Rhododendron Thermometers

Can you tell how cold it is in winter by looking outdoors at your rhododendron? Locals in New Hampshire tell me that a quick glance out the window will indicate whether the temperature has dropped to 32° or not. When the temperatures drop to freezing, the normally horizontal rhododendron leaves begin to droop and curl.

The amount of droop and curl does correlate to the severity of winter temperature. The lower the temperature, the tighter the curl. At 20° they are curled as tight as they can possibly get. Our rhododendron leaves are drooped and tightly curled right now and that’s a clue to the frigid outdoor temperatures…. a -8° at daybreak and currently a -3°.

Junco on Rhody

But why do the rhododendron leaves droop and curl in the first place? Theories and debates abound. Some say it is to prevent branch damage from the snow load. Others theorize it helps prevent or reduce water loss in the leaves, although horticulturists and scientists dismiss this theory because the openings on the underside of the leaf are closed during the winter.

A likely reason is drooping and curling prevents rapid freezing and thawing of the leaves. If the leaves are horizontal as they are in warm months, thawing may occur on a sunny day in winter, then the leaves may quickly freeze again overnight. This quick freezing and thawing could destroy leaf cells. So possibly, the drooping and curling would be nature’s way to protect leaves from the thawing solar rays during the day.  They are better off staying frozen until they can thaw slowly.

Rhododendron

More study is needed to answer all the rhododendron leaf questions but I’m just happy to know I can rely on these magnificent shrubs to let me know when the thermometer hits 32°.

Christmas Feast

“The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and will will poor robin do then, poor thing?  She’ll go into the barn, keep herself warm and hide her head under her wing, poor thing!” Although this British nursery rhyme refers to the European robin, a member of the flycatcher family, I couldn’t help but think of it when I opened our front door this morning in a raging snowstorm.

Not all American robins migrate to warm climes in the winter and fruit is a natural part of their year-round diet. With whiteout conditions on this Christmas Day 2017, dozens of robins found sustenance where they could… even braved our presence to devour winterberries on our front porch arrangement. These branches were thick with berries yesterday on Christmas Eve. Tonight the branches are almost bare. It makes us happy to provide a holiday gift they needed on this icy and cold day.

Robins

robin

robin.

As always, the crabapple tree proved to be a lifesaver for dozens of robins. The birds will eat almost continuously during the day to store up as much fat reserves to survive the frigid nights of our New England winter.

crabapple.

crabapple

 

Temperatures are due to plummet to negative number in New England in the nights ahead and the frigid temperatures will create a challenge for the robins and for all birds. We’ll continue supplement nature’s food with a variety of seeds and nuts, adding fruit to what we scatter on the ground, and provide a heated birdbath for drinking water. Best of luck to our feathered friends!

NH Snow

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas in Williamsburg VA

A little nostalgia today as I am thinking about Christmas in my hometown of Colonial Williamsburg VA and re-posting some photos of the holiday decorations from 2010. It’s such a exciting time of the year with CW residents and shops participating in a decorating contest. All materials in the wreaths are found locally and would have been available to colonists. What fun it is for tourists and hometown folks to walk the ‘DOG’ (Duke of Gloucester Street) and marvel at the original, the simple, the complex, the large, and the small adornments on homes and stores. Enjoy!

Click photos for close-ups.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg. Doors, windows, gates and walls are trimmed with wreaths and swags fashioned from natural materials. Magnolia leaves, boxwood, holly, pine, dried flowers, wheat, cotton, fruit, berries, cones and more form the foundation for creative and artistic decorations that provide a treat for visitors and inspiration for making our own holiday adornments. Here are a small sampling of the 2010 holiday trimmings.

Boxwood Blight

These last couple of weeks I’ve been outdoors cutting sprigs of boxwood for use in arrangements, garlands, and wreaths. It’s an evergreen that holds up in holiday adornments both indoors and out. And maybe, like me, you appreciate having the plant in your garden in all seasons. According to a survey of 4,000 landscapers, it’s the most popular garden shrub today.

Korean Boxwood

And what’s not to like? It’s deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, versatile, an evergreen, and easy to grow. It’s been a staple in formal gardens for centuries and an integral landscape plant in my home state of Virginia since the mid-1600s. Sadly, the future of boxwood is now in jeopardy.  A fungus, C. buxicola, has resulted in ‘boxwood blight’ that may destroy box the same way that the chestnut blight destroyed trees in the 30s.https://www.amerinursery.com/pest-management/boxwood-blight-research/After taking a toll in European gardens, the blight was detected in 2011 on plants in a North Carolina nursery.  It has since been reported in Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and British Columbia. Has it reached New Hampshire yet?

Currently, no cure has been found but research is being conducted to combat the disease. Box can be treated with strong fungicides, but as of this date, the fungus cannot be eradicated. English and American Box seem to be the most susceptible. Japanese and Korean boxwood may be less susceptible. Three plants in the boxwood family are affected: boxwood, pachysandra, and sweet box (Sarcococca). Who knew pachysandra was in the box family? Not me. From pachysandra, the pathogen can spread to box.

