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PLANTING YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE

December  2021     by Jeanette Mac Kenzie


      Is there a spot on your property that calls out to have an evergreen tree but you just haven’t gotten around to planting one? Dec. isn’t the time one usually thinks about doing such things but it is doable.   Why not combine two projects at one time?  Getting a Christmas tree and later planting it outside.  It’s not too late.  Our soil has not yet frozen and digging a hole for your new tree is relatively easy. 

     Consider carefully the location on the property.  Find out the eventual height and spread of the tree branches you choose.  In a few years you don’t want branches covering your front door, growing into other shrubs, trees or under power-phone lines.  Also consider the amount of sunlight that the tree will get.

      Find a nursery that has either balled & burlapped evergreens (commonly called B & B) or those in pots or decorative containers.  Hopefully you can find a variety of evergreen or holly that you want.  Most likely these trees will be on the shorter side and costlier than a cut Christmas tree.

               As soon as you know the size of your tree, dig a hole for its future planting.  It should be just as deep but twice as wide as the root-ball.  Save the excavated soil in a container or pile onto a tarp to put somewhere it won’t freeze.  Temporarily fill the hole with leaves, evergreen needles, hay, etc. and cover with a tarp to try to keep the hole from freezing.      

       .  Keep your tree in an unheated garage or porch until it is time to move it inside and decorate it for Christmas. Locate the tree away from heat sources keeping it as cool as possible as well as well watered. Your tree should only be inside for about a week or so.  Then transition the tree by letting it spend about a week getting used to the cold again by putting it back in an unheated garage or porch before planting outside.  Remove the temporary material from the hole.  If the soil in the hole has frozen, pour boiling water around the edges.  Take the tree out of container and plant making sure it is at the same depth it was growing in.   Make sure that the (trunk flare) where the trunk meets the root-ball is not buried, as it may lead to later fungal rot. .  If the tree is B&B remove any wires and fold down the burlap before planting.  The burlap will eventually decompose.  Use the dug up soil to fill in around the edges of the tree and water deeply.  Apply mulch around the tree   

      An option for a living Christmas tree is a Norfolk Island pine.  This plant (Araucaria heterophylla) is endemic to Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia.  This is a conifer although botanically it is not a true pine.  In most of North America and Europe it is only grown as a houseplant.  When young the tree has a symmetrical triangle shape which resembles many of our conifer trees we decorate for the holidays.   If you have or get a Norfolk Island pine, give it bright indirect light, routine watering and lots of humidity.  The best way to do this is place the plant pot in a tray of pebbles/gravel filled with water. 

      These trees seem to be most available in the larger grocery stores that have florist departments.  They run from 1 – 5 feet and are usually reasonably priced.  Lowes and Home Depot sometimes carry the smaller ones.  These slow growing trees don’t like the cold so make sure they are wrapped when getting them to your vehicle and into your home. 

Happy tree shopping, decorating and possibly planting

                                                                            


 WHITE PINES IN AMERICAN HISTORY

by Jeanette Mac Kenzie    November 2021


In general plants that are quite common where we live we tend to not consider very special, while in other parts of the country they could be prize specimens.   That’s why I have chosen today’s topic Pinus strobus also known as: white pine, Eastern white pine, Northern white pine, soft pine and Weymouth pine. Those of the Iroquois Nation call it the “Tree of Peace”.

 The needles of white pine are attached to the stem in bundles of 5, which is an easy way to identify it.  Needles on red pine are in bundles of 2, while the ponderosa pines out west have 3 needles per bundle.  The story of white pine in this country has helped to determine our countries history.

By the 1600’s England had few forests left that could provide suitable trees for the giant masts, support timbers and lumber for their growing Royal Navy & merchant ships. For a while until 1652, masts were gotten from Sweden & Denmark until their tall trees were diminished.  Then masts were made using several trees fastened together with wooden pegs, which had a tendency to snap in rough weather.   Meanwhile the colonies in the New England area were surrounded by virgin stands of huge white pines, perfect for making singlestick masts.  The wood of white pine is light in color, soft and easily worked.

                                      

In 1691, under King William of England, the Broad Arrow Policy began.  Any white pine with a diameter of 24” or larger was given the “Mark of the Broad Arrow.  Surveyors of Pines were appointed by the King to mark all such trees.  With 3 swings of an ax an upward pointing arrow was put on the King’s Pine trees.

                                  

As time marched on the biggest and tallest white pines in this country were harvested for England and became few and far between.  King George 1 made a new law in 1772, claiming any white pines with a diameter of 12” or more belonged to the King.

  The colonists were not happy with this added restriction, which meant that even though the trees were on their own property they couldn’t legally cut them for their own use or sell the lumber.  If caught doing so, they had to pay heavy fines to the King.  Saw mills that illegally cut up any of the King’s Pines were also in deep trouble.  To avoid being caught they would make an extra vertical cut on a board to make it narrower than 12”.  They would also dispose of the Broad Arrow mark on the lumber.

