Environment & Nature

Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey, speaking, leads a press conference opposing County Executive Bellone’s water plan last Wednesday. Photo from Kevin McCaffrey

Suffolk Republicans said the county executive’s water quality plan stinks.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) unrolled a proposal last week that would allow voters to decide whether or not they would pay an extra $1 per 1,000 gallons of water to address nitrogen pollution in drinking and surface water across the region. And while some environmentalists heralded the plan, Suffolk Republicans said it would be unfair to the taxpayer and cost more than what Bellone might lead residents to believe.

Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) joined with other members of the Republican Caucus last Wednesday at the county headquarters in Hauppauge to speak against Bellone’s proposal. Standing with him was Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who accused Bellone of using the water rate increase as a source of revenue to help balance the county’s $1.2 billion debt.

“This is yet another attempt by Steve Bellone to get into the pockets of taxpayers,” Trotta said. “It is a ploy to use water protection as a means of covering for his mismanagement of county finances.”      

His proposal would establish a water quality protection fee that would fund the conversion of homes from outdated septic systems to active treatment systems, the county executive said. He estimated the $1 surcharge would generate roughly $75 million in revenue each year to be solely dedicated to reducing nitrogen pollution — and still keep Suffolk County’s water rates nearly 40 percent lower than the national average.

The funds collected would be used in conjunction with other funding, such as from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) $383 million initiative to support clean water infrastructure.

Residents living in countless communities like Kings Park, which Trotta represents, have been on the county’s radar as locations in desperate need of a septic makeover. And while the county Republicans said they agreed that clean water must remain an important talking point in Suffolk, they argued that charging more for water might burden those residents already paying more for sewer upgrades.

“Residents in my district and districts around Suffolk County have been paying for a sewer district for over 30 years,” McCaffrey said. “The ‘Bellone Water Tax’ would make these residents pay for the same thing twice.”

Suffolk Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said residents would not enjoy equal benefits from the proposal and, therefore, she was against it outright.

“At this point I see this as nothing more than a tax increase on water usage for all,” Kennedy said. “Some may never see the benefit of sewers or nitrogen reduction cesspools in their lifetime.”

The Republican Caucus is committed to fighting what they said was an unfair and unjust tax on Suffolk County residents and called on community leaders, elected officials and taxpayers to stand up for residents in Suffolk County and put an end to the Bellone Water Tax proposal.

But not everyone stood opposed to the water quality initiative. In an interview, George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force said Bellone’s plan would benefit Suffolk County for decades to come. Working so closely with some of the county’s most coveted bodies of water, Hoffman said the county needed to act, and fast.

“It’s pretty clear that our harbors and bays are struggling. Until that’s addressed, there’s going to be nothing we can do as a harbor group to be better,” he said. “We can prevent runoffs, but we can’t prevent the seepage from the homes along the shore. What we like about the initiative is it puts water quality at the top of the agenda.”

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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.

Volunteers from National Grid worked to improve the community garden in Huntington Station on Wednesday, April 20. Photo from Wendy Ladd

Everything’s coming up roses in Huntington Station, thanks to volunteers who spent last Wednesday afternoon working on improvements to the Gateway Park Community Organic Garden.

In honor of Earth Day, more than 70 volunteers from energy company National Grid’s Power to Serve program worked to develop a drainage system, clean up debris and plant flowers.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) thanked the volunteers for their efforts, including a new rain garden “that will make the garden more environmentally efficient and enjoyable for the many gardeners and children who attend the educational programs there.”

Many other local legislators were present at the scene, including Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) and Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). Lupinacci also gave National Grid’s President Ken Daly a proclamation for the volunteer work.

The community garden on New York Avenue, at Lowndes Avenue, covers more than an acre and has 115 garden beds for families to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables. Food grown there is also donated to local food pantries.

According to National Grid, flooding had been an issue in the garden, so the company worked with the town to develop a drainage plan to capture the runoff and prevent flooding in the raised planting beds. Volunteers hand-dug a 4,000-foot trench to install an underground drainage system and put down rocks to capture runoff and direct that water into the newly planted rain garden.

Rain gardens provide environmental benefits, as they capture and clean rainwater before it enters the groundwater system.

Volunteers also planted colorful moisture-tolerant plants, removed litter and weeded the garden.

