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Gardening

Japanese maple seedlings in a woodland setting have the best fall colors. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

“It’s fall, right?” my 7-year-old just asked. And I was like, “Um, yeah?” Notwithstanding a few weeks of unseasonably balmy, if not muggy, days, it is October and the first noticeable autumnal tints are seen in the American dogwoods that grow along the margins of the Laurel Ridge-Setauket Woods Nature Preserve on Belle Mead Road.

You needn’t be a gardener — nor ferry up to New England — to enjoy the weeks of glorious colors in the maples and the oaks in random woods and suburban roads: the yellow Norway maple, the red-orange of sugar and red maples, the russet-reds of the oaks.

There are many kinds of shrubs too, of course, that present fall color. These typically color up best in sunnier locations, but the native spicebush (Lindera benzoin), ubiquitous in our woods because the deer leave them alone, are beginning to yellow even in heavy shade. Last Saturday I was driving on Mt. Grey and West Meadow roads in Old Field, where homes are nestled into our native oak woods. Naturalized in the understory are the native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, and planted rhododendrons that had grown massive before the deer population exploded.

If you live under a high canopy of oak trees, but want some great fall color, Japanese maples are a superb understory tree: They prefer some shade and will color up well despite it. Japanese maples are not limited to the popular weeping lacy trees. They are primarily Acer palmatum, but they also refer to Acer japonicum and Acer shirasawanum.

Japanese maple seedlings flourish in a woodland setting. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

The grafted cut-leaf Japanese maple is justifiably popular but not inexpensive. These are propagated vegetatively, i.e., not by seed; they are called cultivated varieties (cultivars, in the trade), meaning they have specific genes; and they are identical to one another in leaf shape, size and color and also in rate of growth and habit, by which is meant the shape of the crown, whether pyramidal, weeping or columnar.

The spectacular cut-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum), red-leafed or green, is better used singly, as a specimen. Mature tress will get to be 15 feet in diameter, so do not make the common mistake of planting it too close to your driveway or front path or up close to your house. It is always a shame to have to restrict with pruning the natural form of these.

If you have the opportunity to plant a grove of Japanese maples, maybe for screening or to start a woodland garden, then the most expedient way would be to find a source of random Acer palmatum seedlings. Young trees, cheap. Don’t overly favor the showy red-leaved ones; select if you can a mix of green and red. In Joe’s garden, a client, there were three or four mature Japanese maples. We had many dozens of seedlings, offspring from the mother trees, growing out of the compost of years of leaf-blowing.

Many years ago Joe and I potted up a few of the younger ones, from 3 to 7 years old, and on a sunny Saturday morning in late October loaded them into the 8-foot bed of my ’68 Chevy. We parked on 5th Avenue in Park Slope in Brooklyn and presented a sidewalk sale. They were gorgeous in their variety of fall reds, oranges and even yellows. Fifteen years later and there are many dozens more seedlings, I just can’t bring myself to pull them up and throw them in the compost pile.

True, the deer will nip them as long as they can reach the branches. It is worth the effort to spritz a little deer repellent, especially in April, May, and June, for the first couple years until the branches are up and out of their reach. There is a blight on them, a soil-borne fungus called Verticillium wilt, that causes branches to die. Cut them back to the trunk. Sometimes the whole tree dies. If you have a dozen or more trees, as I recommend, and they are seeding themselves around, then it’s easy-come-easy-go. You don’t have to mourn the loss of a tree if there are many more healthy ones about.

It’s okay to start with unnamed seedlings of Acer palmatum. They are always gorgeous, leafing out in spring with their iconic leaves, or changing color in fall, they are never out of scale in the garden and comport well with companion shrubs and perennials. You could order a dozen and supplement them with a few choice named cultivars that you gradually collect at the garden center or through mail-order sources; or you could start right off with the choice varieties.

It would be preferable to have some of these splendid cultivars because some of their offspring seedlings will carry their desirable traits. Japanese maples are prolific self-sowers, so you might want to plant two or three of the great, well-known varieties: Invest in a few large trees, sourced at a nursery. Have them planted in locations that establish the structure and articulate the paths of a new woodland garden, underplant them with perennials and start looking out for seedlings next year!

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

The informal gardens at Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm

By JoAnn Canino

Documenting your garden by keeping a garden journal not only creates a complete record but also allows you to make informed decisions to improve your garden from season to season. Now is a good time to start a garden journal. It is a way of extending the joy we get from our gardens well into the winter months.

