Volume 7, February 2017

Only 24 days until the official First Day of Spring on March 20!   While we are grateful for the recent layer of snow, it will be nice to have it all gone and to see green shoots and unfurling flowers again.

Witch hazel in bloom 

I'm looking around my yard for signs of spring as I do every year.
Despite three feet of snow on the ground, the witch hazel buds show color but are not yet completely unfurled.  Pussy willows are peeking out.  The native honeysuckle vine on a protecte d wall has tiny leaves and is ready for pruning.  Goldfinches at the thist le seed feeder show some slightly lighter feathers, and before long they will be completely yellow.  Robins have eaten nearly all the red winterberries, for some reason leaving those stuck in winter containers for last.  

Indoors, my cat, Mr. Stripey, is beginning to shed his winter coat and is more anxious than ever for our walks on days when temperatures are above 20 degrees.  We are getting ready to start the first seeds:  Johnny-Jump-Ups and ornamental red mustard.
Plant Pick - Asclepias tuberosa (Perennial Plant of the Year)
Here's our Plant Pick for this month, now that the Perennial Plant Association has named its 2017 Plant of the Year:  Orange butterfly weed or milkweed, a wonderful native plant.  Orange, you say?  "I don't like orange!"  But pair it with something blue like Bachelor's Buttons or Balloon Flower and you will.  This plant is called a "60 mph plant" because you can pick it out while driving by at that speed.  Look for it in median strips on highways where wildflowers are being planted to cut down on mowing frequency.

Asclepias tuberosa is hardy from zones 4-9, reaches only 2'-3' in height so combines well in almost every garden, and deer do not eat it!
Asclepsia tuberosa attracts pollinators

Furthermore, all milkweeds are one of the key nectar sources for the Monarch Butterfly.  Leaves are a food source for the larvae once they hatch and begin to feed voraciously.  While there is less sap in the leaves than with the common taller pink milkweed, there is still enough of it to help the creatures develop an immunity to predators.  Insects who try to eat the butterfly or larvae will become poisoned!

This plant is slow to establish from seed, with a two to three year cycle required before the first flowering.  I recommend establishing milkweed from plants grown in one or two quart sized pots.  Many nurseries in our area are now offering good plants.  In years past there was a problem with transplanting the taproot and holding for sale in pots, but our experience last season had no fatalities.

One more caveat:  all milkweeds are slow to emerge in the spring since they flower in late summer.  I always mark the spots where they are grown so that I don't accidentally weed them out or try to plant something else in their place.  Let the seed pods stay in place so that the plant will seed around the garden, bringing in even more monarchs!
Suggestions for Late Winter Reading
Any seed catalogue is good reading right now, but if that doesn't appeal, there is a new book out about trees and their communal world.  It has hit the New York Times bestseller list!  I highly recommend "The Hidden Life of Trees:  What They Feel, How They Communicate - Discoveries from a Secret World" by German forester Peter Wohlleben.  This small volume speaks directly to laypeople in terms we can all understand.

We at PBOG have been learning about the network of mycorrhizal roots in the forest, fungal matter that's all connected below ground, for years in professional seminars.  We work to build this layer in your landscape with our compost tea program!  That's another reason why we recommend use of high fungal compost in our plantings.

For those who enjoy blogs and websites about gardening topics, start with these:

A Way to Garden - Margaret Roach    

Life on the Farmden - Lee Reich

A Cook's Garden - Barbara Damrosch

Hayefield:  A Pennsylvania Plant Geek's Garden - Nancy Ondra
Upcoming Events of Note - Free Lecture this Weekend in Groton

Groton Garden Club and the Nashua River Watershed Association are sponsoring a free talk on Sunday, February 26 at 2 pm at the NRWA's headquarters, 592 Main Street in Groton.  The program is underwritten by a grant from the Groton Commissioners of Trust Funds.

Guest speaker will be Dr. Elizabeth Farnsworth, senior research ecologist at New England Wild Flower Society.  "Ants in your Plants" is her topic, revealing the fascinating world of insect-plant interactions.  Elizabeth has co-authored two field guides, one to ferns and the other to ants.  In addition, she developed Go Botany, an online key to the plants of New England designed for all ages.  

Priscilla will be introducing the speaker and looks forward to seeing you in the audience!
The Drought - Is it over yet?
Looking at statistics published by US Drought Monitor, all of Massachusetts is still suffering from drought conditions.  Central and eastern parts of the state are ranked Severe Drought status.    The darker colors on their maps indicate more severe drought status, as seen in the southwestern part of the state and in our area.

We expect to see signs of drought stress as we open the season, especially with woody plants.  We stand ready to advise you on what you can do to minimize damage and support your trees and shrubs through the 2017 growing season.
Priscilla's To-Do List for late February/early March
Dormant Pruning
You can see the structure
of the tree at this time of year making it easier to prune

  • Dormant pruning of deciduous trees, shrubs and fruit trees can be done on days when temperatures are above 25 degrees
  • Rejuvenation pruning and size reduction of yew and privet hedges begins (through April 10)
  • Remove winter moth bands on trees with a pair of scissors as the pest is no longer active
  • Sharpen garden tools and purchase any needed replacements
  • Start seeds of alliums (onions, leeks, scallions), pansy and speciality flowers with long germination times
  • Increase water to houseplants as the days lengthen and begin weekly feedings with fish fertilizer
  • Keep winter boughs and shrub protectors in place, just in case severe winter weather returns!
  • Read a garden book, magazine or blog (see above for ideas)
  • Jot down ideas for improving the view outside your windows with plantings
  • Contact us now for design work needed for spring plantings
  • Schedule a consultation or garden walk-through with Priscilla
Here's another sign of spring - our annual letter is in the U.S. mail to let you know we will soon begin to make our rounds!  We have enclosed plant health care contracts and will extend a 10% discount to those who prepay for compost tea or tick and mosquito spraying before April 1. 

Thank you!  We look forward to seeing you very soon.

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