The effort came “at a perfect time for Huntington Station, with two redevelopment projects underway and renewed community support for revitalization,” Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit geared toward smart growth, said in a statement. “Tangible improvements including a new rain garden were made from the National Grid volunteers and gave a lift to the garden and the Huntington Station community.”

Last year's second-place winner, ‘Tulip Rhapsody,’ by Steven Selles of Huntington

What better way to celebrate the arrival of spring than with a Tulip Festival? The natural beauty of the historic Heckscher Park will once again serve as the backdrop for the Town of Huntington’s highly anticipated signature spring tradition this Sunday, May 1, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Amanda Camps of Medford won first place in last year’s Tulip Festival photography contest with ‘Peach Princess.’
Amanda Camps of Medford won first place in last year’s Tulip Festival photography contest with ‘Peach Princess.’

Now in its 16th year, the event was the brainchild of Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D).

“From its inception, the Huntington Tulip Festival has been a free, family-oriented, floral celebration held in Heckscher Park. There is live entertainment for all ages on the Chapin Rainbow Stage,  dozens of booths with fun activities for the kids and thousands of bright tulips planted in beds throughout the park,” said Cuthbertson in a recent email, adding “So come out, bring your camera, and enjoy the day!”

In addition to the more than 20,000 tulips to admire throughout the park, cut tulips will be offered for sale by The Flower Petaler with proceeds benefiting the Junior Welfare League of Huntington and there will be a student art exhibit on display near the Chapin Rainbow Stage.

Volunteers are needed to distribute festival programs to visitors. Any person or community group is welcome to volunteer by calling 631- 351-3099.

Photo Contest
Since its inception, Huntington’s Tulip Festival has included an annual photo contest. Entries by amateur and professional photographers will be juried to select the images most evocative of the beauty and family orientation of the festival and must be postmarked or received by July 31, 2016.  Prize-winning images will be used in festival publicity. For details, visit http://www.huntingtonny.gov/TulipFestival PhotoContest.

Entertainment schedule

‘Water for Tulips,’ last year's third-place winner by Frank O’Brien of Huntington Station
‘Water for Tulips,’ last year’s third-place winner by Frank O’Brien of Huntington Station

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Explore the Heckscher Museum. During this annual collaboration with the Town of Huntington, docents will be in the galleries beginning at 2 p.m.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ­— Student Art Contest: Building up to the festival was an art contest for area students organized by the Huntington Arts Council.  Award-winning work will be displayed near the Rainbow Chapin Stage.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Children’s Activity Booths — A diverse selection of free activity booths with creative, hands-on projects for children of all ages will be active in Heckscher Park throughout the festival. Design pasta necklaces, get your face painted, make a windsock, make a handprint Mother’s Day craft, get a tattoo, create a rainbow fish and much, much more.

Noon to 12:45 p.m. — Jazzy Fairy Tales with Louise Rogers on the Rainbow Chapin Stage. The show combines jazz music, storytelling and improvisational theater techniques to teach young children music, literature and social skills.

‘Resting Among the Tulips,’ Honorable Mention last year, by Mary Ruppert of Huntington
‘Resting Among the Tulips,’ Honorable Mention last year, by Mary Ruppert of Huntington

Noon to 4 p.m. — Mask making art activity at the Heckscher Museum. Children of all ages are invited to create a colorful, mixed media mask to celebrate spring and wear at the festival. Free on Museum Terrace.

1 to 1:45 p.m. — Casplash, a Caribbean splash band with Steelpanist Rudi Crichlow, on the Chapin Rainbow Stage. Casplash, a.k.a. Caribbean Splash, plays music made for dancing — from calypso, soca and reggae to pop, funk, R&B and more.  Casplash takes audience members on a fantastic musical escapade via the beautiful sounds of the steel pan, soulful singing and hot tropical rhythms. The band leads audiences in familiar dances such as the electric slide, hokey pokey, conga line and limbo; they also teach a traditional  West Indian follow-the-leader style dance called brown girl in the ring.

2 to 3 p.m. — Songs & Puppetry with Janice Buckner on the Rainbow Chapin Stage. Janice has appeared on radio and television, as well as over 4,000 schools and concert halls.  She entertains audi.ences of all ages with her voice, guitars, puppets and her knowledge of Sign Language for the Deaf.  She is noted for her voice, her creativity and the outstanding quality of her lyrics.

4 p.m. ­— Festival closes (Museum exhibits on view until 5 p.m.)

File photo

The waste is hazardous, but the accomplishment is healthy.

