Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Reprint: Trees as Tribute

by cathym on May 26, 2016

Although flowers often go hand in hand with funerals, trees offer a more lasting tribute. What would you rather have, a spray of roses for a week or an awesome oak for a century?

You’ll see trees in arboreta, parks, and other public spaces dedicated to people who have gone before us. Many animal lovers plant a tree as a memorial to a beloved pet. Trees can also mark an important milestone, such as a graduation, wedding, or birth.

My dad planted trees for each of his seven children. He liked variety, so by the time he got to his youngest, I was stuck with a silver maple. Heck, we lived next door to the Highland Park arboretum, so he wasn’t lacking for inspiration. At least my silver maple grew faster than any of the other trees in our yard — giving me something to brag about.

 Shagbark hickory is a slow grower that rewards the patient with centuries of majestic beauty.

Shagbark hickory is a slow grower that rewards the patient with centuries of majestic beauty.

Catalpa delights with white flowers in late spring and brown seedpodsin winter

Catalpa delights with white flowers in late spring and brown seedpodsin winter

I enjoy growing trees with special significance. The catalpa, above, is also known as cigar tree because of its slender brown seedpods. I found the volunteer seedling while visiting the University of Notre Dame, my dad’s alma mater. Groundskeepers eventually would have yanked out the interloper, so I brought it home with me. There’s something really satisfying about saving a doomed plant.

Then there are the two red oaks I discovered growing on my parents’ gravesite. The seedlings were so small I brought them back on the plane in coffee cups. Today they’re 8 feet tall and awaiting a permanent home. (I just need to find a special spot that won’t be disturbed for, oh, 200 years or so.)

Red oak has beautiful fall color and is a relatively fast grower.

Red oak has beautiful fall color and is a relatively fast grower.

Red oak trees are hardy to Zone 3 so Iowa’s cold winters haven’t been a problem for these Upstate transplants. I do have to cut the roots every other year so they don’t get rootbound. I also mulch the pots with leaves for winter insulation. Both of those extra steps will be unnecessary once the trees are planted for good.

By the way, my Rochester-born oaks march to their own drummer. They leaf out later in spring than their Midwestern relatives and take on fall color at their own pace, too. It makes them seem even more special to me.

There’s one other symbolic tree I’d like to tell you about: a black walnut seedling I found growing through the side of a raised bed. I dedicated the tree to a young man who’s experienced some teen growing pains. I’ve shown him pictures of the tree and pointed out that — just like him — it’s no quitter. I’m probably more interested in the tree’s symbolism than he will ever be. But it’s a convenient prop when he can use some encouragement.

Planted too deeply to sprout conventionally, this black walnut forced its way through a seam.

Planted too deeply to sprout conventionally, this black walnut forced its
way through a seam.

That resourceful seedling has an interesting backstory: I brought a nut back with me from the historic Arbor Day Lodge in Nebraska. The nut lingered in my truck bed for weeks — somehow escaping the attention of foraging squirrels — until I got around to wrapping it in chicken wire and burying it in a raised bed for the winter. I soon forgot about it.

Black walnuts can take two years to germinate, so an entire season of vegetable gardening went on above the sleeping walnut. It wasn’t until the second summer that a wiry stem started squeezing through a seam so tight it would give a microbe reason to pause. Talk about the will to live! How can you let a tree with that sort of moxie die? I couldn’t.

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Tenacity alone was reason enough to save the seedling, so it was liberated from its confinement while dormant.

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After feisty squirrels removed the top, the black walnut resprouted into a healthy seedling.

So this spring, when the seedling was dormant, I drilled a couple of holes around the stem to free it from its self-imposed prison. Although the stem was flattened, the roots were in good shape. That turned out to be important because soon after I replanted the tree, a squirrel separated said stem from said roots.

Not to worry; nature has provided black walnut seedlings with the means to resprout in such situations. This time I surrounded the sad-looking remnant with spiny chestnut burrs to discourage varmints if they got through the wire-mesh cage. Talk about killing with kindness: The burrs rested against the broken stem, trapping moisture and causing the replacement bud to become moldy and abort. Could this tree ever catch a break?

Yes, indeed. After moving the burrs back and going easy on the water, a brand new shoot arose like a phoenix from the roots. As you can see, it’s quickly developing into a tree—a special tree with a special significance.

