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

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winter photo contest half-1-15



At the end of my January 4, 2015 column in the Rochester Democrat and ChronicleI mentioned some back-columns that might interest readers further. A number of you emailed me asking for them, so I posted them here on the site. Links are below.

Thanks for reading! — Jane

Suggestions for Keeping Rosemary Alive Over the Winter

What to do with that Amaryllis after the Holidays

Orchids 101 & 102



Orchids 101 & 102

by janem on January 4, 2015


The following two columns were originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in February of 2011, and were referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post them here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

I’ve always been somewhat put off by orchids, which is odd, considering my profession. They just seemed so difficult. But last March I received one as a gift—a white phalenopsis. It stayed in bloom for months and I grew very fond of it. Since then it’s just sat there, and I’d like to learn how to make it flower again. Then I’d like to buy another. Isn’t this how obsessions begin?

Two weeks ago the Rochester Civic Garden Center had their annual seed swap event, and Trish Gannon (of Wayside Garden Center, Macedon, Wayne County) was there to demystify orchid care and talk about the easiest ones to grow. Turns out my phalenopsis, or moth orchid, is reputed to be among the least demanding. Given that Gannon’s handout on orchid care was eight pages long, “easy” is perhaps not an appropriate description for any household orchid.

There are some general rules that apply to most epiphytic orchids. (Epiphytes are air plants. There are also terrestrial orchids you can grow indoors and hardy ones native to our area, like lady’s slippers.) First, since they would suffocate in regular potting soil, you need special orchid potting mix consisting mainly of tree bark and other chunky stuff. If you neglect to repot your orchid every couple of years, the organic matter in the potting mix will break down and become dirt. Not healthy.

Orchids need a lot of humidity. If there is a spot in your bathroom or kitchen for them, perfect. You can also mist their leaves daily with a mixture of water and fertilizer (Gannon recommends using an orchid-specific formula), being careful not to spray any flowers. Another method is to fill a tray with pebbles, put the plant on top and keep the tray filled with water. Even something as simple as placing a glass of water among the plants will help.

The plants should be watered about once a week. If you can submerge the pot (just to the top) in lukewarm water mixed with fertilizer, perfect. Let it sit there for several minutes before draining (never let any houseplant stand in water for long). If you can’t do that, overhead drenching is fine, but again be careful not to wet the flowers. Ideally, tap water should be left out in a bowl overnight in order to let any chlorine that may be present dissipate. Better yet, use rain water.

In my next column I’ll cover temperature and light requirements and how your orchids should spend their summer vacation.

“Light is really the most important factor.”

I recently visited orchid man Jim Marlow at his greenhouse in Scottsville, and this was the very first thing he impressed upon me about orchid care. You can mess around some with temperature and other variables, but if your orchid won’t bloom, chances are it’s not getting the correct light.

The phalenopsis, or moth orchid, is considered the easiest to grow, in part because it is among those that require the least light—about 1500 candles. On a sunny day at around noon, hold your hand about 12 inches above the orchid. If you see a fuzzy shadow, you have around 1500 foot candles. According to Marlow, that would be set back a little way from an east or a south window, or a little farther back from a west window. This position, or even a little less light, would also work for the slipper orchid, paphiopedilum.

Oncidiums can take a little more light, directly in an east or south window or set back from a western exposure. Cattyleas want a little more, and cymbidium a little more than that. Vandas need to be in a greenhouse, under bright artificial lights or outdoors (in summer). (Vandas also like to be watered every day.)

You can tell if your orchids are getting enough light by the leaves. It’s counterintuitive, but dark green leaves are not good. You want more of a lime green color.

Orchids also have varying temperature requirements, though for the most part, they enjoy a ten degree—or more—swing between day and night. Cymbidiums require cool temps, down to 45 or 50 degrees at night, in the fall, in order to set buds, which is perfect for our climate—just leave them outside until it gets any colder than that. Like all houseplants, orchids benefit from summering outside. Just watch that they don’t get too much sun, and keep them off the ground.

Intermediate temperatures are considered 55 or 60 degrees at night, which is about right if you live in an old house like I do. That factor, plus a good window in the dining room, is what prompted me to risk a couple of oncidiums from Marlow’s place. Fingers crossed.

A warmer home, with night temperatures around 65 degrees, is perfect for phalenopsis and certain paphiopedilum.

There is a huge amount of orchid growing information out there, much of it conflicting. Just jump in, says Marlow, and you’ll start to pick up a knack for what they need. The key is to try new things. If a particular plant isn’t thriving the way you’d like, move it. “Growing orchids—growing anything—is an experiment.”



