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 …
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 …
Awhile ago I plucked some ripe strawberries and handed them to Rachel for a taste. Her ho-hum reaction told me that I hadn’t picked carefully enough. Yes, the berries were white, but that’s their color when ripe — and also when not ripe.You should be scratching your head by now. Strawberries that are white when ripe? Strawberries perhaps ready for harvest in early May here in the Hudson Valley?
The berries I handed Rachel were alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca), a different species from our usual garden strawberries (F. X ananassa). They are a kind of “wood strawberry” (often going under their more upscale-sounding French moniker fraises de bois) first encountered about 300 years ago near Grenoble, France. These strawberries are different from garden strawberries in many ways.
For one thing, alpine strawberries are everbearing. They’ll pump out fresh berries as long as given sufficient warmth, water, and nutrients. Mine …
Today I put the finishing touches on pruning my grapevines. Yes, it’s late: The buds have already swollen and expanded into clusters of small leaves. But there’s “method in my madness,” or, at least, my tardiness.
My vines often experience some winter damage, some varieties — New York Muscat, Reliance, and Vanessa, for instance — more than others. Waiting to prune until I see some green saves me from cutting off too many living canes and saving too many dead canes. In winter it’s not so easy to tell them apart.
So I do mostly rough pruning in winter, lopping back canes that have to go whether they’re living or dead. Canes also need to be shortened, even those that are to be eventually saved.
Which brings me to another reason I left the final pruning until today. Plants generally make their earliest growth in …
I just returned from time travel one month forward and a couple hundred years backward. Both at the same time! I did this with a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, where black locust trees were in full bloom, which is about a month ahead of when they will be blooming up here in New York’s Hudson Valley.
The impetus for this time travel was Colonial Williamsburg’s Annual Garden Symposium, at which I was one of the presenters. (I did presentations on espalier fruit plants and on growing fruits in small gardens.)
Williamsburg is a magical place anytime of year, and especially so, for me, in spring. (I first fell in love with the place on a family trip when I was 7 years old; on subsequent visits, I’ve forgone the three-cornered hat I wore on that first trip.)
Following last week’s missive about pruning fruiting shrubs, I now move on to pruning my fruiting trees. Again, this is “dormant pruning.” Yes, even though the trees’ flower buds are about to burst or have already done so, their response will still, for a while longer, be that to dormant pruning.I mentioned flower buds, so these plants I’m pruning are mature, bearing plants. The objectives and, hence, pruning of a young tree are another ball game. As is renovative pruning, which is the pruning of long-neglected trees.
Most fruit trees need to be pruned (correctly) every year. Annual pruning keeps these trees healthy and keeps fruit within reach. This pruning also promotes year after year of good harvests (some fruit trees gravitate toward alternating years of feast and famine) and — most important — makes for the most luscious fruits.
Most of the pruning I do is “dormant pruning,” that is, pruning while plants are leafless. A few weeks ago, pruning was a relaxed affair with still-cold temperatures keeping the buds only slowly swelling in anticipation of upcoming growth. Then a few warm days kicked them into gear, making pruning more hectic.
Hecticness is little problem with those plants that are the easiest to prune because the work can be quick; other plants require my standing back with arms folded for some study before every few cuts.
Here on my farmden, easiest to prune plants include mature ornamental trees, shrubs, and vines, and even some fruits. Those fruits are American persimmon, pawpaw, and mulberry. They’re so easy because they can get by with little or no pruning.
Mostly what I do with the three fruit trees, every year or so, is to take a lopper or a …
I’d like to introduce the words farmden and farmdener into the English language. I wonder if there are any other farmdeners out there.
What is a farmden? It’s more than a garden, less than a farm. That’s my definition, but it also could be described as a site with more plants and/or land than one person can care for sanely. A gardener and garden gone wild, out of control.
You might sense that I speak from personal experience. I am. My garden started innocently enough: A 30 by 40 foot patch of vegetables, a few apple trees, some flowers, and lawn. That was decades years ago, and in the intervening period, the lawn has grown smaller, the vegetable garden has doubled in size, and the fruit plantings have gone over the top.
Originally, I had less than acreage – 72 hundredths of an acre to be exact. But over …
After delivering a couple of lectures about gardening in North Carolina, I set off on a very short, whirlwind tour of the southeast, specifically North Carolina and Georgia, and ending with a stay in Charleston. How different from my spot here in New York’s Hudson Valley!
For all Charleston’s uniqueness, three characteristics jumped out. It being early March and my coming an achromatic landscape of snow, sleeping plant life, and cold, I was immediately struck by the abundance of greenery. Not the tired greenery of many evergreens here in the north, but vibrant, awake greenery in a variety of shapes, textures, and sizes.
Camellia blossoming in Charleston
Included in all that Charlestonian greenery were fronds of palm trees — saw palmetto and sabal palmetto — fanning out above jagged trunks. Those palms were a reminder that I was now in a subtropical rather than temperate climate. Not …
I was so excited one day a few years back to receive a box full of leafless sticks by mail. The exciting thing about those sticks was that each one of them could grow into a whole new plant from whose branches would eventually hang luscious apples and grapes.
And how did I know the fruits will be luscious? Because a year prior I was at an experimental orchard getting fruit photos for a book I was working on. Of course, I couldn’t help but also taste the fruits, and that’s why Chestnut Crab, Honeygold, Mollie’s Delicious, and King of the Pippins joined the two dozen or so other varieties of apples I already grew. Cayuga White, Bertille Seyve 2758, Steuben, Lakemont, Wapanuka, Himrod, Romulus, and Venus joined my grapes.
It was “totipotence” – of the plants, not me – that allowed me to unlock potential …