Countryside Corner Neighborly Garden News
Issue 68, December 2017
New gardening trends for 2018…
Garden design, like the plants themselves, are not static; they continue to grow and evolve over time. Certain trends are timeless, while others become dated fairly quickly. You can almost guess the age of house, by the foundation plantings around it. You don’t need to rip out all of your plants every few years, but if you are open to small tweaks, it will keep your garden fresh and inviting.
Rethink your outdoor dining areas, most frequently dining areas have been situated just off the house, to be closer to the kitchen. Consider creating your dining area within the landscape itself. This will immerse people into the ambience of the space. Dining in your garden instead of on the periphery looking in, makes for a more luxurious experience. The best part; your guests will get to see more of your beloved garden.
Embrace craftsmanship, with mass produced items available to us with the swipe of an app, it’s easy to forget people still make things by hand. A hand-crafted piece can be a focal point or just a conversation starter in your garden. I am in awe of stone artisans, and the vision and skill they have in creating elements that will last a lifetime or more. Natural stone will outlast any cast man-made stone available.
Maybe a hand wrought pergola or arbor is more your style? Creating a vertical plane to allow vines and climbers to grow on can bring the color, fragrance, and texture up towards you. Or this can be a good way to begin edible landscaping, growing vining vegetables on the arbor or pergola.
Restoring habitats- locally, creating pollinator friendly gardens has been the ‘buzz’ for a few years now, but what about the other critters? Habitat loss is also affecting many species of native birds, turtles and frogs. The demise of frogs has been said to be like the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for the environment; an indicator that something is not right. The splintering of forests and meadows into small islands of greenery has also increased the population of white footed mice (the dreaded host of Lyme disease) by limiting areas that support their natural predators. The dwindling habitat has become part of our sprawling suburbs and expanding cities. Some ideas to think about: grow more seed and berry producing plants. Restrict or completely stop using insecticides. Minimize or replace part of your lawn with native perennials and shrubs.
Push the seasonal boundaries, another trend is designing for winter landscape views. We can all agree an empty landscape is a dreary view. Dormant plants will still provide beautiful color, and textures.
Consider the view from windows you look out of frequently; as you prepare meals, drink your morning coffee, your home office. Select plants that offer contrasts; dark branches or light branches, bright green or yellow evergreens, fiery red-twig dogwoods, to name a few. You don’t need a huge palette of plants; your design should be based on simplicity and durability.
Some other suggestions for plants could include: evergreens that change color in cold weather, such as Junipers, deciduous trees with peeling or otherwise colorful bark, such as Stewartia, early blooming plants for late winter flowers, such as Witch-hazel.
Grow some unusual edibles, vegetable gardening is not just tomatoes and squash anymore. The diversity of crops available to us has become almost limitless. Step out of your comfort zone and try something unusual and new. Cucamelons grow to about the size of grapes, but with a cucumber flavor, and a hint of sourness.
Ground cherries are in the tomato/pepper family, sometimes called husk-cherries, they are similar to tomatillos and very easy to grow. Ground cherries have a sweet taste, like pineapple.
Include some blooms in your veggie garden to help draw pollinators to your crops; like alyssum, cosmos, nasturtiums (which have edible leaves and flowers) and calendula.
December’s ‘to-do’ list
Visiting family for the holidays? Countryside can provide ‘home security’ services while you are away. Our detailed security checklist allows us to track the operating system of your house: that furnace is working, all entry points are locked, no leaks have occurred, sump pumps working, lights are not burnt out; all the essentials that keep your home comfortable and safe. Please call our office for more information. 413.458.5586.
Potted Rosemary is not hardy to our winters, but will happily live indoors if you can replicate its native winter conditions. They prefer a cool sunny exposure; like an unheated sun porch, or breezeway. During the winter, they like to dry out a bit between watering. But not completely dry, make sure they have good drainage; standing in water will kill them.
Hungry rodents and rabbits are just waiting for snow cover to begin snacking on your trees and shrubs. Protect trees from rabbits using hardware cloth or steel mesh with 0.5” diameter holes. The barriers should be 48” tall, and have about 1’ buried to prevent burrowing. I advocate using snap traps to kill voles and mice. These creatures are hosts to the black legged tick, the vital link in the Lyme disease cycle. They are looking for warm winter homes, like your house, right now! Set traps beneath boxes or buckets around the exterior foundation, as they like to creep into these dark places. Voles are notorious for gnawing on lower stems of roses, shrubs, and trees, while they are hidden under snow. They also find bulbs and fleshy roots of perennials very tasty, show no mercy!
Put up your deer fencing now. Be vigilant for any overhanging limbs that could come down and breach the fence. Deer are creatures of habit, and will patrol the fence-line, looking for a weak spot to gain access. Deer resistant plants are only resistant until deer develop a taste for them. Keep an eye out for browsing, and take steps to protect plants before they are devoured. Repellent sprays can help deter deer. We offer this service; please call our office for details.
