Gardening


I don’t want to depress anyone, but its almost over. Winter is coming, and it will come fast, thereby ending our beautiful growing weather. We can enjoy the last few days of warm weather before the nights start getting significantly cooler. Fairly soon, when temps start dipping below 50oF, we should be bringing in our houseplants. Not everything that beautified our yard all summer needs to fall victim to Old Man Winter, however. Some plants can winter over nicely and be saved for next year.

This unique geranium with beautiful dark leaves would make a great houseplant over the winter. Photo by mrl2022.

The first thing to understand is that you will be going from one extreme to another. The amount of solar radiation outside compared to what is inside is literally going from one end of the spectrum to the other. A brightly lit window, even if sunny, does not really compare to unfiltered direct sun. Fluorescent or LED light fixtures are great, but they need to be close to the plants (right above, nearly touching). The more lights the better. There are higher powered artificial lights available (like high intensity discharge, sodium lights, metal halide, etc.), but these are not something seen in the common home. Either way, leaves are adapted to the light they are accustomed to, so when going from one extreme to another, you will probably lose some. The best example of this is buying a pothos at a greenhouse or home improvement store, then bringing it home. Leaf loss is normal, especially in the lower/shaded leaves. The plants still look nice, but they are much thinner. If your plant’s journey to the inside is going from shade outside to bright window inside, that generally is not too bad and leaf loss may be minimal. 

These nice-looking houseplants will certainly drop some leaves as they adjust to the lower light levels in your home. Expect the Neon Pothos (left) to lose a lot of the leaves near the base of the pot. Photo by mrl2022

There are a number of hitchhikers that can enter our home when we bring our plants inside. The first, and worst, is the mosquito. If your tray has some water in it, then you might accidentally introduce these into your home. They won’t last too long, but you will wake up with some annoying itchy bumps! Spiders are the next most common. They are normally good, and eat some pests that like our plants, but their webs can get annoying. Their presence triggers many horror-movie like reactions in most people as well. Earwigs are another annoying little critter.  Their pincers on the back end look intimidating. They usually do not do too much damage to your plants. Avoid overwatering the plant which will allow them a moist space in which to survive. One of the most interesting visitors I ever had was a frog! Luckily, I was able to capture him and release him back outside. Usually frogs or toads can be spotted if you carefully inspect your plant. They are more likely to be found under the saucer or pot than inside of it.

Some of my favorite out-for-the-summer plants are banana, various citrus, and fig trees. These do not need a ton of light over the winter either. I like to place them in a cool basement under one light and water sparingly. The first chance I get to move them out in the spring I take it. I like to freshen the potting mix they are planted in and add some fertilizer at that time as well.  They tolerate this type of cultivation fabulously.

In addition to bringing in houseplants, there are some of our annuals that can make fine additions to the home. My absolute favorite are the geraniums. Many times throughout history, these plants were kept in greenhouses or conservatories year-round. A friend of mine said she likes to bring in some coleus. Both of these plants are rather expensive, and it might be nice to save some for next year. There are a number of people that like to overwinter their pepper plants. I find that the best for this are the really hot ones that seem to grow slowly like the habanero. The following year you will have more peppers than you know what to do with. For a number of years, I brought in a large, not-so-hardy rosemary plant.

There are some very pretty plants which just do not seem to do well indoors. The first that comes to mind is the calibrachoa. Although beautiful outside, they seem to struggle indoors. They are not very forgiving if they get too dry. They easily and almost always suffer from western flower thrips as well. I really do not want to deal with spraying pesticides indoors all winter. The same story is true for petunias. Most bedding plants are best left outside – purchase new ones in the spring. Another pest that you need to watch out for are aphids. There are many species of all different colors. If a few sneak in, they can quickly reproduce asexually. The females essentially clone themselves.

Although beautiful and still going strong, calibrachoa generally does not do very well indoors, and is prone to a number of insect pests including western flower thrips. Photo by mrl2022.

No matter what you bring in from outside, I recommending isolating it from your regular indoor houseplants for a few weeks. This is best done in a separate room with the door closed. Any trouble should present itself by then. After the quarantine period, your plants may become a part of your regular collection, or you might simply set them up under some lights in the basement.  Be careful with watering. Cold and soggy soil are a perfect recipe for disease. You don’t have to wait too long before it is spring again! Keep the plants out of real drafty areas that favor the development of diseases as well. 

The last piece of advice is that you may not want to bring in the entire plant. For year I kept my geranium collection going by taking a few cuttings of each plant. These overwintered nicely, took up less space, and required less care. I could fit my whole collection under a few lights.  By the time the spring rolled around, I had nice plants with strong root system ready for a pot. Figs can be grown in this way too (or you might simply want more fig trees).

A mixed collection of houseplants and annuals, many of which will be brought inside for the winter. Photo by mrl2022.

By bringing in some of your favorite annuals, it might help ward off the winter blues. It could save you a little bit of money in the spring, or simply allow you to expand an existing collection of plants. I wonder how many geranium varieties I could have if I just took a few cuttings in each fall? The following spring, I could buy additional varieties. This kind of thinking makes for a large plant collection!

Matt Lisy

While I really, truly should not be encouraging more travel (especially if it relies on fossil fuels), I can’t help suggest that anyone finding themselves anywhere near Booth Bay, Maine take a side trip to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden (CMBG). It is a refreshing site for your eyes and for your souls. Rarely do we get the chance to stroll in such beautiful surroundings for hours and hours. The mission of this fairly young botanical wonder (it opened in 2007) is to inspire meaningful connections among people, plants and nature, and that it does.

