Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reminder: Lecture at HSNY this evening

Essentials of Proper Tree Stewardship:
A Lecture by Alex Feleppa
Tuesday, April 29, 2008, 6:00 – 7:30pm
Free for members, $10 for nonmembers

Trees have a tremendously positive environmental impact, especially here in our urban setting. Join Alex Feleppa for a lesson on trees, from shoot pruning to root development and everything in between. This is a perfect opportunity if you need to learn more about how trees work or if it is time to treat yourself to a horticultural refresher.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Deer Resistant Screening Material

I am currently working with (a local Long Island community) Fire Department and the town wants a “buffer” tree between our property and the neighbors. I specified an Eastern Red Cedar and the District was worried about deer eating them. I wanted to reach out to someone with more knowledge and found you by google searching “deer resistant plants and shrubs”. What is your feel on the eastern red cedar? Are they highly likely to be eaten by the deer? If so can you recommend something of the same type?

When I still lived out east on Long Island I remember eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) being pretty safe in terms of deer resistance. However, that was close to 10 years ago and with all the development over the last number of years I know their taste palettes have expanded quite a bit.

I fear that bases of the cedars will get pretty chewed up. And trying to think of a tree that is going to be that vertical, while staying so narrow, and still deer-resistant is pretty tough. Assuming the area is full sun, there are some narrow upright spruces out there, but they can get thin from their base up over long lengths of time. I am sure that you do not have a huge budget, and there might not be all that much space to plant, but if at all possible, you might want to consider a line of cedars for height and then some deer-resistant shrubs at the base that will complete the screen and not become full of holes as the years go by. You can underplant the cedars with bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora), Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica), even a low growing juniper, and I would hope they wouldn’t suffer too much munching. Again, I apologize, it’s been a while since I’ve landscaped on the island. Barberry (Berberis) and burning bush (Euonymus alatus) hold up well too, but they are both listed as introduced invasive species in the northeast so I can’t really recommend those with a clear conscious.

I will also take this quick opportunity to say that if anyone has a different opinion about the plants I've listed above, others I've forgotten, or if you have different findings from your experiences, I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts. Deer resistance gets tougher and tougher every year with increased development and decreased forest and parkland and I am open to any and all information people wish to share. Thanks.

Where to Prune my 'Gold Rush' Orchid?

Above is a photograph of my Epicattleya 'Gold Rush' at home in Astoria, Queens, and below is a helpful diagram of an orchid with a sympodial growth habit which I found at howthingswork.com

This is a piece about an Epicattleya orchid. Different orchids have different growth habits and different requirements as to where and when they should be pruned post-flower. This post is specific to Cattleya orchids and their hybrids and should not be used as a general guideline for all orchids. It is important to properly identify and understand how your orchid grows and flowers before initiating any pruning.

I was given a Gold Rush orchid when it was in bloom. It finished blooming, and I was uncertain how to prune back the spent flower spike. I was told by a friend that I should just prune off the spent flower cluster, leaving the bare spike. The spike has continued to stay green, but the orchid is not creating any new flower spikes or new buds on the existing flower spike stem. I'm not even sure when it should start blooming. I received the orchid at the end of June. Should I have pruned the flower spike stem all the way down to the leaf joint, or was my friend right suggesting to leave the flower spike stem on the orchid? When should my Gold Rush Bloom?

