UD Cooperative Extension team presented award at national conference

April 10, 2014 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Dennis Calvin, chair, eXtension Governing Committee, and director, Penn State University Extension (left) presents the Be, Grow, Create Outstanding Institutional Team Award to (from left) UD's Michele Walfred, Adam Thomas and Christy Mannering.A University of Delaware Cooperative Extension team has been honored by eXtension as a 2014 Be, Grow, Create Outstanding Institutional Team Award winner. The award was presented at the National eXtension Conference and National Extension Directors and Administrators joint meeting on March 26 in Sacramento, Calif.

The UD team includes Carrie Murphy, Phillip Sylvester, Deborah Delaney, Kathleen Splane, Nancy Gainer, Adam Thomas, Christy Mannering and Michele Walfred.

Ask an Expert implementation was a major focus of the team’s work. Jeff Hino, from Oregon State University, worked with members who personalized a marketing concept developed by Oregon State and developed a video for use in a multimedia presentation at the Delaware State Fair.

The team developed the implementation process and the timeframe for delivery. By the time they rolled out Ask an Expert at the State Fair, over 30 staff and volunteers had been trained to respond to questions, “question wranglers” were in place, and a web presence had been developed.

All Extension staff participated in Adobe Connect training in relation to Ask an Expert prior to the State Fair. Since the rollout time period, the team has continued to enhance Ask an Expert with a question of the week feature and additional training sessions as new staff come on board.

At this year’s Delaware Extension Annual Conference, the Ask an Expert sub-committee members were selected and received the Director’s Leadership award.

Terry Meisenbach, eXtension communications and marketing leader, said, “The University of Delaware team, with the help of eXtension leadership members, was able to grasp the multitude of resources available from eXtension. Through Adobe Connect poll pods and a Qualtrics online survey, the team identified some immediate and short-term goals for eXtension implementation. They quickly met that first round of goals and the goals they’re considering now focus on social media development and online course development using Moodle.”

Elbert Dickey, eXtension executive director, added, “An Outstanding Institutional Team has demonstrated the planning, creativity, and commitment to making eXtension a ‘fit’ for its state and institution. An Outstanding team also helps eXtension know just what its state and institution brings to eXtension.”

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Master Gardener Native Plant Teaching Garden Open House Set for June 11

June 7, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

J.W Wistermayer in the Master Gardeners Native Teaching GardenGardens are teeming with sights, sounds and tactile experiences. They’re meant to be used and enjoyed, not merely gazed at from a distance, says University of Delaware Master Gardener J.W. Wistermayer.

So, even though Wistermayer spends 5 to 10 hours a week tending to the New Castle County Master Gardener Native Plant Teaching Garden, he just chuckles when he sees that the garden’s plant identification tags have been rearranged.

“When tags are out of place, I know it means that kids are getting in here and discovering the garden,” says Wistermayer. “Our garden is next to the university’s Laboratory Preschool and Early Learning Center. At drop-off and pick-up times, kids and parents come look for new blooms, check to see if birds are in the bird boxes, and listen to the wind chimes. There is one particular path through three-foot-high plants that little kids love because they’re surrounded and hidden by all the foliage.”

The Native Plant Teaching Garden gets kids excited about plants and nature but its primary purpose is to promote the use of native plants in home landscapes, whether that landscape is several containers on a city apartment deck or an acre-plus in suburbia.

If you’re stumped about what to do with a spot where nothing grows, or how to jazz up a boring landscape bed, the Native Plant Teaching Garden is the place to go. Located on the grounds of the New Castle County Cooperative office in Newark, the garden features several distinct areas, including a butterfly garden, a rain garden, a meadow, a perennial border, and a foundation landscape planting.

The Master Gardeners also maintain a fruit and vegetable teaching garden, and a compost demonstration site, both of which are located behind the county office.

If you had to sum up the Native Plant Teaching Garden in one word, it would have to be “unexpected.” The garden features a fresh, exciting design that proves without a doubt that “native plant” isn’t synonymous with dull.

