Magnolias featured plant at 2013 UD Botanic Gardens sale

April 2, 2013 under CANR News

UDBG fall plant sale features magnoliasJohn Frett is a like a kid in a candy store when it comes to choosing magnolias for the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens plant sale – he wants them all.

“How can one resist those magnificent flowers, some appearing in early spring, some in late spring or summer,” notes Frett, who is director of the gardens. “Then there is the fragrance, the evergreen foliage and, to round out the package, colored fruits in the fall. I would love to include every magnolia variety in the sale, but I have to pare down my selection to a few exquisite gems.”

Magnolias are one of the featured plants at this year’s plant sale, to be held April 26-27. Many gardeners like to plant early blooming (and non-native) magnolias, such as Magnolia ‘genie,’ which will be available at the sale. But there is distinct advantage to the native varieties, says Frett.

“You need to be patient because our native magnolias don’t flower until mid- to late season, from about mid-April until summer. But on the upside, you won’t need to worry about frost damage like you do with saucer magnolia and the other early bloomers,” he says.

A few early magnolias could be close to bloom when Frett leads garden walks on April 3-4 that focus on magnolias and other plant sale highlights. The gardens feature an extensive magnolia collection centered around Townsend Hall and also in a large planting near the UD swimming pool.  If time allows, Frett will duck into the greenhouses to show off container plants started from seed by UD students.

“The sale is a real learning opportunity,” says Frett. “A number of our undergraduate classes take part in starting seeds and grad students help with propagation.”

One of the rare magnolias offered at the sale is Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia, a native with coarse leaves that can get as large as 18 inches long. “It gives the plant a real tropical feel,” says Frett.

At maturity, Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia will reach 15 to 20 feet. If you don’t have a lot of space, instead consider a dwarf magnolia such as Sweet Thing, a dwarf cultivar of native sweetbay. This little guy tops out at 5 to 8 feet in high after 15 to 20 years.

Rhododendron is another plant that is well represented at the sale. Six different selections are offered, all of them native. The Catawba rhododendron, which features dark-red flowers in late May, is probably the most common native rhodo in local gardens. And for good reason. It’s known to be an excellent performer and is a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you enjoy surprises, pick up a flame azalea for your yard. Another butterfly friendly selection, this plant features vivid orange blooms. Or yellow, pink, salmon or scarlet ones. The plant flowers in May so it’s anyone’s guess which color you’ll be getting at the UD sale.

Guided walks

April 3-4:  Learn about plants offered at the sale during a stroll through the UD Botanic Gardens. 4 p.m. $10. To register call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Plant sale

April 26, 3-7 p.m., and April 27, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sale is located across from Fischer Greenhouse on UD’s South Campus in Newark. For more information, call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

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

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

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

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association selects 2013 Plants of Year

March 11, 2013 under CANR News

Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low' can be found at the UD Botanic GardensIn her role as executive director of the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association, Valann Budischak’s responsibilities are wide-reaching. She’s even expected to organize an annual beauty pageant. In this case, however, the contestants are plants, not people, and strength and vigor are just as important as good looks.

The association has just announced its 2013 Plants of the Year and both the woody plant – Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ – and the herbaceous winner – Heuchera macrorhiza‘Autumn Bride’ — are much more than just pretty faces.

“The idea behind the ‘Plant of the Year’ designation is to give recognition to hardy, attractive plants that are well-suited to local growing conditions but may be a bit under-the-radar screen,” says Budischak. “Heuchera macrorhiza ‘Autumn Bride’ makes a great groundcover if you have shady areas, like I do. Or, if you have sunnier conditions, consider Rhus aromatica‘Gro-Low’ for its multi-season interest.”

Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ is a cultivar of Delaware’s native fragrant sumac. It’s a dense, low-growing shrub that looks good almost every month of the year. In spring, tiny yellow flowers bloom at the twig tips before the foliage appears. During the growing season, Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ has glossy, dark-green leaves, which are accompanied by small clusters of hairy, red berries in late summer. In fall, the leaves turn brilliant shades of orange and red.

“This sumac cultivar makes an impact when planted in masses,” says Budischak. “When I am asked to recommend a plant for sloped areas, I usually mention Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low.’ Because it has the ability to develop roots as the stems touch the soil, it’s great for stabilizing banks and slopes.”

Birds, butterflies and other wildlife like it, too.

