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Flowers

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 https://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.)

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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 [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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Daffodil leaves need fertilizer during the growing season so as to build up the bulbs for the following season’s flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Many years ago, someone in a class I was teaching on hydrangeas asked me, “You mean, you have to feed your plants?” besides controlling the soil pH. I was surprised. Yes, I told her. You have to put nutrients into the soil if you want most plants to grow and thrive. This is particularly important with Long Island’s sandy soil, which has little in the way of nutrients in it especially if you have little or no nutrient-rich topsoil.

So, how do you do this? Well, one of the easiest is to keep a compost pile and to apply compost liberally to your plants. Another is to use a fertilizer available in garden centers, some are organic and some are chemical. But, what exactly are you adding to your soil and therefore plants?

There are three main nutrients plants need: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). All three are needed for photosynthesis, that is, turning solar energy into plant matter.

Nitrogen helps with plant growth, encouraging leaf and stem growth. Too much nitrogen and plants will produce lots of leaves but little fruit. Legumes are nitrogen fixing plants, that is, they get their nitrogen from the air. Nitrogen fixing plants include peanuts, peas, bush beans, wisteria and clover. Note that many people try to get rid of clover in their lawns, but clover puts nitrogen into the soil naturally. Besides they have pretty little flowers.

Phosphorus encourages rapid growth, blooming and root growth while potassium helps in the fruit quality and reduction of plant diseases as well as overall plant vigor and pest resistance.

Feed and water your hydrangeas well to get a beautiful array of flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Feed and water your hydrangeas well to get a beautiful array of flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

You may see on chemical fertilizer packages numbers like 5-10-5. This means that the fertilizer contains 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 5 percent potassium. The rest is other nutrients and fillers. A package that says 10-20-10 is therefore 10 percent nitrogen, 20 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium. A complete fertilizer will have all three of these nutrients.

But there are also secondary nutrients that plants need including calcium, magnesium (part of chlorophyll in green plants), sulfur (improves root growth and seed production) as well as micronutrients. Lack of enough iron, for example, and the plant’s leaves will turn yellow.

A well-balanced commercial fertilizer will have all of these nutrients and micronutrients. If you are concerned that your soil, even amended with compost and/or fertilizer has the proper nutrients, there are test kits available in garden centers that will tell you how well your soil is doing. Or you could bring samples to Cornell Cooperative Extension, which will test for a wide variety of nutrients.

Soil pH is not a nutrient but a measure of how acidic or how alkaline soil is. Different plants need different soil pH levels to grow to their best potential. Normally, fertilizer will not contain any chemicals to change the soil pH, unless they specifically say so. For example, Miracid is a fertilizer that contains a chemical that will lower the soil pH. It should not be used on plants that require a neutral or alkaline soil, but on plants like rhodies, blueberries, pines etc., which thrive in an acidic soil.

If you are using potting soil for container gardens, read the package carefully. It will indicate whether it has any fertilizer in the soil and, if so, what and how much. It should also indicate how long the nutrients will last. Some even have watering crystals that hold excess water to be released when the soil itself dries out. Watering crystals will not last forever and may need to be replaced. Again, read the label.

The directions with chemical fertilizers will sometimes talk about foliar feeding, that is, mixing up liquid fertilizer and spraying it directly on the leaves of plants. First, chemical fertilizers in general can burn plants if applied too liberally. Always follow the package directions to avoid this. Second, it’s been my experience that foliar feeding can sometimes burn the leaves of the plants, killing them.

As a result, I never spray liquid fertilizer on plant leaves. If you decide to use slow-release plant food (sticks, granules etc.), note how much is to be applied to a given area, pot size etc. If you overdo it, you can kill your plants. If a little is good, a lot is definitely not better. This is one reason why I prefer to use compost, since it’s virtually impossible to burn plants with compost. I’ve even seen volunteers growing directly in compost piles.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected]

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A fairy house (Bayport Flower House). Photo by Heidi Sutton

The Town of Brookhaven’s annual Home & Garden Show welcomed spring early last weekend. More than 1,400 people visited the event at the Holtsville Ecology Site that featured over 30 local vendors offering a plethora of home improvement ideas. In addition, free adult educational workshops and hands-on classes for children were offered.

Pansies in a variety of colors (Bloomin Haus). Photo by Heidi Sutton
Pansies in a variety of colors (Bloomin Haus). Photo by Heidi Sutton

The event will continue on March 19 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and March 20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 per adult, children 16 and under are free. For more information, call 631-758-9664, ext. 18.

