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

Odyssey to Ithaca 2017 nearly sold out…

by cathym on May 15, 2017

Purchase your Odyssey ticket today before they are gone!

A wonderful spring tradition—inspiring gardens shopping at great nurseries—unusual plants—gorgeous scenery—a delicious Herbal Lunch and…a surprise treat compliments of Crafty Cathy!

Read more about this trip here.

ONLY $77/person.

Please choose pick up location:


by Michael Hannen with Peter House


Soaker hoses do a much better job of thoroughly soaking the soil at a deeper level than sprinklers.

In a time of shrinking resources, we can all become good stewards of our environment by employing practices of sustainability right in our own home gardens.

As the operator of a small, home-based perennial nursery, I have long adhered to sustainable practices. I use recycled pots. I make my own potting soil comprised of compost, leaf debris, and other garden scraps. I don’t use any chemical fertilizers or insecticides. My potted plants are packed into very tight extra wide rows, and remain outside all year long with no cover or greenhouse. During the growing season I don’t water my potted plants unless they show signs of wilting.

So I was surprised when I received a letter last August from the City of Rochester informing me that my water usage had increased significantly. While I was aware on some level that I was watering more than in other years, I had no idea how much more water I was really using.

The fact that our area has been experiencing moderate drought in the past few years is no doubt well known to anyone who gardens. What may not be as well understood is how the average home gardener can better conserve an ever more precious resource: clean, potable water.

One big change we can all make is in how we water our gardens. Most of us probably use sprinklers in the belief that they simulate rain, and do a good job of covering the entire garden. While this is true, they also waste water in two ways: On dry, low humidity days like we have been experiencing the past few years, much of the water evaporates before it ever reaches the soil. Additionally, water from overhead sprinklers often does not penetrate the soil sufficiently. It will often simply wet the top inch or so, without soaking in.

I discovered that the solution to this problem is soaker hoses. Because the water source is touching the ground instead of hovering five feet above it, the evaporation will be minimal. In my experience, soaker hoses do a much better job of thoroughly soaking the soil at a deeper level than sprinklers. The water department official I spoke with estimated that soaker hoses use as little as half the water that overhead sprinklers do. One final benefit of soaker hoses is that you won’t have water falling on sidewalks, patio furniture, and newly waxed cars.

Even more important than reducing the water we use is maintaining the moisture that is already in the soil. This can be done in a few ways.

While many people use commercial mulch to keep soil moist, I have found that my own garden debris is much better suited to the task. In addition to saving money, this permaculture-like technique is more sustainable. When I prune my plants, pull weeds, or cut dead plants down in the fall, I cut all of this debris into one inch sections with a pair of scissors, or pruners, and drop it right on the garden soil. In fact, I don’t just do this in the fall—I do it all year long. Anytime I deadhead or cut something back, it goes on top of the garden. I find that orange-handled Fiskars scissors from the fabric store are an ideal tool for this task.

This technique will keep new weeds at bay for two weeks or more, add nutrient rich compost to the soil, and preserve soil moisture. One caveat, however: Make sure to check plant debris for disease and unwanted seeds. Don’t despair if you miss a few seeds, as they will germinate into
more weeds to be made into compost.

If you can resist the scorn of your neighbors, you can also follow my lead and simply let autumn leaves stay where they fall. Tree leaves are excellent free mulch. Mixed with your garden debris and a little wood mulch, they break down into nutrient rich compost that will keep weeds down and hold moisture in the soil. This spongy mass also provides habitat for beneficial insects, worms, and caterpillars. Even bees and butterflies will seek refuge in this cool, moist habitat on hot days. Increasing the organic matter in the soil makes it better able to retain moisture.

As any farmer knows, perhaps the most important way to preserve soil moisture is to keep the soil planted. Barren soil leeches water into the air. So keep your garden densely planted with drought-tolerant plants. If they are habitat or pollinator plants, that’s even better.

Tall plants help preserve moisture by providing pools of shade in otherwise sunny areas. Densely planted, tall, leafy plants can create microclimates within your garden. These microclimates can support shorter plants, shade loving native plants, and perennial ground covers, all of which provide habitat, enrich the soil, and preserve moisture.


