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Plants

A honey bee drinks nectar and transports pollen through the process. Photo by Polly Weigand

They buzz and flutter and are disappearing from Long Island’s environment.

Monarch caterpillar eats milkweed, its only food source. Photos by Polly Weigand

Pollinators, bees and butterflies are in decline on Long Island and nationwide, a situation that experts say is threatening the food supply. Ladybugs, too, are a threatened population.

To address a range of human health concerns, Executive Director of Long Island Native Plant Initiative Polly Weigand aims to repopulate the Island’s communities with native species plants and shrubs to re-establish important lost habitat for pollinators. The idea is to protect human healthy by preserving food and water supplies.

“Native plants provide food and habitat for wildlife,” Weigand said. “And it reduces the need for pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation, ultimately protecting Long Island’s groundwater supply.”

Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook and St. James is a big supporter of the initiative. The site’s 140 acres were restored to include only native plants and shrubs. As it expands to 210 acres, it’s repopulating the land with a palette of native flora.

Homeowners can also take part in the movement.

Creating native habitats in your own landscape contributes solutions to many serious concerns and therefore, can be rewarding for Long Islanders.

The caterpillar then forms its chrysalis on the underside of the milkweed leaf before it emerges as a butterfly. Photo by Polly Weigand

“Protecting Long Island’s aquifer — the sole source of all our drinking water — is critically important,” said Seth Wallach, community outreach coordinator for Suffolk County Water Authority. “We also strongly encourage all Long Islanders to visit www.OurWaterOurLives.com to learn how they can help, and take the pledge to conserve water.”

The native solution

The first step for any landscape project, Weigand said, is to identify the light, soil and water conditions. 

“When you plant native species in the right location, that’s it,” she said. 

Milkweed and asters are two very versatile plants to consider, she added. The milkweed’s leaves provide habitat for Monarch butterfly eggs and forage for the caterpillar. Its blossoms can also provide nectar once the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Butterfly metamorphosis, a miraculous process to witness, can potentially take place in your own yard.

“People plant gardens for butterflies but perhaps they could consider planting gardens or areas for caterpillars,” Dan Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.  “This might help support some butterfly populations as well as help birds, many of which include some caterpillars as a large part of their diet, and many caterpillars are quite beautiful and interesting.” 

Three of Long Island’s more abundant native milkweed varieties include common milkweed, butterfly milkweed and swamp milkweed. Common milkweed and butterfly weed are good choices for sunny and dry locations. The swamp and butterfly weed habit grows in clumps, whereas the common milkweed is a rhizome that tends to spread across larger areas through an underground root system.

Goldenrod is also a good choice, she said.

“It’s a myth that it causes allergies,” Weigand said. “Goldenrod pollen is not dispersed by wind.”

For shrubs, bayberry is a nice option. Its fragrance lingers on your fingertips after touching it and evokes the scent of a beach vacation. It’s also beneficial to birds.

Butterfly drinks nectar from the milkweed. Photo by Polly Weigand

“Its waxy fruit is crucial high-energy food for migrating birds in the fall,” Weigand said. 

Choke berries and service berries are also good landscape options. Aronia not only flowers in the spring and displays bright foliage in the fall, Weigand said, its berries are edible and is similar to the acai, which has become a popular breakfast food.

Long Island Native Plant Initiative operates a website chock full of information with images on native plants (www.linpi.org). The nursery sells both wholesale and retail. Weigand encourages people to request native plants at your local garden center to help create demand.

“I love sitting and watching the many different types of pollinators attracted to native plants,” Weigand said. She recommends observing and learning to appreciate the show. “It’s native plant television.”

A welcome volunteer, rose of Sharon, produces colorful, cup-shaped flowers in the summer and fall. File photo

By Ellen Barcel

Many times a plant appears in the garden that the gardener didn’t plant. A weed? Perhaps, but it really helps to know what seedlings and young plants look like so that you can see if a “volunteer” is a prize or a pain.

Among the not-really-wanted plants that easily volunteer in the garden include dandelions, onion grass, garlic mustard, wineberries, multiflora roses and oriental bittersweet. While onion grass is a mild nuisance, just mow over it, garlic mustard easily grows to a foot or more in height and is really unsightly.

Wineberries are an invasive plant, related to raspberries, that can be spread by birds. The berries are definitely edible, but not nearly as tasty as raspberries. If you want raspberries, then plant them and pull out the wineberries — carefully because they have thorns.

Multiflora roses are attractive, with many (hence the term multiflora) blooms in early June borne on arching canes. Years ago, they were planted by many Long Island gardeners because of their rapid growth and dense habit. They were even sold as a living fence for cattle. But, and here’s the big but, they are extremely invasive. Like wineberries, be careful pulling them out because of the thorns.

Another volunteer that is extremely invasive is oriental bittersweet. It’s very pretty with its red berries that break open to reveal yellow seeds, but it’s definitely invasive. Lesser celandine has pretty yellow flowers in the spring but, again, is very invasive.

