Friday, April 20, 2007

Time to plant? Yes!

Is it too early to plant my terrace? I live in Manhattan.
Also, my terrace,which faces North, only gets sun for about two hours a day. Some areas are always in shade. I have three window boxes and a number of pots. What plants/flowers would you suggest.

I would say now is a perfect time to plant your terrace. Spring is a great time to plant because it is cool and plants are not nearly as stressed as they may become when the hot days of summer hit. Planting now also allows your new plants to get established in their new containers (pushing out new roots and foliage) so that they have a better chance of making it through next winter. As far as what material, you have a lot of options depending on the size(s) of your containers. With only two hours of direct sun you are going to be best searching out plants that are “shade tolerant”. When shopping it is also good to confirm that the plants you are dealing with can tolerate wind, and depending on your proximity to the water, salt spray. In general I recommend plants (annuals, perennials, and/or small shrubs and trees) that are slower growers and a little more on the compact side. Large plants that naturally get long, tall, or leggy and can become a bit of a maintenance nightmare – depending on how much time you anticipate spending and projectizing out there. Slower growing plants that stay compact typically hold up better under greater stress (heat, wind, drought) and often are easier to care for in the long run. Hopefully that is enough to make you a little more of an educated shopper. Let me know if you need anything else. ...And enjoy the beautiful weekend!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

GreenTeam Street Planting in the Bronx

Those who know about The Horticultural Society of New York know about our tremendous community outreach programs. One such program is the GreenTeam, run by John Cannizzo. For more information, visit the HSNY website at:

The following are pictures and text John recently passed around our office. They refer to a street tree planting, 28 trees in all, that was recently done up in the Bronx. With John's permission I wanted to pass on the following for you all to see and read as well. So, without further ado, a little insight into one of the many projects on our plates these days. Enjoy, -Alex Feleppa

Toya and Delon Sponner of FEGS
Getting the trees off of the truck gently is very important.
Dawn, moving the trees to their new homes.
These kids are totally into it in every way.
It is easy to feel good under the influence of the first planting of the year. These trees are part of an environmental remediation that also has a hint of environmental justice. The areas of the Bronx that suffer from the heat island effect most severely are also some of the least well served. This is incidentally some of the neighborhoods that supply the jails with their populations. The sites were picked out by The Hunts Point Multi-service center. One of 9 multi- service centers that offers everything from daycare services and nutrition for seniors to HIV treatment and substance abuse counseling and parole program and a health center. -John Cannizzo

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I have a browning evergreen in New York

My problem is that I have had this spiral pine since I moved in this house and it is dying.

I went to a couple of garden centers and florists and they could not help me beyond selling me "Systemic Insect Control", Acephate (O, S-dimethyl acetylphosphoramidothicate) 9.4%.
Instructions that I followed were to apply it on April and November, but did not stop the yellowing of the branches and the 80% of the tree has already dried out. I did not apply it this year.
They told me that since a couple of years ago it is not legal to sell anything stronger.

Could you please help me indicating if would be some hope for my dear beauty?

First, let’s clarify what the tree is. Thank you for the pictures by the way – always a huge help for me when IDing issues. Your evergreen is not a pine. I am guessing it is a kind of juniper. Ornamental topiaries are typically Alberta spruce, arborvitae, boxwood, or in this case, juniper. They are all evergreens, but the needles/leaves are all different for each so it is easy to tell them apart. Growers raise and prune them meticulously into these unique shapes that we then find and buy at our local retailers.

Regarding the care, I’m glad you have held off from using more of that chemical you were sold. If you haven’t seen insect damage on the tree there is nothing to indicate that that is the issue. The reason the tree is in decline, in my opinion, is because it needs more water and/or sunlight. How much are you watering the tree now?

Newly planted trees and shrubs often require a lot more water than most people think. In order for the plant to get established and push out new roots it needs to be watered completely at least a couple times a week. By this I mean put a hose at the base of the tree and leave it on at a slow drip, or even better, buy a soaker hose to attach to your regular hose and keep that wrapped around the trunk of the tree. Now, how much and how often? You should be watering new trees for AT LEAST 2-3 hours each time, AT LEAST 2-3 times a week. “Nature’s watering schedule” is not going to cut it alone. If you think about it, when we get an all-day rain that still only amounts to about an inch or two of water. The rootball of your tree, on the other hand, must be at least 8” or 12” deep. By deeply watering all the roots will be encouraged to grow out and get established in the tree’s new spot.

In this case junipers also require full sun, so you want to be sure the tree gets upwards of four or more hours of direct sun a day.