Budischak has bunches of Heuchera macrorhiza ‘Autumn Bride’ in her backyard. She loves this groundcover’s large, velvety foliage, which gives this plant its common name of hairy alumroot. Although it’s billed as being tolerant of full sun to deep shade, Budischak begs to differ. “Around here it’s not as happy in full sun unless you give it adequate moisture.”

Heuchera macrorhiza is a plant that really comes into its own as the growing season progresses.

“In spring it’s a nice, fuzzy, light green groundcover,” says Budischak. But by summer the large leaves are eye-catching. Then, in late summer, when almost everything else in the garden is solid green, Heuchera macrorhiza erupts in fountains of tiny white flowers that rise up out of the foliage mound on slender fuzzy stems.

The ‘Autumn Bride’ cultivar of Heuchera macrorhiza is considered to be tough and easy to grow. “It is great for covering bases of trees or other spots that get little moisture,” says Budishak. It also does well in moist shade.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens has a nice display of Heuchera macrorhiza‘Autumn Bride’ at the entrance. People also can find Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ there, planted alongside a fence next to the herbaceous garden.

The folks at the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association aren’t the only ones holding beauty pageants for plants. The Perennial Plant Association recently named Polygonatum odoratum “Variegatum” as its 2013 Perennial Plant of the Year. Commonly known as variegated solomon’s seal or striped solomon’s seal, this shade-loving plant is a great companion to ferns, hostas and astilbes. In mid- to late spring it produces small, bell-shaped, white flowers. Its sweet fragrance makes it a great choice along a pathway.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy of Chad Nelson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

Native Delaware: Early signs of spring are popping up in Delaware

February 28, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Spring has sprung – or, if you’re an optimist like Dot Abbott it has.

“The skunk cabbage is popping up and will leaf out soon. Groundhogs and skunks are active again. And the spring peepers will be calling any day now,” says Abbott, a renewable resources agent for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20, but early signs of the season are evident – that is, if you’ve been outside and observant enough to notice.

If you haven’t spent time outside recently, get out there now, and take the kids with you, says Abbott.

Native Delaware Spring has Sprung“Today’s kids spend twice as much time indoors as their parents did,” notes Abbott, a board member of the Delaware Association for Environmental Education. “It’s important to be exposed to nature education at school but it’s even better to experience nature with your parents or other caregivers.”

Although the earth appears to be in winter slumber, it’s teeming with life and activity. Abbott suggests these ways to get the kids outside to spot the earliest signs of spring:

Track animals

Do your kids love mud? Then they’ll love looking for animal tracks. Tracks are easiest to find in mud (as well as snow). Throughout the winter, you can see tracks from white-tailed deer, fox, squirrels, muskrats and beavers – all of which are active year-round.

Now, as spring draws near, you can spot groundhog and skunk tracks, too. Delaware has few true hibernators but in winter groundhogs, skunks and some other mammals exist in a semi-hibernation state known as torpor.

Lately, the groundhogs and skunks have been out and about, especially on days when temperatures climbed above the mid-40s. A groundhog track is pretty easy to identify. Look for imprints with four toes on the front paws and five toes on the back. They will be spaced 4-12 inches apart.

Skunk tracks show five toes on both the front and back foot. The front tracks usually show claw marks farther ahead of the toe marks than the rear prints do. These longer front claws help the skunk dig up roots and insects.

Search for stream critters

Macro invertebrates are a good indicator of a stream’s health. They’re also a great way to see if spring has sprung.

Head to a pond or stream and take a close look at the water, says Abbott. The nymphs of dragonflies, mayflies and stoneflies are active all winter, often living beneath the ice. They feed and grow throughout the cold weather months to emerge as adults in early spring. If you have a smart phone, pull up photos of the adult form of these insects and see if your kids can spot any new adults in the water.

Increase your chances of seeing this transformation by scooping up a bucketful of nymphs and creek water. Place the bucket in a sunny but cool room of your house. If you’re lucky, you may get to witness some nymphs metamorphosize into adults.

Take a night hike

As winter heads into spring, the woods become noisier at night. Owl breeding season is underway, and with it, a cacophony of calls.

“Great horned owls started defending their territory and looking for mates at the end of January. They were the first calls I heard. Next, came the barred and barn owls. The last few nights, I’ve also heard screech owls,” says Abbott.

“Yet in between the owl calls, it can become so quiet that you can hear every leaf that crackles underfoot,” she notes.

It’s this combination of silence punctuated by mysterious sounds that makes Abbott love a night hike this time of year. Owls are just the start. Abbott often hears red foxes. These voluble creatures produce a variety of barks, howls and whines. Some are sharp yaps; others are long, mournful howls.

