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

Ear to the Ground: November-December 2016

by Megan Frank on November 4, 2016

As the end of outdoor gardening season nears, I like to plan how I’m going to keep my life “green” during the cold winter months. One of my favorite things to do is bring in herbs to continue enjoying them year round – not to mention the warmth of refreshing mint tea when snowflakes are flying. I recently invested in an A-frame plant stand for a more streamlined setup—best decision I’ve made for indoor growing to date. They come in all different heights and widths, number of shelves, and materials. Do you have a favorite or tried-and-true indoor gardening/growing tip? Are you willing to share it with the rest of the UGJ community? Is there a better way to melt away the cold weather blues than keeping the gardener in us aglow? I sure don’t think so! Send your “secret” tips via email to megan@upstategardenersjournal.com or via our Facebook page.

On another note, it wouldn’t be a holiday season without a few gifts for the gardener ideas. There are many out there, but here are my favorites right now:

Garden Clogs—I know gardeners are very divided on the need for such footwear, but I’m all for them. It’s hard not to smile when you slip your bare foot (my preference) into a brightly colored pair for a day in the garden. Easy to rinse, dry, repeat!

Suet Bird Feeders—For me, birds and gardening go hand in hand. I wouldn’t want to sit on my patio, admiring the fruits of my labor, without the sound of birds chirping in the background. Jane (yes, that Jane) introduced me to suet feeders and I haven’t stopped recommending them to others. Also, they’re a great alternative when traditional feeders aren’t allowed.

The Gardeners Collection by Crabtree & Evelyn—I have enjoyed these products since before I had my own garden—thank you, Mom, for the introduction. I will always use the ultra- moisturizing hand therapy, and you can never go wrong with it either. There are a few new products in the line, with the hand primer topping the list for me. Honestly though, I’m sure any gardener would enjoy them all.

Thank you for another great year for us at Upstate Gardeners’ Journal! We look forward to 2017!



Click here to view!


Reprint: The Call of the Castle

by cathym on October 27, 2016

Rochester Civic Garden Center and Director Christine Froehlich

by Michelle Sutton 

Historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park

Historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park

Anyone who attends classes and other programs put on by the busy Rochester Civic Garden Center (RCGC) is surprised to find out that there are only three staff members, all with just part-time appointments. Christine Froehlich, executive director since 2007, Judy Hubbard, education program coordinator since 2003, and Marjorie Focarazzo, administrative coordinator since 2014.

The staff works with dedicated volunteers at historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park. This piece focuses on director Christine Froehlich, the ways in which RCGC has evolved since she started there, and some of the individuals who have been instrumental in its evolution.

Christine Froehlich, photo by Michelle Sutton

Christine Froehlich, photo by Michelle Sutton

Can you tell us about your education and career pre-RCGC?  

CF: In the early 70s I studied art in college at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. I knew I wanted to do something creative and I hated working inside. I applied for a job at Maymont Park, a Victorian era estate with wonderful gardens in Richmond. The superintendent of horticulture told me they weren’t hiring women, saying that “the public wasn’t ready to see women working outside yet,” but he eventually relented and we women got to work outside. This was back when public gardens had lavish budgets. I worked there for a few years and had access to talented people who taught me a great deal.

After Maymont, I went to live in the mountains of Virginia and worked as the horticulturist at Sweetbriar College, which back then had magnificent gardens, and I once again received a lot of good training. Then I moved back to Connecticut where my parents lived and in 1976, I got a job as head gardener on a small estate. This was an amazing job experience; I worked with a designer named Luther Greene who had also been a producer on Broadway. This estate was quite grand, with five or six different garden rooms and a big crew of people for me to manage. It was my first experience on a private estate of such sophistication.

I stopped working for a while to have children—Patrick (now 39), Anders (36), and Emily (34). Eventually I started going to work part time here and there on estates, and in 1984, when the kids were bigger, I turned that into a full-time design/maintenance business, which I ran until 2003 in Ridgefield, CT and then Litchfield County, CT. In the last five years of running the business, I got really burnt out, in part because I never wanted to do that much maintenance and I never wanted to have the responsibility for such a large crew. It just kind of evolved that in order to have the design work I had to provide the maintenance.