Kerria japonica


Pachysandra procumbens

The fun part of preserving water in this way is the opportunity to explore new plant material. I find tall native plants such as Vernonia noveboracensis (New York ironweed), helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and any other form of perennial sunflowers are excellent at creating shade. Most helianthus varieties are native to the U.S. (Warning: Jerusalem artichoke, H. tuberosus, which is native and a great food source, is also extremely invasive and nearly impossible to eradicate once you plant it on your property. If you plant it, you will have it forever.) Thalictrum pubescens and T. lucidum, Aralia racemosa, Senna hebecarpa, Rudbeckia nitda, Persicaria polymorpha (giant fleece flower), Kerria japonica, lespedeza (hardy bush pea), double hemp agrimony, and Sambucas laciniata work well also to create a canopy to shelter shade-loving plants.

For the low plants underneath your canopy, variegated lilies-of-the-valley (there are more than 50) only spread a third as much as the traditional lily-of-the-valley and are easier to maintain. Erigeron pulchellum ‘Lynhaven Carpet’, Hylomecom japonica, Anemone nemerosa, Asian Jacks-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema consanguineum, A. fargesii, etc.), and all pinellias produce leaves and flowers from early June until late October.


Polygonatum multiflorum

These plant choices would create a self-sustaining habitat garden. Using soaker hoses for minimal water use and minor weeding once established will provide a habitat garden that will feed all forms of wildlife.

As the lack of winter snow indicates, our area is not out of the woods when it comes to drought. This summer may likely be as dry as the last one. The more conscious we become of conserving water, the better able we will be to weather the dry conditions we may have to endure in the years to come.

While most of us in upstate New York will most likely not have to endure water rationing any time soon, unless we are on a well, why wait to start being a better steward of our environment and home?

Why not take the lead now and start practicing more sustainable watering practices and encouraging your neighbors to follow your lead? There is so much we can all be doing to be better stewards of our planet, and the wildlife will thank us for our efforts. I plan to take action now instead of waiting until it’s too late. I put my soaker hoses out as soon as the snow melted, and I plan to be more mindful about my water usage. How about you?


Turn Your Garden into a Cocktail

by janem on May 15, 2017

by Jason Barrett

Black-Button_Cocktails-2016_Stephen-S-Reardon-Photography_02275(1)As the temperature begins to rise, I’m eager to get outside. I know many upstate New Yorkers are also eagerly planting away and awaiting the first vegetables of the season.

You might be getting excited for those fresh tomatoes, carrots, or lettuce, but I can’t wait for the lavender, lilac, juniper, basil, rosemary and thyme and the array of other herbs, flowers, and fruits I can use to make, garnish or even distill spirits for my favorite cocktails.

As the president and head distiller at Black Button Distilling, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with herbs, flowers and fruits to craft our grain to glass sprits. There is nothing better than fresh from the garden.

As you plan and plant your garden, consider adding some of your favorite herbs and flowers to use in your next cocktail. Not only do they taste great, but growing your own fresh herbs, flowers and fruits can also save you a lot of money and extra trips to the store. Why buy when you can grow your own?

Here are some suggestions for herbs, flowers and fruits that you can plant in order to turn your garden into a cocktail.

Muddle them, infuse them or garnish with them—herbs are essential to any cocktail. Whether you keep perennial herbs in a container or plant them in a garden, here are a few to consider
for your next cocktail:

-Basil works great with gin. Try adding basil to our barrel aged gin with some tomato.
-Cilantro works best as a garnish, but is also a great way to spice up a margarita.
-Dill is a natural fit with the corn and oak driven sweetness of bourbon.
-Mint is great with everything! Make yourself a mint julep, and don’t feel limited to bourbon. Brandy, rum, and gin also make a great julep.
-Rosemary is great for a garnish. Gently roast some with a match, extinguish and place on top of a cocktail for an aromatic garnish that can’t be beat.
-Sage works best when paired with a lighter spirit like Vodka or Gin. Add something sweet to balance it out. Sparkling wine would be a great addition here as well.
-Thyme: Put a sprig in a refreshing highball cocktail like a gin and tonic for some inviting aromatics.



Whiskey Smash

2 oz. Black Button Distilling’s Four Grain Bourbon
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
5-10 leaves of mint
3 large basil leaves

Combine all ingredients and shake hard with ice for 20 seconds, dump into a large glass, and garnish with fresh basil and mint.


