Volume 6, February 2016

We've been inching toward spring this month, and in the past few days, I can see dramatic 
Remember, don't pull woody branches
out of the snow as they are brittle
below 25 degrees and will snap.
We will plan to do any restorative pruning needed on our first visit of the season.
Often the branches bounce back
out of the snow unharmed!
changes.  Suddenly, the weather is warm enough for longer walks or hikes.  A few green shoots of early bulbs are poking up.  Witch hazels are getting ready to burst into bloom.  The snow melt is progressing in Townsend, although lucky readers in points east and south lost their snow LAST week.  Longer days surely help.  In this issue we'll explore ways to bring spring closer and how to cope with any weather setbacks that are sure to come.

One sure sign of spring is our annual spring letter to our valued clients!  The letter is in the preparation stages now and will be mailed before the end of t he month via US Mail this year.  You'll find a survey postcard enclosed with a few short questions to aid us in serving you better in 2016.  Plant health care and lawn care contracts will also be enclosed. 

Prepayment on these contracts before April 1 earns early birds a 10% discount, so be sure to take advantage of this special offer.

Plant Pick - Snowdrop and Winter Aconite
These two minor bulbs pack a powerful punch in late winter, managing to push up even
through a light layer of snow or emerging very quickly once the snow melts!  The common white snowdrop ( Galanthus nivalis) is usually first up in my garden, preferring a spot in a bed near the foundation.  This microclimate is quite protected, but should winter temperatures or snow decide to reappear, the bulbs will simply stop their growth and close their blossoms to "wait it out."

Winter aconite, or Wolf's bane ( Eranthis hyemalis), provides a bright shot of yellow and a nice complement to the snowdrop when their bloom overlaps.  This flower welcomes the honeybees at a time of year when there is not much else blooming.  To encourage self seeding, be careful not to disturb its planting area by overplanting or foot traffic.  Subtle small markers may help.

We plant both bulbs in fall and often plant them in adjoining drifts as Henry duPont did at Winterthur for stunning effect.  Other good viewing spots are the Wild Garden at Wave Hill in the Bronx or Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring, New York.

Both snowdrops and winter aconite bloom for long periods of time and have the good grace to
Winter Aconite
gently melt away when finished, leaving no deadheading behind.  And since they bloom early, they can be planted beneath large overstory trees or in areas that will be shady after May.  My favorite spot to plant is near a walkway where you can be sure to see them often at this time of year.

We suggest fertilizing the bulbs with a slow-release organic bulb fertilizer as they finish blooming to encourage gentle spread and next year's blooms.  It's also a good idea to undertake this task while you can see where the bulbs are planted!
On the Lookout for Bluebirds
Male and female bluebirds
Now is the time to clean out bluebird boxes, and any bird house for that matter.  Bluebirds are among the first spring migrants and are with us now.  In some areas with warm microclimates they may overwinter.  They arrive to feed on a fly attracted to the first bloom of the season:  skunk cabbage.  You'll find skunk cabbage populations emerging in our local streams and wetlands.  They will be dark in color to blend in with the leaf litter and will green up later.

Bluebirds prefer open fields, pastures and meadows for their habitat, with a few nearby trees for perching, so put up your nesting boxes in open areas.  Pesticide and herbicide free areas are a must.  Did you know that it takes just 20 days from egg hatch to fledging.

Here's how to prepare the box:
  • Check that the house is in sturdy condition and repair if needed
  • Open the side or top and clean out nests or other materials inside
  • Avoid breathing the dirt and dust
  • Wipe down the box with mild bleach solution
  • Close up - ready for new occupants!
You might enjoy the website of the North American Bluebird Society for more information on bluebirds and their nestbox requirements:
Upcoming Events of Note
Ellen's book
Two speakers will discuss the interrelationship of birds, insects and people at free lectures:

Sunday, February 28 at 2 pm, Nashua River Watershed Association, 592 Main Street, Groton, Ellen Walther Sousa, author of The Green Garden, garden coach and designer from Turkey Hill Brook Farm in Spencer will present "Gardening to Attract Birds."  This event is co-sponsored by NRWA and Groton Garden Club, and Priscilla will introduce the speaker.  Made possible by a grant from the Groton Commissioners of Trust Funds.