Have you heard about the Pine Tree Riot in New Hampshire?  In the winter of 1772 sheriff Benjamin Whiting and his deputy John Quigley attempting to enforce the law about the king’s pines at sawmills were awoken by disguised men.  They were severely beaten with tree switches getting one lash for each tree for which they were attempting to collect fines. Then they were forced to ride out of town through a gauntlet of jeering townspeople.

 It wasn’t just the taxation of tea and stamps that led to the American Revolution, the King’s white pines had a lot to do with it also.

There are still some stands of virgin white pines, protected in various state parks and on several Indian Reservations in the New England as well as a few other states. 

This past summer I was traveling in northern Minnesota with my sister and her husband, a forester who had once worked in the area.  All of a sudden we pulled off the main road onto a narrow winding road into deep woods, which opened up into a clearing.  Several huge ancient white pines were on the ground.  Trails led through several acres of still standing virgin white pine trees that for some reason lumberjacks hadn’t cut down 2 – 3 hundred years ago.  Of course before leaving the area I had to hug one of those mammoth ancient white pines.

                                      

 If you live in one of the older homes in Duxbury, or surrounding towns, you might want to measure the width of any wide pine floorboards.  Maybe you have some of the King’s pines in your home!  Don’t worry, you won’t be fined or arrested for it these days.

                                        


YEAR END GARDEN PLANNING

Jeanette Mac Kenzie  October 2021


       Before the cold weather really kicks in, stop to survey your garden and consider how the plants did this season.  If you are a super organizer and planner you may have taken notes as time went by or even taken photos of your gardens as the seasons progressed.  For the rest of us it is not too late.

     Start thinking on how to improve your observations and record keeping for next year.  Plant markers with variety names etc. seem to eventually get lost or disappear.   Try keeping record book to note the name of a plant, a brief description such as color, height, bloom time, where purchased and of course the location in the garden and even a photo.  Some may even draw out a rough map where every plant is located.  If you tend to move plants around or constantly make new additions do this map in pencil.

     When adding a new plant it will help to prevent adding bright orange flowers next to maroon ones that may not compliment each other.  Of course if one blooms in the spring and the other not until autumn there is no problem being next to each other. 

                          

     As you go through the growing season note which plants need to be divided or seem to be in the wrong location due to how they sprawl, the color of bloom or too much sun or shade.  Spring or fall are the best times to move or divide most plants.

     For perennial flower gardens you aim for a succession of varying plants in bloom at all times. To fill in, add a few annuals that will bloom most of the summer.  Don’t forget small shrubs and/or evergreens as part of you garden planning.  A mix of varying types of leaf shapes and sizes add interest. 

     Color in the garden can have many different effects. You could have a “cottage” garden with every color of the rainbow mixed together or separate various plants so each has center stage when blooming.  Have a succession of color themes with pastels in the spring followed by yellow and blue in the summer ending with autumn colors in the fall.  Some gardeners have favorite colors and stick with one or two throughout the whole season.  I always like to have something blooming in white throughout the season, as it tends to emphasize the colors around it.  Maybe it is just personal taste but I like to include white flowers in most of my bouquets.

     Garden tours are a good place to get ideas of plant combinations.  Many of us have enjoyed the club's Garden Gatherings during the summer when we visit each other’s gardens.  We get to see first hand the plants that do well in our area.  Stopping by garden nurseries throughout the summer can give you new ideas about what is blooming at a particular time.  Nurseries appear to be giving more information about whether a plant is native or not.

      For vegetable gardeners make notations about where the different vegetables are located.  Rotation of various vegetable families is recommended.  For instance corn is a heavy feeder so don’t plant it in the same space year after year as it will deplete the soil too much.  Did the tomatoes this year really taste super or just mediocre?  If you know the variety you can repeat it or avoid it in the future.  With tomatoes there are literally 100’s of varieties to choose from especially if you start your own from seed.  Consider mixing in some flowers with the vegetables to attract pollinators.

     Get your notebook – clipboards – or whatever out and amble around your garden and make notations for next years garden planning on one of these nice autumn days.

                                                                  


SURPRISE

September 2021   by Jeanette Mac Kenzie


         It is always of interest when an unknown plant appears in the garden.  How it got there I will never know for sure.  It probably arrived in some farm loan brought in years ago.  Most times these plants are unfamiliar weeds that I let grow until they bloom which makes identification much easier.    Then they head to the compost pile minus flowers and any forming seeds.

       In the spring this particular surprise plant had strap like leaves similar to day lilies.   I waited and waited but no flowers appeared and eventually the leaves died back to the ground by early summer.    Well so much for that plant so I forgot all about it.  Then in early August peaking out from under a peony plant were 2-foot bare stems were some absolutely gorgeous baby pink lily like flowers.   Some of the stems had 5 to 6 flowers on them.  Both butterflies and humming birds were delighted.

      With a bit of detective work, a very knowledgeable gardening friend and some computer research my mystery plant now had a label.  Its botanical name is Lycoris sqamigera.  There are numerous common names including: Resurrection Lily, Naked Ladies (no leaves on the stem), Magic Lily, Mystery Lily and Surprise Lily. 