The foundation landscape bed, running the length of the county office, is a perfect example of this unexpected nature. While many of us select the same-old pink azaleas or red-blossomed dwarf cherries to line our homes, the Native Plant Teaching Garden’s foundation planting is full of unexpected textures, colors and plant choices. Such as the feathery foliage and steel blue flowers of threadleaf bluestar. Or the brushy blooms of fothergilla, which will sport fiery foliage in fall. There’s nothing formal or structured about either of these native species, yet they work well in this foundation planting.

Another unexpected touch is the green roof on top of the garden arbor. Covered with vegetation, this green roof absorbs water and creates habitat for wildlife. If it was used on a home or business, its insulating effects could lower cooling and heating costs, too.

One of Wistermayer’s favorite spots in the garden is a wooden bench positioned under a river birch. From there, he can hear wind chimes that hang in a nearby maple. Wistermayer often stops by the garden on Sunday to water the plants and ends his work session with a bit of quiet time relaxing on the bench.

The Master Gardeners will be hosting an Open House at the Native Plant Teaching Garden on June 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. They’ll be joined by Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension, and Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Extension. The Open House is free but pre-registration is necessary. Email Murphy at cjmurphy@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots of green on growing green things

March 26, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Quick, hide the credit cards; spring is here. Even the most budget-conscious gardener can get into trouble now. A trip to the nursery for a flat of plants results in three flats, plus a new spade and pair of garden gloves. A plan to grow tomatoes in containers morphs into a raised bed of pricey redwood. Even a stop at the market for bread and milk brings about a new basket of blooms.

University of Delaware’s Sussex Master Gardeners feel your pain. “We’re garden-a-holics; we have a tough time controlling ourselves in spring,” acknowledges Fran Meehan, a Milton-based Master Gardener.

While they can’t help you with your self-control, the Master Gardeners do have some good advice on saving on gardening expenses.

For starters, get your soil tested, says Tracy Wootten, a horticulture agent with UD Cooperative Extension who oversees the Sussex Master Gardeners. You’ll spend a few bucks for the test but could save in the long run. For example, if you have acidic soil, cabbage and other vegetables won’t do well. You’ll need to fix the problem with limestone or other amendments before planting.

Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots on green thingsMany of the Sussex Master Gardeners save money by starting vegetables from seed. It’s also easy to start flowers from seed, notes Maggie Moor-Orth, a Delaware State University horticulture agent who provides technical assistance to the Master Gardeners.

If you’ve had bad luck starting plants from seed, try using a sterile, soil-less medium, says Moor-Orth. Seeds started in soil can suffer rot because of over-watering or non-sterile conditions.

Save money on your soil-less medium by buying dry mix rather than the wet mix formulation, advises Melora Davis, a New Castle County Master Gardener. “With the wet mix, you’re paying for water,” she notes.

Don’t buy those special (and expensive) plastic trays for starting seeds. Recycle plastic containers you already have; just be sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom. Davis suggests using single-serving coffee pods (such as the K-Cup brand).

Garden accessories are another area where you can economize. Stakes, twine, plant markers and weed fabric can get pricey so the Sussex Master Gardeners are creative recyclers. Cut pieces from an old mini-blind for plant markers, suggests Betty Layton of Greenwood. Pantyhose can be used instead of twine, and T-shirts work well, too. “One year, I grew three-pound watermelons on a trellis and used my husband’s old T-shirt as a sling,” recalls Wootten.

“Some gardeners like to use bamboo for stakes,” she adds. “It’s such an aggressive plant that if your neighbors have any, I’m sure they’d be happy to let you cut some for garden stakes.”

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, has even seen old golf clubs used to stake vegetable plants at Bellevue State Park’s community garden.

If you’re willing to consider more radical ways to save, get rid of your lawn. That’s what Master Gardener Brent Marsh did about 10 years ago. Ever since, he hasn’t spent a penny on lawn fertilizers, re-seeding bare spots, watering the lawn, lawnmower repair, or gas to run the mower. In place of turf grass, Marsh’s one-acre Georgetown yard is filled with perennials, shrubs and trees.

Even if you remove a portion of your lawn, you could save money.

“If you’re mowing a lot of lawn, you might think about turning part of it into a meadow planted with native grasses and wildflowers,” says Marsh. “You’ll see lots of birds and butterflies, enjoy the sounds of those songbirds and insects, and provide food for baby birds. And you won’t have as much grass to cut.”