Wednesday, March 2 at 7 pm, Cambridge Public Library, 449 Broadway, Cambridge, hosted by Grow Native Massachusetts, presents Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Biology at the University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home; co-author of The Living Landscape.  Doug is a riveting speaker and will address "Restoring Nature's Relationships at Home."  His close-up slides of birds feeding on insect larvae are not to be missed!

Free Bulb Shows at Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges run March 5-20, 10 am - 4 pm daily in the Lyman Plant House at Smith and the Talcott Greenhouse at Mt. Holyoke.  Come see what the students have forced and arranged in display this year.  There's sure to be plenty of color and that great smell of spring in the air!

The Boston Flower and Garden Show will be held March 16-20 at the Seaport World Trade Center, 200 Seaport Boulevard in Boston.  This year's theme "Nurtured by Nature" will inspire us to think about our own backyards.

Winter Farmer's Market at Russell's Garden Center, Wayland - Saturdays through March 12, 10 am - 2 pm.  A sure way to beat the winter blues is to head to Russell's where a plethora of fun vendors await you.  Lunch is available in the tropical plant department!
Emerald Ash Borer
Emerald ash borer
In late November 2015, workers checking trees in Worcester for the Asian Longhorned Beetle found four trees infested with Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).  This pest is a small, metallic green beetle, native to Asia, which feeds on ash trees (Fraxinus sp.) and white fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus).  It can kill a tree quickly, within just 3 to 5 years.  It bores directly under the bark and disrupts the tree's conductive system.  Populations have already been discovered in Essex and Berkshire counties.

Eradication is impossible, say the experts.  Instead, let's focus on preventing inadvertent spread of the pest.  Avoid moving firewood long distances and carefully monitor the health of any ash and fringe trees on your property.


To learn more about EAB:  To report a possible EAB sighting in Massachusetts:

Be our Facebook Friend
The tulips will be
in bloom soon
Our crew will be taking more pictures this year of something beautiful in your gardens.  Send us a Friend request or we can send you one.  Visit our Facebook page often to see if your garden is featured. 

Click on our Find us on Facebook link below.
Design/Build Projects Wanted 

Paul Marean, who worked with us during 2012-14, is back on staff this season.  He will be heading up our design/build division as Project Manager.  Already he has two projects coming off the drawing board that we will be installing in late April/early May as weather and plant availability dictates.  So now he's ready for more design work.
With over 30 years experience with a myriad of garden situations, Paul is the ideal person to find solutions for the troublesome spots in your yard or garden.  For example, a formerly weedy and inaccessible ledge in Winchester almost defied solution until Paul gave it some thought and a  suitable planting plan was developed.  See pictures below.  In addition, he has designed and installed many walkways, patios and retaining walls over his career, some involving drainage issues that were corrected as part of the project.

Please feel free to contact Paul directly to begin planning your special project, 978-375-4494 or e-mail
Winchester ledge made beautiful
Planting large evergreen on difficult slope
Patio and water feature
Priscilla's To-Do List for late February/March
Little lettuce seedlings grow fast
  • Stay off lawn areas if wet and squishy underfoot to prevent damage
  • Cut winter moth bands off trees with scissors as the pest is no longer active - as access permits
  • Increase water to houseplants and begin weekly feedings with fish fertilizer to support new growth
  • Start seeds indoors under lights: onions, leeks, broccoli, cabbage and early lettuce
  • Pre-order your organic seedlings from PBOG (see website for order form, due April 1)
  • Keep winter boughs, salt marsh hay and pine needles on vulnerable perennials for protection during wide temperature swings
  • Keep winter compost mounded around tender roses for the same reason
  • Sharpen and repair garden tools, restock as needed
  • Explore garden websites, books and magazines for information and inspiration
  • Handle winter dormant season pruning work on dry days with temperatures above 25 degrees:  fruit trees,  blueberries, grapevines, deciduous shrubs and small trees (through May 1)
  • Rejuvenation pruning and size reduction of yew and privet hedges begins (through April 10)
  • Schedule a garden consultation or walkthrough with Priscilla
We look forward to reconnecting with you now and as spring begins.  The entire crew and I look forward to our 2016 garden work with you!

© Copyright 2011 Pumpkin Brook Organic Gardening, Inc. 
All rights reserved.