Tags Posts tagged with "Flowers"

Flowers

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A fire tears through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A fire tore through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station on Friday the 13th, destroying the building but not the family business that has been passed down for generations.

Family heirlooms, flower arrangements, antique furniture — all burned to ashes that morning.

“There’s nothing left,” Lisa Malkmes, one of the owners, said about the property damage in a phone interview Tuesday. “We lost the entire building and all of our computers. Everything’s gone.”

Dennis Whittam, a spokesman for the Terryville Fire Department, said firefighters received a notification that morning of a “fully involved structure fire” across Route 112 from the firehouse, at the longtime neighborhood business at the end of Oakland Avenue.

Firefighters on the scene at Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam
Firefighters on the scene at Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A Port Jefferson Fire Department engine was the first truck on the scene and started to attack the flames on the exterior, Whittam said, as Terryville’s ladder truck and other engines set up hand lines and master streams under command of Chief Richard McCarren and Assistant Chief Tom Young. The Selden, Mount Sinai and Coram fire departments also offered assistance.

The fire was out by about noon, Malkmes said, and then the florists quickly had to put together flowers for a wedding happening that afternoon, after the bride’s original flowers burned in the blaze. Everything was finished on time, she said, “because of my employees. They opened their home and we were able to get flowers in quick enough.”

She added that the business put flowers together for two weddings and two funerals over the weekend as well.

Malkmes Florists & Greenhouses has been in operation for decades, and was previously run by longtime community member Harold Malkmes, who died in 2011. Malkmes was a 17-term Brookhaven Town highway superintendent who grew up in Port Jefferson Station and studied horticulture in college before taking the helm at the business, which had been in the family since the 19th century. He passed the reins of the shop to one of his sons, Michael, a Miller Place resident who runs the business with wife Lisa.

The Malkmes name is also familiar to town residents who have visited the community man’s other namesake, the Harold H. Malkmes Wildlife Education and Ecology Center in Holtsville.

Lisa Malkmes said the florists are still open for business. They are working on phone orders and will be putting up a temporary structure soon, with the eventual goal of reconstructing the business.

A fire tears through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam
A fire tears through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam

This is not the first time the family has had to rebuild.

According to Michael Malkmes, who is also a heavy equipment operator in the town highway department, the business dates back to the 1800s, when it was based in Medford. But a fire tore through that original building, destroying it.

“My grandfather decided to rebuild up here on the North Shore,” Malkmes said Tuesday, and a new shop opened at the end of Oakland Avenue in 1912 called Belle Croft Greenhouses, in honor of a historic name for the neighborhood. That became Malkmes Florists in the 1970s under the ownership of Harold Malkmes.

There were still historical and familial tributes around the shop and property when the fire caught: a picture of Harold playing tennis, a sign from when the man ran for highway superintendent, an aerial photo of the shop from the 1930s, family heirlooms like an antique vanity and curio cabinet, and Harold’s service medal from his time in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, as a tail gunner on a B-25 bomber in Italy.

“There’s a lot of tears,” Michael Malkmes said. “We’ve been there for eons so it’s kind of a shame.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

“The building was built in 1912, so the wood was probably a little dry — that’s why it cooked the way it did,” he said. “Once [the fire] punched through the roof, it was just like a chimney.”

But just as before, the family florists plan to rise from the ashes.

“We’re definitely going to rebuild,” he said. “Our customers have been coming there for years.”

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Weeping willow trees are beautiful, graceful deciduous trees. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Many years ago, I had two absolutely beautiful weeping willow (Salix babylonica) trees. They easily topped my two story house, and then some. I really enjoyed walking underneath the branches, looking out at the world, sort of like looking out through a light green curtain. And they provided beautiful shade.

Then, a really nasty hurricane came along. Down went the first and then the second tree. This happened when other trees — maple, oak and pine — all survived.

What happened? The answer is that weeping willow trees (natives of Asia) are very shallow rooted. When the wind really picked up, the roots couldn’t hold the trees in the wet soil, so down they went. And mine weren’t the only ones I saw down.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t plant weeping willow trees? Not necessarily. If you have an area sheltered from the wind, like a hollow, this might be the ideal location.