Grow Your Own Tribute Tree
Would you like to grow a tree with special meaning? Search for seeds at the old family homestead, the park where you had your first picnic with your spouse, your alma mater, the hospital where your child or grandchild was born — the possibilities are endless. Many trees ripen seeds in fall, but there are some (such as elms, poplars, and soft maples) on a spring schedule. Oak is a great choice for a tribute tree because it symbolizes strength and can live for centuries. It’s also America’s National Tree. To see the author’s tips on sprouting oaks from acorns, visit www.lowes.com/lci-acorns.

Luke Miller is a native Rochesterian now living in Iowa. Visit his public Facebook page featuring tree photography and inspirational quotes at www.facebook.com/OldsmobileTrees. You can also access archives of his philosophical tree blog at www.lowes.com/reflections.

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Fabulous Native Ferns

by cathym on May 21, 2016

fern,-maidenhair

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

One of the joys of spring is watching ferns unfurl. The fronds start with small fuzzy arcs in the early spring, just poking their little heads above the crown of the plant and slowly growing upward and unfurling like the unwinding of a spring. When I see these fiddleheads, I know spring is really here.

Unfortunately ferns get very little attention as a garden perennial. In most books about perennials, they aren’t even mentioned. This is probably because they don’t have flowers or seeds and somehow people don’t think of them as perennials. They are in fact perennials, reliably returning each year to add beauty, texture and even color to our gardens.

Many people have the misconception that ferns are difficult to grow. This stems from the fact that they seem exotic, tropical, and not appropriate for our cooler climate. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The north east has numerous varieties of native ferns in its woods and meadows. If they grow successfully on their own, how hard can it be to grow a few in our gardens?

Like with any plant, you need to match the conditions in your garden to the requirements of the fern. They are perfect for a moist shady location, but that is not the only suitable habitat. Some can tolerate quite a bit of sun and others will handle dryer soil. All the ferns love leaf mold mulch, which is logical considering in nature they grow in the woods. The important thing is doing your homework before you purchase a fern and find out just what conditions they prefer.

One of the advantages of growing ferns is their almost year round interest. From the spring unfurling, through the summer’s lush textured foliage, to the beautiful caramel and amber colors of the fall, ferns add a depth to the garden that cannot be achieved with the more traditional blossoming perennials whose flowers come and go so quickly. The green provides a resting spot for the eyes as well as making the colors of the blooms around them stand out.

Ferns have been growing for more than 300 million years! In most depictions of dinosaurs there are ferns in the background. In fact, in prehistoric times, they were a dominant part of the vegetation. Today there are about 12,000 species of fern worldwide and more than 50 species native to the Northeast.

The following are some native ferns that will grow well in our area.  Adding native ferns is a good way to contribute to the sustainability of your landscape. The ferns mentioned below are generally available at nurseries and will grow well in our area. One of the most important features of ferns is deer don’t like them! That alone is reason to try a few.

Christmas fern (Polystichum  acrostichoides)

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides): If you want to try just one fern, the Christmas fern has the most adaptable requirements. It prefers rich, moist soil but will also tolerate dry soil. Christmas fern likes shade but will take partial sun if the soil is moist enough. One of the things setting this fern apart is the fronds are evergreen so you have the deep green color all winter. Christmas fern is not invasive. The clump slowly gets larger, staying 12 to 24 in. tall.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris): This is a large fern, 24 to 72 inches tall and brings a stunning verticality to the landscape. Ostrich fern loves moist shade or part sun and will even tolerate occasional standing water. It’s ideal along a stream or near a pond. The fronds emerge from a central crown that looks like a dark brown, dead clump on the ground in the winter. This is the fern that has the tastiest fiddleheads and are as prized as asparagus in the spring. Ostrich fern can become invasive sending out new underground shoots so don’t put it somewhere it doesn’t have a little room to spread. If they do spread too much they are easy to dig up and share with a friend.

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Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina): Lady fern is one of the most common ferns in wooded areas of western New York and also one of the easiest to grow. It prefers moist, loamy soil and shade to partial sun. Lady fern stays 16-36 inches tall and it has an attractive, lacy appearance. It forms a lovely amorphous clump that won’t take over your garden and adds a feathery texture.

