Lifestyles

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Peaches grow so easily on Long Island, this volunteer has thrived for years. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

One of the nice things about gardening on Long Island is our very acidic soil. Did I say that was one of the nice things? Yes, actually, if you are fond of certain fruits.

Soil pH measures how acidic or alkaline your soil is. The scale ranges from 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. Below 7 is considered acidic with 4.5 to 5 being very strongly acidic. Much of mine tests out in this range. Above 7 is alkaline. How acidic or alkaline soil is determines how certain needed nutrients are taken up by different plants.

If your soil is very acidic, in the 4.5 to 5.5 range, then blueberries top the list. Blueberries are tasty and considered a nutrition powerhouse filled with phytonutrients and high in fiber. Blueberry bushes come in a number of varieties including high bush (tall) and low bush (shorter). The white spring flowers give way to the berries in summer. To prolong the picking season, select several varieties that range in maturity date from early to medium to late. Yes, consider netting as the berries begin to ripen since birds do love them, too.

Apple trees do well in Long Island’s soil, even down to a pH of 5.0. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Apple trees do well in Long Island’s soil, even down to a pH of 5.0. Photo by Ellen Barcel

In addition to the wonderful fruit they yield, the plants make a great living hedge. Since blueberry bushes are deciduous, the living hedge does not provide much screening in winter.

Bilberry and cranberry also do well in this very acidic range, 4.5 to 5. Cranberries were once raised commercially on Long Island. Cranberry Bog Preserve in Riverhead is located where this commercial operation was in business from the late 1890s to the 1930s. Local women were employed to harvest the berries. If you decide to try to raise cranberries, remember that lots of water is needed.

Other fruits that do well in acidic soil include rhubarb (5.5 to 6), raspberries (5.5 to 6.2), wineberries, which are an invasive variety of raspberries from Asia, and strawberries (5.5 to 6.5).

A plant that may need some lime is the grape vine. While it does well in a variety of soil conditions, the ideal soil pH is 5.5 to 6.8, lower for American vines, higher for some of the imports. If you soil is below the 5.5, then add lime. Different varieties of grapes do better in different soil pH levels, so read the tag that comes with your plants or do a bit a research on the specific variety you have selected.  Like most of the fruits mentioned above, grapes prefer a well-drained soil.

When it comes to fruit trees, the apple does very well in acidic soil, growing well even down to 5.0, which is considered strongly acidic.  Dwarf and semidwarf varieties mean that the home gardener can grow one or more even on a small piece of property and can easily harvest the fruit come fall.

Peaches do well in pH 6.5 (slightly acidic). If your soil is very acidic, you may need to add some lime. Two trees that “volunteered” in my yard are filled with beautiful pink flowers, which is why I keep the trees since the peaches themselves aren’t really great.

Another tree that yields fruit and does well on Long Island is the mulberry, pH range 5.5 to 6.5, moderately acidic. There are some negatives to the mulberry tree, however. It’s a “messy” tree in that the fruit and juice can easily stain anything with which they come in contact. And large limbs can easily break off from the tree. So, while it easily grows here, think about the negatives versus the positives before planting it.

All in all, many different varieties of fruit do well here in Long Island’s acidic soil. Remember to add fertilizer to you soil. Yes, compost is ideal, but if you prefer chemical fertilizers, read the package carefully to make sure it is formulated to help the fruits you are growing. Always follow manufacturer’s directions.

Also remember, that if you do need to add lime, depending on the variety it can take over a year or more for the lime to break down in the soil and be available for your plants to use. Again, read the package carefully.

So plant your favorite fruit tree or bush, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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

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Small, colorful vases are perfect to use in rooting cuttings. The purple vase, back right, was from the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Once a gardener finds a really special plant, one that he or she wants more of, lots more of, the gardener begins to think about how to propagate that plant. Seeds are always a possibility — it’s worth a try — but many seeds do not breed true especially if the mother plant is a hybrid.

If you want a genetic clone — that is, an exact duplicate — you need to propagate the plant vegetatively. Wood cuttings are possible but require some work and care. Isn’t there an easier way to get more of what you have already?

Rooting cuttings in water is truly the easiest way to propagate plants. However, not all plants can be rooted in water.

The houseplants that can be propagated in water include philodendron, pothos and other viney plants. Herbs such as pineapple sage and all variety of mints can also be rooted in water. When the weather gets cold outside consider taking cuttings from begonias, coleus, impatiens, sweet potato vine and even geraniums to overwinter them in water inside. I’ve been told, though can’t verify myself, that African violet leaves will also root in water.

