Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A blizzard of leaves covered the yard like golden snow.

Our maple trees hold on to their leaves longer than any tree in our neighborhood. We had a cold night last Friday (27 degrees) and all the leaves seemed to drop at once. Well, most of them.

We ran over the leaves with the lawn mower. Then we raked and carried the chopped leaves to the compost bin. When the bin was full, we made a pile under an evergreen tree. The balance made a pile in the gutter to be picked up by the city to add to the community compost pile. I love recycling.

I can almost hear those leaves turning into black gold. And the price is right (if you don’t mind a little work).

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” is a great informational site

There are identifying keys, audio and video recordings. In the search feature of the Bird Guide (tab), type cardinal or robin or a bird of your choice. It will bring up sites where you can read a description of the bird, learn about its habitat or listen to its sound.

I used the site last May when cardinals built a nest in a holly outside our living room window - an exciting birds eye view, so to speak. The information on the site helped me follow the process from eggs to fledglings leaving the nest.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Diagnosing Plant Problems

"Diagnosing plant problems requires patience"

The above title was posted by Karen Bernhard, Entomologist, Lehigh Co. Cooperative Extension, on November 8th on The Morning Call web site

Many times the folks at the County Extension office know what’s happening with your plant, lawn, vegetable, shrub or tree because they have received other calls or they are seeing the same problem in their own gardens. Sometimes the information will be posted on the blog.

Sometimes the question is extremely difficult to answer. These are the problems that take time and patience. Is it caused by a bug, a virus, bacteria? Or is it cultural – the weather, site problems, hardiness problems, problem with sprays, or a host of other reasons?

In the Master Gardener Blog, a helpful questionnaire is posted under “Garden Resources” in the right-hand column. Click “Send Questions to a Master Gardener.” Click again on “Submit your questions online”. The form will give you some idea of the information needed to accurately assess the problem.

If it is a really difficult problem, you may be asked to bring a sample. Take as much of the plant as you can. Often the answer is in the transition zone between the good growth and the problem zone. Sometimes it is even in the roots. The samples will need to be fresh. If you can’t get to the office right away, store the sample in a plastic bag, keep it cool and get it there as soon as possible. When you call, the people at the Extension Office will advise you how to handle the specimen.

A helpful guide for the do-it-yourself gardener “A Guide to Diagnosing Diseases of Landscape Plants” Virginia Cooperative Extension

If you have a difficult problem, be prepared for a tough answer.

- Sometimes there is nothing you can do. The plant is toast.
- Treatment may be delayed until another season. A pesticide may only work at a certain stage of the insect’s life.
- Sometimes there’s nothing you need to do. It will eventually go away.

Hopefully, the people at the extension will be able to provide a plan of action and not a dire diagnosis.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Promise of Spring

Even though I’m in the “season of brown” mentally, there are signs everywhere of the promise of spring.

The PJM Rhododendron with its burgundy tinted leaves cradling buds waiting to explode next April.

Buds of the Dogwood trees pop straight up among the fall colored leaves.

Pussy Willow buds swell in anticipation of late winter sun.

Azaleas and Rhododendron buds wait for April.

Time to get over the brown mood. It’s time for a garden tour! The Coplay Garden Club’s Longwood Garden tour will be a treat. Then there are the house plants – the Christmas cacti are setting buds. The topiaries need a trim. The amaryllis will bloom. The cuttings are growing and will need to be cut and rooted. There are flower shows to look forward to. And all those flower and garden catalogues. I’ll need to asses this year’s garden and make a plan for next year. I have a few new garden books on my Christmas list that will keep me reading through the winter. It’s time to rake leaves. So, I guess I’m over the "season of brown" mood. There’s too much to do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Color Before the Frost

Last week:

Even though the Mums fell over in a windy rain, the bright colors remained.

Snapdragons were not about to give in to a light frost.

Hydrangea color lingered among bright green leaves.

Even the Impatiens held their own while waiting for the compost pile.

The Sweet Peas were happy in cool weather.