      The Surprise Lily is fragrant, does well in full sun to partial shade, is deer resistant, and is a good cut flower.  This plant isn’t found in nature, as it is a hybrid of 2 different Lycoris species.  It is native to Japan.  The best time to plant these bulbs is in the early autumn.

      If you want to try growing these beauties I found several places that carry the bulbs:  Amazon, Heritage Flower Farm in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, Terra Ceia Farm in Patego, North Carolina and Holland Bulb Farm. 

       If you tend to forget where plants are located in your garden you might want to mark the spot where the Surprise Lilies are planted with an unusual rock, a brick or some other type of marker.  Enjoy the beautiful Surprise Lilies in August.

    



HUSBAND  & WIFE  TREES

July 2021   by Jeanette Mac Kenzie


      On my daily trip from the kitchen with food scraps to the compost pile I pass an interesting sight.  A young 6 foot deciduous trees roots look like they have pinned down a much larger root of a white pine tree.  That got me to thinking about trees I have seen in the past where the parts that are near together eventually join to make one tree. 

    Conjoined trees are a natural rarity that occurs when branches, trunks or roots of trees grown together.  The outer layer of the trees eventually touch and over time are rubbed off exposing the cambium layer due to wind movement or just the growing expansion of the tree. Then the trees eventually self graft to each other. The scientific term is inosculation.  A similar process can occur in fruits, vegetables and flowers

                                              

     This process can happen in both conifers and deciduous trees especially those with a thinner bark layer.  Usually this type of grafting is between two trees of the same or closely related species or genera but it can happen between any trees that are physically touching, rubbing, intertwined or entangled.  I guess time will tell if the tree roots along my compost path will join eventually in a few years.

                      

oak and pine conjoined roots conjoined

             Next time you travel south on Route 53 in Duxbury notice the conjoined tree at the left side of the parking area of Bongi’s Turkey Roost business.  Be on the look out for such trees if walking through any wooded areas.

Bongi's


ORCHID TREE

Jeanette Mac Kenzie   June 2021


     Have you see them?  Trees covered in thousands of white orchid like blooms on tall upright stalks.  The flowers are white with yellow-orange markings inside and a few purple spots and are somewhat fragrant.  Soon the ground will be covered as the blossoms fall.  I call it the orchid tree but actually it is a Northern Catalpa (Cataipa speciosa).   Other common names include the Cigar tree, Indian bean tree, Catawba and Caterpillar tree.

     Their heart -shaped leaves are huge measuring up to 12 inches long and 8 inches across.    When identifying plants it is a common practice to notice how the leaves are attached to the stem.   Most common are either Alternate or Opposite.  However the Catalpa tree leaves have a Whorled attachment with 3 leaves attached at each node.

     The nick- name of caterpillar tree comes from the fact that this tree is the sole food source for the Catalpa sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae).  If there are a lot of them they can defoliate the whole tree but new leaves readily grow back.   Avid fishermen have been know to plant this tree in order to harvest the caterpillars which are used for fish bate.

                                  

    Catalpa wood has been used for fence posts as well as railroad ties as it is very resistant to rot.  Although somewhat unusual, the catalpa is sometimes used as tone wood when constructing guitars and other string instruments.  The flowers attract bees, butterflies as well as humming birds.  The branches are a favorite nest habitat for many species of birds.  It makes a great shade tree as it can grow 60 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet.  It often times has interesting twists to its trunk and branches.

                               

     Catalpa trees bring back pleasant memories.  As a child, I looked forward to going with my grandparents on their yearly excursion to Nerstrand woods on the edge of the great prairie in southern Minnesota.  A few plants would be brought back to Grandma’s wild flower garden each spring.  Once while meandering in the woods I came across an area where both the trees and the ground were covered with beautiful orchid like white blossoms.  As a 4 year old it was like being in a wonderland once seen in a movie.

     Eventually the blossoms will turn into long 8-12 inches bean like structures full of seeds.  This is where the nickname Cigar tree ties in.  As these drop in the autumn it creates lots of litter, which can be a nuisance to clean up each fall. 

      When you travel north on route 3A just before St. Christine’s church in Marshfield there is a large spectacular Catalpa tree.  Another good-sized tree is on Temple Street just north of where Franklin Street crosses it.  They are not that common but there are a few others in Duxbury.  See how many you can find.




BLACK GOLD

March 26, 2021    by Jeanette Mac Kenzie


     Crocuses are in full bloom, daffodil buds are visible, Japanese andromeda shrubs are in full bloom, pussy willows are opening and earthworms are squiggling in freshly turned soil.  Spring has sprung and gardeners are looking forward to warmer weather.

                  

     It’s not too early to begin spring clean up of our yards and gardens.  Start by cutting back dead perennial stems of flowers and decorative grasses and raking up the fall leaves.  But then, what to do with all of it? Don’t take it to the transfer station ….USE IT.  Start this organic material on its way to becoming “Black Gold” commonly called COMPOST.  My dictionary describes compost as “a mixture of various decaying organic substances used for fertilizing land”.