While you’re planning your flowerbeds, think not only about what will look beautiful, but what you might be able to use. Some flowers make for great garnishes or even additions to your next cocktail.

-Elderflower (the flowers of elderberry plants) can be very bitter, but there are lots of great elderflower liqueurs out there, and it can make a lovely garnish.
-Honeysuckle is great with bourbon, honey and lemon, but beware: the berries can be poisonous!
-Jasmine is delicious with gin and green tea.
-Lavender is a great way to add a pleasant floral element to any cocktail. Dry some leaves to keep year round and add to a drink anytime.
-Lilacs are very bitter, but as we know in Rochester, they smell amazing. Garnish a drink with some lilac petals to make it smell and look pretty!

Black-Button-Distilling-Lilac-GinIn honor of the rich floral tradition that Rochester—“the Flower/Flour City”—has cultivated throughout its history, Black Button Distilling has created a lilac gin. Made once a year in a small batch, each flower petal is steeped, distilled, and recombined to create a light, delicate flavor. Rose, hibiscus, lavender and lilac as well as juniper, coriander and a myriad of other botanical components make this one of a kind spirit highly sought after. (Our lilac gin release date for this year is May 12, 2017.)


Bee’s Knees

2 oz. Black Button Distilling’s Lilac Gin
.5 oz. honey syrup (honey and hot water 1:1)
.5 oz. lemon
Small pinch of dried lavender

Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a coupe or martini glass, then garnish with fresh edible flowers.


While citrus is great, we have an abundance of fruits in Western New York that also make for great cocktail ingredients. Consider:

-Apples, apricots, peaches and pears all work well muddled into a drink or as a lovely garnish.
-Plums are great infused into gin for a sort of homemade sloe gin.
-Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, sour cherries, sweet cherries, strawberries can all be muddled with vodka, gin or rum for a fruity and refreshing cocktail. And don’t forget to stick a couple on top as a garnish!
-Grapes are delicious when muddled into a sparkling wine cocktail. This is a great way to enjoy grapes two ways.
-Instead of putting watermelon into a cocktail, put the cocktail into a watermelon! Cut a small hole in the top and dig out some room, then drain off any water inside. Pour in your
spirit of choice and you have watermelon infused spirit, and spirit infused watermelon.
-If you have an abundance of tomatoes, make your own Bloody Mary mix! Or you can smash up a couple of cherry tomatoes in the bottom of a glass and top with a bourbon or gin cocktail to add a little zing.



2 oz. Black Button Distilling’s Citrus Forward Gin or Four Grain Bourbon
.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
.25 oz. simple syrup (or a half oz. fruit syrup)

Muddle a handful of berries into the shaker (skip if you used fruit syrup).

Shake with ice and dump into large glass and garnish with fresh berries.


Almost any botanical ingredient can be infused to make a syrup to use in your next cocktail.

Infused Syrup

½ cup herbs, flowers or fruit
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

When making herb syrups, remember to blanche the herbs first by dipping them in boiling water for 30 seconds. This will prevent the herbs from turning black as they break down over time, and will prevent tannins from precipitating and turning your syrup bitter.

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring well until the sugar dissolves. Let cool, then pour through a mesh strainer. Keep refrigerated. It will last two to three weeks, longer if in the freezer. You can also skip the stovetop by mixing fruit or herbs with simple syrup in a blender, just strain out the solids after blending.

When muddling fruit, all we’re really doing is smashing it up so that the fruit will mix into the other ingredients more completely.

Herbs, however, are much more sensitive, particularly mint. All of the sweet, sweet oils that make mint such a popular ingredient reside on the exterior, while bitter oils are released when it is shredded or smashed apart. So, when muddling herbs, just coax out the oils with a few gentle presses of the muddler, and when garnishing with mint or other herbs, simply give them a little slap between your hands and place them on top of the drink. This will release a great scent without lending bitterness to your drink.

At Black Button Distilling, our tagline is “live large in small batches.” It’s a nod to our craft distilling, grain to glass philosophy. This spring, we hope you’ll also apply that idea to your own garden!


We hope our ideas and tips help you get off to a great start with making garden fresh cocktails at home. But at the end of the day (or beginning—no judgment) this is your garden, and your bar. So play around, experiment, and make something wholly yours.

Jason Barrett is president and head distiller, Black Button Distilling.


