Monthly Archives: October 2015

by -
0 1050
The Stonebridge Country Club is doused in flames Tuesday night. Photo from Jeff Bressler

By Phil Corso

A brutal blaze overtook the Stonebridge Country Club in Smithtown on Thursday night.

Calls came into the Smithtown Fire Department around 6 p.m. for the fire at 2000 Raynors Way inside the country club’s maintenance shop and golf cart storage facility, a spokesman for the department said. It took several crews of emergency responders to battle the flames, but no one was injured in the incident, officials said.

The cause the fire was under investigation.

Firefighters battle the blaze at the Stonebridge Country Club. Photo by Jeff Bressler
Firefighters battle the blaze at the Stonebridge Country Club. Photo by Jeff Bressler

“Upon arrival at the scene, the alarm was quickly upgraded to a working structural fire,” said Jeff Bressler, public information officer for the Smithtown Fire Department. “The two-story building was fully engulfed in fire and exterior attack began to get it under control.”

Bressler said the building suffered major damage. Its upper level, which was used to store golf carts, was deemed a total loss. The lower level, which housed maintenance equipment, was also heavily damaged.

Firefighters knocked down the front entry of the building once the flames were under control and started searching the inside, where they found no one was in the building and there was no extension of the fire, Bressler said.

It took fire officials from Smithtown, Hauppauge and Nesconset’s fire departments and ambulance support from Central Islipe and Hauppauge’s volunteer ambulance groups.

This version corrects the day of the fire.

by -
0 588
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta with his dog Buddy. Photo from Susan Eckert

The incumbent advantage is the name of the game in the race for the 13th Legislative District in Suffolk. And to Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) go the spoils.

A focused and practical lawmaker, Trotta has served his district — the Town of Smithtown and a small portion of Huntington Town — well in the last two years.

He is a watchdog, unafraid of pulling punches, particularly when it comes to the county’s financial standing. He says the municipality is heading in the wrong direction, that money is being spent unnecessarily and that the county needs to increase its sales tax revenue.

He blasts the Suffolk County Red Light Safety Program, calling it a money grab, and he’s passionate about cleaning up the cozy relationship between campaign contributors and politicians.

He’s also not afraid to admit when he feels he’s messed up — he told us that he wishes he voted in favor of raising the tobacco purchase age from 19 to 21.

Trotta’s opponent Rich Macellaro, a Democrat, has a noble platform — to consolidate school districts into one per town — but we ask, how? County government has really no jurisdiction over that kind of local change, and so we question how much having a position in the Legislature would work in getting the job done.

Macellaro also works for the Suffolk County Red Light Safety Program and feels the initiative helps with a safety issue. While it does address some safety concerns, on the whole we side with Trotta and other GOPers in the notion that the program is a money grab and does not do enough to address the crux of the issue.

Trotta is on a roll, and we say give him two more years. We endorse Rob Trotta for Suffolk County Legislature.

by -
1 1478
Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), above, discusses the 2015 election. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) is always on the move.

The 38-year-old Brookhaven Town councilman, who is running for a second term, said he is trying to bring energy back to his district.

“You want to get people back into government,” LaValle said during an interview at the Times Beacon Record Newspapers office. “[You] have to make people feel the government is their for them.”

His Democratic opponent, Christian DeGeorge, did not return a request for an interview.

One big accomplishment of LaValle’s first term was finishing negotiations for athletic fields by Hawkins Path Elementary School in Selden, near where Boyle Road meets Hawkins Road. The Middle Country area has long needed field space, and LaValle began targeting that property when he was an aide for Legislator Tom Muratore. The county now owns the land, and the town is utilizing it and making improvements to it.

LaValle said he wants to continue work on that property, perhaps adding a walking trail and a parking lot to make it easier for people to use.

Moving forward, taxes and road maintenance are two of the most important issues in the 3rd Council District, according to LaValle, who grew up in Centereach. He said he tried to prioritize the roads in need of maintenance, like filling potholes and improving drainage, in his past term and will continue to do so if re-elected.,

“I tell every resident this: We can’t pave every road. I’d love to pave every road, but we don’t have the money to do that.”

He also sees cleaning up graffiti as an important issue. Greentree Park in Farmingville, for one, has been tagged over and over. Since removing graffiti is costly, LaValle hopes to help law enforcement gather enough information to build a case and eventually catch those responsible for the graffitti.

To improve the flow of traffic and safety on the roads, LaValle wants to push more businesses along Middle Country Road to allow vehicular access between their properties.