This piece was originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in January of 2008, and was referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post it here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

Q: What do I do with my amaryllis plant? Can I plant it outside in the spring and will it bloom? —M.M., via Internet

A: Here in the frigid north we can’t treat the amaryllis like an outdoor perennial the way one could in its native South America—or even as far north as Florida, in the case of hardier types. You certainly can keep your holiday plant alive for several years, however, and like us, it will benefit from a summer vacation spent outside.

The amaryllis is a jungle plant, so it’s used to a thick canopy and doesn’t require a lot of light. In fact, to make the blossoms last as long as possible, it’s best to keep them out of direct sun. As each begins to fade, remove it individually—this prevents the plant from forming seeds, a process that uses up energy better directed to the bulb.

Your amaryllis should be watered thoroughly—from the bottom is preferred—and allowed to sit for couple of hours or so (never longer than overnight) and soak up what it needs before the saucer is emptied. Like its cousin the clivia, the amaryllis likes to be a bit pot-bound, so it dries our more quickly than the average houseplant, and will need to be watered more often. (Do let the soil dry out between waterings, but not the plant.)

When the plant is done flowering and you’ve cut the stalk down to a couple inches from the soil, you’ll be left with a pot of green leaves to tend. After Memorial Day, simply put it outside with the rest of your houseplants, in a shady spot, and water and fertilize it with the rest of them. (My whole gallery usually gets a dose of time-released fertilizer at the beginning of summer, and that’s it for the year.) Towards the fall, you may find the leaves are yellowing and even dropping off, and that’s perfectly normal; the plant is entering dormancy.

Let the plant stay outside with the others until just before frost, and then put it someplace dark and cool for about six weeks, and don’t water it. Replace the top layer of soil with fresh. When you bring it back into the light, water it once, well, and wait for the foliage to start growing again. At this time you can resume the plant’s regular routine. The amaryllis will probably flower again just fine, although they will sometimes skip a year. If it produces no leaves, however, it may have rotted—check for squishiness and try a little less water with the next one.

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Rosemary Flowers

This piece was originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in November of 2004, and was referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post it here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

Q: Any suggestions on keeping rosemary over the winter? I know this is the $64,000 question.

—A.W., via e-mail

A: You’ve come to the right place. As someone who has killed numerous rosemary plants over numerous winters, I can certainly tell you what not to do.

Don’t overwater. Like many plants with strongly-scented, silver-tinged leaves, rosemary prefers dry soil. It’s better to keep it in an unglazed clay pot than in plastic or any material that will lessen the soil’s ability to release moisture. Drainage holes are a must.

Don’t underwater. Many houseplants will tolerate being dry to the point where the leaves wilt. Water them, they perk up, and life goes on. (This isn’t great for the plants, but unless they’re abused this way with regularity, it doesn’t kill them.) Not so with rosemary. After just one time of being seriously dried out, it simply won’t revive. This trait is made more troublesome by the fact that it’s difficult to just look at the plant and tell if it needs water. (Many houseplants’ leaves start to take on a subtle translucent cast, or even just look “sad,” when thirsty. By the time rosemary looks sad it’s already dead.)

Unless you have a cold frame, don’t attempt to leave it outside. Some varieties of rosemary, ‘Arp’ and ‘Madeline Hill’ being two, are hardier than others, but that doesn’t mean they’ll survive an upstate New York winter. I’ve planted both in spots with good winter protection and lost both. The closer you live to the lake the better your chances, but there are no guarantees.

Don’t grow it in the bathroom. Or near the fireplace. High humidity promotes powdery mildew, which shows up as a white, fuzzy coating on the leaves. (Rosemary is, after all, a culinary herb, and powdery mildew doesn’t taste very good, aside from being unhealthy for the plant.) If you must grow rosemary in super-high humidity, at least point a fan at it for a few hours each day to increase air circulation. Confusingly, the plant itself enjoys humidity, so if your house is very dry, consider placing the pot on a tray of pebbles that you can keep wet, while allowing the soil to remain dry.

Give up yet? Don’t do that either. Plenty of green thumbs manage to enjoy rosemary year-round. Here are some of their tips.

Keep in a cool, sunny spot. Rosemary needs all the light it can get and thrives in night temperatures into the low 50s. A cool greenhouse, sunroom, or sunny attic window is ideal.

Watch for the tiny webbing of spider mites. These pests may not have bothered your rosemary outdoors, but may become problematic once inside, where they are encouraged by high heat, low humidity and an absence of predators.