I wanted to do something else but it took some time to figure out what. During this time I got remarried in 2002 to musician Phil Sanguedolce. We met at a party where his Zydeco band was playing; he’s the lead singer and plays the frottoir (rubboard). (I love Zydeco and Cajun dance especially). We decided to move to the Rochester area, where Phil grew up, and fell in love with a house in Sodus Point, quite close to Lake Ontario.

I became friends with Rochester horticulturist Beverly Gibson who introduced me to RCGC by way of the spring garden symposium. In the meantime, Judy and then-director Susan Latoski had read my article in Fine Gardening about growing perennials in containers and wanted me to teach a class on the subject. That was in 2005. Over time I kept adding to the courses I’d teach. When Susan left the directorship, I applied for the position. I continue to teach and design and install gardens, and I do some writing. One of my favorite courses to teach is a yearly report on new plants in the trade—how they performed for RCGC, for me, and for my clients.

When you became director, what did you see as the major challenges and opportunities? 

CF: The biggest challenge was and remains not having enough funding, which is the lament of all nonprofits. Judy runs the education program and I’m in charge of making sure we have enough money to do it all. Development work on this scale was new for me, but two things helped prepare me for it: running my own business all those years, and helping run dances in Hartford, Connecticut, including some…in my own barn, with fellow volunteers. All the things that went into putting on those dances are experiences that come in handy for me now in putting on RCGC events and raising money.

The biggest opportunity I could see then and one that is being well realized is the growth potential and quality of RCGC’s education programs. Judy and I work well together, bouncing ideas off each other, then setting about making them happen. The course offerings continue to expand in variety and quality. For Judy and Marjorie and me, this is so much more than a job.

Another thing that’s been really exciting is how the grounds are being rehabilitated by volunteers under the direction of garden designer and board member Milli Piccione, and how that enables us to use the grounds for more classes, especially the popular hands-on ones like preparing gardens for spring, midsummer maintenance, and putting gardens to bed in fall. I used to have to go look for other gardens in which to host the classes but now our gardens are more developed and we can teach here. At the same time, Milli and crew are bringing back some of the historical features of the gardens. So in these ways the outside is a better reflection of what we do on the inside, and the gardens just look so much better, they are more joyful, and we get a lot of positive feedback. Milli has helped train volunteers who want to bump up their skills, which is another way that education takes place here.

Japanese anemone, photo Jane Milliman

Japanese anemone, photo Jane Milliman

View of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

View of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

View of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

Second view of the newly restored sunny and shady borders, photo Jane Milliman

What are some other changes that have taken place of which you and your colleagues are proud? 

CF: Our board of directors has gotten much stronger, and together we worked on a strategic plan, the main component of which is making the most of this building and the grounds and having them work together. The improvements in the gardens help drive attention to the castle, which can be rented for events, and to the programs that are going on here. With the enhancement of the grounds and the ever-increasing quality of our course offerings, we are getting more recognition and financial support from private donors and people in the regional green industry.

We are proud that we’re attracting new homeowners and younger people generally to come and learn about gardening. (Part of our master plan is to more things with kids and families as well). We’re doing much more with our website and social media. There’s also been an exciting change shepherded by our RCGC Board Vice President Linda Phillips that enables more people to take advantage of our exceptional horticultural library. People used to have to come our library during limited hours to borrow books. Now we have a contract with the Monroe County Library System (MCLS) whereby our catalog is online and you can pick up and return our books to a County library of your choice. That’s huge! Next up is digitizing some of the significant old bulletins and historical documents we have here that we want people to have access to.


