Author Archives: Lee Reich

MY MENAGERIE EXPANDS (and a free webinar)

A Little Bit of the Mediterranean

The UPS guy arrived yesterday with a long, narrow cardboard box containing the latest addition to my menagerie, a menagerie of mostly Mediterranean plants. “Mostly” because not all of them have roots in the Mediterranean. But all of them thrive and are grown in Mediterranean climates of mild winters and sunny summers.

My collection is a “menagerie” because, although all the plants thrive and are grown in Mediterranean climates, the makeup is quite diverse. There’s the evergreen pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana that also goes under the common name feijoa), olive, rosemary, bay laurel, and Meyer lemon.

Pollinating pineapple guava

And a few of the plants — black mulberry (Morus nigra), Pakistani mulberry (Morus macroura), pomegranate, and fig — go dormant and lose their leaves in winter.

Pakistan mulberry fruit

Here at the farmden, winter temperatures can plummet to minus 20°F, so getting these plants to thrive …

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FRUITFUL FUTURES

Making the Best of It

Eek! Mice (or rabbits)! Not the animals but the damage they have wrought. The bark on virtually all my pear grafts of last year has been nibbled off enough to kill the grafts.

Once I calmed down, I realized that all was not lost. All the chewing was above ground level, leaving a small amount of intact bark still in place. The plants aren’t dead, just their portions above the chewing. The near-ground portions could be grafted again.

Daisy showered with petals (more on this later)

(Most fruit trees neither come true from seed nor root readily from cuttings, so are propagated by grafting a scion — a short length of one-year-old stem — of the desired variety onto a rootstock. The rootstock is the same kind of plant as the scion variety and could be a seedling or a variety developed for special rootstock purposes. My …

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TRANSPLANT GROWING, A BETTER WAY

Snicker if You Will

I don’t know about your propagation space, but mine is getting overcrowded. Yes, now with a greenhouse, I’ve got more room than in the the past when I grew seedlings in windowsills or in my basement under lights. But my greenhouse is small, and with greenhouse beds home to fig trees and early spring lettuce, arugula, and other greenery, seedlings are relegated to a 12 by 2 foot shelf along the north wall.

I make the most of that shelf by “pricking out.” Snicker if you will at this Britishism, but pricking out is a way to get a lot of bang for your buck space-wise, whether in a greenhouse, on a windowsill, or beneath lights. It also makes more economical use of seeds.

The process begins, for me, with either 4 by 6 inch or 6 by 8 inch seed flats, which are plastic pans a couple of …

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SOUTHERN FRANCE, IN SCENT AND SIGHT

Heaven Scent Flower

I trace the origin of my present obsession with growing carnations – big, fat, fragrant carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) – to the movie, Jean de Florette, that I saw back in 1986. Not that I aspire to labor under the weight of hauling water long distances to care for my plants, as did Ugolin. And not that I’m hoping to get good money selling the cut flowers at a local market.

Actually, my only memories of the film are of the charming countryside of Provence, of Ugolin crouching over the plants and lavishing them with care, and of the pretty pink flowers. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Ugolin’s carnations even got as far as the flowering stage. Anyway, in my mind’s eye I see those pink blossoms and smell their spicy perfume.

With good soil and ample water, my carnations have an easier time of it that did …

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BEE GLORY, GONE (FOR NOW)

Arnold’s Promise?

I miss the bees. No, they’re not gone from here because of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), widely responsible for the loss of bees. Most years, they would have been here and perhaps gone on to greener pastures by now.

The bees come for my witchhazel, and the reason for their absence this year is because my witchhazel didn’t bloom. It usually blooms in late winter or very early spring. And it won’t bloom this season at all. The reason is because it bloomed last fall.

It’s not uncommon for an early spring bloomer such as witchhazel to jump the gun and bloom in fall. And the cause for this behavior is growing conditions through summer that send the plant into a kind of sleep, then fall conditions that all of a sudden shake the plant awake. My guess is that the plant considered the very dry weather last summer an ersatz …

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SWEET POSSIBILITIES

It’s time to prune, and to help you, I’ll be holding a PRUNING WEBINAR on March 29, 7-8:30 EST. Learn the tools of the trade, how plants respond to pruning, details for pruning various plants, and enjoy a fun finale on an easy espalier. There’ll be time for questions also. Cost is $35 and you can register with Paypal or credit card here.

Choice Syrups

I’ve given up on maple syrup this year. The tree I tapped was too small to yield anything significant. 

I’d almost given up on river birch syrup. I thought perhaps it was the timing — and, have since learned, that it is! Sap from any one of a number of birch species doesn’t begin to flow until temperatures are consistently 50°F or higher, which arrives near the end of the maple tapping season and continues until about the time the trees leaf out.

River birch, tapped

Black …

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PEST PLANS

My Sweet, Corn

Spring is here this week, weatherwise, at least. Not to bring back bad memories, but with real spring just around the corner, now is a good time to revisit two or three of last year’s worst pest problems, and plan some sort of counteraction. Not that those memories are really that bad; the interaction of pests, plants, the environment, and my hopefully green thumb is always interesting.

The most serious pest problem last year, most serious because it affected one of my favorite vegetables, was a disease that devastated my later plantings of corn. Looking at the symptoms —  yellow streaks on leaves that turned to tan, dead areas — my diagnosis was the bacterial disease, Stewart’s wilt. Some plant pathologists pointed out that Stewart’s wilt is very rare around here, and that the problem was probably the fungal disease, northern corn leaf blight.

Disease development on leaves

I’m …

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FEARLESS PRUNING

FEARLESS PRUNING WORKSHOP/WEBINAR

A workshop/webinar to take the mystery out of pruning, so that lilac and rose bushes, apple trees,  blueberry shrubs — all trees and shrubs, in fact — can be pruned to look their best and be in vibrant health. Fearlessly.

Topics will include:
•Why prune?
•Tools for pruning.
•How plants respond to various kinds and timing of pruning.
•Details for pruning flowering shrubs, trees, evergreens, and fruit plants.
•And a fun finale on creating an easy fruiting espalier. (Don’t know what espalier is? You’ll learn it at the webinar.)

And, of course, there will be time for your questions.

Date: March 29, 2021 
Time: 7-8:30 pm EST
Cost: $35

Registration Link
https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_RfkO-_nJT8S-LximcfG24Q

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

HOW ABOUT THOSE OLD SEED PACKETS?

It’s wasted effort to sprinkle dead seeds into furrows either in the garden or seed flats. Seeds are living, albeit dormant, embryonic plants which do not live forever.

When you buy a packet of seeds, you’re assured of their viability. Government standards set the minimum percentage of seeds that must germinate for each type of seed. The packing date and the germination percentage often are stamped on the packet. (The germination percentage must be indicated only if it is below standard.) I write the year on any seed packets on which the date is not stamped.

Your old, dog-eared seed packets may or may not be worth using this season. It depends on where the packets were kept and the types of seeds they contain. Last year I got tired of trying to decide how well my seeds were stored and which were still worth sowing; I took action.

Anti-Aging Treatments

Conditions that slow …

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