Of course, Marsh didn’t go out and buy all those plants that now fill his yard. When a sapling turns up – its seed carried by wind or birds – he allows it to grow. He also propagates his plants by taking cuttings, seeds, and dividing them.

Murphy has been waiting patiently to divide some ornamental grasses that she purchased three years ago. She wanted to hold off until she had good-size divisions to add to a new landscape bed at her North Wilmington home. Those original three plants will become six plants – for the price of just three.

Once you’ve decided to divide your plants, it’s important to divide at the appropriate time of year. Murphy divides her perennials in early spring or later in the fall, depending on when they bloom.

Backyard propagation

May 14, 7 p.m.: Minimize the costs of gardening by reproducing plants in your backyard. New Castle County Cooperative Extension office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Spring means lush blooms and wide variety of beneficial bugs

March 20, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

assassin bugSpring officially gets underway March 20, bringing blooms, birds and bugs. Lots of people get excited about the first redbud flower or returning tree swallow. Fewer get enthused about the first Eastern tent caterpillar or green lacewing that emerges in spring.

But a wide variety of flowering plants and songbirds wouldn’t exist without insects. “A number of different insects pollinate plants and many are an important protein source for birds,” notes Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Bugs get a bad rap, says Kunkel. Some bugs – stink bugs, Japanese beetles and yes, Eastern tent caterpillars — deserve the nasty reputation because they damage or destroy ornamental plants, turf grass or agricultural crops.

But many insect species are innocuous – they do no harm. And plenty more, like immature green lacewings, are good guys.

While the adult form of this insect eats pollen and nectar, the young green lacewing gobbles up a slew of pests, including white flies, aphids, adult mealy bugs, and mealy bug eggs and larvae.

“Beneficial insects far outnumber the pests,” says Kunkel. “In fact, more than 97 percent of arthropods typically seen in the home landscape are either beneficial or innocuous.”

(Arthropods, as you may recall from your school days, include not only insects but also spiders, predatory mites and other creepy crawlies.)

Gardeners often grab a can of pesticide at the first sight of a bug, without even bothering to figure out whether the species is a pest.  Retired Hercules technologist and current Master Gardener Frank Ebright used to do that, too.

“I spent my career working with chemicals. I have nothing against them; chemicals have helped to save lives. But I don’t see a need for them in my garden,” says Ebright.

He tends to a two-acre yard in Cecil County, Md. Once he became a Master Gardener 19 years ago, Ebright’s use of chemical pesticides declined but he still spot-treated roses and other plants with pest problems. About five years ago he abandoned lawn chemicals for good and reports that his landscape has never looked better.

“Once I got rid of the chemicals, the beneficial insects starting coming to my yard and taking care of my pest problems,” he says.

Ebright will be leading a Master Gardener workshop about beneficial insects and integrated pest management on May 16. “I want gardeners to use chemical control as a last resort, not the first defense, and learn who their friends are.”

Sometimes it’s easy to identify your friends. Even though there are some 150 species of lady beetles in the U.S., these beneficials are a cinch to recognize. Their size and color may vary but all sport characteristic spots on their abdomens.

Other times, it’s tough to tell friend from foe. For example, the hover fly looks like a stinging hornet but the adult form is a first-rate pollinator that has been ranked just after the honeybee in its effectiveness. Plus, the larvae of many species of hover flies gorge on aphids, a pest that can wreak havoc on everything from roses to maple trees.

Ebright’s go-to book for identifying insects is Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw. If he sees an unknown bug, he snaps a photo of it then compares it to images in Cranshaw’s book.

One of the first steps in integrated pest management is “making sure your plants are happy,” says Kunkel. Essentially, that comes down to “planting the right plant in the right place,” he notes.

If a plant requires moist soil, don’t put it in a dry spot. If it needs full sun, don’t think you can get away with partial shade. A stressed plant won’t be happy and can be more vulnerable to pest infestations, says Kunkel.

Companion plants are another element of integrated pest management. Nasturtium is commonly used as a companion plant, especially in vegetable gardens. Plant nasturtium near cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, collards and kale. The aroma of this colorful annual will repel aphids, squash bugs and striped pumpkin beetles.