CMBG is the largest botanic garden in New England made up of 295 acres of which 17 have been made into some of the most charming and awe-inspiring gardens championing native Maine plants that I, and probably you, have ever seen. The concept for this botanical garden began in 1991 when a small group of mid-coast Maine residents had a dream of building a world class public garden. Sixteen years later, CMBG opened and has been a top U.S. botanical destination ever since.

Coincidentally, 16 individual garden sites are contained in this marvel, each having its own backstory and unique plantings. Some of my favorites are included in this posting. I’m betting that one of the most popular gardens is the Native Butterfly and Moth House. This consists of a 2,160 square foot Gothic style hoophouse with a planting scheme fit to support moths and butterflies throughout their life cycles. Visitors have the opportunity to observe these vital insects from birth through metamorphosis into adult butterflies or moths. Surrounding gardens are whimsical yet offer nectar and food plants for adults and caterpillars (larvae).

Butterfly House at Coastal Maine Botanic Garden. Photo by dmp2022

The Great Lawn was modeled after 19th century landscape parks and creates a sense of openness amid the surrounding forested areas. The Lerner Garden of the 5 senses is less than an acre in size but the path winds it way through plants and sights that delight the sense of smell, hearing, sight, touch and taste (please don’t eat the daisies). Slater Forest Pond Garden was built on a low lying site perfect for a pond adding more life to the gardens with aquatic creatures.

A gift from the Burpee Foundation funded the Burpee kitchen garden that was started in 2006. It provides the chefs at the Kitchen Garden Café with herbs, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers for their culinary creations. Visitors get to see a choice selection of many food producing plants tucked neatly into raised beds with a cooling fountain centerpiece.

Burpee Kitchen Garden. Photo by dmp2022.
Fountain centerpiece in Kitchen Garden. Photo by dmp2019.

A favorite of children (young and old) is the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. I love the tool arch and the little shed with a green roof. Apparently this 2 acre parcel of woods, ponds and theme gardens was inspired by several of Maine’s childrens’ book authors including E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web).

Entrance to Children’s Garden. Photo by dmp2019.

On a hot summer day, the Haney Hillside Garden is cool and soothing. It features 3 terraces linked by switchback trails on a steep, rocky hillside. Paths lead past the water and moss terraces and at the bottom sits a subtle, yet perfectly situated, large glass orb created by New York sculptor, Henry Richardson.

Glass orb in Haney Hillside Garden. Photo by dmp2022.

Other gardens include the Cleaver Lawn, the Arbor Garden, Founder’s Grove, Vayou Meditation Garden, the Shoreline Trail and Landing, the Giles Rhododendron and Perennial Garden and one can’t forget the Fairy House Village where visitors are welcome to create shelters and other dwellings for these tiny, mythical creatures. According to the sign for this garden, the tradition of building fairy houses began in the woods of nearly Monhegan Island.

Fairy House Village. Photo by dmp2022

As if these absolutely gorgeous gardens, statuary, sculptures, water features and hardscapes aren’t enough to take it, five giant trolls await discovery by you. They are mammoth recycled wood creations by the Danish artist, Thomas Dambo. His trolls are found around the world (www.trollmap.com) and convey a message of sustainability as well as one of global connections. Our actions affect everyone else on the planet and we need to cultivate a sense of care for all our natural resources and fellow inhabitants, especially with all the havoc climate change is creating throughout the earth.

One of Thomas Dambo’s trolls. Photo by dmp2022.

As Guardians of the Seeds, the trolls are there to teach us and reinforce the importance of the Maine woods but really about all trees. We know trees as purveyors of shade, carbon storage units, able to prevent erosion and filter air and water but did you know that trees provide homes for 50% of the planet’s land-dwelling animals? Or did you know that right now there are about 3 trillion trees in a world of almost 8 billion people – that’s about 375 trees per person. Not a lot when you think about it. Trees are essential for healthy ecosystems that keep us alive.

Guardian the Seeds – another Troll by Thomas Dambo. Photo by dmp2022.

Good stewards of this earth can follow the teachings of the trolls and plant more trees, consume only what you need, and encourage others to become more aware of our dependency on the natural world and treat it with the respect it deserves. The future of this earth really does depend on everyone’s actions.

Dawn P.    

The soil is a reservoir that holds water for plants. It is important for recharging groundwater by allowing rainfall to infiltrate and filter through the soil into the water table. This happens because the soil is a porous media where the spaces in the soil (pores) are either filled with air or water. The capacity of soil to hold water determines your watering practices in order to provide continued sufficient water for plant growth depending on the drought resistance of your plants. However, not all soils are equal in this capacity.

Bare soil dark with organic matter. Photo by dmp2022.

Field capacity is an important characteristic of soil because it represents the maximum amount of water that a soil can hold. The main soil properties that affect the field capacity of a soil include soil texture, organic matter and compaction.

Soil texture refers to the proportions of sand (0.05-2.0 mm), silt (0.002-0.05 mm), and clay (smaller than 0.002 mm) in the soil. A higher proportion of the larger sand size particles, the more coarse a soil is. Sandy, coarse textured soils have lower field capacity. This is because the greater amount of large particles leads to larger pores from which the water can quickly drain. On the other hand, fine textured soils comprised of the smaller soil particles have a greater amount of small pores that can hold water better, leading to a greater water holding capacity of these soils. However, not all the water held by soils can be used by plants. Some water is very tightly held in the soil and not able to be taken up by plants.