Image courtesy flickr: tdlucas5000


Recently a reader asked us if we had a copy of this article, published in September of 2009. That particular issue isn’t online, but we are happy to post the story’s words and pictures, albeit without its stylish layout, here for all to read. Our writer Michelle Sutton was Michelle Buckstrup then, and many other things may also have changed…we’ll have to see what Todd says about that. 

Todd Lighthouse Pioneers His Way into the Sustainable Mix

When Todd Lighthouse first worked for a greenhouse operation in 1999, he says he “disliked but also was intrigued by the fact that you are firmly tied to a piece of land.” But as he gained more experience with growing—working for small and large conventional operations, then charting his own course in sustainable growing—the intrigue won out. Now, Todd and his wife Andrea, a school psychologist, and their son Jack, 18 months, are happily rooted to their home and greenhouse in Honeoye Falls.


Todd and Andrea met as students at SUNY Potsdam. Todd double majored in biology and anthropology, with a particular interest in ethnobotany, the study of people and plants and how they evolve in relation to one another. Todd was perhaps most influenced by his professor of Plant Protection & the Environment, Ray Bowdish, and it was interning for Ray’s family wholesale greenhouse that gave him his start in growing.

After graduation in ’99, Todd worked for Dr. Joe Kovach at Cornell’s Geneva Experiment Station. Kovach was at that time one of the only organic guys in the IPM department,” says Todd. “He was doing some revolutionary stuff as far as plant protection.”

The bee mats is a great example. Kovach specialized in small fruit production and did trials in strawberry beds learning how to protect the plants in the most environmentally conscious way from pests like tarnish plant bugs, slugs, and botrytis rot. He grew several distinct plots: Those grown with conventional sprays, those grown with organic means, and those that got no treatment. Todd’s job was to scout for insects and record the damage to and yield of strawberries in each plot. Kovach was also big into honeybees.

Todd watched, fascinated, as Kovach tested out using a biological control, a fungus called Trichoderma harzianum to control botrytis rot on strawberries by putting the biological agent on mats at the bee hive entrance. As the bees left the hive and went to pollinate strawberry flowers, the bee legs would deposit the beneficial fungus right where it was needed, so the bees did all the work. (An article about this can be found at www.nysipm.cornell.edu/publications/beedissem.)

Todd worked for a summer at the Garden Factory, helping replace a variety of greenhouse structures and coverings that had been hit by a late spring storm. “I really learned greenhouse tech and construction through that experience,” he says. After spending a year in Colorado with Andrea, Todd returned to the Garden Factory and stayed for three and a half years, this time as a grower. “I really cut my teeth there in terms of growing,” he says. “They start nearly everything themselves, so I was able to see the whole growth history of all these different crops.” Todd was given the opportunity to test out biological pest controls there and use scouting techniques to reduce the amount of spray required. “They were really good about giving me the tools I needed,” he says.

Eventually, Todd wanted to do his own thing, so in 2006, he started Lighthouse Gardens, building a greenhouse in the back of his agricultural-district property right in Honeoye Falls.


What was your intention for your business starting out?

Todd Lighthouse: My first thought was that I didn’t know what I was going to grow but I knew I wanted to grow as organic as possible. I decided to start with ornamental plant starts, using organic methods. There’s no rulebook for this, unfortunately. I became friends with a lot of the certified organic farmers in the area—after going to farmers markets together, you become friends and speak the same language. I am trying to take their techniques of growing in the soil, farming the sun and getting as much as they can out of the sun in a given space while increasing, not depleting topsoil—and apply what they do to achieve that in a container somehow. In addition to my farmer friends, I’m very much influenced by Maine organic farmer, researcher and author Elliot Coleman (www.fourseasonfarm.com).

How do you grow differently than conventional greenhouse growers?

TL: Conventional growers pump plants with synthetic fertilizers that are readily available to the plant so they grow and grow—it’s like eating as much as you can but never getting full—then growers have to spray growth regulators on the plants to curb growth. I’ve always viewed that as two opposing forces butting heads. I’d rather give the plant what it needs and let it take up fertility as it needs it. There’s no need to spray growth regulators then. These plants stay compact on their own. The growth is a little bit slower, but it’s a robust growth rather than a lean flushing out of foliage.

Also, conventional greenhouse operations try to grow in closed systems, trying to exclude life. They have insect screens and an antibacterial footmat you have to walk across. I take the complete opposite approach by letting everything into the system. I believe trying to keep a system closed isn’t truly possible even in a greenhouse setting because you’re bringing in inputs from off the farm and can’t always trust that they’re clean. I’d rather just let everything in, and give the plant exactly what it needs so it can defend itself. I’m really just a steward of the whole system.

