Home from California!

A parade of spring yellows greeted me on returning from California… not the Keukenhof river of blooms I had envisioned but lovely daffodils, all varieties in shades of yellow, have burst into bloom in borders and clumps throughout the lawn.

Our yellow forsythia blooms are now just past prime with tiny green leaves unfolding everywhere.

Pots of yellow pansies that I planted earlier have thrived in the sunny days and cool New England evenings.

Throughout the grass, the dainty four-petaled white Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) with their yellow centers, dot the yard. This is one tiny wildflower that I don’t mind seeing in the lawn. If I could find a way to mow around them all, I would. They bloom profusely until July.

The only yellow I was not thrilled to see was the dandelion….. not one but dozens of them spread out like blankets over the lawn. There was not a hint of a weed in this yard a month ago. Now I know this lawn is besieged with hundreds of dandelions. My sleeves are rolled up. My work is cut out. I must eliminate them all before they go to seed.

Nightmare On My Street

At first they looked insignificant and harmless but these plants were really the devil in disguise. Like those really bad reptilian creatures with sharp teeth and claws who rampaged a town in the 1984 horror movie, Gremlins, I am currently under attack by a weed…. a devil weed, a dangerous villain, a Gremlin. It’s Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant in the Mustard family. Native to Europe, it is thought to have been brought to America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and indeed, it is edible.

Garlic_Mustard_close_800

The small rosettes of leaves appeared among my roses and lavender several years ago. I pulled up tons without recognizing the weed until successive years when the plant had matured into tall shoots, competing with the lavender, then moving on to other borders . Each year, I weed and weed and I think I’ve gotten it under control but when I turn my back, it multiplies as fast as those little Gremlins that terrorized an entire community.

It is a destructive invasive plant that is controlled best by hand-pulling before the plant goes to seed. Each mature plant can produce over a thousand seeds and once it produces seeds, it can become so prolific that it is difficult to eradicate. When it’s introduced into a new environment, it can aggressively spread into woodlands where it out-competes native plants and flowers that insects depend upon for life. The West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) and the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) that lay eggs on Toothwort plants are choosing to lay eggs on Garlic Mustard which has proved toxic to both the eggs and larvae. The plant also produces toxins that suppress the mycorrhizal fungi that plants require for growth.

The plant has no natural enemies. For very heavy infestations where risks to desirable plants is at a minimum, applications of systemic herbicide glyphosate can be effective.  Since the seeds remain viable for five years in the soil, diligent monitoring is important. After weeding, do not compost this weed as the plant can germinate in the compost bed.

Wish me luck.

PS: I uploaded the wrong photo. I moved and now I live in New Hampshire. Wikipedia supplied the photo of Garlic Mustard for this post.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Garden Tools

One of my required master gardener classes was a lecture on garden tools. Instructors were scheduled to instruct the class on the tools available for gardeners and the purpose of each. They were bringing examples of spades, shovels, trowels, rakes, saws, shears, weeders, pruners, loppers, hoes, garden forks and pitchforks. Whew! In the world of gardening there are as many tools as there are jobs and we were going to learn all about working in the soil with some and working with plants with others. I felt a little smug going in to this class. I was already a gardener and I had my basic arsenal of garden tools. I knew I’d be yawning, drawing doodles in my book, and looking at my watch a lot during class time.

No rust on these tools!

Boy, was I wrong! I began the class elbows on the desk and head in my hands. Several hours later, I was sitting up straight and had taken copious notes with small sketches in the margins. I found I did not know all the names of the tools I already owned. And I learned a few new names of other handy garden tools. A Winged Weeder? A Garden Bandit?  A Swoe?  A dibber? I learned when to use bypass pruners and when to use anvil pruners. I discovered I knew nothing about choosing a tool to fit my grip, did not understand the benefits of short-handled tools and long-handled tools, styles, weights, and materials. I learned, like proper shoes, garden tools need to be fitted to the gardener.

That was then....

This is now.....

