Neighborly Garden News
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No Mow May; What Is It and How to Participate
By Karen Sutherland Director of Horticulture: Countryside Landscape & Design
The idea of “no mow May” is gaining popularity, and rightly so; this tagline has come to the forefront to bring awareness to the value of pollinators in our environment. However, it seems a few key details are often overlooked. There are important considerations to understand before making the decision to not mow your lawn for a month, especially in the month of May.
While most people may think of honeybees when thinking of pollinators, pollinators come in many forms such as flies, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, moths, and even hummingbirds. All of these different insect and bird species require a diverse selection of plants for food and survival. The Monarch Butterfly, for example, uses several species of milkweeds for their caterpillars to feed on while the adults rely on a plethora of nectar-producing flowering plant species to supply their energy for their annual migration. A diversity of plant materials is needed to support all of these types of insects and it is important that we look at how we have been maintaining our lawns over the years.
Monarch on Joe Pye Weed
If the turf areas that have been treated year after year for weeds are suddenly left to grow, the flowering plants that the early pollinators need may not be available. Plants like dandelions, clover, violet, and ground ivy are typically found in lawns and are the very plants being prevented from growing using a traditional lawn care program. Therefore, it may take several seasons of not treating the lawns for these plants to get established and become available in the month of May.
Additionally, May is a big month for turf grass growth. Turf grass is, by design, able to withstand repeated mowing at a low 2- 4” height and maintain a lush consistent carpet of green. If the grass is left to grow for 4-5 weeks, it could reach 10-12” in height. Then, when suddenly cut back, it would look like a hayfield after harvest. That first mowing would also be a much more labor-intensive process and the cost for that cut could be substantial, certainly not the cost of a regular weekly mow. After that initial mowing, the lawn might need extra care to bring it to the condition of a lush green carpet.
The best way then is to look at this initiative as an opportunity to develop your landscape so that it can be a year-round food source and habitat for insects and birds. The first step to take will be to assess your existing lawn space and decide how much you really want or need. Going forward, maintain that lawn space at your highest threshold level for weeds and follow an organic management program for cultivating a healthy lawn.
Bee on Lavender
Next, take inventory of the existing plant material in your garden spaces. You may only need to enhance those gardens with the addition of a few select plant species to increase the variety of flowering plants. Or, this can be an opportunity to revamp particular areas of your landscape and create native habitats providing the necessary diversity for a wide variety of species throughout the seasons.
Perennial and annual border along front walkway
You can have the best of both worlds; lawn space for play and relaxation and attractive gardens that support pollinators. These habitats can be mixed borders, tree and shrub beds or meadow areas containing plants where all sorts of native pollinators can live and thrive. Keep in mind that native plant habitats do not need to be wild, unruly jungles. These landscapes can still be maintained to look well-kept and provide the necessary sustenance for a healthy population of at-risk pollinators.
To learn more about the research and efforts of increasing pollinator populations, visit The Beecology Project. This program was created by Dr. Robert Gegear, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biology, at UMass Dartmouth. Another resource for native plant gardening is the Native Plant Trust which is the nation’s first plant conservation organization and is based in Massachusetts. Their home is the botanical garden called Garden in the Woods and is truly a treasure to visit.
February’s to-do list
Winter has finally arrived in the valley; and the newly fallen snow is creating a very picturesque view from my office window. Creating four season views in the garden is an ideal garden designers work towards. We are fortunate to be living in New England, where Mother Nature, and her palette of seasonal colors, create the perfect backdrop for our gardens. Our snowy winters provide an opportunity to highlight the interesting branch patterns and silhouettes of trees and shrubs. If you’d like to see some color, consider adding trees with persistent fruit, like Crabapple or Hawthorne, which also provide food for our birds.