Figure shows general relationship between soil how plant available water capacity (easily available water plus slowly available water) is impacted by soil texture (source: The Nature and Properties of Soils by Ray R. Weil and Nyle C. Brady).

Plant available water holding capacity represents the water retained in soil between field capacity and the wilting point, in another word, it represents the amount of water retained in soil that can be taken up by plants. Even though soils that have high clay contents (such as clay loam, clay) can hold more water, they hold the water tightly so less water is available for plants than silt loam or a sandy loam. The question is, how do we improve soil texture for improved plant available water holding capacity? Unfortunately, changing soil texture of a field is not a viable option unless you introduce foreign soils to the field. Fortunately, there are other options available to improve plant available water holding capacity.

Organic matter is another portion of the soil that holds water. The higher the organic matter content, the more water the soil can hold. Increasing organic matter can increase the field capacity significantly. Increased soil organic matter content improves soil structure which results in increased infiltration, therefore, increasing plant available water. The strategies to increase soil organic matter includes growing cover crops, adding manure, compost or biochar or mixing in leaf mold, peat moss or coir. Avoid disturbing the soil by refraining from overtilling, either manually or with a rototiller.

Till either manually or with a rototiller only when necessary. Photo by dmp2012

Compaction reduces the plant available water holding capacity of a soil. This is because compaction reduces porosity which in turn decreases a soil’s field capacity. Compaction also crushes large pores into smaller pores which leads to a greater proportion of the water being held more tightly by soils. As a result, compaction results in less water available for plants to take up. Also, when a soil is compacted, it becomes harder for roots to penetrate. This can lead to less volume of soil for roots to access to water that is held below than the compacted layer. Stay off soils when they are wet, avoid overtilling, and make defined walking paths through garden areas or perhaps use stepping stones so as not to compact your soils.

Salt content is another soil characteristic that impacts availability of water to plants. Soils that are high in salt concentration tend to have higher wilting points that results in less water for plants to take up. This is more of a problem in the dry regions of the US where salt accumulation is mainly a result of natural soil formation processes and irrigation. In our soils, the salt level can be elevated in areas that have been overfertilized.

In addition to adopting practices that can increase the plant available water holding capacity, there are other practical options for reducing water loss from soil. Mulching is an effective practice to reduce evaporation loss of water. There are many sources of mulches available in the market such as hay, straw, wood chips, bark or cocoa shells. Gardeners can also use untreated lawn clippings.

Haiying Tao, Ph. D.

Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org    

Credit: PA dept of Agriculture

There has been an invasion on Connecticut’s southwest border and the invader is expected to take over the state in approximately two years. It will threaten agricultural businesses, nurseries and homeowners and could cause billions of dollars in damage while devastating the landscape. Who is this invader? It is commonly called the spotted lanternfly, and every Connectican should be concerned. 

The spotted lanternfly, Delicate Lycormala, (SLF), is a sap-feeding plant hopper native to China. It is believed to have entered this country as an egg mass stuck to a shipment of stone sent to Berk’s County, Pennsylvania in 2012. Since then, Pennsylvania’s agriculture, vineyards, forests, nurseries and residential areas have all suffered serious damage from this invasive pest.

Credit: Ichydogimages

Sadly, the SLF started making its way into Connecticut in 2021. The CT Agricultural Experiment Station immediately issued a quarantine order to slow the spread of this pest. While this will not stop the advance of the SLF, it is hoped a sufficiently aggressive effort by all affected will slow it down long enough to find a treatment that will control and, with any luck, eradicate this pest . 

Credit: Ichydogimages

But, what is a spotted lanternfly and why is it so important to stop it from invading our state?  This beautiful looking plant hopper affects fruit trees, grapes, hops and ornamental trees.  The nymphs (immature stage of the SLF) and the adults feed on the sap from trees and vines causing them to weaken. Then, excretions from the SLF, called honey dew, stick to the leaves, which causes black sooty mold to grow, reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize properly.  For agricultural crops, this will reduce yields and weaken trees and plants further, eventually destroying them.

In addition to destroying plants it can wreak havoc on everything from lawn furniture,to sidewalks, to the sides of buildings, to car tires,  to anything else outside making it a sticky mess.

Credit Victoria Smith, CASE

Lawrence Barringer, PDA, Bugwood.org

Research is actively under way at Penn State in collaboration with Cornell University using various anti-SLF agents; they haven’t yet produced sufficiently consistent results to qualify as an SLF control.

What can you do to help? Right now, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is conducting a “call to action” for the state’s citizens. They urge everyone to report any sightings of this invasive pest.

If you spot an SLF, kill it right away and report it on CT Agricultural Experiment Station’s website, by filling  out a brief form along with a photo at:  https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/CAPS/CAPS/Spotted-Lanternfly—SLF

Marie Woodward, Horticultural Consultant

Gardeners are no strangers to insect pests. While typically a mild nuisance, insect damage can weaken plants and lead them to be more susceptible to disease. There are even times when insect feeding alone can damage a plant sufficiently to kill it, so noticing when insect feeding is occurring and the different types of insect feeding damage are important skills for gardeners to keep in their tool belt.

The Nibblers

We all know these. Nibblers cause the most obvious type of feeding damage – the holes and leaves munched away. Insects that commonly cause this type of damage are grasshoppers (order Odonata), caterpillars (order Lepidoptera), immature sawflies (order Hymenoptera), and others with mandibles (mouthparts) made for chewing. Usually, the most economic way to deal with these pests is to simply pick them off of your plants when you observe them.