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Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea): This is a spectacular, rounded clump forming fern that gets 30 to 60 inches tall. Its fiddleheads are hairy and very decorative in spring. The spore fronds turn cinnamon colored when mature, hence its name. Unfortunately they don’t persist through the season but die back after releasing their spores, but they’re a show-stopper while they last. Cinnamon fern prefers moist to wet soil.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum): The maidenhair fern is one of our most beautiful native ferns, always lovely in a landscape. Its fronds unfold on wiry, delicate black stems. The green fronds form a double-sided swirl of leaves from the top of the stem. Maidenhair ferns grow 12 to 20 inches tall and prefer partial to full shade. They thrive in moist well-drained soil. This is not a fern that will grow in standing water. One of my favorite features of maidenhair fern is the deep burgundy color they turn in fall. Stunning!

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis): This is one of the ferns that will do well in full sun if the conditions are moist. It will also do very well in shade with normal garden soil. Sensitive fern has a pale green color and a single stemmed triangular frond with segments more coarsely divided. The spore fronds persist and look like little round balls on a stick. For this reason they are often used in fall arrangements. Sensitive fern grows to a height of 12 – 36 inches tall, and spreads readily given the right conditions.

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana): The growth habit of this fern is striking. It forms an upright clump similar to an ostrich fern but the spores appear as dark sacks mid-way up the stem, hence the name. People always ask what it is when they see it in my garden. Interrupted fern grows 24 to 48 inches tall and can tolerate relatively dry shade to partial shady conditions.

If you have the appropriate spot, give one of our native ferns a try. They will reward you with beauty throughout the growing season and for years to come.

Lyn Chimera is a master gardener with Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

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Mosaic Stepping Stones

by cathym on May 21, 2016

Materials

Stepping stone mold or old cake pan

Glass tiles, sea glass, marbles

Piece of paper a bit larger than mold

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Paint brush

Stepping stone mix, found at craft stores,
or fast-drying concrete

Water

Old bucket

Trowel or paint stir stick

Rubber gloves (optional)

Tile and grout sealer

1-pattern

1. Place mold on paper and trace shape. Lay out mosaic materials in a pattern within traced shape. 

2. Using paintbrush, coat sides and bottom of mold with vegetable oil.

2. Using paintbrush, coat sides and bottom of mold with vegetable oil.

3. Per instructions on packaging, prepare stepping stone mix or fast-drying concrete with water, using trowel or paint stick to stir. Pour or scoop mixture into mold, gently tap on flat surface to release air bubbles. Smooth top with trowel, or with hands while wearing rubber gloves.

3. Per instructions on packaging, prepare stepping stone mix or fast-drying concrete with water, using trowel or paint stick to stir. Pour or scoop mixture into mold, gently tap on flat surface to release air bubbles. Smooth top with trowel, or with hands while wearing rubber gloves.

4. Carefully press glass objects into mixture until they sit flush with top of mixture.

4. Carefully press glass objects into mixture until they sit flush with top of mixture.

5. Let stepping stone cure for 24 to 48 hours before popping out of mold. After a few days, use paintbrush to coat with tile and grout sealer.

5. Let stepping stone cure for 24 to 48 hours before popping out of mold. After a few days, use paintbrush to coat with tile and grout sealer.

6. Place stepping stone in your garden.

6. Place stepping stone in your garden.

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Upstate Pairing: Heron Hill

by cathym on May 20, 2016

heronhill-logoblackHeron Hill Winery is nestled into a hillside overlooking scenic Keuka Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. For more than 35 years, Heron Hill has won many awards for its distinctive, elegant wines and continues to be at the forefront of cool climate winemaking. Establishing its heritage among some of the first vinifera wineries in the Finger Lakes, John and Josephine Ingle founded Heron Hill in 1977. Through perseverance and long-term dedication to excellence in winemaking, Heron Hill Winery has become a world-class destination.

Heron Hill remains family-owned. For the Ingles, practicing sustainability is a way of life and means giving respect. Respect for the land in how they farm their estate vineyards, and respect for the consumer by offering wines with an authentic sense of place. Also, by providing visitors with a friendly and informative experience.

Today, Heron Hill offers over 20 wine varieties: crisp and light Rieslings, aromatic dry Chardonnays, the winery’s legendary Eclipse series, complex Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs, and specially crafted dessert wines.

