Neighborly Garden News
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Plant a dye garden this season!
With so many folks trying new Do-it-Yourself activities and crafts why not try growing a garden for homemade dyes? There are many plants that are primarily used for dyes, but many ordinary garden plants and vegetables can also be utilized for dying; without creating a specialized bed for them. Whether you’re a spinning, knitting fiber arts fanatic or would just like to try your hand at some all-natural tie-dye, planting a dye garden can be a fun way to connect with the land. You don’t have to be an expert, if you already garden, adding some dye plants to your plot is very simple.
Onions are an easy, dual purpose crop for your dye garden. The papery onion skin is actually the only part used to make the dye so you still get to use the onion in the kitchen! Yellow onions will give you a dark yellow or orange collar while purple or red onions produce dyes that can be anything from light pink to maroon to brown. Beet dye uses the roots and can color fiber anywhere from light pink to red. You can add a few extra to your veggie garden for some gorgeous home dyed cloth and still eat the greens. Black beans make a pretty light blue/purplish color dye. Besides for dyeing, you only use the water they’ve been soaked in before cooking; so you still get to eat your harvest.
Coreopsis flowers can be used to produce wonderful bright oranges, yellows, and reds. It also has the awesome benefit of being a native plant that attracts bees and birds to your garden. Bachelor’s Buttons flowers make a great option for dyers because they’re easy to grow, produce beautiful blue dye, and can readily be dried and used for dye projects during the winter. Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan) are an easy to grow flower which also produces wonderful green and yellow dyes; and are very attractive to pollinators too.
Purple basil is also used in dying; purple-leaved varieties such as ‘Dark Opal’, ‘Red Rubin’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’, are easy to find varieties. Basil is an easy to grow annual herb, and purple basil can grow to 2 feet tall. Common Parsley is often used to make lovely shades of green, with plenty left in the garden for cooking. The blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is fantastic in a pie, but blackberries also make a great natural black dye, and they are very vigorous in the garden.
Try harvesting your plants at various stages of their development, to achieve different shades of color. When using plants as dyes, the stage of bloom they are in (tight bud versus fully open flowers) can make for different shades or tones of color. Natural dying is not an exact science, with each process a slightly different color result could be produced, which makes the process all the more exciting to experiment with. And you can preserve flowers for later use by drying or freezing them, so all is not lost if you are unable to make your dyes soon after harvesting your plants.
Link here for step-by-step instructions on how to make your natural dyes: https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Natural-Dyes
May’s ‘to-do’ list
As I am writing this newsletter, western MA is again experiencing a drought. Currently the US drought monitoring service is labeling this as a ’mild drought’, but we shouldn’t minimize the effect it can have on our plantings. I encourage everyone who has planted or transplanted trees and shrubs during the past 2 growing seasons to begin watering them; these plants haven’t acquired their full root system yet, and can’t access deep reserves of water from the soil. I’ve transplanted a few mature rosebushes recently, and the scant rain we have received has not been enough to push them out of dormancy. I have had to hand water all of them.
Have I been the only gardener suffering attacks by hungry voles and field mice? These rodents have devoured the entire root mass of five mature rose bushes over the winter, including some that have been in my garden for over 25 years! My husband has built some wooden trapping shelters that you can place snap traps into; to limit exposure to non-target species. I’m not going to use poison, for fear of killing some unsuspecting owl or fox, or my dog, but these rodents have got to go…
May is tick awareness month, and we should all be practicing tick safety. It’s hard to avoid ticks, but we can up our game against them. If you have access to a clothes dryer, you can run your gardening clothes on hot for 10 minutes to kill any hitchhikers, or quarantine the clothes in a bag outside. Take precautions for your family, visitors, and your pets. Invest in a tick I.D and removal kit, and familiarize yourself with early onset symptoms of Lyme disease in humans as well as pets. White-footedMice are the primary hosts of tick borne diseases, other small mammals usually groom (eat) any ticks they find in their fur, but not mice. Anything you can do to eliminate mice in your yard will go a long way to decreasing the tick population. Our common Opossum is known for seeking out and devouring ticks. Countryside offers many options for tick management; please contact our spray program manager, Scott Higley for more information. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve started a compost pile last year, turning it over in the spring, will aid in decomposition, and give you access to all your ‘black gold’. Watering the compost pile during dry spells also helps speed decomposition, and helps turn up the ‘heat’ to kill off weed seeds. Apply compost as a top-dressing around your trees, shrubs and perennials, before applying mulch. Because compost continues to break down, it is something that should be refreshed annually, so its benefits are available as needed. Consider this like a yearly dose of healthful nutrients and biological agents that will promote growth for your plants.
