UD works to restore shad to White Clay Creek

July 3, 2013 under CANR News

UD works to restore shad population to White Clay CreekHold staff meeting. Write up report. Take apart a 236-year-old historic dam.

After Labor Day, Jerry Kauffman has an unusual item on his to-do list. As head of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency, he has been charged with overseeing the deconstruction of a dam that has been in existence since colonial times.

Removing Dam No. 1 from the White Clay Creek will improve water flow and water quality in the creek, which was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 2000. It also should make for some great fishing next spring and in years to come.

“Adult shad live in the Atlantic Ocean. In the spring, they travel up the Delaware River to spawn in fresh water,” says Kauffman. “But when they arrive at dams they can’t travel any further. By removing this dam, we’ll be re-opening 3 1/2 miles of spawning habitat for American shad for the first time in more than two centuries.”

The dam is located near present-day Delaware Park on land once owned by Daniel Byrnes, a Quaker preacher and miller.

American shad are richly flavored and make good eating. In the late 1890s, the Delaware River had the largest annual commercial catches of any river on the Atlantic Coast. However, the American shad catch started to decline in the early 1900s. Pollution was the biggest culprit, says Kauffman. “The Delaware was so polluted by the mid 20th century that oxygen levels were too low for migrating shad to survive,” he says.

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, water quality in the Delaware River rapidly improved, enabling more adult shad to survive in the river and more adult and juvenile shad to return to the Atlantic Ocean after spawning.

However, restoring shad populations in northern Delaware can only go so far with structures such as Dam No. 1 still blocking the shad’s passage upstream. A number of other states also have made dam deconstruction a priority. In Rising Sun, Md., the Octoraro Dam was removed in 2005 and more dams in that state are slated for removal.

Dam No. 1 will be Kauffman’s first dam removal project but it won’t be his last. Thanks to an $85,606 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the nonprofit group American Rivers, six additional northern Delaware dams will be removed, reopening 14 miles of fish passage, all the way to the Pennsylvania state line.

Because Byrnes’ dam is one of the few remaining timber-crib dams in the area, Kauffman and his team aren’t just pulling it down willy-nilly. Three years ago, when he started planning the dam’s removal, he connected with Rebecca Sheppard, associate director of UD’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design.

“We evaluate the significance of historic properties in Delaware and throughout the region but this was the first time we were asked to document a historic dam,” says Sheppard. “My grad students and I did a lot of research to learn about dams and about this dam, in particular. Then in March, we put on our hip waders and waded into the White Clay for the actual field work.”

Sheppard learned that Byrnes built his dam around 1777, which was a very busy year for the miller, as well as for the new nation. In early September of that year, shortly after the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, George Washington held a war council at Byrnes’ residence, now known as the Hale-Byrnes House. The Marquis de Lafayette and others helped Washington plan the defense of Philadelphia at this meeting.

There are plans to move portions of the dam to the Hale-Byrnes House. It could be used for school programs and during public events that are held periodically at the house.

Kauffman expects the deconstruction of the dam to go slowly, and not just because the goal is to keep portions intact for transfer to the Hale-Byrnes House.

“This dam was a high-tech, class A dam in its time,” says Kauffman. “Byrnes was a miller from Brandywine Village and he knew what he was doing. Built with just logs, stones and iron pins, the dam has stood intact for centuries. It was only during recent storms that it has started to show deterioration.”

“Once all seven dams are removed there will be new recreational activities for the public,” notes Kauffman. “We’d like to establish a kayak trail so people can travel the route of this historic waterway. There also will be opportunities to fish for shad at county parks, including one located off Old Manor Road in Wilmington and another in Windy Hills in Newark.”

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

Share

UD entomologist discusses stoneflies, official state macroinvertebrate

June 25, 2013 under CANR News
stoneflies

Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

On a recent morning, Ingrid Feustel and Ed Trommelen donned rubber boots, grabbed nets and collection buckets, and splashed their way into a tributary of the Red Clay Creek in search of stoneflies.

The duo are spending the summer conducting a macroinvertebrate survey as Stream Watch interns for the Delaware Nature Society.

As Feustel set out sampling jars, Trommelen kicked up pebbles with the toe of his boot, then dragged the net over the churned-up water. “I’ve got some stoneflies,” said Trommelen, after a glance inside the net.

Most people would probably only notice leaves, twigs and pebbles but Trommelen quickly identified the stoneflies, even though they’re itty-bitty (one-half to 1 1/2 inches long as adults and even smaller as juveniles.)

The interns collected stoneflies throughout the morning, making note of how many were in each sample, as well as any other macroinvertebrates — such as mayflies, caddisflies and worms — that they found. While it’s certainly fun to splash around a sun-dappled creek on a June day, why would the Delaware Nature Society care how many stoneflies are in local creeks?

“Stoneflies serve as the canary in the coal mine in terms of assessing the water quality of streams and creeks,” said Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “It makes sense to focus on stoneflies. Stoneflies need running water that contains lots of oxygen. Scientists can tell if a stream is polluted or not based on whether stoneflies are present.”

In fact, the stonefly is such an excellent indicator of water quality that it was chosen to be the official state macroinvertebrate. The May 4, 2005, proclamation that made it official says that the designation of the stonefly was a means “whereby Delaware state government could recognize the importance of excellent water quality and the vital role played by healthy aquatic ecosystems in Delaware.”

Delaware actually has three official insects – the lady bug, the tiger swallowtail (which is the state butterfly) and the stonefly. The distinguishing feature of a macroinvertebrate is that it doesn’t have a backbone.

