Neighborly Garden News
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Beware the ‘super-charged’ Poison Ivy
As if the noxious weed poison ivy wasn’t already tough and resilient to just about anything in its path, new studies are now analyzing the effects that rising soil temperatures may have on its rate of growth. Building upon the initial research study undertaken by Duke University, due to the increased levels of CO2 in the air (the equivalent of predicted levels of CO2 in 2050), poison ivy plants grew double their normal size, and urushiol, the toxic oil that causes the allergic reaction, became stronger as a result. CO2 is necessary for plant growth, as it allows the plant to make the sugars required for their metabolism. The researcher’s conclusion was that future poison ivy plants will be quicker growing, larger, and more toxic.
A member of the original research team, Professor Jacqueline Mohan, is now investigating how rising soil temperatures may also affect poison ivy. The experiment is being conducted at the Harvard Forest, a 4,000 acre preserve managed by Harvard University in Petersham, MA. The early results show that as little as a 9o F increase in soil temperature can make poison ivy grow almost 150% faster than normal. In comparison, the other species of plants that she grew under the same conditions only grew 10-20% faster. Fortunately, higher soil temperatures did not increase the potency of urushiol.
Clump of Poison Ivy
Not only can poison ivy grow just about anywhere; sun or shade, moist or dry soil, but it can also take on different forms: as a ground cover, a shrub or a smothering vine. Because it likes to cohabitate with humans, poison ivy prefers disturbed land. Campsites, hiking trails, picnic areas, where other plants are scarce and there is a lot of available light, are all favorable for poison ivy growth. Knowing about the effects of climate change on the growth habits and increased toxicity of poison ivy, we will need to increase our level of caution as we venture out into nature.
New growth looks very different than the mature leaf
Foremost is learning to identify its distinctive leaf arrangement. Try scouting for it during different times of the year, as it does vary significantly as it matures. Keep your pants tucked into your boots or socks, and keep a sharp eye where you’re walking; it also frequently weaves itself through and under, other plants. If you know you’ve come into contact with poison ivy you can help minimize it by washing off the oil (sap) for 10-15 minutes; it gets some but not all of it off. I’ve used the OTC product called Zanfel, and have good reports from others too. It is a wash designed to bind with the urushiol, and neutralize it from causing an allergic reaction.
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August’s ‘to-do’ list
What a difference a year makes! Last year at this time, we were experiencing a prolonged drought. As of this writing, we have received more rain than the third rainiest month on record. Ten years ago, this month we suffered tremendous flooding statewide from Tropical Storm Irene. It was a life changing event for many people, as there was devastating property damage from the raging high water. It feels like we have been swinging back and forth between droughts and flooding during this past decade. Perhaps this is our new normal? Happily the tomatoes are finally ripening, but the weeds have grown as if they were on steroids! So unfortunately I’m back to hand pulling them. This is the time of year that many annual weeds are setting their seeds; please do whatever it takes to get those weeds out of the garden before they drop their seeds!
With harvesting of summer veggies under way, you might have some available space in your veggie garden. There’s still plenty of time to sow seeds for a fall crop of veggies. Lettuce, Kale, Spinach and Swiss chard are delicious leafy greens, packed full of brain-boosting nutrients and easy to grow. They can be ready for harvesting in as little as 30 days! The simplest way to harvest your leafy greens is to trim off the leaves with a scissor, and allow the plant to sprout more leaves for successive harvests. Other fast growing, easy to grow veggies are radishes, beets, and carrots.
Roses will naturally begin to slow their growth with shorter days ahead. Allow roses to begin their ‘hardening off’ for winter by discontinuing fertilizer application. If you routinely use a rose spray for mildew and rose pests, you should continue to do so; to minimize overwintering of mold spores and insect eggs. Don’t neglect ‘deadheading’ the spent flowers, and any yellowing leaves. Sanitation is an important part of organic rose care. During a mild fall, we may still have rose blooms right up to a hard frost and you’ll want to keep your rose bushes as healthy as possible until they go dormant.
August is a good month to evaluate your perennial beds. There is always some plant that is breaking or flopping over. Is this plant worth the effort, or is there an easier alternative? Make note of which plants are in need of dividing. You may dig and divide Peonies this month. Remember that the ‘eyes’, or dormant flower buds must be planted no deeper than 1-2” below the soil surface. Planting deeper than this will interfere with blooming.
Is your lawn looking ‘patchy’? Have skunks been digging for grubs? Mid-August through mid-September is a great time for over-seeding and renovating your lawn. Take advantage of turf’s natural growth cycle. Cool season grass will become dormant through the hottest part of summer, and then revive as temperatures begin to cool, and steady rain starts again. Seeding now will allow the grass seedlings optimum conditions for growth.
Make spring 2022 a bit more beautiful, by planning to add or start a bulb garden. Bulbs are easy to plant, and bulb planting is a fun, kid-centered project too! Stick with the ones that most animals won’t eat; daffodils, narcissus, alliums (ornamental onions) and snowdrops. Choose varieties that will bloom during early, mid, and late spring for an extended bloom season. Most bulb vendors will list the average time of bloom for each type, to help with your planning.