    The ingredients for your compost pile are any readily available organic materials such as leaves, weeds, grass clippings, seaweed, hedge trimmings and in the late fall annual plants.  Daily contributions from the kitchen could include vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, citrus rinds, and coffee grounds.  Other ingredients include shredded newspaper, sawdust, lobster-clam and oyster shells, wood chips, cardboard and wood ashes in moderate amounts.  Don’t include dairy products, meat, fat or bones as they will attract animals and don’t readily breakdown.  

     To make compost 4 types of components are needed: carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen.  The brown-dry items such as leaves and wood chips supply the carbon.  The green plant items such as weeds and grass & kitchen scraps supply the nitrogen.    As you add layers of brown and then green material add water so the pile is slightly damp.  Eventually you will want to start turning the compost pile which will incorporate air.

      Manure from herbivore animals such as chickens, rabbits, sheep, cows and horses will also supply nitrogen needed for the bacteria that work in the decomposition process to do their job better.  Don’t use cat or dog droppings. 

      Years ago when the circus came to town they set up in the field surrounded by the library, pool and school building.  On the last evening they were in town, I went to see what animal manures might be there for the taking.  After much shoveling I came home with a truckload of steaming elephant manure! I placed a few compacted bowling ball sized elephant contributions of ‘you know what’ around the property, mostly on the steps so family members would be sure to see them on the way to school and work.   Families of gardeners soon learn to have a sense of humor.  Later I was surprised to see oats growing out of the compost where the elephant manure was concentrated.  Adding manure to the compost isn’t essential but it helps speed up the breakdown process.

                 

     There is more than one way to contain compost.  Some will build bins made of wire or pallets.  As the compost breaks down it is turned from one bin into the next.  There are also various types of commercial compost containers.  On a very small scale an old basket or a bucket with the bottom cut out can be used.  Easier methods are just a big pile or a long row if you have lots of ingredients.  For the long row method the compost is turned from side to side or the row moves forward and back a couple of yards with each turning of the compost. 

               

     Why bother to turn the compost?  The composting process is aerobic meaning it needs oxygen for the aerobic bacteria to do their job of breaking down all the ingredients.  Oxygen is incorporated into the pile by turning it with a garden fork.  The turning process will also expose all the material to eventually be in the center of the pile where decomposition is most rapid.  As you turn the compost you know it is really cooking when the exposed center is streaming or you can feel the heat it makes from the decomposition process.  If you have a really big pile don’t attempt to turn it all at once.  Instead of going to the gym turn compost for a set amount of time each day.

    The compost is ready to enrich the garden when it has changed into black, fresh, earthy smelling soil often full of earthworms that have aided in the decomposition process.  Compost will enhance any soil it is added to.  When planting or transplanting vegetables, flowers, shrubs or trees, first put a shovel full of compost in the bottom of the hole.  Compost can also be used as summer mulch for both veggies and flowers.  There is no such thing as too much compost.  If you don’t already have a compost pile now is the time to start when you are cleaning up your garden areas for another season of gardening.

Jut follow William Shakespeare’s advise:

“DO NOT SPREAD THE COMPOST ON THE WEEDS”


GLOBAL SEED VAULT

Here's a great article about the seed vault:

treehugger.com

GARDEN  CATALOGS

January 2021     by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

     

Seed, plant and gardening paraphernalia catalogs arriving in the mailbox are welcome in these cold days of winter with the quiet isolation due to Covid-19.  The enticing pictures and vivid descriptions of what this year’s garden could look like set our minds to daydreaming.  Keep in mind before you order one of everything, what your time, energy, available space and budget restraints might be.

     You want to order from a catalog that tells you the information needed to grow particular plants:  maturity date, disease resistance, hybrid or open pollinated, are seeds treated with a fungicide, height & width at maturity, light needed, # of seeds in a packet, spacing when planted.  Some of these criteria are more important to know when planting vegetables.  To order a particular flower, shrub or tree it is important that the botanical name is stated not just a common name that could refer to any number of different plants.  Many catalogs have excellent information about how to grow & when to harvest particular food plants.  For heirloom plants it is more interesting to find out about their history.



     As each catalog arrives, I go through it and make notations of particular varieties I am interested in with page number, ordering code, price and number of seeds per packet.  This list is attached to the outside of the catalog along with the shipping price and shipping costs.  Then I can narrow down my choices to fit my garden space and the amount of time I plan on tending my garden.  If you have been ordering seeds via catalogs for a few years, you probably have already narrowed down which catalogs you prefer.  Of course in recent years many seed catalog are available to order on line.   

     A few things to pay close attention to:

1.     Be wary of descriptive terms like vigorous grower or slightly intrusive.  These plants might take over your garden.

2.     When buying mail order plants try to get them from nurseries close to your growing zone.  Duxbury is in Zone 6b.  Plants grown in Texas or the Carolinas may not do well here in New England.

