Neighborly Garden News
Start an herb garden for taste and health!
There have been many articles published about the helpful and healing properties of the aromatic plants we know as herbs. Herbs have been found to contain various kinds of complex anti-oxidant compounds; volatile oils and anti-inflammatory agents that are all best enjoyed fresh. Of course you may dry herbs for cooking and teas; but the real goodness lies in the living tissues. I’m speaking of our typical culinary herbs; certain herbs for pharmaceuticals have specified methods of preparation.
Wild herb plants are thought of as nature’s super foods, they are packed with so much nutrition. Many of our culinary herbs were brought from Europe where they grow wild. It’s tempting to plant your newly purchased herbs out back with the rest of the veggies. Life will be so much easier to have them as close to your kitchen as possible, or have a willing helper ready to pick herbs, when you want them.
I actually keep two herb gardens; one for production and preserving, in the main veggie garden out back. And a second smaller one near my deck, steps from the kitchen. This makes it simple to pop out as I’m cooking breakfast for fresh herbs to put in an omelet. You can incorporate fresh herbs in ways you hadn’t thought of, because they are now very accessible. Don’t worry about cutting too much, like many plants, herbs will rebound from any pruning, and pruning encourages your plants to bush out and not become leggy.
My top 5 easy herbs are:
Rosemary is in the mint family, but usually grows into a semi woody shrub. Bring it inside for the winter as it will die from the cold, if left outdoors in our zone. Your Rosemary may sprout delicate lavender flowers, and bloom on your sunny windowsill. The scent of Rosemary has been shown to improve memory and mental clarity. It contains carnosic acid, which can protect skin from UV-A rays, and be an anti-carcinogen.
Thyme is one of my favorite herbs, besides adding great flavor to soups and stews it is a good antiseptic. One of its essential oil components is Thymol, an active ingredient in Listerine. Thyme is also used as an aid for respiratory ailments. Another benefit is its ability to colonize hot and dry soil; it is frequently used as an ornamental groundcover, and has flowers that range from white to pink.
Thyme in flower
Basil is an interesting herb; available in many ‘flavors’ and colors. Basil is known as an anti-inflammatory herb. Herbalists say it’s good for a systemic detox, and supporting the liver. Basil pairs well with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, in omelets; really in almost any cuisine. Last year I had an unfortunate experience with ‘Basil Downy Mildew’ which decimated my gorgeous plants in less than one week. I have learned that this pathogen first was discovered in Florida during the 2007 growing season, and has since spread throughout the US. Common Sweet Basil is most susceptible, ‘lemon Basil’, and ‘spice Basil’ have more resistance. If you have had this problem, best methods for control are: increasing air circulation, removing nearby weeds, and limiting over head watering.
Basil grows well in containers
Chives and other members of the Allium or onion family are also very showy when in bloom. These also include garlic, shallots, and scallions. Garlic and other Allium cousins are known to support the immune system. I don’t think a meal goes by without using at least one member of this tasty herb family. Last season I grew my own shallots for the first time, and I was surprised how easy they were to grow from seed. I harvested about 10 lbs from one packet of seed. I used them all up by January, so this year I’m growing two different varieties.
Chives are pretty in flower
Shallots: easy to grow and wonderful for cooking!
Parsley is so packed with vitamins, that only 1 TBS gives you half your daily dose of vitamin K, vitamins A and C, too. So good, it’s not just a garnish! Parsley adds a brightness to savory dishes, and can be made into beautiful colored sauce that goes exceptionally well with fish. You can try and bring in a Parsley plant to overwinter on your windowsill, but it is just as easy to harvest the leaves and freeze them for use during the winter. Or you can chop them in your food processor with a little EVOO, and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays for individual portions.
Flat-leaved and Curly-leaved Parsley; both are easy to grow in beds or containers
Are you considering an herb garden this year? Countryside can help you design and build it to suit your needs.
April’s ‘to-do’ list:
Lingering snow cover means our soils may stay soggy longer than normal. Keep off beds, borders, and lawns until they are firm and dry to avoid compacting the soil.
Here’s an idea: as bulbs start blooming, and you see flowers that you absolutely love, take a photo and send it to us so we can order the same for fall planting. It’s so easy to get caught up in chores and activities, and forget over the summer, this way you can let us do the work for you! Next spring, you’ll be delighted with the results.
Prune ‘Paniculata’ and ‘Annabelle’ type Hydrangeas now, (They bloom yearly at the tips of new growth) as well as all summer and fall blooming shrubs. Wait until after bloom to prune Lilacs, Viburnums, Rhododendrons, and other spring flowering shrubs.
Prune Roses this month, for the best June blooms. Begin pruning rose bushes as the buds begin to swell. This helps to identify living from dead wood. Prune small twigs less than the diameter of a pencil, and any broken, diseased, or inward growing branches. Make your cut above an outward facing bud or node to keep the center of the plant open and airy. Prune Climbing roses and heirloom (non-remontant) roses after they bloom, so as not to interrupt their bloom cycle. Roses are actually rejuvenated after a hard spring pruning.
Before spring rainy season, check gutter downspouts and drains to be sure they are clear of leaves and debris. If you wish to conserve water and utilize your rainwater runoff, consider installing a rain capture system to minimize your dependence on well or municipal water for your utility water needs, or create an eco-friendly rain garden to absorb excess runoff.
If your lawn is completely dry, it needs a good raking, and/or dethatching. Schedule your pre-emergent crabgrass control and spring feeding, before the window of opportunity passes. Early spring is also a good time for reseeding bare spots in the lawn as cool temperatures promote good growth of grass seed.
