Wordless Wednesday

20180218_083216Surprise! After days of unseasonable (or as I sometimes like to think of it, unreasonable) weather with temperatures in the upper 40s and even mid 50s, this happened!


But, no worries. We’re soon going back to “unreasonable.” It’s supposed to be even warmer by the time you read this–maybe mid-60s, or even 70!–so all this will be just a memory.


But this strange weather is never a good thing–not for plants, which start breaking dormancy early, not for animals, which get confused about breaking torpor, and not for people, who don’t know what to wear on a given day. Very unsettling.


Don’t Kill A Plant With Kindness

I’ve been doing a bit of lecturing lately and I will be doing a lot more as spring begins. Some years, I am so busy lecturing, I can barely find time to get into the garden (isn’t that a happy problem to have?)

One topic that almost always comes up–regardless of what I might be speaking about–is sustainability. That’s a word that gets thrown a round an awful lot but the title of this post pretty much sums it up for me. Another way to put it, particularly for outdoor plants (because remember, I speak a lot on house plants too!) would be “right plant, right place.” How often have we heard that one in our gardening years?

But really, it works. What am I telling you? Am I saying only grow native plants? Oh dear, no! I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I did that! Natives are wonderful, but so are many other types of plants.

What you need to do is to learn what works for you, in your soil and on your site. I have horrible, wet clay that remains wet long into the spring–way too long into the spring. I can rarely work in it before May unless we have an unusually warm spring (and that too is problematic for other reasons). I have learned this over many years of gardening in the same place.

This presents challenges–no early spring pruning or weeding–and opportunities–the beneficial insects and native bees always get their chance to over-winter and emerge from my gardens without being disturbed.

But one thing I don’t do–and never do–is give my plants any “extras” after they get established. Yes, when a plant is first planted, it needs water to help it get settled in. That’s all it needs–water (and that is a post for another day–how to water–and why you don’t want to over-amend your soil.)

But once that plant is established, you’re all set. Some of my plants have been in my gardens for 10, 15 or 25 years or more. Some are original to when the house was built, so that’s almost 60 years. Do you think I run out and water those? Or feed them? Why on earth would I?


It’s the same thing with roses. Look at this plant. Can you tell where it’s growing? I’ll bet you can. It’s literally a foot away from the road. We’ve had a lot of heavy snow and ice this winter. You can see what the plows have done to it. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except prune off anything that’s broken in the spring.

Can you see why I am calling this post “don’t kill a plant with kindness?” This rose garden has been here for 22 years. It once got plowed into oblivion when my snow plow guy didn’t realize there was anything around the mailbox. These are own-root roses so it’s all good (but you can imagine my anguish when I came home from work and saw my rose canes dragged down the street by the plow-that’s a little too much tough love, even for me!)

Over-feeding and over-watering encourages insects and disease. As we inch ever closer to spring in the northern hemisphere, why not try a little “tough love” (otherwise known as “sustainable gardening”) this year? See if your plants can do with a little less fertilizer and supplemental watering. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Wordless Wednesday


From about 7 pm on December 22 until Christmas,  when almost 4 inches of snow fell on top of it, my yard looked like this.

Unfortunately it also looked–and still looks– like this.


And then there was my ski slope of a driveway.  I got quite creative about getting the dog out onto the frozen grass. Getting the mail was another issue.  That had to wait for a thaw.

I was able to hike down the lawn and rake the newspapers in. You get creative in these storms.

But there was no driving–or even clearing the cars–when it’s like this.


It doesn’t show in the photos but the icicles on the cars are inches long.

I don’t really remember a period of prolonged icing like this.  We have had hours of it, but not days.

And unfortunately we have friends with broken bones who tried to get out too soon.

This was a rough storm this weekend. Ice is so much worse than snow!


Luckily it’s pretty at least.

The Unofficial Winter Forecast

According to the “mets” in the know (and “mets” is a familiar term not for a New York baseball team, but for meteorologists) just about this time, give or take a few days, we are in for a winter weather pattern shift over the northeastern two thirds of the United States.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO for short) is about to go “negative” on us and that can lead to a much colder pattern of air taking hold, particularly in a La Nina year. So hello and welcome Polar Vortex! Brrr!

A few other things are leading the mets to this conclusion that winter weather will be arriving–and possibly a snowy pattern, or at least a stormy patterns–along with it. I will spare you the technical details.

So of course what did I do around the end of November when I started hearing all this talk of negative NAOs?  I consulted my squirrels!

For those of you not familiar with the long accustomed practice of consulting squirrels’ nests as a way of predicting winter weather, it goes like this: the higher up in a tree the squirrel’s nest is, the colder (and presumably snowier, but I am not sure they actually predict precipitation–just cold!) the winter will be.

I usually try to find a squirrel’s nest right on my own property. I knew that I must have one in an oak off the edge of my property because every morning and evening my dog loses her mind  barking when she sees the squirrels running up and down the tree trunk. So I started looking up into the tree.

Oaks are funny because they hold a lot of their leaves, even into the winter, so it’s sometimes tough to see into the canopy.


Finally I spotted the nest, almost at the top of the tree. (But you can tell just from this photo how difficult that was. It’s about mid-photo, way up high, right where there’s an awkward looking crooked branch. )

So I guess the mets are right. It’s Polar Vortex time. Better break out the woolies. I’m already wearing the long underwear. Not sure how much more I can pile on!



Wordless Wednesday–No, It’s Not All Currier and Ives


For those of you who don’t live in areas that get a lot of snow, here you are.

This is one of our parking lots at a box store.  But it doesn’t matter.  All our parking lots look like this–and will for months. Notice where the snow is piled. It’s up to the lower branches on this good sized tree.

We have mounds like this everywhere,  although some recent warm weather has brought them down a bit. What that means, of course, is that to proceed into any intersection,  you have to nose your car forward very carefully–because you can’t see past the snow pillars.

What the recent warm weather means is that every night we have a re-freezing and the following morning there is ice at the edges of the roads, the ends of the driveways,  in puddles in various places–you get the idea. You hope it doesn’t snow on top of these icy patches.

By now you must be wondering why we all don’t just move? After really bad winters,  many of us wonder that same thing.  But for the most part,  we like “seasons ” and the other three seasons and their beauty and mild weather outweigh this. At least most years, anyway.

Wordless Wednesday–Sleety Mess


This looks like a snowy mess but no–it’s sleet! Accumulating sleet, especially this much, apparently is pretty rare (and thank goodness. Shoveling it is like moving wet concrete!). Supposedly the last time we had this much was in 2007.

And it’s much slicker than snow as well.

But no worries. As has been the case all winter, the next few days will be much above average. This stuff is soon to be just a memory.

Defeat Winter–Count the Birds!

Happy Veterans’ Day. Thank you to all the brave men and women who have served our country.

Tomorrow starts the count period for Project FeederWatch, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Now the name is slightly misleading because you don’t really have to have a bird feeder to participate (although you will have a more reliable source of birds if you do).

But if, for whatever reason, you choose not to have a feeder but you still have birds–or, say, for example you regularly go to the same spot every day–a public park, or even your local coffee house but you do see birds from their window–you can still participate.

Here’s how it works. First you sign up. It costs $18 to participate for the season, and the season runs from November 12 until April. You can choose to participate solely through an “online kit” or I believe you can still participate via “paper.” I have only done the “online” version.

You will get all sorts of nifty guides even if you are participating online, and there is a ton of support including online bird guides.

Once you have decided to participate, you agree to count birds, at least once a week during the count season, on two consecutive days, for a period of 15 minutes per day. That’s it. It’s pretty simple. If you see no birds during your count period, you report “no birds” (but I can tell you that that never happened to me in over 10 years of counting!)

A lot of people wonder how do you “count” birds? It’s not as hard as you think. Let’s say you see a flock of goldfinch on a Saturday morning. There are 15 of them. So you mark your count sheet “15 goldfinch.”

At my house, before a storm, the goldfinch always came in in huge numbers before a snow. So I might go back in the evening and look.  I might see 22 goldfinch. I wouldn’t add those to the 15. I would just “report” (on the paper sheet I am using to tally my 2 day total) the higher 22 number.

The next day, Sunday, I look out and see 8 goldfinch. I don’t change my count at all because that number isn’t higher than 22. But if I go back later and see 33 goldfinch, I will then change my count, because that number is higher than the 22 from Saturday. That would be the number I would report as my “2 day total.”

Obviously over the 2 days I would be seeing other birds as well: chickadees, juncos, assorted woodpeckers, cardinals and a few other species. As you can see, this kind of thing, really keeps it interesting and really gets you thinking!

The web site to sign up, find bird guides and to get perhaps a better explanation of everything I have just said is right here! Give Project FeederWatch a try this winter. I don’t think you’ll be sorry!

Winter Weather And Fall Fog


This photo is not quite as “foggy” as my last year’s shot. I got out a little too late.  But in it you can see one of my “grass watering” neighbor’s lawns. You can even see one of his sprinklers going. In the middle of a severe drought I might add. This is the guy who waters at least twice, if not 3 times a day. Sigh.

I have given up on the squirrels after they failed to predict one of the coldest and snowiest winters in Connecticut history (2015). I just hope they didn’t freeze to death. So last year I used the “foggy morning” method.

The saying goes that you count the number of foggy mornings in August and September and that will tell you the number of snowstorms. I used it as a back=up the year the squirrels failed me and there were something like 21. So it worked that year.

Last year there were 2 foggy mornings and we had almost no snow. The Spoiler remembers using his snow thrower, “Kahuna,” 4 times but I can’t believe he even used it that much!

This year I have lost count of the foggy mornings. And while I am not at all anxious to repeat the winters of 2014 and 2015, we do need the moisture. So I will take it in almost any form at this point. What the heck? I’ve got a Subaru!

Wordless Wednesday–Snow Fountain?


The name of this small weeping cherry tree is ‘Snow Fountain. ‘  It gets that name from the masses of white flowers–not from the fact that it gets covered with late season snow as it is about to open! (This was round 1 of the snow–2 inches on Sunday–after it had all but melted away. Round 2 on Monday gave us 4 more inches that still remained as of today!)


This is the first time in 16 seasons that I have seen this happen so this is really unusual for us.  Unlike the magnolia flowers that get killed off at least once  every 5 years, this is truly  exceptional.


If I don’t see this again for another 16 years, that will be fine!

Consequences of a Milder Winter

One of the benefits of living in a place with four seasons is that the cold weather kills over-wintering insects and weeds. Usually.

In years with milder winters, fewer insects and weeds get killed. Therefore, while we humans may enjoy the benefits of a warmer winter (I know I did–I won’t speak for everyone), the bugs and the weeds do as well.


The photo above is evidence–already–of something to be alert for as spring nears. This is a neighbor’s hemlock. I just happened to notice it because the dog likes to stop and sniff it on our daily walks. It’s covered in that pest, the woolly adelgid (for those unfamiliar with that charmer, it’s the little white spots all along the spines of the plant–almost like an outdoor mealy bug, but smaller.)

Another thing I expect to see–since our last warmer winter was only 3 years ago–is an abundance of early annual weeds like chickweed. I am already seeing evidence of perennial weeds like dandelions and have been regularly all fall and winter. There’s just something wrong about seeing dandelions in December, January and February!

So what do we do? Well, since this is an organic blog, you know I am not going to advocate for pesticide for the weeds. It’s not going to be effective in the cold weather anyway.  For the few weeds that are around,  if the ground thaws on a warm day, simple hand pulling is a great way to deal with them–and it gives you something to do during those crazy 60 or 70 degree days when there’s really not much else we can do (in my climate anyway).

For the adelgid, those folks might want to consult an arborist. I know there are certain oils that can be sprayed, as well as insecticidal soaps but I am not sure of the timing. Spraying too early and too late in the season is ineffective and can harm the plant and lead to run-off that can harm waterways. No point in that.

As with most things in life, timing is everything.