Presentations

• May 16, 6-8 p.m.: Find out how to use integrated pest management for an attractive yard and productive vegetable garden. New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

• June 11, 6-8 p.m.: Join Brian Kunkel and other experts for a plant, pest and beneficial insect walk. New Castle County Cooperative Extension Office, Newark. Free. Register by email to cjmurphy@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy of Brian Kunkel

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Delawareans can takes steps to avoid winter plant damage

February 18, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

native delawarePeople have been whining about the weather recently. We’ve dealt with high wind and rain from a nor’easter that walloped states to the north. We’ve had icy, sleety and snowy mornings — not enough to close schools but enough to be an annoyance. We’ve seen Old Man Winter switch on and off, from artic conditions to spells of warmth.

If plants could whine, they would be whining right along with us. Winter can be a tough time on plants, especially young plants and those that were transplanted this year. Branches can break from ice, snow and wind; leaves can get dried and burnt from salt damage, roots pushed out of the soil from frost heave; and lack of moisture can cause plant tissues to suffer desiccation.

Unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet – spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20. In fact, the waning days of winter can be the trickiest for plants, when it’s common for temperatures to fluctuate wildly from day to day.

You can’t do much to prevent some types of winter plant damage – like salt burn on shrubs by the street. Most road maintenance crews persist in using road salt, not eco-friendly alternatives such as sand or calcium chloride.

But other issues are avoidable, says Carrie Murphy, a University of Delaware horticulture agent. And even when damage occurs, it often can be fixed.

For example, in the case of salt burn, the effects can be minimized by flushing the plants in early spring. Apply two inches of water over a three-hour period and repeat three days later. This will leach much of the salt from the soil.

Avoiding winter damage starts by choosing the right plants for the right place. Think about overall conditions – how much sun, rain, wind and cold your plants will experience. Don’t forget to factor in any specific microclimates within the yard, such as wet spots and windy areas.

“I have chosen plants for my garden that are fully hardy,” says UD Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist Sue Barton. As a result, Barton’s plants don’t need a lot of help in winter. She waters all of her plants thoroughly in the fall, especially if it’s been dry. She also rakes leaves into her landscape beds for a layer of protective mulch. Some years she loosely places evergreen boughs over top tender plants.

Bob Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, also is a big fan of mulch and makes sure that his new plantings are covered with a blanket of it before winter winds blow.

If you didn’t mulch in the fall and are worried about young plants, then get out there now – it’s not too late, notes Murphy. Mulching reduces water loss and it also helps to prevent frost heave.

When soil freezes and thaws in rapid succession, shallow-rooted plants can be pushed out of the ground. Mulching decreases frost heave by reducing the amount of alternate freezing and thawing that occurs.

Dick Pelly has been staffing the Master Gardeners’ Garden Line since joining the group in 1999. In winter, he often gets asked what to do about branches that have broken off because of ice, wind or snow.

Pelly recommends removing the broken limbs as soon as conditions are safe and weather permits. Doing so helps the tree or shrub heal faster. Damaged trees are more prone to disease.

Another question that frequently comes up is whether or not to wrap trees in burlap. Although Pelly doesn’t use burlap in his own yard, he says it can be a good way to shield smaller trees, fruit trees and evergreens from cold temperatures and wind. In coastal areas, wrapping a tree can help reduce the damaging effects of salt spray.

Highway crews may use salt, but that doesn’t mean you should use it on your sidewalks and driveway, notes Pelly. Eco-friendly and effective alternatives include sand, ashes and kitty litter.

Learn more

Those with questions about winter plant damage can call the Garden Line in New Castle County at 831-8862. In Kent, call 730-4000, and in Sussex, call 856-2585, ext. 535. A Master Gardener will return your call within 24 hours.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Horticulture experts share secrets for choosing right trees for your landscape

February 13, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Photos of Brandywine Creek State Park and the Brandywine River.At the end of January, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) offered a workshop on choosing the right trees for your landscape. This past Thursday, University of Delaware Master Gardeners presented a session on spring planting. On Feb. 20, the Delaware Nature Society will offer a similar program.

While it might seem like these gung-ho gardeners are rushing spring — after all, it’s only mid-February — Delaware’s plant sale season is already underway.

