More Arbor-geddon

On Monday I talked about damage from a winter nor’easter that occurred on March 7 in my yard.

But the damage wasn’t limited just to my house, of course. Just about every neighbor on my street had had damage. The arborists are going to be busy for months cleaning up from this storm.

And when I went to our local historical society recently I was shocked to find 4 large eastern white pines down on its property (I am not sure why I was shocked. I guess I thought that maybe being in Hartford might have shielded them somewhat. I was very mistaken.)


The most dramatic damage was to this pine at the entrance to the parking lot. Fortunately it seems to have fallen away from the street and away from the parking lot–it didn’t seen to have been moved there in any way (although with the size of this tree, if it were going to have been moved, I think they would have just had to remove it!)


Over a week later, the air was still fragrant with the smell of fresh pine. That was kind of amazing to me.

As I examined these trees a little closer (and it wasn’t possible to get too close because of a combination of wet snow and soggy ground) I realized what they had in common. Here’s a photo below.


Notice this thicket of brambles? All the tree trunks were also covered with these same vines. It was probably the weight of these vines (in addition to the extremely high winds–and the fact that pines are known to do this) that caused this issue


In 2011–our last storm that caused dramatic tree damage–foresters and arborists claimed that the weight of invasive vines in the tree canopy contributed to the damage. You can dispute that–or not–but all of the tree trunks that fell on this property were covered with these vines. Here is another photo.

The takeaway of course is that invasive vines should be managed. That’s always easier to say than it is to do. I know that from my own property.

And of course none of my trees had the vines on them and they fell anyway. So try as you might, sometimes nature just wins.


Wordless Wednesday


I am no stranger to blooming cacti and succulents. But this one is a first for me. And in a long winter , this is a welcome show of color .

It is some sort of aloe. Of course the plant had no label when I bought it. And the aloe directly behind it-a more mature one–has never bloomed. That just supports my theory that cacti and succulents love to be crowded–and in fact, need to be to bloom.


We here in the Northeast have had to put up with a bit much lately. Three “nor’easters” in 3 weeks.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a “nor-easter,” it is a storm that most often occurs in the winter with winds that primarily blow from the north east (hence its name). It can bring rain or snow or a combination of both. It can bring blizzard conditions. It is most often known for its devastating winds, so folks along the coast often call them “winter hurricanes.” And, if they occur at times of high tides, they can often lead to very destructive coastal flooding as well.

Each one of our nor’easters has been personally different for me and I’ve fared very, very well compared to most of New England and the mid-Atlantic. But I’ll give you a little taste of the personal destruction we’ve had at our house from nor’easter #2, the one I’ve dubbed “arbor-geddon.”


The first problem was the attack upon my car. Yes, there is a car underneath all this tangled foliage. The top of a Japanese maple came down on top of my Subaru. Notice my wheel in the lower left corner of the photo.

Luckily the car emerged with just a small scratch. The maple is not so lucky. Here’s what that looks like.


Here’s the branch that was on the car, as well as a look at the now mangled tree. I planted this as a sapling 23 years ago. I will try pruning to see what it looks like “after.” Despite its attack on my car, I am fond of it. And the birds love to nest there.


And of course there are the Eastern white pines. They shed some large limbs in every heavy snow or ice storm. Honestly, it’s a miracle we have any branches left. Notice the three distinct places where they fell. Not sure what that’s about.


What’s a little more discouraging is what’s happened to this juniper. It was a big overgrown thing but I let it go because it produced masses of berries for the birds, particularly over-wintering robins or those that came back very early in the spring. It’s been significantly damaged. I am not sure if we can prune it into shape or if it has to come out. We’ll see a little later this spring.


And we lost this large branch off our Japanese black pine. This is mostly cosmetic damage–sad but not terrible.


On Friday I will show some damage that occurred elsewhere–on the grounds of a nearby museum–and the reasons for it.


Don’t Be Too Quick To Clean Up In Spring

It’s mid-March. Next week is astronomical spring, otherwise known as the vernal equinox. If you’re lucky, you have some signs of spring coming up in your yard or somewhere nearby.

I must encourage you, though, please don’t be too quick to tidy up in the yard. We gardeners are a manic bunch, aren’t we, hating to see even a leaf out of place? What is it we think might happen?

Please leave some of the leaf litter in place until some real warmth takes place and holds awhile.

This would be the same for some plant stems–if you left any in the garden in the fall.

Why am I asking you to leave your garden messy? Simple. There are “things” living in the leaves and the plant stems that need time to emerge and find new homes. If you clean up leaf litter too early,  you might be destroying overwintering butterfly larva, or worse yet, the lovely mourning cloak butterflies that are sunning themselves there.

