Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Frogs and Toads

I’ve been doing some research on how frogs and toads benefit the garden.

According to Frogs by Dan Greenberg – Benchmark Books 2001: “The American toad is indeed a voracious eater of garden pests. One study estimated that 88 percent of the toad’s diet consisted of insects that were harmful to garden plants, including mosquitoes, locusts, grasshoppers, snails, slugs and hairy caterpillars.”

I’m lucky because there are a lot of American toads in the neighbor’s pond. I love to listen to the trill on a warm spring evening. You can listen to the cacophony here: About 100 feet of vegetative growth separates our deck from the pond reducing the toads love song to pleasant background music.

I plan to add a few toad houses to my garden next summer. You can find some ideas here: or here

Why are frogs so happy? Because they eat what bugs them.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fall Garden Cleanup

A few days of badly needed rain has caused a temporary halt in garden cleanup.

In the last few weeks, I managed to get a few things done.

Even though we have not had a frost, I’ve been emptying pots and composting the potted annuals. The pots were cleaned and stored for the winter. The pot pictured is ready to roll toward the compost bin. I never do a great job of cleaning pots before I put them away. I dump the soil and brush out a little remaining soil. I use new soil mix in spring and I haven’t had any problems. I guess this is OK but I’m sure there are better methods.

I cut back a few of the black-eyed Susan and cone flowers. I leave some for the small birds to feed on. They like the little seed heads.

I cut back and cleaned the iris bed a few weeks ago. This is the first year I’ve done this. Most years I tend to ignore the mess altogether. The yellow iris blooms profusely every year with almost no care at all. I hope the iris like being neat and tidy for a change.

The peonies were cut off and discarded in the trash. They were a mildewed, unsightly mess.

I picked the last of the tomatoes and pulled the plant the other day before the rain. I harvested 8 green tomatoes and one almost ripe. Most of them will ripen off the vine – or become green fried tomatoes. Next year I want to try Brandyboy tomatoes if I can find them. It's large beefsteak that I’ve heard good things about from other gardeners.

If we get a frost this weekend, I’ll cut off canna stalks. I’ll dig up the canna tubers with a garden fork. They will be dried and stored in peat moss in a cool place for the winter. The rest of the annuals will need to be cleaned out of the garden.

Hopefully, I’ll have time to spread some compost and mulch before leaf raking starts in earnest.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


As I slowly work on garden cleanup (who could rush in such glorious weather), I continually stop to admire the plants.

The mums in bloom, the grasses against a blue sky, the annuals bright colors and even the obnoxious beans on the locust tree grab my attention.

It’s hard to get serious about cleanup with all that’s still happening in the garden. Even the resident bunny is lulled into a leisurely, relaxed life.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cow Pots vs. Peat Pots

(See February 1 and May 9, 2007 posts.)

The cow pot versus peat pot experiment this summer showed no advantage to cow pots (at least in my garden).

I planted 4 cuttings of the same variety of coleus - 2 in cow pots and 2 in peat pots. I tried to keep the size of the plants similar - about 2” - and planted in the garden on May 14. I planted the peat pot on the left and the cow pot on the right. I tore the bottom out of the peat pot and put a few holes on the side with my thumb nail and broke off anything above soil level. The cow pot top was broken off to the soil line. Both plants received the same amount of water and fertilizer during the summer.

I did this in two areas. During the summer, all plants grew fairly well. But, by September, the peat-potted plant was slightly larger in both instances. (peat pot left – cow pot right)

When I dug out the plants last week, the peat pot was still more or less intact. The cow pot had completely degraded. Although the cow pots served the purpose well for cuttings and are a great recycling effort, there was no noticeable contribution to the growth of the plant. I would use them again if I can find them locally at a competitive price.

I reuse small plastic pots for most of my cuttings. I use peat pots for cuttings taken late in the winter so I don’t have to disturb the roots when planting the young plants in the garden. I have a friend who reuses empty yogurt containers for cuttings. Now that’s recycling.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mums and Asters

The colors of fall.