Shrubs hat need a lot of water, such as willows, including pussy willow, will also root easily in water. Some plants, like euonymous, will root just about anywhere. I even had one root behind the shutter on my house against the cedar shakes. Removing it carefully, I was able to plant it in the soil where it is still growing.

Some general guidelines include:
* Select a small container to hold the cuttings. A small colorful vase is particularly attractive when the sun hits the glass.
* Use room temperature water.
* Change the water periodically, say once a week or sooner if it becomes cloudy.
* Keep the water level at the same height from week to week.
* Do not add fertilizer to the water.
* Set the rooting container where it will get partial sun but not get excessively hot if its summer.
* If the end of the cutting turns brown or mushy, it’s beginning to rot. Discard this cutting and try again.
* When enough roots have formed and you move the plant to soil, make sure you use good quality potting soil appropriate for the type of plant if it’s going to be a container plant.
* Use a completely clean planter to help prevent the spread of disease to the new plant.
* Make sure you keep the new plant’s soil wet enough during the transition period. Remember, it’s been growing in pure water for weeks or even months.

Woody stems are more difficult to root in water. You usually need to use rooting hormone and put them in soil. But, if you notice tiny roots forming along the stem of a woody plant, gently bend the stem over to the ground or a pot of soil. Keep the stem pressed against the soil by weighting it down with a rock or brick. This works very well with hydrangeas. If I do this in the spring or summer, I leave the new plant attached to the mother plant until the following spring when I cut it free of the mother plant and dig it up and move it to its new home.

Cactus plants are particularly easy to propagate, but not in water. Take a broken piece, put the end in potting soil designed for cacti, water periodically but not excessively and soon you’ll have a new plant.

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

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By Linda M. Toga

The Facts: I recently listed my house for sale with a real estate agent and signed a brokerage agreement. Someone offered the full asking price for the house. My attorney forwarded a contract of sale to the potential buyer’s attorney.

Although the potential buyer had the assets needed to purchase my house, he insisted that costly repairs be made to the house and he did not want to close on the transaction for six months. Since I refused to do the repairs and to wait to close, the deal fell through. The agent is now claiming she is owed the commission since she found a buyer who offered to pay me the full asking price for my house.

The Question: Does a real estate agent earn a commission simply by bringing in a potential buyer who agrees to pay the asking price?

The Answer: Although it is impossible to definitely answer your question without reviewing the brokerage agreement you signed, it would be very unusual if a commission was earned based solely on a potential buyer agreeing to the purchase price. When it comes to residential real estate, commissions are generally earned only when the agent produces a buyer who is “ready, willing and able” to purchase the property.

This standard requires that the seller and the buyer not only agree on the price to be paid, but also on other terms such as the condition of the property, what personal property or fixtures may be included in the sale, financing and the date of possession. A buyer may be ready and willing to purchase but, if he lacks the resources, he won’t be able to make the purchase, precluding the agent from earning a commission.

Similarly, a buyer may have sufficient funds and be able to make the purchase but, if he is not willing to accept the house in its present condition, the sale will not proceed and the agent generally would not have earned a commission under most brokerage agreements.

Even if the buyer and the seller agree on all of the terms and a contract of sale is signed, an agent may not earn a commission if, for reasons beyond the seller’s control, the deal falls through.

In difficult real estate markets where there are many obstacles to closing, experienced real estate attorneys are often able to negotiate and find creative solutions to those obstacles that turn potential buyers into buyers who are ready, willing and able to close on a purchase. When that happens, both the seller and the buyer, as well as the broker, reap the benefits of the sale.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of litigation, estate planning and real estate from her East Setauket office. The opinions of columnists are their own. They do not speak for the paper.