3.     The latest spectacular hybrid may be on the cover or in first few pages.  Unless it is really important to you, wait a year or two for the price to drop and the plants/seeds to be more readily available.

4.       Avoid buying seeds/plants just because you want them with no idea where they might be squeezed into the garden landscape plan appropriately.  I must admit I am guilty of this one.   A woman whose garden was on a tour years ago in Hanover had a similar situation.  Her whole property was covered with assorted size and shaped garden islands tied together with rambling pathways just big enough for a lawn mower to get through.


5.       Enjoy your catalog browsing but get you orders in early if possible. Apparently many more people have taken up gardening since last spring possibly due to the Covid epidemic. Some of the seed companies have been swamped with orders, run out of a few varieties and even closed down for a time to catch up with shipping orders. 

Happy Garden Planning



Out of the Past

January 2021   Jeanette Mac Kenzie


     Fifty years ago Celia Houghton, known by her nickname Kiki, was president of our garden club.  To educate the club’s members about gardening, several ways were discussed.  It was decided to write a book.  The horticulture expert of the group was Rozmond Truden. “She spent hours in research and study preparing each article, and it shows - - not only in the written word, but in the improved gardening methods and achievements of her readers.” 

       Years later Roz Truden gave me an autographed copy of GARDEN GLEANINGS, the book she and the club created. 50 years ago.   The following is what Roz wrote in the late winter chapter. 

“ SUGGESTIONS FOR GROWING PLANTS FROM SEED.

      “In order to get a head start on the growing season hereabouts annual flower seeds may be sown indoors beginning in late February and continuing through March and April.  Biennials and perennials are more successfully started in late summer to become mature and well established before winter.  Successfully producing your own seedlings cannot only be extremely rewarding, but the horticultural knowledge gained from trying, whether successful or not can be invaluable.  The seed catalogues begin to arrive in January and early February so as you peruse them let yourself be tempted to send for a packet or two of your favorites.  Choose varieties that will grow in whatever garden exposure you have to offer, as a plant needing plenty of sun cannot do its best in the shade.

     Germination is most successful in a sterile medium as the warm moist conditions favorable to seed germination are also favorable to a fungus commonly referred to as “damping off”.  The sterile media suitable are vermiculite, perlite, milled sphagnum moss and sterile sand.  A mixture of these in equal parts is highly recommended by many seed growers.  Some have success with packaged soil mixes.


     Containers should also be sterile and at least two and a half to three inches deep.  Makeshift containers such as soup cans, aluminum foil pans and coffee cans (shallow size) should be perforated with a can opener or screwdriver so that they may be watered from the bottom before sowing the seeds. 


Large seeds may be poked into the medium.  Smaller seeds should be sprinkled over the medium, then the container tapped lightly and the seeds will be sufficiently covered.  Water again from the bottom and cover with a plastic bag or piece of glass.  Place in a warm seventy to seventy-five degree location.  OUT OF THE SUN, as sun through plastic or glass is burning and drying.  Check your container from time to time to be sure the medium stays moist.  When germination has started, remove covering, place in sunlight and be sure to keep seedlings moist.  The sunny location chosen for the growing seedlings should be a cool one, as in a cooler location the seedlings will grow stronger, not spindly and weak.  Keep turning the container to prevent the seedlings from leaning toward the sun.


     The containers of seeds may be set on a heating cable, covered with gravel, or on any other device supplying bottom heat.  This will hasten seed germination.  The seedlings can benefit from bottom heat also but should be in a cool room to prevent weak, stingy growth as stated above.

     Among the slower geminating seed to be started in late February or early March, or eight to ten weeks from sowing to planting and outdoors, are the seeds of the petunia, verbena snapdragon, ageratum.  Quicker germinating seeds or six to eight weeks from sowing to planting outdoors, are the seeds of marigold, zinnia, cosmos, aster and calendula, which may be started after the middle of April.  Whatever seeds you choose read the back of the seed packet carefully.”

    



AUTUMN   LEAVES

October 2020   by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

 

    It’s that time of year again.  Most of the rusty-blonde evergreen needles (leaves) have fallen from the trees.  Different types of evergreen trees and shrubs will drop their needles over different time periods:  larch and cypress -yearly, spruce & firs- every few years, pines -2-3 years and cedars -3 years plus.   Evergreens keep their green color year round as the falling needles are located in the interior branches.  Because there are so many white pines in our area and each tree is on its own drop schedule there always seems to be lots of needles on the ground in Sept & Oct.  Because pine needles beak down at such a slow rate they have little effect on the soil pH so can be used for mulch or as a compost ingredient.  Also the needles are great for making pathways in the garden.


In the autumn, as the daylight lessens a bit each day and temperatures start to drop, chlorophyll production also slows down.  This decreases the green pigment in the leaves.  Soon shades of yellow, orange, brown, from carotenoids, which have always been present in the leaves, begin to show.  However, the red shades of anthocyanin are produced in the autumn.  It is believed that this pigment plays a role in readying the tree for next spring.

