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

By Janet Allen

John Allen marveling at the luxurious growth of a large patch of knotweed along a road near our home in Syracuse, NY. Each time we pass this knotweed stand, we remark on its continuing growth and, so far, unchallenged spread along more and more of the roadside.

John Allen marveling at the luxurious growth of a large patch of knotweed along a road near our home in Syracuse, NY. Each time we pass this knotweed stand, we remark on its continuing growth and, so far, unchallenged spread along more and more of the roadside.

My husband, John, has an enemy – a persistent, aggressive one, taller than he is – up to 10 feet or more. After battling this foe on our church grounds for an entire summer, he believes he may be conquering it, albeit slowly. That enemy is Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum, or Reynoutria japonica) also known as fleece flower, crimson beauty, Mexican bamboo, or reynoutria. Those who know it most intimately call it “killer bamboo.”

Japanese knotweed was introduced from East Asia to the United Kingdom as an ornamental plant in the early 1800s, and from there to the United States in the late 1800s. Despite its “bamboo” characterization, it’s actually a member of the buckwheat family. This upright, shrub-like perennial has smooth stems, swollen at joints where the leaf meets the stem. Its large leaves are somewhat heart-shaped. Its sprays of tiny greenish-white flowers in summer are followed by small winged fruit containing lots of tiny seeds.

Japanese knotweed has invaded disturbed areas of the eastern U.S., some Midwest and western states, and even Alaska. It tolerates a wide variety of conditions, including full shade, high temperatures, and high salinity. Although it tolerates drought, it’s often found near water sources.

It spreads primarily by rhizomes, but it can also spread by water- or wind-borne seeds. It can even sprout from discarded cuttings. It spreads quickly and crowds out native vegetation, even more aggressively than most invasives. It’s extremely persistent. And it’s tough, having been known to push up through pavement or disrupt house foundations. It greatly alters native ecosystems.

Knowing what a nasty plant this is, imagine our horror when we saw it featured in a garden tour a few years ago! A professional landscaper had actually installed this monster – and some garden center had actually sold it! Any of the native alternatives listed in the sidebar would have been at least as beautiful in that landscape.

The USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center offers an online video at invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/knotweed.shtml. (Oddly, the video features Gabriel Fauré’s lovely Pavane as background music; Paul Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice would have been more appropriate.)

Eradicating knotweed

There are many ways to attempt to eradicate knotweed. A brief overview of some methods is described below, but if you’re preparing for battle this year, it would be wise to further explore the details as you plan your attack. You probably will need to use more than one of these methods and definitely over a long period of time. As one commentator put it, “Prepare to make its eradication your new hobby.” And remember, cuttings can regenerate, potentially spreading the problem beyond your yard, so regardless of the methods you use, thoroughly dry or burn any stalks or rhizomes prior to disposal.

Smothering is one approach. Cut down all the old canes, and cover the patch with a large, sturdy tarp or overlapping tarps. This method has the virtue of being organic and also offering the possibility of gardening in raised beds right on top of the tarps. You might as well garden on top of them. Research suggests that rather than dying, knotweed has the capability of going dormant for up to 20 years or possibly longer.

Another method is to apply glyphosate as a foliar spray in late summer or early fall – or even repeatedly throughout the growing season to slow it down.

 Want to do good AND eat well? Check out this recipe sent in by the great Kimie Romeo for Apple and Knotweed pie. Not even kidding.

A third method is to dig out the rhizomes, attempting to get every bit, since it can resprout from even the smallest piece left in the ground. Of course, it’s not likely you’ll get every bit since the rhizomes of an established stand can spread 12-15 feet and 6-9 feet deep. Some advise against this method since—besides being a lot of work—it spreads the rhizome fragments and disturbs the soil, making it easier for new knotweed to get established.

A local nature center appears to have had some success with another method. They immediately cut down any emerging sprouts throughout the entire growing season, with the goal of starving it to death.

Inspired, my husband faithfully traveled to church with his scythe each week last summer. He scouted for each new sprout popping up and chopped off its little head. As doubts crept in toward the end of summer, he escalated the battle, carefully applying glyphosate on the cut stems.

He has engaged his enemy on the church ground battlefield again this year, (somewhat) confident of eventual victory. And he has changed his method. Instead of cutting down emerging shoots, he’s pulling them out. He claims the knotweed is much less vigorous this year than last and predicts that after this year, he’ll need only to monitor the area occasionally. In fact, he’s already making plans to use this reclaimed area for native plants.

Who will win – my husband or the killer bamboo? Wifely loyalty demands that I bet on my husband, but more objective onlookers may have doubts. Poor guy. I’d better have a nice cup of tea waiting at home for him.