Keeping a journal can be as simple as making notations in a notebook as you make your daily rounds in the garden. I use a lined composition notebook for observations and an unlined sketchbook to make drawings. To organize my notes, sketches and research I use a loose-leaf binder divided into sections. Setting up the binder, include a pocket to save plant tags, seed packets and receipts. Use graph paper for sketching layouts of each bed.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Vita Sackville-West, a noted garden writer, and her husband, Harold Nelson, diplomat and journalist, designed the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent, England. They suggested careful planning should begin with a detailed architectural drawing that includes plans for color and seasonal changes.

Make lists of plants you would like to try. Keep plant profiles: date planted, care instructions, watering and fertilizing schedules. Include sketches and photos. For the kitchen garden, keep a plant and seed tracker. Include seed sources, date planted and germination date. Note success rate and expected harvest yield. Details can be recorded in your notebook then transferred to index cards for easy reference. Track the weather from season to season: Note dates of frost this year as compared to last year. How many inches of rain actually fell? How many days of sunshine? Remember to add photos to document the changes.

Monticello vegetable garden

Thomas Jefferson, president, architect, scientist and gardener, kept detailed notes of his observations and activities in his “Garden Kalender.” He noted dates seeds were planted, harvest schedules and when the beds were manuered at his plantation in Monticello. His notes were as simple as, “Peas killed by frost. Oct. 23, 1809.” But Jefferson’s vegetable garden was set up for experimentation. He imported squashes and broccoli from Italy, beans and salsify collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition, figs from France and peppers from Mexico. Jefferson’s intention was to eliminate “inferior” varieties. “I am curious to select one or two of the best species or variety of every garden vegetable and to reject others from the garden to avoid the dangers of mixing and degeneracy,” he wrote.

Recording your experiences and observations will allow you to develop a greater awareness of the changes that occur from day to day and from season to season. Be open to discovery, use your senses to look closely at nature in your own backyard. Listen to sounds and look for patterns. Create a habitat for wintering wildlife. Put up a birdbath or a small pond. Plant native plants, mulch leaves and add bird feeders.

The Mount garden

If you are exploring different garden themes, it is helpful to have a section in the binder for pictures of gardens that inspire you as well as articles and research on the typical needs of each design. For example, a formal garden with groomed hedges and a balanced symmetry would follow an Italianate design. Edith Wharton’s garden, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts, follows this formal plan. Her gardens were a source of inspiration for her writing.

Beatrix Potter at Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, England, followed the philosophy of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which celebrated fine craftsmanship. While she had a separate walled vegetable garden, her beds and borders were informal.

She mixed hardy flowers with bulbs and fruit shrubs. As an artist and naturalist, she made detailed studies of the plants and animals on her farm. Her much loved “Tales of Peter Rabbit” have entertained many readers. Illustrations for her books were painted in her garden.

Between 1883 and 1897, Potter studied and painted mushrooms and lichens. Her paper, “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricinae,” was based on these studies. Consider how you are a part of the ecosystem and let your garden be your inspiration for writing, drawing and discovery.

Autumn tips for your garden

•Take time to observe where the sunlight falls now.

• Fill any gaps in borders with autumn flowering plants such as sedum, asters and chrysanthemums.

• Continue to feed and deadhead the hanging baskets to extend the color.

• As the weather cools, bring indoor plants back inside.

• Refresh the soil and repot to avoid bringing insects inside.

• Select flowering bulbs: tulips, narcissi, hyacinths, iris, allium and fritillaries to plant as temperatures cool.

• Cut hydrangea flowers for fall table designs and wreaths.

JoAnn Canino is an avid journal writer and gardener and a member of the Three Village Garden Club.

Cerise mum, second year.

By Kyrnan Harvey

This year the deer have left our chrysanthemums alone. So far. This is our third year in the Three Villages, and the assumption originally was that aromatic plants are passed over by the white-tailed browsers. Wishful thinking.

 

Old-fashioned Korean mums naturalized

Last year, the mums were left alone all summer, until the buds formed on the flower stems, which apparently are a delicacy for discerning deer in the know. This year, we sprayed deer repellent once on the cerise mum near the driveway entrance but none on the ‘Dark Bronze Daisy’ or the unnamed Home Depot orange mum. And who knew? These latter two are a square yard untouched and flowering beautifully for a month already and the cerise one is just now popping.

This morning, while pulling up unwanted goldenrod volunteers, I became reacquainted with a gorgeous white one, very tall and promising in bud now, that I had plucked last year from the florist shelves at the market.