Spot the first robin of spring (or not)

Have you seen a robin? It feels more like spring, doesn’t it?

We hate to burst your bubble but robins stick around all year. Formerly a migratory bird, large numbers of robins now over-winter in Delaware. Abbott first noticed this phenomenon in the early to mid-1990s, though she’s quick to note that she’s not an expert on the subject.

Robins have been able adapt to Delaware winters. They switch from their summer diet of insects to eating seed in wintertime. Because they are fairly large birds, they’re usually able to withstand cold snaps.

Not every bird adapts so easily. For example, a homeowner called Abbott last month to report dead goldfinches in her backyard. Goldfinches normally migrate south but a half-dozen or so stragglers hung out in this Dover backyard during the fall and into winter. Unfortunately, when bitter cold weather hit, they weren’t able to survive.

Now that spring is drawing near, the robins have changed up their behavior. The early pollinators like skunk cabbage have appeared, and with them, insects. Robins can now be found feeding on invertebrates in grassy and disturbed areas.

Abbott enjoys birding at Wyoming Mill Pond. Other good birding spots include the St. Jones River, Mispillon River, and the many millponds found in Kent and Sussex counties. Be on the look out for resident robins, as well as some of the earliest returning migrants, says Abbott.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

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

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

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

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

Colston Burrell to give a UD Botanic Gardens presentation

February 6, 2013 under CANR News

Colston Burrell spent 11 years in Minnesota, none too happy with the winter weather. A noted garden designer, Burrell tried to make the best of his “six months of winter confinement.” He liked the view of deep snow outside his windows and the patterns that frost made on Joe Pye weed and other stalks in his prairie garden. Still, winter was something to be endured.

Colston Burrell speaking at UD Botanic GardensBut a funny thing happened when this Richmond Va., native returned to the Mid-Atlantic. That first autumn in his new home, near Charlottesville, he watched the leaves fall and felt a sense of dread. But once the cold weather arrived, he realized he had come to appreciate the subtleties of the winter landscape.

“Here in the Piedmont region of Virginia, winter means fields of broom-sedge that look golden in the late afternoon sun, contrasted by the greens of juniper and other coniferous trees,” said Burrell. “It’s berries on shrubs like viburnums and hollies, texture from interesting barks, and catkins on native hazels and alders.”

And in Virginia, and often here in Delaware, too, it can mean days when temperatures rise into the 40s and 50s and Burrell can linger in the garden to enjoy the fragrance of daphne and the flowers of the precocious hellebores that he so loves. (He wrote a book about hellebores, which bloom as early as mid-January in Delaware.)

“Today, I won’t be lingering in the garden,” declared Burrell on a late January morning when the temperature was just 11 degrees.  But, from the window of his home office, he could still view the fruits of winterberry hollies and the shimmering plumes of silver plume grass. That was no accident. When Burrell designed his home landscape he put some plants with winter interest where they could be seen and enjoyed from inside the house.

Burrell will speak about “Design Ideas and Plant Combinations for Winter Gardens” on Feb. 26 in Newark. His talk is sponsored by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. An active lecturer, Burrell has spoken at Winterthur Museum and Longwood Gardens but “hasn’t been to Delaware in quite a while,” he said.

If you go, expect plenty of audience interaction. “I don’t want to suggest a particular plant and then disappoint people when they discover it doesn’t grow well in their region,” said Burrell. “But if someone from the audience can say, ‘Yes, I’ve grown that here for 50 years and never had a problem,’ then we know my recommendation is appropriate.”

Burrell plants mostly natives on his 10-acre property but he does make an exception for “precocious bloomers.” He craves flowers and fragrance in the dead of winter and uses non-native hellebores, crocus, snowdrops, winter aconite and glory-of-the-snow for an early taste of spring.

But natives offer winter interest, too. Early in the season, Burrell enjoys beautyberry’s purple or lilac berries, which brown after a hard frost. Winterberry starts displaying its vivid red berries in late autumn and they hang on through the winter. (The berries are bitter, so overwintering birds avoid them until other food sources are gone.)  American holly, with its bright red berries, is another good choice for jazzing up the winter landscape.  Just don’t plant any of these shrubs in a long, monotonous row, said Burrell. Instead, consider grouping American hollies in clusters. Beautyberry is striking enough to work well alone, as a specimen planting.

Many gardeners use evergreen trees to offset winter’s monochromatic palette. But fewer gardeners turn to evergreen groundcovers for a pop of color. Burrell likes the texture and form of many evergreen groundcovers, including Pachysandra procumbens ‘Allegheny Spurge.’