Native alternatives:

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)

Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum)

Sweet Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra)

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina)

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)


Recipe: Apple and Knotweed Pie

by janem on July 1, 2014

Sent in by Kimie Romeo

Kimie sent this in literally minutes after we’d gone to press on the print edition…bummer! But we’re grateful to have it regardless.—Jane

For more on Japanese knotweed, see here.

 SPRING in Northeastern North America
Japanese knotweed’s sour flavor complements all sweet fruits, and it does a great job in this nontraditional apple pie, with an unusual herb-flavored crust, and a filling sweetened with the herb stevia instead of sugar or honey.

2 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried spearmint, ground
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1/4 cup almond oil, or as needed
1/2 cup apple juice, or as needed


2-1/4 cups tart apples, sliced
1/4 cup Japanese knotweed shoots, sliced
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tsp. liquid stevia
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1/4 tsp. cloves, ground
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup each black walnuts and English (commercial) walnuts, or 1/2 cup English walnuts
3 tbs. Tapioca

1. Chill all crust ingredients.2. Mix the flour with the seasonings.

3. Cut in the oil. Mix until you have the consistency of wet sand.

4. Slowly mix in the cold apple juice until you have a dough that’s elastic and pliable, but not mushy, and knead.

5. Press this into an oiled 9 inch pie pan. Save the excess dough to use on top of the filling.

6. Mix all filling ingredients together.

7. Prick holes in the crust with a fork, then fill it with the filling.

8. Place the excess dough on top, lattice style.

9. Bake in a preheated 425 degree F oven 10 minutes, checking that the crust doesn’t burn.

10. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F, turn the pie pan to distribute the heat more evenly, and bake another 30 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and the filling is bubbly.



In the food garden:

Cut off those curly garlic scapes and use them for garlic pesto or stir-fries. Doing so will encourage larger garlic bulbs.

Protect your berries from the birds with bird netting. If some berries look moist or misshapen, check them for the maggots of the Spotted Wing Drosophila, a new fruit fly pest. Remove decaying fruit to help minimize your fruit fly populations. Also look out for another new pest, the marmorated stinkbug.

Keep your food plants weeded, watered, and mulched. Blueberry bushes are particularly sensitive to drought. A five-gallon bucket with tiny holes in the bottom, next to each bush, provides an easy way to water and measure how much water you’re applying (10 gallons each is good in drought situations, once or twice a week).

Keep tomato branches inside cages, and guide melon and squash vines.

This is the last month to plant these veggies for a fall crop if you are in zone 5: snap beans, peas, cukes, carrots, kohlrabi, summer squash, early sweet corn and green onions, among others. Zone 6 gardeners get a couple more weeks of growing season.

Time to renew or move the strawberry bed. Moving the plants allows a thorough weed removal, and then there’s still time to plant a succession crop (see above).

Keep the asparagus bed weeded.

To maximize basil harvest and prevent blooming, cut plants back by one-third, rather than just plucking leaves. This can probably be done 3 times, thus avoiding having to start new plants from seed. If you grow basil in containers, you can overwinter a few plants on a warm sunny windowsill (ditto for parsley, which can take your cooler windowsill).

Handpick conspicuous pests such as Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, and so on. Look for the eggs of insect pests on the undersides of leaves. Use Bt on cabbage family plants, but judiciously. Remember it will also kill the caterpillars of desirable butterflies; instead, grow extra parsley, dill, or fennel, to have more black swallowtails. Leave common milkweed in rough areas for the monarch caterpillars.

Don’t panic if you have few apples or crabapples this year. Last year’s apple crop (2013) was enormous due to the hard frosts in the spring of 2012, that killed the flowers. Last year, the trees put most of their energy into fruit, rather than forming the flower buds for spring 2014. If weather permits in the spring of 2015, we should have another very large fruit set. Thinning the fruit next year may reduce the tendency to biennial bearing that might result.

Black knot is a fungus disease that affects some plums and cherries. Refer to the factsheet for control, but if you haven’t planted plums yet, seriously consider the hybrid plums that appear to be resistant. Most of these are the product of plant breeding in the upper Midwest, so they are hardy to zones 3 or 4.


It’s finally OK to remove narcissus foliage that seems to hang on forever – but removing it prematurely really does have a negative effect on flowering. This is also a good time to move the bulbs, or you can dig them up and dry them off, for planting in September.

Early July is a good time to move Colchicums. The dormant foliage should still allow you to find them. Try growing plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, as a fall-flowering groundcover with the Colchicum. The foliage will help support the Colchicum flowers and keep them out of the mud.

A good rainy day chore is sorting the seed packets. Also, if you forced bulbs this past winter, you can take them out of the pots and store them dry and cool for the summer (except for delicate ones like snowdrops).

