Diagnosing a Wilting White Ash Tree

White Ash trees have a reputation for having very strong and flexible wood, but when I drove past this treewilting white ash Diagnosing a Wilting White Ash Tree on my job site, I knew I had a serious problem! Generally a tree bent and straining in this manner is suffering from severe drought conditions, and is in danger of losing branches under the strain of holding it’s own weight up! This year has been particularly rainy on the east coast, so this type of appearance in a tree was a little confusing at first, especially in a tree that had shown no signs of insect damage.

White Ash trees are an American native tree, rarely prone to disease, although they are vulnerable to the Emerald Ash Borer and Verticillium Wilt. I quickly checked the tree and saw no Borer holes entering the tree’s trunk – although insects and birds seemed to be showing a peculiar interest in this and two other surrounding trees. The branches on all three White Ash trees showed healthy summer leaf growth and color, even though they were bowed way down over the nearby sidewalk. To my eye, these trees did not appear diseased, so diagnosing the cause of their stress related appearance was out of my league.

I contacted a knowledgeable arborist, who found a simple answer to my puzzle. Heaps of green flowers and red clusters of what looked like tiny dried Chili Peppers, were clinging to the branches all over the tree, in what was an off-season burst of blooms. Bees, wasps, and birds were constantly darting in and out of the tree, in what turned out to be a feeding frenzy, rather than a sign of insect infestation, as several neighbors feared. Apparently, several types of birds feed on the seeds of Ash trees, and the pollinators, and carnivorous bugs were feeding on the massive amounts of nectar, or tiny pests that had been drawn to the tree. The arborist was perplexed to discover that the tree had both leafed-out for the summer, and exploded in an unprecedented amount of blooms, when the two functions on the tree are not supposed to occur at the same time. Blooms on a White Ash tree are supposed to precede leaf growth, and be small, and barely noticeable! This tree was simply weighed down under the weight of it’s own abnormal fertility, and the prescription for the tree was to simply let nature take it’s course. The White Ash blooms will dry up, the rest of the “chili pepper” seed pods will drop off, and the tree will regain it’s upright stature in the next few weeks.

img 0202 225x300 Diagnosing a Wilting White Ash TreeThis is one of those times when the simplest answer to a problem can be staring you right in the face, and you don’t even see it, because you are going “by the book.” I am not sure if the unusual amount of rain we received, or the cooler than average temperatures contributed to the trees apparent fertility confusion, but either one could have thrown the tree off it’s regularly scheduled program.

I am doubly glad though, as I am writing this, that I did contact someone with the experience to recognize the cause to my problem. This tree apparently did not read the textbooks on how it was supposed to behave, and had I applied any treatments to the tree to keep the birds, and wasps off of the tree, I would have robbed the local ecosystem of what was apparently a valuable food source.

Your thoughts: Have you ever run into something in your yard or garden that just didn’t quite seem to make sense and later realized it was something fairly unique going on?

Identifying and Controlling Poison Ivy

img 0237 225x300 Identifying and Controlling Poison Ivy

This year, the East Coast is experiencing an unbelievable boom in Poison Ivy! From woodsy borders, and the sides of the highways, to backyard fences, this American native plant is spreading at an amazing rate just since the spring of this year! Working in property management, I try to keep an eye open for future problems as they occur, and to maintain a balance between the people I work for, and the natural environment. I did some research into this unusual phenomenon, and discovered that I was not the only one who had made some links between the higher levels of rain, and stable temperatures, and the spread of this plant.

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Tips to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden, Yard or Patio

img 0067 300x225 Tips to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden, Yard or PatioWhile butterflies may not be the most important or efficient pollinators (in terms of how much work they can accomplish in a garden), they can easilly be one of the most visually beautiful and enjoyable creatures in your garden. If you like seeing a multitude of these beauties in your garden, there are a few simple tricks you can do to secure a long term stay of summer butterflies around your yard. I’ve picked up a lot of little tricks while creating several “Backyard Habitats,” and this is the first tip I want to share with you!

Once mating season begins for the male butterflies, their life is one completely centered around finding mates, and perching to rest before looking for more mates! Male butterflies can scent an eligible female from a distance of up to one mile, and will expend most of their energy searching for and securing mates. While females generally mate once, males mate many times. In areas where males are few, they may exhaust themselves satisfying the local female population who become more aggressive in their need to reproduce, once they sense the lack of healthy partners. One of the keys to attracting pollinators (and butterflies in general) is plant selection. You want to build inviting areas for nectar drinking, perching, and hopefully egg laying. To create an area that attracts those busy male butterflies, provide an area that will meet the needs of the females, while creating a place that the male can relax and restock on the nutrients he is losing in the mating process.