This easy-to-grow native has medium- to dark-green leaves during the growing season that become dappled or bronzed in winter. And when the cold weather is just a memory, tiny, pinkish white flowers appear on ‘Allegheny Spurge.’

Other evergreen groundcovers well-suited to Delaware include Christmas fern (good for areas of light to deep shade), barren strawberry (which looks better than the name implies), and partridgeberry, a slow-grower which never exceeds 3 inches in height.

IF YOU GO:

Feb. 26: Colston Burrell speaks about “Design Ideas and Plant Combinations for Winter Gardens” at 7 p.m. in Townsend Hall at the University of Delaware. Cost is $15 for members of UD Botanic Gardens Friends; $20 for the public. To register, call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo provided by Colston Burrell

Share

Owl breeding season has begun in Delaware

January 29, 2013 under CANR News

Heard any owls lately? Maybe you’ve seen one of these elusive raptors perched on its nest.

If so, please tell Jean Woods.

Woods is the curator of birds for the Delaware Museum of Natural History, one of the organizations supporting the Delaware Breeding Bird Atlas. The atlas is a five-year, state-led project to determine the area bird population and assess any changes since the last atlas, which was held 20-plus years ago.

Data gathering for the atlas was supposed to end in 2012 but there was a bit of a problem, says Woods, who sits on the project’s technical committee. Well, make that a big problem, at least when it comes to owls.

a winter owl in Delaware“We discovered that we didn’t have enough data on the nocturnal birds, especially owls,” she says. “We extended the atlas into 2013 to try to get some additional information.”

Woods is eager to hear from birders or, anyone, frankly, who has heard or seen an owl recently. It can be hard to distinguish the sounds – or sight – of many of the state’s shore and marsh birds. But it’s pretty easy to identify the calls of Delaware’s owls. Their hoots are distinct, and there are only a handful of species in the state.

This is a great time to listen for owls. The end of January marks the start of the breeding season so there’s lots of hooting out there. Owls call for a variety of reasons, including defending territory, communicating with their young, or, as is the case now, to advertise their availability as a mate.

“I can tell that the great horned owls are getting ready to nest,” says Jim White, associate director of land and biodiversity management for the Delaware Nature Society. “I’ve been hearing great horneds when I take the dog out for a walk.”

Delaware has four species of owls that are year-round residents – the great horned, barred, barn and Eastern screech, according to Chris Williams, a University of Delaware associate professor of wildlife ecology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The great horned owls are the first nesters; they’ll soon be followed by the barred owl and barn, and finally, the Eastern screech owls.

Three more species of owls – short-eared, long-eared and Northern saw-whet – are regular winter migrants to Delaware. A fourth species, the snowy owl, appears sometimes in what is known as an irruption, says Williams.

2013 isn’t shaping up to be an irruption year for snowy owls. But, on the plus side, there are a good number of Northern saw-whets here this winter, says Woods.

Four Delaware owls are considered to be “species of special concern” – the barn, barred, short-eared and long-eared, according to Wayne Lehman, a regional wildlife manager with the Division of Fish and Wildlife. Lehman bands juvenile barn owls every year, from May to July. Banding is easiest then because the fledglings are still on the nest and unable to fly.

The state has been banding barn owls since 1996. It also has established nesting boxes for owls in state wildlife areas.

“Banding provides valuable information on an owl’s life span, home range, nest site fidelity and migratory patterns,” says Lehman.

If you want to go on an owl prowl, set out after dark, especially on windless nights, says White. However, a few species aren’t strictly nocturnal. The Eastern screech – a short, pudgy owl with a large head and almost no neck – often exhibits a burst of activity just before dawn and at dusk.

To increase the chance of success, head to Port Mahon Road in Little Creek Wildlife Area, east of Dover. This is known as the No. 1 spot in the state to see owls — the short-eared owl likes to hang out here. And you won’t need to wait until dark – the short-eared starts hunting in late afternoon, when the sun is setting. This species is a migrant, so get to Port Mahon Road soon. By March, the short-eared will be returning to Newfoundland and other northern locales to begin breeding season.

How to help

If you see or hear an owl in Delaware let Jean Woods know so she can add this data to Delaware’s Breeding Bird Atlas. Contact her at 658-9111, ext. 314 or via email at jwoods@delmnh.org.

Not sure which species you’re hearing? Check out owl calls on All About Birds.