Leggy annuals may need to be pruned back to encourage new growth and more flowering. Some annuals don’t take hot weather and may need to be replaced.

Continue to go on garden tours at private gardens and arboreta. Be sure to take your camera and notebook, because you are sure to get ideas for your own garden.

Invest in a rain gauge and keep track of your rain. This is not only helpful, but fun as well.

Watch your viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle adults, especially if the larvae defoliated them. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do NOT cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Dormant buds under the bark just need time to develop into sprouts and leaves. If the leaf defoliation isn’t too bad, an organic control method is to snip off the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs. See the VLB factsheet for details.

This is the last month to fertilize woodies, without encouraging tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter. It’s also the last month to prune woodies, for the same reason – except for dead or diseased wood, which can be pruned any time.

Mark colors of phlox or daylilies in case you want to propagate them for friends or Plant Sales.

Deadhead some perennials, either for continued bloom, or for improved foliage.   For more details, consult the excellent book by Tracy DiSabato-Aust: “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.”

Bearded irises can be divided and replanted now. It’s best to get this done by Labor Day, to allow sufficient time for rerooting. If you want to order more, do so right away. Late-planted bearded irises may heave out of the ground and die in the winter, but if they have enough time to root, they are very winter-hardy. A tip from the Southern Tier Iris Society: put a brick on late-planted rhizomes to prevent heaving.

Spring-planted woodies need to be watered every week unless there is an inch of rain. Ten to 15 gallons per plant is recommended. If you haven’t protected them from deer yet, start planning how to do it.


In the food garden:

This is the last month to plant these veggies if you are in zone 5: early broccoli or cauliflower transplants, leaf lettuce, spinach, and turnip.

The easiest way to expand the veggie garden is to sheet compost now with flattened cardboard boxes. Overlap the edges and then cover them up with whatever you have – grass clippings, woodchips, spoiled hay, or bags of leaves. By spring, most of the weeds will be dead. This is also a good way to prepare the ground for shrub borders, berry plantings, or flowerbeds. You can also use thick newspapers, but they take longer to apply.

Harvest garlic when the leaves are yellowing. Next you can weed the area and plant a late crop (see above). It’s best to rotate where you grow garlic, so pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. Maybe, sheet compost the new spot now (see above), until planting time in mid-October.

Keep up the weeding, watering, and mulching, as needed. Try not to get leaves wet as that might spread disease. Keep a close watch for tomato/potato late blight.

Keep harvesting beans, basil, okra, cukes, summer squash, eggplant, etc., in order for plants to keep producing. It’s OK to leave some peppers on the plant to ripen and turn color.

Fall-bearing raspberries should start producing by mid or late August. If you have the variety ‘Heritage’ and have had problems with early fall frosts destroying part of the crop, plant an earlier-bearing variety. ‘Polana’ has proven successful.

Enjoy blueberries until Labor Day if you have planted the late-bearing variety ‘Elliott.’ Maybe you have room to add it next spring!


Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a bargain if it has been well cared for. Be sure to water weekly after planting if rain is insufficient. Keep the watering up until the ground freezes, unless rain is adequate.

The second half of August is a good time to start to move and/or divide some of the hardier perennials. Try to be all done by the end of September.

Order bulbs now for fall planting, to get the best selection of varieties. Lots of spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant. Avoid tulips and crocus, and enjoy carefree alliums, winter aconite, snowdrops, snowflake, Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, Puschkinia, Fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage, but even when it’s browsed, it doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Repot your houseplants to get them established before they need to be brought back inside.

Keep the lawn mowed at a 3-inch height for the strongest root development and drought resistance. But if a drought drags on, allow the lawn to go dormant. It will revive on its own when rains resume.

Late August and early September is the best time to renovate the lawn or to seed a new one.

This is the time to start protecting tree trunks from ‘buck rub’ damage.

—Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners


Ear to the Ground (July-August 2014)

by janem on July 1, 2014

newJanepiciiHello, all! Summer is here. Time to kick back and enjoy your gardens—and everyone else’s. Be sure to scour our calendar for more garden walks, tours, and events than you can shake a stick at. Then head out for some inspiration. Don’t forget your camera!

JaneSig copyJaneSig copyJaneSig copy—Jane

New York State Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Designed to promote knowledge and understanding of invasive species to help stop their spread by engaging citizens in a wide range of activities encouraging them to take action, NYS Invasive Species Week is July 6 – 12, 2014. We’re doing our part by running an article on Japanese knotweed in this issue. Activities are listed by region: nyis.info/blog.