“There’s so many entrances and exits [on Middle Country Road],” the councilman said. “There’s always somebody jumping out in front of you or the car in front of you. [It] backs up [the lane and] causes all the accidents.”

The cross-accesses would allow drivers to move between businesses without having to get back onto the road as frequently.

Regardless of the problem at hand, LaValle said action is important when it comes to improving the district.

“[A decision] may not change the problem tomorrow, but 20 years from now it could completely solve … a problem, so every decision you make, you always have to think four or five steps ahead.”

by -
1 1162
County Executive Steve Bellone photo by Giselle Barkley

By Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he hopes to continue his work addressing the county’s top issues, including affordable living, financial issues and wastewater management. But in order to do that, he first has to get past Republican challenger Jim O’Connor.

County Executive Steve Bellone photo by Giselle Barkley
County Executive Steve Bellone photo by Giselle Barkley

O’Connor (R), a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Maroney O’Connor LLP, said he was hoping to unseat Bellone and get a handle of the county’s finances, which he argued are currently in bad shape.

“We are in massive amounts of debt,” O’Connor said. “Our taxes are a significant problem.”

Bellone said that he inherited a $500 million deficit when he arrived to his position in 2012, and during his short time in office he said he has been able to resolve a “legacy of issues” left to him — including minimizing that deficit.

O’Connor also said one of the issues looming over the next several years is the county’s handling of negotiations with police salary contracts.

“They are back-loaded contracts,” O’Connor said. “The real impact of these contracts won’t be felt until 2017 and 2018.”

O’Connor said he does not know how the county will pay for those salaries, and proposed to freeze them if he is elected.

“One of the things we can control is our labor costs,” O’Connor said.

Jim O'Connor photo by Giselle Barkley
Jim O’Connor photo by Giselle Barkley

Since his election, one of the examples Bellone heralded as evidence that he was working to streamline government efficiency and cut spending was his proposal — approved by public referendum last year — to merge the offices of the county comptroller and treasurer to cut costs. Bellone said it should save more than $1 million annually. He also said he has reduced the government by more than 1,100 positions.

Bellone said he is focused on shoring up the county’s water quality in his re-election bid.

“Unless we reverse the decades of decline that we’ve seen in our water quality, we are mortgaging our future,” Bellone said of why improving the county’s wastewater management is so crucial. Bellone celebrated SepticSmart Week over the summer, when he encouraged residents to stay informed on how to properly maintain their septic systems.

Both candidates discussed how they planned to fully utilize the county’s resources and make living in Suffolk more affordable.

To get there, Bellone said he wants to better utilize Stony Brook University, because “as Stony Brook University goes, so goes Suffolk County.” He said one the challenges and opportunities residents in the area have is enacting initiatives that better link Stony Brook University with other North Shore assets like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

O’Connor said he and Bellone have a fundamental difference on how to go about dealing with affordable living in Suffolk County.

“I don’t agree that the way to do this is more [government] programs,” O’Connor said. “The way to do this and stimulate more economic growth is by turning things around and making sure Suffolk isn’t the second-most expensive place to do business and live in the United States. The only way to do that is by reducing the costs.”

by -
1 1173
Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro. Photo by Phil Corso

By Victoria Espinoza

A stark difference in opinion over the town’s management of funding is a key component of the race for Brookhaven Highway superintendent.

Incumbent Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro. Photo by Phil Corso
Incumbent Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro. Photo by Phil Corso

The incumbent, Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R), squared off against Democratic challenger, Jason Kontzamanys, at the Times Beacon Record headquarters, where they discussed finances in the highway department, use of subcontractors and why they deserve the job.

Kontzamanys has worked in the department of parks and recreation in Brookhaven for the past decade. He said it was that experience that helps shape his workers-first mentality, which he hoped to bring into office: “As I worked my way up, I realized the most brilliant ideas come from the workers doing the work day in and day out.”

Kontzamanys said he wants to consolidate the department as much as he can in order to save money and streamline government. One way to do that, he proposed, would be placing the Holtsville Ecology Site within the jurisdiction of the town’s parks department.

He also said he thinks he can bring changes to a “financially mismanaged” department, especially by cracking down on the usage of subcontractors.

“I do not want to rely on subcontractors,” he said. “I want to embolden the unionized work force and expand it as much as I can.”

He said subcontractors should not handle routine projects like lawn cutting, drainage and tree removal. Instead, he said he wants to do as much work as he can in-house within a 40-hour week.