Prune spring blooming trees and shrubs as they fade. Spring blooming trees and shrubs will begin to set flower buds for next season in early summer, so don’t delay if you want to shape them.
Edge and mulch your beds for a clean and professional look. Avoid colored mulch, as it is often made of inferior waste wood products and dyed to make it look uniform. Young plants and seedlings especially, can be sensitive to dyed mulch. Countryside only uses natural hardwood bark mulch.
Create a weeding schedule; and plan to apply a weed barrier after a thorough weeding, such as compost or chopped grass clippings. Once weeds are established, they will out-compete your favorite plants for nutrients, water and sunlight, so get rid of them now.
Continue to dead head spring bulbs as their flowers fade, but leave the leaves intact. Even if you have fertilized your bulbs, the leaves are still needed to nourish the underground bulb. Once they begin to wither and turn yellowish, you may safely trim the leaves back. This is also a good time to lift any divide any daffodil clumps that need attention. If they’ve stopped blooming, or seem to be blooming less; it’s time to divide them.
Be cautious before placing annual herbs and flowers outdoors too early. Tender annuals such as: basil, impatiens and tomatoes, can be damaged by even a light frost. University studies have shown that transplanting tender flower and vegetable starts early, and in cool conditions, offers no advantage over waiting until more settled weather. Transplant shock can even set tender plants back in their development. Hardy annuals like, pansies, Cole crops (cabbage family) peas and lettuce, love cool weather so plant these hardy plants first.
Please contact our office for help with spring chores or information about tick control. (413) 458-5586 or
Promote the ‘Good Bugs’ in your yard
The “unnoticed insect apocalypse” should set alarm bells ringing, according to conservationists, who have said that without a halt there will be profound consequences for humans and all life on Earth. Recent studies suggest that half of all insects may have been lost since 1970 as a result of the destruction of habitat and heavy use of pesticides. The report said 40% of the one million known species of insect are facing extinction. If we take a moment to consider the intricate webs of life; and how they are woven together, we may view our insect ‘pest’ problems in a new light.
Of the 800,000 to one million species of insects in our world, only about 1,000 (or less than 1/10th of 1%) are considered a serious pest to people or their possessions and pursuits. Some scientists view the increased presence of these pests to be an indicator of a system out of balance. Perhaps highlighting a need for habitat attractive for pest predators? Spraying of pesticides is not the only solution for garden pests, only a quick fix. A more sustainable approach might be changes in cultural practices, manipulating the growing environment, crop rotation, and better timing of planting and harvesting.
People fear what they don’t know, especially unknown insects. Cornell University has wonderful insect entomology fact sheets (http://idl.entomology.cornell.edu/factsheets\) to aid with insect identification. Familiarize yourself with the basic beneficial and nuisance insects. Learn which stage of their lifecycle can cause damage. Sometimes it is the juvenile stage that causes the most problems, for example caterpillars. Other times it is the adult stage, and even worse is the bug that causes damage in multiple stages of its lifecycle, like aphids.
Depending on the pest, you may choose not to take any action at all, because the damage is something you can tolerate, or the infestation is minimal. For some crop plants, any damage will render them worthless. So the first sign of infestation must be dealt with swiftly, to save the harvest. For example flowers for the floral business must be perfect, and no one will buy apples with even one worm hole. You need to be able to quantify the level of infestation you can safely tolerate, and when you need to do something.
Insect predators are nature’s first line of defense against insect pests. The humble wasp family, even with their bad reputation for stinging, is worth being allowed to make their homes in our yards and gardens. I have observed them catch and kill many kinds of insects that would otherwise be snacking on my flowers and veggies. It is pretty amazing to see their tireless pursuit of prey. Other wasps are almost invisible to us; parasitic wasps are incapable of stinging, and are only slightly larger than their prey. They use the pest insect as an incubator for their eggs; which hatch into the living body of the pest, and eat their way out. This may seem gruesome, yet it is nature’s way of keeping things under control.