New Forestry Blog

The New York State Urban Forestry Council has a blog called TAKING ROOT, which should be of interest to all who love trees: nysufctakingroot.wordpress.com. Some recent topics include:
• Historic “Great Trees” of NYC Cloned and Returned
• Oaks for Alkaline Soils, Scoop-and-Dump, and other Research at the Urban Hort Institute
• Phenology, Urban Forestry, and Nature’s Notebook
The editor is Michelle Sutton, a regular contributor to these pages. Also, you can subscribe to the Council’s monthly e-newsletter; by sending an email to takingrooteditor@gmail.com.

Process to Restore Martin House Landscape Underway

Bayer Landscape Architecture of Honeoye Falls has been contracted by the Martin House Restoration Corporation to create the Cultural Landscape Report for the Martin House Complex, with the help of Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, DC.

Mark Bayer, founder and principal of Bayer Landscape Architecture, said, “The importance of the garden at the Martin House Complex is evident, not only in Wright’s layout for the buildings and grounds, but by the mere fact that Darwin Martin’s vision for his estate included space and infrastructure for the gardener right alongside his home and that of his sister. The gardener’s cottage, the greenhouse – these constructions became important to the Martins as they settled into their lives along Jewett Parkway. They signify the value the Martin family placed on the designed landscape and its maintenance.”

Find more details at darwinmartinhouse.org.


Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) is a common, welcome volunteer. Photo by Larry Decker

Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana) is a common, welcome volunteer. Photo by Larry Decker

By Michelle Sutton   My friend Bill likes to say that, for both people and plants, “Volunteers are happiest.” Every year dozens of volunteer vegetable and flower seedlings emerge in my community garden plot, popping up conveniently in corners and inconveniently in the middle of paths.   Either way, I’d always assumed that as volunteers likely reverting to characteristics of one parent over the other (“reverting to type”), their flavor or beauty would be inferior, and I’d rogue them out. But I’m rethinking that now. Last year, volunteer snapdragons were quite showy, and I had some very tasty butternut squash from a volunteer plant.

Queen Anne's lace in the Coyne/DiNezza garden is embraced as one of the garden's signatures. Photo by Craig Coyne

Queen Anne’s lace in the Coyne/DiNezza garden is embraced as one of the garden’s signatures. Photo by Craig Coyne

With regard to plants of all types, how do we decide the fate of our volunteers? I asked for observations from popular garden writer, consultant, and speaker Sally Jean Cunningham (www.sallycunningham.org); from the co-creator of a multi-acre plant-lover’s paradise in Scottsville, Jim Lesch; and from Rochester Civic Garden Center trustee and owner of Perennial Designs (garden design & consulting), Milli Piccione.

Sally Jean Cunningham: As I have matured as a gardener, I am sadder but wiser about volunteers. I do remember being the young vegetable gardener who cheerfully welcomed a bit of “free” mint (Mentha sp.), imagining mint juleps and believing I had room for a few plants. Truth is: there is no such thing as a little mint.   That’s also true of most volunteer plants. The volunteer maple tree sapling is probably a Norway maple (Acer platanoides, an undesirable invasive plant) and not a coveted sugar maple. The yellow iris that appeared next to the pond is a thug called Iris pseudacorus. And I remember a near disaster when I was working around a free Angelica archangelica (I thought) and a gardening friend pulled me away—as if from an oncoming train—because it was a giant hogweed! So be careful—there is rarely a free, desirable plant.   There are exceptions to my cautionary approach, however. In my companion-style vegetable garden, where flowers and herbs are mixed among the vegetables, I have always allowed several volunteers to remain. Asters (Aster spp.), milkweed (Asclepias spp.), Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum), and seedlings from last season’s cleome (Cleome spp.), dill (Anethum graveolens), or love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) are all great for pollinators or other beneficial insects.   In the Coyne/DiNezza garden in Buffalo (a popular stop on the Snyder-CleveHill Garden View and AAA Motorcoach tours), the gardeners willingly permit Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) to pop up intermittently, quite aware that removing them can be a chore. In this garden, their airy little heads, waving among traditional perennials, have become part of the Coyne/DiNezza garden’s signature.

Jim Lesch: Richard LeRoy and I converted several acres of former farmland in Scottsville to gardens. Behind our property there are still farm fields, hedgerows, and woods. From that reservoir, native plants come unbidden in their effort at succession back to forest. We find volunteer honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and dogwood (Cornus spp.) shrubs on a regular basis. We keep a handful of these at the edge of our property to blend visually with the hedgerows in the distance.   In the last five years, junipers (Juniperus spp.) have also appeared; these could be either volunteers from native junipers or our own ornamentals reverting to a parent juniper species. We have relocated and kept most of these. They are a bit rangy, but they do have an interesting bluish cast and tight columnar shape. To us they seem more vigorous and likely to survive on our alkaline soil than the named ornamentals we have introduced.   Besides the “volunteers” coming from the fields (and dandelions from our neighbors), some of our ornamentals also spawn volunteers. For instance, many of our maples have sown profusely. We removed a nearly mature Norway maple to end its invasive ways. A hedgerow of Amur maples (Acer ginnala) and a single paperbark maple (A. griseum) have reproduced widely and are thus weeds as far as we are concerned. On the other hand, we were delighted that one of our miniature Japanese maples (A. palmatum) seeded itself close by. We will dig and site it elsewhere or give it as a gift.

Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) can create a beautiful stand if allowed the space to reseed with abandon. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) can create a beautiful stand if allowed the space to reseed with abandon. Photo by Michelle Sutton

A few of our yews (Taxus spp.) seed themselves. We are often unsure whether the new plants are going to be spreading or upright yews, since we have both in our gardens. Pine (Pinus spp.) and spruce (Abies spp.) seeds also occasionally sprout. It is a joyous feeling to see Mother Nature doing so well on our reclaimed agricultural land, but often we cull these offspring to avoid ending up a forest rather than a garden.   Among perennial flowers that spread, the winners in our garden are undoubtedly the violets (Viola spp.). We remove literally four to six wheelbarrow loads from our planting beds each year. If we did not do this, many other perennials could not survive due to unrelenting competition from the violets.   The short woodland grasses and the Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) we’ve planted have volunteered here and there and seem to cheerfully tolerate not just some shade, but dry clay. Last year we removed most of a stand of sea oats to make room for other plants, but we still have some to enjoy. We planted ajuga (Ajuga spp.) in partial shade. It kept sowing itself some feet away in the lawn. Over the years we have removed these volunteers several times to establish ajuga elsewhere.

Milli Piccione: I started gardening in earnest in my early 30s. My naive vision was that the gardens were going to be orderly, wellthought out, and totally under my control. After the first season of obsessed planting and weeding, I started to relax ‘just a bit’ and observe and appreciate the habits of my perennials and annuals.   I also began to realize that Mother Nature’s volunteers could sometimes be my allies, not my enemies. The first volunteer of note in my small woodland area was a magnificent biennial—the 5-foot-tall velvety foliaged mullein (Verbascum spp.). I learned that it attracted seed-eating birds and became a believer the next day watching nuthatches zipping up and down the matured flower stalk feasting on the seeds. What a delight!   As I became more experienced and more observant I left select volunteer perennials and annuals in place.In one little section of my rock garden I had planted the dwarf Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum humile) adjacent to a miniature narrow gold-leaved hosta (Hosta sp.). After two or three years, both started to travel and intertwine, forming an utterly charming combination. I’ve tried to recreate this effect in other gardens, the outcome never as successful as nature’s original. Self-seeded annuals and perennials can soften hardscaping as seeds, amazingly, germinate in the cracks and edges of walks and in dry-laid stone walls. The balance between a softening versus an unkempt look is in the vision of the gardener—your garden, your choice.   Self-seeded perennials don’t usually get out-of-hand. Annuals, however, can take advantage of your generosity. My favorites are forget-me-nots (Myosotis spp.), tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), and nicotiana (Nicotiana sylvestris). These can work if you’re willing to cull them when necessary, especially when the volunteers have to ‘play well with others’. Forget-me-nots are a favorite harbinger of spring—the diminutive flowers form an exquisite pale haze underneath spring bulbs. About three weeks after they have finished flowering, the fresh foliage turns dry and nasty looking. Rip out every plant once the seed has ripened; as you pull the plants you’re automatically broadcasting seed for the following year.

Nicotiana (Nicotiana sylvestris) is one of garden designer Milli Piccione's most valued volunteer annuals. Photo by Milli Piccione

Nicotiana (Nicotiana sylvestris) is one of garden designer Milli Piccione’s most valued volunteer annuals. Photo by Milli Piccione

Tall verbena and nicotiana are 3 and 5 feet tall, respectively, and are both prolific self-seeders. Choosing which seedlings to keep depends on their neighbors and the final effect you want in your garden. The verbena is narrow with delicate purple flower heads that appear to float; it attracts monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Tall verbena is easy to tuck into existing beds, taking up little horizontal space. The opposite in its demands is the nicotiana—one plant can be 5 to 6 feet tall with 2-foot-long leaves and fragrant tubular white flowers. If you have the space they are magnificent as long as you are merciless when thinning, because they can easily shade out smaller plants.


Mow your grass to 3 inches or higher for the healthiest lawn. Longer grass means longer roots below ground and that gives you a healthy thick turf that will crowd out weeds.
Mow frequently, keep your mower blade sharp and leave the clippings on the lawn for added nutrients.
If you have a widespread problem with weeds use a broad-leaf weed killer as the label recommends.
If you only have a few weeds, just spot treat instead of treating your entire lawn.

