Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener

Suddenly the Equinox

I wish it would stop raining here in the Delaware Valley 2018, just for a week, a peek of sun, the moment of changing boots for sneakers to take the dog for a walk just for the last week or so of autumn, a time for tools to dry out for storage in the shed.

This is the time of year when the leaves are down, branches are exposed and pleasing patterns in their bark delight the eye. This is the time to visit an arboretum or a nursery to choose specimens for bark.

If you have a nice view out of a window consider planting a paper bark maple (Acer griseum) about 20 feet out from the building, it stays smallish and looks good in all seasons and comes from China. The paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is beautiful but it really does best farther north in New England here it is prone to invasions by miners necessitating spray for survival and I say no, if it can’t live without poison make a different choice.

The river birch (Betula nigra) on the other hand is a fairly large tree with beautiful bark and native, enjoying the wetness of the river valley with the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), an even larger tree. Unfortunately though beautiful, these are very messy trees and you will rue the day you planted them by your terrace.

Crepe myrtle also has interesting bark in winter and sometimes winters around here cause branches to die back but truth is you could cut it back practically to the ground and it will regrow. This is true of azaleas also, if yours have become rangy and unattractive cut them almost down and they will return with vigor they never had before.

I remember a delightful confession from a gardening friend who after years of frustration with her bloom-less azalea found herself beating it vigorously with a broom, venting all those disappointments but leaving it in place. She was ultimately rewarded by a full display in spring.

It has been reported that the number of Christmas trees available is down because 10 years ago when this crop was planted we were in a depressed economy and farmers planted fewer. If you choose to buy a live tree (with a ball to be planted) you should dig the hole for it now and put aside the dirt with a cover.

Get a small tree, they are heavy. Keep the tree outside before Christmas, bring it in to your house in a cool area and plan on taking it back out in just a day or two and plant in your pre-dug hole, fill in the dirt and water well. If the winter has warm, dry times of a week plan to water again.

Any recently planted specimen should be watered if winter has warm, dry spells, nothing kills a new tree or shrub faster than dry-frozen roots and you will not notice the effect until the following summer.

Cherry laurels are particularly susceptible to cold wind damage so protect yours with burlap enclosures, their hardiness is closer to zone 7 than our zone 6. To make an enclosure just pound in four stakes in a square around the shrub and attach burlap.

Avoid walking on your lawn or in your garden while the ground is so wet, every step damages some organism’s home and we need all those organisms. Avoid using poisons in your environment and make sure any plants you get from big box stores are not treated with persistent pesticides.

Ask management or the head of the horticulture department. These pesticides which our government refuses to ban stay in the soil and kill for years, harming the environment and ultimately all of us. Shop with the future in mind.



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