Note that wineberries, multiflora roses and oriental bittersweet as well as lesser celandine are all on Suffolk County’s Do Not Sell List. However, there are so many here already and they are so easily spread, especially by birds, that it’s still a battle getting rid of these invasives.

On the other hand, there are a number of volunteers that are welcome in the garden. Reseeding plants that you’ve put in the garden are wonderful. They may not be perennials but they’re almost as good. In this category includes the money plant (Lunaria) with its purple flowers and silvery seed pods.

Many years ago, a small tree planted itself in my back yard. Curious as to what it was, I left it alone and it matured into a gorgeous tree covered in pink flowers in the spring. I never did figure out what it was — there were a number of possibilities. It could have been some variety of cherry, but it never bore fruit, so I never did find out. It was a welcome volunteer and sadly missed when one spring, it became obvious that it didn’t make it through the previous harsh winter.

Another volunteer that is most welcome in my garden was also filled with pink flowers. Again, I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was until it started to produce peaches. Unfortunately, the variety were small and bitter, so I don’t use them instead allowing the local critters to dine. But, I don’t take the trees out either, because they produce nice shade and those beautiful flowers.

I’ve had rose of Sharon and holly also seed themselves in the garden, both welcome plants. On the other hand, the thistle that seeded itself by my front door, while interesting, was a danger. Tiny maple trees (Norway maple, Acer platanoides) try to take over my garden — they’re everywhere. Simply cutting them off at ground level with a pruning shears usually works, and small ones can be easily pulled out especially after a rain.

Another beneficial volunteer is clover in the lawn. It’s a nitrogen fixing plant that takes nitrogen from the air and stores it in its roots. It attracts pollinators and is low maintenance. However, many broad- spectrum weed killers will kill it, so read the label carefully of any products you consider using.

When you find any of these volunteers, remove the nasty ones, but allow some of the questionable ones to grow a while and mature so that you can figure out whether you have a bonus in the garden or not. They may provide you with a beautiful tomorrow in your garden.

An excellent book to help you identify some unknown plants and decide whether or not they’re keepers is “Weeds of the North East,” by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso. The volume is published by Comstock Publishing, a division of Cornell University Press. It has color photos of the plant, closeups of the leaves, flowers and seeds. It’s a great resource.

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

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Fungus on dead tree stumps helps to break down the dead wood, returning the nutrients to the soil. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

One of the things that a gardener needs to do is to identify fungi on plants and take appropriate steps to control the fungi (if possible) if it is detrimental to the plant. But not all fungi will kill plants. Some just make the plant look bad. And some actually are beneficial.

In the past, I’ve had several trees which didn’t survive because of fungus. My beautiful mimosa trees died due to a fungus (mimosa wilt) which could not be stopped at the time. Leaves turned yellow in midsummer and dropped. The tree never sprouted the following growing season. The trees literally died within a few weeks.

A rust killed a mountain ash I had. I was really disappointed, and missed the beautiful orange berries the tree bore and which persisted on the tree well into winter. Mountain ash is a native of North America and has white flowers in spring.

Cedar apple rust can also be found on trees on Long Island. It particularly attacks cedar, apple and crabapple trees. The fruiting body develops as a brownish growth on the tree. Then orange tentacles emerge from the growth. The rust is not fatal to the tree but definitely unsightly, almost looking like something out of a sci-fi movie. Remove the growth making sure to sterilize gardening tools afterwards, so as not to spread the pathogen to other trees.

Orange ‘tentacles’ emerge from the cedar apple rust fungus. Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Orange ‘tentacles’ emerge from the cedar apple rust fungus. Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden

Now for some generalities on fungal diseases and their prevention:

First of all, weak plants are more prone to getting a fungal disease than strong ones. So, make sure you feed and water your plants appropriately.

Plants that are crowded with no air circulation are also more prone to fungal diseases.

It’s better to water plants at ground level, especially in the evening, so leaves don’t stay wet overnight. A drip irrigation system works well sending water to the roots and not the leaves.

Look for fungus-resistant plants such as rust resistant apple and crabapple trees, tomatoes which are resistant to tomato blight, roses resistant to black spot, etc. The tomato blight, for example, will prevent you from getting a decent crop of tomatoes. So this one definitely falls in the bad category.

Know that some trees are prone to the fungal disease anthracnose, but generally it is more unsightly, than dangerous. Maples and catalpas in particular develop it in humid weather. The leaves look like they are covered with a white power. Unless the tree is very old and weak it will usually survive with no treatment at all. So, this is a case of ugly, but not really dangerous. When anthracnose develops on the native dogwood (Cornus florida), however, it is much more serious. This is why some recommend planting other varieties of dogwood.

