Techniques

Don’t combine daffodils with other cut flowers

Enjoy vases of daffodils (aka narcissus) while they’re in bloom, but don’t combine daffodils with other cut flowers … the calcium oxalate crystals in daffodil sap will clog the stems of other blooming vase-mates, causing them to wilt.

Daffodills With Pussy Willows W5 Save For Web 576x1024

A cheery spring combination – a vase of daffodils next to a vase of pussy willows

I try to share this warning annually during daffodil season in Connecticut. In my south-central zone 6 gardens, daffodils are in bloom now, at about the same time they bloomed in 2013 but a month later than they graced my gardens in 2012.

When picking daffodils it’s best to try to keep their sap off your bare skin. The same crystals that wilt their vase-mates can also irritate human skin leading to a contact dermatitis known as ‘daffodil itch ‘  that is common among people who pick or work with the cheery spring bloomers.

My picking method involves slicing or snapping daffodil stems near their base, and holding the flower stems blossom-down to keep the sap in the hollow stems. When picking just a handful, I carry them into the house this way and quickly immerse the stems in cool water.

Cut Flower Supplies ThumbWhen gathering a larger bunch of daffodil blossoms, take a small clean bucket or other non-breakable water-holding container to the garden. After cutting, quickly place each stem  into the water-filled bucket. Using this method, the flowers can rest in the water until I have time to arrange them in a vase.

Daffodils are lovely solo in a vase, but adding a few woody branches makes for a more interesting mix. The branches add structure and height, and don’t seem bothered by the daffodil sap.

Don’t fret about the vase or the arrangement. Daffodils deserve a natural look – all mixed together in a haphazard way.

But do take time to freshen their water daily. All flower arrangements last longer when provided with daily fresh water. Also, keep the arrangement out of direct sunlight and away from any heat source. Follow these steps and your daffodil arrangements will cheer you up for days and days.

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How to dispose invasive plants

If my latest Winter Review post, Are you invasive species savvy? did not offer ample links for learning about Connecticut’s invasive plants, check this guide. Once you can identify invasive plants, and likely have learned your landscape contains at least one, it’s time to learn how to properly dispose invasive plants.

Connecticut’s DEEP and the University of Connecticut developed Guidelines for Disposal of Terrestrial Invasive Plants. Not all invasive plants are treated equally when it comes to disposal. The guidelines noted above are the most comprehensive I’ve found to date and provide valuable information on the proper disposal of terrestrial invasive plants.

Based on these guidelines and my own experience, these are the most important rules to follow when removing and disposing of invasive plants from a home landscape.

Rule #1: DON’T ADD INVASIVE PLANTS TO YOUR COMPOST PILE! This refers to the compost you intend to spread back into planting beds. Home compost piles often don’t get hot enough to destroy all seeds/roots. When spreading home compost to planting beds you don’t want to also spread still viable seeds/roots from any invasive plant.

Rule #2: R-read Rule #1.

Rule #3: Read the guidelines, print them, bookmark the link, and refer to the guidelines regularly.

Rule #4: Repeat Rule #3.

As an Organic Land Care Professional caring for home landscapes, I do not advocate the use of chemicals for control of invasive plants. Instead, I suggest vigilant observation for invasive species, followed by cutting, pulling, smothering, and/or burning, followed by vigilant observation and re-cutting, re-pulling, re-smothering, and/or re-burning as needed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Dealing with invasive plants is not sexy, but it is an oh-so necessary part of gardening in today’s world.

Catching invasive plants when they are still young, removing them, and regularly rechecking for re-sprouts, is the best control method and the easiest way to prevent invasive plants from taking hold. I do invasive plant patrols on our nearly three acres of home gardens and woods in early spring, late spring/early summer, mid-summer, late-summer, and before a killing frost. These patrols have proved to be as important as weeding in my cultivated beds.

 

For small, invasive woody shrubs, vines and trees, I use the pull-out-all-roots and leave-to-dry method. The key is in getting all the roots. I often leave the pulled plant to dry atop a fallen tree , then target the areas where invasives were found for continued re-checking for new sprouts. This is particularly important for Japanese barberry, as it aggressively regenerates from the slightest piece of root left in the soil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When I spot a large number of newly sprouted invasive plants – think Oriental bittersweet seedlings that sprout each spring under trees after birds have deposited partially digested seeds during winter roosting visits to the tree’s upper branches – I collect pulled seedlings in a plastic bag (I reuse large plastic bags from prior mulch, compost, or soil amendment purchases). Letting bagged seedlings bake in the sun for a week or so kills seeds/roots then the bags go into the trash.