There’s another problem with the weeping willow tree. It craves water, so if you really want to plant this fast growing, graceful tree, make sure it’s not near a cesspool, well or in-ground swimming pool, as the roots can head in that direction, doing damage to the concrete.

The weeping willow tree grows well in U.S. Dept. of Agriculture hardiness zones 6 to 8 (Long Island is right in the middle at zone 7). It particularly likes to grow near water, but while the hardiness zones are limited, it does tolerate a wide range of soil pH levels. It’s a great shade tree quickly reaching 30 to 40 feet tall, growing as wide as is tall. Give this one plenty of room.

Another willow, pussy willow, (S. discolor) is native to North America. The deciduous shrub first produces furry catkins (or cat’s feet) in early spring. Many people like to cut branches from this stage of the plant and use them in dried arrangements or to make wreaths. If you do cut branches, do not put them in water or they will progress to the next stage, flowers.

After flowering, this easy to grow plant then produces green leaves. It is definitely grown for the early catkins. Pussy willow grows well in zones 4 through 8 or 9 (depending on variety).

Although most pussy willow plants produce gray catkins, there’s a rare variety (‘Mt. Asama’) that has a burgundy ones. A weeping pussy willow (S. caprea ‘Pendula’) can be grown as a small ornamental tree reaching 6 to 8 feet tall. As most weeping plants, the latter is really nice in winter when snow and ice covers the weeping branches.

Another popular willow that does well on Long Island is the dappled willow (S. integra). Like many other willows, the shrub is fast growing and can easily reach 15 to 20 feet tall and wide. However, if you really like this shrub, it can be pruned to keep it much smaller. In fact, it’s the new branches in spring that have mottled leaves that make it really stand out in the garden.

The dappled willow does well in hardiness zones 4 to 9. It is a native of eastern Asia, including China, Japan and Korea. Like other willows, the flowers are catkins (a cylindrical flower with no obvious petals). The cultivar ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ comes out very pale pink in spring.

Are willows deer resistant? Good question. Some sources say yes and some no, so you’ll have to see what the deer in your area like. However, rabbits do like willows, so you should take whatever precautions you normally take to keep your plants safe from them. While willows, in general, like moist soil, some varieties are somewhat drought tolerant once established. In general they like sun but tolerate light shade, and do well in a wide variety of soil conditions.

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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Flowering quince blooms before leaves appear. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

The gardening season is winding down. You’ve probably enjoyed your tomatoes and have started thinking about your herbs and how to preserve them for winter use (you can, of course, bring container grown herbs into the house in a sunny location).

So, it’s hard to think of spring flowers when we’re facing autumn’s mums and winter’s chill. However, it you want a gorgeous, early spring garden, there are certain things you must do now.

◆ Plant your spring flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.). They can actually be planted as long as the ground is not frozen.

Fothergilla is a slow grower. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Fothergilla is a slow grower. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Plant your spring flowering trees. These include dogwood, magnolia, flowering cherry, flowering crab apple and redbud.

◆ Plant shrubs that bloom in early spring. If you already have some in the ground, do not, I repeat, do not, prune them in late autumn. You will be removing next spring’s flower buds. Rule of thumb, prune flowering shrubs immediately after they have bloomed so as not to interfere with their bloom cycle.

Probably the earliest shrub to bloom in spring is witch hazel, with its delicate yellow flowers. In a mild winter it may even bloom in February, but March is more likely. Since it is blooming so early, the flowers come out long before the leaves. And, yes, this is the plant from which the astringent witch hazel is made.

Forsythia also blooms before the leaves appear with a mass of yellow flowers. You can even force the flowers in late winter if you see flower buds starting to form. Cut some branches, bring them indoors and put them in a vase with room temperature water. Soon, the vase will be filled with the cheery flowers. Forsythia plants make a great, easy to grow hedge. A fast grower, they can be cut back to make them the height you want.

Witch hazel with its yellow flowers is the earliest bloomer on Long Island. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Witch hazel with its yellow flowers is the earliest bloomer on Long Island. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Flowering quince produces gorgeous red, pink or orange flowers, again, before the leaves appear. The plant can easily reach up to six feet tall, but there are shorter cultivars. A native of China, it is usually grown here for its flowers, not its fruit. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Some varieties have thorns while others are thornless. Check the tag or research the cultivar if you either want (as a barrier) or don’t want (around kids) thorns.