Let’s first clarify what you are looking at. Your orchid should have tall pseudobulbs which look like fat green stems covered by a thin, papery cover. For my Gold Rush, each pseudobulb is 4-6 inches tall, and has a single large leaf at the top of it. After many months of having the plant, it grew a couple new pseudobulbs, again, with a papery cover and one large leaf. Then a little growth, referred to as the “sheath”, which looked similar a narrow upright leaf grew straight out of the top of the pseudobulb. This was the bud that the flower spike eventually emerged from, even though I admit it was many, many months before the flower spike finally emerged and blossomed. So, then I had a full flower spike that emerged from that narrow sheath. When the flower is past, what I will do, and what I would recommend, is to cut off the flower spike and sheath from the main plant right above where the large leaf is on each pseudobulb. Then, of course, what you will then be left with is each original pseudobulb and its single large leaf. To answer your other question, a new flower spike will not emerge from the pseudobulbs that have already flowered. You will water and fertilize regularly and wait for the plant to put up 2-3 new pseudobulbs, and those will produce next years flower. As far as when the plant will re-flower, I can not definitely say. The Gold Rush that I bought was advertised as blooming in either spring for fall and it bloomed right in the middle of winter. I received it in early March, I assume just past flower, and it was a solid year before I got to see flowers myself. As I said earlier, the protective bud sheath around the new flower spike was there for many months before finally opening.

When to Divide Hosta?

(A beautiful inflorescence of hosta flowers found in Union Square, July, 2007. Photo credit: Alex Feleppa)

I wanted to divide a few of my hostas because they are too big. My hostas are beginning to bloom and I’m not sure if this is a good time to thin my plant. Should I wait until fall to divide my plants?

You mean your hosta are beginning to leaf out, not flower, right? I don’t know of any hosta that bloom this early – the ones I see are just breaking ground with new leaves now.

Honestly, I think it would be fine to lift and divide them right now, but do not wait any longer. The general rule of thumb is that you want to lift and divide your large perennials and grasses soon after they flower so you give them enough time to establish new buds and flowers for next time. Often this means that spring flowering plants are divided in early fall and fall bloomers are best divided in early spring. Of course, there are always exceptions in the world of proper horticulture so if you are unsure it is best to refer to your favorite reference books before breaking ground. Hostas bloom late summer and are so tough, I have divided them in spring and fall and every time they have held up fine for me. Not to mention it is definitely easier to lift them, place them on their sides, divide, and transplant now while the foliage has not yet emerged, or is still very small. In some cases if I lifted and divided them on a sunny or hot day the foliage might have gotten a little beaten up, but again, they are such tough plants that I’m sure they would bounce back and be fine in the long run. If the foliage is up very far and you fear you might damage the plants too much to move them now then obviously you can wait until fall.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Word of Thanks

Amy Stewart at HSNY
Amy Stewart speaking at The Horticultural Society of New York on Wednesday, April 16, 2008. Photo Credit: Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener)

Last night's event with author Amy Stewart was really sensational. On behalf of the entire HSNY staff, thank you to those that joined us for Amy's passionate and insightful look into the world of the cut flower industry. Your support of the HSNY Library and our various resources and programs is greatly appreciated. To learn more about HSNY visit our web site. In addition, thanks to the Flatbush Gardener for writing us up on his blog, very nice of you. To visit the Flatbush Gardener's blog post about HSNY click here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bonsai for Beginners

I have just purchased an Acer palmatum 'Katsura'. The plant currently stands at a height of about 3 feet including about 10" for the Pot. Its shape is very much vertical with some branches horizontal. It is at the moment in bloom and unfortunately the leaves are small. I want to make this tree an ornamental display and would like some advise on how to prune and shape. I am looking for a Bonsai type shape and eventually want it to stand about 5ft in height excluding the Pot. Can you give me suggestions on what Pot size I should use and how to Prune and shape it?
I am very new to this type of gardening so talking to me as though I am a child will not offend me.

Congratulations on your new Japanese maple. Even though it will require regular and meticulous pruning, watering and fertilizing, and care, you can most definitely train your maple to become a bonsai specimen. A successful bonsai requires careful pruning of both shoot and root tissue in order ultimately control the size and create that specialized and miniature specimen that you crave. The art of bonsai requires attention on a year-round basis, but if you prepared to devote the time to it then it can be a wonderful and gratifying practice to embrace. Because I have limited experience with bonsai myself, I turned to the stacks in the HSNY Library after receiving your email. There are a number of excellent “bonsai for beginners” books out there and I am guessing that will be the best way for you to start educating yourself. You can review the steps and maintenance to create and grow bonsai and assess whether it is an endeavor you wish to take on. If it is more than you want to take on, then I am sure with some regular pruning you can still keep your maple to a manageable size in a container. And we can discuss that further if that would help.

