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Horticulture Blog April 2020

April 30th: Dance Maypole

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The maypole was originally part of a pagan ritual celebrating May 1 st, the first day of summer and the day the livestock could be put out to pasture.November 1 st, the first day of winter, was celebrated 6 months later.People of many nations celebrated May Day, with their festivities determined by their culture and long-held traditions.

May Day celebrations in United States

The Puritans frowned on May Day, so the day has never been celebrated with as much enthusiasm in the United States as elsewhere. But the tradition of celebrating May Day by dancing and singing around a maypole, tied with colorful streamers or ribbons, survived as a part of the English tradition. The kids celebrating the day by moving back and forth around the pole with the streamers, choosing of a May queen, and hanging of May baskets on the doorknobs of folks -- are all the leftovers of the old European traditions.

April 29th: Raised Beds


Yesterday I told you a little about container gardening. Today let’s talk about raised beds. A raised bed makes it easier to tend to your garden; fewer weeds, soil warms earlier in spring, less getting on the ground, improved drainage, and since you never walk on it, less soil compaction.

Some of the raised beds we make are placed on the ground, others are on legs. For seniors, or folks of any age who want the convenience of gardening at a level that requires no kneeling or bending, a bed that’s waist high, or higher if you want wheelchair accessibility, are good investments.

They can be purchased as kits to assemble, ready-made, just needing installation, or if you are a do-it-yourselfer, you can do it yourself. The fact sheet at the link below will give you the information to determine if raised bed gardening is a good idea for you.



April 28th: Planting in Containers


As I’ve gotten older I’m finding it more difficult to maintain my gardens. I have 5 beds, none of them huge, and some needing more attention than others. Most are raised off the ground but they are not standing gardens, they are bending-over-although-not-kneeling-on-the-ground gardens. It’s a good thing. If I had to kneel on the ground, I would have to have a chiropractor on speed dial or fill them in with rocks.

I have found a good solution by planting in containers. The only requirements are that the container has not previously held toxic materials, it needs to be deep enough to accommodate the root system of its occupant, and have good drainage. Don’t fudge on the drainage part or your plants may rot from the roots up and you will not get anything out of the experience except a new appreciation for good drainage.

I have grown in attractive pots, 5-gallon buckets, and wash basins, to name a few. If you are planting seeds, check the packet for a little check-mark and container. It should even tell you how many seeds to put in a certain sized container. I do tomatoes every year and I’m planting green beans in one this year

Put your imagination in high gear and look around to see what you already have that could be planted with something. You are sure to impress yourself with what you come up with. And you know they say, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’


April 27th: Seed Packet Stories


Seed packets have a story to tell and it behooves us to read it carefully. This packet of pea seeds tells us how to plant, full sun (which is 6 hours minimum, 8 hours is better, and it should be continuous), one inch deep. Note that is does not say after last frost. Peas are a cool season crop, as are lettuce, radishes, and a number of other vegetables. If you plant per the instructions, when your seedlings are 1-2 inches high, they must be thinned.This means removing seedlings so the remaining seedlings are 4-6 inches apart.

It’s sometimes difficult to do this since they are growing so nicely, but if you don’t, they will be overcrowded when they reach mature size, competing for food, water and nutrients. They will be very unhappy and what could be more disconcerting than unhappy peas? HINT: When you thin your seedlings, take care not to disturb the roots of the remaining ones. You might want to clip them off at the ground rather than pull them out. The roots will decompose and enrich the soil.

Bonus: Peas can be planted twice during the season. Early spring and again in late summer for a fall crop.


April 24th: Tree Planting Tips


Spring is the time that many kinds of trees can be planted. If you want a newly planted tree to thrive there are some important things to be mindful of:

  • Look up. If there are power lines above your chosen location, choose a new one.
  • Dig the hole for the tree before you expose the roots as they dry out quickly.
  • Two things that are done improperly when planting a tree are planting it too deep, and creating a mulch volcano.Mulch volcanoes are fairly common due to a lack of understanding of the effect they have on trees.They may look nice, but they are killers. They promote constant moisture against the trunk, encouraging, insects, and disease.