The good news is that your tree is still alive. The bad news is that all of those needles that have browned and fallen are not going to come back. Evergreen, in general, only put out new growth from the tips of the stems, in other words where the plant is green now. You can go ahead and remove any of the brown, clearly dead needles because they are not doing the plant any good. Once you clean it up you may realize it is worth starting over with a new plant. Even though that may sound frustrating, at least now you know how best to care for this kind of topiary.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Squirrels eating my tulips in Hoboken, NJ

I have a garden in Hoboken, NJ, where I have planted a couple stands of tulips. Now that they are coming up, I am noticing squirrels (and/or rabbits) eating the foliage. Is there a way to deter them from eating them all to the ground?

This is an issue that I have heard of many times, and the solutions people come up with get more and more creative every year. Here is a list of popular options:

Pepper sprays are used by many, including these two listed in Rodale’s "Great Garden Formulas":
½ oz. Tabasco, 1 pint water, ½ teaspoon dishwashing liquid, 1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper steeped in 1 quart very hot water, mixed with 1 teaspoon horticultural oil

The first recipe is recommended to spray around your tulips, not necessarily on them. The latter is recommended as a foliar spray. As long as the weather stays dry these sprays usually do the trick. One catch is that sprays need to be reapplied after rain storms. The other factor is that some consider this method to be inhumane to the squirrels.

The advice many publications give is to incorporate bulbs in with your tulip planting that squirrels will not eat, namely Narcissus spp. (daffodils) and Allium spp.. There are miniature Narcissus that can be used subtly while not taking away from the show the tulips put on.

If the squirrels are going after the bulbs before they emerge, try planting your bulbs in “bulb cages”. Information about various shapes and sizes are available online. Along those lines, a good recommendation I read once said to lay down a layer of gravel below the soil above where you planted the tulips. The tulips will be able to push through the gravel but the squirrels are usually deterred from digging through the gravel and give up.

My last thought, and certainly the funniest sounding option I have ever heard of is to use petroleum jelly. In all honesty I have never tried this, but other gardener’s accounts I have read claim that it works well. To deter squirrels and rabbits alike, some have written that putting petroleum jelly (Vaseline, etc.) on the foliage of the plants work very well. It does not affect the look of your plants but the coating is enough of a deterrent that the little critters will stay away.

If anyone else has tips that have worked for them, I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to email me at the address above – Thanks!

Upcoming Event - Tour of GreenBranches Learning Gardens!

Join us for a tour of three GreenBranches Learning Gardens!

Thanks to the generosity of the city of New York there are two trolleys reserved to take people on an educational and inspiring tour of three GreenBranches Learning Gardens.

The Horticultural Society of New York began the GreenBranches program in 1996. Recognizing that the often neglected outdoor space around public libraries in New York City are an underutilized resource for creating green space in urban areas, GreenBranches designs, installs, and maintains high quality gardens around branch libraries in local neighborhoods. By creating beautiful interactive public learning spaces, HSNY works with neighborhood communities to explore horticulture and gardening. The communities benefit from an exposure to the transformative power of horticulture. To date there are 19 Green Branches gardens throughout the city, and already this year more have been approved to be constructed and installed during the upcoming summer.

Call (212) 360 -1396 and reserve your seats for one of the trolley tours happening from 9:00am to 2:00pm on Wednesday, April 25th or Saturday, May 5th. Space is limited so call and reserve your seat today!

For more information on GreenBranches and our other community outreach programs visit our website:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Small tree for an urban backyard

Thank you for the telephone message you had recently left in response to my inquiry regarding suggestions for a choice of tree for my back yard in Queens.
The new tree will replace a 60+ year old anjou pear tree that was removed last fall. A new tree should be smaller than the pear tree and of course not bear fruit, which becomes problematic. It should grow mainly upward but not much higher than the power lines that you may see in the pictures I had provided of our back yard. Neither should it extend too far laterally so as not to damage the neighbors' garage roofs if only by dripping early morning condensate. The tree will be planted approximately 8 to 10 feet from the two nearest garages. It should be deciduous, hardy, and, ideally, flower in the spring. The tree in the foreground seen in one or more pictures is a blossoming Kwanzan cherry tree but this type of tree seems already too large to put also in the rear of the yard. There should be a single main trunk that will become tall enough to allow a person of average height to walk underneath the crown or at least allow access with a lawn mower unlike, e.g. a Japanese maple that often branches closer to the ground.
I would much appreciate any suggestions you might be able to provide.