Mark the perimeters of the plowable areas of your drive-way, and walkways with stakes, before the ground freezes and is covered with snow. This helps the person clearing your snow do their best job, minimizing damage to your lawn, and beds.
Check indoor houseplants after you’ve brought them in, for signs of insects that may have hatched out. A good ‘shower’ in your tub or sink will wash off anything crawling around. Stationary insects like mealy bugs or scale insects, will require more effort to get rid of them. Alcohol on a cotton swab is a low-tech method, but you can also use Safer’s brand insecticidal soap, or a systemic type granular insecticide. Repeat applications according to the label directions for the pest.
Do a ‘once around’ tour of your garden and yard, to catch anything you may have left out. Terra cotta planters are susceptible to cracking during wet cold weather; store them in a dry area over the winter. Cover vulnerable shrubs if they are in the way of snow falling off the roof, to help prevent them from impact damage.
It’s always tick season…
I recently found half a dozen ticks on my dog in one inspection. This was even after having treated him with a topical tick control product. Fortunately, dogs can be vaccinated against Lyme disease, but humans can’t. I think it is important to reinforce the threat this disease has over us. I personally know at least a half dozen people who have been infected, some more than once.
Frosts and cold weather do not kill ticks. Ticks are not insects; they are arachnids, like spiders and mites, and can tolerate cold temperatures very well. The adult black-legged, or Deer tick (carrier of Lyme) actually becomes more active in the fall. Ticks are vectors for other diseases in addition to Lyme. They can also harbor more than one disease at a time, so consequently infect a patient with more than one disease also. This makes correct diagnosis very difficult.
Deer Ticks will over-winter as adults, and can attach to hosts anytime they are not covered with snow. In lab tests 30% of ticks will test positive for Lyme, 10% will be positive for a similar disease called Anaplasma, and 5% will test positive for Babesia; a malaria like infection. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but with a warming climate, ever present ticks are a grim reality in our area.
We must be continually vigilant; use tick repellent, and do tick checks whenever we are working outdoors. I’d get in the habit of checking your dog also; I’ve found a tick each time we’ve gone for walks, and I use a 30-day topical parasiticide. Unfortunately, there is no approved vaccine yet for horses. Most veterinarians recommend tick repellents as the best course of action, to protect horses.
It’s also a practical idea to have a ‘tick removal kit’ prepared in case you need to use it. It should contain a tick removal device, like needle-point tweezers, magnifying lens, antiseptic, and tick storage baggies. Hopefully with diligence and careful checking you won’t have to use it. Countryside has tick protection services. Please call our office (413.458.5586) for details.
Diversity in our landscape is an important step towards cultivating a healthy eco-system. A mix of different tree species promotes a healthy environment. Here are a few alternatives for shade trees that grow well in our area.
Ostrya virginiana-American Hophornbeam is a graceful, medium sized shade tree that has gray exfoliating bark, & offers golden-yellow fall color. An interesting feature are the creamy greenish-tan hop-like nutlets that form in mid-summer. The nutlets are eaten by many kinds of birds. Mature size is 40’ tall x 15’ wide.
Quercus coccinea-Scarlet Oak has lustrous deep green leaves that turn flame red in the fall. It has a softly pyramidal shape in youth, maturing to an upright spreading shape. Scarlet Oaks are very adaptable, and will thrive in moist, well drained, acid soils. Oaks are one of the last trees to color up in the fall, and their leaves usually persist into the winter. Typically found growing on dry, sandy, soils. Mature size is 70’ tall x 40’ wide.
Acer x freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ is a cross between Acer saccharinum, the Silver Maple, and Acer rubrum, the Red Maple. The resulting offspring have the deeply lobed leaves of the Silver Maple, and the rich red fall color of the Red Maple, their leaves also tend to hold on longer, in fall, then the species. ‘Autumn Blaze’ is a very vigorous tree, growing to 50’ tall x 40’ wide at maturity.
Gymnocladus dioicus the Kentucky Coffeetree was actually used as a coffee substitute, after roasting the seeds, by our early settlers. This native tree is in the pea family, and is dioecious; having separate male and female flowers on individual trees. Female flowers are showy and very fragrant, held in 12” long panicles. Leaves emerge in May; new leaves tinged pinky-purple, maturing to bluish-green. Fall leaf color is yellow. Slow growing to 60’ tall x 40’ wide at maturity.
Celtis occidentalis the common Hackberry is a super tough native tree that will grow almost anywhere. Adaptable to wet, dry rich or poor soils. Matures into a large shade tree with a form very similar to the American Elm. The Hackberry has very distinctive corky, ridged bark, that is very pronounced when it is young. Develops fleshy berry-like fruit, that is very attractive to birds. Grows to 60’ tall x 50’ wide at maturity. Will tolerate part shade or full sun.