The P.J.M. Rhododendron blooms in early spring, usually April, ahead of most rhodies, which tend to come out in May. The pinkish-purple blossoms are born on a relatively slow growing plant that reaches three to six feet in height. An evergreen, it does well in partial shade in hardiness zones 4 to 8. A row of them makes a lovely, relatively low hedge.

Pieris (andromeda) comes out quietly in spring. Most plants available have either white or pink flowers, but ‘Valentine’ has absolutely beautiful burgundy flowers. ‘Valentine’ blooms ahead of the other varieties, frequently before I’ve tidied up the garden in spring.

Fothergilla blooms with lovely white flowers. The slow-growing, deciduous shrub blooms in April to May after the leaves appear. The plant does well in zones 5 to 8.

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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The parsley worm caterpillar. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are many gardening chores to accomplish in the fall. One that I’m currently working on is bringing in some herb plants to try and keep them growing over winter. Mainly, I want to keep some of my mints growing, but the parsley plant is lush and gorgeous, so I’m going to make a stab at keeping that growing on a bay window. When I went to take a look at the plant, I saw an absolutely beautiful caterpillar on one of the stalks. I knew it wasn’t a monarch, because they go for milkweed (several dined on my butterfly weed, Aesclepias tuberosa, a native variety of milkweed), and besides they have orange strips while my new guest was basically green and black.

Parsley worm caterpillar

A bit of research told me that it was a parsley worm caterpillar, which would eventually change into an American swallowtail butterfly, black with blue markings. How was I going to deal with this critter since I really wanted to see it turn into a butterfly, but I also wanted to bring the parsley into the house so I’d have fresh parsley all winter.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Stock photo
Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Stock photo

Again, research told me that they overwinter in the garden as a chrysalis (that is, a pupa) and emerge from the cocoon  in spring (April to May usually) as the beautiful butterfly. So, if you are bringing any plants into the house, check them for hitchhikers. Break off some of the parsley and set it with the caterpillar in a safe place outside to overwinter. I’ve read that it’s a nasty tasting caterpillar so birds tend to leave it alone.

Some people object to the parsley worm (which is attracted to other plants in the carrot family, such as dill, carrots and Queen Anne’s lace). They can be hand picked off the plants if you want. Personally, I don’t mind sharing a bit of my parsley with them knowing that they will turn into beautiful butterflies.

Green tomato hornworm

Another caterpillar you may find on your garden plants is the large green tomato hornworm. I remember as a kid my father finding them on some tomato plants he was growing. One was covered with white insect eggs, parasitized by braconid wasps. My father removed the caterpillar with the eggs, but I later learned that the wasps perform a valuable service to the home gardener, that of devouring other insect pests. 

Like the parsley worm caterpillar, they can be easily removed from the plant by hand picking. While the parsley worm will eventually yield a beautiful butterfly, the tomato hornworm can quickly defoliate tomato plants (and other nightshade plants like potatoes, peppers and eggplants) causing serious damage to the garden.

After going through the pupa stage, a large moth will emerge. No, I’m not willing to share my tomato plants with these critters. But, if you find one covered in white eggs, leave it alone since the wasps that will emerge from the eggs will kill the caterpillar and control other insect pests.

So, monarch butterfly caterpillars are good, parsley worm caterpillars are also very good and tomato worm caterpillars are bad, unless they’re covered in wasp eggs.

There are many other varieties of caterpillars that are sometimes beneficial and sometimes not. Remember the gypsy moth caterpillar can be very bad. (See my column of last July 16 for details on this one.)

Check out any caterpillars you find by typing the description into your computer’s search engine to find similar photos to help identify it. Only when you know what you have, should you decide what to do about the critter or critters in your garden.

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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By Wendy Mercier

As summer fades into fall, many plants and flowers will continue to bloom until the first frost of winter. Annuals, such as geraniums, marigolds and begonias, can have an extended growing season with proper watering and pruning. Plants such as Montauk daisies, Black-Eyed Susans and hardy mums are just beginning to come into season, and are a sign that autumn is upon us.