One bonsai book that I found extremely helpful was written by Craig Coussins entitled Bonsai for Beginners. In a small section specifically on maples, there was a great insert that I think might be a good starting off point for you. This is pulled directly from the book, and I have included the complete bibliography below:

“The Maple’s Year
EARLY SPRING: Although you can repot at almost any time, this is the optimum period for the majority of maples. Kashima and Kiyohime will have started to spread at this time, so make sure that they are protected. Feed 0-10-10 (zero nitrogen) every seven days to stop lush green growth, but only after the buds have opened.
THROUGHOUT SPRING: Start plucking out the bud centers.
EARLY SUMMER: After the first two feeds, start giving them a high-nitrogen feed to build up stamina in young trees. If you want good fall color, cut down the high-nitrogen food. If the tree is healthy, consider a full or partial defoliation, which can be followed by selective wiring. The tree should be looked after as during spring the problem with summer defoliation is sunburn rather than winds.
MIDSUMMER: Wire trees with cage (not tight) or protected wire, and carry out any major pruning at this time of summer dormancy. Reduce feeding until late midsummer.
LATE SUMMER: Start feeding weekly with low-nitrogen food. This is the last opportunity for defoliation before fall.
EARLY FALL: Trim any leaves that are growing out of the planned shape. Stop feeding if the leaves start to change color. God fall color is achieved with little or no nitrogen feed. The question is whether or not you want to risk the tree’s health for a short-term benefit. It is probably better to wait until the tree has been completed and then to reduce the feed to zero nitrogen for one year.
MIDFALL: Complete your feeding program with low- or zero-nitrogen feed.
LATE FALL/EARLY WINTER: Remove any dead leaves and make sure the trees are protected against winter frost and winds.
WINTER: This is the other time when you can perform major surgery to your bonsai.”
-Coussins, Craig. Bonsai for Beginners. Sterling Publishing, 2002. P. 102

Now, I must admit that I am not sure if this is the best bonsai advice, but like I said, I hope it is a starting point for you to gain more of an understanding of the intricacies of bonsai. As you can see, true bonsai is a little more than just occasional pruning. It requires regular and meticulous manipulation of the tree. Review these notes and any books you might be able to find at a local bookseller or library, and let me know what you decide to do.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Recent Press: The Poughkeepsie Journal

A few months ago I received a call in the office from a journalist up near Poughkeepsie, New York. She was asking about the healing properties of gardens and we got talking about the topic of horticultural therapy. We had a very deep and detailed conversation about the history and benefits of horticulture as therapy. The other night I found that Stephanie had finished and posted her article for the Poughkeepsie Journal. I really enjoyed it so I wanted to pass it along for all of you to read and enjoy as well. If you would like to check out the article, click on this link to the Poughkeepsie Journal.

