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Geraniums

Photo by Gerard Romano

OCTOBER BLOOMS

Gerard Romano of Port Jefferson Station spied these beautiful geraniums during a drive in Port Jefferson on Oct. 4 and snapped this photo. He writes, ‘My favorite flowers have bloomed again in today’s soft rain. They live in a raised planter at the driveway entrance to a handsome home at the end of Crystal Brook Hollow Road.

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The annual Goosehill Primary School Earth Day planting in Cold Spring Harbor was a great success! Parent volunteers came over the weekend to pre-dig holes for the students and set up planting areas. Each class took turns planting colorful geraniums, with shovels and watering cans in hand. It was a great way to celebrate Earth Day and make the school surroundings beautiful! 

Photo by Karen Spehler, Publicist, Cold Spring Harbor School District

Ideally, window boxes should be filled with plants that bloom continuously throughout the growing season. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Depending on your home and gardening style, you may want to add window boxes to at least the first floor’s front windows. I also have window boxes on windows that look out on my back patio. I like sitting in the back yard, reading my newspaper and being surrounded by these colorful plants.

In general, since window boxes are not very deep, think in terms of smaller plants, ones where the tops can be seen through the windows from inside the house, but not so tall that they totally obscure the view.

Most people use annuals since perennials will usually grow too large. I have seen window boxes filled with hydrangeas, which presented a beautiful scene all growing season long, but there are a number of problems associated with keeping perennials growing in a window box such as overwintering them. The small pots needed to fit into a window box may not provide enough protection from the cold. For another, the plants really want to get much bigger and will eventually block the view. They will easily become root bound — all roots and no soil.

Geraniums are ideal, easy care plants for window boxes. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Ideal window box plants are those that bloom more or less continuously throughout the growing season. I particularly like geraniums (Pelargonium) because they are drought tolerant and are, for the most part, disease and insect pest free. In other words, once planted you can pretty much ignore them except during periods of drought when they do need supplemental water. Use a good-quality potting soil and add fertilizer, following package directions. If a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better.

Other annuals that look great in a window box include marigolds and petunias. Consider adding some Dusty Miller for its contrasting light blue-gray leaves. If your window boxes don’t get a lot of sunlight, use coleus, impatiens or fuchsia.

Adding some vinelike plants creates a charming effect, as they cascade down between the flowering plants. Consider orange nasturtium scattered between white geraniums, for example, or green potato vines between hot pink geraniums in a black window box.

Herbs are great in window boxes, especially boxes that are outside kitchen windows. Usually there is enough sun and it makes harvesting the herbs for use with a meal really easy — just open your window and pick what you need. There are many herbs that are suited to window boxes such as mints, thyme and parsley. But those that get very tall, like pineapple sage, may block out your view.

These early spring flowering plants may be replaced later in the season with ones that do well in summer and fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Unless you have very sturdy window boxes, it may be easier for you to transfer your small seedlings into larger pots and settle those pots into the window box, rather than filling the window box itself with soil. This is especially important if your window boxes are made of wood, which may soon rot away with the damp soil. To deal with this problem, I have liners of a man-made material in several of my window boxes.

For those more exuberant gardeners, you can change the plants in the widow boxes seasonally. Maybe you want mums in the fall or small bulbs in the spring. Deadheading is one chore that annoys me but really should be done with window boxes, since the plants in them are so visible, especially those on the front of your house. So, whether you go for a very formal look, a riot of colors or a way to grow your herbs, consider widow boxes this coming gardening season.

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

Hydrangeas need plenty of water to survive. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

If you’ve checked lately, you’ve seen that in some of the prime growing months (March, April, June and July) we’ve had less rain than we usually get. June in particular registered just over one inch at Brookhaven National Laboratory, while the average is almost four inches. This situation happened last year as well. The U.S. Drought Monitor (www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu) noted that as of the end of July, central Suffolk is in a severe drought and the rest of Long Island in a moderate drought. Riverhead Town has even asked residents to cut back on water use.

On average, Long Island gets about four inches of rain per month. On average, it rains once every three or four days. This is generally ideal for most plants grown here including lawns. But, we could get a week of rain followed by three weeks of virtually no rain. On average, we’re doing just fine but many plants will not make it through those three weeks of drought. So, gardeners need to be aware of not only the current weather but their plants’ requirements.

10 things to consider:

1. Is this a time of even mild drought? If it is, you need to make sure you water plants as needed. Follow local restrictions and recommendations on when to water.

2. Sandy soil lets excess rain drain quickly — if all the rain comes at the same time, there will be days or weeks when your plants are drying out.

Hydrangeas are literally “water vessels,” growing natively where they receive plenty of water. In times of even mild drought, they dry out quickly. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Hydrangeas are literally “water vessels,” growing natively where they receive plenty of water. In times of even mild drought, they dry out quickly. Photo by Ellen Barcel

3. Consider what are the ideal conditions for the plants you have selected. Geraniums are very drought tolerant, for example, while hydrangeas are not.

4. Native plants are more adapted to changing conditions. They are more accustomed to heavy rain or times of drought. This doesn’t mean that you can ignore them completely, but if you are away for a week or two, you don’t need to worry that your garden will be burned to a crisp when you return. Nonnative plants with similar requirements should do well here as well.

5. Lawn sprinklers don’t always give enough water for shrubs and trees. I have several hydrangeas that don’t get enough water from the sprinkler system. So, I need to be aware of when it rains (then all plants get watered). If it doesn’t rain for a few days, I start checking these hydrangeas and may need to hand water them even if the sprinkler was on. After all, hydrangeas are, quite literally “water vessels.”

6. Drip irrigation systems bring water to the roots, keeping leaves dry and therefore less likely to get fungal diseases. Also, less water is lost to evaporation, which can happen with sprinkler systems.

7. Plants with taproots (oak, catalpa, dandelions, etc.) do better in times of drought than plants with more surface roots. These taproots reach way down into the soil, where there’s more likely to be water.

8. Unless you have clay soil, you generally don’t have to deal with a situation of too much water. Long Island’s generally sandy soil drains quickly. If you do have a spot where water collects, consider a rain garden there, that is, plants that tolerate standing water.

Geraniums are drought-tolerant plants. Even in containers they need less water than most plants. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Geraniums are drought-tolerant plants. Even in containers they need less water than most plants. Photo by Ellen Barcel

9. Plants grown in containers need special consideration. Small pots dry out quickly. Clay pots dry out more quickly than man-made materials like plastic. If you’re going to be away on vacation, you probably need someone to come in and water your containers and hanging baskets at least every few days. Moving them out of the direct sun can also help. Look for self-watering planters that have a large water reservoir that you can fill up before you leave. Use watering crystals, which hold excess water and then release it as the soil dries out.

10. The leaves of plants grown in containers can act like umbrellas over the container’s soil. So, even if it’s rained a lot, check those pots to make sure that the rain penetrated down into the soil. I’ve seen bushy plants in containers easily dry out, even after a heavy rain. Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County 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.