Adult workshops, Saturday, March 19
11:30 a.m. — Guide Dog Foundation/America’s VetDogs with Susan Stevens, Certified Health Coach
1 p.m. — Tree Care & Organic Options for the Homeowner by Evan Dackow of Jolly Green
2:30 p.m. — Composting by Mike DesGaines of  TOB Dept of Waste Management
4 p.m. — Dahlias, the Bloom With Many Faces by Joe Lysik and Joe Bonomo
5:30 p.m. —  Caring for Your Houseplants by April Perry, Ecology Staff

Kids Workshops, Saturday, March 19
Noon to 1:30 p.m. — Recycled Birdfeeder Activity by Nicole Pocchiare of TOB Dept of Waste Management
1:30 to 3 p.m. — Water Conservation Craft by Molly Hastings — Environmental Educator/Park Ranger, TOB

Adult workshops, Sunday, March 20
11:30 a.m. — Hydrangeas on Long Island by Judy Ogden, Ogden’s Design & Plantings Inc.
1 p.m. — Herbs in the Kitchen by Anne Marie O’Neil,  President of HALI
2:30 p.m. — The Carmen’s River: An Amazing Natural Beauty by John Cardone, author and photographer
4 p.m. — TBA

Kids Workshops, Sunday, March 20
Noon to 1:30 p.m. — Gardening Fun With Kids by Kelly Smith, Ecology Site horticulturist
1:30 to 3 p.m. — Gardening Fun With Kids by Rosa Goncalves, Ecology Site horticulturist

Please note: Kid’s classes while supplies last and adult workshops subject to change.

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Stop cutting back mums and Montauk daisies by the Fourth of July to ensure autumn flowering. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Holidays are a time when people enjoy a rest, take a vacation from work and like to celebrate special occasions. But, holidays can also serve as markers for gardeners, a calendar of sorts, reminding them what needs to be done and when.

February 2 is Groundhog Day, a day in midwinter where whimsy takes over and the rodent “predicts” either an early spring (as this year) or six more weeks of winter. In any event, February is the perfect time to check out the gardening catalogues, plan your future garden and start your hardier crops indoors in a sunny location. Check the seed packages to see how many weeks before moving them outdoors you should sow the seeds. Cuttings from early flowering shrubs, like forsythia, can be made in February and brought inside to force early flowers.

Poinsettias can be toxic to children and pets, so place them out of reach during the Christmas holidays. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Poinsettias can be toxic to children and pets, so place them out of reach during the Christmas holidays. Photo by Ellen Barcel

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, is the traditional start of the pea planting season. Of course, it’s really important to check the weather and the soil conditions. Peas are one crop that prefers cool weather but can’t grow in the extreme cold we usually have on Long Island in mid-March. Think of this as a heads-up to get ready to plant as soon as the soil is workable and warm enough.

Easter is a holiday when people tend to bring forced plants, grown in nurseries, into the house. Be really careful here as lilies, while traditional for the season, are toxic to cats. Even the water that the cut flowers are placed in can cause series health issues for them if they drink it; so keep lilies away from your cats. Generally, plant Easter gift plants in the garden as soon as possible but usually after the blooms have faded — so you can enjoy them in the house.

Memorial Day (some people say Mother’s Day, which is a bit earlier) is usually the start of really warm weather, so that tender annuals, such as tomatoes and herbs such as basil and dill can be moved outdoors. Marjoram and summer savory will also die in a late frost; so wait till the weather is warm enough.

Fourth of July is usually considered as the last date in the growing season that perennial flowers, like Montauk daisies and mums, can be pruned back and still complete a flowering cycle, blooming in very late summer to autumn. The rule of thumb is to start pruning them when green buds appear in spring, and stop 100 days before bloom time. That is usually July 4.

Stop cutting back mums and Montauk daisies by the Fourth of July to ensure autumn flowering. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Stop cutting back mums and Montauk daisies by the Fourth of July to ensure autumn flowering. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Labor Day is generally the last day in the growing season that second (or third) season crops can be planted. The first frost day on Long Island is generally considered to be early to mid-November; so count backward from that day for the exact planting time, based on the number of days each plant takes to mature. Some varieties of bush beans will produce a crop in 50 to 60 days, which means plant them in early September, that is, Labor Day for a crop before frost. Also, very tender houseplants should start to be brought indoors if they have summered outside. Particularly watch the low night temps.

By Columbus Day all your houseplants should be indoors. Move tender shrubs or small trees like figs to an unheated garage once the leaves fall. Lift tender bulbs and store them in a cool dry place once the leaves have all died back to the ground.

