Tags Posts tagged with "Plants"


Braving the bugs, Alistair Rogers (right) and his colleague Stefanie Lasota collect leaf samples in Alaska for analysis. Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt

By Daniel Dunaief

Alistair Rogers lives, thinks and works on opposite extremes.

At the same time that he gathers information from the frigid Arctic, he is also analyzing data from the sweltering tropical forests of Panama and Brazil. He visits both regions annually and, within one eight-day span, saw a Polar Bear in Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow), Alaska and a tarantula in Brazil.

Alistair Rogers. Photo from BNL

That’s not where the extremes end. Rogers is also studying plants at the physiological level to understand how best to represent processes such as photosynthesis, respiration and stomatal conductance in climate models.

The leader of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science & Technology Group in the Environmental and Climate Sciences Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Rogers recently was honored as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The AAAS has named fellows every year since 1874 to recognize their contributions to the advancement of science. Previous honorees included astronaut and former Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa, a founding member of the NAACP and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois and inventor Thomas Edison.

Lisa Ainsworth, Research Leaders of the Global Change in Photosynthesis Unit for the USDA Research Service, nominated Rogers, who served as a mentor for her when she conducted her PhD research.

“[Rogers] is one of the world’s authorities on understanding how plants respond to atmospheric change and in particular rising carbon dioxide concentration,” Ainsworth said. He’s an experimentalist who “built a bridge to the scientific computational modeling community.”

Ainsworth suggested she would not have the career she developed if it weren’t for the support she received from Rogers.

Rogers, who the Department of Energy recognized as an Outstanding Mentor three times and has been at BNL since 1998, “makes you believe in yourself when you don’t have any reason to do that. He believes in you before you know you should believe in yourself,” Ainsworth said. For his part, Rogers is “delighted to be honored and recognized as a fellow.”

Carbon dioxide sinks

For all the extremes in his work, Rogers has been collecting data from plants to address a range of questions, including how they will react to and affect environmental changes caused by global warming.

Through photosynthesis, plants are responsible for absorbing about a third of the carbon dioxide humans produce through the burning of fossil fuels.

The uptake of carbon dioxide by plants and oceans has limited warming so far to 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial temperatures. Without such carbon dioxide removal by oceans and plants, the temperature would already be 3 degrees warmer.

The models his work informs are trying to understand what will happen to the carbon dioxide subsidy in the future.

“In order to work out how warm it’s going to get, you need to know the carbon dioxide concentration and the climate sensitivity (how much warmer it will get for a given amount of carbon dioxide),” he explained in an email.

Photosynthesis is less efficient at higher temperatures, but is also more efficient amid an increased amount of carbon dioxide. Drier air also reduces the efficiency of the process as plants close their stomata to conserve water, which restricts carbon dioxide supply to their chloroplasts.

The transfer of water from land to the atmosphere most often occurs through stomata, so understanding the way these pores open and close is important in predicting cloud formation and other land-atmosphere interactions.

Ainsworth described how a typical day of field work gathering data could last for 16 hours. She appreciated how Rogers worked and played hard — he is a cyclist and a skier — while keeping the work fun. Indeed, Ainsworth said Rogers, on regular calls with two other professors, blends discussions about grants and work decisions with their first choice for their guesses at the New York Times wordle game.

Leadership roles

In addition to his leadership role at BNL, Rogers is also part of the leadership teams for the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment — Arctic and the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment —Tropics.

Rogers said the Arctic is seeing the biggest increase in temperature relative to anywhere else on the planet faster because of climate feedback. When ice and snow melt, it reveals surfaces that absorb more heat.

The tropics, meanwhile, have been more stable, although the region is expected to experience hotter, drier temperatures in the coming decades as well.

Alistair Rogers. Photo from BNL

The Department of Energy is studying these biomes because they are climatically sensitive, globally important and poorly represented in climate models.

Rogers is working with other scientists at BNL and around the world to understand these processes to feed his data collection and analysis into global models.

Using an analogy for developing these models, Rogers suggested trying to predict the time it would take to get to the airport. A traveler would need to know the distance and the mode of transport — whether she was walking, biking or riding in a car.

A model predicting the travel time would make assumptions about how fast a person could go in a car, while factoring in other data like the weather and traffic density at a particular time to anticipate the speed.

If the traffic model wasn’t sure of the maximum possible speed of a vehicle, the error associated with predicting the arrival time could be large, particularly when considering the difference between traveling in a steamroller or a Lamborghini on empty roads.