The two most important steps to take for attracting male butterflies to your pollinator garden are this:

  1. Provide a separate water source that is protected from birds. Either a short bird bath, a ceramic dish, or a pot’s catch basin will suffice. A quiet water source for these busy creatures will become a basking location, and a place for a quick drink in between all the nectar sipping. Nectar does not meet most of the nutritional needs of butterflies, so males generally congregate around the edges of ponds and streams to drink and absorb the important minerals contained in the sand and soil, that they need to keep up their energy. You can provide this nutritional necessity for them in your yard, to complete your butterfly haven, and to secure long term visitation of the male.
  2. Provide a sandy spot, or an artificial stream bed in your yard for the males to absorb the minerals and nutrients lost in their exertions. Sand can be transported from a local stream to your yard, or it can be purchased cheaply at your local garden center. What I have done in the past is to buy a bag of sand, and to fill a large aluminum cookie tin with it. I place the cookie tin in the ground, with the lip of the tin, and the sand roughly at mulch, or dirt level. Male butterflies have never failed to approach these areas to rest, and revive after a hard days work. I have found also that an excellent side benefit to having an artificial stream bed, is an increased ability to photograph butterflies here, since they are finally holding still!


For a little lite reading on butterfliles, and their nutritional information, here’s a great resource I’ve found!

Your thoughts: Do you have any tried-and-true secrets to attract butterflies to your yard or patio? Do you have any favorite photographs of butterflies that you have taken in your garden or yard? If so, please send them my way! You can email me at greengardenista@gmail.com. I will post any pictures that I receive on a special “Garden Wildlife” feature coming soon to Green Gardenista!

Tips on Saving a Wilting Ornamental Ficus Tree (and other Office Plants)

img 0195 225x300 Tips on Saving a Wilting Ornamental Ficus Tree (and other Office Plants)

I was recently delivered a spindly, wilting office Ficus Tree from a sheepish co-worker, who was hoping for a miracle. The tree was dropping all of its leaves, and the only ones remaining were pale yellow-green, and browning on the tips. I agreed to take the tree for a time to see what I could do for it, and took it outside to check it over.

Here are basic tips for diagnosing office plants:

  1. Check the plant’s root system for symptoms of being “pot bound.” This is a big problem for office plants who may begin to “blend in with the wallpaper” after a year or two, and who don’t get the basic care that garden plants do. Make sure a plant isn’t strangling itself with its own root system.
  2. Look for bug activity in the soil and under the leaves. See if anything is sucking the life out of the tree, or the leaves causing the yellowing and browning.
  3. Ask if the plant has been fertilized within the past 6 months. Over-fertilizing, and under-fertilizing can both be a problem.
  4. Note whether the plant looks like it has been trimmed, or pruned to encourage new growth.
  5. Ask if the plant is near a regular light source of any kind.

The first week I observed the plant, it dropped almost every leaf that it had, and was dubbed “The Charlie Brown Christmas Ficus” in our office. In the case of this Ornamental Ficus Tree, the first problem was that the plant had never been pruned (since purchase), and had sent out too many branches that had not been trimmed back. As a result the tree had “diversified its assets” in a way that the small container of soil couldn’t help it maintain. After pruning all the dead, wilting, and dwindling growth, I left a few main stems that showed strong signs of life, and tackled the second problem by fertilizing the anemic plant with a product containing “minors.” Very light leaf color, followed by major leaf loss on what used to be a healthy plant, are often connected with malnutrition in a plant. The plant has been going strong now for about three weeks, with a healthy amount of leaf growth, and dark green foliage (a good sign of health!), and will be delivered back to it’s office sometime next week – unless I fake its death, and keep it for myself!

Tip: The best fertilizer for any plant is one that contains trace amounts of the “minor metals” that may have been used up in the soil by plants over time. The quickest way to recover “exhausted” soil is by applying this type of fertilizer. Look for the phrase “With Minors” on the front label of any fertilizer.

Don’t forget to take care of your office plants with once or twice a year fertilization. And for the green-thumbs out there, keeping a tiny bag of fertilizer in a common area drawer is a great idea! One way to meet new people, or network around the office, is to help people with their plants!

