Sales Representative & Gardening Coach
TEICH GARDEN SYSTEMS
Saturday March 12, 2011
By Barbara Hobens Feldt
The weight of the snow was too much for one dwarf boxwood. Even thought it’s best to have a full summer’s growth before doing a good shaping, this shrub had both broken and crushed branches so a good thinning was in order.
Even if your compost pile is ready and you plan to use it (as a base for starting a raised bed for vegetables, to sift and amend your lawn, or dig down and bury some in the perennial beds,) hold off until everything dries out. Look for weeds in the lawn to pull but if you see some in a planting bed, don’t risk using a tool that will slice into tender roots or cut that perfect tulip bulb in half that you planted last fall.
Many beautiful birds live and pass through Philipstown. Not only will they eat the grubs from your lawn and pick pests out from your garden, but they are both calming and amazing to watch. If you are not already enjoying having a birdhouse within site of your kitchen window or porch, do buy at least one now and get it out there soon since bluebirds and other songbirds are scouting for nesting sites. If you plan on putting out bluebird “houses” (nest boxes) in your backyard, choose any open area and place them at least 100’ apart and up on 5’ poles. They don’t need a bird seed feeder since they just eat insects and fruit.
or a close neighbor uses pesticides or employs
a lawn-care company that still does (they must by law place small flags
out that state that pesticides were used), don’t place nesting boxes
near any treated areas.company that still does (they must by law place small flags
out that state that pesticides were used), don’t place nesting boxes
near any treated areas.
Move any other bird houses to the front of your house since you want enough physical and visual space between wrens and bluebirds. The sweet song of the wren is lovely, but they are predators (as are English house sparrows and starlings). Bluebirds raise two or three families a year and wrens may try to take over their nests if they see it empty. Two years ago in early spring, chickadees raised their one family in a bluebird house. Once the six babies fledged, the mossy nest was removed and the bluebirds moved right in.
A. It seems very odd that a plant we associate with the dry desert heat of the Southwest is thriving here in the soil of the Hudson Highlands. Actually, the Prickly Pear Cactus grows throughout most of eastern and mid-America from Zone 4 to 10 in Florida. I had the mixed pleasure of meeting this plant in the 9/11 Memorial at the top of the mountain at Graymoor. It was in full bloom in June and, as curiosity killed the cat, it was too interesting not to touch it every so lightly with one finger.
You’ll find the clumps of Eastern Prickly Pear cactus growing in groups in sunny open and rocky spots. If you see one, odds are that you’ll find more, especially while hiking up on Anthony’s Nose but they also found in backyards and out on Constitution Island.The bright yellow flowers appear in late spring and bloom into summer.
The pad-like stems, seeds, and the fruit of the Eastern Prickly Pear are actually edible. The “prickly pear” fruit, called tuna, is larger in its western cousin where it is made into jam, candy, and nectar; the sap is also used as a hair conditioner and for medicinal purposes. The sharp spines keep predators away and hurt enough to keep this gardener from attempting to harvest it and try any of these recipes.
Does the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) belong in your garden or landscape? Sure. Bees enjoy the flowers and visually, it is a fascinating, perfectly low-growing addition for the full sun, well drained soil of a rock garden or featured in a container but warning – - never near where inquisitive hands or bare feet could reach it!
If you already have them on your property, enjoy their beauty but be really careful even with a sturdy pair of garden gloves on if you to weed near them. Use kitchen tongs and have paper bags at the ready to drop any loose parts in. You can use a shovel if needed to remove a section encroaching on other plants, but easy as you go. Although this cactus really looks flat and dead in the winter, there are perennial evergreens and they soon fill out with warming temperatures.
I failed at a few attempts to propagate them, but you can try by cutting off a pad, letting it dry out for about a week, then just push the cut end into a loose sandy or clay soil for about a month. It should form roots if you water it very lightly and give it time.
Buddleias (Buddleia davidii) are fast growers – at least 4-8 feet after this severe “haircut and they’ll fill with plume-like sprays of small fragrant flowers all summer. They thrive in moist, well-drained soil. Give them a good start with an organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion) in early April and that’s it. No pests, no diseases, and no deer nibbling but plenty of beauty and butterflies!