At the spots where the leaf stem meets the tree/shrub a layer of cells begins to form slowly severing the tissue that supports the leaf and causing dehydration.   The tree seals the area off until the leaf detaches and falls to the ground.


Now if you and/or neighbors have lots of deciduous plants, soon your ground is covered with colorful leaves. In times past we would rake the whole area into a huge pile and all the kids and a few adults would jump into the leaves.  Soon the air was filled with the smell of burning leaves, as this is how we disposed of them.  This practice is now frowned upon and illegal in many places.


Rather than transporting the leaves to the Transfer Station there are ways of using the leaves on your property.

First of all they can be used to add to your own compost pile.  Compost is a partially composed of carbon materials/brown matter such as leaves, conifer needles, small twigs, shredded paper & cardboard. The pile should consist of about 2-3 parts of carbon material to 1 part nitrogen material.   The nitrogen matter or green matter ingredients are grass clippings, weeds and spent annuals and perennial trimmings, sea weed and some kitchen ingredients such as vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds   If you have LOTS of leaves the extras can be bagged and saved to add to grass clippings next summer.  You can just let the pile sit there and it should be useable in about a year.  However, it will decompose much faster if it is forked over, which adds oxygen.   Also add water when there is little rain.    If your compost pile is large, you may want to just spend a few minutes daily to eventually get the whole thing turned over.  It counts as part of your daily exercise routine!

By first running them over with the lawn mower, the shredded leaves will break down faster when added to garden. This will help attract earthworms and beneficial bacteria and enrich the soil.  Shredded leaves can also just be left on the lawn where they will break down over the winter providing nutrients for the grass as well as shading the soil to help prevent weed seeds from growing.  The shredded leaves make great mulch for shrubs, trees, perennials and veggie beds.  Add 2-3 inches deep making sure that none of it touches the stems or trunks of the plants.  As the leaves break down they add nutrients to the plants.




There are numerous sources in “computer -land” that show many ways of using autumn leaves for decorating and crafting.

If you are a kid at heart or have young ones in your family you may want to just jump into a big pile of raked leaves on a sunny brisk autumn day.  Then…….. head for the kitchen for a cup of hot chocolate and popcorn.

Happy leaf raking


SIMPLE  LAYERING

October 2020  by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

      First of all I am not talking about putting on an extra sweatshirt, sweater or jacket when the weather is cold but variable.  In horticulture layering refers to a method of propagating another plant from a stem or branch while still attached to the parent plant.  Some plants and shrubs will do this on their own. 

       Fall is the best time to do a simple layering one of the easiest methods of propagating some plants.   Evergreens, however do better when the process is done in the spring. 

     Last October I decided to try layering a rhododendron.  It was a good-sized bush with numerous branches already growing near the ground.  I choose 5 branches to try the process on. 


     First I cut about half way through the stem, and then dusted the area with a rooting hormone powder.   Next I inserted a small twig (toothpicks work well) to prop open the cut area.  Carefully bending down the cut area into a dug trench in the soil, which was then covered with 3-4 inches of soil.  There are special C shaped pins that can be used to pin down the cut stem in the soil.  However being a frugal New England gardener I made my own with some heavy wire to hold the stem in place.  On several of the stems I just put a brick or heavy stone to keep the stem from popping up.  The area was then watered.  During the following year I made sure that the area was kept moist.  The  buried stem will not root if the soil is dry!


     A year later the rooting stems were given a bit of a tug to make sure they had developed roots.  They had, so I cut off the new plants from the parent plant, dug and planted them in different areas of the property.  Since the new root systems were still small,l the plants were staked for support. 


     Simple Layering is best used on plants that have stems that can be bent down to the ground.  Examples include: Holly, Forsythia, Daphne, Camellia, Magnolia, Lilac, Viburnum, Witch hazel, Smoke Bush, Rhododendron, Azalea, fruit bushes, Maples, slow growing herbs such as rosemary, lavender, bay.  Some plants will root in a matter of weeks such as tomatoes and tomatillos while others take up to a year.

     The rooting hormone powder will give the plant a better chance of putting out new roots along the buried stem. Various brands are available at Amazon, Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Ace Hardware and most good-sized plant nurseries.


      If you want some new plants, basically free, try your hand at simple layering.  You might even get some to root and get potted up in time for our plant sale next spring.


The Stinking Rose    Oct. 2019  by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

     Some gardeners are happy when the season is over and their gardens are all put to bed for the winter.  Others however still want to keep planting.  If you are in the latter category this topic is for you. 

           I am referring to the STINKING ROSE commonly known as garlic.  The term reportedly goes back to Greek and Roman times.  If looked at from underneath, a garlic bulb does slightly resemble a white rose with the large ends of the cloves  forming the petals.

           Garlic should be planted anytime between mid Sept. to the end of Nov.  Garlic likes a well-drained soil in full sunlight with lots of organic matter, so add some compost to the planting area.  Keep the bulbs intact until you are ready to plant the individual cloves.   I like to use a dibble to make the planting holes.  Plant the cloves with the pointed end up about 6-8 inches apart then cover with 2 inches of soil.  For a finishing touch add mulch.  I prefer salt marsh hay, but straw, chopped leaves or grass clippings will also work.  Garlic does not like any competition from weeds so the mulch will help with this problem next spring.

