IMG_20170702_114322695One of the best things about summer in Connecticut is the easy drive to the Connecticut shore as almost any point in Connecticut is no more than a 1 ½ hour drive to the Long Island Sound. Although Connecticut is the third smallest state area-wise (5543² miles) we are ranked either 17th or 20th in total ocean coastline. The 20th ranking is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which includes tidal inlets and the Great Lakes in its calculations. Our 17th place ranking says that we have 96 miles of coastline while the 20th place gives us a grand total of 618 miles. In fact, if every citizen of Connecticut stood very close (and held our babies and toddlers) we could all stand along that 618-mile coastline! I must admit, as we walked along Sound View Beach over the 4th of July weekend it felt as if that scenario was taking place.

But walking a little further away from the sea of humanity is when the real appeal of the Connecticut shore happens for me. The diversity of the plants and vegetation that can be encountered never ceases to amaze me. Even though hydrangeas grow all over Connecticut, including in our yard in Enfield, they never seem as deeply blue as they do when there is a touch of salt in the air…

IMG_20170711_183708714_HDR

…the honeysuckle smells sweeter…

Honeysuckle 2

…and the beach rose hips are the size of cherry tomatoes!

IMG_20170711_172144267

The Connecticut coastal region has a longer frost-free season than most of the state of Connecticut, 15-35 days longer depending on where you live. I would love an extra 35 days of growing time for my gardens but I don’t know if I would be willing to exchange those extra days just to worry about the salinity tolerance of my plants, sandy soils that may drain too quickly, or high winds. Those are all a part of the ecoregion along the Connecticut shore and each of those factors play a part in selecting plants for landscaping in that area.

IMG_20170712_084312269_HDR

Salt can affect and potentially kill shoreline plants in two ways; either through salt spray that can damage leaves and plant tissues or through groundwater where salt water is brought in on daily tides. Where the groundwater is highly concentrated with salt water plant tissues can be damaged as with salt spray but additionally they will suffer with water uptake issues. When the concentrations of salt in the soil surrounding the roots of a plant become too high the plant may be forced to accumulate salts in its root cells to compensate for the higher levels outside. Expending energy to facilitate these functions means less energy will be directed toward the growth and vigor of the plant, sometimes causing the roots to go dormant, and resulting in a poor or stunted appearance.

Have you ever noticed how plantings along the shore seem to almost hug the ground? When salt is dissolved in water it separates into equal ratios of its two ions: sodium and chloride. It is the build-up of chloride ions in plant tissues such as the stems and leaves that will present as browned, bronzed, or ‘scorched’, leaf edges.

scorched

Even the slope of the land or whether there is a sea wall present will influence the amount of salt damage that can occur. Within the same property or area several different salinity levels may be present as plants that are on the lower end of a slope may receive twice-daily infiltrations of seawater at high tide. And an area that slopes up will be more affected by salt spray. In fact, unlike the effect of elevated levels of salt in groundwater which tend to be localized, salt spray can reach plants several miles inland.

Fortunately, many species of plants that are native to Connecticut have developed the ability to thrive in these conditions and are categorized as highly salt tolerant, moderately tolerant, and least tolerant. Using plants that are highly tolerant as a buffer to shield less tolerant plants from salt spray, winds, or that simply increase the distance from areas of salty groundwater is a good option. The Connecticut Coastal Planting Guide from Connecticut Sea Grant/UConn has a great listing of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and groundcovers and their salt tolerance levels. Our recent trip to the shore showed some wonderful examples.

IMG_20170711_112627268   Sassafras

Mountain Laurel     IMG_20170711_115224655_HDR

IMG_20170711_113134395   Viburnum

Trumpet creeper           IMG_20170711_182901348_HDR

Through UConn, the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources has a resource that, through a step-by-step process, will help you prepare your site and choose plants that will have a better chance of survival in the coastal environment, prevent erosion, and provide needed food and protection to coastal wildlife such as this great white heron.

Susan Pelton

All images and videos by Susan Pelton 2017

 

The incredibly variable weather this spring has definitely been challenging for many woody plants. The extremely early warm weather that forced premature growth in many plants was tailed by late hard frosts. This resulted in freeze damage in some plants. Non- native plants were most severely impacted by these conditions. I was ecstatic to see the extremely invasive, Japanese knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum quite heavily zapped by the late May frost. It has since recovered.

Two wonderful, native, woody plants, unfazed by our capricious climate, are currently flowering prolifically:
The Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera is a member of the Magnolia Family Magnoliaceae and one of our tallest (to 150 feet) and most beautiful native hardwood trees. The tulip trees are in full flower, which you might miss unless you look up into the tree to find them. Their stunning orange- yellow flowers, set off by glossy, star-shaped leaves are too often overlooked, as they are usually way above our heads.

Tulip Tree Flower

The wood is highly valued for use in furniture and framing construction. The tree is a significant source of food for wildlife, as food and habitat for bees and a stately shade tree for large areas. It ranges throughout the Eastern United States from southern New England, west to southern Ontario and Michigan, and south to north-central Florida and Louisiana.

 

Seed Pod

Look up at the tree in the fall too; seedpod of the Tulip Tree are quite spectacular.

Fringe tree Chionanthus virginicus a member of the olive family Oleaceae is a small tree (to 25 feet) with an upright rounded form. It produces showy, fragrant, pure white flowers, which are composed of strap-shaped petals. The flowers hang from a 4 to 8 inch stalk. Some folks think they appear beardlike hence the common name Old Man’s Beard. The genus name Chionanthus, means snow and flower. Beard, snow or fringe-like these flashy flowers put on a spectacular show for at least’s two weeks in the spring, flowering just after the native dogwood fade.
The native range is southern New England south to Florida and west to Texas.

Fringe Tree in flower

L Alexander