Replace plants that are prone to fungal diseases with those with similar attributes but which don’t contract certain diseases. For example, impatiens in recent years have been attacked by a fungus. They are annuals that do well and bring color to shady areas. Instead, plant coleus which are also annuals that do well and bring color to shady areas but are not prone to fungal diseases.

If you see a fungus growing on a live tree, check out that tree carefully. Usually large fungi only grow on dead or dying trees. I missed this important sign a number of years ago. An enormous section of one of my maple trees broke off the tree and landed across the street. An arborist gave me the bad news that my tree was dying and needed to be removed. I now check periodically to see if any large fungi are growing on my trees.

Now for the good: Some edible fungi, such as chicken fungi (Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus), grow on dead or dying trees or tree stumps. Be very careful here, as most fungi are not safe to eat. Make sure you check this out with an expert. Also, fungi with large, visible fruiting bodies help to break down dead wood, i.e., the cycle of nature, returning nutrients to the soil. Toad stools growing in the grass help to break down organic matter as well.

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

‘Lily,’ Oil on Linen Board, by Daniel van Benthuysen of Huntington

By Talia Amorosano

On the sunny afternoon of Saturday, June 18, in conjunction with the beginning of summer, the juried art exhibition, Of a Botanical Nature, organized by the Smithtown Township Arts Council, opened at the Mills Pond House in St. James. For the first time this year, the general public was afforded the opportunity to immerse themselves in a gallery full of art representative of the intricacies of local and nonlocal flora. 

‘Camellia,’ Watercolor, by Lynn Kinsella of Brookhaven
‘Camellia,’ Watercolor, by Lynn Kinsella of Brookhaven

The exhibit, which will run through July 20, features 60 works of art from 49 artists, 22 of whom hail from various nonlocal areas of the country including Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and California. The remaining 27 represent the Long Island and New York City area. 

The artists
Mark Attebery
Ross Barbera *
Arthur Bernstein *
Stephen Brucker
Carol Ceraso *
Lisa Conway
Caryn Coville *
Debra Crawford
Audry Deal-McEver
Granville C. Fairchild *
Margaret Farr
Beverly Fink
Ingrid Finnan
Kathy Folino
Elizabeth Fusco *
Janice Marie Gabriel *
Kristine Gaier
Kelsey Gallagher
Vivian Gattuso *
Maureen Ginipro *
Patricia Greenberg
Stella Grove
Jillian Hauck *
Katherine Hiscox *
Kathleen Hollan
David Jaycox Jr. *
Lynn Kinsela *
Amanda Lebel
Katherine Lechler *
Madeline Lovallo
Patricia Luppino *
Louis R. Mangieri *
Lucy Martin
Kelly McLeod
Gary Mulnix
Lois Perlman
Pat Proniewski
Judith Scillia
Irene Paquette Tetrault *
Monica Ray *
Lynne Rivellese *
Robert Roehrig *
Alisa Shea *
Gisela Skoglund *
Gunter Stern *
Susan Tango *
Daniel van Benthuysen *
Camille Warmington
Sharon Way-Howard *
*Long Island artists

The works that appear in the show were chosen by Juror Wendy Hollender, a botanical artist, illustrator and author who currently instructs botanical drawing classes at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. An accomplished illustrator, her work has been published in The New York Times and Good Housekeeping magazine and exhibited at the Royal Botanical Gardens in the UK and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 

Regarding Hollender’s selection process, the executive director of STAC, Allison Cruz, said, “She really picked a broad range of artwork based in reality. She was looking more for realism, but she did take a couple of pieces that are more abstract.” Accordingly, Hollender awarded first and second place to artists whose works exemplify a command of a photorealistic style of portraying traditionally botanical subjects: respectively, Colorado-based artist Patricia Greenberg for her pencil drawing, “The Flower Loves the Rain,” and New York City-based artist Ingrid Finnan for her color illustration, “Blue Hubbard Squash.” These two artists will go on to participate in a winner’s show next year,  which will also be held at the Mills Pond House.

Honorable mentions were awarded to Margaret Farr for various botanical illustrations, Gary Mulnix for a larger-than-life wooden sculptural representation of “Lupine” and Lois Perlman for a richly saturated color illustration of a “Parrot Tulip.”

‘Cactus Flower,’ Oil on Canvas, by Louis R. Mangieri of Mount Sinai
‘Cactus Flower,’ Oil on Canvas, by Louis R. Mangieri of Mount Sinai

According to Cruz, this exhibit features a particularly wide range of artistic mediums. In addition to two-dimensional works in watercolor, acrylic, oil, wash on paper and colored pencil, the show includes six three-dimensional sculptural works made of bronze, black walnut wood, glass mosaic, steel and clay, among other materials.