When I started in 2006, I thought organic greenhouse growing was just not spraying chemicals and using organic fertilizers so I used the organic potting mixes out there. So for instance whereas conventional soil mixes have synthetic wetting agents, petrochemicals to allow peat to take in moisture after it dries out, organic growers use yucca extract that performs the same function. Whereas conventional mixes have synthetic fertilizers, organic mixes rely on organic fertilizers like fish emulsion or manure solutions. Knowing how much to use was a real challenge. The conventional growers can measure their concentration of Nitrogen (N) using an EC meter to test the electrical conductivity of solution to determine parts per million of N. Organic growers don’t have such a precise means of measurement. So it was always a guess, and it was like I was mimicking the conventional approach, but with organic inputs, and my crops were decent, but not meeting my expectations.

How did you address this?

TL: I came across atomized rock powders (greensand, rock phosphate) and liquid bonemeal and bloodmeal that could flow through an injector sprayer for foliar application, which feeds the plant more quickly. But I didn’t see a real improvement over the previous year.

I kept reading and researching and played around with this organic medium called Vermont Compost. My friend Brian Beh, the only other organic grower of vegetable and herb starts in the area, uses Vermont Compost as his potting mix. But Vermont Compost is expensive (justifiably so, it’s a great organic product), and for such things as hanging baskets and large pots of ornamentals, using it would be prohibitive for me. Also, I think of soil and soil fertility as a valuable natural resource that should be kept as local as possible. I thought I’d try making my own mix, starting with compost. The compost provides structure and water retention but I don’t use it as a source of fertility; it’s the medium that provides microbial life to the mix that makes possible the chemical reactions that allow fertility to be released from the other components and made available to the plant’s roots.

I used Elliot Coleman’s design of a straw bale composting system with a series of bays from which compost is turned. The straw bales train heat so the edges of the compost pile stay warm and the components break down faster. I even sourced organic straw bales. I built the bays but for me, the labor was so intense and I couldn’t get enough compost ready when I needed it.

I found a local compost maker, Mark Wittig in Trumansburg of Cayuga Compost. He takes scraps from the Moosewood Restaurant and makes gorgeous compost. I now use Cayuga Compost and peat to make a half dozen of my own mixes, which vary in composition depending on what size container and what plant I’m growing. I start with the high quality Cayuga Compost and get what’s called blond peat, which is much longer-fibered than the peat you see at garden centers, and because of that added fibrousness adds more structure to the mix. To the compost and peat I add the rock powders, bloodmeal, and bone meal. Then I add vermiculite and perlite for added porosity and air flow, more for hanging baskets and larger pots, less for smaller containers. Lastly, a little bit of kelp in powder form for phosphorous and micronutrients and a little bit of lime to compensate for the lower pH of peat.

This mix, in my experience thus far, provides the plants everything they need. My customers and I have really noticed the difference in the way the plants look and behave. It’s like the plants are expressing themselves as they truly are. They’re full and robust and dark green and compact. Before using this mix I had more trouble with aphids and would have to bring in beneficial insects and organic treatments like Neem oil spray. But now the few aphids I’ve seen have been so localized. My theory is that the plants can better defend themselves but also it may have to do with there being less synthetic nitrogen, which produces a kind of growth that aphids love. Now, all this said, next year might be a different story, but so far, the plant response to my growing mix have been very positive.

Will you sell this mix to other farmers or to customers?

TL: This year I sold small quantities on an as-needed basis to customers, but my farmer friends are starting to express interest. I’d have to invest in better equipment before I could expand the sale of it. Right now I use a 2 cubic foot cement mixer to make one small batch at a time. The time it took me to make what I needed this year—20 yards—was kind of insane, so I have to get better mixing equipment.

Why is your mix better for the environment?

TL: The thing about compost and rock powders is that they are temperature released, not time released. As the sun warms the compost in the potting mix, there is an increase in activity in the mix, which increases the uptake of fertility by the plant as the plant needs it. What it doesn’t need, stays put. With synthetic fertilizers, any that isn’t used by the plant right away is washed out and ends up in the groundwater. Now that I’m growing the way I do, I’m realizing that organic growing isn’t so much about pesticides, it’s about the fertilizers. The phosphorous from synthetic fertilizer that leaches into our watershed is a huge problem now.

You started out with multipacks of perennials but seem to be moving toward doing fewer ornamentals, more herbs and veggies. And I see that this summer, your greenhouse is filled with tomato plants!