           Next summer when about half of the leaves have died back, it is time to harvest the garlic.   Using a garden fork or shovel loosen the soil around the plants then gently lift them out without pulling on the stalks.  Shake off most of the soil then bunch 6-8 plants together and hang to cure in a dry, well-ventilated place such as a shed or garage.  The curing process takes 4-6 weeks.  The garlic can be used any time during this process but the flavor won’t be as strong.

           Perhaps no other herb has been used for as long and in as many cultures as garlic.  Its powers were often associated with physical stamina, endurance and strength.  From the Pharaohs of Egypt to Chinese dynasties, there are references to garlic’s use as a food, as a medicine and as  currency.   In 2016, world production of garlic was 26.6 million tons, with China alone accounting for 80% followed by India with 5%.

UNDERSTANDING GARLIC VARIETIES:  There are 2 main types both of which can be grown here in New England: soft neck and hard neck.  Within these 2 categories there is a great variation in bulb size, flavor as well as hardiness, disease resistance and storage potential

      SOFT NECK: This is the type best used if you like to braid your garlic, as the stem is more flexible.  The cloves are smaller but there are more of them and they tend to keep longer.  Most garlic found in a grocery store is soft neck.  In general is NOT recommended to plant grocery store garlic as it is apt to have been heavily fumigated and sprayed. Soft neck garlic has 2 sub-groups namely SILVERSKIN and ARTICHOKE.  Within each sub group there are numerous varieties.

           HARD NECK garlic has a central stalk called a scape with usually one row of cloves around it.  The scapes are often harvested and used in stir-fry or pesto.  I like to use them in flower bouquets as they have an interesting curving twist to them.  Hard neck garlic should only be grown in cold climates.  Because the outer paper of the garlic bud is thinner, hard necks don’t store as long.  Hard neck garlic has 3 main sub groups: PORCELAIN, ROCAMBOLE and PURPLE STRIPE.  Like the soft neck garlic, there are numerous varieties within each sub group.

           While checking the various sources of getting garlic on line I noticed that many are already sold out.  Check out your favorite local sources for garlic.  Your initial purchase of garlic bulbs can be a bit pricey.           When you find a variety you like, each year save some of the largest bulbs for planting in the fall then you shouldn’t have to ever buy garlic again.

 

           Did you know that garlic repels blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes and ticks?   Am not sure if you need to eat it or rub it on your skin or both.  With Halloween coming up, keep in mind that it is also supposed to repel vampires and evil spirits.

On the next nice autumn day get out into your garden and plant some garlic.


PEONIES

Sept. 2019   by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

       For thousands of years peonies have been cultivated in China & Japan, where some of the finest varieties come from.  These hardy perennials bloom in the spring and early summer in every shade except blue. I wouldn’t be surprised if hybridizers aren’t working on that color.  Peonies can stand the summer heat but need a period of chilling which our climate amply provides.  Peony plants are very long lived some lasting up to 100 years.

     As peonies symbolize “good fortune” and “happy marriage” they are a popular flower for weddings and anniversaries with their sweet scent.  In Victorian times using the Language of Flowers they represented bashfulness. 

     Unfortunately their bloom season is less than 2 weeks.  There is a new industry of growing peonies in Alaska as they are harvested in July and Aug when ours have all gone by.  Thus cut peony blooms can be ordered over a longer time period.

     Autumn is the time of the year to plant and/or divide peonies.  Unlike most other perennials, peonies don’t need periodic division.  Well then, why am I telling you this is the time to divide them!  The only way to propagate a named variety of peony is by plant division.  Growing from seed can take up to 5 years to get flowers but they won’t be like the parent plant.  If you already have some  peony plants that you like, why not divide them rather than buying more?

  

 If you are going to dig and divide first cut the foliage back to an inch or so.  Carefully dig up the whole root system with a spading fork.  Shake or gently hose off the soil so the small pink buds at the crown of the root system are visible. These buds are the beginning of next year’s growth.  Cut through the root system with a sharp knife, dividing the peony plant with 3-5 buds in each division.  The roots them selves resemble carrots. 

     In a sunny area, with well drained, soil, dig a hole about 1 ft. deep and 2 feet wide.  Prepare it by adding a light dusting of bone meal, limestone and either some well-aged manure or compost in the bottom of the hole. 

    Pay close attention to this detail.   Plant the peony division so that the buds are only 2 inches below the surface of the soil.  This 2-inch depth is critical – if planted deeper than this, the plant WILL NOT BLOSSOM If you have peonies that haven’t bloomed in a long time this could be the problem or the plant isn’t growing in full sun.

     For an established peony plant, you don’t plan on dividing don’t cut the foliage until late fall as it will continue to build strength for the next year.

     For you floral arrangers, I have found that peony leaves are great as fillers for flower arrangements as they last a long time when cut. 