Milli Piccione on the Castle Grounds 


Milli Piccione

“The estate gardens at Warner Castle have fascinated me for a long time. The most well-known feature, the Sunken Garden, was designed by Alling DeForest in the early 1930s. By the time I became involved [2004], the multiple gardens beds had received minimal attention for many years. I started redesign of the sunny main border in 2011. Working with a dedicated group of volunteers we planted in 2012, beginning the long-term revitalization of the estate’s upper level that guides you gently into the Sunken Garden. Last season RCGC received grant money to install the 180-foot-long historically recommended fence and to rebuild the rock wall, both vital elements of the shade border. This season the rose treillage is being installed which will, once again, connect the two borders both visually and aesthetically. The garden volunteers, with the intermittent help of the Parks Department, plant and maintain the beds. It is an endless delight and satisfaction for me to see these gardens return to life and beauty; the opportunity to guide that work is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Three gardens complete; four to go!”

Judy Hubbard on the Center’s Growth


Judy Hubbard

“The RCGC already had a good foundation when I started in 2003, so I guess I would say we’ve worked to improve on what we do best, which is to offer high-quality educational opportunities in gardening and horticulture. The key is identifying instructors with a depth of experience who are also good teachers—and we continue to find them! Rochester also has some wonderful private gardens, and finding great gardens that are new to us is pretty darn exciting. We provide an opportunity for gardeners to spend time in those gardens, meet the homeowners, and learn more about gardening from the pros—that’s definitely how I want to spend a summer evening! And of course technology has changed since I started; we are now able to have a much more interesting and useful website that we can easily keep updated. We can take registrations online, and we send out an email newsletter…All this means we can get out our message more effectively, that it is easier for new people to find us, and easier to sign up.”


Michelle Sutton (michellejudysutton.com) is a horticulturist, writer, and editor living in New Paltz, NY.


Potted Bench

by cathym on September 26, 2016

Looking for a place to sit down and read the latest Upstate Gardeners’ Journal?

This bench design I saw online and updated is suitable for placing on a deck/patio or on the ground. Don’t let this project intimidate you; while a bit labor intensive, it’s not complicated to build. A helper and access to the power tools listed are must-haves to complete this project.

Before building, you must choose planters for the bench seat to rest on. The pots should be sturdy, thick-walled and wide-lipped; see the materials list for height and width dimensions. High-fired, glazed ceramic planters are best, although I found two hexagonal pots made of an extremely heavy molded material that is neither plastic nor resin.

After bench is built and in use, periodically inspect pots for cracks as a safety precaution.

A special thanks to Woodcraft Supply, LLC. for supplying the beautiful cypress lumber used for this project. Also, a big shout out to my father, Leon Mundt, whose knowledge and craftsmanship were essential to make a sketch into reality. Thanks Dad—you’re the best!

Power saw

Electric drill and bits

Tape measure


Electric sander

Router (optional)



Two sturdy matching planters, 18-20 inches tall, width of outside edge no more than 18¾ inches and no less than 18 inches

2×6 dimensional lumber like redwood, cedar or cypress, cut to these lengths:

A. Two 95½ inches
B. Seven 19 inches
C. Two 96 inches
D. Four 12 inches
E. Two 48½ inches

2 pounds of 3-inch stainless steel deck screws

Medium-grit sandpaper

Deck stain/sealer



Diagram Key

A. 95½ inches: 2 boards
B. 19 inches: 7 boards
C. 96 inches: 2 boards
D. 12 inches: 4 boards
E. 48½ inches: 2 boards


Diagram 1 (overhead view of bench frame; not to scale)



Diagram 2 (side view of “A”, bench frame front and back; not to scale)



Diagram 3 (overhead view of seat boards; not to scale)


1. Using saw, cut lumber to lengths noted in materials list.

2. Layout frame boards (A & B) on a flat surface as shown in Diagram 1.

3. Measure, mark and pre-drill holes as shown by black dots in Diagram 2. Attach frame together with screws, countersinking them.

4. Sand the frame.

5. Referring to Diagram 3, place outside seat boards (C & D) on the frame (boards overhang outside edge ¼ inch; space between boards is ¼ inch). Measure, mark and pre-drill holes, then attach boards to frame with screws, countersinking them.

6. Place inside seat pieces (E) on frame using measurements as shown in Diagram 3 with
¼ inch space in between boards. Measure, mark and pre-drill holes, then attach boards to frame with screws, countersinking them.