Subject matter depicted ranges from close-up, scientific-looking views of individual flowers or plants with monochromatic backgrounds (Kelly McLeod’s “Wilted Alstroemeria,” Kathleen Hollan’s “Autumn Leaves”), to still life images of staged indoor plants (Katherine Hiscox’s “From the Garden,” Granville C. Fairchild’s “Reaching to Heaven”), to garden landscapes (Pat Proniewski’s “Morning Azaleas,” Carol Ceraso’s “Spring Affair”), to abstract representations of natural subjects (Lisa Conway’s “Grey Swan,” Arthur Bernstein’s “Sprout”).

However, all of the pieces in some way reflect the organic spontaneity of life in the natural world within the ordered structures of scientific classification, together forming a show that fosters an appreciation for the small examples of natural beauty that often go unnoticed in our day-to-day lives.

Cruz said, “There are a lot of watercolors by the nature of most of the flower illustrations, but it really is a broad range … I have everything in this show except photography and digital art. It’s a beautiful mix of media.”

The Smithtown Township Arts Council will present Of a Botanical Nature at the Mills Pond Gallery, 660 Route 25A, St. James through July 20. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. (closed July 3). Admission is free. For more information, call 631-862-6575 or visit www.stacarts.org.

‘Dahlia Sunrise,’ Transparent Watercolor, by Alisa Shea of Northport is on view at STAC’s Of a Botanical Nature exhibit
‘Dahlia Sunrise,’ Transparent Watercolor, by Alisa Shea of Northport is on view at STAC’s Of a Botanical Nature exhibit

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A healthy crape myrtle in full bloom. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There’s an old saying, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” When the weather turned cold last autumn, I believed in tomorrow, that is, next spring, and believed that my plants going dormant would grow again as the weather warmed.

Well, going outside this spring, and looking at my plants with their new little green buds, I was particularly concerned that my beautiful crape myrtle showed no signs of life. As time went by, it became obvious that the plant didn’t survive. Although associated with the southern part of the country, the variety I planted was supposed to be cold hardy on Long Island, as it was rated for U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 6 and Long Island is zone 7. In addition, it had survived the previous two extremely cold winters — remember the polar vortex? So, why did it die?

The most likely answer is cold damage. I had noticed last summer that the plant didn’t look as healthy as it had in previous years. When temperatures drop below 10 degrees for any length of time, crape myrtle tends to die back down to the ground. By mid-May the plant should have begun sprouting, at least from the ground, but, it’s been a cool spring, so it’s possible that the recovery was just slow. As the warm weather really arrived, however, it still showed no signs of growth. That means that the roots died and the plant needed to be replaced.

To replace crape myrtle with more cold-tolerant varieties, there are some which are cold tolerant to zone 5. Consider:

— Pure white: ‘Natchez,’ which reaches 18 feet, or ‘Kiowa,’ which is considerably smaller at six to eight feet

— Deep red: ‘Okmulgee’ at eight feet; ‘Cherokee’ also at eight feet; ‘Tonto’ at just six to eight feet

— Lavender: ‘Zuni’ at 10 feet tall; ‘Blue Lavender’ at 16 feet; ‘Catawba,’ darkest violet purple; and ‘Apalachee, 20 feet, a pale lavender

— Watermelon or coral: ‘Tuskegee’ reaches 25 feet; ‘Miami’ also at 25 feet; ‘Comanche’ at 16 feet

— Pink: ‘Choctaw at 20 feet; ‘Hopi’ at just 8 feet tall

A close up of crape myrtle flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel
A close up of crape myrtle flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Note that the maximum heights indicated above refer to plants that have not died back to the ground over the winter. A crape myrtle that has the potential to reach 20 feet, will only do so if the top part of the tree doesn’t suffer from winter-kill.

Crape myrtle bloom in mid to late summer with a stunning array of flowers. Some varieties are bushier and some more tree-like. Once established they can tolerate some drought, but prefer a warm, humid climate. You’ll get the most flowers if planted in full sun. They do well in most soil types but prefer slightly acidic soil. Prune your crape myrtle in spring, removing any dead branches. Also remove succors during the growing season if they develop on tree-like plants. Some develop fungal diseases (powdery mildew or leaf spot). If yours develops any of these diseases, use an appropriate fungicide. The problem of root rot is usually not anything to be concerned about with our sandy soil, which easily drains.

Winter-kill affects many other plants, particularly Hydrangea macrophylla, which frequently die back to the ground in a very cold winter. The older varieties produce flowers on old wood; so if yours has died back to the ground, you’ll have lots of green leaves in summer but no flowers. When replacing old H. macrophylla, look for reblooming hydrangeas like ‘Endless Summer,’ which blooms on both old and new wood.

In a future column, we’ll take a look at other reasons why plants die unexpectedly. So, where am I off to now? A local nursery to replace my crape myrtle.

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

Plant a row of beans every week or two to prolong bearing time. Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

Well, Mother’s Day has come and gone, a heads up that it’s time to start planting your more tender veggies. Plants that fall under this category include corn, tomatoes, certain herbs, beans, squash and melons.