Wasp with caterpillar prey
Not all insect predators are wasps; there are ladybugs, hover flies, spiders (not an insect, but an arthropod) dragonflies, just to name a few. To help attract these insect predators, it is helpful to provide a source of pollen and nectar for protein and energy, to sustain them in between insect their meals. They prefer flowers with shallow, flat nectaries, such as dill, cilantro, fennel, angelica, and the wildflower Queen Anne’s lace; which are all members of the carrot family. Sweet alyssum, Borage, and Bachelor’s buttons are in the top 10 ornamental plants for attracting beneficial insects. Borage particularly is the preferred plant for the green lacewing insect to lay its eggs on. Their larvae are voracious predators of soft bodied pests like: spider mites, leafhoppers, aphids, mealy bugs and pest caterpillars. Lacewing larvae will feed for 2-3 weeks before pupating into adults. Borage is also produces very attractive porcelain-blue flowers which can be used as edible flowers; they have a flavor reminiscent of cucumbers!
Beautiful and beneficial Borage
Spiders are among the most neglected and least understood of predators. They rely on a complex diet of prey and can have a strong stabilizing influence on them. Because spiders are generalists and tend to kill more prey than they actually consume, they limit their preys’ initial bursts of growth. Many spiders live in crop canopies but most inhabit the soil surface and climb plants to hunt. Fields with either living plants or residue (like bark mulch) as soil cover, tend to harbor diverse and abundant spider populations.
Spring blooming trees always add beauty to a landscape, particularly after our long and harsh winters. Our songbirds and wildlife will appreciate the fruit and nuts produced from these native trees with outstanding floral interest. We can appreciate their multi-seasonal beauty and hardiness in our New England landscape.
Sassafras albidium, the common Sassafras is also known as the ‘Mitten Tree’ because of its unusual lobed leaves. Some leaves are noticeably ‘right’ or ‘left’ handed mittens. Interesting yellow flowers are produced in April before the leaves appear. Female plants will produce ½” long, oblong dark blue fruit. Sassafras develops brilliant fall leaf colors, of red and orange. Grows 30-60’ tall x 25’ wide at maturity.
Sassafras’ unusual mitten-shaped leaves
Cornus alternifolia, the Pagoda Dogwood is an underused small stature tree of great architectural beauty. It prefers to be in part shade, and would liven up a shadowy spot with its clusters of starry blooms in May/June. Showy purple and red fruit ripen in July, and are very attractive to fruit loving birds such as Cedar Waxwings. Grows 15-25’ tall x 10-15’ wide.
Cornus alternifolia flowers
Cercis canadensis, Redbud trees always get a second look when they are in bloom. The deep rosy-pink flowers are produced along the length of its bare branches, not at the tips as with most trees. Breeding has modified this tree into dwarf and weeping shapes, besides the open rounded profile of the species. There are also varieties with purple or golden leaf colors. Grows 10-20’ tall x 10-25’ wide, depending on the cultivar.
Cercis canadensis in full bloom
Tilia americana, American Linden or Basswood develops into a large stately tree with arched and spreading branches at maturity. Somewhat pyramidal shaped when young, it matures to a more oval/rounded form. Very fragrant creamy-yellow flowers bloom in June, and are beloved by bees (sometimes referred to as the bee-tree). Prefers full sun, and moist, well-drained soil, grows 60-80’ tall x 30’ wide.
The stately Tilia americana
Amelanchier canadensis, the Shadblow is known to bloom when the Shad fish return to the local rivers and streams. It is a stellar small stature tree of our native forests. The bright white flowers really stand out in early spring when little is in bloom. Later, edible blue/purple fruit are produced, which becomes a food source for our native birds. Shadblows develop reliably brilliant red and orange fall leaf colors. It is very tolerant of boggy conditions, but will adapt to drier soils also. Grows to 20’ tall, full sun to partial shade.
Amelanchier canadensis-one of the first to bloom