7. Sand the seat top. Optional: use a router to round the outside edges before sanding.

8. Using paintbrush, seal the wood with a deck stain/sealer. Let dry according to manufacturer instructions.

9. Place the pots in their desired location and position bench top. Fill planters as desired.


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


Fall Birding News

by Megan Frank on September 19, 2016

by Liz Magnanti

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures begin to subside, birds are preparing for the winter months ahead. You may have noticed an abundance of birds recently at your feeders. Some of these birds are nestlings that have recently fledged. They usually appear clumsy, not sure about how to land on the feeder. Their feathers are ruffled, not yet in their adult plumage and sometimes they still accompany their parents, begging to be fed an easy meal. Goldfinches are a good example as they nest late in the season and their young will be some of the last fledglings you will see at your feeders.

The first year is the toughest for fledglings as they learn to find their own food and avoid predators. Some of these young will also migrate south for the winter. In order to make the journey successfully, they must store up enough fat to make the trip. If you are currently seeing flocks of grackles and red-winged blackbirds gorging themselves at your feeders, this is almost certainly the reason why. In contrast, hummingbirds will continue to visit feeders through the end of September. Their breeding range stretches north into Canada and as those hummingbirds travel south through our area, they will visit feeders like yours along the way.

That said; don’t ever be concerned about over-feeding this time of year. Keeping seed and nectar feeders out will not stop birds from migrating. Feeders are only a small supplement to their natural diets. Birds use light cues as a signal for when to migrate, and feeders can actually be important stopover sites for them, an important place to rest and refuel for their continued journey.

For the many birds that stay here all year, fall is an important time for scouting out food sources. Nuthatches and Blue jays are often seen taking seeds from feeders only to cache them away under leaves or in the bark of trees. They will seek out the cached food again once the natural food supply becomes scarce in winter. As temperatures fall and insect populations start to decrease birds will begin to switch their diet to mostly seeds and fruits. The colder the temperatures get the more you will find birds going to suet feeders to get the fat they need to keep their body temperatures warm.

So what does all this mean for you? It means that now is a great time to check feeders for wear. Make sure they are clean and the seed inside them is fresh. Most feeders can be taken apart for cleaning and should be cleaned thoroughly twice a year. Any mold or seed buildup in the feeder can be harmful to birds so maintenance is a must. Feeders can be cleaned in hot water with dish soap. Dunk them in a light bleach solution of 10 parts water 1 part bleach and rinse well. Once dry they can go back out for the birds to enjoy. Keeping your feeders clean and seed fresh is the key to having birds flock to your feeders all year long!


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


Upstate Pairing: September-October 2016

by Megan Frank on September 16, 2016

Becker Farms and Vizcarra Vineyards is a 5th Generation family owned 340 acre working fruit and vegetable farm that sells most of their products directly to the public. Becker Farms goal is to provide families with the opportunity to visit the countryside and embrace what Mother Nature provides us among family and friends. It’s the simple things in life that make all the difference.

For the past 100 years Becker Farms has harvested its own fruits and vegetables to provide fresh produce and a wide variety of value added products such as hand made pies, jams, cookies, cider, fudge and wines. In the last two years Becker Farms has adopted a field to table approach with all of its catered events serving items grown and picked for the occasion right from the farm or brought in from other local growers within a 100 mile radius of Becker Farms. Becker Farms believes that a farm fresh meal is a very basic yet integral part of maintaining a strong bond with families and friends. This philosophy strengthens communities and enriches lives.



Summer Squash “Pasta” with Green Goddess Dressing

Yield: 4 servings

2 lbs. mixed summer squash
1 tsp. sea salt
½ cup plain whole milk greek yogurt
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/3 cup fresh chopped basil, plus more for garnish
3 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
3 Tbsp. fresh chopped chives
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped tarragon
1 small garlic clove
1 anchovy (minced) OR 1 Tbsp. drained capers
¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
¼ cup toasted pinenuts
fresh ground pepper

  1. Cut the squash into thin strips using a julienne peeler or spiralizer. Sprinkle the squash with salt, toss gently, and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Carefully squeeze the squash over the colander to release excess liquid and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  2. In a food processor or blender, combine the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, basil, parsley, chives, tarragon, garlic and anchovy or capers and blend until smooth.
  3. Toss the drained squash with the parmesan, pinenuts and desired amount of dressing.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with more parmesan, pinenuts and basil and serve immediately.