Visit the vineyard on Keuka Lake, or one of their two tasting rooms located in Bristol and Seneca Lake. You can also read more about the operation at heronhill.com.

For this issue, we asked our friends at Heron Hill for a recipe for a tasty early summer treat, and they delivered.

Poached Shrimp Crostini with Garlic Chive Pesto

Courtesy Heron Hill Winery

Serves 4

3 Yellow bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and sliced in half

1 Tbsp. mild yellow Curry powder

1 cup olive oil

6 oz. Chives (a hefty handful), some reserved for garnish

2 oz. fresh mint (a few sprigs), leaves separated

2 cups washed spinach leaves, watercress, or other hearty baby greens

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

16 slices of French bread

1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, with tail removed

1 cup Heron Hill Eclipse White wine

1 Tbsp. Old Bay seasoning

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1. Preheat oven to 375. Arrange pepper halves on a baking sheet cut side down and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in oven and flip after 15 minutes, cook for an additional 10 minutes. After allowing to cool, peel skins from peppers. In a food processor, puree peppers with curry powder and ¼ cup olive oil. Chill.

2. In a food processor, combine chives, mint, spinach, ¼ cup olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Puree until smooth adding more oil if needed. Set aside.

3. Brush slices of bread with olive oil and toast in oven for about 3 minutes.

4. Heat large sauté pan on medium heat, add ¼ cup olive oil, wine, and Old Bay. When it has come to a gentle boil, add shrimp. Make sure that you keep them moving to cook the batch evenly and thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Remove shrimp and set aside.

5. Brush a toast point with chive pesto, arrange a shrimp on top, and drizzle with pepper sauce. Garnish with a fresh chive.

We recommend pairing this recipe with Heron Hill Eclipse White, but it would also go well with our Semi-Dry Riesling. Chives are the key spring herb to use, and mint adds subtle fresh notes, but you can experiment with your own favorite herbs.

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The SUNY ESF Gateway Center Green Roof

by cathym on May 19, 2016

Last summer I had the pleasure of touring the successful experiment that is the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Gateway Center green roof, a beautiful and instructional rooftop garden inspired by native New York dune and barrens plant communities. This green roof is open to the public during regular business hours and is not to be missed if you find yourself in the vicinity of Syracuse.

Gateway Center green roof, courtesy Andropogon Associates

Gateway Center green roof, courtesy Andropogon Associates

A Roof with a Mission  

Their campuses are adjacent, but their landscaping approaches are strikingly different. While Syracuse University uses a more conventional palette of plant hybrids and non-natives (for example, widespread use of orange petunias to celebrate the school color), SUNY ESF strives to follow a native-plant-community approach to their landscaping (using, for example, native goldenrods, oaks, sumacs, and sedges).

Thus it made sense that in 2010, when it came time to design a new 9,400-square-foot green roof, SUNY ESF wanted to use the opportunity to use plant species found in natural New York plant communities. From the common to the very rare, plants within those communities provide a richer research and teaching environment than could be afforded by the seas of sedums and other succulents that usually dominate green roofs.

This green roof is a versatile outdoor classroom and gathering place atop SUNY ESF’s award-winning new LEED Platinum Certified Gateway Center Building (completed in 2013). The green roof was designed to contribute to the Gateway Center’s highly efficient storm water management system and to aid in regulating building temperature.

Green-roof-in-summer-Michelle-Sutton

Gateway Center green roof in mid-summer. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Gateway Center green roof in fall, courtesy SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Gateway Center green roof in fall, courtesy SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Rugged for the Rooftop  

The lead landscape architect for the project was Darren Damone of the Philadelphia-based firm Andropogon Associates. In order to determine the best plant species for the roof, Damone and his associates worked closely with faculty at SUNY-ESF, including Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology Don Leopold (author of Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation and Trees of New York: Native and Naturalized) and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Timothy Toland, who specializes in sustainability and holistic systems design.

In thinking about the conditions that are typical for a rooftop garden, and in their case a west-facing one, the Andropogon/SUNY ESF team recognized that they needed plants that would endure extremes of temperature, wind, and moisture. To minimize future maintenance, they sought plants that can tolerate low soil fertility/low organic matter and shallow soils. Drought tolerance was also key, as the intent was to have the plants function as they would in their native environment—without any supplemental irrigation.