Indoor plants need a little TLCthis time of year! Dust your houseplants with a moist cloth to keep their leaf pores open and free to breathe, they will thank you! Scout for insect pests; plants leaking sticky sap is a tell-tale sign of sucking insects. Aphids, mealy bugs, and scale insects are the most common pests, easily removed with a strong stream of water, and a Q-tip at the kitchen sink. Have you noticed we’re getting longer days? By the end of this month, we will be receiving about 11 hours of daylight. Begin to fertilize your plants weekly, with a half strength dilution of your preferred water-soluble fertilizer.
As we move into the harshest part of winter, minimize winter burn damage by using an anti-desiccant spray. Winter burn of susceptible evergreens is most likely to occur during February, more than any other month. The three-part stress of strong winds, frozen soil, and bright late winter sun, sets up conditions that can lead to leaf burn or browning. Choose the best time to spray when the temperatures will stay above freezing for 24 hours and follow the label instructions for your product.
A good way to beat those winter blues is to get some greenery into your life. Two great gardening events coming up:
Amherst Orchid Society’s annual OrchidShow and sale, Feb. 25th-26th 2023, at Smith Vocational High School, 80 Locust St Northampton, MA. If you’ve never attended, well worth the trip. You can get ‘up close and personal’ to the many species of orchids displayed, with demonstrations and notable speakers, makes for an interesting day out. Have your deepest questions about orchid rearing answered!
Smith College Spring Bulb Show, Mar. 4th-19th 2023, Lyman Plant House, 16 College Lane, Northampton, MA. Just an incredibly scented breath of fresh spring air, we attend every year.
Late winter snowstorms often bring heavy wet snow and ice. Remember to shake off evergreen branches weighed down by ice and snow. If you should happen to get some broken branches, be sure to prune off the stump cleanly. A ragged tear will inhibit proper healing and invite infection. Continue pruning ornamental and fruiting trees while they are still dormant. Always remove broken or rotten looking wood. Fruit trees require seasonal pruning to stay healthy and bear fruit. The more overgrown they become the less quality fruit will develop. Don’t miss the opportunity for dormant pruning this winter. Please contact the office now to get on the schedule. firstname.lastname@example.org
Need a hand with winter chores? Please contact our office to schedule winter services:
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5 Indoor Gardening Ideas to keep busy this winter!
If you have a hankering to grow something now, try micro-greens! Kale, alfalfa, and sunflower sprouts anyone? Growing microgreens indoors is a fantastic winter garden project or something you can do year-round! They’re easy to grow and can be done under a small grow light or in a bright sunny window. The fresh little microgreens are absolutely loaded with nutrients in exponentially higher concentrations than their mature forms. I’m sure your winter body and palate will greatly appreciate that pop of green goodness! Organic micro-green seeds available from High Mowing Gardens here.
Start a worm composting bin
Worm composting is a great way to sustainably repurpose food waste! Not to mention, worm castings (aka worm poop) are the most incredible fertilizer and soil amendment you can use. Worm castings have the nickname ‘black gold’ for a reason. With a worm bin, you can create that for free! And your garden will thank you endlessly. Worm bins are easy to set up, perfect for small spaces, and can even be kept indoors. Contrary to popular belief, worm compost bins do not smell bad (especially if they’re well-maintained). Learn how to create and maintain a simple, inexpensive tote-style worm bin here. Worms do need to be protected from freezing conditions, so if you can’t keep it inside during the winter, wrap the worm bin in insulating material like a wool or fleece blanket and store it in a protected location such as a garage, shed, or basement. This indoor winter gardening project is something that the whole family can do!
Grow mushrooms in your kitchen
Ordinarily you wouldn’t want fungi growing in your kitchen, but here is a novel winter gardening idea: grow some (culinary) shrooms! Like microgreens, you can also start to grow any time of year. Mushrooms are fun and easy to grow indoors, especially since there are many mushroom growing kits readily available that make it very easy. The kits come pre-inoculated with mushroom spores (varieties of oyster mushrooms being the most common), and all you need to do is keep them misted and moist. Then you can harvest fresh, tasty, nutrient-dense homegrown mushrooms right in your kitchen!