As a garden designer favoring naturalistic plantings, I generally eschew the seasonal mum installations. But I do love the colors; who doesn’t? There are many varieties grown, often two apparently identical colors are actually merely similar colors, subtly different varieties. Usually you will find a small label with a cultivar name on it, like ‘Plumberry Purple’ or ‘Flamingo Pineapple’. Every year one or two colors at Home Depot or Stop&Shop or my myriad wholesale sources catches my fancy. I am often asked “Are they perennial?” “How do you know which ones will come back next year?”

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’

In years past I would answer that the “old-fashioned” single ones, formerly called Korean mums and rarely seen in garden centers, are reliably hardy and perennial. There is a charming single pale apricot must-have called ‘Sheffield Pink’ that is absolutely perennial and that flowers very late. But I am now convinced that the brilliantly colored doubles will naturalize too and need not be regarded as throwaways. I buy just one piece (as the nurserymen say) and find a suitable location for that color.

I cannot account for the gustatory vagaries or the culinary whimsies of our graceful quadripeds, but here is how to get “dem” mums to survive the winter and to increase in girth. Don’t plant them too late and don’t let them dry out.

Don’t buy a pot in September for your front door, neglect to water it three straight sunny 75 degree days, and then not plant it outside until Thanksgiving.

Typically chrysanthemums are root-bound in those green plastic pots. Root-bound means they dry out quickly and watering can’t penetrate the density of roots. The good independent garden centers have staff that know how and how often to water them to keep them from drying out — not so at the box stores. There is a point of no return, if left unwatered for too long. Haven’t we all seen inventories of mums fried and roasting at the edge of the parking lot, wilted to a crisp? It’s okay to decorate the porch for a couple weeks, but put saucers under them and if they’re in the sun err on the side of too much water.

Chrysanthemum ‘Dark Bronze Daisy’ third year

Another common pitfall is to assume that once it is planted and you have thoroughly drenched it, you are done. Not necessarily the case, never more so than the past few weeks when it has been unseasonably warm and it hasn’t rained. We did a large mum installation at a client’s temple for the holidays. No automatic irrigation, and we watered by hose two times a week for a couple weeks. Checked in after a long weekend and sure enough a few of the 70 were wilting. Even where there is automatic irrigation, hand water if there are no good soakings from mother nature.

When planting out your mums, they will want, like most daisies, a sunny spot if your intention is for them to perennialize. Also needed is good, loose soil that’s been dug free of tree roots and soil compaction. Water in well at planting and as necessary for a few weeks, so that they will root in to their new soil. This is the key; this is what determines whether they survive through to next year: Are they established in the garden well before the hard frosts of January? I usually leave the unsightly spent flowers uncut until March. My sense is that these provide insulation from winds to the basal foliage, visible even in a flowering plant, upon which the plants’ future depends.

Of course, you can still plant mums with no expectation that they will provide perennial pleasures. You still have to keep them watered, but you can cram them into crummy builders’ fill under oak trees — as we did at the temple — and do it again next year. But it is really delightful and gratifying to see drifts of sprays of that superb color year in, year out. They actually are carefree and drought tolerant once established. And if the deer one year take a fancy to that color? You’ll live, and next year you will enjoy the show more.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

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Ornamental grasses add unique texture to the landscape. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Ornamental grasses add unique texture to the landscape. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

Do you have some part of your property that is all hot and dry in full sun? Maybe at some remove from the house, in the backyard or out at the road, where the lawn grasses perennially compete with crabgrasses and other weeds over poor soil and there is nothing to look out at through your windows?

The next two or three months would be a great time to dramatically transform your homescape with a matrix of ornamental grasses throughout which you could, in time, introduce many different flowers. Now through December is their season to glow, especially in the late summer and autumn sun.

Many landscapers cut down grasses as part of their fall cleanups, but we cut down ours at the very end of winter.

There are cool-season ones (feather-reed grass, blue fescue) that start growth soon after winter and warm-season ones (switchgrass, Miscanthus, fountain grass) that are delayed until the heat of May.

The former bring beauty starting in late spring, the latter from late summer; but all of them bring texture and form that endure for many months, often right through winter. Flowers of grasses are not colorful, of course, but they provide a dreamy complement and contrast to flowers. They catch early and late rays, they rustle with the wind, they glisten with dew, and they are sculptural with frost and snow. The leaves of some grasses are bluish or silvery gray and some have reddish tints. And, most importantly, all ornamental grasses are 100 percent deer proof.