And I learned valuable knowledge on sharpening my own tools (I tossed the dull and bought new ones) and the proper care of tools (I tossed the old and bought new ones).  I took my tools for granted and left them where I last worked in the garden. I’m much better now about wiping tools clean of any dirt or grass before storing them in the garden shed. I sharpen tools regularly and coat the metals with a mixture of petroleum jelly and light oil or a rust blocker spray like Bull Frog Rust Blocker (environmentally safe) to prevent rust. Another master gardener tip for treating metals is to fill a pail with sand and mix in used oil. Any oil will do… cooking, motor… but I do wonder about the environmental impact of eventual disposal.

I still have my favorite tools in the garden shed and it’s nice to know their names, to know how to use them, to know they are better cared for and that they might last a lifetime.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Late Summer Weeds I Love to Hate

I am not one of those people who can sustain the care of a garden on a regular basis. Better gardeners venture out regularly to assess garden conditions. Instead I seem to weed in less effective spurts. And my maintenance techniques are not for the faint of heart. I wait until I am triggered by the arrival of guests or I know I have two to three days in a row at home or the lure of a cooler day coaxes me outdoors away from other duties.  On those days I weed like a perspiring, grimy maniac from dawn to dusk (or later) filling several wheelbarrows with debris… lots of dead stuff, spent herbage, and tons of weeds.  At the end of each day, mister gardener and even the dogs give me a wide berth.

Having just completed a major late summer overhaul of the garden, there were the familiar seasonal weeds that seemed to taunt me. As my garden flowers fade, these weeds thrive in the sun baked ground, they sprout atop the fresh mulch, and they prosper without the existence of water. One weed that gardeners encounter this time of year is spotted spurge.

Spotted spurge

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a late-summer annual that forms a low, dense mat over the ground. This spurge seems to find every crack and crevice in full sun and it can grow over a foot in diameter. The lookalike spurge, prostrate spurge, roots at the nodes of the plant. Thank goodness that one isn’t a problem in these gardens!

Partridge Pea takeover!

Some gardeners welcome the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), a native annual, to their late summer garden but I’m not one of them. Left alone, this plant reaches two feet in height and drops seed from pods in the fall. It does have a lovely yellow bloom that insects seem to adore…. even the red velvet ant, I read somewhere. I respect this plant but I can hardly give it an inch because it is so prolific. It prefers full sun but thrives in the shady area of my new secret garden where, alas, the soil is poor.

Common Woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)

One last plague in the garden path is common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), a clover-like plant that hides in my steppable groundcover along the flagstone in full sun or shade. For effective weeding I slowly work my way along the flagstone, pulling the plant gently out of the sandy foundation where succulents, thymes and miniature grasses fill in the gaps between stones. Annoying as it is, I remember as a child chewing on the sour leaves so this weed, I don’t mind so much.

Following my Herculean garden undertaking on Saturday, I have retired from weeding duties until the next time.  The garden looks fine from the windows while I’m vacuuming. It looks inspirational from the deck as I fill the hummingbird feeders. The tall hosta blooms swaying in the breezes are thrilling from the porch as sip my lemonade. Sigh.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Walk in the Park

We’re lucky enough to have fabulous hiking trails at Beaverdam Park in Gloucester. Damming in 1990 created this 635-acre freshwater reservoir surrounded by hardwood trees and a multitude of flora and fauna. Well-maintained trails that circle and loop around the lake are multi-purposed. Hikers, nature walkers, joggers, bikers can be seen on any given day as well as riders atop their horses on certain trails.

mister gardener took the lead on this trip and we stuck to the 3-mile hiking nature trail that takes us across bridges, up inclines, down to the waterfront under the cool canopy of native trees.

Foot bridge over marsh

Along the way we saw many blooming natives such as the tick-trefoil or beggar’s lice, a woodland plant that most folks have had contact with at some time in their lives. The Velcro-like pods of the beggar’s lice is split into triangular legumes. When an animal, human or otherwise, brushes against the plant, the hairs on the seed pods grab onto its fur… or the clothing of a child or adult. I’ve learned from experience to make sure the seeds are peeled off socks before they are washed and dried since they survive both cycles and afterwards become almost impossible to remove.

