February 2020       Volume 10, No. 2
Dear Friends, 

We seem to be in a weather pattern of fog and clouds that bring light drizzle or snow showers, sometimes with ice mixed in. The landscape outside my window is a continuing mix of green, grey, brown, black and white. What better time to dream of brightly colored flowers, blue sky and a few white puffy clouds overhead? In this issue, we'll explore some ways to find that color that we all are longing for in our lives right now.
Insects Need Plants, and Plants Need Insects - Natives Preferred
The hot topic on the garden lecture circuit these days is native plants, along with the birds and insects that depend upon them for sustenance. These are the pollinators that everyone is talking about! And this is more than a foodweb - it is the underlying support for the world as we know it. Per renowned biologist, E.O. Wilson, still working as Professor Emeritus at Harvard and well into his 90s: "If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos." And a disturbing new study from Cornell was recently released that showed 1 in 4 birds has disappeared in the last 50 years, just since 1970, for a total of 3 billion birds.

Our core staff attended a seminar in December as part of their NOFA Organic Land Care reaccreditation and learned some valuable "how to" strategies. We are prepared to install more of the key plants that will draw pollinators into your garden, no matter how small, in 2020. Contact our Designer, Deanna Jayne, to get started <>

Asclepias tuberosa and Echinacea purpurea

It's best to avoid the so-called "nativars" and stick to straight species. In the case of purple coneflower, use  Echinacea purpurea, loaded with more pollen (read nutrition) that insects seek. Stay away from double forms, improved types, and the many cultivars such as 'Solar Flare' which may be pretty but lack this value.

It's also important to provide a long season of bloom since the insects need nectar and pollen all during the growing season: April to November. Remember flowering shrubs as well as perennials in this planning. Even the undeveloped edge of your property can be allowed to naturalize to wood aster, for example, and provide valuable habitat, rather than just coating the area with more bark mulch.

Happily, the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts has set up a two-year program to help the public "Go Native!" More details here, and per entomologist and author, Doug Tallamy, it is alliances like this that will help the most, one garden at a time.

Plant Pick: Bleeding Hearts 

Dicentra eximia
Speaking of native plants, our Plant Pick this month is  Dicentra eximia, fringed bleeding heart. This early spring bloomer will pop out of the ground shortly after the snow melts with soft green basal leaves. Flower stems will quickly follow. Preferring dry shade with a soil rich in organic matter, this plant is an easy naturalizer. In a very hot summer, it may go dormant, but will quickly resprout new leaves once rain and cooler temperatures return in fall. The plant may then rebloom lightly.

You may already grow the tall Asiatic species,  Dicentra spectabilis, or old fashioned bleeding heart. This plant can take up to 4' of space in the spring garden and is lovely naturalized with bulbs. However, its foliage declines then disappears in the hot summer and a large gap in the garden will result. I like to plant a ground trailing clematis variety near the bleeding heart that will bloom in August and expand to fill the spot. Tubers of old fashioned bleeding heart can be ordered now for early spring planting, or else do this in the fall.

Our Spring Letter is Coming!

The PBOG office staff is hard at work preparing your Spring Letter, Plant Health Care Contracts, and Garden Maintenance Contracts for 2020. Watch your US mailbox for your letter. We have a target mailing date of March 2.

In the meantime, if you have questions or just want to get started, please feel free to call us at 978-425-5531 or email Kim <

Care of Cyclamen Plants - the Perfect Valentine Gift

I received my first cyclamen plant as a young teenager and fell in love with the heart-shaped, marbled leaves and bright, upswept flowers. They are a favorite gift at this time of year for friends and family of any age since they bloom in the Valentine colors: tones of red, pink and white.  

On a trip to southern France early one March, I saw cyclamen used in outdoor containers and planted in the ground en masse as spring annuals. Some were springing out of rock fissures or graced the ground beneath olive trees. I loved the idea, but quickly realized that these plants wouldn't work in our rainy spring climate! The house plant version was bred in the 1800s from  Cyclamen persicum, native to Israel and Syria. It really does prefer that dry eastern Mediterranean climate where the plant naturalizes readily.