Pair with Vizcarra Vineyards Erie Canal Catawba.


Near or Far: September-October 2016

by Megan Frank on September 15, 2016


Location: National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Name: Survivor Tree (note: there is a tree of the same name that survived the 1995 Oklahoma City’s bombing)

Genus/species: Pyrus Calleryana

Common name: Callery Pear

Age: Unknown, but it has been part of the memorial since December 2010

Submitted by: Joshua Ingrowski

Joshua says: Pulled from the rumble of Ground Zero, this tree was merely a charred stump with little life left in it. The tree was rescued and nursed back to health for over nine years. Once the director of design and construction at the memorial tracked down the tree at the Parks Department nursery in the Bronx, he and the horticulturist who cared for the tree planned its return. There is a short documentary titled “The Tree That Will Not Be Broken” chronicling the journey of the tree—very powerful!


by Michelle Sutton

The timing of fall foliage color emergence is a phenophase that citizen scientists can track for Nature’s Notebook.

Gardeners on a Mission

Phenology is a rather clinical-sounding word that describes a passionate field of study. The word comes from the Latin root “pheno,” meaning “to appear” or “to bring to light,” and it refers to the timing of seasonal changes and life cycle events in the natural world. New York Phenology Project (nyphenologyproject.org) Founder and Project Manager Kerissa Battle says, “Gardeners are intuitive phenologists—even if they don’t know it! Skilled gardeners closely track seasonal change—their success in the garden depends on it.”

“Phenophases” are distinct life cycle events; for plants, they include such things as fall color emergence, fruiting, budding, flowering, and leafing out. “When gardeners start seeds, plant, harvest, or collect seeds, they are essentially tracking phenophases in order to grow what they want,” Battle says. “Gardeners also tend to keep records year to year of when things happen in their gardens. This is the essence of tracking phenology—paying close attention to seasonal change and keeping records.”

Across the country, more than 15,000 citizen scientists are tracking phenological data for a proscribed set of plants and animals. Many of them are gardeners collecting data from plants in their own gardens; others are going to designated “phenology trails” and other sites in the community. Many of them are entering their data in an elegant national endeavor utilizing Nature’s Notebook, a data-collecting tool of USA National Phenology Network (usanpn.org).

In 2015, New York Phenology Project (NYPP) observers contributed more than 10% of the national dataset. The national total number of observations recorded in Nature’s Notebook in 2015 was 1.8 million!

Phenology aficionados track “phenophases,” like bloom time of native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Photo by Michelle Sutton

Phenology aficionados track “phenophases,” like bloom time of native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Photo by Michelle Sutton

Time of fruitset, like on this winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), is a phenophase that is tracked by phenologists. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Time of fruitset, like on this winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), is a phenophase that is tracked by phenologists. Photo by Michelle Sutton

The mission of Nature’s Notebook is to encourage close observation of nature, both for the joy of it and the data that results. Theresa Crimmins is assistant director at USA National Phenology Network. “As climate changes, the timing of these life cycle events also changes for many species. However, not all species are exhibiting changes, and the changes that are occurring are not all in the same direction or of the same magnitude.”

Crimmins says that the implications for this are wide-ranging and not yet completely realized, but include mismatches in the timing of open flowers and the arrival of pollinators, spread of invasive species, and changes in species ranges. “Local observations of phenology can provide critical data for scientists studying the effects of changing climate,” she says.


About.com Gardening Expert Marie Iannotti participates in phenology data collection for Nature’s Notebook and uses phenology in a variety of practical ways in her home garden. Photo courtesy Marie Iannotti


When the Lilac Leaves Unfurl…

One of those data collectors is garden writer, speaker, and photographer Marie Iannotti (gardeningthehudsonvalley.com), whose name may sound familiar because she is the gardening expert for About.com. She has written three books, including The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Northeast.