The team chose two natural New York plant communities adapted to these very conditions. The first was the Eastern Ontario Dune community, a windy and dry habitat extending 17 miles along Lake Ontario. As you can imagine, the dune soil is low in fertility, drains excessively well, and is exposed to potential erosion by wind and water.

The second inspiration was the Alvar Pavement Barren community, found in limited pockets to the northwest of Watertown, NY. Alvars are harder to describe than dunes. They consist of some combination of rocky outcroppings, flat stretches of exposed limestone bedrock, deep crevices, and moss growing amidst rubble. These can be mingled with parcels of woodlands, grasslands, and shrubby meadows that are supported by only a thin layer of soil. Alvars are home to many rare plants. Alvar community plants grow in low-fertility soil with a high pH and despite the shallow soils they inhabit (or lack of soil altogether), they tolerate the drought of summer—but interestingly, they also tolerate spring flooding.

With the Eastern Ontario Dune and Alvar Pavement Barren communities, the team found an ideal match for the rooftop conditions. Their savvy matching of plants—in this case, whole communities of plants—to site is something that could be instructive to home gardeners who have extreme conditions on parts of their properties.

It would be no small feat to source these plants—some of which grow natively only in the Eastern Ontario Dune and Alvar Pavement Barren ecosystems—responsibly. Motherplants Ltd., a green roof plants specialty grower now based out of Princeton, Ontario (formerly based out of Ithaca) was contracted to propagate and procure the plants.

But first, the design team and SUNY ESF faculty developed a set of rigorous plant trial protocols and constructed a series of test frames on an adjacent building roof to mimic growing conditions.

In 2010, Leopold and colleagues obtained cuttings, seeds, and plugs and involved students in research involving planting each species at varying soil depth, media, and spacing. They collected three seasons of data, which gave evidence that plants from these specific plant communities did well in this specific unirrigated, rooftop environment.

The Andropogon Associates planting plan called for the Eastern Ontario Dune plant community to be sited on three sides of the green roof perimeter. Dune plants that are thriving there include American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), and the heartleaf willow (Salix cordata).

The internal, slightly more protected beds are populated primarily with Alvar community plants, which include American harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), northern prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), smooth rose (Rosa blanda), and various sedges (Carex spp.).

Don Leopold took this photo of the native American harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), which grows in many parts of New York State in rocky areas, be they dry or wet, calcareous or acidic. “This plant grows on alvar pavement barrens and is among many state-protected plant species on the Gateway green roof,” he says.

Don Leopold took this photo of the native American harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), which grows in many parts of New York State in rocky areas, be they dry or wet, calcareous or acidic. “This plant grows on alvar pavement barrens and is among many state-protected plant species on the Gateway green roof,” he says.

Don Leopold says that if you visit the Gateway green roof in mid-April, you may be treated to a sight unusual in New York: blooming prairie-smoke (Geum triflorum). It is a very rare plant in NYS, limited to Jefferson and Dutchess Counties. “Despite its rarity, it is thriving on the Gateway Center green roof and is the first of dozens of plant species on the roof to bloom each spring,” Leopold says. “Prairie-smoke can be easily cultivated in the home garden if given a well-drained, gravelly-sandy and infertile substrate in full sun.” Behind it you can see wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and to the left is shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). Photo by Don Leopold

Don Leopold says, “Found on the Gateway green roof, the common juniper (Juniperus communis) is well-named as one of the most geographically widespread and highly adaptable woody plant species in the world. It is abundant on the Great Lakes alvar, where its form is typically a low, spreading shrub. Elsewhere, this species can be an upright, pyramidal small tree.” Photo by Don Leopold

prairie-smoke-fruit-heads--Don-Leopold

Don Leopold says that if you visit the Gateway green roof in mid-April, you may be treated to a sight unusual in New York: blooming prairie-smoke (Geum triflorum). It is a very rare plant in NYS, limited to Jefferson and Dutchess Counties. “Despite its rarity, it is thriving on the Gateway Center green roof and is the first of dozens of plant species on the roof to bloom each spring,” Leopold says. “Prairie-smoke can be easily cultivated in the home garden if given a well-drained, gravelly-sandy and infertile substrate in full sun.” Behind it you can see wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and to the left is shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). Photo by Don Leopold

