The Unexpected Fauna

box turtle 012 225x300 The Unexpected Fauna“Amy, I’m going to need you over at my location please. We have an animal situation.”

When I received this surprise call over the airwaves I was on location at work, and quickly radioed back the caller for clearer directions, sure that I was being called in for damage control in a potentially volatile situation with an animal that couldn’t be mentioned over the air. The last few scenarios on the job when I had been called to meet someone over an “animal situation” involved Possum babies trapped between automatic doors, a deer caught on the fence, and a starving Pit Bull Mix near the office space. When I met the coworker they earnestly told me that there was no immediate danger, but they were not sure if the turtle would attack anyone, and wanted me do something with the animal in case it was of the ‘Snapping’ variety.

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How Tall Should My Grass Be?

img 0174 300x225 How Tall Should My Grass Be?

The height of your grass after cutting actually matters when planning for the long-term health of your lawn. A scalped lawn mowed too short can actually stress grass, and open it up to sun damage, diseases and pests, all of which can wreak havoc on the curb appeal of your home. The average lawn is made up of a blend of several grass seed varieties, and while pure seed lawns containing only one variety of grass may vary in their needs, the average lawn will benefit from a mowing height of 1  1/2 – 2 inches tall after cutting.  This is the average desirable height for fall, spring, and winter.

Summer mowing height should be adjusted up, to protect lawns from sun scorching, and drying out too quickly, which can contribute to summer dormancy in many varieties of grass. An average post-mowing height in the summer should range between 3-4 inches, to reduce stress on grass blades, and to provide more shade for the root system and soil, so that both the plant and the soil can retain their moisture better.

Remember this fall to adjust your mower back down to a lower height for shorter mowing, and mark your calandar in late May to change your mowing setting again to a taller height for the summer heat – your lawn will thank you for it!

How To: Identify Crown Gall

img 0268 300x248 How To: Identify Crown GallLooking over some garden hedges recently, I discovered a type of gall on all six of the identical shrubs. The gall growths were hard, irregularly shaped, and about two inches in diameter. I looked over the area that the galls were attached to, and noticed that the galls were mostly growing in areas that had been pruned within the last one or two years, a sign that pointed to a bacterial gall instead of an insect gall.  I snapped the gall off of the plant to have a closer look.

There are many types of gall with several specific causes, but they can generally be broken down into two categories: disease caused, and insect caused.  Insect caused galls come in all shapes and sizes, both soft tissue growths, fuzzy growths, and firm growths. All of them hold either the eggs or larvae of a specific type of wasp or mite inside, and can contain hollow areas inside the gall where the creature lives and feeds.  Insect caused galls may look strange and detract from the outward appearance of a plant, but they do not damage plants. Disease galls do damage a plant, and are initially caused by a bacterium that lives in the soil, although they are commonly spread from plant to plant by pruning, or grafting, when hedge shears have come into contact with an infected plant. The true damage caused by a bacterial gall is actually in and around the gall growth, where the unchecked growth of cell tissue distorts, or chokes off the flow of water and nutrients through the plant.

How To Discern Between Insect And Disease Caused Galls:

With the above pictured gall, I investigated the cause of the growth visually from the exterior appearance, and by dissecting the growth, to check for hollow areas inside the gall that would be a sign of insects.  I found that the gall was solid throughout, with layers of disorganized tissue, and concluded that the gall was in fact Crown Gall, a bacterial infection. If you find a gall on one of your plants you will need to do these two things to determine the root cause. Identifying the shape of a gall is important, the shape and appearance of a gall can most often tell you what the root cause is. If you are unsure, or just curious, you can then dissect the gall to check the inside for insect life.

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How To: Use Pachysandra As A Ground Cover For Underneath Decks

img 0342 225x300 How To: Use Pachysandra As A Ground Cover For Underneath DecksFall is a great time to get your hands dirty, mixing a little functional gardening in with your weekend projects. A way to complete two tasks at once with bald earth underneath decking, is with the plant Pachysandra. This hardy little ground cover can not only thrive in low light areas with little moisture, but it also doubles as a strong erosion control method, for hilly areas.

This picture was taken at the home of some friends who are using this plant to fulfill both of those two functions, in an area too awkward to mow, and with little light or maneuvering room for other garden plants, and weeding.

How To Plant Pachysandra:

Once you have identified an area you want to use Pachysandra as a groundcover for, measure the area, and plot out the number of young plants you will need to buy, factoring in one Pachysandra plant per 12 inches.  Prepare the garden bed, if the soil is not not sufficiently nutritious for new plants, by ammending the soil and mixing in leaf compost, or rich topsoil. Plant the young plants with about 1/4 inch of dirt covering them, and make sure to keep them regularly watered for the first few weeks, to encourage healthy growth.  For hiily areas, a light covering of mulch over and around the plants will help keep the soil and water around the Pachysandra while it is still becoming established, and retain the moisture better for the root systems.  Regular annual mulching of these plants will be optional after the first year.

Once your Pachysandimg 0345 225x300 How To: Use Pachysandra As A Ground Cover For Underneath Decksra has become established, it will require very little by way of watering, and the plant can be trimmed with a string trimmer, to retain it within the bound of it’s garden bed, or simply mowed over with a lawn mower, if it tries to spread into the lawn.  Without regular fertilizing, this plant will remain happily contained within the space you plant it, and will fill in to create a lush evergreen carpet, that can cover a multitude of soil or grading related sins.  It’s also great in shaded areas, and will reduce, or eliminate the need to weed, as it grows to cover the soil, and block the light source weed seeds need to germinate!

The plants themselves are common enough to find at most garden stores, or can be ordered in large quantaties online from providers like Spring Hill Nursery who will ship plants to your doorstep. If you have an akward underdeck area that needs a little TLC, try using this plant, and enjoy a lush garden look with little to no labor involved after initial planting.