Horticulturist Nellie Gardner in the Darwin Martin House courtyard. Photo by David Clark

Horticulturist Nellie Gardner in the Darwin Martin House courtyard. Photo by David Clark

Nellie Gardner is trying to learn how to relax. This is not an easy thing for someone who spent her adolescence on a self-sufficient farm on resource-poor land in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Gardner’s free-spirited parents, former teachers who decided to exit the grid altogether, learned self-sufficiency as they went. Gardner and her siblings worked alongside their parents and didn’t go to high school, something that didn’t stop her from attending an Ivy League college.

“Since we were always scrambling for our next meal, we were always working, moving, and thinking about how we were going to feed ourselves,” she says. “It did affect my ability to relax as an adult. Even my non-work pursuits have to have a purpose … it’s bad,” she says, laughing.

On the bright side, growing up in this hardscrabble setting, Gardner learned many useful skills those of us raised in suburbs might envy. She’s used these skills to renovate six historic homes, run a cut flower business for 25 years, and earn the position of horticulturist for the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Martin House Complex in Buffalo and for Graycliff, the Martins’ former summer home on Lake Erie, also designed by Wright. The Martin House, completed in 1905 and once home to Darwin and Isabelle Martin and their extended family, is Buffalo’s most popular tourist destination.


Panorama of the Martin House from the visitor center taken in 2009 after building restoration but before garden restoration. Free for use by Cygnusloop99 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons. wikimedia.org

The front of Darwin Martin House in 1969. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

The front of Darwin Martin House in 1969. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Isabelle Martin working in her cutting garden circa 1908. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Isabelle Martin working in her cutting garden circa 1908. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

Gardner says, “This position at the Martin House and Graycliff pulls together so many of my interests and abilities—history and historic homes and landscapes, architecture, horticulture, education … I really feel called to be here to help tell the story of the Martins and their relationship with plants.” Gardner says that landscape architects regard the Martin House landscape as the most significant of Frank Lloyd Wright’s landscapes because of how highly developed it was, and will again be. “They also say that the landscape of the Martin House is at least 40% of the story of this place,” she says.

Gardner had been a volunteer for several years at the Martin House and was eventually recruited as horticulturist in 2011. For several years she commuted from her Spencerport farm—and the farmhouse she’d renovated—until last spring, when she sold the Spencerport property in order to move to Clarence Center so she’d be closer to work. The hardest part about leaving the Spencerport property was letting go of its beautiful sandy loam soil, a remnant of the ancient Lake Iroquois. “It was easy to grow flowers there,” she says. “I developed my own recipe for growing as well as for bouquet making.”

Her interest in soils and plants as a young person led her to study agriculture at Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) in the late 1970s and then agronomy at Cornell. Gardner won an international cattle-judging competition while at NSAC, and that, she says, helped her get into Cornell. After Cornell, she studied ecology in a master’s program at SUNY Brockport. (It’s a good thing Gardner was in no way discouraged when her advisor at NSAC told her to “do something more suitable for a woman, like be a secretary.”)

Gardner went on to develop pest scouting methods and disease forecasting systems for Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) while working in integrated pest management (IPM) at the Geneva Experiment Station, and she served as CCE Vegetable Specialist in Batavia. Eventually she struck out on her own as a professional agricultural consultant, where for seventeen years she helped large growers lower their input costs while reducing crop risk, improve their scouting methods, and computerize their crop and farm records to enable better decision making. Concurrently, she started Flower Fields, her cut flower enterprise, and completed one historic house renovation after another.

“The homes I rehabilitated sold immediately,” she says, “because I had restored the feeling of cohesiveness and comfort that comes from all of the house’s features being of the same era. I’d buy lighting, kitchen cabinets, flooring, and other features from ReHouse in Rochester that were era-appropriate and would restore the visual coherence of the home. That’s why I’m so drawn to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, because it’s all about the subliminal effects of coherence that add up to making you feel good when you enter a space. It’s a masterful achievement of making the house and landscape a unified whole.”

Gardner brought this vision to her volunteering at the Richardson Olmsted Campus in Buffalo, where she developed and gave tours of the Olmsted-designed grounds of this former psychiatric treatment center. “Your surroundings can affect how you feel and not everybody understands that,” she says. “The people who ran the Richardson Campus knew that and they harnessed the healing powers of nature by involving the patients in the enjoyment and cultivation of the grounds. Olmsted, himself a farmer as well as a landscape architect, got it.”