Mums and asters are in bloom everywhere. The colors in my garden are mostly yellow to orange, a few pinks and a purple. The size varies from a diminutive button mum to the 3 foot high and wide yellow mum that was an Easter gift. (Yes, I did pinch it back.)

Chrysanthemum rubellum 'Clara Curtis' has been a real winner. This pink daisy mum, purchased in 2004 from Wayside Gardens, grows and grows and bloomed all summer. I’ve given away a few pieces of this plant.

Another winner in the hardiness category is Chrysanthemum koreanum ‘Single Apricot’. This daisy-shaped mum spreads and needs to be propped up. I use 4 sections of 24” or 32” Gard’n Border green round folding fence to make a cage. The fall color is a sweet peachy-pink. I purchased it in 2004 from Hickory Grove Greenhouses in North Catasauqua.

A spectacular show this year is the orange mum transplanted from my Mom’s garden several years ago. I don’t know the name but it produces a great bloom every year. This one also gets pinched and propped and grows 2 to 3 feet tall.

Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’, planted in 2004, has a deep, rich purple color. I originally planted 2 but only one remains. I pinch the plant back lightly until the middle of June. I didn’t have much trouble with mildew this year – because it was so dry? It doesn’t spread (unfortunately) and is pretty care free if you can put up with the mildew. I would like to add a few more asters next year.

I try to plant mums in a wind-sheltered, sunny spot. They make good foundation plantings. In winter, I cover them with branches cut off when the plant dies back and some leaves or mulch. I try to shelter them from the winter freeze/thaw cycles. Sometimes I lose a mum but mostly they make it through the winter.

The hardiest of my mums: ‘Clara Curtis’ is planted in a sunny open spot and seems to do fine. I haven’t done anything to it – no fertilizer, no pinching, no cutting off dead branches. The ‘Single Apricot’ is under a dogwood tree but gets some sun. This one is pinched, propped, cut and covered. It spreads a lot so I end up with plants to share or plants for the compost. I just pull or cut them out when it gets too wide.

What a colorful way to end the summer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


It’s time to clean out Musikfest’s Blumenplatz. (see June 30, 2007 post) In the next week or two, we will be removing all the plants and taking them to the Bethlehem Compost Center.

It’s been a year with the usual ups and downs. Most plants thrived. Some areas looked anemic and had to be enhanced with plants from the Butterfly (plant holding) Garden in the Colonial Industrial Quarter. The chairman kept everything on track and tirelessly tended the garden. Many of the lights during the festival gave him fits. The dry summer never gave a break to watering. A lot of help at planting time came in the form of Art’s Quest interns. Dan Schatz Greenhouse again provided massive amounts of annuals. Deadheading. trimming and weeding continued all summer. The design was beautiful as usual.

It’s time to put the garden to bed. We’ll meet again next April to plan the garden in the city center. We hope it will be even better than this year. The best garden is always next year’s, isn’t it?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Invasive Plants

Two popular shrubs have become invasive in Pennsylvania dominating natural resources and depleting cover and food for wildlife – Japanese Barberry and Burning Bush.

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has never been a favorite of mine because of its sharp edges. It has a burgundy color that adds interest to the landscape so it is has become an attractive addition to many gardens.

According to Invasive Organization

“In the United States, Japanese barberry occurs throughout much of New England and the Northeast, south to North Carolina and west to Michigan and Missouri. Barberry forms dense stands in a variety of habitats, including closed canopy forests and open woodlands, wetlands, pastures, meadows and wastelands. This highly shade-tolerant exotic shrub displaces a variety of native herb and shrub species in areas where it is well established.”

The Barberry variety ‘Concord’ can be substituted providing everything the invasive plant offers without the seeds that promote invasiveness.

I do have personal experience with Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus). Purchased in the early 90’s, I wanted a shrub that would add some color to the fall landscape. I got the color but I also got hundreds of seedlings after the shrub matured. I’ve removed the bush.

The Global Invasive Species Team has this to say about Burning Bush:

“This new invader is becoming increasingly common in Connecticut, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. It has been observed making dense thickets in Pennsylvania. These thickets can shade out native herbs and crowd out native shrubs.”