Begin digging and dividing any perennials you didn’t get to last fall. Doing this early, and in cool weather, lessens transplant shock; with minimal effect on their blooming. Please be sure your flower bed is dry enough to work in; squeeze a ball of soil tightly in your hand, and then release. Poke the soil ball with your finger, if the ball ‘shatters’ it is dry enough to work. If the ball stays together, wait a bit longer for the soil to dry out.
Ticks will become active at temperatures above 39’F. They are most active between April and October; peaking June through August. Take precautions when working or playing outdoors; utilize long-sleeves, long pants, and insect repellent. Modify your landscape to minimize areas where the tick hosts will live, and where ticks can propagate. We offer several types of tick control products, designed to kill ticks and control their hosts. Please contact Herb Severs, at our office, for more information. Massachusetts tick information here.
Need help with your spring to-do list? We can help lighten your load; start your garden beds, prune your trees and shrubs, and clean up your yard. Give our office a call, or shoot us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org (413) 458-5586
Apply mulch to improve tree health
A freshly applied layer of mulch does more than instantly freshen and beautify your home’s appearance. Mulching around your trees and shrubs will increase the root development and consequently improve the health of your plants. Maintaining a 2-4 inch layer of mulch will conserve soil moisture, reduce compaction, increase nutrient levels, and regulate the soil temperature. A properly mulched bed also reduces the amount of lawn to mow, and this saves time and energy.
Using a natural material, such as bark mulch or chips, adds much needed organic material back into the soil as it decomposes. A 4 inch layer of mulch can easily decompose by at least half during the year. The decomposition process helps reduce compaction in the surrounding soil. It is important to keep any mulch away from the trunk and any above ground supporting roots of the plant. Direct contact will keep too much moisture next to the bark, and encourage pathogenic fungi to develop. A good rule of thumb is to keep mulch at least 12 inches away from the trunk.
Please avoid over mulching!
The better way to mulch around trees
A word about red colored mulch; don’t. It’s not a natural product, but dyed to look like mulch from ‘Redwood’ trees. Other colors of mulch are obviously dyed too, black, blue, etc. The wood they process for this dyed product is low quality scrap wood of unknown origin. Whatever chemicals are used in this process, in my experience, are detrimental to plant health, particularly to newly planted trees. Another hazard is the possibility of toxicity for dogs, if your pet likes to dig in your beds. The dyes used in production may cause vomiting and diarrhea if too much is ingested. Cocoa bean mulch is a popular substitute for hardwood mulch, it looks great and smells very enticing, but like chocolate, it is extremely poisonous to dogs. My advice; stick to natural hardwood mulch.
Cocoa bean mulch is poisonous to dogs
Countryside only uses natural mulch products.
Even though spring arrived over a week ago, it feels like nature has not caught up to the calendar. Very few green shoots or flowers are showing. However, I have a beautiful Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ that has reliably starting blooming in early March every year. With a little planning, you can have extra-early blooms as a prelude to the riot of May/June blooming. Some of the best for our area are:
Corylopsis glabrescens-The Fragrant Winter Hazel is really spectacular in bloom. Fragrant, pale-yellow flowers hang in pendulous racemes, blooming in early April; before the leaves appear. Winter Hazel will grow in full sun to partial shade, and prefer a acidic, well drained soil; high in organic matter. Fragrant Winter Hazels grow into a wide-spreading multi-stemmed shrub 8-15 ft tall x 8-15 ft wide.
Fragrant Winter Hazel flowers
Hamamelis x intermedia-The hybrid Witch Hazel, has the Japanese and Chinese Witch Hazels as its parents. The cultivars have unique flowers with ribbon-like petals that are often very fragrant, and bloom for about one month. Bloom times can range between January and March depending on the cultivar. Flower colors vary from bright yellow through orange, red and bronze. Best flowering will occur if plants are grown in full sun, but Hamamelis will do well in partial shade too. Witch Hazels are adaptable to a range of pH conditions, but need moist, yet well drained soils for best growth. Plants in exposed hot and dry areas will grow much slower. Hamamelis x Intermedia will grow to 10-20 ft tall x 10-20 ft wide, depending on the cultivar.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ flowers
Amelanchier x grandiflora-Apple Serviceberry is a naturally occurring hybrid between two of our native species; A. arborea, and A. laevis. Apple Serviceberry has the best characteristics of both trees. Flowers are larger than the species, and bloom in early April. The flowers are typically white, but several cultivars are pink in bud, opening to a pinkish-white color. Blue-purple edible fruit will develop, that is very sweet and similar to blueberries in flavor, so very good for supporting wildlife. Apple Serviceberry is a excellent tree for woodland plantings, and is tidy enough to incorporate into a shrub border. Amelanchier grandiflora grows 20-25 ft tall x 20-25 ft wide, and will tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.
Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Robin Hill’
Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Robin Hill’ flowers
Cornus mas and Cornus officinalis- Corneliancherry Dogwood, and Cornel Dogwood, are two extra early blooming Dogwood species. Yellow flowers are borne in stalked clusters or umbels during March, when little else is blooming. The flowers can last up to three weeks. These two species of Dogwood are very similar; but the Cornel Dogwood has distinctive multicolored exfoliating bark that adds multi-season interest when not in bloom. Both species develop bright cherry-red edible fruit that is similar in taste to sour cherries. These small stature trees are reliably cold hardy, and will bloom well ahead of Forsythia. Cornus mas and Cornus officinalis both have several named cultivars that offer variation from the species. These Dogwoods will grow in sun or partial shade, and prefer a rich well drained soil. At maturity they will grow to 20-25 ft tall x 20-25 ft wide.
Cornus officinalis flowers
Cornus officinalis fruit