• • •

The original courtyard gardens with peonies for cutting, circa 1905. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

The original courtyard gardens with peonies for cutting, circa 1905. Courtesy University Archives, State University of New York at Buffalo

The courtyard today as Nellie Gardner plants and maintains it. Photo by Michelle Sutton

The courtyard today as Nellie Gardner plants and maintains it. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Nellie Gardner’s first encounter with the Martin House complex was in the early 2000s, when she took a tour with her brother, also an appreciator of Frank Lloyd Wright. At the time the complex, first completed in 1907 but having suffered neglect mid-century, was newly under restoration via the Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC), founded in 1992. On Nellie’s first visit, an ugly 1960s-era apartment building loomed right in the middle of the complex, and the landscape no longer resembled Wright’s vision for it.

Gardner gravitated toward the institution because it held so much historic promise, it united so many of her interests, and there was so much work to be done. In 2006, she began volunteering in the gardens and researching them, especially original owner Isabelle Martin’s cut-flower gardens, some of which were under glass. Gardner spent many hours in the University of Buffalo archives, which also has a digital collection, learning about Frank Lloyd’s Wright intentions for the landscape, including his vision for harmony between the house and landscape.

When the MHRC recruited her to be its horticulturist, she continued the work of restoring the central gardens of the complex with the help of volunteers. Bayer Landscape Architects of Honeoye Falls have created plans for bringing back the most ambitious original feature of the grounds, a 95-foot-long floricycle, a semi-circular mixed planting of shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and annuals wherein a grouping repeats 12 times. Originally installed in 1905, the floricycle created an outdoor gathering place for family events like the wedding of Darwin and Isabelle’s daughter Dorothy in 1923. Some of the original floricycle shrub specimens, including snowberry, lilac, spirea, and mockorange are in waiting on other parts of the property. “At one time there were 18,000 plants in the floricycle,” Gardner says.

In her research, Gardner found that at its peak, there were over 300 different plant species on the grounds at large. She says, “There were English borders, picking borders, lots of sturdy old-fashioned perennials like phlox, anemones, peonies, irises, and even plume poppy. We’ll be editing that list—for instance, we may forego plants that are on the NYS Invasive Plant List—at least those that are a problem in our region. And whereas they planted wisteria right against the house, we will put it on trellises well away from the buildings, so it doesn’t degrade structures like it once did.”

The grounds were once dotted with American elms and surrounded by elm street trees. The only remaining tree original to the landscape is a European copper beech that Darwin Martin planted in 1905 in consultation with Wright. However, trees have been added over the decades and Gardner is studying to be a Certified Arborist so that she can better manage the tree collection. “I would have loved to have been here to experience the overarching canopy of the American elms,” she says. “You can tell from pictures that they made it feel very intimate within this setting and encouraged a relationship with nature. When you’re here at night and there’s no one around, you can feel what that must have feel like—that intimate communion with nature.”

Gardner also teaches classes for the community in the gorgeous main Martin House on topics like pruning, flower arranging, and wreath making. (Her signature for the latter is incorporating ornamental hot peppers that she grows herself; her wreaths will be featured later this year in a story in Country Gardens magazine.) Gardner also coordinates the garden volunteers and leads tours of the grounds. She is the only paid garden staff for the Martin House and Graycliff. She is a busy woman.

• • •


Gardner’s cutting garden in Clarence Center. Photo by Michelle Sutton


Gardner has operated Flower Fields in several different places over the course of 25 years. Photo by Michelle Sutton


Farmer is Gardner’s new family member and is also very much interested in historic restoration. Photo by Nellie Gardner

One of Gardner’s favorite things to do in her free time is to take multi-day bike or kayak trips along the Erie Canal. “I love studying the canal’s history and how our cities and state grew up around it,” she says. When she lived in Spencerport, she and a friend ran a tour boat on the Canal that made local forays. “Someday I’d like to get a tour boat and take people on the Canal all the way down to NYC,” she says. “I’d take them into towns along the way that have these historical treasures. For example, there’s the Peppermint Museum in Lyons, which at one time was the peppermint capital of the world. The museum is housed in the former packinghouse of the H.G. Hotchkiss Essential Oil Company and the lower level opens out onto the canal, where they would receive peppermint from farmers and ship out peppermint oil. It gives you a whole different perspective on the town.”