TL: The customers that are buying the herbs and vegetable starter plants really want them grown organically. About the perennials they’ll say, “Why should I buy organic perennials? I’m not going to eat them.” My response is you do drink the water and breathe the air that is polluted by conventional growers. Also, conventionally grown plants have pesticide residues on them and you’re touching those plants. If I were growing using conventional means, I would not let my son in the greenhouse. I would not wear sandals in here. That said, in the reality of the marketplace it’s looking like the demand from my customers is much greater in the realm of herbs and veggies, so I am shifting my plant mix in that direction.

The tomato project you see here is inspired by my friend Brian Beh of Raindance Harvest Farm—he’s the one who really encouraged me to take all my leftover tomato starts and grow them in pots. I was reluctant at first because I didn’t feel right about not growing tomatoes in soil. With tomatoes grown hydroponically, for instance, there’s no flavor and little nutrition. You put that hydroponic tomato next to a soil-grown tomato and there’s no comparison in the taste. But this year I’m using my refined potting mix, and I thought if I’m having stellar success with other plants, I should see what happens with the tomatoes. I’ve got 350 plants in 5-gallon containers, the smallest container one can really get away with using for tomato growing. Most are heirloom varieties. I’ve trained them to a truss system whereby tomato twine is hung from hanging basket lines and lowered to the plant, which grabs hold and grows up. The 350 plants pretty much fill my greenhouse, and as of mid August, their foliage has remained dark and beautiful and no supplemental fertility has been needed.

What has been your role in promoting Rochester-area farmers markets?

TL: With my farming colleagues I am a founding member of the South Wedge Market (Thursday evenings) that began two years ago, and I helped found the Brighton Market (Sunday mornings) last year. Both feature local producers only. At South Wedge some of us growers collectively provide a subscription service to customers who want weekly deliveries of what’s in season.

I also sell at the Rochester Public Market. There’s a lot of haggling that goes on, but sales can be brisk because there’s so much foot traffic. Also, I enjoy it from my anthropologist’s point of view—where else in Rochester can you see people of so many different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds in one place? However I do find the South Wedge and Brighton markets more gratifying because there’s time to get feedback from my customers there and because the value of my product is appreciated.

Fred Forsburg, proprietor of Honey Hill Organic Farm in Livonia, on his fellow grower Todd Lighthouse

“For Todd, quality is his first and most important concern. Being that I’m a certified organic farm, I have to have organic transplants. We’ve been very pleased with Todd’s tomato and leek starts. The fact that he grows first-quality transplants using organic methods is extraordinarily rare in the greenhouse business. And with his own mix that he has developed, I think he’s a pioneer in our region.”

Brian Beh, proprietor of Raindance Harvest Farm in Ontario

“Todd and I got to know each other as two young guys in the business, which are kind of rare as sustainable farmers go. We started talking business and became good friends. Now our families socialize, and we go to concerts together, but Todd and I have a hard time not talking nonstop about compost. We are soil nuts. A lot of people make compromises in their business, but Todd doesn’t. His integrity and ethics are the highest you could imagine.”

Todd is hoping to get his operation certified organic in 2010 through NOFA-NY (Northeast Organic Farming Association). For more information about Lighthouse Gardens, see Lighthouse-gardens.com

Honeyhill Organic Farm: www.honeyhillorganicfarm.com

South Wedge Farmer’s Market, Rochester: www.swfarmersmarket.org

Raindance Harvest Sustainable Farms: raindanceharvest.com 

Brighton Farmer’s Market: www.brightonfarmersmarket.org

A great source on all things sustainable in growing:

ATTRA www.attra.org

Michelle Buckstrup is a horticulturist in Rochester, New York.

Update as of 1/4/15: Todd just posted this to our facebook page—Wow Jane! It’s been a while since I’ve read that. Thanks for posting it! We’ve grown so much in the past 5 years. I did purchase that mixing machine and became certified organic. We’ve branded our organic potting soil as “The Living Earth Organic Potting Soil” which has now become about half of our business. We supply many farmers, both conventional and organic in the area including the Wegmans Organic Farm in Canandaigua. While we still vend at local farmers markets, wholesaling our organic herb and vegetable transplants represents the bulk of our sales. This spring we are looking forward to opening our new greenhouse and farm operation on route 15a in Lima with regular business hours so our customers can have access to every variety we grow rather that just what we are capable of bringing to market. We also continue our growing operation through the summer and fall with over 100 varieties of organic produce. I should also add that our son Jack is now a 1st grader and we’ve since had a daugher, Kate who is now 3!



Depending on the weather, last minute gardening chores can be squeezed in during early November, leaving December a time to relax and enjoy looking through 2015 gardening catalogs as they arrive by mail or online.