Iannotti remembers getting phenology-based planting advice from an older gardener who advised her to “plant your potatoes when you spot the first dandelion.” She says, “I started poking around to see if this kind of advice was just folklore or if there was some research behind it. When I found out the research on phenology is ongoing and anyone could participate in tracking, I jumped in, and I started collecting all the tips that had to do with gardening.”

Iannotti takes part in the New York Phenology Project through Nature’s Notebook. She says, “Tracking phenology is a great way for gardeners to get to know the cycles of nature and which things tend to occur at the same point in time. I started by tracking lilacs and know that when the lilac leaves first start to unfurl, I can plant lettuce and carrots, and when the lilac blooms, it’s safe to plant cucumbers and beans. When the forsythia blooms, I plant peas. It’s not an infallible system, but it’s a great tool for planning and for increasing your knowledge of natural phenomena. And since weather can be so variable, it’s more accurate than counting backwards from your last expected frost date.”

According to Iannotti, phenology makes us more aware of not just the changes, but also when something is wrong. For instance, why would we suddenly be seeing so many grasshoppers, or an increase in poison ivy? When should we be on the alert for Japanese beetles? When will cabbage worms be hatching, so we remember to go looking for them? “I’m also tracking my garden nemesis, the groundhog,” she says.


Trails and Sites Near/by You

Kerissa Battle says that one of the great things about the New York Phenology Project (NYPP) is that anyone can create a monitoring site almost anywhere. “Even if you only have space for a container garden outside of your house, or you just tag one red maple on the street in front of your house, or you get permission from the town to mark plants on your favorite local trail—you can join this effort,” she says.

Currently most monitoring sites are situated downstate. Battle would like to see more phenology trails and monitoring sites get established in central and northern New York. “Phenology data has been used mostly to monitor long-term patterns,” she says. “However, if monitoring sites are situated along a gradient—such as north to south or urban to rural—the data collected becomes relevant in the short-term as well.” How does urbanization affect the timing of flowering? Are the same pollinators being seen along an urban-rural gradient? Battle says that an array of monitoring sites that represent all of New York’s diverse ecosystems would allow these types of questions to be addressed.

In addition, central and northern New York are home to some of our State’s finest organizations and academic institutions—many of whom are already well-positioned to set up a site and engage students and the public in citizen science. “Indeed some of the most beloved nature preserves and institutions in New York are already involved—and new monitoring sites pop up every year,” Battle says.

Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland recently established a one-mile phenology trail with a focus on five woody plants: red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (A. saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). They are also tracking the wonderful herbaceous woodland forb, skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

The Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT), based in Ithaca, set up a phenology trail in Roy H. Park Preserve in Dryden, where they are monitoring red and sugar maple as well as black cherry (Prunus serotina), Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). They are looking for more volunteers to get involved with this phenology trail. The FLLT has an intimate history with phenology; one of its founders and its first president was Carl Leopold, son of beloved naturalist and author Aldo Leopold, who was an avid phenology data collector.

According to the FLLT website:

While Aldo is well-known for his phenological observations at his farm and shack in Wisconsin from 1935-1948, the whole family participated in observing nature … those observations have proved extremely important … years later, Aldo’s children Carl and Nina used Aldo’s records to publish a study in 1999 showing that temperature-dependent phenological events are occurring earlier. In 2013, a team of researchers used those same records to publish a new study on record-breaking early flowering in 2012. Just think—the observations you contribute today could lead to an important scientific paper down the road!

Citizen scientists around New York State are collecting phenology data and entering it into Nature’s Notebook. Photo by Kerissa Battle

Citizen scientists around New York State are collecting phenology data and entering it into Nature’s Notebook. Photo by Kerissa Battle

A Bustling Play

Battle set up a phenology trail around her property (which includes her garden) and checks her plants nearly every day when she takes her dogs for a walk. “I get my exercise and slow down my mind while I take in everything I am observing,” she says. “It is meditative and enlivening all at the same time. What could be better?”