Although many types of Lepidopteran pests simply chew through leaves, some remove leaves (and needles!) to form casings needed for pupation and metamorphosis, as is the case with these bagworms (likely Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis). Photo credit: Nick Goltz

The Borers and Miners

This subgroup of the nibblers are tougher to deal with. While they have similar chewing mouthparts, they are the usually found within their plant hosts. Borers are usually beetles that chew through woody plants (order Coleoptera), though sometimes caterpillars (order Lepidoptera) chew through herbaceous plants (such as the squash vine borer, Melittia cucurbitae). Leafminers may also be Lepidopterans, though most are immature flies (order Diptera). They are best managed by using a systemic insecticide – one that is taken up by the plant and distributed throughout. As with all insecticides, be sure to apply following label instructions and not while pollinators are visiting the plant.

Beetles have bored through this wood. Some species burrow deeply into the plant’s vascular tissue while others burrow along the bark, forming tunnels called “galleries”. Both types of damage can be seen on this log in the Sonoma forest. Photo credit: Nick Goltz

The Piercing-suckers

These insect pests have a modified mouthpart called a stylet, which works like a straw. Piercing-sucking pests use their stylets to suck plant “juices” from soft tissue, stunting growth and causing leaf distortion, spotting, and reduced vigor. Common insects that cause this type of damage are aphids and whiteflies (both are order Hemiptera). Insects in this group are more likely to transmit viruses than those in most other orders.  

Aphids (order Hemiptera, family Aphididae) are the bane of many a gardener! They reproduce quickly and often target young, supple tissue like new leaves and flower buds. Above is a photograph of aphids feeding on my roses earlier this year. Photo credit: Nick Goltz

The Gall-makers

Some insects, such as thrips (order Thysanoptera) can cause some similar disfigurement damage as those mentioned above, but may also cause the formation of galls, a type of unusual growth on plant tissue caused by insect feeding and/or the production of unusual plant growth hormones by the insects. The larvae of some wasps (order Hymenoptera) can cause the production of really interesting galls. There are non-insect pests, such as mites (class Arachnida), and certain types of fungi and bacteria that can also cause galling. Most of the time, the production of these galls do not seriously injure the plant and are only an aesthetic issue, but be sure to keep an eye out for any reduced vigor associated with these galls.

Plant galls take many different shapes, sizes, and forms! Often, an insect will lay her egg on/in a leaf, and the feeding young larva will cause the gall to form around it, providing necessary nutrients and protection from predators. Some insects only lay one egg on a leaf. This was obviously not the case in the above photo. Photo credit: Nick Goltz

…and (Nearly) Everyone Else

It’s important to remember that most of the insects we encounter in the garden are harmless or beneficial – pollinating our plants, eating pests and keeping the insect community diverse and healthy. Be sure to only apply insecticides as a last resort and only when pollinators and other beneficial critters aren’t present. The best time of day to apply insecticides (to minimize sun injury and contact with pollinators) is in the evening when plants are dry unless otherwise specified on your product label. Not sure what insect is visiting your garden? Contact the folks at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center by emailing ladybug@uconn.edu for advice and identification services.

Nick Goltz, DPM

The past two years have been very challenging years for gardeners. I find myself wishing for a “typical” year as we seem to have swung from one extreme to the other. Last year was a complete wash out, with many crops not coping well with the seemingly constant rain. This year we go to the complete opposite – dry! I cannot believe how fast my crops are literally wilting after I water them. I got taken by surprise by the extremely hot weather a few times, and while spending too much time at work, ended up missing a few waterings. It seems there is little forgiveness for this. How many times I uttered the phrase “but it was supposed to rain” as I looked at struggling plants. A lot of how well your crops will cope with weather extremes depends upon your soil type. Heavy clay soils tend to hold on to moisture; in wet years this can lead to a lot of fungal diseases. Sandy soils dry quickly, so in years of little rain it can be difficult to provide enough water. If you have a nice loam soil, then you have the equivalent of Goldilocks’s porridge that was “just right.”

This winter squash and corn patch benefits from afternoon shade. Note the wilting plants in the front left of the photo, and the bone-dry grass in the foreground. Photo by mrl2022.

I wrote an article a year ago where I commented about how well some varieties of green beans coped with the wet weather. It is interesting (making the best of it) to see how those same varieties of beans coped with the dry conditions. Although not a formal scientific study, the observations of these plants are notable. I generally plant three varieties of bush green beans: green, yellow, and purple. These are the same specific varieties I plant each year. During the wet year, the green were the first to die off, followed by the yellow.  The purple seemed to tolerate the wet weather quite well and produced a huge crop. Now that we have a dry year, the opposite seems to be holding true. The purple was the first to die off, the yellow are struggling some, but the green seem to be thriving. In a “normal” year, I have all three varieties producing a large crop. It is only in times of extremes do the tolerances become important. Most farmers choose varieties of crops that are well suited to their particular set of growing variables (soil, sun, soil chemistry, cultural habits, etc.). Interestingly, I have one variety of pole green beans that seemed to thrive in both the wet and the dry years. 

These family heirloom pole beans seem to thrive in all types of weather. No wonder they have been in cultivation for hundreds of years! Photo by mrl2022.