Piles of fallen leaves should not just sit on top of a lawn all winter long. They can mat together, causing damage to the turf grass crowns. Leaves should be shredded using a mower, with the small pieces allowed to filter between the grass blades, or can be added back as a thin layer of mulch to garden beds, where they will break down and add natural nutrients. Some folks rake and bag their excess leaves, saving them to be shredded in the spring. Then they add them as a mulch and weed barrier around perennial flowers and/or vegetable plants.


If one has not had time to tend to roses after the hard frost in October, November can be a good month to winterize them while temperatures are still relatively mild. Soil should be mounded up around the base of the Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora and Floribunda plants 10 to 12 inches deep. The mounded soil will add winter protection. Prune back the rose canes that are taller than two feet or tie them to a stake so they don’t not get wind-whipped.


Loosen the canes of climbing roses from their structure and tie them together. Bend the canes arching them near the plant base to avoid breakage, and lay them at ground level, pinning them down with crossed stakes. Mound the canes with soil and mark them so once spring comes you can carefully remove the soil and reattach the canes to their structure.


Ornamental grasses can be cut back or left for the winter months. Taller ornamental grasses may need some staking to prevent the blades from getting weighed down with snow. Grasses can add some winter interest in a landscape and offer a place for the birds to congregate.


Gardening tools and equipment should be cleaned and prepped for winter storage. Lawn mower blades can be sharpened, spark plugs changed, oil changed and gasoline drained. Some folks will instead add a fuel stabilizer to a full tank of gas before storing their mowers. Garden tools and planting containers can be cleaned and stored. Soak planting containers with a bleach and water based solution to disinfect them.


Last winter, many trees and shrubs were damaged from the sub-zero temperatures, winds and warm sun. Evergreens needles and leaves transpire moisture during the winter leading to desiccation, the drying out of needles. If an evergreen dries out too much dead brown areas may be seen come spring on the plant material. An autumn without much rainfall may increase the chances of this happening. To help reduce moisture lost during the winter months, give your evergreen trees and shrubs a deep soaking of water before the ground freezes.


Deciduous trees that have thin bark may show signs of splitting on the trunks caused by sunscald. This can happen when the air temperature on a sunny day warms the tree trunk, especially on the southwest side. After the sun goes down temperatures fall back causing cracking/splitting. To help reduce this cracking, the trunks can be wrapped with burlap strips or commercial tree wrap, or even shaded with a wooden board. All of these preventive methods reflect sunlight and will help reduce the buildup of heat during the day, thus reducing the temperature fluctuations that cause splitting. Once spring has arrived make sure all trunk wraps are removed, to prevent insect or moisture damage.


Rodent damage to trees can be prevented by making sure mulch is pulled away from the base of the trunks. Hardware cloth, galvanized screening or tree wrap can be used to protect young, thin-barked deciduous trees and shrubs from mice and rabbit damage.


— Holly Wise, Consumer Horticulture Extension Educator, CCE Oneida County


Crafty Cathy’s Craft Corner: Warm Welcome

by janem on November 25, 2014

mittens front

Nothing says, “Welcome! Please come in!” like seasonal décor on the front door. This project will produce a warm sentiment through the whole of winter, long after the rest of your festive holiday ornaments are stored away.


2 yards of 1 1/2″ wide ribbon

8 safety pins

Assortment of colorful twigs, holly, and small pine boughs

1. Cut ribbon in half to make two equal lengths.

2. Attach the end of each ribbon to each mitten using
four saftey pins equally spaced.

mitten background

3. Tie the ribbons together with a knot and a loose about 12″ from the top of of the mittens.

4. Hang the mittens on a door by looping the knot over a wreath hanger. Insert the branches as desired.

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer for the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.


Recipe: For the Birds

by janem on November 24, 2014

suet cake

by Marion Morse

Suet Recipe favored by woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches and Carolina wrens.

2 cups quick oats

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup shortening

1 cup peanut butter

Optional – Add with dry ingredients:  1/4 – 1/3 cup      Unsalted sunflower seeds


1. Line 9×13 pan with plastic wrap.

2. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.

3. Melt shortening in microwave & add peanut butter, stirring until blended. Pour into dry ingredients & mix well.

4. Pat into pan and refrigerate a few hours.

5. Lift out & slice into pieces that fit into a suet feeder.  Wrap & refrigerate unused pieces.



Story and Photos by Michelle Sutton

Dan and Sarah Segal bought The Plantsmen Nursery (plantsmen.com) in Groton, just outside Ithaca, in 2006. They specialize in growing plants native to the Finger Lakes region, often from seed they or their head propagator, Kathy Vidovich, have collected. They also specialize in deer-resistant plants from North America and beyond.

