Green Liaisons Sustainability Lecture features sustainable landscape expert

April 18, 2014 under Events

Sue Barton will give a lecture on Friday, April 25 on sustainable landscapesThe second University of Delaware Green Liaison Sustainability Lecture of the spring will form the climax for Earth Week 2014 activities and will feature Susan Barton, assistant professor and Cooperative Extension specialist in plant and soil sciences.

Barton’s talk, “Rethinking Laird Campus,” will focus on incorporating sustainable landscape practices into the UD grounds. The lecture will be held from noon-1 p.m., Friday, April 25, in the Perkins Student Center Alumni Lounge.

Barton will discuss the implementation of the project on the University’s Laird Campus and how this concept has been extended to residential and corporate entities.

Barton has worked closely for the past 12 years with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to research and implement new roadside vegetation management strategies.

She has also worked with partners to develop the Plants for a Livable Delaware Program, designed to provide alternatives to known invasive plants species and to promote sustainable landscaping.

She teaches on plants and human culture, nursery and garden center management and the environment, and coordinates UD’s landscape horticulture internship.

Barton also works closely with the nursery and landscape industry, writing newsletters, organizing short courses and conducting horticulture industry expos with the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association.

She received the Nursery Extension Award in 1995 from the American Nursery and Landscape Association and the Rutledge Award for service from the University of Delaware in 2007.

About the Green Liaisons Sustainability Lecture Series

Once a month, Green Liaisons are invited to attend a lunchtime presentation on the small steps that can be implemented by every student, faculty and staff member in order to make UD a greener place to learn, work and live.

All lunches in the Green Liaisons Sustainability Lecture Series are open to Green Liaisons and will be held from noon-1p.m.Topics and locations change monthly. Drinks and dessert will be provided.

Members of the campus community who are not currently Green Liaisons but want to represent their department can contact Francis Karani at fkarani@udel.edu or Amy Snelling at snelling@udel.edu.

More information regarding the lunch schedule, past events and general information on the Green Liaisons programs can be found on this website.

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD students, professors make global connections in Brazil

October 2, 2013 under CANR News

UD students travel to UFLAFour University of Delaware students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) spent time this summer interning in Brazil at the University of Lavras (UFLA), immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture and taking part in experiential learning with the hope of establishing connections for future collaborations with the institution.

The students were able to study in Brazil thanks to funds provided by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program awarded to CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011.

The students who went on the trip were Jacqueline Hoban, a junior studying wildlife conservation and entomology, and recent UD graduates Melanie Allen, who studied wildlife conservation, Sara Laskowski, ecology, and Sarah Thorne, animal science.

Laskowski said that in addition to learning about the research underway at UFLA and networking to globalize UD, the students were fully immersed in the culture as they all lived with Brazilian doctoral or undergraduate students and tried their best to speak Portuguese.

Laskowski, who stayed in Brazil for two months, said that her favorite part of the experience was “the people I met. I made really great friends who I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. I hope to go back and I’m looking into possibly getting a master’s degree in the Amazon region. I love it.”

She also said that she enjoyed sitting in on various classes, talking with professors, seeing new species of birds and insects, and learning about new plants on a day-to-day basis.

Laskowski said that traveling and studying abroad “gives you a new perspective on life. UD has a lot of great opportunities through the study abroad program, which gives students an opportunity to step outside of their roles and really see how other people live.”

Hoban explained that the interns had worked for a year before heading to Brazil to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy, animal agriculture and biodiversity.

“Most of my classes were plant based and I worked with plant pathologists and learned a lot about coffee, because that’s their big crop,” Hoban said. She also studied how her Brazilian colleagues “deal with different pathogens and how we would deal with any pathogens that would come from Brazil, or have come from Brazil, to the United States.”

Hoban said that she enjoyed traveling to Rio de Janeiro and exploring UFLA’s new coffee science department.

Having been on study abroad trips to Cambodia and Vietnam before heading to Brazil, Hoban explained that traveling and studying abroad “makes you realize how big the world really is and how different it is. When you read about another country, you’re not really getting a full view of their perspective. Seeing how Brazilians feel about Brazil, how Brazilians feels about the United States, it broadens your mind.”

Professorial experience

The students were also supervised by a faculty team that included Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and associate professor of biological sciences; Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; and Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Barton traveled to Brazil for five days, and explained that she went for a number of reasons, among them to touch base with the UD students and provide them with the opportunity to do things like travel to Inhotim, a 5,000-acre botanic garden and contemporary art museum located two hours from the city Belo Horizonte.