Deadhead spring bulbs and plant summer-flowering bulbs in May.
Set peony supports in place before the growth makes it difficult.
Divide and transplant summer flowering perennials except peonies, iris and oriental poppies.
Plant tender annuals mid-May after threat of frost is past.
Feed roses every two to three weeks and if you had black spot on your roses last season, treat frequently with a fungicide – following the label.
Pinch back hardy mums and fertilize.
Keep an eye on your containers – they can dry out quickly.

Woody plants
Prune spring-flowering shrubs right after they finish blooming.
Prune trees such as maple, sycamore, birch and crabapple from mid-June to mid-July to avoid bleeding and rampant growth of suckers.
Hedges can be rejuvenated and evergreens that were winter pruned can be cleaned up in June.
If you have ash trees (not mountain ash), formulate a plan on how you will deal with Emerald Ash Borer. For more information go to: nyis.info or call your local Extension office.

Vegetables and Fruit
After our cold and late spring, keep an eye on May’s weather forecast and if frost threatens, cover any tender plants you may have put out early.
Prune to remove dead or diseased branches of fruit trees.
Pick your strawberries when they are fully red for maximum sweetness and flavor. You may need to cover your plants with bird netting to keep them for yourself!
Sow beans, beets and carrots every two weeks until the end of June to keep your harvest season going.
Plant out your tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings after danger of frost is past.
Mulch around your veggies to conserve moisture and keep weeds down.
Check out: http://blogs.cornell.edu/horticulture/vegetables/ for tips on all your crops and to get a list of recommended varieties for New York State.

Most of them LOVE to spend the summer outdoors! Find a protected place in light shade and out of the way of wind and move them when nights are consistently in the 50’s.
Don’t forget that outdoor summering houseplants will need more water if the weather turns hot and dry.
Now that they are actively growing, fertilize with a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer or add a slow-release one to each pot before you set it out. Follow the label directions.

—Karen S. Klingenberger, Consumer Horticulture Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County.


May '14 craftBy Cathy Monrad

This hanging herb garden is a salute to my three favorite activities: gardening, building and cooking. I found many variations of this concept when Googling “indoor herb garden.” And I had a hard time picking a style: shabby chic, rustic, and modern all appealed to me. I decided on transitional.


Wood piece (an old plank or cabinet door)

Wide mouth glass canning jars

Plumbing clamps

Sturdy picture hangers

Small nails or screws

Large screws

Heavy duty staples

Wall anchors (optional)

Variety of herbs




Ruler or measuring tape

Staple gun (optional)


1.Prepare your board if necessary. I chose to strip, sand, and stain an old cabinet door.

2.Affix picture hangers to the back of the board, at least 1 inch from the top. The planter will be heavy when finished, so plan to utilize studs or wall anchors to hang. If your picture hangers do not fasten with screws, toenail or angle the nails to attach the hangers. [Toenail: to fasten (a piece of wood) by driving a nail obliquely through it.—Ed.]

3.Loosely add a clamp on each jar. Lay the board on a flat surface and place the jars in the layout you desire. Measure and record the distances from the board’s top and side edges to the center of each clamp. Remove the jars and carefully mark the board with your measurements.

4.Take the jars out of the clamps. Attach each clamp to the board in the marked locations with staples. Toenail a small nail in each clamp to ensure the staples do not loosen due to the weight of the jar.

5.Plant your herbs in the jars.

6.Hang the board on the wall. Place each jar in a clamp and tighten the screw.

7. Enjoy your hanging herb garden!

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




Stump the Chump

This issue we continue with our “reverse Q&A,” because our readers are having such a good time with it.

The late Professor Donald Wyman, of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum fame, asserted that this was the tree most often sent in for identification. This tree sports brilliant fall coloration and its fruit is an ovoid drupe about half an inch long.

The first reader to guess correctly will win a lilac from Lilac Hill Nursery. Submit answers to jane@janemilliman.com or by calling 585-733-8979.


Nyssa sylvatica pepperidge bud 1 pepperidge bud 2 pepperidge tree silhouette



Give up?
It’s Nyssa sylvativa, aka black gum, or pepperidge tree.

Answers from previous issues: March-April 2014, Dunstan hybrid chestnut; November-December 2013, Sorbus alnifolia, Korean mountain ash.


By Mary Ruth Smith

Photographs by Brent Smith

Is there any such thing as too many hostas? Not according to the hosta enthusiasts I recently visited in the Buffalo and Dunkirk areas. Mike and Kathy Shadrack, Marcia Sully, and Ran Lydell are active members and officers of the Western New York Hosta Society, hereinafter referred to as the WNYHS. I wanted to find out why hostas are so popular and seem to be especially so in this part of the country. They eagerly shared their knowledge with me and showed me their amazing gardens showcasing this versatile plant.