“Beyond the pure pleasure of phenology monitoring, you can also craft your garden or yard within the larger context of the surrounding ecosystem,” Battle says. She goes on:

You begin to notice the same pollinators on your tomatoes that you are observing on the milkweed in the field. You begin to notice that the red maples in your yard are flowering later than the red maples in town. You start wondering if the heavy fruit set on the mountain laurel near your garden is because your garden is so lush this year that native pollinators decided to nest nearby and are now pollinating everything in sight. What insects are arriving and when; what birds are hanging around your gardens; what else is in bloom near your garden that might be attracting pollinators?

Suddenly you realize that the pollinators are not just servicing your garden—you are actually feeding them. And then they are moving from your garden to the patch of wild bergamot down the road and the fertilized seeds of the wild bergamot are feeding the birds at the end of the summer, and bam! Your intentional watching has placed your garden in the center of a bustling play—with you as both actor and audience.


Battle encourages those who are interested in creating a new NYPP site—which could be in your backyard—to visit nyphenologyproject.org.


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


Garden Maintenance

Continue to remove weeds to prevent perennial weeds from having a head start in the spring and to prevent annual weeds from setting seeds. If time constraints prevent digging up weeds, cut off the seed heads before they mature.

Water trees and shrubs to encourage full vigor and hardiness in preparation for the winter ahead.

Add compost to your beds to improve soil texture, promote beneficial microbes, and to prepare the garden for next spring.

Mulch newly planted perennials, trees and shrubs when the soil temperature reaches 50 F to prevent heaving in the winter. Make sure the mulch is not touching tree or shrub trunks. Pile leaves on your macrophyla hydrangeas.

Allow annuals such as nicotiana, annual poppies, cleome, and Verbena boniarensis to drop seeds in the garden.

Prevent mouse and rabbit damage to thin-barked trees and shrubs by installing 18 inch to 24 inch high hardware cloth. Cut any grass around the base of trees short to discourage nesting by these critters.

Don’t heavily prune trees or shrubs at this time. Severe pruning can disrupt normal dormancy.

Don’t prune your lavender. Wait until spring.



Remove and discard all diseased plant material. Do not place in compost pile as some fungal spores winter over and may re-infect plants next season.

Disinfect your pruner after working on diseased plants before moving to a new plant. A quick spray with Lysol, a dip in a 10% Clorox solution, or using alcohol wipes all work well on your tools.

Remove and destroy iris foliage to eliminate the eggs of the iris borer.

Mound soil around your roses after the temperature drops. Bring in fresh soil to avoid disturbing roots.

Leave the seed heads of astilbe, black-eyed-Susan, coneflower, daisies, intact to provide food for the birds as well as giving winter interest. Also, leave ornamental grasses, red osier dogwood, asters, Russian sage, for winter interest.

Divide any perennials that have become overgrown, exhibit diminished bloom or have formed a “doughnut” shape with a bare spot in the center of the clump. It’s best to transplant early in the fall while there is still enough time for the roots to settle in for the winter. Extra plants can be shared with a friend.



Plant spring bulbs. You will get better results if you plant when there is a month of 40 degree or above soil temperature (mid Sept. – Oct.). This allows the bulbs to set strong roots and will give you a better bloom next spring.

Plant bulbs 2 to 3 times as deep as their height, a little deeper for naturalizing varieties.

It’s difficult to tell the top from the bottom of some bulbs. The skin is loose at the top and attached at the bottom. If you can’t tell, plant them sideways!

To deter moles, voles and squirrels, put a layer of pea gravel or small gauge chicken wire between the bulbs and soil surface.



Overseed bare spots in the lawn. Filling in bare spots helps prevent weeds in those areas next year.

September is the best time to seed a new lawn. A top dressing of good compost is an ideal natural fertilizer.

Water the grass seeds regularly to keep the soil moist. Choose high quality seed appropriate for your site.

In early September check your lawn for grubs by lifting up about a square foot of sod. If there are more than 10-12 grubs per square foot you may want to treat for grubs. Complete your grub control program by the middle of September. Contact your Cooperative Extension for help in grub identification and treatment options.