Your thoughts: What success stories have you had nursing wilting plants back to life? Do you have any favorite indoor/office plants?

Mulching Tip: Recycling Paper Goods

mulch 1 225x300 Mulching Tip: Recycling Paper GoodsI’ll admit to it right off the bat – I have no interest in composting!  Call me lazy or superficial, but I don’t want to be “that girl” in my neighborhood, with the big bin, or leaf corral in her side yard, for composting. For some reason, the idea of sipping my morning coffee while dumping beer into a pile of decomposing garden waste, and stirring the pile to a suitable consistency, seems a little gross.  I’m not sure why I draw a line there, when I’ve been coming home lately covered in pollen and dirt.  Perhaps it’s the illusion of clean respectability that I’m after!  Or, maybe the “composting bug” doesn’t really bite until after you pass your 35th birthday?  Either way, I try to sneak the idea behind composting into my yard in a way that leaves my yard neat and tidy for the common observer.

Here’s what I do to both recycle and cut back on my weeding: After I moved in to my current house, I was eager to expand the garden area, but I wasn’t so excited about the weeds that inevitably make newly “turned” soil into their home.  I took one look at all the newspaper that I had used to wrap my valuables, and the folded boxes that all my belongings had been moved in, and got an idea.  I had heard that newspaper was a great liner under mulch to choke and smother weeds out (while improving the soil), and knew that the same principle would apply to my moving boxes too.  Since most current ink is soy based, it’s safe to add these common items to your yard.  A layer of about 6-8 pages of completely biodegradable newsprint (or one layer of corrugated cardboard box) can go under 2-3 inches of mulch to create a great barrier for several months of weed free gardening!  It was a great way to get rid of all those moving boxes and supplies, and it’s worked beautifully in my yard!  

Tips:

  • I recommend cross-hatching paper, or boxes and immediately covering what you have laid with mulch, so an errant breeze doesn’t relocate your project to your neighbor’s yard.
  • Boxes often do well when wet with a hose before you lay the mulch, to assist in softening the edges. I don’t recommend using boxes in any area you may want to add bulbs to at a later date, as boxes biodegrade at a slower rate than the newsprint, and will hinder your efforts.
  • I often keep an extra bag of mulch on hand to cover over any edges that pop up through the mulch in the first few weeks. 
  • Colored advertisements are not recommended under mulch, because of possible toxic dye in the ink, so use those at your own risk.

Your thoughts: Do you have any creative ways to prevent weeds from popping up or perhaps just some creative ways to recycle things?  Let me know, I’m always looking for new ideas to try at home!

Garden Weasel Cultivator Review

garden weasel1 Garden Weasel Cultivator Review

 

Anytime someone introduces a new tool to you with the preface “I took thiswith me to Iraq,” you know it’s probably worth paying attention to them! Recently I volunteered with a local community service organization called Rebuilding Together, which specializes in home renovation for the elderly to help make homes warmer, safer and drier.  During that, of all places, I accidentally stumbled upon the Garden Weasel Golden Claw Cultivator Garden Weasel Cultivator Review.  A volunteer working with me brought this tilling and aerating tool to the site that he said he swore by, even to the point of taking the tool with him to Iraq when he was stationed there. Our group had really been struggling with some very dry, compacted soil and deep weeds around a neglected front porch. After repeatedly pounding out chunks of soil with shovels and filling our growing trenches with water to soften the soil, we were ready to explore new ideas! The tool handed to us was a multi-pronged garden tool with a bent handlebar that reminded me of my childhood bike more than any hand tool I was used to. I’m pretty sure my first thought was that I had seen this on an “As seen on TV” commercial, and I doubted that the tool could be as great as the glowing review that came with it – after all, how could I have never heard of this tool if it was that great?

In a very short amount of time I realized how quickly the other volunteers were making progress with the new tool - and the garden bed! The other volunteers were actually taking turns using the tool by choice, so they could get a feel for it, and were talking excitedly with each other about how easily this tool cut through the soil. To make a long story short, that morning we used the one tool to till an area for a garden bed, to dig holes for the installation of mature Azalea bushes, to mix topsoil into the garden, to pull weeds out of sidewalk borders areas, and to remove grass for the installation of sod.