Thriving in cool (around 62 degrees) and bright conditions, the hybrid indoor cyclamens of today are a bit fussy about their water needs. Do not overwater! Keep water off the crown by watering only from below. Be sure to set the plastic pot into a larger decorative pot without holes (or cachepot) and let the roots absorb the water you add to the cachepot. When you notice that the water has evaporated in the cachepot and the soil is drying out, add more water from below. Set away from direct heat.  As leaves yellow, carefully pull them off with your fingertips. A scissor cut may induce bulb rot below. Equally important is to pull off the faded blossoms instead of cutting them to the base.

Your plant will go dormant as summer begins. That means all the foliage will disappear and only the corm (bulb) will remain in the soil. What now?

One method: Stop watering after it stops blooming around April or early May. Let the last leaves stay on the plant, even though they are browned out. Keep as cool as possible and don't let the soil dry out completely. Keep outdoors on a partially shaded porch or terrace. Repot the plant in the fall for winter blooming, using a well drained soil that is half compost or potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. The corm should stick out of the soil a bit. Water and grow on indoors with cool, bright conditions as above. The plant should rebloom by January.

You might want to try a hardy species,  Cyclamen hederifolium, outdoors in your garden. This one blooms in the fall and is native to Italy and the coast east to Turkey. Its leaves resemble those of the familiar houseplant and will appear after the flowers. I have a small plant in my garden that has produced leaves but not flowers (so far).

Bulb and Flower Shows on the Horizon

Here's the chronological list of places to see indoor plant displays, lots of color AND gain ideas for your own garden this season:

  1. Lyman Estate Greenhouses, Waltham, Camellia show begins February 18,
  2. Connecticut Flower and Garden Show,
    February 20-23,
  3. Smith College Bulb Show,
    March 7-22,
  4. Mt. Holyoke Bulb Show,
    March 7-22,
  5. Boston Flower and Garden Show,
    March 11-15,

Update from the State House: Glyphosate Ban

Here is an update from our friends at NOFA/Mass on the legislation to ban Glyphosate use that recently passed the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture at the State Level. There are informative links to the whys and the science behind this action in the attached article. We at Pumpkin Brook support this bill and have been using alternative removal methods for invasive plants, along with compost and soil amending practices instead of this harmful product since our founding in 2001!

Priscilla's Garden To-Do List for February
  • Plan design changes to the garden on paper
  • Schedule a design meeting with Deanna now
  • Fertilize houseplants with a weak solution of fish fertilizer every other week to support new growth
  • Repot or divide overgrown houseplant specimens using fresh potting soil
  • Monitor houseplants for signs of pests such as aphids, scale, spider mites and whiteflies
  • Discard forced paperwhites after bloom
  • Inventory your leftover seeds and order new seeds as needed for 2020
  • Seed starting indoors for the ambitious:  pansies, onions and leeks this month
  • Sharpen garden tools, repair and replace if not already done
  • Bare root plants can be ordered now for early April planting (small fruits, trees, asparagus, roses, perennials) 
  • Use Safe Paw ice melt on your walkways to prevent salt damage AND harm to your pets
  • Let splayed woody plants lie open in snow, do not pull out branches that are brittle in the cold and will snap readily
  • Gently brush heavy snows from tree and shrub branches
  • Avoid foot traffic on frozen lawns as this may injure turf grasses
  • Prune red raspberries back to 18" height if not done last fall
  • Dormant prune orchard trees, dogwoods and other decidious trees and shrubs if temperatures are above 20 degrees
  • Hang suet cakes or cones rolled in peanut butter on large shrubs or small trees as natural bird feeders, being careful to protect bark from wire with aquarium tubing

The birds are now singing their mating songs in the mornings, a sure sign that spring is only another five or six weeks away! We look forward to seeing you before too long,

Priscilla and the PBOG Crew

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