Thanksgiving, late November, is usually the last time you can plant spring bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, etc, outside. Those and other spring bulbs can actually be planted as long as the ground is not frozen. If you miss the cutoff date, consider storing them in the fridge till spring.

Christmas is a time when many decorative plants are used in the house. Be particularly careful with indoor plants, such as poinsettias, which can harm both young children and pets if ingested. And we all know that little kids and pets put everything in their mouths.

While the above are generalities, always take into consideration the actual conditions at any given time. If a sudden cold front is predicted for mid-September, make sure that your houseplants are indoors. If the ground is still frozen in early April, then you just can’t plant your early/cool weather plants yet.

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

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Tree hibiscus do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

 

Last week we took a look at some specific plants that can grow in small spaces. Since there are many options, we’ll take a look at a few more this week.

Tree hibiscus do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Tree hibiscus do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel

A wide variety of vegetables can be grown in pots or tubs including string beans, cucumbers (with a trellis) and squash. Remember to replant for a second crop when the plants cease bearing. String beans, for example, can continue to grow well into the fall.

Roses can also be grown in tubs (medium-sized plants) or window boxes (for tiny rose plants). Like herbs, roses need sun; so select a location for your pots, rock garden etc. that gets at least six hours of sun a day. Miniature roses come in a wide variety of colors: ‘Sun Sprinkles’ is a bright yellow, ‘Hot Tamale’ is a gorgeous mix of deep pink and yellow, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is a burgundy and ‘Innocence’ is the palest shade of pink, almost white.

Remember to check your rose plants for thorns. If the one you select has a lot of them, make sure you locate it where someone won’t trip and hurt themselves. Miniature roses are prone to the same problems that medium and large rose bushes are, namely black spot (a fungal disease) and aphids. So, you need to take the same care that you would if growing a full-sized plant, that is, use a rose spray unless the variety you select specifically says disease resistant. Also, avoid watering the leaves — aim the hose at the soil. Keeping the leaves dry helps to prevent fungal diseases. If you have a deer problem, make sure that the rose bushes are planted where the deer can’t reach them.

Since roses prefer soil that is only slightly acidic (6.5) to neutral (7), growing roses in pots works well from the soil pH since most potting soil is closer to neutral. If you decide to plant your small roses in your garden soil, test it first. If it is very acidic, you need to add lime.

String beans do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel
String beans do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel

In addition to shrub roses, consider a tree rose — a wide variety of colors are available — which can be grown in a large tub. Tree hibiscus also does well in tubs.

If you have enough space on an open porch, deck or patio, you can grow dwarf evergreen trees. Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea clauca) is a sturdy evergreen that grows well in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 8. This dense, slow growing tree prefers full sun and because of its small size fits into small spaces as well as large tubs. Putting a pair on either side of an entrance way gives a formal appearance. You can even decorate with small Christmas lights and ornaments come the holidays. It can be pruned into a topiary if you wish. While the tree can reach 10 feet tall, it’s such a slow grower that it will not usually be a problem for 25 to 30 years.

Squash plants do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Squash plants do well in a planter in full sun. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Dwarf deciduous trees grow well in tubs. Dwarf fruit trees provide flowers in the spring and fruit in summer or fall. ‘Juliet Dwarf Cherry,’ for example, grows just five to eight feet tall, is self-pollinating and does well in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 7 (Long Island is zone 7). Because of their small size, it’s easy to prune them and easy to put netting to protect the fruit from hungry birds. Other dwarf trees include dwarf apple, pear and fig. Dwarf lime, lemon and orange can be grown outdoors in summer but must be moved indoors in the colder weather.

Bonsai: If you’re really into gardening as a hobby, consider bonsai, plants deliberately kept miniature by root and branch pruning. Bonsai are grown in small containers, but, a warning, this hobby is for the dedicated gardener as it requires a fair amount of work and knowledge. Deciduous plants such as Japanese red maple make for beautiful bonsai but must also be wintered outdoors, in a protected area, as the bonsai version needs a period of rest just like the full-sized plant.

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

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The Smithtown Library. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Join the Smithtown Library for its bus trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show on Monday, March 7.

This year’s theme, Explore America, honors the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the century’s most scenic landscapes and historic sites.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is the longest-running and largest indoor flower show in the world. Visitors will be treated to fabulous design and events including live entertainment, culinary demonstrations, gardening how-to workshops and lectures by experts.

A staff member will greet everybody in the Kings Park branch parking lot to board the bus at 6:45 a.m. The branch is located at 1 Church St.

Attendees can enjoy lunch at the flower show or visit Reading Terminal Market located across the street.