According to Don Leopold, “Of the three varieties of sand cherry (Prunus pumila) that occur in New York, var. pumila is the rarest, being restricted to the narrow band of natural dunes along the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario. It is an ‘S1 Heritage element,’ a state ranking applied to species that generally have between 1 to 5 occurrences in the state. You will find it within the ‘dunes’ perimeter planting of the Gateway green roof.” Photo by Don Leopold

According to Don Leopold, “Of the three varieties of sand cherry (Prunus pumila) that occur in New York, var. pumila is the rarest, being restricted to the narrow band of natural dunes along the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario. It is an ‘S1 Heritage element,’ a state ranking applied to species that generally have between 1 to 5 occurrences in the state. You will find it within the ‘dunes’ perimeter planting of the Gateway green roof.” Photo by Don Leopold

salix-cordata-Don-Leopold

According to Don Leopold, “The sand dune willow (Salix cordata) is a rare upland shrubby willow restricted in New York State to the narrow band of natural dunes along less than 20 miles of the shoreline of eastern Lake Ontario. It is an ‘S2 Heritage element,’ a state ranking applied to species that generally have 6 to 20 occurrences in the state. Because it thrives on the coarse, dry sands of these dunes, it was chosen as one of the main plants to represent the dunes on the Gateway green roof, planted on the perimeter bed. Given how well it has done there, and in our other plantings on even more challenging substrates, this species likely could have much broader use in the landscape where few other species readily grow.” Photo by Don Leopold

Project Fruition 

Motherplants brought in 3000 plugs in November of 2012, the earliest the roof could be readied for planting. Mark Winterer, co-owner of Recover Green Roofs, who collaborated on the planting, said, “We had to wait for the ground to thaw every morning before we could plant.” However, planting the plugs in a dormant state turned out to have an advantage—their moisture requirements were low, and with supplemental water provided for just the first few weeks after planting, the vast majority of the plants came through the winter and established well.

A highly porous, lightweight growing medium was conveyed to the site by a blower truck; it was intended to have less than 10% by mass organic matter (OM), because overly fertile soil would favor the growth of certain species over others, which would have upset the plant-community balance the designers sought. (Based on observing overly vigorous growth of some plants, Leopold later commented that 5% or less OM would have worked better.)

The earth was sculpted with sections of expanded polystyrene geofoam to provide some undulations for aesthetic and microclimate purposes. Jute erosion control mat, while difficult to install on a windy roof top in November, turned out to be extremely important in stabilizing the friable growing medium against erosion. Irregular flagstone slabs mimicked the exposed limestone bedrock found in an alvar environment and provide entry points for teachers, students, and visitors to gain a closer look at the plants.

Nearly four years after installation, the green roof plant communities are thriving and the beautiful outdoor gathering, teaching, and research space is fulfilling its mission. Leopold said recently, “Given that we are not aware of any similar planting on any other green roof in the U.S., I have been very pleased that the plant species that we selected have generally thrived under these very challenging growing conditions.”

SUNY ESF and Andropogon Associates received the 2014 Merit Award from the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for the Gateway Center green roof.

Michelle Sutton (michellejudysutton.com) is a horticulturist, writer, and editor. 

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Home Tweet Home

by cathym on May 19, 2016

The days are growing longer and warmer weather is on its way. This means one thing: love is in the air! For birds at least. Spring means it’s nesting time for the majority of birds in our area. Birds are actively seeking out nesting sites to build nests, lay eggs and raise their young.

Some of the most common songbirds nest in bird houses. Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, tree swallows, house sparrows, house finches and wrens all look for the safety of an enclosed house to raise their young. Woodpeckers, screech owls and wood ducks will also nest in houses, if the houses are big enough!

When selecting a bird house, it is important to look for specific features. First, and most importantly, make sure the bird house has a way to be cleaned out. Most of the time there is a small door in the back of the house that can be opened. This feature is made to clean out the old nest once the young have fledged, or “flown the coop”,. Some birds will have more than one brood a year and if they do, they will build a new nest. Cleaning out the bird house is important because it reduces the amount of mold and parasites that can otherwise accumulate in and under the nest. Also be sure to check your bird house for ventilation. Usually, there are small spaces in the upper or lower corners of the house that are cut out for air to flow. Having ventilation in the house also lowers the risk of mold building up in the house.

