My Silly Gardening Oops for April 2012

I should have known better. I’ve gardened for more than 30 years. I know that early spring emerging plants can handle cold. Still, my mothering instinct beat out my common sense instinct when faced with the idea that my white lilac buds might be harmed by the a hard frost that visited my Connecticut gardens last week. The previous stretch of unusual record warmth caused a growth explosion in lilacs and other spring bloomers. Then, true to typical New England weather, the temperature dropped just as gardeners and gardens were feeling comfortable with the early warmth. I should have known better than to try to protect the larger of my two white lilacs from the freeze. This is my Gardening Oops, GOOPs for short, for April 2012.

All gardeners make mistakes. It doesn’t mater how long you have gardened, you’ll still make mistakes. That’s why I started this Gardening Oops blog meme. On the first of each month I share one of my Gardening Oops, GOOPs for short, and I ask other gardeners to join me. Some are too shy or simply don’t want to publically admit their gardening mis-steps, others are brave and self-confident enough to play along with me by acknowledging and sharing their GOOPs.

The GOOPs I’m sharing this month will have me asking, “What were you thinking?” for a long time.

When a hard freeze was forecast for last week I wondered how well the foliage of many of my perennials would fare. I know they are used to growing in cold temps, but after a week of temperatures reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit caused their unusually rapid growth I wondered if this new growth would be damaged. New England weather can be cruel. The adage that you know you’re a New Englander if you’ve used your air conditioner and furnace in the same day holds true.

When temperatures had fallen to 34 degrees by dusk leading to that cold night, my mothering instincts led me to cover many of my perennials with overturned apple baskets and large pots … not unusual and generally a sound idea when early spring temps drop to the 20’s. But I was still worried about the white lilac so, in a last ditch move I secured a sheet over it hoping to protect it. I did this even when a nagging voice in my head said don’t.

I should have listened to the nag.

The buds on the lilac I covered now look like this:


Sad, isn’t it. This is frost burn. The sheet I placed as protection rested on these buds and captured the cold enough to cause leaf burn.  The sheet transferred the damp cold to the lilac buds and held it there. My nagging voice kept trying to tell me this would happen. Obviously I was too deaf to listen. Now, just outside the windows of my house, in an area passed frequently going to and fro, I get to look at the browned tips of lilac leaves. For quite some time this will be a daily reminder of my early spring GOOPs.

At the opposite side of this stretch of garden is another white lilac. One I purposely did not cover. I wanted to later compare how well the covered lilac bloomed as opposed to the one left uncovered.

Here’s how the buds of the un-mothered lilac look:


Exactly as they should.

And the perennials I covered? They are fine and look no different, so far, than those left uncovered.

Gardening is a constant learning experience. Sometimes even seasoned gardeners, like me, need to be reminded to listen to their nagging voice and leave things be.

I hope you’ll consider playing this GOOPs game. All you need to do is muster up enough strength to admit a Gardening Oops and share it in a comment below. If you share your GOOPs on your own blog, then leave a teaser comment below so readers can head to your blog to read your GOOPs.

Here’s hoping you learned from my GOOPs … I sure hope I’ve learned to listen to my nagging voice.

Garden thoughtfully,


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Now is the Time to Identify and Control Japanese Barberry

Connecticut’s woodland undergrowth is beginning to green. Unfortunately, much of this color is due to invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii de Candolle). This thorny shrub dominates unmanaged wooded areas. Deer don’t eat it and birds spread it by eating and dispersing the prolific red berries it produces each autumn. Japanese barberry quickly grows into large thickets that provide cover for mice and an ideal environment for immature blacklegged ticks – the very ticks that carry Lyme disease. In their early life, ticks are susceptible to desiccation – they need high-humidity at the ground level to thrive. Japanese barberry accommodate the high-humidity needs of young ticks by leafing out earlier than most native shrubbery, thus maintaining ground-level moisture by blocking drying sunshine.Japanese Barberry 4

Mice also like the protection a large stand of Japanese barberry affords them from predators. With mice and ticks enjoying the same habitat there’s bound to be an increase in tick-borne disease.