Corn does well on Long Island, if you have enough room. You need enough plants so that they can pollinate the ears. For the home gardener, plant the corn in a square format. Ears grown on the edge of the square may not fully pollinate.

Tomatoes

Just about every gardener puts in a few tomato plants. When selecting plants put in several that are very early bearers, like Early Girl and Early Cascade (at approximately 55 days or so, you should have tomatoes by July) some that come in at a later time and some that bear fruit in late summer. Better Boy and Big Girl produce fruit in about 70 days — by the end of July. Beefstake tomatoes come in even later but are definitely worth the wait.

How soon you get tomatoes depends on how big the plants are that you select. If you buy plants that already have tiny green tomatoes on them, you’ve got a head start.

Remember that tomatoes are tender plants. They will not set fruit unless the night temperature is above 50 degrees, which is why the gardener is told not to put out tomato plants until after Mother’s Day (or better yet, Memorial Day). Night temperature above 75 degrees and day temperature above 85 to 90 tend to keep fruit from setting as well since high temperatures render the pollen no longer viable. Tomatoes are self-fertile so you can even grow one of each variety and not worry about having a second plant to pollinate the first.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders so apply fertilizer. Photo from All-America Selections
Tomatoes are heavy feeders so apply fertilizer. Photo from All-America Selections

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so make sure you either use sufficient compost or compost tea or a chemical fertilizer. Always follow manufacturer’s directions when using a chemical fertilizer. If a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better. You could burn the plants doing that.

Also remember to provide enough water for your tomato plants as well — not soggy, but evenly moist and well-drained soil is ideal. Don’t let the plants dry out.

Squash

Squash should also be planted now. There are many varieties, so consider what you and your family enjoy eating. There are two main groupings of squash, summer squash and winter squash. Summer squash are squash that are harvested in summer, when the rind is immature, soft. Summer squash include zucchini, yellow summer squash, pattypan squash and crookneck squash among others. Squash are low in calories and are great served with a tomato sauce. I steam them (sliced) in the microwave.

Squash can be grown in large containers. Since they are vining plants, they can grow up trellises or fences. They’re easy to grow in a variety of soil types and climates. They have both male and female flowers on the plant, so don’t be surprised if all of the flowers you see don’t produce fruit — the male ones just provide the pollen.

Winter squash are basically squash that are more mature than summer squash and have a hard rind that is not edible. Winter squash include butternut squash, acorn squash, hubbard squash, spaghetti squash (great served as a low-carb spaghetti replacement) and, of course, pumpkins. As with the summer squash, they are low in calories. My favorite way of preparing butternut squash is to cube it, simmer in chicken or beef broth with onions, thyme, salt and pepper and add in cooked sausage.

Green beans

It’s also time to begin planting your green beans. Don’t start beans inside as they don’t transplant well. Don’t plant them all at once, but row upon row every week or two until midsummer. This last planting should provide you with beans well into the fall. Plant them one-inch deep in full sun. Keep them evenly moist but in a well-drained area. A soil pH of 6 to 6.8 is ideal. Since this is only slightly acidic, you may need to add lime to your soil. Test your soil first.

There are basically two types of Phaseolus vulgaris, bush beans and pole beans. Pole beans need some sort of support, such as a trellis, while bush beans don’t. There are many varieties of each. In general, bush beans mature in 50 to 60 days while pole beans take 60 to 80 days. Like corn and squash, they are native to the Americas — particularly Mesoamerica and the Andes region. P. vulgaris comes in a variety of colors besides green, including purple and yellow. The yellow ones are commonly called wax beans or butter beans.

Tender herbs, like basil and cilantro as well as melons should be planted now as well.

All of these are ideal plants if you are gardening with children or grandchildren. They can check day by day to see how their plants are coming along. You may also be able to get them to eat more veggies — fresh and right out of their garden.

It is my personal preference to grow veggies and fruits organically and definitely without pesticides. If, however, you must use chemicals, read the package directions and follow them carefully. They will indicate how long before harvest you can still apply the chemicals and be safe eating the produce.

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

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Flowers of a peach tree that volunteered in the author’s garden. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Each spring we see trees covered with beautiful white and pink flowers. Many times we decide we want one or more in our own gardens. But, first we need to identify the specific tree. Recognizing which is which can be relatively easy. For example, the Kwanzan cherry tree has beautiful double pink flowers. The small to medium sized trees, at maturity, tend to be wider than tall and for all practical purposes are sterile. You won’t get a crop of cherries from these but they are stunning.

Another common flowering tree is the dogwood. There are a number of varieties but the flowers — single, white or pink — have four petals on each flower. The ends of the petals usually have a notch at the end. Technically, they’re not petals but bracts, a variety of leaf. The flower is the very central part and is followed later in the season by berries.

Sometimes you can identify a tree by ruling out what it isn’t. Pear tree flowers are white, so if you have pink flowers, it’s probably not a pear tree. Most apple trees have pink buds but the buds open to white flowers.