The size of the entrance hole of a house will dictate who can nest in it. The smaller the size of the hole, the more limited you are in what type of birds can fit in it. Wrens, for example, only need a house with an entrance hole of 1” in diameter. Chickadees only need a hole 1 1/8” in diameter. This size is also small enough to keep house sparrows out. Anything larger than 1 1/8” is big enough for them to fit through. If bluebirds are what you are after, get a nest box with a 1 ½” opening. To keep sparrows at bay, find a house that is sparrow-resistant. These often have innovative entry options or “sun-roofs” that discourage sparrows from nesting in them.

If your interest extends to even larger nesting birds, you might want to consider screech owls. Screech owls are a year-round resident of this area and when full grown are less than 10” tall. Many people have luck with attracting screech owls to their yards with a screech owl nesting box. These houses have a 2” diameter and should be placed at least 10 feet high.

Sparrow

Sparrow in bird house. Photo courtesy Flickr: the1pony

When mounting a bird house, remember that most birds like their house to be secure. If it is moving around in the wind, many birds will not nest in it. Wrens, house sparrows, and chickadees will nest in houses that are hanging, but many other species will not. Bird houses should be mounted at least 5 feet off the ground in order to keep them protected from predators like cats who can catch birds mid-air. Baffles can be mounted on a bird house pole to keep squirrels and raccoons from climbing up the pole to raid the box of the eggs or young inside it. Bird house “guardians”, tubular extensions to bird house entrances, are another item that will keep squirrels and raccoons from reaching inside the nest box.

Keep in mind that not all birds will nest in a house. Robins, cardinals, mourning doves and barn swallows will nest on nesting perches, a semi-enclosed platform that shields them from the elements and provides protection. Hummingbirds, orioles and goldfinches build their nests in trees and can be enticed to nest in your yard by offering a nesting ball full of natural cotton and string. Scraps of yarn, pet hair, and feathers can be left outside for birds to use as nesting material, but do not use dryer lint, as the chemicals in it that are used to launder clothes can be harmful to birds.

Finally, it is worth remembering that caring for our feathered friends is often as much an art as it is a science, and that results will vary. Have faith, have fun, and use the advice in this article to give yourself a great start. And most importantly, don’t forget that love really is in the air, so now is the perfect time to be a match-maker by putting out your bird houses, cleaning out your old ones, and maintain a steady watch for all the little (and not so little) ones that will call them home!

Liz Magnanti is the manager of the Bird House on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford. She has a degree in wildlife conservation and has worked as a naturalist at various nature centers.

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Near or Far: May-June 2016

by cathym on May 18, 2016

CorpseFlower5-16

Corpse Flower

Location: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Name: Corpse Plant

Genus/species: Amorphophallus titanium

Common name: Titan Arum

Specs: Over 8 ft tall; over 5 ft blooms

Age: 15 years old; average lifespan 40 years

Submitted by: Anonymous

Anonymous says: The name definitely lives up to the smell. It’s hard not to turn up your nose, or even plug it. There were many people around me that did just that. After you get over the stench, it truly is a unique specimen. I would say it looks like a hand or foot emerging from the center too. A once in a lifetime opportunity!

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Ear to the Ground: May-June 2016

by cathym on May 18, 2016

maria

Maria Walczak

With this issue, it’s hard not to get nostalgic as our loyal, faithful, wonderful western New York sales representative Maria Walczak begins her journey—quite possibly the best one yet—to retirement. Maria grew the UGJ’s presence in the western New York region from the bottom up. We can’t find the words to adequately thank her for the hard work and dedication she has given to the magazine.

But don’t worry—if you join us on our annual Odyssey to Ithaca tour, you’ll at least get to see her once a year! Maria will continue to be a staple there, and at PLANT WNY’s Plantasia show each spring in Hamburg. We will miss her dearly, but know she will check in regularly—and keep in touch with the friends she has made along the way, too.