Q. I heard that ornamental
grasses should be cut down by St. Patrick’s Day but I already seeing
green growth. I have some Karl Foerster grasses; how low should I cut
them? - Lazy Gardener
A. I also see some green coming out of the base. That’s okay. Ornamental grasses are very hardy plants. Other than this pre-spring pruning, there’s really nothing else to do except admire them. Most are full sun lovers, as is this Feather Reed grass. The ‘Karl Foerster’ (Calamagrostis acutiflora) really behaves well and looks great alone in the garden or planted in groups. They add nice height (3’) but rarely get wider than 2 feet and their golden feathery plumes are lovely.
There are many varieties of ornamental grasses to choose from and they are all deer-proof. If you plan to add more or different kinds this year, try to “backlight” a few so that you will see the sun shining through or setting behind them. It is delightful watching them sway in a summer’s breeze. It is “the” plant to add if you are planning a “5 senses garden” since you can hear them rustle. The song birds also enjoy them so leave them alone for the winter to enjoy. After the slightest dusting and major snow storm, they catch the flakes so beautifully.
So, get out there soon and give them their annual “haircut.” Before the new growth really starts, get out that knee pad, and cut straight across – 6 to 8 inches is perfect. You really can’t make a mistake and don’t fret if you find you are cutting into some new growth; it will recover. It’s easiest to cut a handful at a time; grab a bunch in one hand and cut with the other.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbara Hobens Feldt is a garden and landscape consultant and designer, wildlife garden specialist, and author of Garden Your City. Questions may be edited for length and clarity. Photographs are encouraged to show your problem or design question. If considered for publication, you will be notified first for permission and photo credit. Submissions must include your name; request if you want your question to be anonymous since it will appear on www.philipstown.info and www.hudsonhighlandsgardendesign.com.
Photos: Barbara Hobens Feldt
By Barbara Hobens Feldt
Welcome to a new column concentrating on organic gardening and lawns, nature, wildlife, and the continued beautification of Philipstown.
Q. Gardening questions this early in the year?
A. Although outdoor activity is at a low in winter with snow covering the ground into March, deciding what vegetables, herbs, and flower seeds and plants to order is already in full swing. Planning for the next growing season can be as simple as deciding which new tomato variety to grow or where to build a compost pile. Or maybe you are thinking of adding a water feature? Now is the perfect time to research new projects.
Q. What subjects can I ask about?
A. Anything about gardening, landscaping, and public beautification. Not sure how to divide a perennial, grow a particular vegetable, or attract butterflies? You can grow vegetables whether you’re in the Village, have a studio rental, or an estate in the woodlands. Have a question about what to plant by a seasonal stream, what’s perfect for a shady porch, where to site a raised bed for vegetables, or how to grow herbs in containers?
Attracting, living with, or preventing wildlife (from hummingbirds to voles, turtles, and deer) and ideas on enjoying the wetlands on your property, building a compost pile, how to make plant choices, adding drainage to a window box, or how to garden in your street tree bed – all’s up for discussion. The focus is gardening in Philipstown – our rocks, our soil, our native plants, birds, and snakes. Look for tips, what’s in bloom, what plants were popular in the 1800’s to grow an historical garden. timely to-do’s, and suggestions of local places to buy plants and supplies along with services and websites to peruse.
Q. Why does my seed catalog ask what zone I’m in? Does it matter?
A. Philipstown (just over 50 square miles) is in Zones 6 and 5 in the higher elevations for both Plant Hardiness & Heating Maps. These guidelines are based on past temperature data and yes, it really does matter. You want the right plant in the best place. If you order perennial plants, shrubs, and trees that are hardy to Zone 5, they will not only survive unusually cold winters, but will thrive for years to come in our unique climate.
Gardeners throughout Philipstown have great success in growing annual flowers from warmer zones. Yes, that tropical pink hibiscus will not survive the winter outdoors but will be gorgeous until the first frost. If you’re considering trying to over-winter a tender plant next year, plan on creating a microclimate so that it gets the most sun in a protected, well-mulched, and low-wind spot.
Q. What should I be doing now?
A. Do keep bird feeder full and observe the outdoors from indoors. It may sound silly, but if you are looking out the kitchen window or from your desk, what do you see? Do you have any so-called “winter-interest” grasses, trees, or an evergreen in view? Maybe consider hanging a bird feeder, nesting box, or wind chime from that branch in the future. Think now about what you may want to see or smell from indoors through open windows or to enjoy seeing next winter.