The Town of Smithtown marked a major milestone this week as it wrapped up its regular household hazardous waste collection event on April 23, clocking in a new record of more than 76 tons of hazardous materials being sent to safe disposal sites.

The event was held with help from Radiac Research Corporation in Brooklyn, which won the contract for the specialized and regulated event through a competitive bidding process, town officials said. Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said the town paid $15,694 to run the event, but will be reimbursed one-half the cost by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The success of our household hazardous waste collection program continues to grow,” Vecchio said. “Participating in a household hazardous waste collection event allows people to clean out their garages and basements, and safely dispose of old chemicals. It also heightens awareness that not everything offered for sale is a good thing to buy and use around our homes and families.”

By the end of the April 23 event, Smithtown tallied 716 families participating, resulting in 152,905 pounds of household hazardous material being collected. The most notable items, the town said, included decades-old bottles of long banned pesticides. Additional materials included oil-based paints, gasoline, paint thinners, waste gases, degreaser, solvents, flammable solids, liquid and solid oxiders, acids, corrosives, miscellaneous toxic liquids and solids, lacquers and various toxic compounds.

The town holds events like this annually to help ensure safe and proper disposal of such hazardous materials. If disposed of improperly, they can be damaging to the environment or to human health.

Smithtown has been regularly hosting such events to residents since 2009. Over time, the town said, the amount of material collected has increased more than tenfold.

“We should all try to minimize or avoid buying toxic products in the first place,” Vecchio said.

The next Smithtown hazardous waste collection event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Municipal Services Facility located at 85 Old Northport Road in Kings Park.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pitches the proposal. Photo from Steve Bellone

Voters in Suffolk County could soon be faced with deciding whether or not they’d like to pay more for their water to improve its quality.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought a big crew of environmentalists and lawmakers with him on Monday to announce his plan to address nitrogen pollution in drinking and surface water across the region by charging an additional $1 per 1,000 gallons of water. If it receives the state’s blessing, the plan could go before Suffolk County residents in a referendum vote in November.

The proposal would establish what Bellone called a water quality protection fee, which would fund the conversion of homes from outdated septic systems to active treatment systems, the county executive said. He estimated the $1 surcharge would generate roughly $75 million in revenue each year to be solely dedicated to reducing nitrogen pollution — and still keep Suffolk County’s water rates nearly 40 percent lower than the national average.

“What we have seen over the decades is a decimation of our surface waters and the latest numbers showing disturbing trends in the groundwater,” Bellone said. “Clearly, the overwhelming source of that nitrogen pollution is from us. We have 360,000 homes on old septic and cesspool systems.”

Bellone said the proposal would supplement similar efforts from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who established a $383 million investment in expanding sewers in Suffolk County. The governor launched the Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University and provided funding for the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan over the past several years to help create recurring revenue for clean water infrastructure.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, endorsed the county proposal as Suffolk County rising to the occasion. He referred to nitrogen as the chief culprit behind the county’s water pollution, coming mostly from wastewater.

“If we don’t take this step, we are putting our collective future at serious risk.”

“Two-thirds of it in Suffolk County is coming from 360,000 homes with 5,000-year-old technology,” he said Monday. “We know what to do about it. We’ve studied it. The public is satisfied that … investment had to be made in studying it. Now it’s time for action.”

Roughly 90 percent of the population in Nassau County operates under an active wastewater treatment system through connections to sewage plants. But in Suffolk County, there are more than 360,000 individual cesspools and septic systems — representing more unsewered homes than in the entire state of New Jersey — that are more likely to release nitrogen into the ground and surface water.

Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association, said the initiative was necessary for the future of the environment.

“It is about building a wastewater treatment system that ensures the environmental integrity of our county, the underlying foundation of our economy and the value of our homes,” he said. “The Long Island Contractors’ Association supports this proposal because if we don’t take this step, we are putting our collective future at serious risk. It is as simple, and crucial, as that.”

The state must authorize the proposal in order for it to be placed on a ballot in November.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) — a known environmental activist — said the measure would do wonders for the state’s water supply.

“We’re really looking at an opportunity to correct some deficiencies that could, if left uncorrected, unhinge our economy, which is based upon people bathing and recreating in our coastal waters, fishing and otherwise enjoying our waters,” he said. “For the first time, we are pulling a program together that integrates both our fresh water and saltwater in one protection initiative, and that is very significant.”