In addition, I wanted to share with you some photographs from the garden of Ricci Albenda. Ricci is presently exhibiting in the HSNY Gallery here at 148 West 37th Street and has also been kind enough to open up his garden to the public on specific Sundays from 12-4pm. As I headed over yesterday I was not entirely sure what I would find at 26 Devoe Street. In short, what I would find would not only rejuvenate my senses, it would test me, it would lead me to new knowledge and new friends. Ricci's backyard was like a horticulturists dream come true. Found objects, reclaimed objects, plants, a love of bulbs and tubers, a love of winter and spring blooms, near obsession with pruning of woody species, I tell you this garden was rich with it all. I had always wanted to know how bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) might do in a backyard here in the city. I found clumps of them everywhere and Ricci was sure to point out the 'Multiplex' back by the Ailanthus.
Fritillaria meleagris brings me right back to horticulture school for some unknown reason. Part of a spring bulbs class I first saw this plant and couldn't get it out of my head. It was one of the first flowers to pop out at me when I entered the garden this afternoon and I kept going back on it. The detail of the petals, the shape of the large nodding lantern, the fact that they are enchanting little loners in the garden. I love Fritillaria...
...well, almost as much as I love Trillium. Trillium are native woodland plants that love light, dappled shade and a compost rich soil. Their leaves and flowers, all in multiples of three, can be a great discovery when taking a springtime walk in the woods. Like the Sanguinaria, I had been curious to know how Trillium might do in city gardens. These sessile trilliums, meaning that the flower blooms right on top of the foliage, are all the proof I need to try and convince many more to add these favorite natives of mine to their gardens.Tulipa humilis is a plant I had never seen before yesterday so this was a real treat. It comes in many varieties now and I think this must be one of them. It only stood 4-6 inches tall, and as the skies clouded over and it got cooler the flower closed up. I couldn't get the clearest shot of the center, but the white petals and dark blue, almost black center made it such a striking little flower.

And then there were the plant combinations! Usually I am screaming about Vinca, the invasive introduced groundcover people fondly refer to as periwinkle. I see it everywhere and it makes me crazy. But here it was combined with a perennial Sedum, (perhaps 'Angelina'?), and the combination blew my mind. Apparently in tight troughs the Sedum is able to keep tabs on the Vinca and the look was one I will definitely remember for when we finally have more containers and space.
Another new one was this Iris. I am still trying to identify it. Ricci said the name and it went quickly in one ear and out the other. It was planted inter-mixed with the variegated Yucca below and the combination was once again very smart and logical. Of course add green and dark purple flowers with a favorite perennial and it's hard for me not to be in love. Yucca is a native that I love to try and incorporate into most of my garden designs. It has year-round structure and can be combined with anything from hot summer tropicals to cool spring ephemerals. I was reminded of the Western Garden at Garden in the Woods up in Framingham, MA, and the combo of Yucca and California poppy that would stop people dead in their tracks. It is great to take the small, almost whimsical flowers with unique color or shape and scatter them in with these big spiky fellows.
Clearly gardens do have an inherent healing property. Like I said, I wasn't sure what to expect in Ricci's garden. Yet the gardens and the good company and the space full of shape, structure, and flower was very calming and centering and it was a wonderful afternoon.

Ricci Albenda's garden at 26 Devoe Street in Brooklyn will be open to the public again on May 4th and May 11th from 12-4pm. To learn more about Ricci's exhibit, 26 DEVOE, as well as information about getting to his garden, please visit the HSNY website by clicking here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Upcoming Library Talks at HSNY

AppleSeed and the HSNY Library invite you to back-to-back garden talks at The Horticultural Society of New York:

The Garden Primer with Barbara Damrosch Monday, April 14, 2008, 4:30 – 5:30pm

...followed by...

The Gardens of Ethnic Americans with Patricia Klindienst

Monday, April 14, 2008, 6:00 – 7:00pm

The HSNY Library presents an evening with author Amy Stewart:

Flower Confidential:
The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers

Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 6:30 – 8:00pm

All the above talks are free to the public so please join us. We just ask that you RSVP to Katherine Powis, HSNY Librarian, at (212) 757-0915 x109 or kpowis@hsny.org

Monday, April 7, 2008

Question Regarding the HSNY Green Screen

(Ficus pumila, commonly called creeping fig is one of the many plants we have growing here at HSNY. Photo credit: Alex Feleppa)

I found the blog recently - and LOVE the window display I see in the photos of the HSNY office.
I wonder, what is the plant I've circled in the enclosed image? And how was this window system constructed? I feel like vertical space isn't used often enough, and this seems like a great way to do it.

Thanks for writing; that is a great question.