Climate models use a similar process. By studying the species of plants, Rogers can tell the models whether the plants are the equivalent of sports cars or steamrollers.

Big picture

The worst case scenario of earlier models is highly unlikely, although the scenario of a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide also hasn’t occurred. The models, however, still suggest that changes in human behavior are critical to protecting the future of the planet against the effects of climate change.

Rogers is encouraged by the declining cost of solar energy and the work developing countries have done to bypass some of the more polluting sources of energy from the industrial revolution. He is also pleased by the commitment from the Department of Energy to look for climate change solutions.

These elements “represent great opportunities for scientists like me” to work on these problems.

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METRO photo

Summer is a season to relax and enjoy the warm weather. Basking in the summer sun is a great way to relax, but only when the temperatures are safe. Summer heat waves can compromise the health of human beings as well as their pets. Gardening enthusiasts also may need to go the extra mile to keep their plants and gardens from wilting under harsh summer sun.

Extreme heat stress can be very harmful to plants. The online gardening resource Gardening Know How notes that some plants can withstand summer heat waves better than others. For example, succulents conserve water in their leaves, helping them to withstand heat waves when the dog days of summer arrive. But succulents are unique, and many plants will require a little extra help to withstand a heat wave.

· Take a proactive approach with mulch. Gardeners need not wait until the heat arrives to protect their plants from searing summer heat. The sustainable living experts at Eartheasy recommend utilizing light-colored mulch during heat waves. Such mulch will reflect the sunlight and help to maintain cooler surface soil conditions. Eartheasy even notes that grass clippings, once they’ve turned from green to light brown, can make for the perfect mulch to protect plants from the heat. Clippings also are free, making them a cost-effective solution.

· Water wisely. The horticultural experts at Yates Gardening note that water only helps plants withstand heat waves if it’s applied effectively. If water is only applied in short bursts and not long enough so it can penetrate all the way to the root zone, roots will then stay near the surface. In such instances, roots will dry out during a heat wave and plants won’t make it through the season. Timing also is essential when watering. Eartheasy recommends watering in the morning to avoid heat scald and also ensure as little water is lost to evaporation as possible. When watering during a heat wave, do so by hand rather than through a sprinkler. Hand watering allows gardeners to direct all of the water onto the plants that need it most during a heat wave.

· Let your plants pitch in. When planting new plants, it’s important that gardeners recognize it takes time for these plants to establish their roots so they’re strong enough to withstand heat waves. In the meantime, strategic planting can help them make it through their first heat waves unscathed. Eartheasy notes that planting by taller, more established plants can provide new plants with shade that can help them survive heat waves. Just make sure new plants can still get the sun they need to thrive.

Heat waves are inevitable and potentially harmful to gardens. Gardeners can help their plants beat the heat in various ways.

SHOP LOCAL: The Port Jefferson Farmer’s Market is officially open for the season! Over 25 vendors gathered at a temporary spot at the Mariners Way/Gap parking lot located off Arden Place on May 10 and will be open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Nov. 15. Purchase local produce, jams, pickles, olives, soaps, plants and much more.

Participating vendors include:

Sweets by Amy

AB Fresh Food

Natural Hounds LLC

Bee Natural Body Care

Arlotta Food Studio

Maryhaven Center of Hope

Turmeric Store

Laurel’s Butter

Beaverdam Organic Farms

Priscillas Farm

Malik Farms LLC

JoAnns Desserts Inc.

Quality Parks

Condzella Farm

The Ferm Kombucha

Twin Stills Moonshine

Mecox Bay Dairy

Pickle Packin’ Papa

Terra Nut

The Spice Cabinet

Modern Primal Soap

Naela’s Organics

Beewitched Bee

Knot of this World

The Perfect Pickle

Sweet Melissa Dip

Foundation for Wellness Professionals

For more information, call 631-473-4724 or visit www.portjeff.com.

All photos by Kyle Barr


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeowners can also take part in the movement.

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

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

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

The native solution

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

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

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

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

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

Goldenrod is also a good choice, she said.

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

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

Butterfly drinks nectar from the milkweed. Photo by Polly Weigand

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

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

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

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

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

By Ellen Barcel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ellen Barcel

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

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

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

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

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

Now for some generalities on fungal diseases and their prevention:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Talia Amorosano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ellen Barcel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ellen Barcel

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Green beans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ellen Barcel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To identify the tree by yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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