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Coleus are grown for their brightly colored and beautifully patterned leaves. To keep them growing, don’t let them go to seed. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are a number of plants, grown as either annuals or herbaceous perennials, that are admired and grown for their leaves, not their flowers. Hostas are one of these as are aromatic mints, but so are coleus.

Coleus really brighten up a shady place and bring lots of color into the garden all summer long. You’ll find a number of scientific names for the plant, since botanists today frequently reclassify a plant after studying its genetic makeup.

Coleus, however, is in the Lamiaceae family — the mint family. While many plants in that family are aromatic, mints, thyme, sage, etc., coleus isn’t. But coleus does have the characteristic square stems of mints.

There are a number of ways you can grow your coleus: in a bed of plants outside, very nice scattered among hostas or other leafy plants; in a container outside or even as a houseplant.

Coleus are native to Southeast Asia and Malaysia. They are flowering plants. However, once the plant flowers and goes to seed, it has reached its life span and dies. So this is crucial: nip or pinch off the flowers in the bud if you want to keep your coleus growing and producing gorgeous, brightly pattered leaves.

Coleus are grown for their brightly colored and beautifully patterned leaves. To keep them growing, don’t let them go to seed. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Coleus are grown for their brightly colored and beautifully patterned leaves. To keep them growing, don’t let them go to seed. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Coleus can be propagated by seed —start indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the frost- free date — or by stem cuttings, rooted in water. If you choose to let the professionals start your coleus, like tomato plants, they can’t be put outdoors until it is warm enough, usually mid-May or, as my father always said, Memorial Day, just in case there’s an unusual dip in temperature. Because they are not cold-tolerant, they are considered annuals if grown outdoors on Long Island, but are evergreen perennials in warmer areas lasting for a number of years.

It shouldn’t surprise you, that being native to a warm climate, they are somewhat heat-tolerant, but that doesn’t mean drought-tolerant. Don’t let the soil get soggy, but do keep it evenly moist. If the soil dries out, the leaves will quickly wilt, but if you notice and water them fast enough, they may perk up.

Coleus leaves come in a wide variety of colors including green, yellow, white, burgundy, red, pink and black — actually a very dark burgundy. The green, of course, comes from chlorophyll, but the reds come from the chemical anthocyanin, an adaptation to attract pollinators to the plant.

Coleus can get quite large, but there are dwarf varieties. Check out the ones you’re interested in before purchasing them. They do best in a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0, so you may need to add lime to your garden soil. Potting soil is closer to neutral, already.

As houseplants, keep in a warm place — 70 to 85 degrees is ideal, but not less than 50 degrees — with bright light.

As far as fertilizer goes, use compost, or if using chemical fertilizers, use once a month or as per package directions. If you’re growing your coleus in containers, you’ve probably used potting soil of one variety or another. Check it to see if it already contains fertilizer. If so, only start fertilizing when what’s in the soil is used up, which will be noted on the potting soil package.

As the cold weather approaches, you can bring containers inside to grow as houseplants or you can take cuttings from your favorite patterned/colored plants and root them in water over the winter.

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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Together with sun and sufficient rain, compost tea will help lilac plants bloom. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Last week, we took a look at compost in general, what it is and how it’s made and used. This week, we’ll take a look at compost tea.

Compost tea is rich in nutrients but will not change the structure of the soil as compost itself will. It brings nutrients to plants quickly, while compost itself is more slow-release with nutrients going into the soil more gradually. Plan to use your compost tea within a few hours after its made.

There are a number of ways to make compost tea, some requiring a variety of equipment. The easiest way is to take a large bucket and fill it with mature compost. Add an equal amount of water and let it steep for a few hours to overnight. Take cheesecloth or burlap and strain the liquid out of the bucket. The liquid can be applied to the soil or used to foliar feed. It is taken up quickly by the plants’ roots. Some people take the compost and put it in a burlap sack and suspend it in a bucket or barrel of water to avoid the straining step.