After the frost this week most of the colors are gone. A few Mums hang on but I see the beginning of what I call, “the season of brown.” Thank goodness for evergreens!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The Canna plants were beginning to look a little tired and showing burn from the frost on the edges of the leaves. Time to dig them out. It may be a little early according to some experts but I have to work in the garden when time and weather permit. Don't we all? (See October 15, 2006 post)

I cut off the large stalks about 3 to 4 inches from the ground. The stalks are waiting to be taken to the city compost center. I dug the rhizomes with a garden fork. Trying to keep as many roots as possible, I turned them upside down and let them dry for a few hours. I gently cleaned off most of the soil and put them in the wheel barrow and a plastic container to finish drying.

Once they are dry, I’ll store them in a cool (not freezing) area of the garage in a container and surround the rhizomes with peat moss. I’ll check them from time to time over the winter to make sure they are not too dry or too wet. If they are too dry, I’ll cover the container. If they are too wet, I’ll add more peat moss.

The rhizomes are huge masses again this year. Next spring I’ll separate the rhizomes, keeping at least 2 or 3 eyes per cutting, and re-plant. Hopefully, I can give some away to my friends this year because I know they will multiply again next summer. I hope I never run out of friends!

Cannas by Quality Gladiolus Gardens has some helpful tips on growing cannas Old House Gardens also has some great tips for care of all kinds of spring planted rhizomes and tubers

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tree of Heaven

The Tree of Heaven is not a heavenly tree. This invasive tree was imported from China in 1784 and rapidly spread in the US. It was greeted as a great landscape tree because it grew fast and had no natural enemies. In China it is known as “stinking chun”. I hear the leaves and male flowers smell like rotten peanut butter.

Tree of Heaven resembles a Sumac. The leaves reveal the difference.

Tree of Heaven has one to three serrations at the base of the leaf.

The Sumac leaf is serrated throughout.

The Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is difficult to get rid of once it is established. It spreads by seeds and root suckers. It can grow 10 to 15 feet a year. Repeated and frequent cutting before it gets large is recommended. For larger trees, the stump may need to be painted with an herbicide immediately after cutting. Vigilance is required to eliminate suckers that pop up. It may take 2 or 3 years to totally eliminate it in the landscape.

More information from Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Forest Service:

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lawn Weeds

Two obnoxious weeds have invaded our lawn in the last few years. They are described in Penn State’s “Weed Management in Turf” publication as follows.

Nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi)

Nimblewill is a blue-green perennial grass that is common in Pennsylvania lawns during summer. It spreads over existing turf by stolons and forms dense patches. Leaf blades have a medium texture (about ¼ inch wide) and are short (1½ to 2 inches) with leaf tips tapering to an abrupt point. The stems are long, slender, and wiry with prominent nodes. Ligules are short, membranous, and jagged. The leaf blades have long hairs at the margins but do not possess auricles. Seedheads are long, slender, and inconspicuous. Nimblewill grows rapidly during the warm summer months and turns brown or tan in winter.

Ground ivy (Glecoma hederacea)

Ground ivy is a low-growing, creeping, perennial broadleaf weed. Leaves are oppositely arranged on stems and are round or kidney-shaped with scalloped margins. The upper leaf surface has distinct veins and is sparsely hairy. Stems are square, creeping, and long. Ground ivy produces nodes that root at leaf and stem axils and that can form new stolons. Flowers are blue or purple and trumpet-shaped. This weed is most common in shaded areas, but it can also grow in full sun.

Penn State web sites contain information to help a homeowner deal responsibly with their lawn and

Turfgrass serves many purposes - earth cooling, open space, a playground, an athletic field, a filter, to reduce soil erosion, to increase property value, a frame for your flower or vegetable garden - among others.

With good lawn care management, some patience, and a little common sense and we won’t end up polluting the earth with chemicals. Every expert recommends taking a soil sample (see September 29, 2007 post). That way you can be sure to add only the fertilizers or herbicides (either organic or chemical) that the lawn can use.