Watering sounds easy, but it can lead to trouble. Frequent irrigation with no rain can, over time, lead to salt accumulation in the soil. This is because when water evaporates, the salts dissolved within can stay behind. We usually do not see this here in the northeast, but the southwestern United States can. Due to time limitations we all suffer from, it is tempting to water a short sprinkle frequently, but this is not good for your plants as it encourages shallow roots. It is better to water less frequently, but for a longer period of time to encourage deep roots. Deep roots help the plant survive during times of drought. Having said all that, I have never seen the soil so dry as I did this year. I water with a sprinkler, and this year I had to increase my watering duration by 50 percent to adequately wet the soil. If your garden is small enough, it is a good idea to use drip irrigation. It wastes less water by putting it right by the plants. This requires running plastic piping throughout your garden, periodically poking a hole in it, and running a drip line to each plant. It is somewhat tricky to then rotate your crops the following year as the plumbing will generally need a different configuration. Careful planning may allow for some flexibility in this situation. Drip irrigation has the added benefit of not wetting the leaves, which can cause burn spots in some plants, and contribute to diseases in others. A less expensive alternative is a soaker hose which just seeps water along its entire length. This is simply snaked through the plants.  Remember though that watering is expensive! If you are on city water, you will have a substantial increase in your bill, and if on a well water, higher electricity costs. This assumes your well has enough water to keep up with the increased demand. The bigger the garden, the more water needed.

The last thing I wanted to comment on was shade. Although I generally think of shade as an enemy of agricultural crops, it can certainly work to your advantage in certain situations. This year, afternoon shade has helped keep some crops from drying out. My winter squash and corn seem to be thriving with some afternoon shade (this is the hottest time of the day!). The plants in my kitchen garden do not seem to wilt if in the shade of a poorly placed mulberry trees (I did not plant it so close to the garden; it was there when I purchased the house). Many times, gardeners will use shade cloth to cool heat-sensitive crops like lettuce. Shade may decrease the temperature by ten degrees. This can help the lettuce resist bolting. Don’t forget to select varieties resistant to bolting as well. Be careful of shade though. Hot, wet, and shady can lead to powdery mildew in a number of our favorite ornamental and food plants (phlox and zucchini for example). Most of our agricultural plants need six hours or more of sun each day.

This variety of cucumber thrived in last year’s constant rain, but struggles to hang on during our current dry weather. Photo by mrl2022.

The thing to keep in mind is that these extremes do not usually happen. You may get a few years in a row like we have had, but there are many more typical years to come. Use these years to your advantage and learn what you can. Try not to let yourself get frustrated. I find myself thinking about my soil composition more now than ever. This would be a great time to get your soil tested. Adding compost can help aerate clay soils, and hold moisture in sandy soils.  Compost not only adds nutrients to the soil, but also improves nutrient retention. I like making observations and comparisons in these types of years. For example, in last year’s wet, the cucumbers grew like crazy. In this year’s dry, they have not grown much at all. Apparently, cucumbers like a lot of water (but not soggy soil which leads to disease). Experiencing and now knowing this can help me grow better cucumbers in years to come. So many people rate their garden as successful or not by the amount of produce produced in a given year. Of course, each year this is the goal, but when you learn more about your soil and plants this can help you grow more crops during your entire lifetime. To me, the knowledge is the most valuable part!

Matt Lisy

On a recent visit with my cousin in New York (also a writer), she brought me for a stroll along the High Line, an old railroad line repurposed as a city green space in the city. I had read about it in several gardening magazines but none of the pictures in the articles or even in this blog do it justice. If you have the chance, go walk it yourself. In this major city of almost 19 million people, you can feel like you’re strolling in the woods, through a prairie and even in a water park. The design is clever, aesthetically pleasing, and practical – all at the same time.

One can see the Hudson River from the High Line. Photo by dmp2022.

First a little history. During the mid to late 1800s, freight trains delivering food ran on street level while creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians with some 540 people being killed by them. Despite attempts to warn folks of oncoming trains, it was decided to elevate the tracks in the 1930s. With the rise of trucking in the 1960s, train service was put on the sidetracks, so to speak, and some of the sections of elevated track stopped being used and were even demolished. By the 1980s, trains were no longer using these tracks and calls for their demolition were being heard.

In 1983, an idea for reuse of this structure first took hold as Chelsea resident, Peter Obletz, formed the West Side Rail Line Development Foundation that sought to preserve this structure. As fortune would have it, a bipartisan Congress pass the Trail System Act, which allowed for old rail lines to be converted into recreational areas.

Old railroad tracks are still visible in along the High Line. Photo by dmp2022.

For the next couple of decades, the future of the elevated railroad tracks was debatable, even dubious. Some areas of track were still being demolished. Even former mayor, Guiliani, called for their demolition. But some noticed a change in the landscape; these abandoned tracks were being colonized by native (and other adventitious) plants providing homes for themselves as well as the pollinators, predators and other wildlife. Among those who were credited with this discovery were Joshua David and Robert Hammond who founded Friends of the High Line, a non-profit conservancy that advocated for its preservation and reuse as a public space. 

In 2003, this organization hosted an ideas competition for ways this ‘park’ could be used and received 720 ideas from 36 countries. The finalists were landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf, whose mission was to transform the High Line into a welcoming public space. The first section of the High Line was opened to the public in 2009 and the last spur section in 2019. The High Line is now a 1.45 mile-long greenway featuring more than 500 species of plants.