I believe that to achieve the desired effect, a minimum of 400 square feet of garden space is needed, preferably more. One important proviso is that the flopping of these grasses must be prevented. Many prefer lean soil, not too fertile and not too much water. If you have automatic irrigation, create separate zones for the beds. Withhold overhead watering from these beds overnight, which would cause the top-heavy flowers to flop. If you have poor soil or builder’s fill, this could actually work in your favor.

Panicum virgatum

In my garden I have heavy clayish loam and no automatic irrigation. I hand-water with a hose, soaking certain plants, including grasses, if and when they most need it. This is easy and relaxing work, and you know your plants are loving it. Cool-season grasses benefit from extra water in the heat of summer, but many of the best grasses thrive on absolute neglect.

What handful of grasses should you look for and how might you obtain them? There are numerous wholesale nurseries that grow many different grasses here on Long Island, and any independent garden center would be happy to order them.

You will find one- or two-gallon containers at local garden centers, ready for planting; whereas mail order would be much smaller plants. Nowadays it is so easy to go into your phone or computer and see what’s what.

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

For a hot, dry, sunny location, I can highly recommend first and foremost Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ (feather-reed grass) and any of a growing number of Panicum (switchgrass) varieties. Let these two, with their height and verticality, establish structural continuity throughout the planting. Get seven of the ‘Karl Foerster’ and three of the switchgrass per 400 square feet. Plant ‘Karl Foerster’ in drifts or blocks.

It will be highly unlikely you will find a ‘Karl Foerster’ at this time of year without its seed heads cut down. This great plant flowers in June; growers’ daily overhead irrigation causes the flowers to flop, so they cut them down. Plant them anyway and look forward to next year. Scatter the switchgrass, randomly.

 

Scatter or drift Muhlenbergia (muhly grass) in the same proportion as the feather-reed grass. Again, grasses should usually be planted en masse, to create the naturalistic mood, but they don’t necessarily need to be planted as a block.

At this point, minus the feather-reed grass that has been cut down, you will have a significant show already. Instant gratification. Now, if you have the space, you can supplement with a couple more: Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) and Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), best used as scatter plants. You could even drop in a specimen grass, like Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens,’ though it would want that hose in the dry weeks of July.

Although these grasses are very drought-tolerant do not make the mistake of not watering them thoroughly until they are established. Typically they are pot-bound, and these can dry out if they are left unwatered for two or three days. Sometimes if I plant drought-tolerant grasses in June or July, I will keep hand-watering them through August.

When laying out your grasses be sure to leave plenty of room for other perennials and bulbs and even naturalizing biennials and annuals, all of which together will enhance and compliment your new dreamscape of grasses.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Ellen Barcel. File photo by Elana Glowatz

South Setauket resident, local gardening columnist and former Arts & Lifestyles editor Ellen Barcel, 72, died after a battle with cancer July 16.

Her friend Judy Hallock said the writer and editor died peacefully in her home and was happy to spend her last days with her dog Teddy Bear, cat Daisy and friends.

Hallock said Barcel retired from teaching social studies in the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District in 1996 and was an avid follower of gardening, quilting, having afternoon tea with friends and playing the dominoes game Mexican Train. Barcel was involved for decades, even serving on the board of trustees for a period, with the Southold Indian Museum, which is dedicated to the study and education surrounding archaeology and natural history. She was a Master Gardener through Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Hallock said Barcel was an only child and moved to Long Island with her family in her late teen years and attended Stony Brook University. While Barcel leaves behind no husband or children, Hallock said the former TBR employee “grew a family around her” with her friends.

“She earned it by being who she was,” Hallock said. “She was always a great friend.”

Hallock remembers Barcel as always being there for others and providing a shoulder to cry on and will always remember her smile, good nature, kindness and enthusiasm.

Barcel began as a freelance writer for Times Beacon Record Newspapers after retiring from teaching, and July 15, 1999, became the editor of the Arts & Lifestyles section.

Jane O’Sullivan, a former editor of a few TBR Newspapers, said she remembers Barcel’s love for animals and gardening.

“She was interested in so many things,” O’Sullivan said. “I can’t think of anything that bored her.”

Both O’Sullivan and Marie Murtagh, former executive editor of TBR Newspapers, remember Barcel as always being fun to work with during the years they worked together in the office.

“She used to say she loved her job because there were so many good things going on,” Murtagh said.

Murtagh said the A&L editor always did a great job in gathering information about local events.

“She was somebody who enjoyed all the things that Long Island had to offer and other people finding out about them and enjoying them as well,” she said.

