Volume 7, December 2017


Seasons Greetings from all of us at Pumpkin Brook

In your honor, we are making donations to three vital,
local non-profit organizations that continue to inspire our work:

NOFA Organic Land Care Program
Toxics Action
New England Wild Flower Society

We thank you for the opportunity to work together this year
on projects both large and small. 
It is an honor and a delight to be in your beautiful gardens. 
We look forward to continued collaboration in 2018!
Plant Pick - Ilex opaca - native evergreen holly
Those who summer on the Cape or points South will readily recognize this plant from the understory of the local woods.  It has an upright habit and somewhat spiny, sharp, dark evergreen leaves, as contrasted with the blue-green of the Meserve holly hybrids often planted in the landscape.  As with all hollies, both male and female plants are needed to produce the red berries that deck our halls in this holiday season.
Ilex opaca

One good place to see Ilex opaca in its seasonal glory is the Ashumet Holly Reservation in Falmouth, a Massachusetts Audubon property.  Trails lead you around a pond and up close to some very large specimens!  I understand this is a good bird watching spot, too.

I've been pushing this plant into shade with good success for some of our plantings these past few years.  It provides great screening all season long from unwanted views.  The mature height can be immense over time, up to 30' to 50' in southerly regions; in our area perhaps up to 20' over time.  However, growth is slow and easily controlled by pruning.  I like to tackle this on the first visit of spring, late March or early April.  Good air circulation is a must to promote the plant's natural pest and disease resistance.  

And if you have a holly now in your garden, remember to go out and cut some berried branches for your holiday mantlepiece or centerpiece!  Branches will last longer in water.  This tradition dates from the old Teutonic practice of hanging homes with evergreens as a refuge for woodland spirits from inclement winter weather.
Questions from You
1.  What about this sudden snow?  Will my exposed or zone 6 plants be OK?

Answer:  Yes, the snow took us all by surprise, didn't it?  Remember that snow is a great insulating layer and protector against cold.  It's actually good to have a light layer on the ground right now as the first really cold weather arrives.  No, we have not yet done winter protection
Snow can be a good insulator
with pine needles, salt marsh hay, compost, boughs and the like since the ground was not frozen yet at the end of last week.  However, we are waiting for the next rainy period or warm up to arrive, dilute a bit more of the snow, and then we'll be out with the winter protection program.  Winter is long, and we don't know what else Mother Nature will dish out.  The worst thing is to have bare, frozen ground and plants that lack sufficient mulch or coverage exposed to harsh winds and temperatures for long periods of time.

2.  The leaves are still on my Japanese maples.  Will these trees be damaged in an ice storm?

Answer:  This long, warm fall meant that many trees and shrubs held onto their leaves longer than usual, well into November.  Some still have leaves right now, like my Spiraea 'Mellow Yellow!'  In the case of the Japanese maples, these leaves were frosted and have now dried and curled up right on the tree.  They are quite light weight and will fall off in good time later this winter.  Leave them be!
While it's hard to predict the severity of an ice storm, if your Japanese maple has been pruned regularly to reduce excess weight, it should survive winter in good shape despite still retaining leaves now.

3.  Should I plan to rescue any woody plants buried under snow or ice?

Answer:  It's often a good idea to take a corn broom and brush snow off shrubs or small trees that may be bowed over by light snow.  However, avoid handling branches if it's below 20
Don't pull branches out of the snow!
degrees outside.  Branches are then quite brittle and will snap in your hands readily.  Do not try to pull a splayed shrub out of a snowbank.  It will rebound when the snow and ice melt, on  its own, and does not need help from us.

You may need wooden shrub protectors at foundations to guard against damage from snow sliding off the roof.  Let me know if you would like us to make one for you, as Al and Reese on our staff are great custom woodworkers!
Priscilla's To-Do List for December
  • Put shrub protectors in place at foundations to prevent damage from falling snow and ice
  • Organize garden tools indoors, repair and sharpen, or plan to replace
  • Keep your Christmas tree well watered, along with gift amaryllis and paperwhites that are growing rapidly in the warm house
  • Water other houseplants sparingly and do not fertilize at this time
  • Fill empty containers with winter greens to brighten outdoor entries and views
  • Stock up on good gardening books, magazines and seed catalogues
  • Cut the last of your rosemary and sage outdoors, usually edible until 10 degree temperatures descend
  • Stock up on plant- and pet-safe ice melt (Safe Paw is a good product to look for)
  • Replenish bird feeders with seed and suet
  • Take a rest!
Once the ground freezes:
Evergreen branches make good winter protection
  • Mound compost around the root systems of hybrid tea and Austin roses
  • Cover lavender, heaths and heathers with pine needles at a 6" depth and top off the pile with evergreens scavenged from the local Christmas tree seller
  • Spread an inch of salt marsh hay (no weed seeds) over strawberries and any exposed perennial beds where you may have lost plants in the past
This quote from the late garden writer Katharine S. White strikes me just right at this time of year:

"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind's eye." (From Onward and Upward in the Garden, 1979, a great winter read)

I guess it's the mind's eye garden that inspires me the most, as this is where we can plot changes and little improvements ahead of time. Once choices are finalized during this quiet time, we can roar out of the starting gate for early spring planting.  So let us know if you would like help revisioning or revamping any part of your garden. Paul, our designer, is on staff all winter and plans to stay busy helping you!
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