In the time since this tool has been brought to my attention, I have used a few similarly designed tools, such as the “Hound Dog” from Garden Hound Tools, but their design, and usefullness has not been as impressive. This Garden Weasel Cultivator has a trademark curved handlebar (that similar products lack), and six sharply angled 6 inch prong legs in its ergonomic design. It comfortably, and smoothly multiplies your upper-body strength exponentially through the tool, breaking through tough weeds and soil in seconds, without creating the strain on your wrists, and shoulders that other tools can cause. As a small framed woman myself, I greatly appreciate any tool that saves my back and shoulders from strenuous repedative movements, and which can maximize the upper body strength I have to get a job done quickly. This tool surpassed both my expectations, and that of coworkers, for whom I later provided this tool to. In my opinion, it is vastly superior to all other look alike tools! Since my initial purchase of the tool for my own use, I have shared it with every age group, including the elderly, and always received glowing reviews of the tool afterward.

Ordinarily, I do not get very excited about yard tools, but this one tool has created such a buzz with anyone I have shared it with, that I wanted to pass the information along to other gardeners! If you are looking for a good all around, multi-purpose garden tool, then absolutely check out the Garden Weasel! If you have a neighbor who owns one, ask to borrow it for your next small yard project, and see how much quicker you can get the job done. I really cannot recommend this product enough!

I highly recommend this product.  You can pick up your own Garden Weasel at Amazon and save yourself back alot of pain, and time!

Your thoughts:  Have you used the Garden Weasel before?  What were your thoughts?  Have you used other similar tools with great/little success?  Let me know!

Container Garden Ideas: Funky Perennial (#001)

img 0177 225x300 Container Garden Ideas: Funky Perennial (#001)I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy the flexibility of container gardening! Unlike established garden beds, containers can be changed seasonally or even more frequently just to suite the mood! I like the ‘play room’ containers give me to try out new plants, such as those I get occassionally as gifts from friends and family. Sometimes I use my personal pots as holding tanks for new plants undergoing a trial period – until they either prove their worth as a pot plant, or inspire me with a new bed layout that includes them. This month I have a cluster of Bachelor Buttons awaiting a verdict. Unfortunately for them, I designed some summer pots without them (at least for now), and set out renovating two large patio pots.

Around porches, I tend to use larger pots because they have a lot more space for designing and visually help bridge together in-ground plantings with taller trees and shrubs. Today I wanted to add a splash of color and texture to two pots near my door – so I planned out a perennial garden pot that should provide lasting color from late Spring through early Fall. Here’s what I did:

Funky Perennial Pot Idea:

I began with a very large pot capable of holding 3.5 cubic feet of soil, with a diameter of about 24 inches. I had two left over clumps of English Ivy in each of the pots that I decided to work with, but for my new design, I clumped them together for continuity, leaving room on another side of the pot for other trailing vines or ground covers.

My shopping list for these two pots includes:

My goal for this pot was to really show off the shapes and textures of some of my favorite perennials, so I mixed draping plants with the mounding and upright ones. I chose the Ivy, and the Nettle to add clumps of low-growing, draping color over the sides of the pots. The tiny purple flowers on the Nettle also attract bees and butterflies, while the multi-colored leaves of both plants look great, and brighten the edges of the pot. The Dwarf Cypress is a mounding plant that I love using, since it adds beautiful yellow color and movement wherever you plant it. Not only do I like its evergreen color, but I love that it doesn’t leave you with the scratchy growth that other evergreen ground covers do. Pruning it, or collecting cut flowers around it is never an unpleasant task, and it smells pleasantly year round.

I chose the red Lily because it is a great bloomer, and a great addition to the mid-ground of the pot. With dark green foliage to compliment the other plants, and a firm upright growth pattern, this plant will lend the pot some structure. Tickseed Coreopsis is another great mid-ground bloomer that can send out heaps of yellow blooms for five or more months straight, depending on your climate. Both the Lily and the Coreopsis also attract large amounts of pollinators to your pot, and add a height of about one foot to the design.

The centerpiece of this pot is the Purple Coneflower – my all time favorite flower. This plant will rapidly fill in the center of your pot with tall flowers up to 2 or 3 feet, and it is such a hardy native plant that it’s hard to kill if you are the forgetful type, and miss watering it. This flower will bloom from mid-Summer to frost, and attract all kinds of wildlife.

Your thoughts: Do you have a favorite perennial plant you find yourself sneaking into many of your garden spaces? What successes have you had mixing together some unusual plants?