Some gardeners feel that compost tea needs to ferment and therefore will add molasses to the liquid. The University of Vermont Extension, however, notes that its recommendation is to avoid adding simple sugars like molasses to the mix. It also notes that if the compost tea is made with additives but not tested for safety, then food crops may not be harvested “until 90 to 120 days after the compost tea has been applied.” This is the same recommendation for raw (not composted) manure being added to the garden.

How exactly you go about making the compost tea is up to you, but taking this extra step, while time consuming, gets nutrients into your plants quickly and makes for healthy plants. Healthy plants are more disease and pest resistant. Compost tea can be sprayed on your lawn as well as used for perennials, annuals, shrubs etc.

Remember, a benefit of compost and compost tea that you make yourself is that you control exactly what goes into it. You can totally avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers if you want. Also, remember to avoid adding diseased plant matter to the compost pile.

If you are interested in making compost tea, there are two excellent, detailed articles from the University of Vermont (www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/composttea.html) and the University of Illinois (https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/materials.cfm). Cornell Cooperative Extension also has an excellent online brochure on composting in general (https://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/compostbrochure.pdf).

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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Morning glories, once planted, reseed themselves year after year. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

By now, most gardeners know two restraints on Suffolk gardens. Fertilizer cannot be used on lawns before April 1. It must be stopped by Nov. 1. This is to prevent excess fertilizer, which can’t be taken up by plants in the cold weather, from being washed into and polluting the water table and surrounding bodies of water.

The second rule has to do with what plants can no longer be propagated and sold in the county. This is to prevent invasive species from taking over and forcing out native plants. The Do Not Sell list details these plants.

But, in addition, there is a Management list — a list that fewer gardeners are familiar with. What exactly does Suffolk County’s Management list mean and include? The Management list refers to plants which are invasive, but not as invasive as the ones on the Do Not Sell list. Those on the Management list can be legally sold and propagated in the county, but due to their invasive nature, it is recommended that they not be planted on Long Island, “especially by county agencies or for homes near natural habitats.”

Here are some that you may be familiar with or considering planting. Remember, these plants are not illegal to plant and grow, but do you really want to? They’re on the Management list for a reason.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is one that really takes over. Many years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I planted a few small plants. To this day, I’m still pulling out ivy plants. They spread like crazy, love Long Island’s climate and soil, and really take over. If I knew then what I know now, I’d never have planted them.
Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is a native of Japan and China. It’s grown as an ornamental tree here.

A gardening friend of mine planted several and was told that the tree was relatively slow growing. She was very surprised at how quickly they grew and how large they got. It’s hardy in zones four to nine. It does well in acidic soil. The leaves turn a beautiful red color in autumn, but its aggressive nature makes it a problem.

Asian wisteria (Chinese and Japanese) is absolutely gorgeous, but does take over. Personally, I think it should be on the Do Not Sell list, but that’s just my opinion. Unless you are prepared to control it by pruning and pulling up any volunteers, avoid this one. It does extremely well in Long Island’s climate and soil, needing little in the way of fertilizers. The vines reach for the sun, so you will sometimes see them blooming at the top of trees to which they’ve become entwined. If you must grow these wisteria, train them around a pergola or gazebo and keep the pruning shears handy.

Periwinkle (Vinca minor) has blue flowers and is sold as a ground cover because it spreads so easily. Consider this when deciding to plant — it does spread easily.

Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana or Bradford Pear) is a beautiful tree, which is why it has become so popular, with beautiful white flowers and intense burgundy leaves in fall. It’s relatively quick growing and is the one of the last trees to lose its leaves in fall. In addition, it is disease resistant. All in all a great tree? Well, yes and no. It’s known as a tree whose wood splits easily and it’s not structurally sound — definitely not a good quality. Some produce viable seeds, so they can spread quickly.

Other common plants on the Management list include Common or European barberry, Russian olive, Morning glory, California privet, European privet, White mulberry and Kentucky bluegrass. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk’s website has a complete list of plants on the Management list; visit www.ccesuffolk.org.

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

They buzz and flutter and they are disappearing from Long Island’s environment. Pollinators are on the decline on the Island and nationwide.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, native pollinators such as Monarch butterflies have decreased in numbers by more than 80 percent in the past two decades. Native bee populations, among other indigenous pollinator species, are also on the decline, which can put local farms at risk as less pollinators mean less pollination.

But Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hopes to help Long Island farmers combat the population decline with her new Educational Agriculture Support Initiative, which aims to increase the amount of native plant species on Long Island, starting with the Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

“The history of Heritage Park is [that] we wanted to take care of the rural character and the heritage of the area,” Lori Baldassare, president of Heritage Trust, said about how the park got involved with Anker’s initiative. According to Baldassare, Anker has a long history with the park so “it just seemed like a natural place to do [a] … demonstration garden.”

Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Honeybees, above, which are native to Europe are efficient pollen collectors and honey producers but they are not effective pollinators because pollen sticks onto their legs so well. They are one of the few bee species that live in a hive. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Although Anker has teamed up with Heritage Trust, Girl Scouts of Suffolk County, Long Island Native Plant Initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District to help create a pilot native plant species garden at Heritage Park, she said that it will take more than the individuals from these organizations to bring back local pollinator species.

“I need people to participate,” she said. “I need people to understand that this is really important. If we don’t preserve [the environment] nobody else will.”

According to Polly Weigand, executive director of the plant initiative and senior soil district technician for the conservation district, the team is trying to provide the pilot garden with various native plant species, including native grasses, which will attract and sustain pollinators throughout the year. While these plants are neither flowering nor the most visually appealing, Weigand said the grasses provide a place for insects to lay their eggs and shelter during the winter months.

While some invasive or nonnative plants, like butterfly bush, can provide food for native butterflies, it isn’t sufficient for these insects to lay their eggs or seek shelter. Native insects evolve with the native plants in the area. The evolution allows these creatures to use a plant for shelter and sustenance. Although some invasive or nonnative plants can provide food and habitat for these small creatures, this is not always the case.

“Plants have a little chemical warfare that they play with the species that are going to [prey] on them,” Weigand said. “They put out toxins to try to keep the animal from eating the leaves.”

It takes several generations before an insect can successfully utilize the foreign plants for their life cycle.

But according to Robin Simmen, community horticulture specialist for the cooperative extension, and Laura Klahre, beekeeper and owner of Blossom Meadow in Cutchogue, in addition to the lack of suitable plants, the use of pesticides and lack of suitable habitat for Long Island pollinators are some of the many factors contributing to the decline in the native species.

Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Polly Weigand, left, of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, and county Legislator Sarah Anker, right, discuss native plant species for Anker’s Educational Agriculture Support Initiative pilot garden at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“We used to just think that we would get these free pollination services from nature,” Klahre said. “But in the future that may not be the case because there aren’t enough flowers around [and] we have so many pesticides.”

Pesticides that target unwanted pests, like ticks, are also detrimental to native bees, which live underground.

When the toxins seep into an area in close proximity to native insects, some eventually develop dementia.

Klahre also mentioned the lack of open space as an issue as it jeopardizes the livelihood of the bugs.

While Klahre does not know by how much the native bee population has declined, she said they are struggling to maintain their populations just like their European counterpart, the honeybee. According to Klahre there are about 4,000 different bee species nationwide and 450 different species in New York state alone.

Unlike docile native bees like mining, mason or sweat bees, honeybees are not efficient pollen collectors.

Native bees are among the best pollinators for a variety of plant species. The native bees also yield higher quality and longer lasting fruits like apples or cherries, which can have a thicker outer skin; a thicker skin means that the fruits have a longer shelf life than those pollinated by honeybees.

Although Anker said farms across Long Island are affected by the decline in pollinator species as they are forced to import pollinating bees to the locations, Klahre said she only saw a disruption in growing produce with home gardeners.

Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Monarch butterflies, above, fly from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Long Island, which serves as their breeding range during the summer. Monarchs born during the summer only live three to five weeks in comparison to overwintering adult Monarchs that can live up to nine months. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Pollinators like bees usually have a route that they go on to collect pollen and nectar before returning to their habitat. If these insects are not accustomed or attracted to a homeowner’s property, it is unlikely that the pollinator will visit the area. This is especially the case for homeowners who have a simple grass lawn.

While some grasses help native insects, a bare lawn does not provide a pollinator with the necessary sources of food in order to survive.

