you will need to carefully transplant the seedlings to a larger pot or seed flat.
This may all sound like a lot of work but isn't it worth it to grow your vegetables and flowers from seed?  So many more choices available than from the local nursery. I love it, but then I am a bit of an addict when it comes to green things.......

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Clematis - some tips

Now who doesn't like a beautiful flowering clematis? But it can be tricky knowing when to prune and how care for it.

Clematis montana in a client's yard taken in May.
The spring blooming clematis, like the Montanas and Alpinas, flower on last year's stems so only cut back any dead or winter-damaged stems as soon as you see new growth. They may be pruned after flowering to keep them in bounds.

Large flowering types that include Henryi, Nelly Moser and Ruby Glow open in spring on old wood and can grow 10 to 12 feet. They make excellent choices for covering a large area. They produce large flowers in late spring and smaller ones later in the season. Trim weak and dead stems back to a set of strong buds. Cut back remaining foliage and tie the plant to a structure or support to prevent it getting all tangled up in summer.

The third group, and the easiest to care for, includes favorites like Sweet Autumn clematis, Jackmanii, Betty Corning (one of my favorites), and Ville de Lyon. To keep plants full and lush, cut the stems in spring to within a foot of the ground, leaving just two to four sets of buds per stem.

Remember all clematis like shade on their roots so a good covering of mulch helps. Add some lime if your soil is acidic as they like a slightly alkaline soil. (Ph of 7 - 7.5 is about right).

If you are not sure when to prune and you know the name of your clematis send me an email as I may be able to help you.

Friday, February 24, 2012


So I have a new hobby. Actually we have a new hobby as I am hoping to entice my husband into helping me with this. I have been to several meetings and joined the local bee school and it is a lot more complicated than I expected. We picked up the hive this week. It arrived in kit form in about 500 pieces and kept Roger busy glueing and banging nails in our garage for two days, but we now have a fully assembled hive. The bees don't move in to their brand new home until mid April, which is just as well as we have 'Beekeeping for Dummies' to get through before they get here.
I will keep you posted on developments - watch this space!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Did you know how great seaweed is for your garden? Yesterday I popped down to the beach ( another advantage of living near the ocean!) and collected two big bags of seaweed and spread it over the top of my newly dug vegetable beds. Leaving the soil bare is not good as all the nutrients are leached out by the weather, so apart from adding micro-organisms to the soil seaweed acts as a mulch to prevent erosion and drying out. No need to wash the salt out either as the amount in it will not do any harm.
Next year, in the fall I intend planting a green manure crop of rye and vetch to protect the soil and dig over in the spring to fertilize the beds.