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By Bob Lipinski

With the cold weather finally leaving and the holidays just a memory, what better way is there to celebrate warmer weather than with a wine and cheese party. Some helpful hints for a successful party include:

Cheese
Choose an interesting variety of cheeses. Different milks, different countries, the cheese-making styles … all play a role in the subtle differences in each cheese’s color, texture and flavor. Your guests will appreciate the unique colors and textures of the cheeses.
Cheese has sufficient beauty to stand by itself. It shows off best on white dinner plates, plain wooden cheese boards, rustic wooden boards, marble slabs, flat wicker baskets or trays, straw mats or other natural materials.
Do not precut cheese for guests. It exposes too much surface to the air and the cheese will dry out. Before serving the cheese, allow it to sit for 30 minutes to one hour at room temperature, which will soften the texture, release the aromas and maximize the flavor. Serve three to five different types of cheese. More than this causes confusion and leads to cheeses left untouched. Be certain to include one well-known cheese.
Allow approximately four ounces of cheese per person at cocktail parties, unless lots of other food is being served. For eight to 12 guests, have no less than three-quarters of a pound of each cheese.
Provide each cheese with its own knife or spreading utensil, especially soft cheeses. This is necessary, particularly for all blue cheeses. Use tags or flags to identify each cheese … don’t forget the country of origin.

Wine
Offer wines from the same country as the cheese or even decide on a French, Italian or Spanish theme for the festivities. Put up some decorations, play some ethnic music, and perhaps have some small nibbles in addition to the cheese. Provide your guests with small cards containing information about each cheese and matching wine, next to each being served.
Wine choices may include sparkling, dry white or red, sweet white or red, sherry, port or maybe even a pitcher of sangria, decorated with fresh lemons, oranges and several maraschino cherries.
To determine how much wine to purchase, figure on two (6-ounce) glasses of wine per person or one bottle (750-ml = 25.4 ounces) for every two guests. Always purchase one additional bottle in the event of a “bad” bottle or just so you don’t run out. If you don’t use the extra bottle, you can enjoy it when your guests leave!

Bob Lipinski, a local author, has written nine books, including “Italian Wine Notes” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine and cheese; sales, time management and leadership. He can be reached at boblipinski.com or at bob@hibs-usa.com.

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While most pumpkins are fairly large, tiny varieties, such as the white and orange ones above, make cute decorations for the dinner table. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

It will soon be time to plant your vegetable garden. Do you sometimes feel that you plant the “same old, same old?” The same tomatoes? The same green beans? If so, why not try some really unique veggies along with the traditional ones? Some say they’re ugly while others call them cute. They’re the veggies that differ from the norm. Here’s a sampling, but you can find lots more in all the seed catalogues that are arriving.

Cauliflower
When you think of cauliflower, you usually think of a snowy white head of florets surrounded by green leaves. But, have you considered Graffiti Hybrid, which has purple florets, or Cheddar Hybrid, which is the color of cheddar cheese and a good source of vitamin A. A really unique looking cauliflower is Veronica Romanesco Hybrid, which has a green head, and a sweet nutty flavor that is milder than most cauliflowers. The florets are spiraled and resemble a bunch of hens and chicks. Yes, I really want to try this one myself.

Radishes
Most radishes have a red skin and a white interior. This fast-growing crop likes cool weather, so plant early for a spring crop or late in summer for a fall crop. But a really unique radish, Watermelon, reverses the colors. It has a white and green skin and pinkish-red interior. It grows bigger than most — two to four inches. The flavor is said to be mild with a bit of sweetness.

Pumpkins
Nothing says autumn like pumpkins, whether for pies or jack-o’-lanterns. But if you want to grow some eye-catchers, consider any one of a number of bumpy pumpkins. There’s Red Warty Thing, Goosebumps Hybrid, Galeux d’Eysines and Knucklehead Hybrid. Yes, they’re edible, but these eerie pumpkins are ideal to be turned into Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, warty faces and all. Tiny, smooth-skinned pumpkins include Jack Be Little, which is so small it fits in the palm of your hand. If you’re planning on entering a contest for the biggest, try Prizewinner Hybrid, which has been known to reach up to 400 pounds.

Tomatoes
Say tomato and most people will think of the round, orangy-red fruit that goes perfectly with bacon and lettuce to form a BLT sandwich. But, tomatoes, like so many other fruits, come in different colors such as yellow — Yellow Pear and Lemon Boy Hybrid — or blue — Indigo Blue Beauty and Indigo Apple. Tomato sizes range from tiny to enormous. Ugly Ripes are wrinkled but delicious.

Yes, there are many other veggies and fruits that have varieties that differ from the norm. There’s bicolored corn and Golden Detroit, a pale orange beet. Read your gardening catalogues and try at least one or two unique veggies this year.

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

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Above, a goldenrain tree in early summer with bright green-colored pods. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Have  you ever walked or driven past a plant you just loved — one you might even want to add to your garden, but you don’t know what it is? Maybe no one’s around to ask? Yes, identifying an unknown plant can be challenging.

