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Most of us have heard about mulch but just what is it and why should you use it? First of all mulch is basically any material used to cover the bare surface of the soil. Nature has been mulching itself forever. Tree leaves and plants at the end of the season decompose on site and provide soil cover and nutrients for the next season. We have created controlled habitats in our gardens and have to provide this necessary process.
There are multiple reasons to use mulch. The most common one people think of is to prevent weeds from growing. Who likes to spend the summer weeding?! However, other reasons are just as important if not more so; helping the soil retain moisture so you don’t have to water as much, keep the soil cooler which also cuts down on water evaporation and helps prevent cracking during dry periods, protect the soil from heavy rains and erosion, cut down on soil splashing up on the plants and lastly it gives the garden a finished look.
The two main types of mulch are organic and inorganic. Organic simply means it’s made from plant or animal materials that have been ground or composted. Organic mulches will eventually decompose and add nutrients to the soil. Inorganic mulches include stone and plastic sheeting and have no value for the soil.
Organic mulches are the best to use because along with all the ways they help your garden mentioned above they will also help improve the fertility of the soil as well as the structure of the soil making it easier for the roots to grow and easier for you to dig. As the organic mulch decomposes during the season it adds life to the soil through microorganisms. It’s these microorganisms that feed the plants. Most organic mulch consists of items like composted animal manure, leaves, straw, ground wood, sludge and yard and kitchen waste.
Some of the most common mulches are made from chipped or ground wood, bark and branches. This is usually referred to as wood chips or bark mulch. In my opinion the large wood chip mulch is not the best option. It decomposes very slowly and adds little nutrient value to the soil. After a season or two it turns grey and the recommendation is to remove it and add fresh. Seems like a lot of expense and energy for mulch that is not that good at keeping weeds down.
Triple ground wood mulch is a much better option. You will pay more but it’s more effective at weed control and will add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Cedar mulch has become popular because of the color however the cedars are being harvested from cedar bogs in the south at a frightening rate. For this reason alone I don’t recommend using it.
Compost is a very affective mulch especially if you have “dirt” instead of good soil. Adding compost is the most effective way of improving your soil. When I started gardening my soil was heavy clay and almost impossible to dig. I mulched with compost for quite a few years and it made a huge difference. You can make your own or buy it by the bag or yard delivered to your driveway. A mixture of triple ground wood mulch and compost is ideal and available at many nurseries.
Mulched leaves are an ideal and FREE mulch. To use as mulch the leaves have to be ground up using a mulching lawn mower. I collect mulched leaves people discard at the curb in the fall and bag them for later use. They make a light weight (no back breaking shoveling of heavy mulch) excellent mulch. I use mulched leaves exclusively now except for one bed in the front which gets a lot of wind.
Mulches to avoid are the non-organic varieties. Stone mulch is not recommended. It’s heavy, expensive, doesn’t improve the soil, increases watering needs and is an ineffective weed barrier. It also absorbs heat which can be harmful to some plants and causes the water in the soil to evaporate faster. Plastic garden or weed barrier is also a very poor choice. You need to cover it with mulch to hold it down and it tends to migrate and show up above the soil after a while. Plastic weed cloth is also very hard to plant through and when weeds do show up are hard to remove.
Bottom line… use an organic mulch that includes some compost. It will make your gardening much easier and improve the soil at the same time. A win/win situation!
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There’s nothing that says Fall like seeing pumpkins everywhere. Putting one on your front stoop makes an instant decoration and it carries you all the way through November. How good is that!?
Pumpkins originated in the Americas where their use goes back thousands of years. Seeds from related plants have been found in Mexico dating back to 7,000 to 5,500 BC! Native Americans used pumpkins as a staple in their diet, as well as medicinally, centuries before the Pilgrims landed. When white settlers arrived, they learned to use pumpkins from the Native Peoples.
The name “pumpkin” has a long history. Native Americans called it “isquotersquash”. The first word for pumpkin given by early explorers was “pepon” which was latin for large melon. The French changed it to “pompon” and the English to “pumpion”. It was the American Colonists who changed “pumpion” to “pumpkin”. It’s been pumpkin ever since.
The tradition of carving scary faces in pumpkins goes back hundreds of years. It began with an Irish myth about a man named “Stingy Jack”. Originally, scary faces were carved into turnips and potatoes to frighten away Scary Jack and other evil spirits. Immigrants coming to the US found pumpkins were a much better medium for carving. Thus, the Jack-O-Lantern became part of our Halloween traditions.