As a professor who teaches plants and human culture, Barton also spent time with an ornamental horticulture professor from UFLA, driving around and looking at the typical city landscape in Brazil. Most of the plots in the city had very little room to landscape or walls that hid their interiors for security purposes, and because of this, people were not able to landscape the area in front of their homes. Barton was able to see a gated community, however, that eliminated the security issue with the gate at the entrance and that looked relatively similar to a high end American urban or suburban development.

Barton was also able to meet with forestry officials who showed her a number of urban forestry projects. “They’re very advanced in the way they’re using computers — like tablets — to collect data and they’re trying to completely catalogue all the trees in Belo Horizonte, which is a city about two hours away from Lavras,” said Barton.

She explained that the officials are gathering data on each tree and the possible problems that trees face in an urban environment — such as wires near the trees — and that they are hoping “to get a handle on the full range of the trees in the city and then continue to track that over time.”

Schmidt went to Brazil to support the students and to conduct research as part of a $4.7 million National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) climate change grant for a project titled “Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding.” The project looks at identifying genes that help chickens survive on different diets, in different climates and facing different disease challenges.

Having already sampled birds in Uganda, Schmidt said that it was very beneficial to be able to get genetic samples from birds in Brazil, as well.

“I’m very interested in pursuing worldwide genetic diversity in chickens because they’re in all sorts of different environments — they’re pretty much anywhere you find people,” said Schmidt.

Aiding Schmidt in his research work were Janet DeMena, a research associate in CANR, and Allison Rogers, a master’s degree student in CANR.

When it came time to head to campus and help the students, Schmidt quickly realized that the students were very self-motivated. He was, however, more than happy to accompany them on their trip to Rio de Janeiro.

“The people at UFLA were great and we were working pretty hard the whole time we were there, but I have to admit, it was nice to have a break in Rio,” said Schmidt.

Having been to UFLA during spring break, Schmidt had already set up connections with faculty at the institution in anticipation of this trip, and he will now have two Brazilian graduate students from the university travel to UD to spend a year here starting this month.

Article by Adam Thomas

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Barton named Vice President of ASHS

August 13, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Sue Barton named Vice President ASHSSue Barton, extension specialist and an associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has been named the Extension Division Vice President for the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS).

ASHS is the main organization of professional horticulturalists and includes members from industry, academia and extension.

The term for Vice President will begin in August and Barton will serve for 3 years.

Barton has been with the organization since she was a graduate student in the 1980’s and she also serves as an associate editor for one of their publications.

“I have been working with ASHS in that capacity for a long time,” said Barton. “But this will give me an opportunity to get to know the inner workings of the organization a little better and hopefully provide some service to other extension professionals who are involved.”

Barton said that another reason she wanted to get involved was to raise the national presence of the University of Delaware.

“I think it’s good for the University when faculty take national roles so I felt like it was also my responsibility once I was asked to do it, to fulfill this for UD in addition to doing it for horticulturalists in general.”

Article by Adam Thomas

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‘Earth Perfect?’ symposium to take place at UD, area gardens June 6-9

May 28, 2013 under CANR News

ApplecrossAnnette Giesecke is a professor of classics and chair of the ancient Greek and Roman studies department at the University of Delaware She also is the mastermind behind “Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia, and the Garden,” a June 6-9 symposium taking place at UD and several local horticulture venues.

It may seem unusual for a professor of classics to organize a horticulture symposium. But this isn’t a garden-variety garden conference. If you’re only looking for tips on pruning or growing the perfect tomato, you’ve come to the wrong place.

“’Earth Perfect?’ will showcase the garden as an emblem of the ideal human relation with nature,” says Giesecke. “Anybody who is interested in the importance and meaning of gardens, and the politics of gardens, will want to attend. It’s not just an event for academics and garden professionals.”

Frankly, even those of us who never stopped to think about the meaning of gardens – we just know we like them — may find the symposium worthwhile. The eclectic program includes a lecture by UD professor McKay Jenkins on the environmental and health risks of lawn chemicals. There’s a workshop on creating “night spaces” and another on designing with edible plants. You can learn about slave gardens in the antebellum South or contemporary urban vertical farms.

Keynote speakers include Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, and UD’s Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Mixed in with the lectures and workshops are special tours of Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer and the Mt. Cuba Center.

Giesecke, who has written widely about the gardens of ancient Greek and Rome, was inspired to create the symposium after co-editing a publication also called Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia and the Garden.