The Town of Brookhaven held a public hearing last Thursday night before adopting a low-nitrogen zone for various properties 500 feet from major water bodies, like Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors, requiring all new development or expansions to install low-nitrogen septic systems rather than standard cesspools. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) endorsed the county plan as well for not only increasing the momentum away from nitrogen pollution, but also for providing voters with the choice.

“I applaud County Executive Bellone for his leadership in advancing this plan to restore water quality across this county and, more importantly, for proposing that the people of Suffolk decide whether the plan should be implemented,” he said. “Though some may disagree with it, no other elected official has offered a plan to reverse nitrogen pollution on this scale.”

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A dark-eyed junco enjoys a snack of millet at a bird feeder in an East Setauket backyard. Photo by Jay Gammill

By Ellen Barcel

I love to see birds in my garden. Besides the beautiful calls and songs you hear, they provide a benefit in that many enjoy munching on the insects that threaten my plants. So, the question becomes, how do you encourage birds to make your garden their home?

One way, of course, is to make sure you have a birdbath, a source of water for them to drink and bathe in. Remember to change the water frequently so as not to encourage mosquitoes to breed there. Another way is to have one or more birdhouses for them to nest in. You can also have food available in a bird feeder. Or you can put in plants that will produce lots of seeds for the birds to enjoy, especially as the weather cools in the fall. So, here are some suggestions.


Many, many years ago, as a novice suburbanite, around Halloween, I saw a bunch of brightly colored Indian corn cobs in the supermarket and bought it as a decoration for my front door. I kept hearing strange noises, sort of like thumps. Each time, I’d go to the door and no one was there. This went on for a number of days, until I noticed that most of the kernels from the ears of corn were gone. It was then that I realized that the local birds were appreciating what I thought of as a decoration and what they thought of as dinner. So, yes, birds love corn. So, if you have the room, plant a small patch of corn. What you don’t eat, the birds will.


Millet (foxtail millet) grows easily and, yes, the birds love it. Millet is a grass that was domesticated in the Old World. I’ve read that grains of it were even found in the tombs with pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Experts say to harvest it when the seed heads turn a golden brown, or, leave the seeds alone and let the birds do it for you.


Sunflowers are absolutely beautiful in the garden. They’ll easily reach five or six feet, making a lovely and tall wall of flowers. Yes, of course, harvest some of the flowers and enjoy the seeds yourself, but what you don’t want, leave on the plant. They will dry and soon the local birds will be enjoying them. When all the seeds are gone, compost the rest of the plant. And, yes, save some of the seeds from this year’s crop for next year’s garden.


Large birds and small mammals (squirrels, for example) enjoy pumpkins. Pumpkins grow easily here but have a fairly long growing season — up to 125 days to maturity. It’s best to plant the seeds directly in the garden, but, if you want an early start, plant them in peat pots, which can be moved whole into the garden once it warms up. Plant them in full sun. Interestingly, the seeds themselves can overwinter outside. I’ve seen several locations where a pumpkin left outdoors during the cold months, led to pumpkin seeds germinating the following spring. Collect the seeds in autumn and dry them before putting them out for the birds or saving them for next year’s crop. If you don’t plan on eating the pumpkins (as, for example, in pumpkin pie), choose one of the unusual pumpkins, like the miniature ones (‘Baby Boo’), blue pumpkins (‘Blue Lakota’) or white (‘White Cloud’). There are even warty ones, such as ‘Red Warty Thing.’ Any of these make unique decorations.

Perennial flowers

While all of the above need to be replanted each year, there are many perennials that birds absolutely love as well. These are part of the “plant once, enjoy for many years” school of gardening and include black-eyed Susans, blanket flowers, cone flowers, asters and mums. Note that most of these bloom in mid to late summer and into the fall. I’m always just about ready to give up on my asters when suddenly, in the cold autumn days, the purple flowers appear. Leave the flowers on the plants in autumn until the birds have enjoyed all of the seeds. Don’t cut them back until the leaves have gone brown and there are no more seed heads on the plants.

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.

Supervisor Frank Petrone shows off the rain barrel that Huntington resident Claudia Liu painted, which one resident will win this Saturday at Family Earth Day Expo. Photo from A.J. Carter

Huntington is getting ready to go green.

This Saturday, April 23, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Huntington Town will host its annual Family Earth Day Expo at Town Hall, an event that helps residents learn about the many programs and businesses on the North Shore that are working to reduce their environmental footprint, as well as how the community members themselves can play a part.