Jason Kontzamanys. Photo by Phil Corso
Jason Kontzamanys. Photo by Phil Corso

“To deal with them on a continual basis, as far as I’m concerned is a violation of public trust when it comes to tax payers money,” the challenger said.

In terms of hiring fewer subcontractors, Losquadro said he believes there is no way around it, as Brookhaven’s scope is so large that the town needs more hands to handle the amount of work it accrues.

“With 3,350 lane miles of road to maintain and 200 employees, there is no way we could get all the work done without supplementing and augmenting some of that work to subcontractors,” Losquadro said.

With another term, Losquadro said he wants to continue to reform and update the department. He said he has already modernized the department a great deal and improved communication.

“There were no radio communications that were reliable [when I came into office],” Losquadro said. “I designed and installed a new radio communication system which is the same technology that the police and fire service use.”

Losquadro said the new system is reliable and gives the department coverage in parts of Long Island with serious topographical challenges.

He also mentioned major storms over the past year in which the department was able to dispatch and respond to public safety concerns in real time.

Another improvement Losquadro said he has brought to the department is with the work order system. He referred to the old system as “archaic,” in which a routine work order took weeks of mailing to different departments.

The town already uses this system for severe weather events like snowstorms, but Losquadro said he was still in the process of rolling out a fully electronic work order system.

Kontzamanys said many of the updates that Losquadro has brought to the department have already been in effect at the parks department for years and he would like to see more updates on his watch.

“I would try to embrace solar projects through federal grants, including solar bike paths and solar sidewalks,” Kontzamanys said. He also said he would then sell the energy back to utility company PSEG Long Island for a profit.

by -
1 1138

Longtime legislator faces challenge from newcomer

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Rohma Abbas

A longtime Democratic Suffolk County legislator, seeking a final term in office to represent parts of Huntington Town, will go head to head in an election on Tuesday against a political newcomer who said a fresh perspective is in order.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas
Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has been in office for a decade and is seeking a sixth and final two-year term before being term-limited out of that seat. He’ll have to fend off a challenge by Tom McNally, a Republican attorney from Dix Hills, who is part of the Huntington Republican Committee’s executive board.

In phone interviews this week, both candidates talked about what they see as top issues in this year’s campaign. The topics centered on how to steer Suffolk’s financial ship, ways to fund sewers in Suffolk, the government’s role in assisting veterans and more.

Stern touted his signature legislation, the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative, a package of bills that aims to end veteran homelessness in Suffolk through a number of avenues.

The legislator, who sits on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee, said he wants another term in office to continue accomplishing goals in that package of bills — particularly being able to say “in the very near future, that we have ended veteran homelessness in Suffolk County.”

“I do believe we are going to accomplish that goal,” he said.

Meanwhile, while McNally lauds Stern’s veterans initiative, he said he’d take it a step further. The contender said he’d work to create legislation that would make sure vets returning from service have a job. “If they want a job, they have a job. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected, I would double down and continue forward with all the efforts Mr. Stern has implemented on veterans and senior issues.”

County spending is one of the main tenets of McNally’s platform.

Republican Tom McNally photo from the candidate
Republican Tom McNally photo from the candidate

If elected, he said he’d mandate a reduction in spending at all Suffolk County agencies by 2.5 percent per department, except police, and 1 percent for the police budget. Spending caps are necessary, he said, because of the county’s “huge, huge deficit.”

“It’s not impossible, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

The legislator countered, however, that the county has worked steadfastly to reduce the size of government in recent years by 1,100 positions, and by consolidating departments — like the recent merger of the county offices of comptroller and treasurer.

He said he has had to make tough choices as a legislator, like deciding not to continue operating the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, an operation county taxpayers subsidized at the cost of millions of dollars.

“It was an excruciatingly difficult decision to make, but the right one for Suffolk County taxpayers.”

Another reason Stern said he’s running is to work on the county’s sewer issue. He called himself a leading proponent of sewer infrastructure development, cosponsoring legislation identifying what areas would best served by sewers and choosing how to prioritize which neighborhoods get developed first.

It’s particularly crucial to Huntington, he said, because that priority list includes the expansion of the Southwest Sewer District, which serves Deer Park, North Babylon and other western neighborhoods.

With expanded capacity comes the ability to rev up revitalization in Huntington, particularly in Huntington Station, where developer Renaissance Downtowns already has plans in place.

Stern said the county’s getting $388 million in funding from the federal and state government to embark on these infrastructure projects, something he wants to see through.