DCH kicked things off with its bare root tree sale, featuring 10 varieties of low-maintenance, easy-to-grow trees. Orders will be accepted through Feb. 15, with tree pick-up March 20-21. Two other major plant sales – at the UD Botanic Gardens and Delaware Nature Society – take place in April.

“Now’s the time to start making decisions about what to plant this spring,” says Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “It’s important to research your options and choose carefully, especially for trees, such a prominent part of the landscape.”

For starters, don’t fall in love with a particular species and overlook the fact that it may not be right for a site, advises DCH tree program manager Patrice Sheehan, who led the recent tree workshop. For example, the American hophornbeam is one of her all-time favorite trees because of its exfoliating bark and hop-shaped seed that’s gobbled up by many songbirds. But when a workshop participant asked what to plant on a berm, Sheehan never would have thought to suggest this native species.

“American hophornbeams prefer moist soils. A berm gets lots of wind. Couple that with the slope of the site, and the end result is soil that dries out quickly,” she says.

Instead, Sheehan told the gardener to consider the Eastern red cedar. This native can thrive in windy places like berms where other trees can’t. Not only does it put up with high winds but it can tolerate dry and alkaline soils and it lives a long time.

Just like some little puppies grow up to be huge dogs, some little saplings grow up to be humongous trees. Think about whether the tree at its mature size will work well where you want to plant it. Don’t place large trees near overhead utility wires or too close to the house.

Consider not only the mature height of the tree but its canopy spread – how wide it will grow. Oaks have wide canopies, as well as many species of maples. These are great choices if you’re looking for extensive, even shading; not so great if you plant one too close to your property line and branches extend over the neighbor’s fence.

Don’t forget to provide enough room for the tree’s roots – don’t, for example, plant a large tree in a narrow strip of land between a sidewalk and street. “Plan on root growth extending well beyond the spread of the canopy at maturity,” notes Murphy.

Other factors to consider when choosing a tree are its form and shape; soil, sun and moisture requirements; whether it’s coniferous or deciduous; and its growth rate, which usually correlates with the life span. Fast growers have softer wood and usually don’t live very long. Slow growers are hardwoods that tend to live longer. Many gardeners also like to plant species that provide food or shelter for wildlife.

One of Sheehan’s favorite large trees is the Princeton elm, a majestic native with a vase shape and yellow fall color. Although it’s beautiful on the outside, it’s tough on the inside – it’s highly tolerant of pollution and other stressors.

Medium-sized trees that she likes include the black gum, also known as black tupelo, for its reddish fall foliage. For winter interest, her hands-down favorite is the bald cypress, with its peeling, copper-brown bark and tiered, upward-facing branches.

If you see a tree you like while walking or driving in Wilmington but don’t know what you’re looking at, check out the Street Tree Inventory maintained by DCH and the city of Wilmington. It provides a complete inventory of Wilmington’s street trees.

For more information

Order bare-root trees from DCH by Feb. 15. For more information, go to the organization’s website or call 658-6262.

Learn about designing your own landscape at “Dig In at DEEC” Feb. 20 at the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington. Call 239-2334 to register.

DCH will hold a free “How to Plant Your Bare-Root Tree” workshop on March 20. To register, call 658-6262.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Evan Krape

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University of Delaware New Castle County Cooperative Extension Announces 2013 Master Gardener Volunteer Training

January 2, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners volunteer trainingThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension in New Castle County is now accepting applications for Master Gardener volunteer educator training. Training will run Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting March 7, 2013 and continue through May 21, 2013.

Carrie Murphy, Extension Educator, said of the program, “This training program is designed to make good educators out of good gardeners. Master Gardeners pledge to devote volunteer time to help Cooperative Extension provide research-based information to the gardening public. Without this volunteer program, we could not reach nearly as many people as we do now.”

Training will consist of horticultural and educational topics, with emphasis on hands-on experience and active learning techniques. There is a training fee of $150. Scholarships are available based on financial need. The application deadline is January 7, 2013.

Details on the Master Gardener program, training, and application materials are available on the Cooperative Extension website at http://extension.udel.edu/lawngarden/master-gardener-volunteer-educators/become-a-master-gardener/, or by email and phone request to Carrie Murphy, cjmurphy@udel.edu, (302) 831-2506.