Beggar's Lice with triangular seeds

The obedient plant or false dragonhead (Physostegia virginianais) we found growing along the banks of the lake.  These tight clusters of lavender/pink flowers grow on long spikes and are seen in moist ground along the edge of streams and marshes. The name ‘obedient’ is given because each flower of the plant can be pushed to and fro, up and down and from side to side and it will remain in that position.

Obedient Plant

Common inhabitants of the park are snakes, especially the rat snake, a constrictor of rodents and birds that is widespread in the northern hemisphere. Like the majority of snakes, it tends to be shy and will avoid being confronted. One identifying trait of the rat snake is the unusual kinks in its body when startled or confronted with danger.

Rat Snake: look for the white chin and throat for a positive ID

This is what mister gardener stepped over without seeing.  Sensing danger, it froze in place developing kinks along its body about every 2 inches. mister gardener allowed me to take the lead after the snake sighting.

Zigzag kinks in the body of a startled 5' rat snake

If you like fungus, it’s plentiful along the hiker’s trails at Beaverdam Park.

Paths are kept in good condition, the 3-mile hike is not difficult to traverse, inclines are slight, and there are plenty of benches to rest and enjoy the view across the water.  Many communities have similar parks and paths to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a rewarding way to appreciate all that nature provides for us.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

You Can Teach an Old Dog!

I grew up near fields of wildflowers, aka weeds, where siblings and friends played through endless summers. I ran through fields, made forts in tall grasses, played hide & seek, made dandelion chains to adorn our heads, necks and wrists, held buttercups under each others chins to see if we liked butter, made small projectiles from seed heads while chanting, “Mama had a baby and her head popped off,” picked burrs from my socks, blew dandelion seeds, got stung by nettles, and gathered flowers to take home that wilted before I reached the front door.

It was an on-site education and I thought I knew my weeds…but a recent educational email from Gloucester Master Gardeners set me straight on one weed.  I referred to a common pink-purple flowered weed as Henbit (lamium amplexicaule), when in fact there were two similar looking weeds that grow in the same areas. The other is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). I lumped the two together as all Henbit.  Now, looking at them together before the plants fully flower, I can clearly see the difference.  Thank you, Ellis Squires!

Purple Dead Nettle

Henbit

The email from Ellis Squires follows:

“I am sure you have noticed the empty farm fields carpeted with purple this time of year.  To discover the cause, you may have to get down on your knees.  There are two plants responsible for these blazes of glory, both are of the same genus in the mint family, have opposite leaves, square stems and lipped flowers.

Henbit

The first is called Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule and is a low-growing annual, growing to 4 to 10 inches tall, with hairy stems. The upper leaves are semicircular, clasping (which is what amplexus means) and opposite with a lobed margin. The pink to purple flowers are in whorls in the axils of the upper leaves. The buds are like little beads of royal purple. It is one of the earliest flowers to bloom and is an important nectar and pollen plant for bees and honeybees.  It is widely naturalized in eastern North America, where it may be considered to be an invasive weed.

The second species, which will take a dicerning eye to differentiate, is Purple Dead Nettle, Lamium purpureum, which is also native to Europe and Asia.  It grows to 3 to 10 inches in height. The leaves are finely haired, are green at the bottom of the stem, and purplish at the top. The short petiole on the pointed leaves is one way to tell it from unstalked leaves of Henbit.

Purple Dead Nettle

The bright red-purple flowers have a top hood-like petal, two lower lip petal lobes and minute fang-like lobes between. Bees also find this plant attractive for it is often the only nectar source available in the early spring.

Although it has the name nettle, and may look a little like a nettle, it is not related and does not contain the stinging hairs of the true nettle, and why it gets the name ‘dead’ nettle. The tops of young plants are edible, and can be used in salads or a stirfry, but don’t over-do it as the flavor may be a bit of an acquired taste.”

–Ellis Squires   (The Virginia Master Naturalist Program is a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. Interested Virginians become Master Naturalists through training and volunteer service.)