Sue Barton, an ornamental horticulture specialist with UD Cooperative Extension, is excited to be speaking at the symposium because she wants to get more people thinking and talking about her lecture topic — livable ecosystems as a model for suburbia.

What’s a livable ecosystem?

The easiest way to explain it is to say what it’s not – a livable ecosystem isn’t a chemically treated monoculture of turfgrass with a few non-native, invasive trees plunked down in the front yard, too far from the house to shade it in summer or serve as a windbreak in winter.

In other words, a livable ecosystem is a far cry from what many suburban yards look like today.

“The traditional home landscape contains a limited palette of plants, has large areas of regularly mowed lawn, and provides relatively few ecosystem services,” says Barton. “Forests and meadows, on the other hand, provide many ecosystem services.”

Rest assured, you don’t need to remove every blade of grass and turn your yard into a jungle to create a livable ecosystem.

Take, for example, the attractive new landscape at a home in the Applecross neighborhood off Route 100 in Greenville. It does look a bit different than the neighbors’ yards – for one thing, there’s a 6,000-square-foot meadow of native grasses. It also features a newly reforested area, adjoining an existing wooded tract.  Invasive plants have been removed and replaced by white oaks, blueberry bushes, ornamental grasses and other native species.

Grass plays a role, too, but it’s been bumped from star of the show to a member of the supporting cast.

“Turf on the property is used purposefully, for recreation areas, circulation, or as the green carpet that sets off other plantings,” says Barton.

The yard is part of a UD research project on livable ecosystems. “We want to see if replacing the typical suburban yard of mostly grass with one containing diverse vegetation can help protect the environment and make landscapes more sustainable,” she says.

The Applecross property is one aspect of a multidisciplinary project involving five UD faculty members and dozens of undergraduate and grad students. Another research site is located at Winterthur, where the UD team is collecting water quality data in three streams that drain from three different landscapes – mowed lawn, meadow, and forest. They’re also collecting data on the diversity of plants, insects and birds in each of these settings.

If you won’t have a chance to hear Barton at the Earth Perfect symposium, you’ll have a second chance on June 14, at a Sustainable Landscape Tour. Sponsored by UD Cooperative Extension, the program includes a visit to the Applecross property, as well as a tour of a bio-swale and wetlands on the UD farm. Barton also will be hosting a shorter tour of the Applecross property later this season. To find out more about these Extension events, email Barton at sbarton@udel.edu.

To register for Earth Perfect or learn more at this symposium, call 831-2793 or go to this website.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Amidst spring color, unfurling ferns offer different kind of beauty

May 17, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The May landscape at Winterthur is reminiscent of a child’s finger painting. Here, a bright splash of red and coral from azaleas. There, luminescent lavender on lilacs and phlox. Throw in a cheerful dab of gold from Rhododendron luteumand a dash of pastel pinks from dogwoods, too.

Amidst this riot of color, Linda Eirhart was a woman on a mission one recent morning. Oblivious to the rainbow hues around her, Eirhart drove a golf cart down Winterthur’s pathways, searching for new ferns unfurling their fronds.

fernsAt first glance, one might wonder why Eirhart, Winterthur’s assistant director of horticulture, would bother chasing down ferns. Unlike spring blooms, there’s no immediate wow factor. All the ferns are pretty small now, even the ones that will ultimately reach two to three feet high. It’s easy to overlook a tiny fern growing just a few inches from the ground. However, if you crouch down for a closer look, you’ll enjoy a sight as spectacular in its own right as the brash blooms of spring.

Take, for example, emerging hay-scented ferns. These clusters of chartreuse apostrophes twirling in the breeze resemble some bizarre plant from a Dr. Seuss book. Another fern that looks other-worldly now is cinnamon fern. Its fronds are tightly wound in a circular clump, encased in white hairs.

“Ferns are a real favorite of mine,” says Eirhart. “They’re fascinating as they emerge. Then, once they unfurl and mature, they provide interesting foliage and texture throughout the growing season.”

Not to mention the way they seem to lower the thermometer once the steamy hot days of summer arrive.

“Ferns create a cooling, peaceful effect in a landscape,” says Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture. “The March Bank at Winterthur is a great example of this cooling effect.”

The March Bank’s main claim to fame is its spring color. In the early 1900s, H.F. du Pont began planting thousands of bulbs on a hillside near his home that he dubbed the March Bank. He mixed ostrich, cinnamon and New York ferns amidst the bulbs for season-long interest. Du Pont would go on to inherit Winterthur from his father and, a short time after that, establish the property as a museum.