“Will we see movement on the issue? The answer is yes. We are starting to see that now.”

McNally, by contrast, agrees water quality is a big issue on Long Island, but doesn’t see how the county could fund such a large investment.

“I think it’s an investment we have to make, but I think we have to cut back in other areas. We’re not cutting back in other areas.”

Stern was critical of his opponent’s take on the issue, noting the $388 million in sewer funds the county has.

“These kinds of opportunities is where the money comes from,” he said. “If you just throw up your hands and say this is too big, too bold, can’t afford it, then you miss out on opportunities like we are participating in.”

Election Day is Nov. 3.

by -
1 1214

By Phil Corso

A difference in philosophy underscored the race between an incumbent Republican legislator and his Democratic challenger.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature in 2013 and said his first term in office opened his eyes to the county’s financial woes. But to keep working at it, he must first win re-election against Kings Park resident Richard Macellaro.

The two sat down in the Times Beacon Record Newspapers newsroom last week to discuss their campaigns and demonstrate why they deserved to represent the county’s 13th District, which encompasses Smithtown, Fort Salonga, Kings Park, Nissequogue, St. James, Commack, Head of the Harbor and East Northport. Trotta kicked it off with strong rhetoric.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience over the past two years. I am shocked and saddened at how bad the county is fiscally,” Trotta said, highlighting the crux of his concerns looking ahead in the Legislature. “I’ve seen serious, serious problems. Worse than anybody even knows.”

The legislator said the looming threat of the county’s bond rating being reduced coupled with the growing sentiment that it’s too expensive to live in Suffolk have made his job all the more challenging. The blame, Trotta said, rests on out-of-control spending, too much union involvement in politics, and too much money being tossed around in campaign contributions.

A mismanagement of funding was at the heart of almost everything Trotta discussed as key campaign concerns. He cited recent development — part of a downtown revitalization plan — in Wyandanch as “overkill” and cautioned that communities like Kings Park would benefit from his voice of concern as the community looks toward a similar revitalization.

Democrat Richard Macellaro. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Democrat Richard Macellaro. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Kings Park is a diamond in the rough, and we have a plan there when it comes to sewers,” he said. “But we don’t want it to be another Patchogue.”

Macellaro — who identified himself as a “new kid on the block” when it comes to seeking political office, despite unsuccessful bids for the state Assembly in 2010 and Smithtown’s Town Board in 2013 — said he wanted to put his experience as a civic member of the Kings Park community to work. With the campaign slogan “A different voice, a different choice,” the Kings Park resident said he hoped to use the office to prevent an increase in property taxes by consolidating all the county’s school districts, allocating just one per town. While a move like that does not rest in the hands of a Suffolk County legislator, Macellaro said he would use his office as a bully pulpit to enact the change.

“It can be done,” he said. “Someone has to begin to force the school districts to lessen property taxes for our residents.”

Another important issue he said he planned on addressing, if elected, was working to construct an all-encompassing master plan for the county. Doing so, he said, would revitalize downtowns throughout the county, enhance transportation and ultimately help entice young families to stay in Suffolk.

Beyond finances, Trotta said he was not a proponent of the county’s Red Light Safety Program, which utilizes cameras at traffic signals to catch and ticket cars that run red lights. He argued that some of its regulations, including the right-on-red violations, are nothing more than a money grab on innocent residents. But Macellaro, who has worked for the county’s traffic and parking violations agency in the red light division, said he disagreed.

“I think the government is functioning very well,” he said. “Taxes are what we pay for the lifestyle we choose.”

by -
0 768
Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown’s 2016 preliminary budget proposal called for a small increase in taxes despite some spending cuts, but officials said they anticipated no layoffs because of it.

The $101 million budget, if approved, would reduce the amount of money the town spends by about 3.4 percent when compared to this year’s budget, the preliminary proposal said. An average Smithtown home assessed at $5,500 would see an increase of roughly $18.01 in annual taxes, or $1,271.25 in total, the budget said.

As for the town’s tax levy, the budget pegged it at $55.49 million, which was more than last year’s $55.04 million levy.

In his budget message, Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said the town was building on an initiative started in 2015 in a five-year capital plan that targets strategic infrastructure upgrades.

“[The budget] substantially moves the town to a structurally balanced budget that does not reduce resident services,” Vecchio said. “It recognizes the initiatives started in 2015 of replacing only essentially needed positions as employees retire or otherwise leave the employ of the town.”

