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

Don’t Get Ticked

by cathym on May 13, 2019

by Lyn Chimera

Appearance and relative sizes of adult male and female, nymph, and larval ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Photo courtesy U.S. federal government Center for Disease Control (CDC)

I recently attended “Don’t Get Ticked,” an informational program about ticks, conducted by Lynn Braband, who heads the NYSIPM (Integrated Pest Management) program at Cornell. He covered the myths and facts. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. I for one don’t take tick protection seriously enough, but will from now on. Lyme is now the most common vector-borne disease in the U. S., so it needs to be taken seriously.

Ticks have eight legs, so are not insects but related to spiders and mites. There are three types of ticks in our area:

The American dog tick, which carries Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and prefers grasslands.

The black legged tick (deer tick), which carries Lyme disease and prefers woods and wood edges.

The Lone Star tick, which arrives on migrating birds as our climate warms and prefers dry areas.

All these ticks spread a variety of diseases, but it is only the deer tick that carries Lyme.

Ticks hitch a ride on people and animals through an “ambush” technique. They can’t jump, fly or drop from trees so they rely on grabbing on as you pass by. A tick will crawl to the end of a leaf or blade of grass from ground level to one-and-a-half feet, hold on with their back legs, and reach forward with their front two elongated legs to grab a hold on whatever passes by. 

Walking in the middle of paths so you don’t brush up against vegetation is a good way to avoid these hitch-hikers. Tucking long pants into socks is another good method. DEET is the most effective tick pesticide. Braband suggests putting all clothing in a dryer on high as soon as you come in. The heat will kill the ticks. He also recommends taking a shower within half an hour of coming in. This can possibly wash off ticks as well as give you the opportunity to check yourself.

If you do get a tick on you the most important thing about removing it is NOT to squeeze the body or head. That just forces more of their fluids into you. Use very thin tweezers and place them between the head and your skin. Pull gently. There is also a tick removal device available at drugstores. If you want to check the tick for Lyme disease, put in a container in the freezer or drop it in a container with alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill it. Then take the tick to your doctor or the county health department.

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

  • Deer are an important location for ticks to reproduce, however they don’t carry Lyme Disease.
  • June and July are the highest months for tick activity. Although they can be active all year long, any day it’s above 40 degrees.
  • Tick larvae don’t initially have Lyme. They have to take a blood meal on an infected host like a deer mouse.
  • Deer mice are not the only host animals. Chipmunks, squirrels and other small mammals can be the vectors. 
  • Most ticks have a two-year life cycle.
  • Wearing light colored clothes makes ticks easier to spot.
  • A tick does NOT have to be on you for 36 hours for you to become infected, however the longer it’s on you the higher your chance is of getting Lyme.
  •  Ticks inject a numbing agent so you can’t feel them bite.
  • To check if you have ticks in your yard, drag a two-by-three-foot piece of white flannel or corduroy across the area, then check it for ticks.

An interesting panel discussion and Q&A followed the presentation. The overall impression I was left with was you have to be your own advocate. Dress properly, use protection, avoid potential tick habitat and check yourself daily. Many doctors are not up on Lyme disease symptoms, which can vary, so you have to be perseverant if you suddenly become ill.

An outstanding website with all the information on ticks, their life cycle, and bite prevention is nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/.

For a Claymation video on ticks go to dontgettickedny.org.

Lyn Chimera is an Erie County Master Gardener. 

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story by John Ernst; photos provided by Mark Weiss

Aerial view of Lan’s Flower Farm

Here’s a fact—one of New York’s largest flower farms started with a twelve-year-old girl from China trying to learn English.

Today, Lan’s Flower Farm spans four acres managed by five employees. That girl—the daughter of Mark Weiss and Xiao Lan— immigrated here in 2005. “She didn’t speak any English, and we brainstormed how she could learn really fast,” Weiss says. Having previously started a landscaping business that didn’t take off, “I had 2,000 empty pots around the property,” he says. He told his daughter she could start selling plants, where she could learn conversational English all day long while making money. “So we started potting bulbs, she had a little roadside stand, and she would sit out there eight hours a day studying. And people would come and buy her plants.”