From property to property, the sticky spores can adhere to animals, garden equipment, clothing, shoes, vehicles…. as well as by wind and rain. The spores remain active for 5 years in plant debris and soil. The spread of box blight on a plant is often rapid and hardly gives the gardener time to react. Here’s how to recognize symptoms: dark circular leaf spots often with darker margins that may eventually grow together and cover the leaf,  black streaks or lesions on the stems, and finally, rapid leaf drop.

The boxwood gardens at Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton VA (below), installed in the early 1930s by The Garden Club of Virginia, succumbed to the blight and has been replaced  not yet replaced (see update from Dianne in comments). Infected box was bagged and either burned or buried. The Garden Club of Virginia has since prohibited boxwood cuttings to be used in any club event statewide.Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton VAWhat to do to prevent the fungus?
Experts say to avoid overhead irrigation, avoid high nitrogen fertilizer, disinfect garden tools, buy from reputable dealers, isolate new plants for 4 weeks, do not work with this family of plants when wet, and space your plants.

Report suspected cases of boxwood blight immediately to your local Extension agent. They can determine whether the disease is blight or similar looking disease.

In the meantime, I am ready to make substitution in my tiny parterre garden in zone 6 if the blight reaches my box. Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) will be my first choice with its similar form, density, leaf size. Other small edging choices for gardeners can be thyme or lavender, compact ornamental grasses or dwarf yew, globe arborvitae or hosta, or for our area, perhaps try a zone 6 hardy rosemary… (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Madeline Hill’).

Tree of life

We have a beautiful crabapple tree just feet from our house and the crown almost even with our upstairs bedroom window. The first thing we hear in the morning is a chorus of fruit eating birds being well-fed on the coldest of winter mornings from the dim light of predawn to first light of sunrise.

This year we had a bumper crop of crabapples that may be the result of a two year drought followed by a wonderful wet spring this year.

The limbs were so heavy with fruit that the association decided to remove some limbs that were resting atop tall bushes below.

I would have left those limbs alone and allowed the fruit to be eaten over the winter. Many times limbs rebound when fruit is gone. I’d much rather trim the shrubs below.

Among the robins, cardinals and other song birds are hungry turkeys that dine twice a day both on and under the tree.

With my computer not cooperating after the latest system upgrade, I’m posting using my smartphone. Let’s hope the phone and I are smart enough to make this work. 😊

First Snow 2017

There is something about a first snow of the season that puts a smile on everyone’s face in the Northeast. The storm that slammed the south a couple of days ago moved into New England overnight and left us with a heavy coating of wet snow. It might have caused a panic among folks in Texas, Georgia, Virginia…. but here, it’s life as usual. We had a holiday gathering last night and the hearty among us walked quite a distance in steady snowfall instead of driving to the gala. The hallway of the party home was piled so high with boots that it was difficult to open the front door and navigate the mountain of thawing, dripping footwear. No one blinks twice at a sight like that. It’s a normal scene around here.

Our roads were cleared of snow by dawn and the same for driveways in our neighborhood… something we never saw in a Virginia storm. Of course, Virginia snows usually melted in 24-hours.

Feathered friends, both on the ground and feeders, were active at first light. I’m happy to report that the Cooper’s hawk was not able to catch our blue jay and the pair returned to feed today. I do hope the hawk found a nice little house sparrow or two or ten instead.

Waiting their turn

Juncos are abundant this year

Hard to take your eyes off our bright cardinal. Hope he’s watching out for our Cooper’s Hawk!

On the ground the day before, we counted 19 turkeys poking around for something to eat… not beneath the feeder but in the borders around the house. Most of our regular flock are young turkeys, now learning to find food beneath snow. We have plenty of oak trees that provide an abundance of acorns for them. I’m still delighted when I see the turkeys. They parade from home to home, up and down our driveways, in single file along our street, roost overnight in our trees, and are treated as neighborhood adoptees. As long as they are well-behaved, we welcome them.

Someone sent me this turkey video that made me laugh out loud and I wondered if I could ever learn to call our turkeys like he did. However, if I got down and wobbled like the young man in the video, I’d never be able get back up.

 

I know it’s nature but….

….I don’t have to like it.

As the day broke on this chilly morning, I sat at the kitchen table and observed at least two dozen bluebirds descending upon the rooftops and chimneys of neighboring homes. Eureka! This called for another cup of coffee and a camera to try and capture the migration moment. I love it when a day starts like this one!

Bluebirds Dec. 2017

I watched wave after wave of bluebirds arrive to dine on mealworms, sunflower seeds, and to take a sip from the still icy birdbath.

Bluebirds

And I smiled as I drank my coffee and clicked away with my camera through the window.

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The bluebirds’ arrival encouraged the arrival of a large number of goldfinches that swarmed and drank and ate. Oh, such fun avian activity adding to our ever present juncos, cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches, titmouse and chickadees. It was a bird party.

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But the party ended suddenly. I glanced up and not a bird to be seen. That is except one. And that one was definitely NOT invited to the party. That party crasher was sitting on the bluebird house.  I had to admire its beauty but hoped it wouldn’t stay.

Seconds later, I saw my blue jay dart out of a nearby shrub screaming and the cooper’s hawk was just feet behind. I hope the jay made it to safety. I know it’s nature but I don’t have to like it.

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