This year Barcel received an honorable mention from the New York Press Association in the Best Special Section/Niche Publications category for her freelance work on the 40th anniversary supplement for TBR Newspapers. “Stiff competition is the only reason this pub did not place,” judges wrote. “Beautifully done.”

Donations in Barcel’s memory can be made to the Southold Indian Museum, 1080 Main Bayview Road, Southold, NY 11971.


With heavy hearts, the staff of Times Beacon Record News Media say goodbye to a beloved colleague.

Leah Dunaief, publisher

“Ellen Barcel was a totally professional journalist and a pleasure to work with,” Dunaief said. “She was a fine writer, committed to her work and to the community. Her world was made more beautiful by the flowers she loved and surrounded herself with, and she tended her responsibilities with the same care that she gave her garden. Ellen was a loyal and gentle friend, and we will miss her greatly.”

Johness Kuisel, general manager

“She was a beautiful and talented writer who composed her column in her head after reviewing pictures she had taken, and the words just flowed,” Kuisel said. “Her Times Beacon Record family will miss her talent and good nature.”

File photo by Ellen Barcel

Heidi Sutton, editor of Arts & Lifestyles

“I met Ellen in June of 2013 when I started working for the paper,” Sutton said. “I had read her gardening column for years and was a big fan. When she decided to retire from the paper as the Arts & Lifestyles editor in 2013, I had big shoes to fill. She continued to write her gardening column and freelance but most of all became a good friend. Ellen often spoke of spending time in her garden. That’s how I’ll remember her — walking through her garden admiring the flowers, gently scolding her dog Teddy for eating all the tomatoes and smiling.”

Kathryn Mandracchia, advertising director

“I absolutely loved working with her,” Mandracchia said. “She was kind, always smiling, and a joy to be around. I am saddened by her loss, and I will miss sharing pet and plant stories with her.”

Ellen Segal, director of classified advertising

“Ellen Barcel was a smart and very sweet lady,” Segal said. “When I first came to TBR Newspapers, editorial was on the main floor near my new office, and I was impressed by her work ethic and her community knowledge. She reached out and welcomed me and, of course, we both exclaimed we didn’t know too many people with the name we both shared, Ellen, derived from the same Greek root — which means light, torch or bright.”

Meg Malangone, office coordinator

“Ellen was a beautiful, sweet individual, inside and out,” Malangone said. “Once you got to know her, you were graced with a wonderful, sometimes sassy personality. She loved her gardening and her pets. She bloomed wherever she was planted. Ellen was sunshine, and those who knew and loved her, were warmed by her smile and the light she brought to others’ lives.”

Don't cut your lawn shorter than 3 inches or you'll damage it. Stock Photo
A baker’s dozen lawn tips

By Ellen Barcel

Well, winter is over and it’s time to think about spring and gardening and that includes your lawn. If you followed recommendations, you fertilized your lawn last October and patched bare spots. You removed fallen leaves. Now, what should you be doing?

1. Remove any leaves from the lawn that may have accumulated over the winter. These can be composted, but leaves do take longer to break down than greenery so it’s best to shred them. The more surface exposed, the faster the composting process will happen.

2. Gather up any broken branches that came down during the winter’s storms. I use this wood for my fireplace, but each wood has a different scent. Apple wood is wonderful but weeping willow wood is definitely not. If you have a chipper you can turn downed wood into mulch.

3. If you had a lot of weeds in your lawn last year, consider applying pre-emergent weed killer. Personally, I just mow them over since they’re green, but if it’s a problem for you, spread the weed killer.

4. If you haven’t patched bare spots or new ones developed, spring is the ideal time to do that. Most of the lawn grasses we grow on Long Island are cool weather grasses and grow best in spring and fall.

Don’t plant grass right up against tree trunks as the bark can be damaged during mowing. Photo by Ellen Barcel

5. In general, grass won’t grow well in very shady areas. The plants need sun, but fescue tolerates some shade. So, when patching, look for mixes that note that they do well in some shade.

6. Turn on (and repair as needed) any irrigation system you have once the danger of frost has passed.

7. You can spread fertilizer after the beginning of April. (Suffolk County law prohibits spreading it before that time to prevent chemicals from polluting the groundwater. Lawns just don’t take up fertilizer from November through March.) Don’t apply fertilizer to zoyzia grass until it has greened up, however, since it is a warm weather grass.

8. When mowing, don’t cut the lawn shorter than 3 inches. Remember these are plants and if you “scalp” them, you can kill them. They need a certain amount of greenery to thrive. While it’s tempting to cut the lawn really short so you don’t have to do it that often, you’ll damage the lawn.