For a number of years, I had seen a unique tree with yellow spring flowers followed by seed pods which start out green but then turn a brownish color, resembling paper lanterns. Each pod contains several seeds. I asked a number of gardening friends, yet no one was able to identify it. Finally I resorted to the web, and in just a few minutes, quickly found the answer.

The tree was a goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), a native of Asia. It is also called Pride of India or China tree. The small- to medium-sized tree makes a nice specimen or ornamental tree and is grown in home gardens primarily for that purpose. The mature tree is about as wide as it is tall. In autumn, the leaves turn bright yellow. It even has winter interest as some of the “lanterns” will remain on the tree for a while.

While some consider the goldenrain tree invasive, particularly in Florida, it is not on Suffolk County’s banned or management lists. The management list consists of plants which, while currently legal to sell or propagate, are considered somewhat invasive and therefore it is recommended they not be planted. The low maintenance tree does well in hardiness zones 5 to 9, meaning that an unusually cold winter, like we’ve had the last two winters, should not be a problem. The moderate to quickly growing tree prefers full sun. It even tolerates a bit of a dry spell, meaning that Long Island’s occasional droughts will not affect the tree. It is somewhat salt tolerant, so should do well near roads where winter salt spray hits nearby plants, and tolerates some pollution. All in all, it’s a sturdy tree with few pests and year-round interest.

It does well in varying soil pH levels, from strongly acidic, 5.1 to 5.5, through mildly alkaline, 7.8. This means that you can plant it in areas where you have “rhodies” and azaleas, which require very acidic soil, or in a lawn where you find yourself liming the soil to make it more alkaline. As with all trees, keep the grass away from the trunk so that lawn mowers and “Weedwackers” don’t damage the bark.

Another identification needed was of a “really cool” hanging plant a gardening friend of mine saw at a recent home and garden show. I recognized it immediately as a variety of sedum, but which one? Another quick online search gave the name — Sedum morganianum. It’s a flowering perennial plant, a succulent, note the blue-green fleshy leaves, native to Mexico and Honduras.

This sedum can be grown outdoors in late spring, summer and early fall, but once it gets really cold, needs to be grown indoors as a houseplant. Don’t overwater — sedum can rot in soil that isn’t well drained. It propagates easily from broken pieces (the plant is somewhat fragile when touched), just like most cacti. If grown indoors, it likes a sunny location but not excessive heat. It’s also known as burro’s tail because of its unusual shape. Like most succulents, it needs good drainage.

As this plant can get very large, make sure to put it in a sturdy container. A hanging basket is best or a large pot on a pedestal, both of which show off its training nature. Dark red flowers appear April to July.

To track down an unidentified plant using the web, type the description into your search engine. I used “photo trees with seed pods” and up popped dozens of possibilities. I was then easily able to pick out the goldenrain tree. For the sedum, I typed in “photo sedum hanging basket.”

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

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Hydrangea macrophylla. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Many Long Islanders have noted the change in Long Island’s climate. Old photos of the Great South Bay, the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay taken during winters past show the amount of ice around. I’ve even seen an old photo that shows a car being driven on Peconic Bay in the early 1900s.

That was a long time ago, and despite the last two winters’ unusual cold and snow, we haven’t seen that much ice in years. So, yes, our island is definitely in a period of warmer winters. Officially, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone map puts us squarely in zone 7, where in the past we were sort of borderline.

How does the gardener deal with Long Island’s climate? And, what do microclimates mean?

First, microclimates refer to a small area, within a larger one, that has different temperature, rainfall or humidity than the rest of the area. A friend of mine planted some gladiolus in an area near to her house, with two side walls, facing south. These are not hardy glads, but the regular, old-fashioned kind that need to be lifted each fall and stored. Yet, year after year, her glads return, even through unusually cold winters. She has a microclimate, one that is substantially warmer than the rest of her garden.

In our area, Easter lillies, above, should be mulched or lifted in the fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel
In our area, Easter lillies, above, should be mulched or lifted in the fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Microclimates can be one-half to one zone either warmer or colder than the surroundings. Another gardener of my acquaintance had a flowering shrub that she moved and moved repeatedly, until she found a location that was ideal for it. There’s a fruit orchard out east that can grow one type of tender tree in a small hollow but nowhere else. And we all know that the pine barrens tend to be colder than the rest of the island.