An unidentified tree, believed to be a plum leaf sandcherry (purple leaf sandcherry), frequently used as a landscaping plant due to not only its flowers but its leaf color, which remains deep burgundy throughout the growing season. Photo by Heidi Sutton
An unidentified tree, believed to be a plum leaf sandcherry (purple leaf sandcherry), frequently used as a landscaping plant due to not only its flowers but its leaf color, which remains deep burgundy throughout the growing season. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Frequently each spring we see a number of pink flowers that are not so easy to identify. If you’ve fallen in love with the tree, you need to identify it in order to acquire one or more of your own. Many years ago a pink-flowering tree seeded itself in my backyard. For many years it bore beautiful flowers but never any fruit. I never did identify it, assuming that it was some sort of fruit tree. It lived out its life there until one spring its flowers and leaves never sprouted. It went as quietly as it had come. I was really disappointed when I had to cut it down.

More recently two flowering trees sprung up in my front yard. Each spring they are covered in beautiful pink flowers. They bear fruit, so I know the answer — they are peach trees. Unfortunately, the peaches are small, green and bitter, but the trees are beautiful so I keep them for their flowers and shade.

But, what if you see a pink-flowering tree with no fruit — it could be harder to figure out what it is. There are a number of ways to attack this problem. Start by taking one or more pictures of the flowers, leaves and bark. The flowers disappear quickly and are frequently one of the easiest ways of identifying the plant. With pictures you have a reference. If the gardener is around, ask him or her or ask an arborist or an extension educator.

To identify the tree by yourself:

Look at the flowers — their general description, shape and how many petals they have.

Check out the leaves. Their color (green or burgundy) will be a clue as well as their shape and size. Many crab apples, for example, have burgundy leaves as do some plums.

The bark of various trees can be quite different so don’t forget to check it out.

If possible, go back to the tree after the flowers have fallen and the fruit appears.

When does the tree bloom? The garden variety of dogwood, Cornus florida, even the pink-flowering ones, tend to bloom a good month earlier than the Kousa dogwood.

How big is the overall mature height of the tree and what is its shape?

A Kwanzan cherry tree. Photo by Ellen Barcel
A Kwanzan cherry tree. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Now, with your photos in hand, check out the various characteristics against descriptions and pictures either online or in a guide to trees. I use the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees, Eastern Region.” It is a great source to identify trees in general, since it has full color photos of flowers, leaves, fruit/nuts, bark, etc. If going online, enter as much information you have into the search engine as possible.

You’ll notice that fruit trees (apple, crabapple, peach, etc.) tend to have flowers with five petals while dogwood has only four. Check the center of the flower. What color is it? The shape of the petal is helpful. Are they long and thin or more rounded? Cherry blossoms tend to have a small split at the end of each petal while plum petals do not. The leaves of cherry trees tend to be flat while those of plums are curled lengthwise. The bark is a great indicator also. Cherry trees tend to have bark that has horizontal markings while plum trees do not. Good luck in identifying your mystery plant!

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

Passionflower vines are a nice addition to a garden. File photo

By Ellen Barcel

Last week, we took a look at climbing plants in general and specifically annual vines. This week we’ll examine perennial vines, productive vines and vines to avoid.

Perennial vines
I love perennial plants since they’re a plant once and enjoy for many years thereafter plant. Perennial climbing or vining plants include:

Trumpet vines add some color to a garden. File photo
Trumpet vines add some color to a garden. File photo

Trumpet vines produce lots of orange colored, trumpet-shaped flowers. It needs little care but can get out of control, so be careful. It’s a vine that does well in some shade. The trumpet shape is a tip-off that it can attract hummingbirds.

Clematis is another vine that does well with some shade. There are several basic varieties, those that bloom in the spring and those that bloom later in the season. Know which one you have since this determines when you are able to prune it back if needed. The rule of thumb to control a plant’s size is to cut it back immediately after a flowering plant blooms, so as not to interfere with next year’s blooming cycle. Clematis are known for their beautiful flowers, making them ideal as decorative plants on a trellis.

Climbing hydrangeas are beautiful plants but can get very large since they grow up as well as sideways. Be prepared to prune it to the desired size and shape. It can take some shade, but the flowers appear where the sun reaches the plant. As a result, you will see lots of greenery closer to the ground and lovely white flowers up near the top. This is an ideal plant for a chimney, for example.

Native wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is native to the eastern part of the United States. It is much less aggressive and therefore easier to control than Asian wisterias. It’s a perennial, woody plant in the pea family. Like the Asian variety, it has clusters of purple flowers and grows in hardiness zones 5 to 9. In addition to being less aggressive, its flower clusters are smaller and the overall size of the plant is smaller.

Productive vines:
If you have limited space and want your vines to do double duty, consider vines that are productive.