Gardner continues to run Flower Fields on a much scaled-down level. She keeps in touch with her son Casey, an agronomist who lives in San Francisco. She misses her dog Wags, her best friend of eighteen years, but is delighting in her new dog, Farmer, a rescue who is still a puppy. She is working on a memoir about her childhood and reading lots of memoirs by people she admires. “I feel a real kinship with people from earlier times,” she says, “but most especially with Darwin and Isabelle Martin, because of their relationship with nature—they loved beauty and they got their hands dirty daily pursuing the unified whole.”

Recommended viewing: Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House: Domestic Symphony on YouTube

from darwinmartinhouse.org

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) designed a unique residential complex for wealthy Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin and his family between 1903 and 1905. The most substantial and highly developed of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses in the eastern United States, the Darwin D. Martin House received National Historic Landmark status in 1986. The house is considered by leading Frank Lloyd Wright scholars as one of Wright’s finest achievements of the Prairie period and, indeed, of his entire career.

The complex consists of six interconnected buildings designed as a unified composition, including the main Martin House and a pergola that connects it to a conservatory and carriage house with chauffeur’s quarters and stables, the Barton House, a smaller residence for Martin’s sister and brother-in-law, and a gardener’s cottage added in 1909. The landscape design for the grounds of the complex is highly integrated with the overall composition of buildings.

The Martin House is a prime example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie House ideal, with strong horizontal lines and planes, deeply overhanging eaves, a central hearth, prominent foundation, and a sheltering, cantilevered roof. The complex contains 394 examples of Frank Lloyd Wright designed art glass, including the famed “Tree of Life” window.

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


Almanac: May-June 2107

by janem on May 10, 2017

What To Do in the Garden in May & June



Buying Plants:
— Choose compact, healthy plants with unopened buds that are appropriate for your gardens.
— Check plant tags to make sure your growing conditions meet the plant’s needs and that the final height and width is appropriate for your space.
— Check for signs of insects (chewed leaves, puncture wounds, sticky substances) or disease (yellow leaves, stunted growth, signs of fungi). Be sure to look on both sides of the leaves.
— Buy yourself at least one new plant! Consider those beneficial to pollinators and birds.

In the Garden:
— Leave bulb foliage intact until it yellows and wilts but remove spent flowers to prevent seed formation. The foliage is required to give the bulb energy for blooming next year.
— Watch for pale yellow trails on columbine leaves caused by leaf miner. Remove and destroy infested leaves throughout the season.
— At the end of June, cut back perennials such as phlox, bee balm, sedum, asters, and goldenrod by one-third to one-half to control height or delay flowering.
— Cut back spring flowering perennials such as pulmonaria and perennial geraniums after they bloom to encourage the growth of new foliage and/or reblooming.
— Deadhead perennials and annuals to prevent seed formation and to encourage new growth and more flowers.
— Place stakes or other supports next to or over taller flowering plants so they can grow up through them without damage to foliage and flowers.
— Plant dahlias, gladiolas, lilies, begonias, elephant ears, caladiums, and cannas when the soil is warm.
— Place plants in the soil at the proper depth. Be sure to spread out the roots.
— After direct-sowing seeds, be sure to thin the seedlings to prevent crowding.
— Spring bulbs can be moved or divided as soon as the foliage dies.
— Weigela, forsythia, and spiraea can be pruned back after blooming. Cut about one-third of the stems to the ground.
— Remove spent flowers from azaleas and rhododendrons so energy goes to the foliage rather than to the making of seeds.
— If growing azaleas and/or rhododendrons in higher pH soil, be sure to add acidifying agents to the soil.

— Mow lawn at least three inches high. This helps the lawn outcompete weeds and encourages deeper, healthier root growth. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil.
— The first application of lawn fertilizer, if needed, can be put down around Memorial Day. If fertilizer was applied in fall, a spring application is not necessary. A top dressing of compost is an excellent natural fertilizer.
— For optimal pre-emergent crabgrass control, do not apply until soil is close to 60 degrees. Crabgrass doesn’t germinate until the soil temperature two inches deep is between 60 and 64 degrees. Applying when the ground is too cold is a waste of money and chemicals.