But Anker’s goal is to educate the community about the best way to attract and support these insects using appropriate native plant species like milkweed, among others.

“I’m actually looking to have [pilot gardens] throughout Suffolk County,” Anker said in regards to her initiative.

The plant initiative has selected the types of native plants that will go into Anker’s pilot garden, which could be designed and constructed toward the end of August.

Individuals like Klahre believe there is enough time to heal the environment and help increase native pollinators like bees, but she does acknowledge the reality of having little to no pollinators.

“In China there are some areas that are so polluted that they actually have people that are going from flower to flower in orchards with feathers moving the pollen,” Klahre said. “I just never want us to get to that point.”

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The Catalpa tree has lots of small white flowers that resemble tiny orchids after the tree has leafed out. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

There are two trees commonly seen on Long Island that look very much alike. They are both quick growing trees, with large heart-shaped leaves. Both have taproots. The major difference to the casual observer is that one has purple flowers in spring while the other has white flowers in early summer. The purple-flowered tree has round seedpods and the white-flowered tree has long string-bean-type seedpods.

Initially, many, many years ago, I assumed they were related, perhaps different varieties of the same tree. Wrong! What are these similar trees? The Royal Paulownia tree and the Catalpa tree.

Royal Paulownia Tree
Let’s start with the Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa), also called the Empress tree and the Princess tree. The tree is a native of China and is extremely fast growing and a prolific producer of seeds. It is considered to be an invasive species, being brought to North America when the seeds were used as packing material for goods shipped from Asia. The seeds quickly took root and the tree has naturalized in North America. The wood of the Paulownia is used extensively in Asia for a variety of things.

Many people believe that it is an invasive plant, one that grows very quickly and therefore takes over forcing out the native species. As a result, it is listed on Suffolk County’s Management List of Invasive Species. It is recommended that it not be planted on Long Island especially near or on public land (see last week’s gardening column for details on the management list).

The purple flowers of the Paulownia tree come out before the leaves. Its bare branches and an evergreen tree can be seen in the background. Photo by Ellen Barcel
The purple flowers of the Paulownia tree come out before the leaves. Its bare branches and an evergreen tree can be seen in the background. Photo by Ellen Barcel

However, I recently came across several references to an article by Charles J. Smiley printed in the American Journal of Botany (1961) that the tree was actually native to North America as fossil leaves have been found from Washington State as far back as the Tertiary Period (66 million to 2.6 million years ago) and may have subsequently gone extinct here. Obviously, there is some disagreement among experts as the tree is still listed as invasive by a number of sources, including the New York Invasive Species Clearing House.

The American Paulownia Association can be reached at www.paulowniatrees.org. The group was “organized and developed through the joint efforts of the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky Extension Services” in 1991 and dedicated “to the advancement of Paulownia as a forest crop in the United States.”

The Paulownia prefers sun, grows in virtually any type of soil, is somewhat drought tolerant and does well in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zones 5 to 11 (Long Island is 7). It has no significant disease or insect problems. The tree will even resprout from the root if cut down (remember that taproot), can reach heights of 70 to 100 feet and is long lived, reportedly from 60 to 100 years.

Catalpa Tree
The other tree, the Catalpa, is definitely native to North America. There are basically two varieties, northern (which grows here so well) and southern (which does well in warmer climates). Like the Paulownia, the tree is deciduous, losing its leaves in fall — quickly. In fact, it is one of the first trees to lose its leaves in fall.

The flowers of the Catalpa appear in late spring or early summer (mid-June this year) and resemble tiny orchids — white with purple throats — after the tree has leafed out. Like the Paulownia, the tree can reach a great height, easily up to 60 or more feet tall. The Catalpa grows well in hardiness zones 4 to 8. It does well in very acidic to neutral soil, pH 5.5 to 7.

The tree can be very long lived, reportedly 60 to possibly up to 100 years of age. One of mine died after about 25 years having been struck by lightning but did resprout from the root. Anthracnose (a fungal disease of some hardwood trees) can attack the leaves during very humid weather, but the tree itself usually survives quite well.

Because of its potential age, quick growth rate and hardiness, it makes a great shade tree. However, if you’re looking for autumn color, it will not provide it.

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