With his nursery staff and the Ithaca-based landscape architect Rick Manning, Dan Segal organizes the Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium (ithacanativelandscape.com) each March. The 2015 Symposium will be held during the first week of March—check The Plantsmen Nursery website in coming weeks for exact dates. The nursery is closed for the winter but reopens in mid-April.

How did you get into plants and native plants particularly?

Dan Segal: It was after college, after getting my English Lit degree from HamiltonCollege in Clinton, NY. I moved to California and a friend helped me get a job landscaping with native plants on a 5-acre estate on the shores of Lake Tahoe for the owner of a major ice cream brand. We had an unlimited budget—I thought that was normal, that every job would be like that! We would grow things like wild columbines, heucheras, and delphiniums (those native to the mountains of the West) and then I’d see these same plants growing abundantly in wet meadows when I was out hiking. I started making connections between plants growing wild in the region and those on the jobs I was doing.

Then I worked for a flower farm and a golf course. At this time I started doing a lot of field botany and seed collecting on my own time, for my own interest. I read field guides and taught myself but would have loved to have a teacher. I was really passionate about it and grew everything I could—mostly western natives, but really anything I was interested in. Sometimes, like with cannas, I’d collect seeds while walking down a city street, then plant the seeds and not know what they were until the seedlings started to mature.

I got a job with a small company, North Coast Native Nursery in Petaluma, beginning as a laborer then working my way up to propagating and installing environmental restoration projects all over the San Francisco Bay area. I got to do some cool seed collecting projects for them in natural areas around San Francisco.

How did you end up back East?

DS: I met my wife Sarah in CA and we both missed the East (I grew up on Long Island and spent college summers in Ithaca, and she’d grown up in Minnesota). I’d been in CA ten years and she for about seven. I wanted to come back to Ithaca but didn’t have work prospects there,

so I finagled my way into working for a huge native plants nursery called Pinelands in New Jersey, the biggest one in the East. It was great for me because it was fast-paced and I learned a lot about environmental restoration work. I figured I’d work there for about five years then try to move up to Ithaca, and that’s what pretty much happened.

At Pinelands I was interviewing a guy for a job who used to work at The Plantsmen in Ithaca. He told me that the nursery seemed to be headed toward closing its doors, so I contacted Rick Hedrick and heard back from him right away. Over the course of two months, we negotiated the sale. Rick had put in place the infrastructure like greenhouses, layout, and parking lot, and he was a good guy to work with, so the transition went pretty smoothly.

The Plantsmen in its first incarnation had a strong personality and following. What was it like taking it over and making it your own?

DS: I liked what they were doing, and the kinds of plants they were growing, but I knew I wanted to do something completely different; I wanted to focus on native plants. I changed everything about the nursery—the plant material, the personality, the accessibility—except the name. I felt that keeping the name was a net positive, because it was so recognizable in the community.

We had to overcome the perception by some people that The Plantsmen had gone out of business. Also, for the first year or so, we had a lot of customers complain that we didn’t have certain things that used to be sold there, such as hot-house geraniums. I’d say, “I’m sorry, but can I show you this other stuff that’s also really neat?” I could tell there were some people we were simply going to lose, but there were others we were gaining. We switched the newsletter from paper to online and again, there was loss and gain of readership. We have about 2000 subscribers now, and the nursery has about seven times the gross revenue it had when we bought it. We do residential design/install all over the region. So over time, we’ve built up something strong of our own—which is not to say there weren’t lean times, like after the economic downturn of 2008.

I imagine doing educational events in the community helped build a new image and following for the nursery.

DS: Yes, that has helped. I take a lot of photos and I started doing PowerPoint presentations when I worked at Pinelands, doing talks for native plant and environmental groups, municipalities, and schools. I still love doing it; it’s a great way to zero in on a pleasurable part of what we do, which is admiring pretty plants. But the more important thing is to provide context for the plants, like whether they grow in dry shade, on shady creek banks, under walnuts, etc. I talk about how they can be useful in tough landscape situations and how we can learn their specific strengths from knowing where they’re happy in the wild.

My friend Rick Manning and I started the Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium (INLS) six years ago partly because we wanted to do something earnest that would help build our own intellectual and horticultural presence in the community but also to pull everyone together at that time of year (early March) when most people are desperate for a plant-related event. Nothing like this was happening in central NY. The symposium draws a lot of landscape architects (LAs) and hort professionals—about 120 people come. All are welcome; we’d like to see more students and homeowners come. We have speakers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, so that they’re speaking on the flora native to our region. A real nice feeling of community has developed after having done this for six years, with so many repeat attendees.