Build a birdhouse or owl box
Calling all bird lovers! Building a birdhouse is a sweet little winter garden project and one your local wildlife will greatly appreciate too. Check out selection of DIY birdhouses and plans.
Or, if you want to step it up a notch, consider building an owl box! In return for providing them with shelter, these majestic birds of prey can offer excellent natural rodent control for your garden. You can find owl box plans online from trusted bird experts like this Screech owl box plan from the Cornell Wildlife Center, or this Barn owl box from the Audubon Society. Be sure to research what types of owls are most common to your area, since different owl species like particular box shapes and sizes.
Decorate your pots
Feeling crafty? Decorating pots is a fun winter garden project that you, and your family can do indoors. Grab some plain terra cotta pots and get creative! You could paint them with pretty designs, or even adorn them with a mosaic tile pattern. Have a look at this tutorial on How to Make Mosaic Flower Pots Hunting down mosaic materials (e.g. old plates or china) sounds like a good reason to visit your local thrift store.
Growing houseplants soothes the winter-weary soul
I have been an avid houseplant collector since I was a young adult. Back then, it was popular to sprout avocadoes from the large pit. We would suspend the pit from toothpicks into a glass of water, and in a few months, we would have the beginnings of an avocado ‘tree’. Two types of houseplants were standard fare back then, Philodendrons, and Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum). These were ubiquitous as decorative hanging plants; my Mom also grew African violets (Saintpaulia), but this was considered a huge achievement, and she had a ‘green thumb’.
Flash forward to 2023, and welcome to the world-wide-web of the plant world. There is virtually no limit to what type of plants you may purchase online; the limit is what you may successfully grow in your home environment. Yet, in researching this article, there are workarounds to plant un-unfriendly homes also. You can purchase wall garden kits that will create a completely self-contained, self-watering garden to function as a living ‘painting’ in your home. In one of the kits, I looked at, the plants were held in removable ‘cassettes’; allowing you to swap out different planting themes for holiday decorating etc.
An interesting ‘houseplant’ that isn’t a plant at all, is the Marimo moss ball. It is a form of sea algae that naturally forms a ball shape. You can grow it in a fish tank, or a decorative container, out of direct light. It is a passive organism; it doesn’t grow very much or move; has very few cultural needs but may be the perfect living green thing for somebody. You only need change the water periodically, and the moss ball would benefit from the addition of aquarium salt.
Did you know that some houseplants are very efficient at purifying the air? Sanseveria or the ‘Snake Plant’ can help remove formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene and trichloroethylene gases from our indoor environments, and be decorative accents too. Most houseplants are considered tropical perennials, in their home ecosystems, and have varying light requirements. In general, though, most houseplants have low-medium light requirements, as befitting a plant suitable for growing indoors. Many will enjoy summering outdoors, but it is important to adhere to the light needs of the plant and not give them too much light, too quickly or they will get scorched leaves.
Tillandsias or ‘Air Plants’ are plants that can grow without soil. They are members of the Bromeliad family and use their roots to attach to trees or rocks in their natural environment. Tillandsias absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves and are classified as epiphytes. They obtain their water and nutrients from rain, and the debris that accumulates around them. Tillandsias prefer bright filtered light and can be harmed by direct full sun. It is important to completely wet the plant 2-4 times per week, depending upon the temperature and humidity of your home. Light misting can help with humidity, but it is not suitable for the main source of moisture. You should choose a fertilizer made for absorption through the leaves, such as Epiphyte’s Delight.
Miniature succulents, and succulents of all kinds have become very popular for indoor plants. The Haworthia attenuate, or Zebra Haworthia is a noteworthy member of the Aloe family, very easy to grow indoors. My grandmother had one in the same container on her shady windowsill, literally my whole childhood. Zebra Haworthia originates from South Africa, and normally will experience seasonal changes in light, water and temperature. Haworthia prefer cool (50’F), drier conditions in winter, and bright, indirect light and warmer temperatures in summer. During the summer water generously, letting the soil media dry out between watering. In winter, reduce watering to once every other month, making sure water does not accumulate in the rosette of leaves. Fertilize, using a formulation for cacti, in the summer months only.