9. Leave the clippings on the lawn as they will break down and return nutrients to the soil. If you must gather them up, then compost them.

10. Don’t walk on the grass, for the same reason. You wouldn’t walk on your tomato plants or bean plants, so don’t walk on the grass. Install some sort of walkways for frequently trodden paths.

11. If your soil is substantially below a pH of 6.0 to 7, you need to periodically add lime to sweeten the soil. So, test your soil, then follow the manufacturer’s direction on quantity and frequency of application.

12. Generally, on Long Island, your lawn needs 1 inch of water per week. On average, Long Island gets 4 inches of rain per month. During spring and fall, and with cooler temperatures, rain frequently takes care of this need, but come the heat of summer you will probably have to supplement the rain. However, be on the lookout for periods of drought like we’ve had the last two years. Remember that two inches of rain all at once, quickly drains from the soil.

13. Don’t plant grass close up to the base of trees. If you do, the trees may be damaged as you mow each week. Instead, put mulch and/or annuals or perennials around the base of trees. That way, a “weed wacker” won’t damage the tree bark.

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

By Ellen Barcel

You may have seen ornamental pepper plants in the stores this time of year. NuMex Easter Ornamental Pepper (Capsicum anuum) is a neat plant for Easter decorating. The plant look like a bouquet of peppers above the dense greenery. This is a small plant, generally about 8 inches high and 10 inches wide, making it ideal as a hostess gift or a table centerpiece. It produces beautifully colored ornamental peppers (purple, cream, yellow and orange).

Yes, it can be grown from seed, but you won’t have a plant ready for this Easter. The ornamental pepper blooms and produces peppers all summer long, maturing in 72 days. While there are many varieties of peppers that are available as heirloom plants, the NuMex Easter is a hybrid. Can you save the seeds to grow in future? You can try it, but as with all hybrids, it’s unlikely that the plants will breed true. Buy the hybrid seeds if you want to grow this one in your garden or the plants from a nursery.

The name Easter pepper came from the pastel color of the peppers when they first appear on the plant. The plant was bred by the New Mexico State University’s Chili Pepper Institute — it also developed a Valentine’s Day pepper (red and white), a St. Patrick’s Day pepper (green) and a Halloween pepper (orange and black) among many others.

This is a great plant for Long Island considering it tolerates heat, humidity and drought. Tiny white flowers form first on the plant to be followed by the brightly colored peppers. Tidy up the plant periodically by removing old, dried peppers and there’s more of a chance of new peppers forming.

Like tomatoes, a close relative, pepper plants like sun. A soil pH of 6.0 or above provides optimal growing conditions, so yes, you probably need to lime your soil if growing them in the ground. If you are growing your peppers in a container and you’ve bought it already growing, the soil is probably just fine.

Is the Easter pepper edible? Different authorities have different opinions. Some say it’s purely an ornamental plant with taste varying from plant to plant. Other authorities, including the NMU say yes, it is edible but extremely hot. In any event, do not consume peppers from the plants grown commercially as ornamentals because you won’t know what kind of chemicals have been used on them.

This is also true of plants like potato vines. Yes, you sometimes get sweet potatoes from the vines in fall, but again, you don’t know what chemicals have been used by the grower, since they are not intended for human consumption. If you want peppers, or sweet potatoes, to eat, select varieties and plants that are grown specifically for human consumption. Besides unwanted chemicals, these plants have been selected for various qualities like taste, time to maturity, keeping quality and highest yield.

The NuMex Easter pepper plants are not frost tolerant, so, if growing them outdoors over the summer, you need to either treat them as an annual or bring them indoors for the winter. According to NMU, chili plants grown indoors in a sunny location and given optimal care can last for 10 or more years.

The plants are available locally usually where ornamental or house plants are sold. Seeds are available from a number of growers, but the seeds of this ornamental as well as many others developed at NMU are available from the Chili Pepper Institute itself (www.chile.nmsu.edu).

Looking for other Easter plants? Consider the Easter cactus — similar to the Christmas cactus but it blooms in spring — as well as a pot of spring flowering bulbs for this time of year. Remember, Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats. So, if you have cats either don’t bring Easter lilies into the house or make sure that the plants are in a room that the cats can’t get into. Not only is the plant toxic but the water that the cut flowers are in can be dangerous for them as well. Happy spring!

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

Beautyberry plants are lovely shrubs but also provide berries for birds. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

If, for one reason or another, you have limited gardening space, there are ways of maximizing the space that you have. However, you need to think outside the box.