Thank you for writing. In fact before I turned on my computer today I was revisiting those pictures you had sent and was contemplating the options. Thank you for the greater detail about the site and your specifications. Here are a few small trees that typically mature no larger than 30' that might be appropriate choices for the space. If you feel as though you really need something that is going to remain much smaller you might be forced to consider some shrub options as well. In any event, here are some of my favorite small trees:

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' (Bloodgood Japanese Maple) - I know you are concerned about low branches of the proposed tree being problematic, but Bloodgood Japanese maples do have much more of an upright growth habit. They do not put out a flashy flower, but the rich red foliage all summer long I think is stunning. They are moderate growers so over time you can easily prune the tree up to be able to walk or sit underneath it. The drawback is that these trees, because so popular in the trade, may be more expensive than some of these other options.

Amelanchier (serviceberry) - This shrub or small tree is praised for it's year round interest in the garden. Small white blossoms are among the earliest to bloom in April, they have a nice leaf and texture during the summer, the fall fruit is attractive but not too messy, and the charcoal bark provides interest all through the winter. Even though it naturally grows more like a shrub, I have been able to find single-trunked specimens for sale at large nurseries and retailers.

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) - One of my absolute favorite native trees, this might be a perfect option. Eastern redbuds like a protected site so your back yard sounds like a perfect spot. Bright magenta flowers bloom right along the dark stems in spring, eventually pushing out a delicate heart-shaped leaf for summer. Like the maple, as this tree matures you can slowly prune it up so that one can easily pass underneath it. The canopy of mature redbuds is also fairly airy and open and it does allow a little dappled light through which helps with whatever plantings you may have underneath the tree. There is also a white-flowered cultivar of eastern redbud that is becoming more popular and available at garden centers.

Cornus Kousa (Japanese flowering dogwood) - Japanese dogwoods have gained popularity in American landscapes because they do not fall victim to anthracnose like the native flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida). They have fabulous dark green foliage and a white flower that comes out early summer. Their growth habit is also rather upright so you should not have to prune too much as time goes on. Eventually, however, these trees can get to be a good size, so if it is to be planted right under power lines you might think otherwise. The summer flower is prolific and a selling point of the tree. They also have rich fall color, but the mature 1" orange seeds drop in the fall and some consider them too messy for small spaces.

Laburnum x watereri (goldenchain tree) - Unique because of its flower, this small tree produced large yellow cascades of blossoms from May into June. Growers are now raising forms of goldenchain tree that have a denser canopy of leaves while still putting out a strong flower. The tips of the branches do weep slightly, but you should be able to find this tree for sale with a tall, single trunk. You should know that the blossoms do attract bees during June. Some do not like that because there may be small children present - I think it's fabulous for promoting natural habitats within the city limits.

Styrax japonicus (Japanese snowbell) - The 'snowbells' refer to the delicate little white flower buds that form and hang in the springtime. They open to a fragrant flower in late May to June that I adore. This tree left to its own devices can get rather wide, but new varieties are being bred to grow more upright and narrow. It does not get to be too large, and I have used it on a number of different jobs with great success. There is also a native version, but that definitely fits more in the category of a shrub.

A last note about crabapples (Malus sp.), cherries (Prunus sp.) and Magnolias (Magnolia sp.). There are small varieties of each of these different kinds of tree and they all sound like they would fit into the space you are trying to fill. However, as you have already mentioned, low branching can become really frustrating. Others listed above will still put out low branches that will have to be pruned in time, but many apples, cherries, and magnolias want to naturally grow from low points on the trunk so it is best to steer clear of them.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Where to get a soil test?

This is an excellent question that someone called me with this morning:
I live in New York City and I want to have my soil tested. Can you tell me where I have to go or what I have to do?

Soil tests are a wonderful thing. Whether a new piece of property or one you have been gardening in for years, soil tests are a relatively quick and easy way to make sure that your soil has the correct pH and nutrients available for the kinds of plant material you are trying to grow.

To get your soil tested, contact the Cornell University science extension in Ithica, NY. Their phone number is (607) 255-4540. A standard soil test usually starts around $15 plus shipping. Over the phone they can tell you how to collect and send a sample in for analysis, and where to send it to. Another option, an one I have chosen a number of times, is to give them your credit card information and have them send you a complete kit that guides you through the soil sample process. They send you all the supplies you need, in a week or less, and all you have to do is send back the kit for their analysis. I have found over years of dealing with various Cornell University offices and extensions that they are an extremely nice and helpful group of people. In fact, everyone should know how easy and helpful it is to have your soil tested.

Now is the perfect time - consider it.