So, as a gardener, you may need to:

* Move certain plants more than once until you find the ideal location. I had to move a hydrangea several times until I found the perfect, shady and moist spot in my garden for it to thrive.

* Put plants only rated for zone 7 and warmer in a protected area. This could be behind a fence or in a little nook near the house, in a warmer microclimate. Remember that the past two winters we’ve had unusually cold weather.

* Make sure to mulch any plants in fall that are iffy, since they might not make it through a cold winter. Easter lilies, for example, are rated for zone 7 and warmer, yet frequently do not make it through Long Island winters. Lift them in fall or mulch them to make sure they survive.

* Grow iffy plants in containers that can be moved into a shed or garage over winter for a bit of added protection.

* Replace plants that bloom on old wood with rebloomers or everbloomers. For example, Hydrangea macrophylla, the old-fashioned kind, booms on old wood. Most of us saw few flowers last growing season and can expect very few this season as a result of the cold. So replace the older ones with Endless Summer or another rebloomer so that even if old wood dies back to the ground, new wood will produce beautiful flowers later in the season.

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

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If your soil has a low pH level, you need to add plants that are heavy feeders, like tomatoes, to your garden. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Mild weather will be here — soon, we hope — and, with it, gardening season. You’ve read up on various plants, made your plans, observed what worked and what didn’t in your and other gardens. You’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

But, wait. Before you plant that first seed, give some consideration to the soil itself. Unless you’re planting only native plants or plants that are not heavy feeders, such as periwinkle or pachysandra or for trees, oak or pine, you need to add some things to the soil if your plans include a bountiful crop of say, tomatoes or roses.

Here’s a rundown of some possible additions to your soil and why you might need them.

• Compost is decomposed organic matter. It is the ideal soil addition for almost any plant. It’s rich in all kinds of nutrients that plants need. Compost also aerates the soil (particularly useful in clay soil) and holds moisture (particularly useful in very sandy soil). Besides, it keeps a lot of organic material out of the landfills. You take all those green clippings, shredded leaves, kitchen peels, etc., put them in your compost pile, and a number of months later, take out rich, organic matter to use on your plants. You can dig it into the soil or use as a top dressing.

• Peat moss is also organic matter that can be added to the soil. It does many of the same things that compost does, such as loosen compacted soil, aerate the soil, hold moisture and add nutrients. Pete moss is in the pH range of 3.4 to 4.8, that is, it’s very acidic. If you already have very acidic soil, then this is probably not what you need. If, on the other hand, you need to lower the pH, say you have lots of rhodies or other plants that really need acidic soil and you don’t have it, then definitely consider adding peat moss. Another way of lowering the pH of the soil is by adding fertilizers such as Miracid or Holly-tone.

• Since Long Island soil is extremely acidic (with minor exceptions), plants that do well in acidic soil will grow well here naturally. These include oak and pine, rhododendron, azaleas, blueberries, etc. But many plants that are a gardener’s favorite need a sweeter, that is more alkaline, soil. Most veggies, showy flowers and lawn grass are in this category. Check out each one you plan to grow for specifics and then test your soil, but chances are you’ll need to add lime to your soil to raise the pH. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and remember, some varieties of lime can take more than one growing season to decompose enough to be able to be taken up by the plants, so read each package carefully. An added note — lime also works if you are trying to turn your hydrangeas pink.

• Since so much of Long Island’s soil is basically sand, you definitely need to put nutrients into the soil. One benefit of using compost is that you are adding these much needed nutrients with the compost. However, for heavy feeders, you might want to add additional fertilizer. This could be in the form of compost tea, some organic commercial fertilizer or some chemical fertilizer — your choice.

• Mulch helps virtually all plants. I personally prefer an organic mulch such as pine bark because as it decomposes it amends the soil. But there are any number of acceptable mulches. Mulch keeps down weeds and helps to hold moisture in the soil. Remember to keep mulch away from the trunk of trees.

• For lawns, pre-emergent weed killer may be needed. It should be applied before the weeds have actually started growing. Remember that combination products, those that contain both weed killer and fertilizer, can’t legally be used in Suffolk County until April 1 since fertilizer can’t be applied before that date. Of course with all the snow we’ve had, that may not be a problem if we still have snow on our lawns.

A final note: many new homes have property that has virtually no topsoil at all. If this is your situation, you may want to have some delivered to help start your garden. If you are growing plants in containers, get a good quality potting soil rather than just digging up garden soil.

So, as you begin the gardening season, make your list and stock up on what you need.

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

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