— Check the Cornell Recommended Vegetable list for suggested and disease-resistant varieties.
— Plant your brassicas now: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and summer cabbage.
— Reseed bush beans every few weeks to replace plants that have finished producing.
— Leeks may be moved to their final growing place in the garden.
— Plant your tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and peppers when the ground is warm to promote growth, lessen the chance of disease, and to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes. End of May is recommended.
— If plants were grown from seed be sure to harden them off before planting them in the garden.
— Harvest salad greens, radishes, and spring onions if ready.
— Stake tomato plants. Pinch out sucker growth.

— Start slug control.
— Check for four-lined plant bugs.
— Avoid overcrowding plants to discourage disease.
— Use deer repellants or consider deer resistant plants.
— Prune spring flowering trees and shrubs after blooming is finished.
— Weed now while weeds are small.
— Keep newly planted trees, shrubs, vegetables, perennials, and flowers well watered (about one inch per week.)
— Renew mulch if necessary.
— Turn your compost. Add finished compost to all beds. Distribute about 1/4 inch depth over your lawn as well. This discourages weeds and enriches the soil.
— Thin out your fruit trees to ensure fruit of a reasonable size.
— Gradually move houseplants outdoors to a site with some shade when night temperatures are above 50 degrees.
— Make softwood cuttings before the plant tissue hardens to insure success.
— Rethink at least one of your gardens. Begin to make changes now.

— Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera, Master Gardeners, Erie County


From the Publisher: May-June 2017

by janem on May 9, 2017

Debbie Eckerson

Debbie Eckerson

Cathy Monrad

Cathy Monrad

There’s always some glitch or another when we’re getting ready to go to press with the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal. This issue was particularly weird, as our email server was down for at least a week leading up to publication. Twenty years ago, we communicated with our advertisers mostly via phone, fax machine and even the U. S. Mail (woah!), but in 2017, email trouble is real trouble. Thank goodness for text messages and cell phones. And thank goodness for Cathy and Debbie, who always make it work.

If you have interacted with the magazine in any way over the past several years, you have probably met, albeit virtually, Cathy Monrad and/or Debbie Eckerson. Since 2008 Debbie has managed our subscriptions, and she’s the one who puts together our magnificent (if I do say so myself), comprehensive calendar of events. Recently Deb has also taken on the duties of managing editor, and she helps with deliveries, too!

Cathy Monrad joined the team in 2012 as graphic designer, but she is much, much more than that. For one thing, Cathy is incredibly crafty, as you can see by her “Crafty Gardener” column in each issue. She is imaginative, organized, and a tireless worker, and our advertisers love her and what she does with their ads. (She’s also helping with deliveries. And sales. And…and…)

A glance at the masthead will show that there are many
people involved with making the UGJ happen, but Cathy and
Deb put the hard work in every day, and I am very grateful
for everything they do.

—Jane Milliman, Publisher


PS) Shameless plug: If you would like to hang out with these two ladies (and who wouldn’t?) come on our annual Ithaca shopping extravaganza June 3. Details are on page 39 and our website, upstategardenersjournal.com. Sign up now—the trip sells out quickly.


Click here to view!


This trip sells out—purchase your Odyssey tickets today!

A wonderful spring tradition—inspiring gardens shopping at great nurseries—unusual plants—gorgeous scenery—a delicious Herbal Lunch and…a surprise treat compliments of Crafty Cathy!

Read more about this trip here.

ONLY $77/person.

Please choose pick up location:


Garden Hose Guards

by cathym on March 28, 2017

by Cathy Monrad

2 foot piece of ½ inch rebar
1 foot length of ½ inch copper pipe
½ inch copper pipe cap
1 cabinet door knob; type with bolt attached

Scrap wood
Drill and bits
Hammer or mallet

1. Place pipe cap upside down on scrap wood and hold in place with pliers. Use small drill bit to create a pilot hole. Increase bit size and redrill hole until knob bolt fits.

1. Place pipe cap upside down on scrap wood and hold in place with pliers. Use small drill bit to create a pilot hole. Increase bit size and redrill hole until knob bolt fits.

2. Insert knob bolt through cap hole and add nut. Use needle-nose pliers to grasp nut inside cap while turning knob to tighten.

2. Insert knob bolt through cap hole and add nut. Use needle-nose pliers to grasp nut inside cap while turning knob to tighten.