The plantings on the High Line were predominantly inspired by the self-seeded landscape that predominated between abandonment and human reintervention. Plants that were chosen because of their qualities of hardiness, seasonality, texture and sustainability. Piet Oudolf, the landscape designer claimed, “My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it, but recreate the emotion.”

It is quite amazing how natural the plantings look and fit into their citified surroundings. Plantings vary from the Washington Grasslands and Woodland Edge with its great patches of native grasses and prairie perennials like echinacea and my favorite, the compass plant (Silphium laciniatum). The bright gold flowers resemble sunflowers and open in midsummer on stalk that can grow 6 to 10 feet tall. I thought it was called the compass plant because the flowers seem to be facing the sun but after doing a little research, I found it’s name is from the belief that the deeply-lobed leaves point in a north-south direction, which is true some but not all of the time.

Compass plant. Photo by dmp2022.

If I didn’t have socks on, I too would have dipped by toes in the water feature on the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck. The water just ran over a shallow stone-like base. Even the pigeons, tried to get into the water to drink and cool down on a hot, sunny day. Especially interesting were the wetland plants growing in the raised steel planters. I loved the giant horsetail (Equisetum hyemale).   

This pigeon was enjoying the water as much as human travelers. Photo by dmp2022.
Giant horsetail. Photo by dmp2022.

Another wonderful section is the Donald Pels and Wendy Keys Gansevoort Woodland. This area is filled with shadbush and grey birch trees with underplantings of various perennials including variegated brunnera that lights up the shade. A magnolia with its seed pods caught my eye but when trying to identify which species it is, I am not sure as the seed pods look bigger and shaped differently than the three magnolia species on the plant list, the bigleaf magnolia, the umbrella tree and the sweet bay magnolia. Quite a magnificent plant, however.

Not sure which magnolia this is but the seed pod sure is interesting and the leaves are huge. Photo by dmp2022.

The High Line takes you on an almost magical walk through a variety of natural scenes amidst its urban surroundings. It really makes everyone who wanders down its pathways appreciate the goodness and the greenness of this world.

Dawn P.

Nothing inspires awe and good cheer like a dahlia. Native to Mexico and Central America, the dahlia is a member of the Asteraceae family. Its garden relatives include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia. They are gorgeous flowers that bloom from midsummer through autumn and come in a rainbow of colors.  Dahlias’ size can range from petite 2-inch pompoms to giant 15-inch “dinner plates”. Many varieties reach 4 to 5 feet tall. They do best in rich, well-draining soil with a pH level of 6.0 to 7.5. 

Beautiful dahlia flowers by Marie Woodward, UConn

Dahlias can bring color to any garden, and dwarf varieties can be grown successfully in containers. Of course, they simply rule supreme in a cutting garden. (Growing vegetables? Put a row of dahlias on the border, where they will not shade your edibles.)

Dahlias are hardy to zone 8 and will survive in warmer climates if cut back and mulched heavily.  In colder zones, like Connecticut, dahlias can either be treated as annuals or dug up after the first frost and stored indoors for winter.  Dahlia tubers don’t like cold soil. They prefer a soil temperature of 60 degrees. A good rule of thumb many gardeners use is to plant dahlia tubers a few days after tomatoes are planted in the ground.  Some gardeners start tubers indoors in containers a month ahead to get a jump on the season.

Tuberous root of dahlia before planting. Photo by dmp2009.

To get the most blooms from dahlias and for a plant with a more bushy and rounded shape, it’s recommended that dahlias get “topped” when the plant gets to about 18 to 20 inches tall.  Topping means pruning the main stalk or trunk of the plant back to the third or fourth set of leaves. Even if there is a bud present at the top of the plant, it still needs to be removed, something some gardeners find hard to do especially after going through the effort of planting the tubers and waiting with anticipation for blooms to appear. But, doing this step will stop the main trunk of the plant from growing upward, encouraging the plant to develop lateral stems, making it a fuller, rounder shaped plant that is more stable and aesthetically more pleasing to the eye. And, of course, it will encourage more blooms.

When topping dahlias, one can use fingers and pinch the stem, use a knife, or a pair of small secateurs.  Location of the cut is important. Dahlias have sets of leaves that create a layer around the plant. The cut should be made above the third or fourth set of leaves from the bottom.

Use pruners or a sharp knife to make your cut. Photo by Marie Woodward.

It’s recommended that all dahlias that will grow to maturity above three feet get topped at the beginning of the growing season. Dahlias that don’t reach that mature height don’t need topping.  These dwarf varieties of dahlias will naturally produce lateral stems on their own. 

Some dahlias develop more than one stalk. This means the tuber has more than one eye on the tuber. Some dahlia growers believe that it is best not to have more than two stalks per plant. In any plant with more than two stalks, the extra stalks should be pruned down to the soil leaving only one or two main stalks. 

The most important thing to remember when topping dahlias is to watch the weather. Topping should not be done if there is a heavy rain in the forecast. Avoid watering dahlias heavily after topping, too. Why? because the main stalk on dahlias is hollow. If water gets into the stalk, this can cause the plant to rot. If water is present in the stalk, the dahlia will start to show signs of wilting. To fix this, take a clean sewing needle or pin and prick a hole on the side of the stalk to see if water runs out of the stalk. Then allow it to drain.

Stake dahlias or grow through wire mesh to keep top heaving plants from toppling over. Photo by Marie Woodward.

Topping dahlias, though counterintuitive to some, should be viewed as a “one step back, two steps forward” approach. It will benefit your dahlias, rewarding you with fuller, healthier plants with an abundance of blooms to enjoy from mid-summer to the first hard frost. And who wouldn’t want that?