     Don’t worry if you see ants all over the flower buds.  They are just after the sweet nectar that forms around the outside of the buds.  Ants don’t do any harm to the plant.

     If I have motivated you to considering dividing your peony plants do it before early Oct. so the roots have a chance to get established before the ground freezes.  Once the ground does freeze, for the first winter, add a few inches of mulch but be sure to remove it in early spring. 

     Maybe at the next garden club’s spring flower show you might win a blue ribbon for your peony blossom!


Moon Seeds

Jeanette Mac Kenzie July 2019

This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon.  To tie in with the anniversary is this article about MOON SEEDS you might find interesting.  

500: Seeds flown to the Moon     by Richard Hollingham July 17. 2019

Before he became an astronaut, Stuart Roosa had an even more dangerous job. He was a smoke jumper – a highly trained firefighter who would parachute into remote forest areas to tackle wildfires.

When he was assigned as command module pilot for Apollo 14, in January 1971, the US Forest Service once again asked for his help. Scientists wanted to see whether seeds would be affected by weightlessness.

Roosa agreed to take 500 seeds from American redwood, pine, sycamore, fir and gum trees. He carried them in his personal kit the 238,855 miles to the Moon, where he orbited 34 times, before returning to Earth.

The seeds survived the journey but during a decontamination process (part of the procedure to protect the Earth from possible moonbugs), the capsule containing the seeds burst open. Scientists feared many would be lost or damaged.  Once they were planted, however, most of the flown seeds grew into healthy saplings, with no discernible difference between those flown to the Moon and regular seeds on Earth.

Trees grown from the seeds have become known as Moon Trees. They have been planted around the world, including at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and in the White House garden.

A Moon sycamore overlooks Roosa's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The trees and second generation Moon Trees, grown from cuttings carried by the astronaut, will continue to provide a living legacy of the Apollo missions long after all the astronauts have died.


NaHCO3

by Jeanette Mac Kenzie

      Unless you are a whiz at chemistry, you probably won’t recognize this as the formula for sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda.   This has been used throughout history as a rising agent for baking.  When mixed with acids such as chocolate, lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar, yogurt, baking powder, etc. it makes bubbles that cause dough to rise.  It also has been used as a cleaner, and a deodorizer.  How many of you have an opened box of baking soda in your refrigerator or have scrubbed a pan with burnt food using baking soda? 

     That is all well and good but what does it have to do with horticulture?  Baking soda has many uses related to gardening.

·       To clean clay pots or a birdbath just sprinkle some baking soda, scrub with a brush or damp cloth, rinse and let dry.

·        To encourage better blooms on your flowering plants mix 1 Tbsp baking soda with 2 quarts of water and apply to the soil around the plants.

·       To sooth itchy skin from bug bites make a paste from baking soda and water to apply to the skin.  Let it do its job for about 10 minutes then rinse off.  The itchiness will have subsided.

·       Make your tomatoes sweeter by sprinkling a small amount of baking soda around the base of the plant.  The powder lowers the acidity of the soil and thus makes the tomatoes less acidic and sweeter.

·       Some garden plants are susceptible to fungus such as powdery mildew.  Make a mixture of 1-teaspoon baking soda, a teaspoon of liquid soap, 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and 5 cups of water to spray on both sides of infected leaves.  This makes the surface less acidic and limits he ability of the fungus spores to grow.

·       To prolong the life of cut flowers add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water in the vase.

·       To kill weeds that grow in your sidewalk sprinkle baking soda on them.  It will burn the leaves and the weeds will disappear in a few days.

ph  Plant roots absorb nutrients from soil when they  are dissolved in water.  If the mixture of water and nutrients are in soil that is too acidic or too alkaline the roots aren’t able to uptake the nutrients even though they may be present in the soil.  To get a rough idea about the pH (degree of acidity or alkalinity) of your soil try this simple test.

Get your kids involved in this bit of chemistry.

      Collect soil samples from several areas of your garden and put in 2 separate containers.  To one container add 1/2 cup of vinegar.  If it begins to bubble the soil is alkaline meaning the pH level is above 7 which is neutral. 

       In the second container add 1/2 cup of baking soda and enough water to make it muddy.   If this bubbles your soil is acidic meaning the pH is below 7.  This just gives you a rough idea of the soil pH but isn’t as detailed as a pH test done with a commercial test kit.   Soils in New England are more apt to be acidic.   Free soil tests are offered by the Master Gardeners at the Hingham Farmers Market August 10 Sat from 9-1:00. at the Bathing Beach.  If you can’t wait until then check out the University of Massachusetts Extension Service  at  http://soiltest.umass.edu .  They charge a small fee but give you good directions on how to correct your soil pH if needed.

·       When you gardening day is over, wash your grubby hands with soap & water, then again with some baking soda to really get them clean.

·       1.  When using these home -made mixes, first test on a small portion of the plant to make sure there are no adverse effects.

·       2.  Use suggested dosages as too strong a mix can burn plant leaves.

·       3.  Avoid spraying on flower buds & stalks.


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