Neighborly Garden News
The Countryside Family has been devastated by the loss of one of our own. On Monday, November 19th we learned of the passing of Neal McIntosh. Neal had been part of our forestry crew since 2015. He faced each day with a smile on his face and a good word for everyone. He shared his deep love of his children with us and we were always amused by his stories of them. He spoiled us with baked goods that were always delicious. He always was willing to help out any team he was with. We share his family’s sorrow. Neal will be missed by us all.
Is Masting a mystery to you?
If you’ve spent time walking through the woods, you’ve sure to have noticed some years there are loads of acorns, and other years there are very few. Trees grow and reproduce along a lengthy timeline, many trees won’t produce seed until they are fully mature specimens. When they do fruit, it is often at 2-10 year intervals depending on the type of tree.
Mast is the fruit of forest trees; like acorns and other nuts. A mast year is one with an abundance of forest nuts of some kind. The word is derived from ‘masticate’-meaning to chew. It has long been a farming practice to graze livestock in the forest during autumn, so the animals, particularly pigs, could fatten on the wild forest nuts, and acorns.
Mast years are regional, but specific to the type of tree. It was a mast year for Oaks in our area in 2016. Weather plays a partial role, but it is not the deciding factor for a mast year. (However, climate researchers have come up with a formula of two cold years followed by a warm year, that may promote masting). It is the tree’s method for balancing it’s reproduction and growth cycles. A tree expends a lot of energy to produce seeds and nuts. You can see this in the tree growth rings, as they are much smaller during mast years. During lean periods the tree will concentrate its energy on growing.
Lean years (non-mast years) also help curb populations of seed eating insects, birds, and mammals. Ecologists have postulated that these lean-heavy cycles of nut production assure that when another mast year occurs, fewer seed eating critters will be present to eat them. This will allow more of the seeds to have a chance to sprout and develop into new trees. The big downside to a mast year is the increase that follows, of the mouse population.
More food equals more mice. During a mast year there can be upwards of 100 acorns per square meter. An adult female mouse can give birth to a litter of 5-6 mice every month for a year. In our region the white footed, or deer mouse is the primary host for the Lyme disease parasite. Larval ticks emerge in August looking for a blood meal, just as the mouse and chipmunk populations are reaching their peak. The mice will become infected from the tick, and harbor ticks overwinter in their nests. Ecologist Rick Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute of Eco-system Studies, said that their 20 year research study has shown that in the two years following a mast year, there is an increase in the incidence of Lyme disease cases.
We can’t manage this natural process of masting, but we can take precautions to help curb the invasion of mice that will follow a mast year. We can utilize a product that will eliminate the ticks that live in mouse nests; the Damminix tick tube. Clearing areas that mice are known to congregate, and plugging entry holes will help make your home and yard inhospitable to mice. Spraying your yard with an anti-tick product is very helpful too. Countryside Landscape & Design offers these products and services, as well as garden cleanups to help create a mouse free zone. At Countryside Landscape we strive to preserve our environment, and protect our native flora and fauna; these products are considered safe for humans and pets, and environmentally friendly. Please contact our office for more information about tick control.
Due to the early onset of winter with snowfall & freezing temperatures, some fall services will no longer be possible. We apologize for this inconvenience.
December’s ‘to-do’ list:
There is still time to apply deer repellent spray or erect deer fencing to protect your vulnerable plants. Deer are nocturnal feeders; we usually only see the aftermath of their browsing behavior the following morning. Repellent sprays give you 24/7 protection. Countryside Landscape & Design offers these products and services—please contact us if you wish to protect your plants from deer over the winter.
If you haven’t already inserted stakes along the edges of your driveway to mark the areas to be plowed, don’t forget to do this before the ground freezes. This helps the person clearing your snow do their best job, minimizing damage to your lawn, and garden beds.
Houseplants that had been summering outdoors should be checked frequently through the winter for insect pests. Caught early, non-chemical methods will be enough to control them: showering them off, spraying with insecticidal soap or herbal spray, and for the really tenacious ones, rubbing alcohol swabbed onto the pests, then rinsed off with fresh water. When all else fails, use a systemic insecticide sprinkled on the top of the soil.
Mice are the primary hosts for Lyme infected ticks. Continue to set traps to reduce their populations. Do a thorough cleanup of all the places they may hide over the winter. Utilize Damminix tick tubes, and Tick Free repellent for thorough coverage against tick infestations. Ticks will continue to be active until we have snow cover.
Leftover flower and veggies seeds can remain viable for several years if they are stored well. Seal them in Ziploc bags, and keep them in a cool dry place. A snap-lid container in the fridge would work well.