Researchers Scott C. Williams and Jeffrey S. Ward, at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, have been monitoring the number of mice, the number of ticks and Lyme-infected ticks, and ground-level humidity in three geographic areas of Connecticut. In each area they have test plots of uncontrolled, controlled, and no Japanese barberry. They control Japanese barberry in their test plots using one of three methods. One method is torching the base of each shrub until the main stems carbonized and glowed – in effect girdling main stems to stop nutrient transfer.  I would not advise trying this method without undergoing a certain level of training, particularly during this dry, high fire risk spring of 2012.

The other two forms of control involved mechanically cutting the shrubs – usually by brush hog – and leaving cut plant material in place. They controlled regrowth with herbicides or flame from a propane torch applied directly to new sprouts. Note: Torching is acceptable control method for organic land care. It involves heating new sprouts by sweeping the flame back and forth over leaves until their cells burst. Torching does not involve turning a large patch of land into a flaming inferno. However, in this dry and high fire risk year, I strongly suggest this type of control only be used by highly trained individuals.

With a total of three years of data now collected, Williams and Ward report plots without barberry have about 30 Lyme-infected ticks per hectare (the equivalent of 2.471 acres). In these controlled plots, the researchers found decreased humidity and ‘a near 60% reduction in the number of B. burgdorferi-infected adult blacklegged ticks.’

Plots of uncontrolled Japanese barberry had about 280 Lyme-infected ticks per hectare.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These findings suggest that continued barberry control will result in continued decline in tick populations. Mechanical control takes vigilance and follow-up, as Scott Williams explained for my report on his and Ward’s previous Japanese barberry-tick study. Effective eradication requires proper identification of the Japanese barberry shrubs, mechanical removal of all above-ground portions in late-spring or early summer so the shrubs use starchy root reserves to force out new growth, then killing new growth in later summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It is extremely important to know that Japanese barberry shrubs will not die with one cut. Williams cautions that cut shrubs send up new growth with a vengeance.   If pulled, it will resprout from the tiniest rootlets left in the ground.  Re-checking areas where Japanese barberry has been cut or pulled is an extremely important management practice. Eradication requires vigilance.

I live in an area heavily infested with Japanese barberry yet my property is clear of this invader because  I wander my property this time of year to attack any Japanese barberry shrub or sprout. I repeat my wanderings during autumn months to be sure the invaders remain under control. If wooded areas adjacent to your home are so overgrown with this invasive shrub that control there seems impossible, then take the time to establish a line in which you will not let Japanese barberry cross. Keep it from establishing in the areas your family and pets frequent.

With little practice, spotting and removing Japanese barberry will become part of your regular gardening routine.

Garden thoughtfully,


Note: this is a rewrite of a previous post, Lyme-ticks thrive in Japanese barberry thickets.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry

Cut Daffodils Don’t Play Well with Other Flowers

I love filling my living spaces with vases of fresh-cut daffodils. They cheer up the darkest mood and warm the chilliest room.  But I learned that cut daffodils (narcissus is their botanical name) don’t play well with other cut flowers in the same vase.

Cut daffodil stems exude a sap containing calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals prevent other flowers in the same vase from absorbing water, causing them to wilt. The same crystals can also irritate human skin leading to ‘daffodil itch ‘ a contact dermatitis common among people who pick or work with the cheery spring bloomers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA cut flower suppliesI use two methods for picking daffodils. I either slice or snap the flower stalks near their base, then hold cut stems bloom down to keep the sap in the hollow stem. This works well when picking just a few daffs at a time. To gather a bunch of daffodil blossoms, I carry a small clean bucket or other non-breakable water-holding container to the garden. After cutting, each stem quickly goes into the clean water-filled bucket. Using this method, the flowers can rest in the water until I have time to arrange them in a vase of fresh water.

To keep these or any cut flowers fresh longer, replace day old water with fresh.

While daffodils are lovely when bunched alone in a vase, I like to add a touch of contrast. So rather than sentence another type of bloom to early death, I snip a few woody branches to accompany my daffodil bouquet. I love the contrast of the warm daffodil petals with the dark, but dainty, structure of birch or beech branches, such as in these photos from previous years.

narcissi bouquet          narcissi in mason jar

A bouquet like this will cheer up even the gloomiest Gus.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry