Thursday, November 1, 2012

End of Season

Up until Hurricane Sandy, we were enjoying a bit of Indian summer, with tomatoes still ripening (albeit slowly) on the vine, and some trees showing little color change. Despite high winds and a great deal of rain, we were very fortunate in the DC area to be spared the kind of devastation that happened further north. In our yard, amazingly, we had no damage. But I hope this is the last storm I will sit out wondering if the huge  silver maple in the back yard will come down on our house. I think we will finally get it cut down, despite the cost.

After the storm
The hurricane warnings prompted me to focus on fall cleanup in a way that I don't usually do. Everything that could possibly be picked up by a strong wind went in the shed. And I decided to cut seed heads from as many plants as possible. Every year I intend to do that for the purpose of participating in one or more seed exchanges, but I never quite get to it. This year, I have realized that many of my native plants are prolific spreaders - usually the ones with small light seeds spread by wind.  So the day before the storm I cut and bagged many seed heads and saved a few of each for seed exchange.

Since the storm it has been colder here, and it feels like the time of year it is. Halloween is past, the time changes this weekend, and Thanksgiving is coming right up. Spring is my favorite season, but the end of the gardening season does have its own beauty.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tomato troubles

It hasn't been a great year for tomatoes, at least in my yard, and in many others, I imagine. As usual, I gave my plants a good start indoors, but was slow to get them hardened off and planted out. For several years I've been planting in big pots in the driveway, which is probably not the ideal environment from a tomato's point of view, but hasn't seemed to hold them back too much.

Tomato leaf curl
Here in the mid-Atlantic region, as in many parts of the country, July was even hotter and dryer than usual. No doubt during those long stretches of 95+ degrees and no rain, I should have been watering the pots twice a day, but other things in my life were taking priority, and a once daily watering was all I could manage. The plants were clearly stressing. All but one developed tomato leaf curl, in which the leaves curl tightly and become quite leathery. Apparently this can result from either insects or environmental stress. Clearly it was stress in the this case; I studied the underside of the leaves and saw no insects.

One plant also developed blossom end rot. I picked those fruits off and discarded. A little later in the season the blossom end rot subsided. One plant developed some kind of wilt where the whole plant withered and died in a matter of a couple of days. Only one plant, the Brown Berry, continued to look completely healthy throughout.

To my pleasant surprise, once we got past the most brutal summer weather my plants began putting out new, healthy shoots. I've harvested a few tomatoes, nothing like the bounty of previous years, but they've been tasty. It speaks to the resilience of plants that they can make a comeback from what appeared to be a near-death experience!

Tomato resurrection

Friday, June 22, 2012

Here comes summer

Our long, mild spring has finally made the leap into summer, with a few suitable scorchers. Funny, somehow I thought we might hang out on the mild side for the whole season!
Here's what's happening in my yard right now:  In the front bed, the monarda and the lilies are duking it out to see who will be the tallest.

In the backyard, the blueberries are having a fabulous season. Too bad the blue jays think so too. They don't seem to care if the berries are ripe or not. For awhile I was getting berries from one of my plants that the birds seemed to be ignoring. Now, they're just stripping the bushes of everything. But they are so pretty, I can't get too upset.
Don't think I can't see you in there!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Doug Tallamy on "Biological Corridors: Networks for Life"

The first time I heard entomologist Doug Tallamy speak was at a Master Gardener training day. It was, I think, six years ago, and it was a real “aha” moment for me. I hadn’t had a yard of my own for that long, but I was already an enthusiastic grower of native plants.  I understood some of the benefits of growing plants native to the local area: they were less likely to require a lot of maintenance once established, less likely to become invasive, helped establish a sense of place, helped support wildlife, etc. What hadn’t occurred to me, or to a lot of other people, I think, was the critical importance of native plants as a food source for native insects.

In that talk, and in his subsequently published book Bringing Nature Home:How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, Tallamy explained that most native insects have evolved to feed on only a small number of native plants. Without these specific plants, the insects can't survive. This in turn impacts the species that depend on insects for food; for example, the vast majority of migratory birds raise their young on insects.

Other animals also rely on insects for some part of their diet. Without native insects, a huge food source disappears; non-native plants are far less productive of insect biomass. These insects, in other words, are a critical part of the food webs on which life depends. The lawns and non-native plants of suburban lawns and gardens do not provide food for native insects – they are basically food deserts. Tallamy thus built a quite compelling case for homeowners and gardeners to incorporate native plants into their yards and as much as possible.

Last week I heard Tallamy speak again at a Master Gardener training day. This time his focus was broader: on the need for biological corridors, which, he said, are not just corridors for animals to pass through, but habitats in themselves. At this point, he maintained, biodiversity cannot be sustained by parks and preserves alone. We must restore land between existing landscape fragments, everywhere. Obvious places to do so are along roadways and power lines. Roadways can be planted with trees; power lines, as they pass through the landscape, are usually mowed and can be good edge habitat. Beyond that, if we turned half of all existing lawn into habitat we would be creating a "Homegrown National Park" of over 20 million acres, which would go a long way toward protecting future biodiversity.

We gardeners are lucky, I think. We can hear and understand the message about loss of biodiversity, which is pretty dire. At the same time, we’re in a position to contribute to a solution, simply by doing something we love, gardening, with  nature instead of in opposition to her. “The landscape challenge of our time,” says Douglas Tallamy, “is, more plants!” That’s something to make any true gardener’s heart beat faster!