3. Place cap on pipe.

3. Place cap on pipe.


4. Pound rebar in the ground with hammer leaving 8 inches visible.


5. Slide finished hose guard over rebar.

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer and the self-proclaimed garden crafter for the Upstate Gardners’ Journal.


New York Owls

by cathym on March 25, 2017

by Liz Magnanti

Great horned owl. Photo courtesy Flickr: Nigel

Great horned owl. Photo courtesy Flickr: Nigel

Last winter offered some great opportunities to see many of the owl species we have here in Upstate New York. Owls are birds of prey that are primarily nocturnal. They are characterized by their large, forward facing eyes, circular flat faces, and sharp beaks and talons. Owls’ eyes are so large that they cannot move them in their sockets. In order to see in all directions, owls have specially adapted vertebrae that allow them to rotate their head 270 degrees.

Although owls will swallow their prey whole, they cannot digest the whole animal. The bones and fur of their prey are regurgitated as “pellets” that can often be found under the tree the owl is using as a roost. Owls are mostly nocturnal, solitary hunters. Their feathers are specialized to minimize the noise they make while flying. If you look at the tips of an owl feather, you will see that they are fringed, which cuts down noise when flying. Owls do not build nests, but instead take over nests and nesting cavities of other birds. During the day you are most likely to see an owl perched in a tree overseeing its hunting grounds.

There are eight different owl species that are commonly found in New York State. Some of these species are migratory and are only around seasonally, while others can be found here year round.

The smallest of the owls found in New York is the saw-whet owl. At seven inches in length, they are about the size of a soda can. Although small, these owls are fierce and dine on mice and other small rodents. Saw-whet owls are migratory, and can be found here in the early spring. They are known to roost in conifer trees and will nest in tree and man-made cavities. When searching for owls, look for their signature droppings, or “whitewash” on the trunk of trees. Usually this is easier to spot and the owl won’t be far away.

The eastern screech owl is the most common owl in our area. They can be either gray or brown, but in our area they are most commonly gray. Brown morphs are more common out west where they blend in better with the reddish-colored trees. Screech owls are eight to ten inches in length and will roost during the day in hollow trees or screech owl boxes. You may have head a screech owl and not even known it. Their call sounds like a horse’s whinny, not the traditional “hooo.”

The barred owl has populations that are expanding nationwide. They are large, with a length up to 24 inches and deep brown eyes. Their brownish-gray coloration gives them great camouflage in old growth forests, where they are most common. Their signature “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” call can be heard through forests at night, and sometimes during daylight hours.

Short-eared owls are migratory owls you may find here in the winter. They are most commonly seen in February at dusk flying low over farm fields where they hunt for small mammals. The short-eared owl is one of the most widespread owls you will find and can be found all over the world. Here in New York, however, this bird is endangered due to habitat loss.

Snowy owls have been widespread in our area this winter. Food scarcities bring them south where they hunt for small mammals and birds. These “interruptions,” when animals appear in large numbers outside their normal range, happen sporadically some winters. The best places to look for snowy owls are around the lakeshore, where they stop to rest after crossing Lake Ontario, and airports.

Long-eared owls are very secretive and hard to find. They roost high up in evergreen trees and blend in very well with the trunks. These migratory birds are mostly here seasonally, when they pass through in March and April. They rarely nest here but when they do they tend to take over crow nests.

The barn owl is a species rarely found upstate. They will inhabit and nest in barns, as their name implies, but are a more southern species. They tend to prefer an agricultural setting or field, which makes them prone to nesting in barns. Barn owls have pale feathers, long wings, and dark eyes. They are widespread throughout the world but, just as short-eared owls, they are declining due to habitat loss.

Great horned owls are perhaps the most distinct-looking owl we have. With a length of 25 inches and a wingspan of 55 inches, it’s no wonder how this owl got its name. Their ear tufts, or “horns,” are actually feathers and not ears at all. The call of the great horned owl is five distinct hoots that sound like “You awake? Me too.” This large owl is known to attack prey larger than itself and is one of the only natural predators of the bald eagle.

At any time of year you may be lucky enough to have an encounter with one of these amazing birds. The great horned owl nests early in the year and will already have nestlings at this time. Other species do not nest until April or May. As the weather gets warmer, listen for their calls late into the night as they search for mates.


Liz Magnanti is manager of The Bird House in Brighton.