It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin.

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These unique holiday gift ideas have a First State focus

December 17, 2012 under CANR News

blanket_yarnHaven’t finished your holiday shopping yet? You’re not alone. Only 47 percent of Americans have their shopping wrapped up by the second week of December, according to the National Retail Federation. But the clock is ticking.

No worries. We’ve rounded up some great gift ideas. Best yet, many of these choices have a uniquely Delaware focus. Some – like soil test kits and garden gloves – are tailor-made for outdoorsy types. Other gifts – like Delaware wool blankets — work equally well for couch potatoes who just gaze at the landscape from their windows.

Sure-fire way to get owls in the backyard

The young – and young at heart – will love Hoot the Owl, a chubby creature made from sunflower seed, with apple and apricot rings for eyes and an almond for the mouth.

“I stuck one in my backyard and set up a time-release camera,” says Charles Shattuck, who, with his wife Kathy, owns Wild Birds Unlimited in Hockessin. “I’m getting a wide variety of birds feeding at it. By late December, I expect ‘Hoot’ and my other feeders will be attracting white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches; downy, red-bellied and hairy woodpeckers; and yellow-bellied sap suckers.”

At $9.50, Hoot the Owl is a good choice for a stocking stuffer or gift exchange at work.

Wild Birds also stocks black oil sunflower seed in bulk that is grown locally, by Jamie Hicks of Kennett Square, Pa. Buy a pound or several pounds for the birdwatcher on your list.

Most serious birdwatchers prefer black oil seed. It has a higher oil content than other varieties so it provides the birds with more calories. Plus, small birds have an easier time cracking its thinner shell.

Or, consider a $22 hand-painted ornament by Dover artist Marcia Poling. Choose images of bluebirds, woodpeckers and warblers, as well as deer, rabbit and other mammals.  “They’ve been selling well,” says Shattuck.

Warm and woolly choices

The University of Delaware’s flock of Dorset ewes are sheared every spring before going out to summer pasture. Previously, their wool was sold at a regional auction to wool processors. Then farm superintendent Scott Hopkins and Lesa Griffiths, professor of animal and food sciences, put their heads together and, soon after, Blue Hen Blankets and Yarn was born. Now, after the sheep are sheared, the wool is sent to a Canadian mill to create cozy blankets.

A lap throw style, the blanket has plenty of heft — each requires four pounds of wool. Get one for $100 at the UDairy Creamery on UD’s South Campus. For creamery hours go to the website.

Hori hori knives and other garden gear

When it comes to garden tools, Carrie Murphy is a minimalist. A UD Cooperative Extension horticulture agent, Murphy gets by with a few common tools plus one that’s a bit more exotic. “I use my hori hori knife all the time,” she says.

In Japanese, the word “hori” means to dig and that’s exactly what Murphy does with her knife, plus pruning and weeding and a whole lot more. It’s the Swiss army knife of gardening.

At Gateway Garden Center in Hockessin, the hori hori is usually just called a soil knife, says owner Peg Castorani. She likes it for dividing perennials. A stainless steel version in a case costs $39.99.

Finding garden gloves that fit well can be hard, especially for women, but Castorani likes Womanswork brand. “They make form-fitting, athletic style garden gloves,” she says. The $25 gloves come in purple, lime green and other bright colors.

A plastic bag sounds like an odd present until you learn what that bag can do. Gateway stocks test kits from the University of Delaware Soil Testing Program. The $10 kits include plastic bags to obtain the necessary samples. After UD analyzes the samples, your gardener will know whether pH or fertility problems are making it more difficult to grow plants.

Bring the outside in

Native Americans used birch bark to make canoes and cover their wigwams. Today hobbyists continue to take advantage of birch’s flexible nature to craft household items, ranging from baskets to picture frames. Wilmington resident Danielle Quigley makes handcrafted wood items when she’s not working as a photographer for UD. (Quigley regularly shoots the photos for this column.) One of her best-selling items is a $325 table light featuring a birch bark shade mounted on a vintage glass base. Quigley’s personal favorite is a $150 luminaire made from silver birch bark. Check them out at the website.