April 23rd: Poppy Seeds = Ticks


If there’s one thing it’s important to know about ticks, it’s that at the nymph stage they are about the size of a poppy seed, but if infected, they are able to transmit disease to humans.

Nymphs are difficult to see even after they have had a blood meal at your expense. You won’t feel the nymph or adult tick bite like you would a mosquito, so it’s especially important to know how to check for ticks, what to do if you find them, and how to prevent them in the first place.

Next Tuesday, April 28 th at noon for young children, and 12:30 for adults and older children, I am presenting a free program entitled “Don’t Get Ticked NY”. If you would like to join us you can register at:https://pub.cce.cornell.edu/event_registration/main/events_landing.cfm?event=don%27tgetticked_209

You will receive a Zoom link upon receipt of your registration.


April 22nd: Earth Day


It was John McConnell back in 1969 who first proposed an Earth Day. The backdrop was the peace movement, hippies and flower power. However, John McConnell was older, wiser and more experienced than most of those calling for give peace a chance. One of his earlier slogans was 'Peace for Minute', but in 1969 he put forward the idea a holiday to celebrate the Earth's life and beauty.

Article by: Guy Thomas

The difference between weather and climate according to NASA.

In most places, weather can change from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate, however, is the average of weather over time and space. An easy way to remember the difference is that climate is what you expect, like a very hot summer, and weather is what you get, like a hot day with pop-up thunderstorms.


April 21st: Top Ten Tips

The Master Gardener Volunteer from the University of Maryland gave me the OK to share their list of Top Ten Tips. I found it very informative—I hope you do too.


Be resourceful!

Use lawn clippings (no herbicides) and last fall’s tree leaves to mulch plants. Share seeds, plants, and tools with neighbors

5-gallon buckets make excellent container gardens (one tomato or pepper per bucket)

Re-use building materials on hand - old boards, bricks, and wire fencing - to build raised beds and trellises

Start small so you can manage and succeed with your first garden. Then expand!

Test your soil even if you’ve already started your garden

Fencing is a must to keep out deer, groundhogs, and rabbits

Before planting, spread an inch of compost and rake it into the top of your soil (ok not to incorporate if you don’t have a rake!)

Keep your eye on weather forecasts. Don’t plant tomato, basil, pepper, and other frost-sensitive crops before the last expected frost

Don’t crowd plants; follow the spacing instructions on seed packets and theHGIC website

Cover seeds, seedlings, and transplants with floating row covers to speed growth and exclude pests: more information on row covers

Check on plants each day (top and bottom of leaves) and pick-off pests by hand

Pick tomatoes when they first change color and ripen them indoors

April 20th: Dandelions & Bees

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Photo by Jolene

This morning I found my first dandelion of spring. I haven’t seen any bees yet but I suspect it won’t be long, and they’ll be hungry.If you look around your yard you won’t see much, if any, plants that produce food for the bees this early in the season. If you are lucky enough to have dandelions, please don’t dig them up when they’re in bloom. Although they don’t provide much of the protein and amino acid that bees need via nectar and pollen, they can keep bees alive until other sources are available.

I hope that you will consider not using pesticides and herbicides this year. Unless your circumstances are unusual, feeding your lawn in spring encourages plush green grass at the expense of the root system, which will keep your lawn nice in the heat of summer. If you do need an herbicide or pesticide be sure to get one specific to the problem you have, and the least toxic available. If you need a recommendation I would be happy to talk with you.




April 17th: Branch Clean-up/Tree Removal


I hear we might have a day this weekend that’s not too cold, and not windy at all. We have branches that have blown down from the trees that need to be picked up so I’ll try to get that done. Not my favorite chore, but you can’t leave them because it makes it too difficult to mow.