The plant you have circled in the images you sent is Ficus pumila, or creeping fig. As you can see in the photograph creeping fig has small heart-shaped leaves that can cling and climb quite easily on most vertical surfaces. Native to the warmer parts of China and Japan, these small evergreen plants are only hardy in USDA Zones 9-11 and therefore we utilize them best as houseplants. I have found from maintaining the "Green Screen" here at HSNY that these plants do benefit from regular watering and misting, especially through the dryer winter months.

The entire HSNY headquarters here on West 37th Street, including the offices, art exhibition space, library, and Green Screen, was designed by Marpillero Pollak Architects. If you have not been, I highly recommend you stop by HSNY and see our space in person. We are always happy to have visitors and are open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm. The installation of the Green Screen components was done by David Melrose, an artist and builder based in Brooklyn. The troughs that the plants are situated in are affixed to the walls via those darker vertical brackets, all made of metal. The troughs do not have drainage holes so we incorporated a layer of gravel beneath the different soil mixes and used predominantly smaller plants and succulents that require less space for their roots. Some plants require more regular watering and misting than others, but by and large the screen has been doing very well since it was originally installed in 2006.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Compost Question from Buffalo, NY

I began composting in a galvanized garbage can two years ago. I did not put holes in the can to aerate it. Can I still use the compost. Should I throw it away. I live in the city of Buffalo, I don't think that it would be wise to leave open debris in my yard.

If the lid of the garbage can has been off for most of the last two years then your plant cuttings and debris may have gotten enough fresh air to properly decompose. After two years I imagine that anything in the garbage can has broken down enough that it would be fine to use in the garden. However, I would certainly scoop some out and inspect it before applying it to your soil. If you find patches of mold I would get rid of the compost and not use it. A well done compost pile reaches roughly 140 degrees (at least) in its center and naturally breaks down any seeds, foliage, and stem tissue so that all you are left with is a rich dark brown/black compost that should be void of any major clumps or strong fragrance. In an ideal world a compost pile is usually about 5’ x 5’ x 5’, situated in a sunny location, a good mix of both bacterial components (grass clippings and other green debris) and fungal components (broken down stems, leaves, and other woody debris), and gets turned over every six months. But obviously this is very much the ideal model. I have seen tubs and garbage cans used, and as long as there is some potential for aeration and no major water sitting for extended lengths of time the debris can properly break down and be just fine. If your compost smells very strong like ammonia then it has not broken down properly and I would not use it. If you stir it up with a garden fork or shovel and it seems pretty well broken down, with no weedy seedlings present and an earthy fragrance that does not knock you over, then I would assume it is fine to spread around. Either way, when you empty the garbage can see if you can locate a drill with a heavy duty drill bit and make some holes in it so you can use it again in the future with less worry.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Where to Buy Small Trees in NYC?

(To kick off April as Million Trees Month in New York City there was a celebration in Seward Park down in the Lower East Side yesterday where local school children helped to plant these beautiful flowering cherry trees. To learn more about the Million Trees campaign come to HSNY on April 22 for an informative lecture by Alex Feleppa, member of the Million Trees Advisory Council. For more information on our upcoming events, visit our events calendar at HSNY.org Photo Credit: Alex Feleppa)

I want to purchase a Saucer Magnolia tree for my back yard. I've done an on-line search and found that naturally, on-line nurseries sell small trees in 3 gallon pots. I am interested in getting a tree that is already at least 4-5 feet tall. Do you have a recommended source in New York City?

Here in the city I often recommend people contact the Chelsea Garden Center at their new location on 11th Avenue at 44th Street. They carry a wide range of woody trees and shrubs throughout the season and their staff I find to be very helpful and knowledgeable. As an extra bonus, if you are an HSNY member you do get a 10% discount when you present your membership card at purchase. Then there are the places down on 28th Street in the Flower District, but I must be honest and say at this moment I do not know of a reliable tree salesman down there. If you go early enough in the day you will find a number of shops open and larger material displayed on the street, but again, I'm not sure about a specific contact for magnolias.