Paperwhite Narcissus is a very easy and reliable indoor bulb that can bring a little flowering cheer to your home. They don’t need to be planted; I just set mine into a 12” tall vase on a base of pebbles, and water them lightly until the roots start to grow, thereafter; only once a week. They will bloom in 21 days. The 12” tall vase keeps the leaves from flopping. If you start them now, they can be in bloom by Christmas.
Hungry rodents and rabbits are just waiting for snow cover to begin snacking on your trees and shrubs. Protect trees from gnawing by using hardware cloth or steel mesh with 0.5” diameter holes, to protect the trunk. The barriers should be 48” tall, and have about 1’ buried to prevent burrowing.
Need help getting ready for winter? Give our office a call today. (413) 458-5586
We now offer ‘Auto Pay’, an option which means your bill will be paid automatically every month without you having to think about it! By setting up your account with your credit card, your bill will be processed the 3rd Tuesday of every month. This allows ample time to review your monthly bill before it is posted to your credit card. We also offer paperless billing via email. Give our office a call for details. 413.458.5586
Minimize your garden’s carbon footprint; every little action helps!
Regardless of where you stand in the debate over climate change, 2018 has proven to be destructive and very costly. The past year produced some of the most violent extremes in weather, breaking new records for damage, death, and destruction.
Steps to minimize your carbon footprint:
Reduce or replace use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. The production of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer uses vast amounts of energy to manufacture and distribute. Synthetic nitrogen will emit 4-6 tons of CO2 gas for each ton of nitrogen fertilizer produced.
Replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer with compost or manure, or a certified organic brand of fertilizer. Countryside offers a complete organic lawn program; please call for pricing. Incorporate leguminous plants in your beds and lawn. Ornamental peas and beans will add nitrogen to your soil, and adding clover to your turf mix will naturally aid in soil fertility.
Rethink your idea of what a lawn should be. Traditional lawns require weekly mowing, and watering, a more sustainable approach could be replacing part of the lawn with a rain-garden, or rock garden, or native plant retreat. Replacing traditional turf with low mow type grass species can save time and energy. Fine Fescue grass grows very slowly, and matures at only 8-12” tall. It will thrive in dry, infertile soils. Use a grass/clover seed mix in low traffic areas, for a tough self sustaining lawn.
Create a ‘carbon vault’ in your yard. When plants die and decompose, their carbon becomes part of the soil. The carbon stays in the soil, instead of being released into the atmosphere as CO2. Gardeners can increase this sequestering of carbon in the soil by tilling less. The process of tilling can over aerate the soil, causing a rapid breakdown of organic matter; releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Leaving the soil undisturbed will also allow beneficial earthworms to thrive. Their passive activity can move 20 tons of soil a year per acre, without promoting any CO2 loss.
Trees and shrubs take up more CO2 than herbaceous plants;make a planting strategy to maximize their benefits. Plant a living fence for an energy saving windbreak. Create more shade with deciduous trees to maximize cooling in the summer, less dependency on air conditioners.
Recycle, and reuse; strive to use less fossil fuel. Repurpose items for garden projects, Seek new items constructed of recycled materials. Every small action taken adds to the larger good of OUR planet.
As a gardener, winter seems the hardest part of the year. The landscape is mostly barren, days are short, and sometimes it stays dull and overcast for days on end. Worst of all, nothing much is in bloom. We can yearn for better weather, and sunnier days. Until then, here is a short list of flowering plants that start blooming very early in the spring.
Abeliophyllum distichum, the white Forsythia has a more compact growth habit than its yellow cousin. Fragrant pinkish-white flowers bloom in March on a rounded shrub with arching branches. White Forsythia likes to grow in full sun, will mature to 3-5’ tall x 3-4’ wide.
Hamamelis x intermedia, hybrid witch-hazel has very fragrant ribbon-like flowers in shades of yellow, or red. Blooming February through March, flowering can last for over a month, during a barren time in the landscape. Fall foliage is deep red and yellow. Depending on the cultivar will grow 10-20’ tall, with a broad-spreading, to upright vase-shaped silhouette.
Erica carnea, the Spring Heath is a must for the early spring garden. Masses of rose-pink to white flowers occur January through March. Heath requires well drained, acid soil, and prefers a sunny spot. Spring Heath is an evergreen groundcover; 1’ tall x 1-2’ wide.
Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten Rose has evergreen leaves and blooms January through May on 12-24” stems. Lenten Rose grows best in humus rich soil, and likes full to part sun. Helleborus can self-sow and spread when it becomes established, so watch out for seedlings.
Daphne mezereum, the February Daphne actually blooms during March in our area. The sweetly fragrant, vivid pink flowers are worth the wait. February Daphne develops showy bright red fruit that will complement the dark blue-green leaves, long after the flowers have faded. Daphne will grow 3-5’ tall x 3-5’ wide.