I suggest that before your trees leaf out you look carefully to see if there are any dead, dying, or diseased branches that you need to take care of. This is the birch tree in my back yard. If I look closely I can see that there are a few dead branches and one spot where a broken branch that hasn’t fallen yet is rubbing against healthy bark. If the bark is compromised it leaves an opening for insect pests and disease.

Do you think I would be able to see all that if the tree was covered with leaves? If you see something like this, or even worse, don’t try to do more than you can do without putting yourself in danger. Climbing trees and tall ladders can be hazardous to your health.

Better a broken limb on the tree than on you. Call a professional.


April 15th: Tick Program by Zoom

According to TickEncounter, from the University of Rhode Island, most cases of Lyme disease are transmitted from May through July , when nymphal-stage ticks are active. These nymphs are the size of poppy seeds.

I had scheduled workshops of my Don’t Get Ticked NY power point for March and April, but since that has been impossible, I am offering it to the community on Tuesday, April 28.The first section will be age-appropriate for children, beginning at noon, lasting about 20 minutes, followed by my regular presentation for adults and older children at 12:30.

Ticks are a serious problem in the North Country. They are vectors of disease and are found in wooded areas, along hiking trails, even in backyards.This presentation covers the types of ticks we are likely to see, how to protect ourselves, our children, and pets. How to remove a tick if you find one on you, and how to do tick checks. You are encouraged to ask questions. There is no fee for this presentation.

If you are interested in registering for this program contact me at jmw442@cornell.edu.


April 14th: Two Mistakes Made by Even Experienced Gardeners

Now that we are seriously thinking about preparing soil and planting seeds, I want to remind you of two mistakes frequently made by even experienced gardeners. We may know these rules but it’s too easy to ignore them in our enthusiasm to have instant beauty in our garden, and our own orneriness.

The first is “right plant, right place”. This simply means that every plant has conditions that need to be met in order for it to thrive. It may not die if you don’t meet its needs but if won’t do as well as it would if you do. Planting something in full sun (8 hours a day, verified) that requires part or full shade will not bode well for you.

The second is a very common error. Not being mindful of the mature size of the plant, whether it be a tomato, shrub, or tree. If you have an 8 foot by 4 foot bed, you might think you could plant 4 or 5 or even 6 tomato plants. Not so, especially if they are indeterminate tomatoes. Each plant will get very large, and will be in competition with the others for nutrients, water, and air. If there is not adequate space between the full size of the plants, diseases, such as powdery mildew, can be expected.

Check the tags, or seed packets, or whatever your plants are packaged in, or email me, to be sure you are leaving enough room for each plant to thrive. Right after planting, your beds may look bare, but given time you will see them fill in and be beautiful.

More very good gardening sites made accessible courtesy of Cornell.

Digging in with Master Gardener: Radio Program with pre-recorded episodes


Soil-based & hydroponic gardening

CCE Chautauqua is offering Facebook videos about soil-based and hydroponic gardening.


Just Plant It NY

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the “JUST PLANT IT, NY!” campaign is making free and available to the public resources from the CCE Master Gardener Volunteer program and Cornell Garden-Based Learning program for new vegetable gardeners, with time and access to seeds, soil and a few low-budget tools!



April 13th: Vegetable Gardening Info


Photo by Jolene Wallace

Are you getting anxious to start working your soil and putting seeds in the ground. I sure am, but with the rain we’re having today, the soil will be too wet to work. Unless you can squeeze a ball of soil in your hand and have it form cake-crumb like particles, you need to hold off.

I spent the weekend cutting last year’s perennial stems to ground level, or as close as I could get, so the new growth that is appearing has room and light. But I have my seeds waiting by the door.

In the meantime, here are links to some excellent sources of vegetable gardening information.

Vegetable Growing Guide for Beginners

Not just for beginners, this booklet gives how-to information on 25 different vegetables, including when and how to plant, soil requirements, tips, suggested varieties, and other useful information all on one page per vegetable. At the end of the vegetable pages, there are pages on pests, diseases, beneficial insects etc.