Cucumbers are easy to grow and generally very productive. Plant them where their tendrils can grasp onto something, like a chain-link fence, a trellis or wire support of some sort. They do need plenty of water, so don’t let the plants dry out during times of summer drought. Cucumbers are annuals, so you need to replant them each year.

Clematis can be a good addition to the garden. File photo
Clematis can be a good addition to the garden. File photo

Another productive, and perennial, vine is the grape vine. See my column of March 10 for more detailed information on growing grapes. Make sure you know how you plan to use the grape so you can select the appropriate type (table grapes, jellies, wine, etc.)

Indeterminate tomato vines keep growing throughout the growing season. They keep setting fruit as long as the weather is mild enough and can get to be very large plants. Tomatoes need plenty of sun and are heavy feeders, so make sure you fertilize periodically.

Honeyberry is a vine that produces edible fruit as does the passionflower. I particularly like the unusual purple flowers of the passionflower and would grow the plant for its flowers alone.

Vines to avoid
There are a number of climbers that are not the best to include in your garden. English ivy is one. It takes over. Many years ago I planted a few tiny plants. I’m still pulling out this terribly invasive plant. It seems to have a mind of its own. While a “vine-covered cottage” may seem charming, you will probably regret planting this one. As a result of its nature, English ivy is on the Management List.

Another is the Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). It volunteered in my garden and, before I realized it, had grown through my stockade fence, breaking it. Once I thought I had removed it, for years later, I found tiny plants springing up where the seeds had dropped. While very pretty, with its red berries that break open to reveal yellow seed pods, it’s a real pain to control. It climbs by wrapping itself around things, like your good trees, strangling them. As a result of its extreme invasive nature it’s on Suffolk County’s Do Not Sell list.

Avoid the Oriental varieties of wisteria that, although beautiful, can become invasive. File photo
Avoid the Oriental varieties of wisteria that, although beautiful, can become invasive. File photo

A third vine that is difficult to control is the Oriental (Chinese and Japanese) varieties of wisteria. This one is filled with beautiful purple racimes of flowers, so is very impressive, but, it too, takes over the garden. If you insist on planting it, make sure you are ready with the pruning shears, so you can keep it under control. It’s a quick grower, which needs little care and seems to have no natural enemies (insects or disease wise). It sends out runners along the ground so can go out as well as up. I’ve seen abandoned houses with gardens gone to weed, but the wisteria is still growing beautifully, even attaching itself to power lines. As a result, it too is on Suffolk County’s Management List — technically legal but do you really want to plant it?

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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‘Golden Gleam’ nasturtium is beautiful and delicious. Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

If you have an ugly fence, a plain wall like the side of a garage or any other flat surface that you want to spruce up, consider vining or climbing plants since they grow up, rather than out. They are also great in hanging baskets, for those with limited space. There are several ways of looking at vines or climbers: annual vs. perennial is one. Another is decorative vs. productive. A third is invasive vs. noninvasive, that is, “the good guys.”

Another consideration is how the plant attaches itself (or doesn’t) to the wall or structure. For example, climbing roses don’t really climb up but grow very tall. You need plant ties to attach the canes to a trellis or other structure. We’ll take a look at a variety of vines, how they grow and what you can do with them.

Annual vines
Annual vines grow up and can be trained up a fence or wall but can also be used in hanging baskets or trailing down a retaining wall depending on the plant.

One of the most popular of annual vines is Ipomoea, a genus filled with over 500 different species and countless varieties. The most popular include the old-fashioned, traditional morning glory which twine around a support. The morning glory flowers (usually blue but there are pink, burgundy and white ones) open up in the morning and close at night while the moonflower (white) opens at night and closes by morning. These are nice mixed together. In that way you have flowers round the clock. Morning glories can reseed themselves for the next season. As a result, they are on Suffolk County’s Management list, meaning they are mildly invasive and it is recommended that they not be planted by county agencies or by homeowners near natural habitats.

Another Ipomoea is the cardinal vine (I. sloteri) which is filled with delicate, red flowers. I. butatas is the sweet potato vine, filled with green or burgundy (depending on variety) leaves. The sweet potato vine is grown primarily for its leaves, but you can occasionally find nonedible sweet potatoes in the soil in the fall. I say nonedible because you don’t know how these plants were treated (what chemicals used, etc.) before you acquired them so the potatoes should not be eaten.

Nasturtium is in the cabbage family and has edible flowers that range in color from pale yellow to bright orange. Nasturtium look beautiful trailing out of a basket, window box or over a retaining wall.

Scarlet runner beans have beautiful red flowers and provide edible beans in fall. One of the cool things you can do with these beans is to create a living tepee for children to play in. The tepee also provides shade in the hot summer for them. Take a set of light-weight poles and tie one end together and stake them in the ground in the form of a tepee. Plant the beans around the outside, leaving a space for an entrance. The beans grow quickly, filling first with the flowers and then the bean pods form.