Last year, the town used more than $5 million of surplus funding to balance the budget. But this year, the town was able to use much less than that at $500,000. The use of surplus funding to balance the budget was one of the key reasons Councilmen Bob Creighton (R) and Ed Wehrheim (R) voted against the proposal last year, but both officials told Times Beacon Record Newspapers last week that they were glad to see the town working to end that practice.

In regards to the town’s general fund, Vecchio said taxes increased by $31.62 for the average home without the use of surplus dollars, which he called a change from Smithtown’s past practices. Expenditures went down by nearly $1.1 million, or 2.5 percent, he said.

“The town continues a ‘pay as you go basis’ for repairs and separation pay for retiring workers,” the supervisor said. “Large capital expenditures have been reduced in the operating budget because they have been included in the 2015-19 capital program, which acquires long-term assets through borrowing instead of the use of current operating funds.”

The town was also able to meet the 2 percent tax cap with help from roughly $900,000 in health insurance and workers’ compensation increases, which a decrease in required state pension contributions help address, Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said. Also included in the budget were longevity and step increases for nearly 30 Smithtown Administrative Guild and 375 Civil Service Employees Association union workers, he said.

Projects in line with the town’s five-year capital budget plan between 2015 and 2019 helped Smithtown save money in the 2016 preliminary budget, officials said, citing various savings that came as a result of them. The town’s LED streetlights project helped save $200,000 in utility costs, and taxes in the outside village fund decreased by $8.80.

The town also allocated savings of about $35,000 in the animal shelter supervisor’s salary to pay for trap, neuter and release services as well as the hiring of a part-time trainer to help train the eight dogs housed at the shelter, town officials said.

On the subject of Highway Department savings, Vecchio said $500,000 of surplus funds there was used to stabilize taxes. Funding was also increased in the town’s snow coffers by $2.14 per household assessed at $5,500 because of severe storms, which he said exhausted funding last year.

The Town Board must adopt the budget by Nov. 20.

by -
0 696
Three Oct. 17 Spirits Tour interpreters, from left to right, Dennis O’Connor as Abraham Woodhull, Bonnie Bryant O’Connor as Abraham Woodhull’s wife Mary, and Beverly Tyler as Colonel Benjamin Floyd. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Good evening! Colonel Benjamin Floyd at your service. I was born here in Setauket in 1740, and I started school here at the age of 6 in our one-room schoolhouse. Anna Smith, a good friend and neighbor, started school the same year as me. Anna later married Selah Strong. We were both Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, or so I thought, and we stayed here after British forces took control of Long Island in August of 1776.

I lived my entire life in the Floyd ancestral home here in Setauket behind the Setauket Presbyterian Church and overlooked Setauket Harbor. My father, Colonel Richard Floyd, lived here until his death in 1771. He was appointed judge of the Suffolk County Court of Common Pleas and supervisor of Brookhaven town and president of the Brookhaven Trustees until 1763.

I was very proud of my father and basically followed in his footsteps as a trustee of Brookhaven town starting in 1772, and then as Supervisor of Brookhaven in 1774 and 1775.

With British control of Long Island, I was again elected as town supervisor in both 1777 and 1778. In fact all our Brookhaven town trustees were Loyalists including my neighbors in Setauket, Joseph Brewster and Gilbert Smith. The Loyalists were a majority in the town when I was elected. Those with Patriot leanings including Jonathan Thompson and Selah Strong lost their seats on the Town Board. In fact, Jonathan Thompson and his son Dr. Samuel Thompson fled to Connecticut and I heard that they had joined in supporting the Patriot cause in Connecticut.

Selah Strong was actually arrested and imprisoned in New York City in 1778 for alleged correspondence with the enemy. However, his wife Anna appealed to her brother and other Loyalists in Manhattan and got him released. He then fled to Connecticut. Anna stayed here on the neck with her six children and kept the farm going as well as she could. We all helped each other during this very difficult time and Anna was particularly looked after by her neighbor across Little Bay, Abraham Woodhull. I had thought that Woodhull was a Loyalist during the war but I found out later that he had been a spy for General Washington.     

Other Loyalists who lived in Setauket included John Bayles, Dr. George Muirson and Caroline Anglican Church Pastor James Lyons.

I married Ann Cornell in 1767 and we had four children between 1768 and 1773. Unfortunately our first child, Margaret, only lived two years and my wife Ann died after giving birth to our third son, Samuel, in 1773. My mother , Elizabeth, helped me as much as she could until her death in April of 1778.