Article by Margo McDonough

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Holiday time means American holly, Delaware’s state tree

November 29, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Shirley Duffy is a recent transplant to Delaware who is proud of her new state. And as an avid gardener, she knew just the way to show her state pride — by planting an American holly in her Newark yard.

The American holly (Ilex opaca) has been the state tree of Delaware since 1939. Back then, the holly was an important cash crop to the state, says Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Holly grew in abundance in the wild, particularly in Sussex County. Savvy entrepreneurs, such as Milton fertilizer salesman Charles C. Jones Sr. recognized that there was money to be made from this broadleaf evergreen. He began shipping wreaths and other holly products throughout the U.S. and abroad. By the 1930s, Delaware had become the leading supplier of holly in the nation. The town of Milton produced more holly wreaths and decorations than any other town in the world.

With the advent of artificial decorations, as well as wage law requirements for piecework businesses, the state’s commercial holly industry declined and ceased entirely by the 1960s. These days, the only holly harvesting in Delaware is in backyards like Duffy’s. A UD Master Gardener, Duffy likes to take holly cuttings throughout the winter, not just at Christmas time.

“I use holly for both indoor and outdoor arrangements,” says Duffy. For an easy but eye-catching decoration she arranges cut holly boughs down the length of her dining room table.

Ed Stevenson, a Master Gardener who lives in North Wilmington, also turns to the hollies in his yard for seasonal decorations. However, he uses holly judiciously because it does have a few downsides.

“We cut holly branches and use them for a Christmas table centerpiece,” says Stevenson. “However, once holly is cut, the leaves start to shrivel and the berries slowly darken. The branches should either be cut close to Christmas, or, if they are cut earlier and show signs of aging, they can be replaced with newly-cut branches.”

“Because we expect our Christmas door wreath to last about a month – early December through mid-January – we don’t use holly in it. Also, keep in mind that the sharp leaf spines of the holly can scratch wood finishes so don’t put it directly on wood,” he says.

Hagley Museum horticulturalist Renee Huber used plenty of American holly for the “Christmas at Hagley” display, which opened Friday and continues through Jan. 6. She fashioned it into swags, as well as wreaths.

“Being our state tree I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to include it in the decorations,” notes Huber. “Plus, my great-great-grandfather, who was a farmer on the Eastern Shore, supplemented his income at this time of year by making American holly wreaths. I guess I don’t fall far from the tree.”

Huber had to decorate not only Eleutherian Mills, but also the Belin, Soda and Gibbons houses. To fill all these spaces, she roamed the museum’s 235 acres for just the right cuttings of hollies and other evergreens. But the bulk of her plant material came from a cutting garden maintained specifically for decorating purposes. It’s planted with a variety of evergreens, winterberry and other perennial favorites.

Since most of us don’t have the luxury of a cutting garden, it’s important to carefully clip branches from hollies – and all your shrubs and woody perennials — so that your landscape still looks good when you’re done.

Cut back to the trunk or another branch, says Murphy. If you put up your holiday decorations early, check throughout the season to see if anything needs to be replaced. If evergreens get dried out they can become a fire hazard.

If you don’t have any holly on your property, plan now for spring planting. “Holly makes a great specimen planting and over time will fill out to screen unpleasant views,” says Murphy. “It’s a slow grower but eventually can reach 30 feet tall.”

To produce the American holly’s distinctive red berries, you will need to grow both male and female plants. Although the male plants never produce fruit, they must be sited near the female plants to provide pollen needed for fruit production. Bees and other pollinators will do the work of transporting the pollen from the male to female plants.

Ironically, Duffy had trouble finding Delaware’s state tree at local garden stores. Many stores said they could special order it, and she knew that online shopping was another option.

But she wanted to see various cultivars before she selected her plants, so she eventually found a New Jersey-based online nursery that was holding an open house.

“Internet descriptions of ‘stiff, glossy’ leaves and ‘large’ berries mean nothing,” notes Duffy. “You have to see the plants yourself.”