This is my preferred disposal method for Japanese Stilt Grass seedlings and plants (left photo), bittersweet seedlings, garlic mustard, and any small weed in flower.

After weeding out young invasives – or any weeds – be sure to follow the standard good-gardening practice of covering exposed/disturbed soil with some sort of mulch.

Larger invasive plants, such as bittersweet vines that have climbed into trees, can be cut to prevent further growth, leaving cut remains on site to dry. But cut trunks/stems must be monitored for re-growth. And … if the invasive has produced flowers or seeds, the area must be regularly checked for newly sprouted seedlings. Non-flowering, non-seeding woody plant material can be chipped, left in place,  or used to create a brush pile as habitat for woodland birds and creatures.

Japanese barberry requires repeated monitoring and managing of regrowth. This video shows how torching is used for Japanese Barberry control, but this method requires specific precautions and is not recommended for everyone.

 

Courtesy of the Univ. of CT Extension System, CT Agricultural Experiment Station

The proper management and disposal of invasive plant material is best determined by the location, age, size, flowering status, and reproductive ability of each invasive. To keep invasive plants from spreading and overtaking your landscape you need to make monitoring and control a regular gardening task … just like weeding.

Invasive plant control can seem a daunting task, but keep at it … the more diligent you are in controlling invasive plants in your landscape the less time you will ultimately need to spend controlling them.

February 23 to 28, 2014 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week … take this opportunity to learn more about invasive species in your area.

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Winter Review: Winter pruning

Winter is the ideal dream time for cold-climate gardeners, but it’s also a perfect time to review good gardening practices and increase your gardening knowledge. For this Winter Review we’ll examine winter pruning.

You can take advantage of sunny late-winter days by heading outside to complete some winter pruning. Shrubs are dormant during winter, which makes it the perfect time for pruning damaged, dead, or diseased branches.

I don’t suggest you prune all shrubs at this time. Those that flower on last season’s growth – think lilac, forsythia, pieris, mountain laurel, rhododendron –  and flower in early spring are best pruned shortly after they finish blooming. If you prune these during late winter you will remove much or all of the upcoming blooms.

You should wait until early spring to prune shrubs that bloom on new growth. These include butterfly bushes, cotoneaster, and red- and yellow-twig dogwood. And if you are looking to prune hydrangea, you first need to know what type of hydrangea you have, then you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable professional rather than risk losing upcoming hydrangea blooms.

At this time of year, when winter still has a good hold on our weather but we are beginning to get intermittent sunny and somewhat warmer days, look to prune damaged, diseased or dead branches. If heavy snow has split or broken a branch, it doesn’t matter when the shrub or tree blooms. The damage limb must be removed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABranches scarred from rubbing against another object – specifically crossed-branches – are easily identified now while branches are bare. Crossed branches lead to chaffing that opens the shrub to insect or disease. Crossed branches must be pruned to maintain the health of the shrub.

Notice the scarring on the larger branch in the photo to the left.

 

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABranches that are too close together, such as those to the right, should also be pruned.

While not yet causing damage, they will rub against each other when winds blow.  Any jagged stem ends can also be pruned at this time, as can unwanted suckers – thin new growth that has grown from the base but detracts from the shrub’s form or looks like it’s growth pattern will cause it to rub against a more mature branch.

It’s also important to remove any suckers growing from below the base union – usually a fatter section at the base of the plant where a graft was added to rootstock – or from beneath the soil of a grafted shrub. These are growing from the rootstock rather than the grafted, and more desirable, section of the shrub.

The exception to removing suckers shrubs and trees that have not been grafted to a rootstock, is when new suckers are needed to replace old or damaged branches. If you plan to keep the shrub, select suckers can be left to grow and become mature replacement branches.

Pruning is a necessary part of maintaining shrub and tree health, but it can also be a very confusing part of garden maintenance. When in doubt, ask advice from trusted, well-trained local garden center staff. Or, hone your pruning knowledge by reading.  I often reference Pruning & Training by Christopher Bricknell and David Joyce. State extension offices often post great pruning advice online, as well.

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