Hanging geraniums (Pelargonium, not hardy geraniums) are beautiful in a basket. Flower colors range from white to pink and burgundy. Geraniums generally tend to be heat and drought tolerant. This doesn’t mean you can ignore them completely, but they do better in the heat of summer than others. Technically, geraniums are not annuals but are tender perennials, meaning they will die back in our area in the cold but continue to grow in greenhouses or down south, year round. Hanging geraniums will not climb up, like Ipomoea will, since they do not wrap themselves around other plants or have tendrils that wrap around other plants or supports.

Yes, the terminology here is confusing. Hardy geraniums (the genus Geranium) overwinter in our area and spread, while annual geraniums, Pelargonium, are tender perennials, growing year around in warmer climates. It is Pelargonium that are commonly sold as annuals, geraniums or zonal geraniums in our area.

Next week: perennial vines, productive vines and vines to avoid.

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

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Once the weather is warm enough, plant your gift plants outside. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

Spring is the time when plants in full bloom become popular gifts — there’s Easter and Mother’s Day in particular. I remember my father always bringing a plant to his mother on Mother’s Day. Sometimes events, such as showers, use potted, blooming plants as table decorations. But, the question becomes, how does one care for these gift plants, especially after the flowers have faded?

◆ First, keep the plant indoors, especially if it’s still cold, as long as it has flowers. Keep it out of drafts and in a bright location. If specific instructions come with the plant, then do follow them.

While some plants can eventually be moved to your garden as the weather warms, not all will be cold hardy. Again, read the instructions that come with the plant.

◆ It is important to keep the leaves growing on forced bulbs, so don’t cut them down when the flowers have faded. Those leaves are producing food for the bulbs for next year.

◆ Water the gift plant as needed. Many times stores don’t always water them enough, either to keep them light weight for sale or because they just don’t think to do it. I recently received a gorgeous hyacinth plant but the soil was bone dry. The first thing I did was water it when I got it home.

Select an appropriate location in your garden and, when it’s warm enough, transplant the gift into the soil, if appropriate.

Tulips
Forced tulips make great gift plants. When they have finished blooming, move them out to the garden, but remember the squirrels just love tulip bulbs. A friend of mine noted that she stopped trying to plant tulips in her garden, saying, “I might as well just hand the bulbs to the squirrels.” If you have found a way around this problem, move them into the soil so next year you’ll have a lovely display. Once the leaves have died down, usually mid-summer, they can be removed, but not before.

Daffodils
Daffodils are also very popular as forced gift plants. They have the advantage of being distasteful to squirrels. I have a small clump of miniature daffodils that were given to me in a pot many years ago by a friend for my birthday. I planted them outside and year after year they come back, earlier than any other daffodils, beautiful and sunny. One way of trying to keep squirrels away from your tulips is to ring the tulips with daffodils, sort of hiding the tulips from the hungry rodents.

Hyacinths
Hyacinths are known for being among the earliest to bloom in spring and with having a beautiful, sweet scent. As with daffodils, keep the leaves growing and, once the flowers have died back, move the plant to a sunny place in the garden.

Once the weather is warm enough, plant your gift plants outside. Stock photo
Once the weather is warm enough, plant your gift plants outside. Stock photo

Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are another popular gift plant. Check the tag that comes with the plant carefully, as not all hydrangeas are cold hardy in our area. I saw an absolutely gorgeous intense, blue-flowered one a number of years ago, and almost bought it, only to notice that it was cold hardy in zones 8 and above. It would not have survived our winters. However, if it’s not cold hardy, it can be used as an annual. Hydrangeas, in general, don’t like an extremely sunny location, or drought, so when you move them outside, take this into consideration.

Easter lilies
Easter lilies are generally cold hardy in zones 7 and up (i.e., warmer climates), so you can try to move your Easter lilies outside into the garden. But, while this is in theory, in practice, I’ve never had them overwinter outside, so I generally treat them as annuals.

Azaleas
Azaleas are beautiful gift plants with some added benefits. In general, they are cold hardy on Long Island, so this is a really great gift for the avid gardener. If year after year you give Mom another azalea, in just a few years, her garden will be filled with beautiful, spring-flowering shrubs. Another advantage of azaleas is that some varieties are evergreens so that they make nice foundation plantings, growing larger and filled with more flowers each year.

Gardenias
The sweet scent of a gardenia plant draws many to it as a gift plant. Most gardenias are hardy in zones 8 to 11 (Long Island is zone 7), meaning that you can grow them outside only in the mild weather. Come autumn you must bring the plant indoors and grow it as a houseplant. This means you need to keep it potted, rather than planted in the soil. There are some varieties, ‘Kleim’s Hardy,’ for example, that claim to be hardy into zone 7, but as with Easter lilies, you’re taking a chance that they will survive our winters. I’d rather keep a beautiful gardenia as a houseplant.

So, enjoy those gift plants, but follow through appropriately.

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