Learn more

On Feb. 10 there will be a program on “Owls and Other Winter Raptors.”

Look for great horned, Eastern screech, barn, barred, short-eared, and other owls on a day-long program with Jim White. The program has a good track record – owls have been spotted every year. To register, call 239-2334.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo courtesy of Jim White, Delaware Nature Society

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

Winter weary gardeners can force branches for a taste of spring

January 23, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Sue Barton explains how to get a splash of color with winter plantsMany plant lovers need an early taste of spring to raise their winter-weary spirits.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature isn’t ready to oblige; the yellow blossoms of witch hazel and winter jasmine, both non-natives, won’t appear until mid- to late February. As for natives, serviceberry – one of the earliest native bloomers – won’t be out until early April.

But gardeners can get that splash of color they crave now by forcing branches.

Most ornamental trees and shrubs set their flower buds during the previous season, notes Sue Barton ornamental horticultural specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. These buds must undergo a period of dormancy – usually about six weeks of cold temperatures – before they can bloom.

Gardeners can force forsythia, pussy willow, redbuds, crabapples and many other deciduous branches. But, keep in mind that since it’s only mid-January; not all species are ready to force.

Plants that gardeners should have luck with now include Cornelian cherry (a type of dogwood), forsythia, fothergilla and witch hazels. By the end of the month and into early February, they can start forcing cherries. By mid-February, a plethora of choices opens up – Eastern redbud, lilacs, magnolias, quinces, red maple and serviceberry.

However, these dates aren’t set in stone. What really matters is whether the flower buds have swollen. As soon as gardeners see signs that the buds are starting to expand, they can cut branches and bring them inside. Barton has a magnolia in her yard that already is showing buds. She plans to clip a branch or two to see if she can get it to flower inside now.

Throughout the winter months, Barton keeps an arrangement of forced branches on a stainless steel bar that divides her kitchen from her family room. “I want the flowers to be the first thing you see when you come in the front door,” she says. “If I have an arrangement on the dining room table for a dinner party, I always move it to the kitchen after the party is over. Keep spring blooms out in a spot where you’ll see them often.”

Dare to be different and try something unexpected. Like red maple, suggests Barton.

“Red maple blooms are some of my favorite for forcing,” she says. “Out in the landscape, on a large tree, the budding flowers may not look all that spectacular. But when you have just a few branches inside, in a vase, you can really appreciate the clusters of tiny red flowers and long stamens on this native species.”

Blooms aren’t the only thing that helps Barton banish the winter blahs. She also cuts branches with catkins, from willows (pussy willows are very easy to force), as well as from beeches and birches.

She likes to force leaves, too.

“I often force beech buds,” she says. “Beech buds are pointy and when the leaves unfurl, the pleated leaves look as pretty as any flower.”

People should take time cutting and choosing their branches, even if the cold winds are blowing and they’re anxious to get back inside.

“Remember that you are changing the shape and look of your bush, so try not to take all your branches from the same side of the bush,” advises Anne Boyd, a Master Gardener with New Castle County Cooperative Extension.

“Select long, thin branches that have buds on them and cut them off near a junction,” she says. “Once you are back inside you can look them over and trim any that are too long or too branched.”

Not long after the holiday decorations have been taken down at Hagley Museum, staff horticulturalist Renee Huber starts cutting branches to brighten the Visitors Center, Belin House café and other public areas.

“Bringing in a handful of branches and watching them progress with either leaves or beautiful blossoms really gives you hope that spring will come,” says Huber.

After she cuts the branches, she puts them in warm water in a spot out of direct sun. She likes to add a bit of bleach to the water – around one tablespoon per gallon – to control bacteria.

Eileen Boyle, who also is a horticulturalist at Hagley, prefers to place branches in a garage, cellar or other cool, dark spot overnight after she has cut them for forcing. Then, on day two, she re-cuts the stems and places the branches in tepid water.

“Keep an eye on water level, changing the water daily,” she says.

Depending on the plant, buds need up to two weeks before they’ll bloom. Cherries may start flowering in just a few days; forsythia is another quick bloomer.

For those who don’t see any blooms after two weeks, they goofed. They may have cut the branches too early before the buds were properly formed or they may not have kept the water clean enough and bacteria rotted the opening of the stem. Perhaps the water level wasn’t adequate. Or, if the vase was in too hot of an area, the flowers may have opened but not fully or they faded fast.

But this kind of gardening goof is easy to fix. “Just go out and cut some more branches and try again,” says Barton.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share