A very handy and easy to use guide that I refer to every year at this time.


Selected List of Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners in New York State


For those of you who want to find out which varieties of vegetables are disease resistant this guide is updated each year by Cornell. Do you get powdery mildew on your squash every time you plant it? Look up which varieties are resistant to powdery mildew. Mind you, not immune, just resistant. The abbreviation key can be challenging at first. If you need help with it, I am standing by!


April 10th: Black-Capped Chickadees


Photo by Jolene Wallace

I love black-capped chickadees. This one, or others just like him, come to tell me when the bird feeder needs filling. He usually stares at me until I get a bit uncomfortable, then flies to the feeder, where he stares at me some more. I obey and fill the feeders.

I’m going to ignore the snow flurries we had this morning. After all it’s Spring and Sunday is Easter. I know conditions aren’t ideal, but don’t let that keep you from as many of your family traditions as possible.

Coloring eggs is something most of us can do even if we don’t have kids in the house. It’s a joyful pastime no matter your age, and eggs are a symbol of rebirth.That’s something that can give us hope when we are feeling down or overwhelmed.

When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny hid our baskets with the idea in the back of his head that it should take us all day to find them. And it did. The hardest one ever was hidden in the garage under the hood of the car. I don’t know what that Easter Bunny was thinking!


April 9th: High Tick Alert


According to TickEncounter.org, an organization that tracks ticks across the United States, our area is HIGH for Black-Legged Ticks (also called Deer ticks) through the 15 th of April. If you are going to be outdoors wear proper attire and do a tick check when returning home. If you need information on how to protect yourself, contact me at jmw442@cornell.edu

Mid Atlantic TickEncounter Index:


Ticks biting in your area -

Most prevalent tick highlighted in red

Data contributors: TickSpotters Mid Atlantic, Sean Healy



April 8th: Dividing Plants - Part Two

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My Black-Eyed Susan My Blue-Sea Holly

Are you ready to divide your perennials? Here are some guidelines.

Spring blooming perennials should be divided after they bloom, when the roots put their energy into growing. Fall blooming perennials should be divided this month. However, if you want to do all your dividing now, know that spring bloomers may not bloom as they otherwise would.

I find that some perennials are a challenge to divide.You need to dig the root ball up and use an ax, machete, saw, or your weapon of choice. My Blue Sea Holly falls into this category. Not only that but it spreads like crazy, each year. I wonder what I was thinking when I put the bare root I bought into my soil. Ignorance isn’t always bliss.

Another difficult specimen is Rudbeckia Black-Eyed Susan. A beautiful plant with many long-lasting flowers. The problem is that each flower yields a seed head with what seems like a hundred seeds which drop, producing lots and lots of plants the following year. Dividing requires patience, a shovel, rake, knife, (I recommend a Hori Hori knife, also called a Japanese garden knife, one of my favorite tools).

Don’t be afraid to dig your perennials up and cut them into pieces. Be sure that each division has plenty of healthy roots and cut them into their new location as soon as possible so these all important roots don’t have time to dry out.


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University of Georgia Extension

April 7th: Dividing Plants- Part One

While the weather is nice enough, I’m going to start raking the debris out of my flower and vegetable beds. I know I have perennials that are putting out new growth and I want to divide and move some of them before they get too big.

One of the first things I need to do, is decide which need dividing and which ones don’t. There are a few that need dividing every year so those are a no-brainer. Others I need to examine and look back on my notes and photos taken last fall.

There have been years when I don’t remember what new plants I had added the year before. The only remedy is to wait to see if the plant growing is a perennial or a perennial weed. However, I do remember that some of my perennials need to be moved. I’ve had an astilbe in a poor location since it was planted three years ago. It’s been hanging in there but it’s small and doesn’t produce the color that it should. When I first put it in, it was early spring and it didn’t occur to me that when the trees surrounding it leafed out it wouldn’t have enough sun. Hey, mistakes are teaching tools in the world of the gardener. If it has any life left in it, I will move it in the next couple of days.