If you cut down and discard hollow plant stems, you might be discarding all sorts of beneficial bugs, including valuable native bees.

When we talk about all the “good bugs” in the garden, these are the ones that you want. If you’re not seeing them, ask yourself if your clean-up practices might be accidentally contributing to their demise. You surely wouldn’t want that.

On a warm spring day, go outside and take a walk instead. That will help you get over the urge to tidy too soon–and you won’t feel too lazy!


Should I Amend My Soil?

This is a tricky question. On Friday, you heard me talk about my heavy wet clay. Countless times, I have had people ask why I don’t amend it?

Probably the first 10 years that I lived there, I tried. I used compost. I used bark mulch. And nothing seemed to make a difference. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

The Spoiler was happening, I think. Long time readers have seen the photos I post every fall of soil all over my porch from his leaf blowing. The amended soil, which was mostly in the top layer because I don’t till or turn my soil (more about that on Friday) was getting blown away when he blows leaves. And even though we now try to retain as many leaves as possible on the property an in the gardens, some do have to go down to the curb for town-wide recycling.

So that’s my new version of garden bed amending–leaving the leaves where they fall to decompose in the beds. If it works for nature, it’s good enough for me.

But a more important part of this is about planting holes. Remember several years. Back? The adage was to dig a $5 whole for 50 cent plant. That’s no longer true.

The reason you were supposed to dig the huge hole in the “old days” was so that you could mix all the soil you took out of it with all sorts of “good stuff:” compose and good planting soil and maybe even some fertilizer. They you partially back-filled the hole, set your new plant in, and filled around it.

Please, no more! What gardeners and soil scientist have discovered is that we were creating giant planting containers int he ground and our trees’ and shrubs’ roots had no incentive to leave the nice “$5 hole” that we made for them to go out into the rest of our regular garden soil (really, if you heard the description of my soil on Monday, and then this lovely soil, and you wee a plant root, what would you do?!)

So now, the idea is to just dig the hole that you need, no deeper and just wide enough to get your plant in. Do not amend the soil because then the plant will have no reason to grow out into your own garden soil. Interesting.

Of course, with my soil, there was never any $5 hole digging anyway, so I can tell you that I have never done any of that nonsense.  I was always lucky if I could pry a spot open large enough to get  a tree into. Luckily, we are already heavily wooded so I don’t have to plant too many trees.

But it’s always nice when you find that what you have been doing all along is suddenly the “new” correct thing. Wow.


Gardening Ideas, Continued

On Monday I talked about living mulch–or the idea the ground cover plants could actually fill in the spaces between perennials and shrubs and be used instead of truckloads of bark or cocoa hulls or whatever it is you prefer (I refuse to even consider the idea that it might be colored mulches, although I know that box stores sell gross tonnes of the stuff every spring. Whatever.)

Today let’s talk about watering–or not. I know that lots of you are not blessed–or cursed–with my heavy wet clay. You may think you are. I’m continually surprised by how many folks tell me that they have heavy wet clay soil. Then I’ll ask them how often they have to water an established plant. If it’s more than once a month, I’m going to tell you that you don’t have the same heavy wet clay that I do.  In a drought, I may have to resort to turning on a soaker hose once every 6 weeks–or not. That’s how well my soil holds water.

What does that mean? A lot of my plants rot if they are not carefully selected for these conditions. Anything the least bit succulent-like–forget it! Lavender? Nope. Heaths and heathers, which should ordinarily love my highly acidic soil, can’t take the wet. Herbs are grown in containers or raised beds (and obviously those need more water).

But roses do fine, hydrangeas are great, because they’re usually very thirsty plants and thirsty plants aren’t going to have an issue in my yard.

This is all another way of saying “know your conditions and know your particular microclimate.” I killed a lot of heaths and heathers before I figured out what the problem was and that there wasn’t enough compost to amend the clay.

We’ll talk about amending on Monday–but before I finish up this topic, I want to talk about how to properly water a plant as it is getting established.

Less frequently and deeply is the proper way. What does that mean? It rarely has anything to do with you standing over the plant with a hose (unless the plant is an annual in a pot–those are the only plants that are acceptable to water by hand with a hose).

If you have a hose that you would like to leave running at the base of the plant at a trickle for an hour (for a large shrub,  longer for a tree) that’s fine. You need to water the plant down to the depth of 1″–and do check, don’t just guess.

Do this once a week. And then, unless it’s a rose or something that needs a lot of water, don’t do it again for another week. If you have questions, let your garden center advise you. Fewer, longer waterings are better. You are training your plant to endure periodic dry spells.

Whatever you do, do not rely on a sprinkler system to water for you. That’s the quickest way to kill a plant. It encourages shallow roots that cannot stand up to drought.