Vertical gardening

Clematis, which grow up rather than out, are ideal for vertical gardening. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Consider using plants that grow up rather than out. Vining veggies (indeterminate tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, etc.) can be trained up a trellis or fence. The same is true with flowering plants, like clematis. This allows you to put in more plants in a given space.

Planters

Several large planters, strategically placed on a deck or patio, add to the growing space as well as the beauty of the area. Window boxes and planters, attached wherever there is a railing, will add to your growing space as will hanging baskets. Small tomato plants can even be grown in these hanging baskets.

Succession planting

You can also make efficient use of your gardening space by succession planting. When an early crop has come in, plant a second or even third crop of late summer or autumn veggies in the same space. Intercropping is something that Native Americans did by planting corn (which acted as a support) between vines like beans or squash. You can also scatter annual flower seeds in the same bed where you are growing spring flowering bulbs. By the time the bulbs have bloomed and the greenery faded, the annuals are sprouting and will soon bloom.

Dwarf plants

Azaleas tend to be smaller shrubs and can easily be pruned to keep them the size you need. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Using dwarf plants allows the gardener to grow a larger variety of plants since each dwarf plant takes up less space. Small rhododendrons include ‘PJM,’ ‘September Snow’ and ‘Cappuccino.’ Most azaleas stay relatively small and are easy to prune to keep to the size you need. Small rose bushes are nice in a sunny area. When you have a small amount of land, go for dwarf varieties of trees or trees, which generally don’t grow very large, like dogwood, Japanese red maple or crepe myrtle.

Less lawn

Unless you have a really pressing reason not to, cut back on the amount of land devoted to growing a lawn. It will be less work for you (mowing, spreading fertilizer and weed killer) and less chemicals will go into the environment. This frees up land for fruits and veggies, specimen trees, shrubs, etc.

Double duty

Make your plants do double duty. If you need a hedge, consider planting blueberry bushes. You’ll have your hedge and a bountiful crop of berries. Plant dwarf tomatoes in hanging baskets. They’ll dress up the outside and at the same time give you tomatoes for your salads. If you want to attract birds to the garden, consider any plant that produces berries that birds enjoy such as beautyberry. The berries can also be used to make jelly as can rose petals and rose hips.

For a kid’s play tepee, wire together a few poles to make the supports, set up as an inverted cone and plant pole beans or scarlet runner beans around the outside of the tepee, making sure you leave an opening for kids to come and go. If you don’t want veggies, plant climbing flowers instead.

There are several things to keep in mind when maximizing gardening space:

• Make sure you water you plants sufficiently. Those growing in pots can dry out more quickly than those raised in the ground. Those grown as part of a vertical gardening system may require more water in general than smaller plants raised in the same space.

• You may need to use more fertilizer than you would normally for the same reasons as needing to use more water. Be careful here, however, not to burn your plants. It’s safest to use compost.

• Keep out weeds as they will compete for resources in the garden.

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

Heirloom tomatoes are grown from the seed of the previous generation. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Sometimes when we buy seeds or plants there will be terms listed on the label or packaging that tell us that plants are raised in a certain way or have certain characteristics. Many gardeners will seek out special types of plants, such as heirloom or hybrid. What do these terms mean and how can the gardener use them to his or her best advantage?

Heirloom plants

Virtually all veggies are available in the form of heirloom seeds including green beans. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Each autumn when I was a kid, my father used to select the best tomatoes he had grown the past summer and save the seeds. He’d remove them from the tomato and dry them on a paper towel. Come spring, he’d plant the seeds to get the new generation of tomatoes. He didn’t use the term then, but they were what was known as heirloom plants. Heirloom plants are ones grown from seed openly pollinated and produced by the parent plant. In general, heirloom plants breed true to the parent. We generally think of heirloom plants in terms of tomatoes, but the term refers to any older varieties of plants, generally passed down through the generations.

Hybrids

Hybrids are crosses between two different varieties of a plant in an attempt to get the best qualities of both. Seeds from hybrid plants do not breed true, so saving them for future generations is not really an option. Gardeners therefore must buy the hybrid seeds (or plants grown from them by plant breeders) each year.

Sports

Sports are unexpected mutations of a plant. Saving the seeds from sports is iffy at best. The seeds might not be viable, could produce the new characteristics or could produce the original plant. Generally, if a sport has desirable qualities, like an apple tree with a branch that produces larger, sweeter apples, the plant is reproduced vegetatively by cuttings since cuttings will breed true.