Members of my family were split during the Revolutionary War with many including my brother and I supporting the British Crown and remaining loyal to His Royal Highness King George the third. In fact my father and my brother Richard and I were loyal members of the Anglican Church in Setauket. My father was the first warden of Caroline Church and helped get the Anglican church organized and the building built in 1729. I am very proud that I again followed my father as a warden and member of the vestry of the church.

By 1780, British and Loyalist forces had stripped many areas of Long Island of their cattle, horses, hay, wheat, cordwood and anything else of value. British and Loyalist officers gave us chits, written notes, for what they took and said we would receive compensation after they won the war. In addition the officers allowed their troops to take much of what remained without any thought of repayment. By 1780, we were in need of many of the basic things to sustain life in our communities. It was for these reasons as well as for many atrocities committed against Long Island residents that many who had been Loyalists wanted nothing more than for the British to be gone, thus in actual fact becoming Patriots.

Thus in May of 1780, I was voted out of office and Selah Strong, a Patriot who only recently returned to his home in Setauket, was elected as supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven. The tide of war was turning in favor of General Washington, despite the fact that British forces still controlled much of Long Island and would continue to do so until after November of 1783. Like many Long Islanders I was torn between loyalty and reality. I chose to support my community and the direction it was headed but I wisely kept a low profile.

I continued on the vestry of Caroline Church and worked over the next few decades, as America became an independent country, to help the new Caroline American Episcopal Church become a valued addition to religious diversity in the United States of America.

Editor’s note: Benjamin Floyd died in 1820 and is buried in the Floyd plot of the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery.     

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

by -
0 716
Flowering quince blooms before leaves appear. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

The gardening season is winding down. You’ve probably enjoyed your tomatoes and have started thinking about your herbs and how to preserve them for winter use (you can, of course, bring container grown herbs into the house in a sunny location).

So, it’s hard to think of spring flowers when we’re facing autumn’s mums and winter’s chill. However, it you want a gorgeous, early spring garden, there are certain things you must do now.

◆ Plant your spring flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.). They can actually be planted as long as the ground is not frozen.

Fothergilla is a slow grower. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Fothergilla is a slow grower. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Plant your spring flowering trees. These include dogwood, magnolia, flowering cherry, flowering crab apple and redbud.

◆ Plant shrubs that bloom in early spring. If you already have some in the ground, do not, I repeat, do not, prune them in late autumn. You will be removing next spring’s flower buds. Rule of thumb, prune flowering shrubs immediately after they have bloomed so as not to interfere with their bloom cycle.

Probably the earliest shrub to bloom in spring is witch hazel, with its delicate yellow flowers. In a mild winter it may even bloom in February, but March is more likely. Since it is blooming so early, the flowers come out long before the leaves. And, yes, this is the plant from which the astringent witch hazel is made.

Forsythia also blooms before the leaves appear with a mass of yellow flowers. You can even force the flowers in late winter if you see flower buds starting to form. Cut some branches, bring them indoors and put them in a vase with room temperature water. Soon, the vase will be filled with the cheery flowers. Forsythia plants make a great, easy to grow hedge. A fast grower, they can be cut back to make them the height you want.

Witch hazel with its yellow flowers is the earliest bloomer on Long Island. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Witch hazel with its yellow flowers is the earliest bloomer on Long Island. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Flowering quince produces gorgeous red, pink or orange flowers, again, before the leaves appear. The plant can easily reach up to six feet tall, but there are shorter cultivars. A native of China, it is usually grown here for its flowers, not its fruit. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Some varieties have thorns while others are thornless. Check the tag or research the cultivar if you either want (as a barrier) or don’t want (around kids) thorns.

The P.J.M. Rhododendron blooms in early spring, usually April, ahead of most rhodies, which tend to come out in May. The pinkish-purple blossoms are born on a relatively slow growing plant that reaches three to six feet in height. An evergreen, it does well in partial shade in hardiness zones 4 to 8. A row of them makes a lovely, relatively low hedge.

Pieris (andromeda) comes out quietly in spring. Most plants available have either white or pink flowers, but ‘Valentine’ has absolutely beautiful burgundy flowers. ‘Valentine’ blooms ahead of the other varieties, frequently before I’ve tidied up the garden in spring.

Fothergilla blooms with lovely white flowers. The slow-growing, deciduous shrub blooms in April to May after the leaves appear. The plant does well in zones 5 to 8.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.