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Indestructable Creeping Charlie

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Warming-Skudbygning-Fig9-Glechoma-hederacea.jpgUnless you live in a Rocky Mountain State, you probably have seen a certain evergreen ground perennial running in all directions through your grass this summer.  Best known as Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), but sometimes called Ground Ivy, it is an aromatic member of the mint family.  It thrives in cool, moist, shady soil and the Commonwealth has provided perfect conditions for Creeping Charlie to take hold this summer.  And once it does take hold, watch out. It spreads quickly by sending out runners and putting down new roots every few inches. It also reproduces by seed and by rhizomes.

I left a pair of clippers at the edge of a new border where Charlie Clippers lost beneath Charlie for two wet weekswas prolific. They disappeared in Kudzu-like fashion in no time.  It took me two weeks to find those clippers and only with a weed trimmer did they reappear.

Recently I walked with a friend through her yard while she pointed to the bane of her existence. Crowding out almost half of her shady yard of new grass was Creeping Charlie.  As we walked, she shared her tales of struggle against it. Her story is not unique.  I have Creeping Charlieseen folks fight for years to control Charlie.  Often gardeners give up the war and manage to just keep it somewhat tamed.  Of course, if you happen to rid your property of it, that doesn’t mean the neighbors won’t share their healthy Creeping Charlie.

Landscapers consider the invasive plant a weed and as a last resort will use a glyphosate-based herbicide like Roundup to kill everything, then begin again with grass seed or sod. Homeowners often use a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide twice in the fall and twice again in the spring for several years to have any success.  Others, like me, simply weed it by hand knowing that the fix is temporary.

According to Peterson’s Field Guide, Edible Wild Plants, the plant has culinary uses.  It makes a robust tea, and herbalists around the world hail the perennial for its medicinal benefits.  However, common sense tells us to educate ourselves before ingesting the plant or using it for medical purposes.

Whether you like Creeping Charlie or not, swift success in controlling it is highly unlikely.  Either prepare your battle plan or think of Charlie as a lovely evergreen ground cover.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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Know Your Chickweed

There are a number of weeds that germinate in the fall, both grasses and broadleaf.  They are called winter annuals because they can germinate in October and November, then over-winter as small plants until warmer weather in March triggers growth, followed by flowers, then seeds.  By summer the plants often die back October chickweed in Ann's gardenor go fibrous.

One of these winter annual broadleaf weeds is common chickweed, Stellaria media, sometimes called starweed or tongue grass.  It is a low-growing, succulent plant that can form large mats over the ground in the spring.  The branched stems, with rows of hairs, trail along the ground and can root at each of the swollen nodes.  The oval, paired leaves are cool and smooth to the touch and the showy deeply cut white spring flowers can be solitary or clustered at the tips of the stems.  Tiny flat seeds are formed in oval, one-celled capsules and can germinate at just above 32 degrees F.  Seedlings can survive the severest frost and can stay green under snow.

A native to Europe, the leaves, stems and flowers have long been used as herbal folk medicine for skin conditions, however contact dermatitis may develop in those with allergies so caution is indicated.  Records show it was sold by street vendors in Victorian London as food for pet birds and it is consumed by many animals including wild birds, sheep, rabbits, horses, cows, geese, pigs and, of course, chickens, thus the name ‘chickweed.’

As a plant it can serve a purpose, but for most gardeners and farmers, it is a weed. The battle with chickweed can never be won in North America but fortunately it’s not a hard fought battle for me. One interesting fact about chickweed is that it is found growing in rich, moist, fertile soils and does not tolerate poor soil or dry soil or hot sunny spots.  So sadly, chickweed is quite well behaved in my yard, which means my soil needs work.

chickweed leavesTo weed by hand, I simply pull the tender succulent in the cool spring while still in flower and before it sets its seeds.  The roots are very fragile and quite shallow and compact and the plant pulls up easily. If you use chemicals, pre-emergents are the best way to control these weeds.  Use them now before you see the weeds as they work on the germinating seeds.  Post-emergent herbicides for broadleaf weeds are not as effective in the fall since winter annuals are beginning their dormant stage.  Use these in the spring when weeds are actively growing.

Although it can be a pest in our gardens, it’s nice to think of weeds as part of the tapestry of nature.  They can make life interesting and it’s worth knowing a bit about them before we yank them from the ground.

Do you know your Creeping Charlie?  Click here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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