A great place to see the plants for yourself is at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. Some 50 species and cultivars of holly grow there, with the largest concentration of hollies found in the Clark and Fischer Greenhouse gardens. The UD Botanic Gardens maintains research data on its holly collection and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

At Hagley one of the best places to see hollies is in the field across from Eleutherian Mills, by the gatehouse, according to Hagley arborist Richard Pratt. At least half the hollies there sport red berries.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Master Gardeners help others discover uplifting benefits of nature

November 2, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

When Terry Tse was growing up in Hong Kong, her bedroom was always full of plants. Living in the midst of this exciting yet chaotic city, Tse knew that plants brought tranquility.

“Flowers make you calm,” she says.

Today, Tse is helping clients of the Delaware Psychiatric Center discover the uplifting benefits of nature. She and fellow University of Delaware Master Gardeners assisted in the development of a therapeutic garden at the center two years ago.

The project has grown to include a sensory garden for the visually impaired and a farmer’s market that sells produce fresh from the garden. And that’s just some of what was accomplished at the Department of Health and Social Services New Castle campus. Plus, the Master Gardeners helped to establish a garden at the Delaware School for the Deaf in Newark.

For their efforts, this Master Gardener team received a Governor’s Outstanding Service Award at a ceremony held this past Thursday. In addition to Tse, recipients included Fred Hillegas, Mary Ellen Hillegas, Bill Horne and Carmela Simons. Duane Ashley, who is not a Master Gardener but was an active project volunteer, also shared in the award.

“The Master Gardeners were immediately interested in this project and the potential that these gardens had to impact the clients and staff at these sites,” says Carrie Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “They provided both technical expertise and educational programming. They presented workshops for clients and staff on topics like composting, identifying garden pests and how to enjoy a sensory garden.”

The Master Gardeners also rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty. Bill Horne offered his creative skills for the therapeutic garden’s design but he also pulled weeds and harvested vegetables. Mary Ellen and Fred Hillegas helped the center’s clients run the farmer’s market on Fridays, and when they couldn’t make it, Tse filled in. In the last two years, the market sold 1,693 pounds of produce and what wasn’t sold – 525 pounds in all – was donated to the Food Bank of Delaware.

From the get-go, the Master Gardeners knew that they wanted these projects to be driven by the needs and desires of the clients. At the Delaware Psychiatric Center, a residential client named Jack wanted popping corn in the vegetable garden. Others requested tomatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn and peppers. Clients also helped with the selection of ornamentals. One individual fondly recalled lilac from a childhood home so the Master Gardeners included a lilac bush in the garden design.

As for the sensory garden, it’s a feast of sounds, fragrances and textures, as well as sights. In winter, switchgrass rustles in the wind. In spring, the velvety leaves of lamb’s ear plant beg to be touched. Come summer, the earthy smell of basil entices. And in fall, black seedpods of baptisia rattle loudly at the slightest shake.

Some of the clients who come to the Division of Visually Impaired’s New Castle office for vocational rehab or independent living services are in wheelchairs or have other physical limitations. So the Master Gardeners designed wider pathways to allow for wheelchair access, and many of the beds are raised and feature a grid pattern.

“With a grid pattern, a blind or visually impaired person can, for example, count two squares down and three over and know they’ve found the mint that they wanted to pick,” notes Horne.

The vegetable garden at the Delaware School for the Deaf was installed last November. Tied into grade-level curricula, the garden promotes healthy eating habits and new vocational options.

Mary Ellen Hillegas, who was a counselor at the school before retirement, says the garden also serves an important social function. “Ten to 12 students will be in the garden at any given time and they’ll need to come to consensus on planning tasks and sharing tools and other cooperative behavior,” she says. “The garden has tremendous possibilities as a teaching tool.”

Organizations that collaborated with the Master Gardeners include UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies, Delaware Center for Horticulture, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Delaware Department of Agriculture. For the school garden, the nonprofit group Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids partnered with the Master Gardeners.

Delaware Department of Agriculture staffer Faith Kuehn spearheaded the therapeutic garden projects and she nominated the Master Gardeners for the Governor’s Outstanding Service Award.

“What impresses me most about these Master Gardeners is that it comes from the heart,” says Kuehn. “They aren’t doing it for the volunteer hours or the recognition. They really want to make a difference.”

Jack, who grew his own popping corn this summer, and other individuals who have benefited from the gardens, would say that the Master Gardeners are doing exactly that.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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