Archives

Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats

20170618_171312

There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.

20170618_171300

Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!

20170618_171559

Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?

 

Pollinators and Pesticides Don’t Mix

I am sure that you don’t want to hear the story about why I became an organic gardener again. I re-hashed it just in the last two weeks.

So here’s a different story that I haven’t told in quite some time. Retail gardening was an eye-opener for me, particularly as an organic gardener. The idea that not only was I there to sell an arsenal of toxic products and to advise the consumers on how to use them was difficult, but worse yet, in the box store where I worked, half the customers were absolutely convinced that they knew far better than I did how to use the products and refused to take my suggestions.

This was extremely upsetting because I had customers coming in and saying things like that they were going to put down their crabgrass preventer in February because the bag said it could be applied then (mind you, it’s a national product, so the February recommendation is for the southern regions of the country!). Some of them even said that they were going to apply it over the snow! Sigh.

I don’t have enough time or patience to explain why that is a bad idea other to say that none of the product is going to reach your grass. It’s just going to wash away, into the streets and storm drains and contribute to pollution in our waterways. So for those of you that do that, you are wasting money and polluting our waters. Please re-think.

The other issue with this foolhardy way of using so-called “Step 1” programs is that the preventer in these bags is good for 4 months of crabgrass prevention. Now, crabgrass germinates at soil temperatures of 50 degrees or so (not under the snow!) So if you put the preventer down in mid-February, let’s count forward. Your preventer will be all used up by mid-June–just about the time crabgrass really gets going in my region.

But this is not a post about crabgrass. It’s a post about the many crazy things that folks do to harm our pollinators, our waterways and even ourselves.

Back when I was at that same box store, I had a lovely woman come to me and say that she wasn’t getting any zucchini on her plants. She had flowers on the plants, but the flowers were just falling off and not forming squashes.

So I asked her if she saw any bees in her yard. She had to think long and hard and finally said, no, that she didn’t. So I told her that her squashes weren’t getting pollinated so they couldn’t form the zucchini.

She wanted to know why, so I asked her about pesticide use. Normally, I knew better than to voluntarily bring this up. At first she said no, but then she said that yes, they did use the 4 step program on their lawns. They used a grub killer on the lawn. She also used a foundation spray that claimed to work for long periods of time to keep insects out. And she might even have used something in the garden–I don’t recall now–like a weed killing product.  But even if not, that’s still a pretty intensive pesticide load on the property and it was clearly taking a toll on the bees–there were none.

So you tell me whether pesticides and pollinators mix based on that story. Or, you can learn the hard way and try it on your own. But, quite frankly, I’d prefer that you didn’t. Our pollinators are too imperiled for that!

Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?

20170415_162244

You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.

20170415_162252

The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!

How Did the Garden Gift Givers Do?

In the days leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, I heard and read a lot of different stories about “the best gifts for gardeners.” I may have shared a few on Twitter myself.

But I probably shared very few because for the most part very few of them actually appealed to me!  Call me jaded–or perhaps it’s just that after 20-plus years of gardening in the same location, I have what I need–but lots of suggestions for gloves, pruners, twine and things like that I just didn’t find the least bit appealing.

For one thing, I have very tiny hands–so tiny that I will occasionally buy child-sized gloves. Anyone who buys me gloves is going to have to know me pretty well to get that correct.

And that will go for pruners as well. First of all, after all these years, I have literally dozens lying around the garage–and house. I have them in just about every room (with all those house plants, they come in handy!) But I don’t like just any pruner and when I am outside pruning most things a particular pair of Felcos™ is my go to pruner of choice. I don’t want–or need–anything else.

I did get a gardening book for Christmas but I have so many that it’s one I specifically asked for. Again, unless you know your gardener well–or unless it’s one of the very latest offerings from a publisher, how do you know the gardener hasn’t read it? I adore books as gifts and think winter is the perfect time to catch up on new reads and new gardening techniques. But I wouldn’t just spring a book on an unsuspecting gardener unless I were somehow sure he or she hadn’t read it.

The one suggestion that I heard a few times that I thought was good was a garden gift certificate. Yes, it’s unimaginative–one step above cash–but at least you know your gardening friend will truly be able to put it to good use for plants, tools or books that he or she really wants. Nothing wrong with that.

So if you haven’t finished your gifting yet–and some of you haven’t, with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just beginning–maybe these thoughts will help you with the gardeners in your life.

 

Wearable Succulents? Are They Kidding?!

So all of a sudden, the “trend” in succulents seems to be plastering them to things and wearing them.

Remember, I am the person who doesn’t like succulents to begin with because they get “untidy” so it’s not as if I am naturally going to embrace any kind of trend that exploits long trails of succulents hanging off fingernails (“Google”it–I don’t want to post photos because I don’t want to violate anyone’s copyrights–or worse yet, insult anyone’s creativity any more so than I am already doing).

But suddenly I am seeing succulents everywhere–on jewelry and the aforementioned fingernails ( several types of designs for fingernails, mind you!) and shoes and purses and all manner of wearables.