Some native plant substitutes for Burning Bush worth checking include: maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii), service berry (Amelanchier arborea), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) or red chokeberry 'Brilliantissima' (Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima').

Even the much loved Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) has become invasive in some parts of the country. Since seeds of the Butterfly Bush don’t mature until spring, trimming spent flowers in the fall will greatly reduce the threat.

It may take a bit of research to make the right choice when buying shrubs or working with a landscaper. But, by staying away from the shrubs that can become invasive, at least I won't add to the problem.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sweet Pea

I’ve tried for the last two or three years to grow sweet peas. Last year I got a few beautiful blooms from Ferry & Morse seeds Sweet Pea Early Mixed Colors. (See December 29, 2006 post.) I guessed that there were so few blooms because they didn’t get enough sun.
So this year I planted Burpee Sweat Dreams and Streamers Mix in the rose bed in full sun. I’m not sure it was good for the roses but I finally got more sweet pea blooms. Planted May 2, they are coming into full bloom now.

Burpee description of Sweet Dreams says, “Old-fashioned fragrance”. The fragrance is really not noticeable but the flower is large and bright.

The Streamers Mix is a really spectacular color although I have only seen lilac-colored striated flowers. According to Burpee, “The pure white flowers are infused with intense tones of purple, rose, pink, blue and orange.” Streamers is also supposed to be fragrant but I really can’t notice any aroma.

There are lots of buds. I hope to see many more flowers before frost.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Celtic Classic

A weekend of fun, food, entertainment and competition happened in Bethlehem September 28, 29, 30. The 20th annual Celtic Classic was organized by the Celtic Cultural Alliance.

Celtic Classic Invitational Pipe Band and Drum Major Competitions included 10 bands from northeast US and Canada. Third Place Grade 3 MacMillan Pipe Band from Rockville, MD as well as the other competing pipe bands marched down Main Street. A few local bands also contributed to a musically colorful parade. Pipe band competitions were held behind Moravian South Campus soon to be used for a new dorm building for the college.

US National Highland Championships – according to the Celtic Classic publication:

“This is Celtic Classic’s third year of hosting the official U.S. National Highland Athletic Championships and our 20th year of witnessing many World Records being set on our Highland Fields!”

The history and rules of these competitions can be found at As always, the Caber Championships drew a large crowd on Saturday. Local favorite Harrison Bailey III from Easton put on a great show to the delight of a cheering crowd.

Celtic education and culture were on display in the Ring of Celtic Heritage and included Celtic Quest –

“Celtic Quest is a journey to the Seven Celtic Nations. Upon arriving at the Celtic Classic, children (or the young at heart) can receive a free Celtic Quest passport at each Celtic Nation Station throughout the Celtic Classic grounds. The Quest takes the passport bearer to all seven of the Celtic Nation Stations, where demonstrations, craft projects and displays will be set up to entertain and educate children, and adults alike, about the seven Celtic Nations.”

Tom Slattery an Irish-experience storyteller charmed the crowd and passed out information on the CCC Celt Collection Library at Bucks County Community College Several Clans presented history of their clan. Representing Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales, Celtic garb, jewelry, signs and memorabilia were on sale everywhere. Highland dancers, step dancers and traditional as well as modern musicians performed on every stage.

There were few complaints for such a large festival. The Celtic singing competition was held across the Monocacy Creek from the main Grand Pavilion. It was almost impossible to hear the singers as the music from the Pavilion stage overpowered the vocals. Due to the large crowd on Saturday, lines were long at ticket booths and at most food vendors. The fiddle competition at the Ice House was at capacity Saturday and Sunday and no one else could be admitted. And, the results of the competitions were not published until this morning and don’t include the results of the individual athletic events.

All in all, Celtic Classic is a wonderful and family-friendly festival. The weekend was a reminder of what a beautiful city we live in - from the quaint main street to the view near the Lehigh River photographed on the way to the volunteer parking area.