And then the cards fell into place. “She was doing very well,” Weiss tells me, when one of the local perennial growers went out of business. “So it was kind of an open slot in the community that we were able to fill.” 

Clinton Farmers Market
Bee balm and peonies

A slot Weiss and Lan take very seriously. In addition to offering a variety of 700 perennials to the Syracuse region, the farm engages in a range of community service and donations. “Aside from working with various schools and churches,” Weiss says, “we also donate to terminal patients to help pay for medical expenses.” Lan’s also funds scholarships and runs tours for garden clubs. “It’s really the backbone of the whole business,” he says. 

“We try and do everything as organically as we can,” he adds. “When you’re growing in containers, it’s difficult to have 100 percent organic—it leaches out too quickly. But we don’t spray at all and our soil has no chemicals to speak of.” For fertilizer, they recycle a byproduct of the nearby Anheuser-Busch plant. “Other places have plants in bloom when they shouldn’t be in bloom,” he says, “but we winterize everything. It makes plants hardier.” 

Herb and Flower Festival 2018
Helleborus ‘Amethyst Gem’

Weiss and Lan formed an official business partnership in 2006 with a couple hundred plants. In 2014 they incorporated, and today sell upwards of 30,000 plants a year. 

With their farm organized into four categories—shade, semi-shade, sun, and grass—they do their best to predict what the market will demand each year. “But there’s really no telling. One year a guy bought over 500 containers of grass in one swoop,” Weiss laughs, “so we had none leftover for the next year.” 

To stay up-to-date on the perennial world, Weiss and Lan head to Baltimore for MANTS, the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show. “Plugs, roots, greenhouses, potting machines…anything that can make growing in our industry easier, you can buy there,” Weiss says. “If we see something interesting we’ll try to have it ready for spring, but a lot of it really is like looking into a crystal ball.” It’s hard to decipher what will be popular in the next year, he tells me, and a lot of the new plants are patented and require a license to legally propagate. 

Weiss and Lan aren’t completely in the dark, however, when it comes to next-season predictions. Catmint, hostas, and echinaceas are among consistently reliable best-sellers. “We’re actually well-known for our hostas,” Weiss says. “They’re real popular because they have leaf color, come in so many different sizes, and they grow nice flowers—some of them are fragrant. But,” he warns, “the deer love them. So if you have a deer problem, they’ll get destroyed.” Grasses are becoming more popular, too. Weiss says they’re hardy and drought-resistant, surviving through winter if they’re cut short. “But don’t cut them down too short,” he says. “[The landscapers who tend to our local Wegmans stores] cut them right to the ground, which decreases hardiness.”  

Despite its grass maintenance habits, Weiss admires the Wegmans approach to landscaping. “They’ve developed this whole buying experience—and it starts at the curb,” he says. “You drive in, and they have beautiful grounds with flowers, trees, and shrubs. Then you go into the grocery store and you’re hit with aromas of baked goods and flowers,” he says. “You go to these other stores…with bright lights and you want to get out as fast as you came in,” he laughs, “but Wegmans has really got it down.”

Then I ask a question that stumps Weiss—if he were to open another location anywhere in the world, where would he go? “Where there are a lot of rich people?” he jokes. Then he tells me that the upstate New York demographic is very interesting. “Rochester and Syracuse are completely different demographics—Rochester is not the blue collar town that Syracuse is.” Syracusians, he explains, are more concerned with practical things like plowing snow than they are with designing their yard. “So people from Rochester spend far more on landscape architecture than we do in Syracuse. Plus, you also have a better climate from being closer to the lake.” 

Xiao Lan

Ultimately, he wouldn’t want to leave Syracuse. “I’ve been here in ‘Cuse since 1978. I know more people here than anywhere else,” he explains. “And our business is a very personal business. We know almost every one of our customers. My wife was at the doctor’s this morning, and we sat next to one of our customers in the waiting room. We know every one of our customers by name or face,” he continues, “and when you get real big you don’t have that anymore.” 