The bus will depart the flower show at approximately 4:30 p.m. to return home.

Registration is required. The nonrefundable fee for this program is $79 per person, which includes all expenses and gratuities. For more information, please call 631-360-2480, ext. 235.

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Above, the eastern prickly pear cactus. File photo

By Ellen Barcel

Last week I wrote a column about planning a garden with the idea of making jams and jellies out of unusual plants: passionfruit, beautyberry and even Kousa dogwood. All are beautiful landscape plants but have the added bonus of edible fruit.

Well, there’s another fruit that can be used to make jams and jellies, as well as wine, and has the added benefit that it doesn’t need a lot of water since it’s a cactus. Opuntia, the prickly pear cactus, is native to much of North America and was most likely first used as food in Mexico, where it was known by the Aztec name “nopal.”

In the spring, the clumps of the cacti are filled with beautiful yellow flowers, which are followed later in the growing season by the fruit. Yes, Opuntia are flowering plants and like all true cacti are originally native to the Americas although they have been introduced to many other parts of the world.

The cactus fruit (also called cactus fig, Indian fig or “tuna” in Spanish) must be peeled carefully to remove the spines before eating. In Mexico and the American Southwest, the fruit is used in salads, soups, vegetable dishes and yes, jellies. I’ve even come across a recipe for cactus fruit gum drops that uses cactus fruit, applesauce, sugar and pectin. The pad, “nopal,” is also used in cooking.

Like so many cacti, a paddle (flat piece of the cactus) broken off from the main plant can be stuck in the ground and rooted to make more plants. Since pieces of cacti break off so easily from the main plant, this is an easy way of getting more plants.

The plants can also be grown from seed, since this is a flowering plant and the fruit does contain seeds. Like tomato plants, cut open a ripe cactus fruit, scoop out the gooey inside that has black dots and put it on some paper to dry. Separate the seeds out and plant them. On rare occasions, a plant will grow out of the fruit itself, like tomatoes can.

Remember, that cacti grow naturally in arid and semiarid climates. The worse thing that you can do to any cactus is to overwater it. In general, this is not a problem on Long Island, because despite our occasional deluges, we have sandy, i.e., well-drained, soil, so the prickly pear does well here. It even survives our winters. The paddles will dry up and sort of flatten out, but the plants will easily come back to life in spring.

If you decide to grow your prickly pear in containers, remember to make sure the containers have drainage holes and you use potting soil designed for cacti and succulents. I frequently see prickly pear cacti growing wild along the North Shore. A gardening friend of mine noted that Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jefferson is full of them and “the yellow flowers are beautiful.”

The fruit is ripe when, depending on variety, it is red or purple in color. Remember to be careful peeling it as it has not only large spines, but tiny ones as well, which can be very irritating.

Since there are so many varieties (I’ve read 181 species) of prickly pear, there are a number of different colors flowers. Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig prickly pear) is a large plant that has orange or yellow flowers, while O. basilaris (beavertail prickly pear) is a small plant but spreads. The variety that grows in the Northeast, i.e., Long Island, is called O. vulgaris, the eastern prickly pear. This is a comparatively small plant and so produces fairly small fruit.

If you find that your prickly pear isn’t bearing fruit, it’s too small, for example, you can find the fruit in many grocery stores in the produce section. These are usually from the western prickly pear and are much larger fruit.

Where you plant your cacti depends on several factors: sun (it prefers lots of sun), where the soil is dry and the ouch factor. Don’t put them near walk ways, children’s play areas or pools for obvious reasons.

Mine have survived winters outdoors but have remained small. I’m experimenting overwintering one grown in a pot indoors. When picking the fruit or transplanting the plants themselves, remember to wear gloves. Wrapping a cactus in newspaper is another way of handling it when transplanting.

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

The Kousa dogwood fruit has a surprising sweet tropical flavor. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

Well, it’s finally winter with real winter weather. However, I just heard on the news that the first hurricane of 2016 has formed — yes, I know they don’t normally start until June 1 and the last time a hurricane formed in January was in 1938. According to CNN, it’s only the fourth known hurricane to arrive in January since records have been kept starting in 1851. Weather has been really weird this past year. The cherry tree I wrote about in December was still blooming on January 1. It will be interesting to see what spring brings.

Passionflower vines produce fruit late in the growing season. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Passionflower vines produce fruit late in the growing season. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Well, now that the cold weather is finally here (sort of), we can’t really do much in the way of gardening, except, perhaps repair some tools or clean out the garage. But, it is a great time to put your feet up by the fireplace, look out the window at the snow outside, leaf through the gardening catalogues which invariably come this time of year and plan your new garden. Perhaps you wish to make some jams or jellies from produce in your garden but want to focus on landscaping plants. Here are some possibilities. All make unique jellies and jams.