For those of us with pets, having non-toxic plants is vital for their well-being. Two pet-friendly types of house plants, that are also easy to care for are Hoya kerrii, the Valentine plant, and Calathea crocata, the Eternal Flame plant. Calathea have attractive, slightly wrinkled, metallic green and purple leaves that tend to fold up in the evening. It gets its common name from the long-lasting yellow-orange flowers held up above the leaves. It likes bright light, no direct sun, and consistently moist soil through the summer- months. Calathea likes ‘soft’ water, and some sources suggest using distilled water for this plant. Grow Calathea on a tray of pebbles, to provide the high humidity it likes, or mist daily with tepid water. The Valentine plant, you may have guessed, has distinctive heart-shaped leaves, that are thick and waxy in texture. Sometimes called the ‘Sweetheart Wax Plant’ it is very easy to grow in the home, preferring bright filtered light, but no direct sun. The fleshy leaves can store water, so only requires 1-2 applications of water per month. Be sure to allow the pot to drain thoroughly, never sitting in water. Hoya kerrii blooms in the summer with clusters of unusual white flowers with burgundy centers, a mature plant may have upwards of 25 flowers. To facilitate flowering, allow the plant to become a little pot-bound, and fertilize with half strength fish emulsion-type fertilizer once per month during the summer.
Hoya kerrii with flowers
Every year new plant varieties are introduced at the start of the growing season, to get us excited for the new gardening year. Here are a few introductions to get you eager to grow this season!
Heuchera Dolce ‘Wildberry’-Coral Bells, Dolce ‘Wildberry’ has large, scalloped, incredibly glossy leaves that are a bold shade of purple. Charcoal veins accent the leaves and dark stems hold rosy-pink calyxes and white flowers in Summer. This perennial is deer resistant and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Grows 10-14 inches tall and 16-20 inches wide at maturity, ‘Wildberry’ Coral Bells will thrive in sun or shade.
Dolce ‘Wildberry’-Coral Bells
Hydrangea serrata ‘Let’s Dance Can Do’ re-blooming Hydrangea, ‘Let’s Dance Can Do’ hydrangea has luscious strawberry pink flowers in neutral/alkaline soils and a lovely lavender in acidic soil. It has the unique ability to create flower buds along the entire length of the stem instead of only at the stem tips. It also reblooms quicker than others all summer. Hydrangea serrata are versatile garden plants for anywhere you need some summer color and are much hardier to our cold winters than other ‘colored’ hydrangea species. Grows 3-4 feet tall and 3 feet wide at maturity. Plant in part sun to full sun.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Let’s Dance Can Do’
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Purple Pillar’ Rose of Sharon, ‘Purple Pillar’ has semi-double purple flowers that bloom continuously all summer through fall. It is drought and heat tolerant, deer-resistant, and attracts pollinators. The unusual columnar habit makes it a real space saver, if you thought you didn’t have enough space to grow rose of Sharon, ‘Purple Pillar’ may be just right for you. Try it in containers, or flanking your front door, or as an accent in your landscape. Grows 10-15 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide at maturity. Rose of Sharon do their best when planted in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.
Hibiscus syriacus ‘Purple Pillar’
Rosa ‘Ringo All-Star’ Rose The pleasing flowers of ‘Ringo All-Star’ rose may look simple at first, but this plant packs in a lot of interest! ‘Ringo All Star’ flowers start out a rich melon-orange with a cherry-red center and transform to lavender and pink, creating a look of multiple colors on one plant. A crown of fluffy yellow anthers adorn the center and attracts pollinators. ‘Ringo All-Star’ is disease-resistant and low maintenance. No need to trim or deadhead to keep those fabulous flowers coming all season. Grows 2-3 feet tall and wide at maturity.
‘Ringo All-Star’ Rose