And the daughter who started it all? “She’s moved out now,” Weiss says, “but she talks about taking over the business…now that all the work is done!” he laughs. 

John Ernst is a writer and graphic designer in Rochester. You can see more of his work at johnmwrites.com

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by Donna De Palma

Syringa vulgaris (common Lilac) cultivar ‘Flower City’, at Highland Park in Rochester, New York. The information plaque next to this plant reads: “This variety was developed at Highland Park by horticulturist Richard Finicchia. It is a unique variety that has cupped, dark violet-purple florets with a silvery reverse. Some florets display radial doubling; an increase to 8, 10 or more petals. Its parent is ‘Rochester’, also a Highland Park development.” Photo courtesy Wikipedia: LtPowers

Scent is one of the most seductive qualities known. Throughout history, scent has lured, provoked, and even taunted the senses. No wonder the fragrant and delicate lilac’s early history, though largely unrecorded, is referenced as far back as Greek mythology. 

Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, is believed to have originated on the Balkan peninsula. Its appearance in cultivation dates to the 15th Century. A species of flowering plant in the olive family, Syringa vulgaris is a large shrub that grows on rocky hillsides by the shores of the Adriatic, Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas. Other fragrant, flowering species of lilac are native to regions of Japan, China and Korea. 

According to Mark Quinn, Monroe County Parks’ superintendent of horticulture, while there are no written records of the lilac’s arrival in the United States, there is evidence that lilacs grew in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the 1600s. 

Cultivars have evolved thanks to dedicated breeders seeking to improve on the natural beauty and scent of the fragrant flower, its disease resistance and overall plant habit. Irene Lekstutis, landscape designer at Cornell Botanical Gardens in Ithaca, who is responsible for selecting lilacs for inclusion there, says breeders have contributed to the structure, color and scent of the lilac over the past four centuries.

“Horticulturalist Victor Lemoine played an important role in developing cultivars of lilac in the mid-nineteenth century in France. Lemoine developed the first double-flowered hybrid lilac named for his wife, Mme. Lemoine,” says Lekstutis. 

Father John Fiala of Ohio, pastor and school principal who bred 78 cultivars of lilacs, is also identified by Lekstutis as another significant breeder in the 20th century. He learned about gardening and horticulture from his grandmother at her country home in Michigan.

Perhaps the most prized collection in the United States, and arguably the world, is the one at Highland Park in Rochester. With more than 550 varieties and around 1,200 bushes, Highland Park’s Annual Lilac Festival, originally just “Lilac Sunday,” has been drawing lilac lovers since 1905. The event developed into a 10-day festival in 1978.

Highland Park was established on twenty acres of land donated by George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry in 1888. George Ellwanger immigrated to the U. S. from a small farm near Wurttemberg, Germany, in 1835. Ellwanger grew up tending grapes and making wine with his father and brothers in his native country. He harbored a love of horticulture throughout his life and possessed a strong sense of civic responsibility.

Patrick Barry immigrated to the U.S. from Belfast, Ireland, in 1836 and began his working life in America at what was the oldest nursery in the United States at the time, Linnaean Nursery in Flushing, N.Y. He began his partnership with Ellwanger in 1840. Ellwanger and Barry owned Mount Hope Nursery (also known as Ellwanger and Barry Nursery), the largest nursery in the U. S., from 1840 to 1850. 

The civic-minded business partners donated the first 20 acres of land to establish an arboretum on the undeveloped land where Highland Park stands today. Their donation was instrumental in the formation of a parks department in Rochester. Ellwanger also donated an observation pavilion atop the hill near the reservoir in the park. The Children’s Pavilion, also known as the Ellwanger & Barry Memorial Pavilion, was dedicated in 1890. [The pavilion was torn down in 1963 due to disrepair, but a campaign is underway to finance its reconstruction starting in 2022.—Ed.]

Frederick Law Olmsted was hired to design the park. Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City, is often referred to as the father of American landscape architecture. He was at the pinnacle of his career when he designed Highland Park, which, according to Quinn, is a phenomenal example of Olmsted’s genius.