Come summer, the ferns that du Pont planted will create a thick, lush carpet of green in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. There’s the almost chartreuse green of the New York fern, which contrasts with the multi-colored hues of the cinnamon fern. The cinnamon fern has two types of fronds – large green sterile ones and smaller fertile ones that start out bright green and soon turn a cinnamon color. Some of the taller varieties include the ostrich fern, which can reach 5 feet and the New York fern, which tops out at 2 feet in ideal conditions.

“I love ferns,” says Chris Strand, director of garden and estate at Winterthur. “Growing up in Colorado, ferns weren’t common. We didn’t get 39 inches of rain annually like Delaware gets, nor did we have the right soil conditions for ferns. When I moved East, I was amazed by all the ferns here. It’s beautiful now, when the bluebells are fading on the March Bank and the emerging ferns are coming in. All the fronds waving in the breeze look like waves on the ocean.”

Delaware has 67 native ferns, according to Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Winterthur doesn’t have all those ferns but it’s certainly got a lot. In addition to the March Bank, there are good collections of ferns in the children’s garden, Enchanted Woods; as well as in the Pinetum. And what was once a small fern collection at the Visitor’s Center has been given a big boost recently. Over the past five years, Eirhart, her staff, and volunteers have added thousands of new ferns to this area.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is another great place to search for unfurling ferns now and enjoy their cooling presence later this summer. There are painted and Christmas ferns in the Dunham Garden, at the main entrance; autumn and Christmas ferns by the Creamery ice cream shop; and still more Christmas ferns in the native garden.

In shady or partial shady conditions, ferns can be the workhorse of the garden. They can be used as groundcover in places where few other plants will thrive and also spotlighted as specimen plantings, notes Barton. Most varieties are low maintenance, drought tolerant and deer resistant. A few ferns will even tolerate full sun, as long as they have adequate moisture.

Learn more

On June 19, Linda Eirhart will lead a fern workshop that covers the basics of fern botany and cultivation as well as an introduction to the best ferns for this area. 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Winterthur Museum and Gardens. To register, call 888-4600.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Bloom season kicks into high gear for garden enthusiasts

April 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

In April, bloom season kicks into high gear in Delaware. In fact, it might be the single best month to get outside and enjoy the views at the area’s world-class gardens.

At Winterthur, the Winterhazel Walk will soon be the star of the show, reports Linda Eirhart, assistant director of horticulture for the museum, which features a 60-acre naturalistic garden in the midst of nearly 1,000 acres of land.

Delaware bloom season kicks off“The cold weather has held things back but before long the Winterhazel Walk will dazzle with its combination of soft yellow winter hazel and the warm lavender of Korean rhododendron. This is under planted with hellebores, which are still going strong,” she says.

These species are non-native but many of Winterthur’s native plants will soon be in bloom, too. Bloodroot is a sweet little perennial with pure white, cup-shaped flowers. You can find it in Azalea Woods and other wooded areas and thickets throughout the property.

Spring beauty is another little charmer, sporting white petals with stripes that vary from pale pink to bright pink. Like bloodroot, it grows in woodlands. Pay attention to weather conditions during your visit to Winterthur. If it’s warm and sunny, spring beauty will open its petals but on a cloudy day or at night the petals close up and nod downward.

Winterthur’s bluebells aren’t in bloom quite yet but the buds have appeared and will soon burst into bloom. Eirhart says that bluebell is her favorite native wildflower.

“I love the bluebell’s shades of blues and the touch of pink and purple you can get in the blossoms,” she says. “Between the color of the flower buds and the last fading flowers, there is a good length of time of color interest.”

Sue Barton also is a fan of Virginia bluebells, which grow in clusters near the creek on her property. “It’s fun to come upon a mass of bluebells while walking in the woods,” says Barton, who is ornamental horticulture specialist for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

But it’s flowering redbuds, not bluebells, that signal that spring has sprung to Barton.

“The redbud has an extremely colorful, dark purple or pink flower and an unusual habit of flowers borne directly on the stem,” she says. “I like the ‘Forest Pansy’ cultivar because of its attractive bronze foliage.”

This small native tree grows wild in many of Delaware woodlands. As you buzz down I-95, check out the large stand of redbuds by the roadside, just south of Wilmington. For a more leisurely setting to enjoy redbud blooms, head to the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. You can find flowering redbuds there, and a whole lot more.

