Gardener Takes A Ramble

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I did some driving around last week to look at some spots that I recalled being particularly hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.For several weeks after the storm all I was hearing was calls, in Chicken Little-fashion, about how the sky was falling. I’m happy to report that the sky seems to have remained in the same place.

Most of the tall, older pines that were burned on their southeast sides looked awful right through early April but by early June there were signs of new needle growth as the burned needles fell from the trees. Even burned red cedars were getting some color back and it looks like most of our landscapes will recover.

The exceptions though are properties along the barrier beach from Westhampton to the east. Here, many pines that were already stressed will not recover, and red cedars seem to be a mixed bag.

On one oceanfront property, all of the older red cedars moved in from nurseries five to 10 years ago showed little signs of recovery. And those that are sending out new growth are so sparse that it will take another five to 10 years for them to recover, if at all.

Privet seems to be recovering well but American hollies seem to have taken a bad hit.

My overall impression is that most trees will recover, with the exception of those on the barrier beaches where the root areas were inundated by saltwater. In some cases this flooding went on for a day or more until the bays receded and the water table dropped but I think this flooding doomed all but the hardiest of the native trees and shrubs.

Then we got all the cries about the 17-year locust, aka the periodic cicada brood #2, that was going to invade us. I waited. I waited more. Still I waited.

No cicadas.

Yes, they have hit some areas of the lower Hudson Valley and a large piece of real estate in the Delmarva Peninsula in large numbers but on Long Island the so-called “invasion” has been a bust. Historically, the last outbreak was confined to a small area of Nassau County.

But think about it for a minute. These guys are very bad fliers. If they occur in isolated areas, as appears to be the case, the only way they could spread their territory would be if there were heavy winds blowing the egg-laden females all over the place just prior to when they oviposit, or lay their eggs.

Based on the geographic distribution of the outbreaks, that doesn’t seem to have happened in the past million or so years. Now all we have to do is find a way to remind ourselves in 2030 when the next outbreak occurs. Put a note on your calendar.

Learning To GrowI just finished my third class with my group of 15 new vegetable gardeners. It’s been great working with a farmer on this project.

Each class has been about three hours. I spend the first hour in the classroom and then Madelyn, my teaching partner, takes them out to the two small gardens to get dirty. Some of the interesting questions have been: How do I know when to water? Can I water too much? How do I know what’s a weed? How do I pick lettuce?

When I told Madelyn that I was going to teach about insects and chemicals she hit me with “Why do you have to do that?” I explained that not every gardener is as narrow-minded as her about insect control, and she responded that she was only pulling my leg. Well, kind of.

She objected to my teaching about Malathion and Sevin, two chemicals left over from the 1950s that we can still use on vegetables today. My feeling is that if these chemicals are being sold, I should at least teach them why they might, and might not, want to use them.

In any event, the whole pesticide arsenal that’s at our disposal these days is very, very different from what it was 20 years ago. More on this in coming weeks.

The Adelgid IssueRemember the hemlock woolly adelgid? This was a little insect that showed up 15 to 20 years ago and played havoc with one of our most beloved landscape and hedging plants, the Canadian hemlock.

We learned a few tricks very quickly on how to slow down the adelgid, especially by reducing or eliminating feeding our landscape hemlocks. We’ve also had luck with oils and some new chemicals that can eliminate or substantially reduce adelgid populations, but few landscapers and designers are using hemlocks these days because of the adelgid issue.

Late last month I took part in an evaluation of hemlocks at the Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester. A number of horticulture professionals received invitations from a consortium of researchers from Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts and of Canadian higher learning to view and evaluate a series of hemlocks that had been growing in the arboretum for the past 10 to 15 years.

We were walked through three stations where we were asked to complete questionnaires about a number of trees that were unidentified, but which we suspected were hemlocks. Each tree exhibited slightly different characteristics, such as needle color, needle density, branch length and branch density. At the end of the evaluation we were taken to a last station where two large and mature hemlock-looking trees were growing in a field. They were markedly different, though, and we were told that one of them was totally immune to the adelgid.

This lush hemlock was a specimen that we’d all love to have on our properties. Its color, habit and density would make an incredible hedge material unlike any other evergreen I can think of. It was a Chinese hemlock, tsuga chinensis.

The problem is, it’s not commercially grown in the U.S. As far as I know, it’s available only as seedlings from forestfarm.com. Of course, it’s sold out.

Soil And ToilOh, the trials and tribulations of a gardener.

My planting season actually begins (or ends) in late October when I plant my Oriental lily bulbs. I have lilies scattered through my perennial island as I love their height, color and super-intense scent in the mid- to late summer garden.

One of the varieties I planted last fall was Mambo. I was a sucker for the name and description so six were planted on a cold and wet October day with visions of this summer’s garden.

All my lilies came up. All except Mambo.

Instead, a strange-looking plant shot out of the ground. Actually there were three of them.

I was astonished to see fritillarias blooming in early May where I was hoping for hot red lilies in August. I mean the frits were great, and a wonderful surprise, but I was clueless as to what was going on. Especially clueless as the metal tag in the garden clearly stated that the Mambos were planted there.

I triple-checked my invoice, packing slip and planting plan. All indicated that Mambo was indeed planted.

Then I remembered I’d grabbed the frits on a whim at Lynch’s Garden Center in Southampton.

Well, on May 30, the Mambos showed up, more than four weeks later than all my other Orientals. Just as the frits were fading away, six unmistakable lily shoots broke through the mulch and headed skyward. It was so reassuring to know that my vendor hadn’t failed me and that I hadn’t lost my mind.

Patience in the garden is indeed a virtue. Now we just have to see if Mambo has been worth the wait. In the meantime, keep growing.

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