Lincoln_Kirstin-2015

Kirstin Lincoln

On a related note, we would like to welcome Kirstin Lincoln, our new western New York sales representative. Kirstin comes to us with more than 20 years of sales experience. She is a lifelong resident of western New York, devoted wife, and mother of two daughters (plus a golden retriever, Mason). Please welcome Kirstin to the UGJ family!

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May is here; air and soil temperatures are warming back up after bouts of winter-like freezing weather in April. Gardeners will enjoy spending time tending to their landscapes. Below I have highlighted some gardening /landscape tasks for May and June.

As gardeners, we should be aware that the tick population is on the rise. We should take steps to reduce tick bites and the spread of Lyme disease. Cornell Cooperative Extension has created brochures and fact sheets to help you, your children, and pets to minimizing interactions with these pests while outdoors. Find the brochure titled Ticks, Create a Tick Safe Zone at cceonondaga.org/environment/invasive-nuisance-species/terrestrial-animals/ticks. One can reduce tick populations in the landscape by creating buffers, fencing off ornamental and vegetable beds, detaining rodents, and mulching. Take action now to help safeguard your gardening and outdoor experiences this season.

grass

Mowing your lawn, make sure mower blades are sharpened. Set the mower deck to 3 to 3 ½ inches high. This will help increase your lawn grass density while shading out the weeds. Also let grass clippings fall back into the lawn, they will break down and add nutrients back to the soil.

Lawn Care

Cornell University Department of Horticulture Turfgrass has booklets and video that can be downloaded to help guide lawn care. The site address is hort.cornell.edu/turf.

Now is a good time to repair the bare lawn spots from winter’s wear and tear. Select grass seed from the kind you already have growing. Consider the location; sun and shade grass varieties are available. Make sure to water what you have seeded. Irrigate in the morning hours.

Does your lawn need fertilizing? Did you test your soil to see how much phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) fertilizer your lawn needs? Lawns should have a pH in the range of 6.0 to 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Check with your local Cornell Cooperative Extension Office to see if these tests are offered. If your lawn falls below or above these soil pH ranges, add either lime or sulfur to bring the pH to the proper range. Follow the instructions given from the pH test.

The ideal time to fertilize grass is when it is actively growing, usually the end of May to beginning of June or around Labor Day in September.

Make sure your mower blades are sharpened. Set the mower deck to 3 to 3 ½ inches high. This will help increase your lawn grass density while shading out the weeds. Also let grass clippings fall back into the lawn, they will break down and add nutrients back to the soil.

Tree & Shrubs

Spring flowering deciduous shrubs produce blooms on last season’s growth. These shrubs should be pruned after the flower blooms are spent. Pruning by pinching off or cutting will help boast next year’s flower production and adds to the shaping of the shrub. Lilacs, spireas, rhododendrons and azaleas are a few of these shrubs that benefit from pruning in the spring.

Needled evergreens such as yews, hemlocks, pines and arborvitaes can be trimmed and shaped in May. Just snip off the tips of soft new growth which will help promote compact bushy growth.

Flowers and Vegetables

Leave the foliage of spring flowering bulbs growing until it turns yellow; nutrients are going back into the bulbs. In early June, dig up tulip bulbs. Clean off the soil and make sure the bulbs are dry before placing them in storage (cool, dry and a dark location) until fall planting. Other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, and crocus can be moved to a new location after they have bloomed and the foliage has past.

Cool season annuals and vegetables seeds can be sown directly in the ground or transplanted in the soil or in containers.  Make sure to harden off transplants before transplanting. It is better to transplant on a cloudy day.

Many folks plant their dahlias, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants over Memorial Day Weekend or early June. These are considered tender annual flowers and vegetables. Usually by those dates we are safe from a frost here in Central and Western NY. Be cautious. They may need to be covered if a frost is predicted later than those planting dates.

May and June is a good time to plant perennial plants. Be sure to follow the plant labels for placement in your garden.

A good guide for growing vegetables in the home garden can be found at Cornell Garden Based website at blogs.cornell.edu/horticulture/vegetables/. You can also rate the vegetables that they grow by participating in Cornell’s Citizen Science Vegetable Varieties program. For more information on rating the vegetables that you grow check out the website at vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu.

— Holly Wise, Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County Consumer Horticulture Resource Educator

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Ithaca Odyssey 2016

by cathym on May 9, 2016

Don’t miss out on the fun– Sign up TODAY!

 

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