Mike and Kathy live outside Hamburg on thirteen acres with a beautiful shale-lined creek tumbling down the hillside and under their house. Mike is British and spent thirty-two years as a London policeman. He got interested in hostas when he planted a few around a fish pond, fish being his primary hobby at the time. That led to an association with the British Hosta Society and meeting and marrying American hosta enthusiast Kathy Guest, who brought him to upstate New York. You never know what might happen when you start collecting hostas! Now he’s known as the Hosta Man, both here and in the UK where he is the hosta expert for an English grower.

Mike and Kathy Shadrack in their garden.

Mike and Kathy Shadrack in their garden.

Kathy was one of the founding members of the WNYHS, but she grows other perennials as well and is active in their societies. Together they have landscaped and planted their Smug Creek Garden, named after the creek that runs through it, and now have about 600 varieties of hosta of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Kathy recently wrote The Book of Little Hostas for Timber Press in which she shares her expertise growing miniatures, one of the hot trends in hostas today. Mike has also authored and photographed books on hostas and together they present programs for clubs and garden symposia.

A bed of miniature hostas in the Shadrack garden.

A bed of miniature hostas in the Shadrack garden.

Hostas have come a long way since there were only two options, green or green-and-white, and were known as “cemetery plants.” I remember them from many years ago lining driveways and sidewalks in my hometown in Illinois, where they were known as “funkia,” and a more boring plant would be hard to find. Now there are about seven thousand named varieties, thirty-five hundred of which are registered with the American Hosta Society, which keeps the official database of plant names. It’s impossible to say how many of them are available in commerce; enthusiasts like the Shadracks, who have hybridized several, are creating more all the time. Kathy has registered three and Mike one.

Hostas are now a top-selling perennial. The Shadracks say it’s because they have good foliage all season, a nice architectural form and are easy to grow. Kathy says she tells people,” Dig a hole, drop it in, and get out of the way.”

Kathy grows many miniatures, her specialty, in pots on her deck and in the garden where they can be elevated for better viewing. They also have a shady rock garden devoted to small hostas. She likes them because they are collectible and cute and make a great addition to today’s popular fairy gardens. She suggests collecting them by “dynasties,” a dynasty being a family of hostas all descended from an original variety. For instance, the wildly popular ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ now has about twenty mousy derivatives. Dynasties are possible because hostas have a tendency to “sport,” which happens when a mutation causes one leaf to be different from the parent plant. That offshoot with the new leaf pattern then becomes a new variety and may also sport to produce the next generation.

A few miles away in Eden, Marcia Sully and her husband David have been gardening for 43 years on a two-acre property they call “The Hidden Gardens of Eden.” She grew her first hostas in the ‘90s to hide an ugly foundation and became hooked. She calls herself a “certified hosta-holic,” with over 1000 varieties in her garden. For someone with no formal horticulture or design training, she shows an amazing grasp of design principles. Her beds are beautifully laid out to show the plants at their most attractive. She spends as much time planning as planting and makes careful measurements before laying out the beds so that each plant has room to shine. She hides little hostas under and behind big ones to promote what she calls the “Mystique of the Hidden Garden.”

Marcia Sully among her huge hosta collection.

Marcia Sully among her huge hosta collection.

Sully has been an amateur hybridizer for several years and finally, this year, is going to register her first five varieties. They are named after her two daughters and her granddaughter. Her favorite hostas are the large ‘Leading Lady’ and medium-sized ‘Allegan Fog’. She grows many other perennials as companion plants to her hostas and in sunny beds in her front yard.

A hosta grouping in Marcia Sully's garden. The hosta in the foreground is Praying Hands.

A hosta grouping in Marcia Sully’s garden. The hosta in the foreground is Praying Hands.

Ran Lydell and his wife Katy have operated Eagle Bay Gardens in Dunkirk for 38 years. The eight-acre nursery specializes in rare and unusual plants, and he hybridizes Japanese maples and daylilies as well as hostas. Several ponds and lagoons are linked by bridges and encourage exploring to find the tropical island and the “desert.”

Ran Lydell holding his first introduction, Lunar Orbit.

Ran Lydell holding his first introduction, Lunar Orbit.

Ran’s introduction to hosta collecting came many years ago when he had a client with a spot where “nothing would grow.” He tried hostas there and they worked, so he started using them more in his landscaping work and in his own garden, always looking for something new and unusual. He remembers how excited he was when he saw his first yellow hosta and how amazing it was to have thirty varieties. He has no idea how many he has now, but they cover several growing fields, and he has introduced into commerce about forty-five of his hybrids, a large selection of which are available at his nursery

Trends in new hostas include plants with red stems, ruffled edges, and fragrance. He is concentrating on improving the beauty of the flowers in his hybrids. Up until now all hosta flowers have been lavender or white, but who knows what may happen? Many gardeners find the flowers unappealing and cut off the stems as soon as they appear. It would be great to have the added bonus of beautiful and fragrant flowers.