“In bloom, or soon to bloom, are a number of natives, including silverbells, fothergilla, serviceberry, redbud, dogwood and pawpaw,” says Claudia Bradley, nursery coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.

She is particularly fond of fothergilla and tends to it not only in UD’s gardens but also in her own home garden. “I always look forward to seeing the fothergilla in flower,” says Bradley. “I like its bottlebrush white flowers now and, then, in fall, its awesome red color.”

Mt. Cuba Center is another great place to check out spring blooms, especially since it’s expanding its public hours. Starting April 19, you won’t need a reservation to visit on Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (From May 3 to July 26, the gardens will stay open until 7 p.m. on Fridays.)  Guided tours will still be available by reservation on other days and times.

Chilly weather delayed some of the blooms at Mt. Cuba, just as it as at Winterthur and other area gardens. But now that it has warmed up, native spring ephemerals will soon emerge in Mt. Cuba’s woodlands, reports Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturist at the center. Look for flowering liverleaf, trout lily, bloodroot, rue-anemone, cut-leaf toothwort and Dutchman’s breeches.

Trees and shrubs also are starting to bloom at Mt. Cuba. If you’d like some April flowering shrubs in your own yard, Frett suggests American bladdernut and spicebush.

“Both of these are found locally in the woodlands and at Mt. Cuba Center,” says Frett. “They’re very appropriate choices for creating your own naturalistic gardens using locally native species.”

Spicebush is one of Delaware’s most common native shrubs. On the female plants, small clusters of yellow flowers appear now, and later develop into red fruit. American bladdernut isn’t the most beautiful April bloomer but it could be the most interesting.

“More of a curiosity than a specimen shrub, the American bladdernut has bell-shaped flowers that develop into three-lobed, inflated, brown papery capsules later in the season,” says Frett.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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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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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

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Trees can help cities better prepare for severe weather events

November 21, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many cities are taking a look at how they can better prepare for severe weather events. A low-tech – but effective – solution is to plant trees, says Sue Barton, ornamental horticultural specialist for the University of Delaware.

“A single mature tree can intercept several thousands of gallons of stormwater. Plant more trees in the right places and you can mitigate the impact of storm events,” says Barton.

She points to the research of David Nowak, a forester at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Research Station in Syracuse, N.Y., who has analyzed the role that “urban forests” play in controlling runoff and flooding, reducing the costs of stormwater management facilities, and decreasing water pollution.

An “urban forest” doesn’t necessarily mean a tree-filled area the size of Central Park. Instead, researchers like Nowak look at the overall tree coverage in a community. The average urban tree canopy in the U.S. is 23 percent. But the tree canopy in the New Castle County metro area is estimated to be just 19 percent, and the city of Wilmington’s tree canopy is 16 percent.

“Philadelphia and Wilmington have experienced water overflow situations after decent-sized rains, not just storm events like Hurricane Sandy,” says Barton, a Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “The stormwater management systems in these cities were engineered many years ago and they can’t handle the water flow after a big rain – which means raw sewage and other organic material bypasses the treatment plants and go directly into streams.”

Fixing antiquated stormwater systems isn’t cheap. “One of Nowak’s greatest contributions may be his research into the economic benefits of trees,” says Barton. “He came up with a way to put a dollar cost on how much trees can save a community. He looks at the cost of trees and tree maintenance relative to the costs of updating aging stormwater systems.”

In Wilmington, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) has been a driving force behind stormwater mitigation efforts that include planting trees and shrubs, establishing rain gardens and installing underground holding tanks. All three of these elements were included in a stormwater project at the Trolley Square Acme that was completed in June 2011.

The 9,000-square-foot project filters, slows and absorbs rain that falls on the roof of the Acme and its 1.42 acre parking lot. Comprised of 19 shade trees, more than 2,800 shrubs and smaller perennial plants, a rain garden, and underground holding tanks, the project captures an estimated 70 percent of the site’s annual rainfall, providing relief to the city’s combined stormwater and sewer system.

Gary Schwetz is a senior project analyst at DCH and was instrumental in the development and execution of the Acme project. His advice to those who want to use trees to intercept stormwater: “Think big.”

Schwetz doesn’t mean you need to plan a big project – like the 2,819 or so living things planted at the Acme — but that you need to include big trees.

“Large trees are better at absorbing rainwater and mitigating air pollution,” says Schwetz.  “A 20-foot tree will have eight times the environmental benefits of a 10-foot tree.”

Of course, it can be tough to grow a big tree in the narrow space between a city sidewalk and the street, or in a city backyard. It can even be tough for big trees to do well in public spaces like Rodney Square, which little by little has seen its grassy area reduced and covered by pavers and other impervious surfaces.