Marie Woodward

It’s not over, not by any means. There is still plenty of time left to garden even though we just past the summer solstice on June 21st. There are many different kinds of plants that can go in as seeds right now and still produce a bountiful harvest before the end of the growing season. With oil prices up, food prices are up as well. Remember, it takes a lot of oil to grow, harvest, and transport our food. A good home garden is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with this, and you will save yourself a bundle in the process. Besides, you also cannot beat the fresh taste of home-grown food!

This weed filled garden bed can be turned into a nice, productive vegetable plot with a little effort. Photo by mrl2022.

The only problem with all I have said is that unplanted garden beds can look rather intimidating right now. My unplanted garden beds are filled with weeds that are almost as tall as I am – but I am not scared by this! Any area can easily be converted to planting beds in a few steps. For me, that means mowing down the high grass with either a push mower or a trimmer, and then tilling up the remaining vegetation. I then rake out the big clumps and shake all the dirt off before removal. Now it is time to limestone or add fertilizer, if need be, based on soil tests conducted earlier. If you do not have a tiller, you could pull out or dig out the roots with a shovel, spade or fork. With a bit of hard work, the beds will be all ready to go. Although gardening bed preparation may be a chore, seed planting is quick and easy.

Green beans are probably one of the easiest crops to plant. There are two basic types which have different growth requirements. The first is the pole-type. These will need some type of structure to climb up. It does not have to be pretty, however. Go grab a fallen tree limb and stick that in the ground and it will happily climb up that. In the olden times, people would take three large branches, tie them together at the top, and plant the seeds around the base of each. Cattle panels can work as well either bent over to form an arch, or two on their long side stuck together at the top with worm-gear clamps. Much easier are the bush-type beans as they do not need any support. With either type, keep them picked for two reasons. First, they will continue to produce more beans if you pick them regularly. Also, if the beans are left on the plant too long, they become woody, stringy, and generally unpleasant to eat. Other types of beans can also be planted now as well (Lima, Runner, etc.). All beans will benefit from an inoculation with beneficial bacteria. It is not essential but can help them grow larger and produce more. These inoculants are many times sold near the seed packets. 

Pole-type green beans that will grow up these cattle panels. Photo by mrl2022.

Summer squash is another favorite with plenty of time to produce. Examples include various zucchini types, crookneck, yellow, and pan types. These plants have a nice bush growth habit. I usually mulch the area before planting the seeds so there is no competition from weeds. By the time any weeds would get going, the plants are so large they shade them out. Planting summer squash later sometimes helps avoid the squash vine borers that usually finish egg laying by July 4th. If pests still are a problem in your area, floating row covers will work. These consist of thin fabric that essentially screens in the plants. Be sure to tuck the edges into the soil all around the bottom of the covers. Take the covers off once the plants start flowering so they can be pollinated by beneficial insects. Plant varieties resistant to diseases if you have had trouble in the past. Amend the soil with compost before planting and these veggies will thrive. Keep the plants well watered. It is best to water in the morning, especially when plants are setting fruit. Watering in the evening may encourage powdery mildew and similar diseases.      

Zucchini seedlings just sprouting through the layer of mulch. Photo by mrl2022.

Winter squashes like butternut, acorn, decorative gourds, and pumpkins all can go in now too.  You probably will probably not win the biggest pumpkin contest at the fair, but you can still produce plenty of fruit. These are generally vining types that require an ample amount of space to spread out. Some winter squash are available as a bush or semi-bush type if your space is limited. Read the back of the seed packets and pick the variety best suited for your situation.  These also benefit from incorporation of compost into the soil at planting time. Keep the area weed-free while they are establishing, and their large leaves will do the rest once they get going. 

Another plant that is commonly planted in succession to ensure continual harvest is corn. Now you could do one of the sweetcorn varieties, or you could do ornamental corn. Many people I know, myself included, like the variety of colors produced by the ornamental types. Just be sure to separate corn varieties by the distance recommended on the seed packages to avoid unintended cross pollination, which can have detrimental effects on the edibility of harvested sweet corn. Alternatively, you could plant them at different times to ensure they are out-of-sync at pollination time. 

I am planning on putting in many varieties of sunflowers in during the next week. For continual flowers, plant these at two-week intervals. There are many styles and varieties so you will have to do a little research. They literally come in all shapes and sizes. Plants may be a few feet to more than twelve feet tall. There are ones with a large flower at the top of the stem, or multiple flowers on each plant. If you are planning to use them as cut flowers, try some of the pollenless varieties as they will not release pollen on to your table. There are some kinds that are nice for bird food, and others that are nice for people food. Follow package directions and make sure you are purchasing the correct type for your planned use. Regardless, they all look beautiful in the garden.   

My last suggestion is somewhat of a generic category. Try putting in some flowers. Cosmos are great and quick to grow. Sprinkle a few seeds now and they will be flowering in no time!  Dahlias are also another possibility with their large tuberous roots. The plants may even be starting to sprout in the bag. You could even think about planting seeds of some perennial flowers like Shasta daisies or Echinacea cone flowers. They will not flower this year, but will look great next year. 

The lima beans are sprouting, but the bed needs some quick attention to prevent the weeds from overtaking them. Photo by mrl2022.