Kousa dogwood
Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), Japanese dogwood, is sometimes recommended as a replacement for our local dogwood (C. florida), since it is more resistant to a tree blight, anthracnose, which can kill our local species. One of the nice things about Kousa dogwood is that the fruit is edible and can be used to make jelly — I’ve tasted it and it really is good. There are a number of recipes online. The berries can also be used to make muffins. The tree does well in our acidic soil and produces beautiful white flowers in spring. It’s a small tree so won’t take over your landscaping.

Beautyberry
Like the Kousa dogwood, the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) bush is deciduous. It is known for its brightly colored purple berries that can remain on the plant into winter providing winter interest. The berries, which have a metallic luster, will be eaten by birds, but they don’t appear to be their favorite food. Squirrels, raccoons and other small animals seem to enjoy them. The berries are edible and can be used to make jelly.

Beautyberry produces berries in the summer, but the berries stay on the plant even when leaves have fallen and winter snows fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Beautyberry produces berries in the summer, but the berries stay on the plant even when leaves have fallen and winter snows fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

I planted the bush just because I like the look of the berries. The plant can grow four to eight feet tall and about as wide. It prefers light shade and a well-drained soil. This is not a problem with Long Island’s generally sandy soil. While the plant can be a specimen plant, a row of them makes an interesting, informal hedge. Remember, however, that since it is deciduous, the screening benefits will only be provided during the growing season. While it is mildly drought tolerant, it does need about an inch of water a week. So, if we go for more than a week or so without rain, water should be supplemented.

Passionflowers
Passionflowers are native to both the Americas and Asia, there being in the neighborhood of 500 species in the genus. Most have edible fruit that can be made into jelly. The vines, depending on variety, can grow up to 30 feet tall, so this is a plant that needs a trellis of some sort or can be grown as a trailing plant in a hanging basket. The flowers of Passiflora incarnata are exotic in appearance. Generally, they are purple, but some are purple and white. P. alata ‘Ruby Glow’ is purple and dark maroon — absolutely gorgeous. The plant is hardy in zones 5 to 9, and does best in full to partial sun.

Yes, there are a number of other landscaping plants that can be used to yield jelly, such as roses and sunflowers. You can also use the flowers of Queen Anne’s lace and dandelions. Remember to always check out whether the flower you are interested in is edible. If in doubt, don’t consume it.

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

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Purple lunaria flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

One of the reasons I really like perennial plants is because it’s the “plant once, enjoy for many years” form of gardening. Perennials, provided they are adapted to your growing conditions (hardiness zone, fertilizer, soil pH, amount of water, etc.) will return year after year.

But, there is another way of planting once and enjoying for many years — by growing plants that are known for self-seeding. They put out seeds in the late summer and fall, the seeds survive your winter conditions and germinate the next year. Some of these are biennials, which means that the individual plant will grow back a second year in addition to scattering seeds. Some are annuals, with the original plant dying and only the seeds surviving the next year.

If you do decide to plant self-seeding plants, make sure you know what the seedlings look like. While in some cases the seedling looks very much like the mature plant’s leaf, in other cases, it’s hard to tell. You don’t want to accidently pull out a desired plant thinking it’s a weed.

There’s another caution with self-seeders. Because they produce so many seeds, they can become invasive with your flower bed looking very messy. So, you need to be careful in planting them and not be hesitant to “rip out” what grows where you don’t want it.

One of the best self-seeding plants is lunaria (pennies, honesty, money plant). The name comes from Latin, meaning moon-like, which refers to the oval, silvery seedpods that are produced on the plant toward the end of the growing season. While some are annuals or perennials, most commonly found in seed catalogues are biennials.

The flowers are beautiful — white or purple — and appear in spring with seed pods the second year after sowing. They are easy to naturalize if you have a wooded or partly wooded area where the seedlings won’t be disturbed. A mass of these is stunning even from a distance away. The flowers can also be collected and dried for arrangements. Make sure you leave some flower go to seed for next year. Foxglove is another biennial that self-seeds.

Another self-seeder (which is also a perennial) is Echinacea, that is, coneflowers. These beautiful flowers attract birds, which love the seeds. Leave the seed heads on the plants in fall. What’s not eaten will fall to the ground and come spring, more plants will grow.

Other self-seeding annuals include New England asters, coreopsis, feverfew, violets, sweet peas and blue woodruff.

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