Surely these designs are not meant for those of us who live in colder climates (even if we liked them?) I just can’t understand how my succulent necklace–or bangle bracelets–would enjoy a trip out to a party in December in my climate when the night time temperature might be in the 30s or even lower.  Would I have to carry an insulated bag to keep it protected until I arrived? And then put the item back in the bag to get it safely from the party–or where ever–safely back to my home? Sounds like a lot of effort. Clearly these items are just for warmer climates!

And the nails would never work. Not in a climate where gloves are a must!

And while they are visually stunning (I am sure you can find lots of examples on your social media of choice. They appeared in my Twitter feed but I am sure Pinterest is overflowing with them, and Instagram must be as well!), how does one keep them alive? Surely succulents were not intended to live on jewelry–much less on nails! Are they intended to be kept alive later? Or are they disposable? I really don’t like the thought of a whole cottage industry of disposable plants.

If however they are grown just for this purpose perhaps it’s no worse than the cut Christmas tree industry. Or the cut flower industry. So maybe I am over-reacting in that way because I see them as “plants” and not as “cuttings.” If that’s the case, then I guess I can accept the premise at least–but you still won’t see me with the wearables, as stunning as they are!

You Don’t Do What??!!

Happy Earth Day!

No matter what I am lecturing on, the topic inevitably comes around to fertilizing. And the question, or questions are something like “What do you feed your plants?” or “How often do you feed your plants?” or some variation on that theme.

So when my answer comes back “I don’t feed my plants,” there’s practically a near riot in the room. It’s almost as if I’ve said “Don’t feed a baby in its first year of life” or something equally horrifying.

But this is absolutely true with the exception of one or two very large plants that I can no longer transplant. Because I don’t give those plants fresh soil–ever–I will occasionally feed them (and I do mean occasionally, as in I cannot recall the last time I did it but it was probably over a year ago).

Most of the time this discussion is taking place around some sort of potted or containerized plant that I am holding in my hand. So then the other questions begin.

But what about your annuals? No. When I buy my annuals, they are already so pumped full of commercial fertilizers that they need no extra help from me. Then I put them in fresh soil and they are good to go for the rest of the season. They’re annuals–they flower, in my cold climate, for a maximum of 4 1/2 to 5 months if I am lucky. There’s no need to boost them full of extra fertilizers, especially as the sun and warmth is dying in late August!

What about your vegetable? Again, no. I get them off to a really good start in good soil. Then I prepare my beds well. I try to amend with compost every few years. If you feed the soil, there is no need to feed the plants.

And as for established landscape plantings, I take the long view of things. I leave leaves on the ground, in the beds, over the winter and only put them in the compost heap in the spring. That way, nutrients can leech from those leaves into the beds through the action of the rain and the snow (and the worms and the other good stuff in my soil).

And come spring–right about now, in other words–I am not out there roto-tilling or otherwise disturbing those beds. I only disturb what I have to for new plantings or for weeding purposes.

It’s radical, I know, but give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. And you’ll spend a lot less money and have some more time for yourself as well!

 

 

The Quest for Garden Perfection

On this April Fool’s Day, let’s not be Gardening Fools, shall we?

Where I garden, in central Connecticut, it’s still pretty cold. In fact, over the weekend and into early next week, they’re predicting snow in some amounts from flurries to a few inches perhaps. So it’s really too early to do much “gardening.”

But that hasn’t stopped my neighbors (who as you know by now, I like to use as regular examples of Gardening Fools).

Last Sunday, my next door neighbor was mowing his lawn–on Easter–on his tractor.  I can still see the mud ruts he left because our heavy clay soil is far too wet to be thinking about doing anything in, never mind compacting with a tractor! And he wonders why his lawn is a mass of weeds, does he? Scraping it at inappropriate times of the year has a funny way of leading to bad consequences. Try not to follow his behavior.

He will then douse that same lawn in so many chemicals that he has actually killed some of my plants with the drift. Please don’t be that type of Gardening Fool, okay? If you practice good garden practices to begin with, you can vastly eliminate the need to kill your abutting neighbor’s plants!

Finally, a little further down the block, another neighbor is already out with the crabgrass preventer. I only happened to notice it by pellets he left lying on the pavement (and the chemical smell as I walked by with the dog).

Please, if you are going to be a home applicator, try to not coat the street in front of your home with noxious chemical fertilizers. It’s bad enough that those of us that walk dogs have to dodge and weave all season long to try to avoid the Chem-lawn (excuse me, Tru-Green) coated lawns that we are warned against.

But to have to avoid pellets in the street–which are then washed into the storm drains and therefore our waterways–is really asking too much of us. Don’t be this type of Gardening Fool! Keep your fertilizers–of whatever type–on your lawns and in your beds, please.

On Monday I’ll talk about what I’d love to see in lawns–the beloved Freedom Lawn. In this election year, what could be more patriotic?