So, there you have some easy suggestions for quick, easy plants that can go in the ground now.  The warm soil temperature will help them germinate quickly provided you water them well every few days. Try and disrupt the weed growth with a hoe until crops get going. Most of the plants discussed here will shade the weeds out after that. Now I am going to go take my own advice and get more planting done!

Happy Gardening!

Dr. Matthew Lisy, UConn Adjunct Faculty

Spring in New England has been kind to us gardeners. Temperatures have been on the cool side; weekends were not washout; there was a fair amount of cloudy days, so a lot of gardening work was accomplished, at least by me. I was bitten by the gardening bug as a young child following my grandparents around their gardens when we visited. Throughout most of my life, time in the garden has been very therapeutic, this spring even more so with the unexpected loss of a much-loved spouse. While the veil of loneliness creeps over me inside the house, outdoors it dissipates as we were opposite gardeners. My husband was a morning person and would be out at 7 am or earlier weeding, watering, and tending to his vegetable garden or other outdoor chores. I needed a few cups of coffee to get going on the weekends and after finishing indoor chores, would head out later in the day and during hot weather tended to follow the shade. So, while being alone inside is still very sad and difficult, being by myself to tend to the gardens feels more normal.

Two of my indispensable gardening tools. Photo by dmp2022.

That being said, there is not enough time for one person to keep up with all the outdoor chores so not as many vegetables are being planted but more flowers are. It’s just delightful to be able to collect enough flowers to fill vases in the dining room, kitchen, bath and bedroom, especially colorful or scented ones. Plus, the local garden club I belong to has a ‘flower show’ at the town’s Old Home Day Festival over Labor Day weekend.

Some of the floral arrangements at the Charlton Garden Club’s annual flower show. Photo by dmp2021.

I had already started a number of tomato and pepper plants in late winter planning for lots of meals with stuffed peppers and jars of my special chili sauce as well as fresh and canned tomatoes.

The only consistent animal pest problem we have had is racoons raiding the sweet corn – of course on the night just before it is ready to be picked! So, my husband had erected a fence around the garden we grew sweet corn in but not around the other two beds as they were typically not bothered – until last year when the rabbits ate most of the beans. Our plan was to fence this section in this spring.

 In the fenced garden bed, I planted 11 tomatoes, 4 cultivars of sweet peppers, a couple of eggplants, sweet potato slips (Beauregard), 4 varieties of cukes plus some zinnias, carrots, beets and Swiss chard. To reduce the amount of weeding necessary, I lined the paths with newspapers covered with animal bedding and placed a heat-treated straw mix around the plants. Some weeds will inevitably poke through, but many can be suppressed by a light covering of some type of mulch.

Fenced in and planted vegetable garden number 1 by dmp2022.

Last weekend I tackled the garden plot by the shed. Except for the strip of rhubarb and green onion bed, which I had previously planted with greens and garlic, there were plenty of weeds to deal with.

Vegetable garden number 2 before weeding. Photo by dmp2022.

Among the weeds were hundreds of self-seeding annuals like tall verbena, nigella, nicotiana, tall ageratum, bupleurum, and a few ammi. I transplanted a few of each and added a bed with butternut squash and nasturtium seeds, one with Japanese white hull-less popcorn and filled the other two small beds with seeds of zinnia, cosmos, marigolds and some others. In part of the bed I planted brown mustard seeds. My sister made the best sage mustard recipe last year and I am hoping to be able to harvest seeds, we’ll see how that goes.

Planting popcorn seeds. Photo by dmp2022.

Most of the third vegetable garden I covered with black plastic as I am limited to how much time I have to tend all the gardens, the house, and work full time. I did plant one whole framed raised bed with sunflowers and calendulas though. A few volunteer sunflowers had already shown up so I thought I would plant more. The birds really enjoy the seeds (don’t grow all pollenless varieties) and I am thinking Mr. Rabbit, who I’ve been watching nibbling the clover in the lawn may be the culprit that chomped on a few of the sunflower leaves. I sprayed what was left with deer and rabbit repellent so here’s hoping for the best.

I struggle with the mulch to keep down weeds to save precious time and my back versus providing an organic fortified, cooler, moister situation favoring those invasive snakeworms. While 2 inches of any type of organic mulch would likely keep weeds to a minimum, this provides a perfect habitat for these ecosystem destroying invasive pests. So I typically apply only a light covering of mulch, be it shredded bark, cocoa hulls, shredded office paper, untreated grass clippings or purchased seedling/garden mulch straw products.

It was a bit disappointing this evening when I went out to water newly seeded vegetable hills and rows to notice blades of grass rising through the winter squash bed that I had covered with Lucerne Farms gardening mulch. Since this product claims to be heat treated, I suspect that the sprouting grass seeds might be from the Mainely Mulch I had placed around the tomatoes planted in this bed last year. The Lucerne product claims to be heat treated and therefore, free of weed seeds capable of germinating.  I had used Mainely Mulch in the past with no problems but with all the rain we got last year, it seemed like any seed left in the mulch germinated. My weekend plans are to go through all the beds I just planted and pull the weeds when small.

Finished vegetable garden number 2. Photo by dmp2022.

Oxalis in the mulched herb garden is another challenge – it is so ubiquitous. I pull and pull and still see more plants.

My plan is to just upkeep what I can, not to harvest more vegetables than I can handle or give away and enjoy lots of flowers (if the rabbit doesn’t eat them).

I hope all of you have had a much happier and productive spring than me but at least it is just mostly maintenance now and the planting is done.

Celebrate the summer solstice!

Dawn P.

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