We usually think of using pumpkin for decoration or jack-o-lanterns, but it’s a wonderful and nutritious food loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. It also contains potassium and Vitamin A along with numerous other vitamins, minerals and fiber. Pumpkin pulp is used for everything from soups to breads, and of course, pumpkin pie. Don’t forget the seeds, they’re easy to roast and make a nutritious snack.
Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin rind and wove them into mats as well as eating the pulp. Today pumpkins are also used as containers for pumpkin soup and floral arrangements.
Selecting a Pumpkin:
For cooking pumpkins, the best selection is a “pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin”. They are smaller than the carving pumpkins and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. You can use the Jack-o-Lantern variety, but whatever you make will have a better flavor with pie pumpkins.
No matter what type of pumpkin you buy look for one with 2 or 3 inches of healthy stem. Stay away from ones with soft spots or blemishes. When using a fresh pumpkin for puree, one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin is the equivalent of one cup of finished pumpkin puree.
It’s really fun and easy to save the seeds from a pumpkin to plant next spring (A great project with children and grandchildren).
Interesting Pumpkin Facts:
Today pumpkins come in many sizes, shapes and even colors. Check out your local farmers market or farm stand for some of the more unusual varieties.
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Trillium is one of the first spring natives to bloom and probably one of the most well-known native plants. Its beautiful image is used on many logos, advertisements, and artwork.
Trillium is one of the few plants that have the same common and botanical name. “Tri” means 3 and that is the key to identifying trillium. All of its parts are in 3’s or multiple of 3’s; leaves petals, sepals, stamens, stigmas, even the ovary has 3 compartments. There are over 45 varieties of trillium in the US, and 37 of those are native to the northeast.
Many people think that trillium is a bulb but it actually grows from a rhizome. Each year of growth is visible on the rhizome as a shrunken segment called a constriction, rather like rings in a tree, and can be used to approximate the age of the plant. The oldest one identified was over 70 years old! The rhizomes have specialized roots that pull the plant deeper into the ground. Each rhizome typically produces only one stem and flower however some mature ones can have two even three.
Seeds develop slowly taking 2 years to show above ground and up to 7-8 years to produce a flower and seed. This is one of the reasons they are so expensive to purchase and why illegal digging is such a big business. I have read that the trillium rhizomes available in pouches at big box stores are all dug illegally which is why they can be offered for such low prices. A nursery has to commit a lot of time and energy to produce a blooming trillium for sale. If you are purchasing a trillium ask where it was grown and stay away from inexpensive offerings.
Trillium are herbaceous perennials that grow in deciduous forests. They bloom in early May, just when the tree leaves are opening. Their 3 leaves grow horizontally out from the stem to capture the most light in the shaded forest.
If you have a moist deciduous shade area with a good layer of leaf mold they do well in home gardens. Since this is an endangered species in NYS it is illegal to dig from the wild. The 2 that are most common to find in nurseries are:
Trillium grandiflorum – the classic white variety that used to blanket our woods. The white blossom fades to a light pink which many mistakenly think is a different variety. They grow 8 to 16 inches tall and will spread through seeds. This variety prefers a moist, slightly acidic loamy soil.
Trillium erectum – purple trillium is also common in our woods but not near as frequent as the white. It also prefers moist slightly acidic soil with lots of leaf mold. Purple trillium is slightly shorter than the white variety, 6 to 12 inches.
One species I’m fond of but is a little harder to find is Trillium luteum. It has an upright yellow flower that does not open like the other trilliums mentioned. It also has showy mottled leaves which adds interest to the shade garden.
Trillium is endangered for a few reasons. Deer are the biggest problem as they find it extra yummy. People picking the flowers and digging from the woods as well as habitat loss are also causes. If you have the right conditions planting a few trillium will help preserve out native biodiversity. Give this amazing native plant a chance.
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I recently attended “Don’t Get Ticked” an informational program about ticks, conducted by Lynn Braband who heads the NYSIPM (Integrated Pest Management) program from 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 born disease in the US so it needs to be taken seriously.
Ticks have 8 legs so are not bugs but related to spiders and mites. There are 3 types of ticks in our area:
All these ticks spread a variety of diseases but it is just 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 rely on grabbing on to you as you pass by. A tick will crawl to the end of a leaf or blade of grass from ground level to 1 ½ feet off the ground, hold on with their back legs and reach forward with their front 2 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. Long pants tucked into socks is another good method. Lynn suggested putting all clothing in a dryer on high as soon as you come in. The heat will kill the ticks. Spraying with DEET is most effective of the insecticides for ticks. He also recommended taking a shower within ½ hr. after 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 a very thin tweezer and place it 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 Lime 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 Dept.
Some interesting facts:
An outstanding website with all the information on ticks, their life cycle and prevention is: https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/