I also have two hollyhock plants I put in last year, not realizing that they don’t bloom until the second year. Another lesson learned. I also learned that they are way too big for the place I have them planted. They both need to be relocated.

Tomorrow I will tell give you information on dividing a plant successfully, and putting the right plant in the right place. Even I have figured that out by now.


What my astilbe should look like every year but doesn’t.


April 6th: Spruce Trees

Do you have spruce trees that look like mine? Brown/orange needles at the tips of the branches? This is winter burn, caused by harsh temperatures, winter winds, even sun damage as it reflects off snow.

Don’t be too anxious to cut off this damage. If there are buds at the end of the branches that are not damaged and are beginning to swell, the spruce may very well put out new growth to cover the damaged areas. You may not notice for a few weeks yet.

My spruce has been hit by winter burn almost every year, on the side facing south. The photos below show the damage, a close up of some of the tips, and arrows pointing to new buds.


Give your tree a change to recover. If you have trees or shrubs other than spruce that are showing damage send me photos and I will try to determine their chances of recovery. Rhododendrons are frequently damaged and it shows up on the edges of the leaves.

April 3rd: Lichen


This is a picture I took of lichen on an old split rail fence between my house and my neighbors. You may know that I love lichens and this is one of my favorites. It’s called British Soldier Lichen.

Lichens are fascinating life forms.There are 3600 species of lichens in North America, many just outside your door. The three main types are Foliose, Fruticose, and Crustose.


Foliose lichens have 2 distinct sides; a top and a bottom. They may be shaped like small lettuce leaves, or be bumpy.

Fruticose are often hair-like, shrubby, or upright and cup-like. They may have branches that tangle up with each other.

Crustose are crusty. You may find a crusty crustose lichen on a boulder or on the soil. They are often colorful; yellow, orange, red, gray, or green.

Lichens are an indicator of air quality. They are able to absorb pollutants and lichens on your trees usually indicate you have healthy air. LICHENS ON TREES DO NOT HARM THE TREE.

A Lichen is made up of fungus and algae. The fungus forms fruiting bodies and produces spores.The algae is responsible for photosynthesis. Without both parts of this symbiotic relationship there are no lichen.

On a nice day, walk around and see how many kinds of lichens you find.


April 2nd: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird


Did you know that only the male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has a ruby throat? It’s true but not unexpected as with most birds the male is more colorful than the female.

According to Hummingbird Central, our hummers are on their way. This organization uses reports of sightings by people like us to track where the earliest of the arrivals are. The link below is very useful to see how close they are getting to us but as a general rule you can expect them by Mother’s Day.

If you feed hummers make sure your feeder is sparkling clean. A sugar water mixture is made by boiling one cup of water and dissolving one-quarter cup of table sugar in it. Cool, then fill, and hang. Red food coloring is not necessary. If you have a flock of hummers that come to your feeder you can use 4 cups of water to one cup of sugar, but change it before it becomes cloudy. A smaller amount means less waste for me.

A hummer was sighted in New Jersey on March 28, so it won’t be long now!


- Jolene

April 1st: Nature Inspired Craft Projects


I want to add one thing to my post yesterday about the Jumping Worms.These worms are transferred from one location to another via mulch, soil, transplants, plant or tree purchases, or those given to you by friends or neighbors. If you are bringing anything into your landscape that could harbor these worms, you want to check it thoroughly. You may not find adult worms right now, because they die with our cold winter temperatures. However, the egg cocoons do not and are very small, 1-3 mm as are the newly hatched worms.

On a much lighter note, I put together some nature inspired craft projects you probably have supplies for in your home. If you have kids, or grand-kids, haul out whatever could be used and let them use their imagination. Coffee filters, pipe cleaners, paints, markers, crayons, paper plates, bits of wrapping paper or tissue paper etc.

If you, or an older child hand sew, try the bunnies at the bottom of the page.