GMOs

GMOs are genetically modified organisms. A scientist in a laboratory has taken genes from one organism and added it to another. The foreign genes could come from any type of organism, other plants or even animals. Supporters of GMOs say that the resulting product is safe and has superior qualities, such as it may be more disease resistant, have a longer shelf life or the plant may produce a heavier crop. Opponents are concerned about unexpected consequences — is the product safe? What are the long-term results? You may see products in the supermarket marked non-GMO because of these concerns. Legislation passed last summer in the U.S. will require foods with GMOs to be labeled. Some foods that have been genetically modified include soybeans, corn and tomatoes.

Organic gardening

Organic gardening refers to any plant — heirloom, hybrid, sport or GMO — raised without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic gardeners use compost or other nonchemical fertilizers like compost tea, bone meal, holly tone, etc. To avoid pesticides, organic gardeners will sometimes hand pick pests like slugs, encourage birds to nest in the garden (to eat insects) and use companion planting, for example, surround tulips with daffodils, to keep the squirrels away. For farms to be certified organic, chemical pesticides and fertilizers cannot be used on the land for a number of years before the beginning of organic gardening.

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

Native to North America, mountain laurel produces beautiful white to dark pink flowers with purple markings in May and June. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Most varieties of holly need at least one male plant in the area to produce an abundance of red berries. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Broadleaf evergreens are not conifers (which evolved about 300 million years ago), but flowering plants (which evolved about 125 million years ago). It’s just that broadleaf evergreens happen to keep their leaves throughout the winter and in many cases can be used the same way that conifers can — as a year-round privacy screen. Yes, eventually they will lose their leaves, but they will stay on the plant over winter and will present a beautiful, almost Christmas card, scene covered with snow.

Azaleas and rhododendrons immediately come to mind, especially in Long Island’s acidic soil. But, there are a number of other evergreen shrubs to consider.

Euonymus come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Small cream-colored flowers will produce red berries in autumn on some varieties. Some are fast growers that reach an enormous size and need to be pruned back several times a year — unless you really want a massive shrub. The golden variety can revert to type (that is, have its leaves turn all green), resulting in a shrub that’s part golden and part green.

The foliage on the euonymus often reverts to green, so you wind up with a bush that’s half green and half yellow. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Some are considered invasive in Suffolk County, including Euonymus alatus (winged euonymus, also called burning bush due to its red leaves in autumn) and E. fortunei (winter creeper), and are on the Do Not Sell/Transfer list. I had one that had a branch root underneath a house shutter — how’s that for invasive? Since this shrub has a number of negatives, why plant it? Do so only if you find noninvasive varieties and are sure you have the room to grow it to its potential.

Holly is one of my favorite shrubs, although over time, they can reach the size of small specimen trees. Most varieties need at least one male plant (which does not produce red berries) in the area to pollinate the female shrubs. Even holly varieties that are self-fertile will produce more red berries with a male plant in the vicinity. Holly prefers an acidic soil, so is ideal for Long Island’s soil. Another plus is that they are fairly disease and insect resistant. Some varieties are even deer resistant. While a number of my shrubs has been munched on by deer, the holly have never been touched.

Native to North America, mountain laurel produces beautiful white to dark pink flowers with purple markings in May and June. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), in the heather family, is native to North America. It blooms in May and June and is hardy in zones 4 to 9. This can be a very large shrub, maturing at 7 to 15 feet tall and easily about as wide. Do not plant this one in front of a window, unless you really want to block the view. However, it is a slow grower. It prefers full sun and, like rhodies, prefers an acidic soil (in a pH range of 4.5 to 5.5). The plant is toxic to humans and some animals — this is strictly an ornamental here. Its uniquely shaped flowers bloom in white to dark pink colors, all with purple markings.

Firethorn (Pyracantha) are thorny, evergreen shrubs in the Rosaceae family. They tend to be upright, rather than bushy shrubs, and due to the thorns should not be planted anywhere near walkways or pools. The plants can get to be quite tall, up to 12 feet at maturity. They present small white flowers in spring and summer that mature to either orange or yellow berries in autumn, which the birds love but are not edible for humans. They are hardy in zones 6 to 9. It’s an easy plant to grow and pretty much pest free. They grow in a wide variety of soil pH levels from acidic to alkaline. They grow well in shady areas and, an added bonus for those of you with clay soil, do well in sandy, loamy and even heavy (clay) soils. If it wasn’t for the thorns, this would be pretty much a perfect plant.

No plant is perfect for every location. Always read plant tags carefully to check for requirements and final size. You don’t want your home to have its windows blocked by giant shrubs or spend entirely too much time pruning them back.

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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