Yes, the snow will recede! Notice where the ground “shows” first. Take a picture to remember these ideal places to plant spring-flowering bulbs next fall. When you drive into Cold Spring, notice which sunny places the crocus are first seen, followed later in sunny areas in Garrison’s valleys and higher up on the eastern slopes of the North Highlands.
Q. What do you think about starting seeds indoors?
A. It’s great to do and buying you own seeds, well - – you know what you are growing! Starting your garden inside is a promise of warmer days. Before planting the seeds, you need to count back from the ideal planting time for each vegetable, herb, or flower you want to grow. Get started at least eight weeks before you plan to transplant young plants into the ground. To be safe from cold nights, don’t even think about planting tomatoes and peppers until the end of May. Of course, I usually ignore my own suggestion and set out a seedling or two by Mother’s Day – - more often than not, I have to replant again.
Q. Don’t I need special lights?
A. Your dual concerns are providing adequate lighting once the seeds have sprouted and having the space to put the growing seedlings. If you don’t have a sunny window with at least eight hours of sunlight, but are determined to grow your own tomatoes, peppers,or eggplant, you’ll need to set up artificial lights.
Lighting systems can be simple or elaborate and expensive. The Internet and gardening catalogs offer a range of systems to meet your needs. The ideal height is to place the light source an inch or less above the tops of the seedlings. Check with your hand and adjust as needed. Seedlings need both a simulated full day of light (between 12 and 15 hours of light) and darkness to fully develop. The more light the seedlings get, the better, or they will be too thin and weak.
The top of the refrigerator fits my seed-starting trays, and the bottom warmth is ideal for germination. A radiator’s heat is the worst idea; investing in the steady, low heat of a warming mat is the ideal.
Q. What kind of soil should I start seeds in?
A. Bags of lightweight seed-starting or sowing mix are available through most seed catalogs, websites, and garden centers. Make sure the mix is marked as sterilized: regular potting soil will just not do. Buy double the amount you will need to fill the initial seedling containers, since they will have to be transplanted into larger pots with potting soil. Delicate growing roots prefer a soil-less mix that is usually composed of peat moss, vermiculite, fertilizer, and ground limestone.
If you want to create your own mix of soil, be sure to place it in a baking pan at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to make sure the seedlings won’t catch any disease. One of the most confusing purchases can be choosing one of the different kinds of pots or packs in which to grow your seeds. Two-inch-square pots and larger are great. Round, biodegradable peat pots are often used. You can plant them right into the ground (the roots push through), but their shape can take up a lot of room under grow lights. You can also poke holes in the bottoms of cutoff milk cartons or paper cups then fill with three inches of starting mix. Plastic, individual “cells” designed for growing seeds come in four- and six-packs and will last over a decade. If the surface area is too small, the mixture will dry out too quickly and the seeds will suffer.
Drainage holes are a must for any container you use. The starter
trays with long, narrow plugs make it difficult to remove seedlings. You
can also sow seeds in rows in wide rectangular peat flats, but the
seedlings will still need to be transplanted into their own pots. Also
make sure your seed-starter trays come with covers (to use until you see
the first sprouts break through) and bottom trays so water doesn’t flow
all over the place. If water is still sitting at the bottom ten minutes
later, lift the containers out and dump the water, or use paper towels
to sop it up. Rimmed baking sheets and shallow roasting pans come in
handy for holding soggy peat pots.
There’s more. You’ll also need more pots, because once the seedlings grow their second set of leaves (known as “true” leaves), they’ll need to be transplanted. Plastic square pots or six-pack planters take up the least amount of room. The ideal, if you can create the space and provide adequate light, is to sow the seed directly into individual pots where the plants will spend all their growing time.
Email your questions to email@example.com. Hobens is a landscape consultant, garden designer, author, and gardener in Philipstown.
On Facebook? Check out and “Like” Hudson Highlands Garden Design.Questions may be edited for length and clarity. Photographs are encouraged to show your problem or design question. If considered for publication, you will be notified first for permission and photo credit. Submissions must include your name; request if you want your question to be anonymous since it will appear on www.philipstown.info and www.hudsonhighlandsgardendesign.com.