Schwetz and fellow DCH staffers worked on an innovative landscape project that will help big trees flourish at Rodney Square. Other partners were the city of Wilmington and the Delaware Department of Transportation.

What makes the project different, says Schwetz, is the use of a new structural cell technology as the planting medium. These milk-crate-like structural cells can support sidewalks and hold a high volume of good quality soil, creating conditions in which large trees should be able to thrive.

Rodney Square isn’t the only place the city of Wilmington has been planting trees lately. Some 250 trees were planted by the city in the last year and a half. And, one year ago, the city hired Mandy Tolino has its first-ever urban forest administrator.

“Trees and the green infrastructure improve water quality by helping slow water down during a storm, as well as by reducing erosion,” notes Tolino.

Recently, she has been involved in a pilot tree trench installation at Brown Burton Winchester Park, at 23rd and Locust streets. On the surface, this tree trench looks like an ordinary row of trees. But underground, the trench is lined with a permeable fabric and filled with gravel. During a rainstorm, water flows through a storm drain to the trench, where it’s stored in the empty spaces between the stones before slowly infiltrating into the soil below.

There will be a public dedication of the Rodney Square landscape project on Nov. 27 at noon. For more information, call the Delaware Center for Horticulture at 658-6262.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Asters keep UD Botanic Gardens colorful through November

November 12, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Some of autumn’s pleasures are fleeting. Like the sight of migrating broad-winged hawks soaring on thermals in the September skies. Like the golden leaves of the ginkgo, which drop from the tree in a few days or sometimes mere hours. Like the big, orange, once-a-year occurrence of the harvest moon.

But other autumn pleasures – like asters – endure all season long. Asters start blooming at the same time as such early fall wildflowers as goldenrod and thoroughwort. But long after many other blooms have turned brown, the aster is still going strong.

Of course, no one species of native aster blooms straight through from September to November. Most bloom for a few weeks and then, as they die off, other varieties began to flower. Some of the native varieties that bloom the latest include aromatic and heath asters.

“It’s not unusual to see aromatic, heath and other species of asters blooming in late November,” says Sue Barton, an ornamental horticulture specialist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “Asters continue to add a splash of color to the landscape in late autumn, when little else is blooming in Delaware.”

There are 33 native species and varieties of the genus Aster in Delaware, according to Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the Delaware Natural Heritage Program. Several of these varieties are classified as rare in the state. Asters are found in a wide range of habitat – woodlands, swamps, marshes, wet meadows and old fields. Some species are tall and bushy; others are groundcovers. Most prefer sunny conditions but some do well in shade.

Asters are tough and reliable, which is why they are popular with both home gardeners and commercial landscapers. “Asters – both natives and non-natives – are some of the easiest perennials to grow,” says Barton. “They don’t require much watering, fertilizing or other care.”

Doug Tallamy likes asters because they contribute to healthy local ecosystems. Asters are a valuable food source for a variety of pollinators, including native bees, honeybees, butterflies, beetles and flies, says Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.

“As one of the latest blooming widespread plants, asters are very important as a carbohydrate energy source for butterflies, bees, beetles and flies,” says Tallamy.

If you’re looking for a good aster to plant in Delaware you couldn’t do better than talking to Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturalist at Mt. Cuba Center. A few years ago she conducted a performance evaluation of asters in conjunction with Victor Piatt, the center’s former trial area gardener.

The duo evaluated 56 different asters over a two-year period for such factors as color, bloom period, foliage quality, disease resistance and more.

Varieties that got top marks include smooth aster, prairie aster and calico aster. A late bloomer that scored well is the large-flowered aster. Some years, this aster may start in mid-October and finish by Halloween. Other seasons, it doesn’t flower until mid-November and then continues blooming past Thanksgiving.

You can see these varieties of asters – any many more – at Mt. Cuba. Public garden tours are held Thursdays through Sundays; registration is necessary. The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens also has a great selection of asters. Late bloomers there include Aster oblongifolius “Raydon’s Favorite,” a showy variety that sports a profusion of blue-lavender flowers with yellow centers.

Mt. Cuba Center is located at 3120 Barley Mill Road in Hockessin. For more information, call 239-4244.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is located on the grounds of Townsend Hall off South College Avenue in Newark. The garden is open dawn to dusk daily and is free of charge. Parking is available at meters or by purchasing a parking permit for $3 online. To learn more, call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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