Do you summer your houseplants outdoors? Plan on getting your houseplants ready to resume indoor life by giving them a thorough health inspection now. Re-pot those plants which have outgrown their containers, or refresh the soil of plants that have been in the same soil mix forever.
Have the weeds taken over or do you need help with your late summer chores? We can help; give our office a call or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fight those weeds by eating them!
When it comes to pesky weeds, if you can’t beat them, fry them! Many of our common weeds can be foraged and enjoyed in our meals. Like many other cultivated greens, weeds are actually valuable foods; loaded with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and protein. Some important things to consider before you forage for weeds:
- Never eat anything you’re not 100% sure of. Some weeds as well as their flowers can be toxic
- Don’t eat anything that may be contaminated with pesticides.
- Only collect where you have permission to do so.
Dandelions may be our most common edible weed. Harvest its leaves while they are still young and tender, they can become a little bitter with age. Older leaves are still great for the stewpot, try them mixed into traditional ratatouille, layer them into veggie lasagna or incorporate them into stir fried dishes.
Nettle is nasty weed with its ability to sting and burn on contact. Defeat the nettle by cooking it like spinach. Or grind it in your food processor to make nettle pesto or a tasty Gremolata sauce. Nettles contain hefty amounts of vitamins A, C, and K, and have long been used as an herbal anti-inflammatory. Be sure to wear garden gloves when you harvest nettle.
Chickweed is very commonly found in both cultivated gardens and bare ground. It is eaten raw as a savory herb in salads, or steamed like spinach. Chickweed is also good in omelettes and as an addition to meatballs or stuffing. The pretty white flowers can be saved for use as edible garnish.
Chickweed flowers are edible too!
Garlic mustard is seemingly everywhere; in shady areas, in hedgerows, and along woodland edges. Every part of this prolific weed is edible. The roots taste a lot like horseradish or wasabi. Even though the plant is not related to garlic, the chopped or bruised leaves emit a garlic-like odor. Try using the seeds in spicy foods like curries or chili. By utilizing garlic mustard for food we can help prevent the spread of this non-native weed.
All parts of the Garlic Mustard are edible
Goosegrass or Cleavers has a mild taste, and is useful in spring soups and stews. The stems and young leaves are tasty if you wilt them in sweet butter, then add to omelettes and stir fried dishes. Because of the hairy nature of the stems, most people don’t eat Chickweed raw. The small mature fruits can be roasted and ground for use as a coffee substitute.
The summer heat and humidity can be oppressive, and the heavy rainstorms last month have been very hard on the perennial border. The result has been a lack of bright color in the garden. Adding a few summer blooming trees and shrubs will add dimension and bursts of color and fragrance to your garden border. These plants will take the heat and humidity, and still produce an outstanding floral show, while many others are winding down for the season.
Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, is a hardy small tree or shrub, depending on the cultivar. The colors range from white, blue, pink, purple and red, plus pretty bi-colored flowers. Flower shapes can be the true Hibiscus single flower, or double flower forms. Blooming can begin as early as June, and continue right through September. This plant blooms on new growth, so prune early in the spring to encourage lot’s of flowers. Very adaptable to most soil types, except those which are overly dry or extremely wet. Rose of Sharon does best in full sun exposure, grows 8-12 ft tall x 6-10 ft wide.
Sophora japonica, the Japanese Pagodatree, is a really impressive sight to see when in full bloom. Creamy white panicles of flowers 6-12 ft long cover the foliage in a lacey veil during July and August. Pagodatrees can grow to 50-70 ft tall and wide, so it’s good candidate for a specimen shade tree. Sophora japonica develops a densely upright and spreading crown at maturity. Sophora japonica needs full sun exposure and moist, well drained soil.
Sophora japonica flowers
Abelia chinensis ‘Ruby Anniversary’ – the hardy Abelia will bloom from early summer through fall. The highly fragrant white flowers are extremely attractive to hummingbirds and insect pollinators. It has the benefit of being tolerant of shady conditions, and resistant to deer and rabbits. New growth is a bright red, aging to a lustrous deep green. The form is of a graceful arching shrub, with fine textured branches. Hardy Abelia grows 4-6 ft tall x 4-6 ft wide at maturity.
Hydrangea paniculata, a late summer garden would be lacking without the Hydrangea. One of the benefits of growing Hydrangeas is that they are so dependable for giving you many flowers over a very long time. The easiest species for our zone 5 gardens are the Paniculata types, which start out blooming white, and gradually turn various shades of pink or red; depending on the variety. There are so many cultivars of Hydrangea available; your best choice would be one that will fit in your garden, as their mature size can vary widely. Once established, H. paniculata is very adaptable to drier soil, and will grow in full sun or partial shade. You can find H. paniculata cultivars as small as dwarf 2 ft x 3 ft forms, mid-size, all the way through 12 ft x 12 ft. and small trees.
Calycanthus, the Sweetshrub is an unusual large shrub that is an all-summer-into-fall blooming native. The maroon or white flowers resemble a magnolia or water-lily bloom. The flowers are said to be very fragrant with a fruity pineapple scent. Sweetshrub has leathery, aromatic foliage that turns yellow in fall. Calycanthus prefers moist and well drained soil, as it is found in the wild along stream banks and moist hillsides. Will tolerate light shade; grows 6-8 ft x 6 ft wide, and may be taller under shadier conditions.