Yearly Archives: 2019

Midsummer “To Do” List

Maintenance, Pruning

For many gardeners, spring is the critical gardening season, what with preparing the soil, starting seedlings, setting out transplants, pruning, watching and staying prepared for late frosts and . . .  In my view, right now is just as crucial, and for an equal number of reasons.

True, a 90 degree day with high humidity doesn’t exactly pull you out to the garden to putter around in blazing sunlight. But early mornings around here are mostly cool, calm, and beautiful.

Much of what needs to be done is regular maintenance. Pruning tomatoes, for instance. I train my tomato plants to stakes and single stems, which allows me to set plants only 18 inches apart and harvest lots of fruit by utilizing the third dimension: up. At least weekly, I snap (if early morning, when shoots are turgid) or prune (later in the day, when shoots are flaccid) off all suckers and tie …

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Of Roses and Berries

Roses Come and Go

I once grew a beautiful, red rose known as Dark Lady. For all her beauty, she was borderline cold-hardy here. Many stems would die back to the graft, and the rootstock, which was cold-hardy, would send up long sprouts. Problem is that rootstocks are good for just that, their roots; their flowers, if allowed to develop, are nothing special.After a few years of watching the weakened plant recover each season, I made cuttings from some of the stems. The cuttings rooted and the new plants, rather than being grafted, were then growing on their own roots. Even a cold winter wouldn’t kill the roots, living in soil where temperatures are moderated. If the stems died back to ground level, new sprouts would still sport those dark, red blossoms.

I planted my new Dark Lady in a bed on the south side of my house. There, with the brick …

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Uh Oh, Watch Out for This One!

Past pests

Watch out for this one!

Over many years of gardening at the same location, I’ve seen pests come and go. And if they didn’t actually leave, they at least didn’t live up to the most feared expectations.A few years ago, for instance, late blight disease ravaged tomato plants up and down the east coast. The disease overwinters in the South and normally hitchhikes up north if temperatures are cool, humidity is high, and winds blow in just the right direction. That year it got a free ride here on plants sold in “big box” stores. I no longer consider late blight any more of a problem than it was before that high alert summer.

A few years ago, I was ready to say goodbye to my lily plants when I first heard of and then saw red lily beetles crawling and eating their way across my lilies’ leaves. They’ve …

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Somethings Old, Somethings New, Nothing Blue

Rare and/or Perennial

I usually draw a blank when someone asks me “So what’s new in your garden for this year?” Now, with the pressure off and nobody asking, I’m able to tell.

Of course, I often try new varieties of run of the mill vegetables and fruits. More interesting perhaps, would be something like the Noir de Pardailhan turnip. This ancient variety, elongated and with a black skin, has been grown almost exclusively near the Pardailhan region of France. Why am I growing it? The flavor is allegedly sweeter than most turnips, reminiscent of hazelnut or chestnut.

I planted Noir de Pardailhan this spring but was unimpressed with the flavor. Those mountains near Pardailhan are said to provide the terroir needed to bring out the best in this variety. (Eye roll by me. Why? See last chapter in my book The Ever Curious Gardener for the skinny on terroir.) I’ll give …

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My Compost for a Bin

Compost, All Good, In Time

One problem with gardening, as I see it, is that much of it is about delayed gratification. Even a radish makes you wait 3 weeks after sowing the seed before you get to chomp on it. With a pear tree, that wait is a few years.

Which brings me to compost. Now that the flurry of spring pruning and planting have subsided, I’m starting this year’s compost cycle again — that’s compost for use next year. Delayed gratification again.
Food waste, yard waste, and compostable paper make up 31% of an average household’s waste which, if landfilled, ties up land and contributes to global warming. Composted, it feeds the soil life and, in turn, plants, and maintains soil tilth, that crumbly feel of a soil that holds on to moisture yet has plenty of space for air. You don’t get all this from a bag of 10-10-10 …

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The End of Chestnuts? No!

Blight Strikes

I looked up into the tree that I had planted 20 years ago and saw what I had long feared: two major limbs with sparse, undersized leaves. Blight had finally got a toehold on the Colossal chestnut tree, which, for the past 15 years, has supplied us with all the chestnuts we could eat. (“Colossal” is the variety name, apt for the size of the chestnuts it produces.)My first inclination, before even identifying chestnut blight as the culprit, was to lop off the two limbs. Once I got up close and personal with the tree, the tell-tale orange areas within cracks in the bark stared me in the face.There is no cure for chestnut blight. Removing infected wood does remove a source of inoculum to limit its spread. In Europe, the disease has been limited by hypovirulence, a virus (CHV1) that attacks the blight fungus. Some success has been …

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AH-CHOO!

A Dark Cloud Hovers

The end of May and early June is such a glorious time of year in the garden, with plants thoroughly leafed out yet still showing the exuberance of spring growth. (Those of you to the north of me, Zone 5 in New York’s Hudson Valley: your time will come. Y’all to the south: enjoy your camellias, southern magnolias, muscadine grapes, figs, and . . . all the plants I wish I could grow this far north.)Yet even on the clearest, sunny day — and especially on that kind of day — a dark cloud hangs overhead. Hay fever, literally from hay that is, grasses; and nonliterally, from tree pollen.

Every year the small white blossoms opening on multiflora roses signal that a sneeze season is on. That’s why this late spring allergy season is sometimes called “rose fever.” Rose is not the culprit; is just an easy to …

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A Changing Landscape

Wormy Matters

Charles Darwin did some of his best work lying on his belly in a grassy meadow. Not daydreaming, but closely observing the lives and work of earthworms. All this lying about eventually lead to the publication of his final book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. Darwin calculated that earthworms brought 18 tons of nutrient-rich castings to the surface per acre per year, in so doing tilling and aerating the soil while rendering the nutrients more accessible for plant use.
I wouldn’t find that many earthworms at work in my own grassy meadow. The last glacier, which receded about 12,000 years ago from the northern parts of the U.S., including here in the Hudson Valley, wiped out all the earthworms. Darwin’s meadow was spared because glaciation didn’t reach as far south as where Darwin’s home eventually stood.

Not that there aren’t now any earthworms here. Mostly, these …

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