He attributes the popularity of hostas to their ease of growing. Gardeners find that they can be successful and want more and more of them. He says, “If you can’t grow hostas, give up gardening and take up golf.”

Ran Lydell inspecting the new water feature at Eagle Bay Gardens.

Ran Lydell inspecting the new water feature at Eagle Bay Gardens.

While some new and rare varieties can fetch hundreds of dollars at plant auctions, there are plenty available at prices the average gardener can afford. This is due largely to their ease of propagation. They are known as “the Friendship Plants,” because they are so easy to share. Ran was reluctant to name a favorite but conceded that ‘Emerald Ruff Cut’ was one.

The Eagle Bay Garden property was once home to a sawmill and there are ruins of its old foundation on the property. Ran is planning to make a tropical garden with palm trees in the shelter of the old stone walls. When someone tells him “You can’t grow that here,” he takes it as a challenge and finds a way to do it.

One challenge for serious hosta collectors is the availability of plants. A good local nursery like Ran’s is a place to start, and there are many sources on the Internet. These gardeners have acquired many of their rare hostas at the plant auctions held at local, regional, and national meetings of the WNYHS. If you want to learn more about hostas and connect with other enthusiasts, check out also the Genesee Valley Hosta Society in the Rochester area, and Upstate Hosta Society in the Syracuse and Ithaca area.

A final note: Hostas are addictive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

A Hosta-Growing Primer

Hostas are shade-tolerant, but not shade loving. They will grow, but not thrive, in deep shade. Blue hostas require shade, green and variegated ones tolerate sun, and gold ones love sun. They love our climate, with plenty of rain, and good snow cover to protect them in winter. They seldom need watering; Marcia never waters the ones she plants in the ground. Potted hostas will obviously need more water. A scattering of fertilizer in the spring is all they need, unless you want giants.

Deer and slugs can be a problem. The Shadracks have deer fencing and also spray with Liquid Fence. Marcia scatters Milorganite over her beds and paths in the early spring to deter the deer. A scattering of slug bait over the ground in spring and repeated every two weeks helps kill slugs and snails. If you have pets, be sure to get a pet-safe product.

There is a hosta virus that causes the leaves to have a mottled appearance. Be careful to buy plants from reputable nurseries, as the virus may spread to the other hostas in your garden and could eventually kill them.

If You Go

Mike and Kathy Shadrack live on Zimmerman Road in Hamburg. Their excellent website, smugcreekgardens.com tells all about them, their books and programs, and has many of Mike’s photographs of the garden. Their garden is open to visitors on Thursdays and Fridays in July as part of the Buffalo Open Gardens scheme, and they are part of the National Garden Walk in Buffalo the last weekend in July—worth noting for next year. Individuals and groups can visit the garden at other times by appointment.

Marcia Sully’s garden is also open on Thursdays and Fridays in July as part of Buffalo Open Gardens. She welcomes visitors at other times by appointment. Her phone number is 716-992 4994.

Ran Lydell’s garden and nursery, Eagle Bay Gardens, is located on Rt. 20, east of Dunkirk. Call ahead to be sure it’s open, as he and his wife operate it by themselves. The phone number is 716-792-7581.


Another hosta specialty garden to visit is also in the southtowns. Jerry Murray and his wife Ruth started Murray Brothers Nurseries about 50 years ago on the corner of Rte 20A and Transit Road, in Orchard Park, and live just down the road. In his own garden, Jerry enjoyed specializing at first in ferns and irises before discovering he had the perfect conditions for hostas—lots of dappled shade in a very large area surrounded by native birch trees. Today, twenty years later, Murray’s Hosta Gardens, now a small specialty nursery, attracts gardeners to look, ask questions, seek help, and select from the 300 varieties of hostas grown there.

A long-time member of the WNYHS, Murray hybridized ‘Whirl Away’, similar to ‘Whirlwind’ but with more white variation and more pronounced twist to the leaves.

Among his favorites are ‘Stained Glass’ for its color, ‘Sum and Substance’ for its large size, and ‘Halcyon’, one of the bluest of the blue hostas.

The Murray Hosta Gardens, located at 4735 Transit Rd., Orchard Park, are open every day except Tuesdays from 10:30 am –4 pm. Murray can be reached at 716-662 3860.


UGJ Coffee Mugs

by janem on April 26, 2014


We had some awesome promotional coffee mugs made, and when we posted a picture of one on facebook, a few people asked if they could buy them. Well, sure! We’d love that, and thanks for asking.

The price of $12 includes tax and shipping.

Thanks much!