If you are in Brooklyn or can travel to Brooklyn, then I'd suggest visiting or contacting any of these three places:
Chelsea Garden Center, their Red Hook location - 444 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn
Liberty Sunset Gardens, also in Red Hook - 204 Van Dyke Street, Brooklyn
Gowanus Nursery, in Caroll Gardens - 45 Summit Street, Brooklyn

I think a simple Google search should provide you with phone numbers, etc. Obviously spring is here so any of the above should have their trees in stock, or they are actively receiving as we speak. Good luck and let me know what you find!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cotinus, Hibiscus, and "Rejuvenation Cuts"

(an image of Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' taken last summer, photo credit: Alex Feleppa)

I have 5 purple smoke bushes, two Rose O’ Sharon hibiscus and three Luna hibiscus. A friend advised me to prune them all to the ground in late winter/early spring in order to get them to branch out. So in late February, that’s what I did. I cut them all to the ground. Now it’s March 31st and there are a number of other shrubs in my yard (snowball, honeysuckle, hydrangea, kerria) that are leafing out, but there are NO signs of growth in my smoke bushes or hibiscus. Did I probably kill them?

Thanks for writing. Honestly, I doubt you killed any of those shrubs, especially because all three of those are some very tough plants. However, by pruning them back as heavily as you did you cannot expect them to grow and act quite the same way as they have in years past when you did nothing to them.

Allow me to give you a little botany/horticulture refresher. In the fall the shrubs have built up their reserves of energy, in the form of carbohydrates, and they store that energy so it can be used to help the shrub properly leaf out in spring. Deciduous shrubs leafing out requires the majority of that finite amount of stored energy, and once the new leaves are out, the shrub can begin a new year of photosynthesizing and rebuilding those reserves. Now, this is not to say that “rejuvenation cuts”, as I learned to phrase them, are a bad idea. Like you said, they promote new growth from the base and often can help you achieve a more full and bushy looking shrub. However, you do want to think about the fact that your shrubs now have to do “double duty” because of those cuts in relation to a finite supply of energy. What I mean by “double duty” is first the shrubs have to callus those cuts, then they have to push out new growth.

The cells right where you cut are going to callus in order to prevent insects and disease from infiltrating the stem and root tissue. This, of course, requires energy. Right below the bark on all woody plants is the cambium, the layer of xylem and phloem that carries water and nutrients vertically throughout the shrub. Because the shrubs are determined to stay alive, the cambium will force “dormant buds” right below those callused cuts to swell, leaf out, and grow into new shoots. We hope that the new shoots will grow large and healthy and provide you with a great new look in your garden. However, I hope my description has helped to clarify why that will take a lot longer than in years past when pre-formed buds simply had to leaf out with an energy supply they knew was not being used anywhere else.

For your own education, in the future this is what I would recommend. I would have advised you to make some rejuvenation cuts, but I might have recommended taking back half of the stems instead of the entire shrub. The following spring the dormant buds and new growth emerge from where you have pruned, but the shrub also has some older branches and buds in place to ease it through that stress. Then next winter you go back again and, assuming the first cuts led to new growth like you wanted, then you cut back the other half of your older branches. The process is elongated over two seasons, but by the second spring you have a shrub significantly less in size that you know will bounce back well and not die on you because of too much stress.

Now, again, I do not think you killed your shrubs. But, I do think that because of the need to callus and then leaf out your shrubs are going to be a bit behind the rest of your garden. For my gardens here in New York, Cotinus (smokebush) and hardy Hibiscus tend to leaf out and flower later in the summer than many other shrubs so I might guess it will be another month before you see much new growth. Another important thing to know now is that you want to provide proper care and not add additional stress to the situation right now. Keep the shrubs well watered, mulch them but do not bury the crowns of the plant where the buds are trying to emerge, and keep an eye out for potential pest issues. You do not need to fertilize or apply any extra nutrients, just let the shrubs bounce back as best they can on their own.