Continue mowing the lawn. Make the last cutting one inch lower than usual to prevent matting and to discourage snow mold.

If the leaves aren’t too thick on your lawn leave them and mulch them in when you mow. They feed your soil naturally.


Vegetables & Herbs

Any time after the first frost through late October is a good time to plant garlic. Plant the largest cloves 3 inches deep in loose rich soil.

Pot up some parsley, chives, oregano, or mints to use indoors. You can also freeze or dry herbs for winter use. Wash off the plants to prevent insects from entering your home.

Pinch off tomato blossoms that won’t have time to develop so the nutrients go into the tomatoes already growing on the vine.

Plant cover crops when you harvest your vegetables. This will reduce the need for weeding and will add nitrogen to the soil.

Dig mature onions on a dry day. Store in well ventilated mesh bags (or even panty hose). Plant radish, kale, spinach, and lettuce seeds in early September as your last crops. Pull up your hot pepper plants and hang them until the peppers are dry. (Or thread them on a string to dry.)

If you had any vegetables with fungal problems make sure that area is cleaned of all plant debris and rotate vegetable locations next year.

Mulch strawberry plants.



Dig and store summer blooming bulbs, caladium and elephant’s ears before frost and tuberous begonias, cannas, dahlias after the foliage is blackened by frost.

Bring in or take cuttings of annuals and tender perennials such as scented geraniums, begonia and rosemary and any annuals you want to overwinter before you have to turn on the furnace.

Take cuttings from annuals such as scented geraniums, begonias, strobilanthus, and coleus.

Collect seeds from open pollinated plants such as Kiss-me-Over-the Garden Gate, Big Max Pumpkin, and Brandywine tomatoes.

If collecting seeds be sure to keep them dry and cool. Join a seed exchange such as Seed Savers. Contribute extra seeds to organizations such as the American Horticulture Society and the Herb Society of America.

Plant trees and shrubs now. They will have time to develop roots before winter sets in.

Fallen leaves are one of the most wasted natural resources the home gardener has. They can be used as a mulch to improve soil texture and to add nutrients. (Get some from your neighbors as well!)

Small leaves like linden or birch trees can be spread on gardens directly. Larger leaves can be shredded or run over with your lawn mower before spreading. Avoid using black walnut or butternut, as they can be toxic to many plants. Excess leaves can be composted for use next spring. They decompose faster if shredded first.

Begin bringing in houseplants that lived outdoors all summer. Wash them off with a good spray of soapy water. Check for diseases and insects before bringing them inside.

Take pictures of your gardens and notes for next year’s gardens now: what worked, what didn’t, what to add, remove, or move. (You think you will remember next year but you probably won’t.)

Let your amaryllis bulbs begin a 2 month rest period.

Lay out thick layers of cardboard or newspaper covered with mulch over areas that will become new beds in the spring. These will smother grasses and weeds as they break down making spring efforts easier.

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



Stump the Chump: September-October 2016

by Megan Frank on September 12, 2016


Its bean a long time since I’ve seen this one,
Not even at Palmiters, southwest,
Nor at the nearest herbarium,
Where I once was a frequent guest (pre Google).

Its leguminous, deciduous, entomophilous,
procumbent it is not.
It produces much better with some support
a reputation tasty its got.

Mike Viens and Greg Frank know the answer,
So they cannot participate.
Nor can Greg’s pal in Darien
Despite his status as tree potentate.

“Catalpa” said Greg at first viewing
and I laughed at his precipitous guess
Saying “Greg, you’re a super salesman,
But your mind’s a botanical mess.”

—Ted Collins, AKA Doc Lilac

The first person to answer correctly, genus and species please,
will win a $50 gift certificate to Aladdin’s. Please call 585/301-7181
or email megan@upstategardenersjournal.com to guess.

We will accept guesses starting September 19, 2016, in order to
give everyone a fair chance. Good luck!

 * * *

The answer to the July-August 2016 stumper: Syringa reticulata


{ Comments on this entry are closed }