Stoneflies aren’t just an indicator of pure water; they also help to keep it that way. Most species are herbivores; they eat decaying vegetation and algae, said Kunkel.

There are 38 known species of stoneflies that call Delaware home. Nineteen live exclusively in the Piedmont, in the northern one-fourth of New Castle County; eight live in the Coastal Plain, which makes up the other three-fourths of the state; and 11 can be found in both the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain.

Adult stoneflies are weak fliers and like to hang out on stones (hence their name) and also on logs. If they lose their grip and fall into the water they may get eaten by trout, which prefer mayflies but will eat stoneflies if that’s the only food around.

Even if it doesn’t become dinner for a trout, an adult stonefly only lives about three to four weeks. Nymphs, on the other hand, which make their home in the water, can exist for one to three years in their immature state, says Kunkel.

Good places to search for stoneflies, says Kunkel, are the White Clay and Red Clay creeks in New Castle County, the Murderkill River in Kent County, and Woodenhawk, a tributary of the Marshyhope Creek, in Sussex County.

Delaware Nature Society has been conducting a Stream Watch program for 20-plus years, says Ginger North, the society’s associate director for natural resources conservation. During that time the Red Clay Creek has shown improvement in its water quality.

“Twenty years ago, the Red Clay was classified as a waterway that was severely impaired,” says North. “It only supported black fly larvae and other macroinvertebrates that can tolerate polluted water. But today, stoneflies can be found in the Red Clay’s tributaries.”

Article by Margo McDonough

Share

Native Delaware: Seasonal Symphony of Frog Calls Returns

April 19, 2013 under CANR News

On April nights, Holly Niederriter can be found driving slowly down the back roads of New Castle County. Although she appears to be meandering, her excursions are quite purposeful.  A wildlife biologist with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Niederriter is listening for frog calls.

She is one of dozens of Delawareans who drive around after dark searching for frogs as part of the Delaware Amphibian Monitoring Program. The first survey period kicked off in late February, the second starts in a few days, and the final survey occurs in June. Participants are volunteers from the community; most don’t have Niederriter’s wildlife savvy. But they all receive training, and before their debut, take an online quiz to ensure they can distinguish the calls of Delaware’s 16 species of frogs.

American toad by Jim White“Frog calls are an important way to determine where different species occur and how populations are doing over time,” says Niederriter.  “Because most amphibians need both aquatic and upland habitats, they can serve as important indicators of water quality and other aspects of environmental health.”

A colder-than-average early spring made for a slow start to the frog-calling season.  Early April is often the peak of spring peeper season, when the sleigh-bell-like chorus of these tiny frogs reaches maximum volume in vernal pools and marshes. But the beginning of this month was so chilly that the peepers didn’t want to peep.

“Male peepers call to attract a mate but if the weather isn’t warm enough they hunker down and wait it out,” says Jim White, associate director for land and biodiversity management at the Delaware Nature Society and an adjunct herpetology instructor at the University of Delaware. “I didn’t hear a single peeper during the first few days and nights of April.”

Now that temperatures are more seasonal, the spring peepers are out in full force. Recently, they’ve been joined by the pickerel frog, with its snore-like call, and the American toad, which boasts a musical trill. In the Coastal Plain region (Kent and Sussex, plus a sliver of New Castle County), you also can enjoy the throaty croak of the Southern leopard frog.

You need a sharp ear to recognize the call of the American toad, notes Jake Bowman, a UD professor of entomology and wildlife ecology.

“American toads are frequently heard all over our area but rarely do people realize what they are hearing,” he says. “Unlike the commonly recognized sleigh bell call of the spring peeper, the American toad has a high pitched trill. Here on the UD campus, you can find them in most of the wetlands on our farm.”

A father of two sons, Lee, 10 and Ethan, 5, Bowman likes the fact that frogs are “kid-friendly.”

“Probably the nicest thing about toads is that it’s often the only amphibian kids have a chance to handle. My boys love the chance to chase and capture American toads and learn more about them,” he says. “After the boys have checked out the toads, we release them back where we found them.”

Like the Bowman boys, James White, Jr. grew up playing with frogs with his father, Jim White. Now a UD freshman, White is majoring in wildlife conservation and hopes to become a national park ranger.

“For as long as I can remember, I went looking and listening for frogs every rainy, spring night,” says White. “We had a marsh only a few yards from our house so it was never difficult to hear them.”

“I will go herping with my father but because of college it probably won’t be until school is out,” he says. “My favorite frog of spring is the pickerel frog. I always found them pretty frogs and very jumpy, making them a challenge to catch.”

If you want to catch frogs with your kids (or at least see and hear them), Bowman has a few suggestions. Look for terrestrial species on the ground in woodlands and other land habitats. Semi-aquatic species can be seen on the shoreline or surface of freshwater habitats. To find breeding frogs, head to vernal pools and marshes. Warm, rainy nights make for the very best frog-watching. Pack a bright flashlight and plenty of patience.

A spring peeper, for example, is only about an inch long and its brown, gray and green colors don’t stand out, especially at night. “You can practically be on top of them and still not see them,” notes Bowman.

But it’s worth the wait to see a peeper, especially a male one. Males have large vocal sacs under their chins that they pump full of air until they look like balloons about to burst, When they peep, the air is discharged and the shiny sac deflates.

How to Help

To learn more about volunteering with the Delaware Amphibian Monitoring Program, contact Vickie Henderson at 735-8651 or vickie.henderson@state.de.us

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Jim White

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

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