“Each year the town tries to highlight how residents can help preserve the environment while saving themselves money,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement. “Whether it’s … bringing e-waste for recycling or dropping off unneeded and unwanted medicines, residents will find a variety of ways they can get into the Earth Day spirit.”

One issue that will be highlighted at the expo is the risk pharmaceutical drugs have on the local water supply and marine life, such as when medications are flushed down the toilet or are present in human waste.

In a joint effort with the advocacy organization Citizens Campaign for the Environment, residents will be able to turn in medication they no longer need to the Suffolk County Police Department, which will dispose of it in an environmentally safe manner.

According to the World Health Organization, there is some discharge of pharmaceuticals into water sources, and Citizens Campaign said, “pharmaceutical drug contamination has been proven to adversely impact fish and aquatic life.”

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, male fish have developed eggs when exposed to female hormones in birth control pills. Anti-depressants and beta-blockers reduce fertility or affect certain aquatic organisms’ reproductive systems.

Staying on the theme of safe ways to dispose of materials, the town will also, in sponsorship with Covanta, a global corporation that works on sustainable solutions to waste-management challenges, give residents the opportunity to properly dispose of electronic goods with a recycling event.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said it’s a day not only for adults to learn but also for kids to enjoy as well.

“Children and parents alike will definitely have the opportunity for a lot of hands-on fun at this event,” he said in a statement. “It is equally important to be able to show families across Huntington how easy it is to protect kids from harmful chemicals and pesticides, how to make homes and cars more energy efficient and how to save money in the process.”

There will be residential solar energy and organic garden demonstrations, as well as lessons for kids on how compost is made and how to plant a seed in a recycled pot.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk, a nonprofit community education agency, will also provide a variety of sea specimens that kids are welcome to touch, to demonstrate the importance of protecting the marine environment.

There will be a raffle to win a custom-painted rain barrel, painted by former Huntington resident Claudia Liu. The 50-gallon barrel is both a decorative item and a utilitarian one, to be placed in a yard to capture and store rainwater for use with gardening, which helps conserve water. The winner will be announced at the expo.

Family Day Earth Expo will take place in the parking lot of Town Hall on Main Street, at Jackson Avenue, in Huntington.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

One North Shore lawmaker is cleaning up the language of Suffolk County’s dry cleaners.

Dry cleaning businesses will no longer be allowed to advertise their services as organic when describing the solvents or methods used in production, thanks to recently approved legislation from Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). And if they get caught, business owners could face fines of $500 on the first offense to $1,000 on the second, the legislator said.

“A consumer chooses an ‘organic’ cleaning method with the belief that this option is better for his or her health and our environment,” Hahn said in a statement. “Without a universally accepted definition of what constitutes organic services, consumers go through the wringer when making their decisions based upon subjective standards that, in some cases, can be completely contrary to their intentions.”

Under Majority Leader Hahn’s bill, no professional garment cleaning establishment operating in the county will be allowed to describe its services as “organic” in advertising or signage. In a statement, Hahn said the term organic is found in many industries, including dry cleaning, and has come under increased public scrutiny as regulators have not established clear criteria governing the word’s usage in consumer goods and services.

“It is very important that customers understand terms used in dry cleaning advertisements,” said Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out Consulting, an advocacy organization committed to empowering the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins, also in a recent statement. “Organic in this context is a technical term, and does not mean chemical-free. This legislation in Suffolk County helps address possible confusion.”

In her legislation, Hahn said one of the most harmful chemicals used in the dry cleaning industry, perchloroethylene — also known as perc — contains carbon molecules. Carbon is a naturally occurring element and perc is sometimes advertised as being organic, despite its detriment to the environment.

“In some instances there is a significant disconnect between the term organic that has become part of the vernacular and the scientific definition used by industry,” Hahn said. “I want to ensure that Suffolk consumers are making decisions based on intention rather than semantics.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has already approved several alternatives to perc for use in non-vented, closed-loop dry cleaning machines that are equipped with a refrigerated condenser, conform to local fire codes and meet the additional specifications required by the alternative solvent manufacturer.

Suffolk’s bill would be nullified should a standard be adopted by state or federal regulatory agencies.

The only thing preventing the bill from becoming official is the absence of a signature from County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Once signed, cleaners would have approximately 60 days to come into compliance.

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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.

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 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 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 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 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.

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.