 “The landscape architect’s style highlights natural attributes of the terrain,” says Quinn. “Olmsted’s ability to create one view that moves into another was remarkable. He used natural materials to screen out city views.”

Superintendent Quinn says the design of walkways and the park’s layout are perhaps its finest features. “Where Olmsted shined was in his understanding of what plants would look like when they matured. He planned for a park that would mature naturally and beautifully.”

Lekstutis says Olmsted had a clever way of separating vehicular and pedestrian features and saw the importance of water fixtures in a park. “Olmsted liked to play with terrain. He applied ways of structuring space to create visual screens and expansive lawns and was expert at handling adjacent spaces. His work illustrates how the beauty of a naturalistic landscape is important to supporting our well-being and therefore should be accessible to everyone.”

While current numbers place the count of lilac bushes in the park at around 1200, John Dunbar planted the first 100 at the corner of South and Highland Avenues in 1890. In addition to creating several new cultivars, Dunbar developed the evergreen forest (pinetum) on the north side of the park and planted lilacs on the south side of a landmark hill in the park. 

Quinn says that while some varieties have been lost, an original vulgaris lilac bush from 1892 still blooms every May in the park. “Some of the varieties that are cultivated may not be strong enough to last, but most varieties that exist in upstate New York can be found here at Highland. We actively seek out new varieties every day. We’ve had a collaborative relationship with Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in past years.”

Why has the lilac become such a popular shrub and flower here and around the world? Quinn says the climate in Rochester is suited to lilacs. “They like cold winters and warmer springs. Lilacs are hardy and easy to grow. The plants themselves are aggressive growers. Deer don’t like the lilac. Lilac shrubs can grow to 15 to 20 feet tall and some can last for a hundred years.”

“The main reason for poor bloom is because it’s either been planted in a shady spot or the shrub has been pruned at an incorrect time of year. Lilacs prefer dry soil. The amount of rain over the course of the year will affect the vigor of their blooms,” Quinn says.

Bloomerang ‘Pink Perfume’ lilac, photo courtesy Proven Winners
‘Beauty of Moscow’ by Leonid Kolesnikov. Photo courtesy Wikipedia: Kristy2906

While the plants themselves are hardy, their flowers can be affected by high winds, heavy rain, and too much heat once open. Relatively warm days and cool nights with moderate rain are optimal conditions for a long bloom period.

Quinn says lilacs in bloom are most fragrant in early morning and at early evening. The introduction of radial doubling, bicolor flowers and double-floret and four-floret flowers through cultivation has resulted in a wide array of varieties in appearance, scent, and form. From deep purple to French blue, pink, dusty pink, lavender, white, and yellow, cultivars come in a breathtaking palette of colors. 

One of Quinn’s favorites is the ‘Rochester’ lilac, a white, radial-doubling bloom developed in Rochester. Another favorite, ‘Sensation’, features a deep purple bicolor flower with a white rim. For its luxurious scent, Quinn recommends ‘Fenelon’, a variety of S. hyacinthflora lilac, an early bloomer that he says is one of the most fragrant of any lilac.

Lilac ‘Sensation’; photo courtesy Wikipedia: Angel caboodle

Lekstutis enjoys ‘Beauty of Moscow’, a lilac flower with pink buds that turn white. ‘Scent and Sensibility’, a dwarf mounding shrub with its dark pink buds that turn lavender pink once opened, is another favorite. Finally, repeat blooming purple lilac, ‘Bloomerang’, a cultivar that blooms after first blush into summer and fall is a noteworthy addition to Lekstutis’s best picks.

Nature’s colorful, fragrant display is set to bloom on schedule this year as it has almost every year for over 100 years each and every spring. Quinn projects this year to be on track for hardy blooms during Highland Park’s Lilac Festival. 

To enjoy these and all of the varieties growing at the park, visit the festival or wander through its winding paths when these lovely flowers are in bloom.

Donna De Palma is a freelance writer based in Rochester.

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