Can you talk about why using native plants is important?

DS: Just as with the local food movement, why wouldn’t we want to cultivate and celebrate what’s in our region? Like with local food, why not bring beautiful plants into cultivation from the least distance possible? You can look at it as a simplicity principle. Also, like with local food, there is value in knowing where your plants come from. For me, when I see a plant while I’m out hiking that I grow in the nursery, I feel an emotional connection to it, not just an intellectual one.

With the cultivar model that dominates horticulture today, the way most plants are cloned from cuttings/not grown from seed, we know nothing of their origins, and genetic variation is not encouraged. I like that with native plants, you know the provenance of that seed, and you get to choose. There’s also the argument that a given genotype is adapted to its region and its environment, though one has to go one step further and make sure that your chosen native plant is suitably matched to the specific site where you want to use it. Another reason I like to use natives is the idea of truly creating a sense of place, not just talking about it abstractly and then using cultivars from who-knows-where, as so often happens.

A lot of gardeners will say, for ornamental landscapes, why does it matter? But if someone has a woodland they want to restore that’s been damaged by deer browse—let’s say now they have a perimeter fence—I can’t help but look at that as a restoration project, and if we can, why wouldn’t we capture some of the genetics that are in our region, of the plants that were destroyed by the deer?

That said, I’m not a fundamentalist. My obsession with natives has softened to a philosophy, rather than a religion, over time. I love beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) and boxwood (Buxus spp.) and purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’), in part because these are plants I know can stand up to the deer. Besides, if you are a fundamentalist and say “You should always use natives” and then they don’t work well, natives can seem to be the problem. Plant recommendations have to be more specific and nuanced.

The most interesting part of our work with natives is that it’s something different; it’s not being done by many people in the area. I think one of the great advantages with natives is you can observe them in the wild and the reason that’s important is you learn so much about where they want to grow. So for instance, if you see Monarda didyma growing in wet shade, that tells you where this plant wants to be grown. Or as with Rudbeckia laciniata, one of my favorite native perennials, it is a wetland plant all over Tompkins County, growing in conditions a little drier than where you find cattails. That tells us about how to grow it in the nursery and where to plant it in the garden—in wet spots in lawns and in rain gardens.

When I was younger, I used to try really hard to convince everyone of the need to use native plants. I don’t do that anymore; I just offer options for those who are interested. People sometimes have the misperception that native plants are weedy or ratty looking or harder to grow. These are prejudices, based on not knowing. Blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica), our native spiraea (Spiraea tomentosa), and New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are beautiful and easy to grow, for instance.

How can native plants and deer coexist?

DS: There are three ways to go about it: First, the homeowner can put up a complete perimeter deer fence, and more and more of our clients are requesting that. Deer fencing can be done more inexpensively than many people realize, with creatively cheaper posts, and taking fencing around existing trees. A second approach is to use native plants in a fenced area and a combination of nonnative and native deer resistant plants (there are 25 or 30 of the latter we can use) in the unprotected areas. The third option is that people can protect plants individually like with repellents, but I try to discourage people from that, because it is labor intensive and just one missed repellent application can open the door to mass destruction in just one night.

What are some things you’re into outside of work?

DS: The thing that plants replaced in my life was sports. I’m still a fan, and I watch and play and coach my kids’ soccer and baseball teams. That takes up a lot of time outside work, and it’s tricky during the growing season, but I find it relaxing and therapeutic. My kids are Charlie, 9; Sofia, 11; and Aaron, 14.

I’m also a national board member of Wild Ones (wildones.org) based out of Wisconsin. Wild Ones is a national native plant organization. In New York, our Wild Ones chapter is called The Habitat Gardeners of Central NY and is based in Syracuse.

The Plantsmen is a proud sponsor of the Winter Village Bluegrass Festival that Rick Manning organizes, and we support dozens of charitable events and organizations.

From Landscape Architect Rick Manning

“I’m a designer who likes native plants and knows a good deal about them, but I benefit from Dan’s extensive knowledge. His writing skills are evident in the excellent signage at the nursery. I like spending time there; the staff is great and very knowledgeable … I always learn a lot. We make a good team because we approach the Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium from different angles. We each bring different kinds of people into the event. We also spend a lot of time talking about music … Dan’s quite a good songwriter and I play bluegrass and organize bluegrass festivals. Hopefully he and I can collaborate someday on music as well as the Symposium.”

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