Your Thoughts: Have you used Pachysandra around any tough-to-fill areas on your property?  Would you recommend this plant to others?

Fall/Autumn Container Garden Design Idea: Scarecrow #001

fall pots 2007 005 184x300 Fall/Autumn Container Garden Design Idea: Scarecrow #001Live plants aren’t the only things that will look great in your containers for the fall months! There are many clever ways that you can adapt decorations into your pots, to fill it in, or enhance the look of your favorite fall flowers.

I try and mix it up from year to year, so the multitude of container gardens I maintain during the summer each have a completely new look for the fall. I often mix mediums, with live plants, miniature hay bales, gourds, and pumpkins, or various designs including weather-safe decorations. My goal is to make a new design for each and every pot that I decorate.

For this container idea, I wanted to create a scarecrow.  I opted for artificial flowers, and accessories. You can create this look with seasonal decorations from a craft store like Michaels Crafts.  The centerpiece I used is a quirky fall directional stake, with a painted slate door decoration propped up against it. To complete the harvest theme, I planted a mum in the back, with artificial wheat, apples, and “fall pics” (seasonal clusters of decorations on a floral wrapped wire base) to fill in around the side. I chose to opt out of dried flowers, and dried wheat heads for this location, since this design is in a location open to wind and rain, and the dried flowers rot quickly in those conditions.

Your Thoughts: Do you mix mediums in your seasonal pots?  Would you enjoy seeing more of this type of mixed design featured here at greengardenista?moz screenshot Fall/Autumn Container Garden Design Idea: Scarecrow #001

Diagnosing The Cause of Black Mold Spots In “Lucky Bamboo”

img 0366 300x225 Diagnosing The Cause of Black Mold Spots In “Lucky Bamboo”

Unfortunately even our home or office plants can become prone to diseases, no matter how great a life we try and provide for them.  Often a disease can be an indicator of another problem altogether in a plant.

This mold spot developed on the leaves of a friends Lucky Bamboo, after weeks of yellowing leaves on the previously healthy plant. My friend was at a loss as to what to do with it, and set the bamboo outside on her patio for the last months of the summer in the hopes that the yellowing leaves on the plant were due to a curable lack of sunlight.  Unfortunately, the yellowing leaves quickly gave bloom to black mold spots, a condition that seemed peculiar in the plants dry location. Not knowing what was wrong with her Lucky Bamboo, or if it was salvageble, she was prepared to throw the plant out and start over fresh, so I looked the plant over from top to bottom to find the problem.

Mold spores are one of many living organisms that are always present in the air, and that thrive in outdoor gardens, regardless of whether you ever see any signs of them on other plants.  They are also a opportunistic, and will take advantage of a plant that is suffering under other issues, as was the case with this particular plant. Here is one of the problems, many Lucky Bamboo plants are advertised as being a no-maintenance home or office plant, capable of living in a small container with no food source needed other than tap water.  Over time however, many of these plants begin to develop yellowing leaves, and mold spots like this, due to a lack of several things. Lucky Bamboo, like all plants needs water, and a reliable source of nutrients.  Mere tap water cannot meet their needs over time, and the plant actually need a reliable source of nutrition, whether they live in a glass of water, and recieve bi-monthly liquid fertilizers, or they are potted, and a give granular, or time release fertilizer.  The second problem with this plant was that after several years, this plant had outgrown its pot, and was what is known as “pot bound.”  A pot bound plant has a root system that has outgrown it’s container.  The roots of this Bamboo plant continued to grow naturally, as the plant seeks out more water and nutrients to feed the stems and leaves of the plant, but in a small container, the root system wraps around itself repeatedly with no where to go, and can kill itself if left alone.

img 0369 225x300 Diagnosing The Cause of Black Mold Spots In “Lucky Bamboo”In this case, the root bound plant was under stress in these cramped quarters, and responded by displaying limp and light yellow leaves.  When a plant is unable to take care of all of it’s foliage, it often begins to slowly shut down, letting leaves die, and fall off.  The yellowing leaves, and the weakened plant are then susceptible to other diseases, which in this case led to the plants current issue with black mold spots.

What To Look For In Cases Of Black Mold Spots In Home And Office Plants:

  • Over watered plants and wet soil
  • Poor drainage in the potting container
  • Overcrowded plant life
  • Pot-bound root systems
  • Poor fertilization, or a lack of fertilization
  • A home or office environment prone to high humidity and warm temperatures

What To Do With Plants Displaying Moldy Leaves:

  • Trim off any branches that are infected, and discard.

Almost any plant can be saved from mold if you catch the problem before most of the foliage is gone, discover the source of the problem, and find a remedy.  In the case of a root bound pot, the root system will be loosened and trimmed, and the plant will be repotted in a larger container with fertilizer.  The moldy foliage will be trimmed off, and the plant will rebound over a few months, and send out new growth.

Mailbox Garden Idea #3: A Simple Iris Bed for Color and Height

img 0147 300x225 Mailbox Garden Idea #3: A Simple Iris Bed for Color and Height

You don’t have to spend a fortune, or branch into plants-unknown if you want to have reliable blooms, and healthy foliage around your mailbox.  For the gardener who wants to keep things simple, a large bed of Irises around the mailbox provides March through May color, and lasting green foliage!

Fall is the best time to plant Irises if you want to guarantee spring blooming, so get your trowel ready!  As a very hardy perennial, they can be transplanted almost year-round and survive, but they prefer cooler temperatures, which help them adapt to new environments quickly.

Irises are one of the easiest plants to grow, and can be great fillers for a low-lying mailbox area that may catch a lot of street water. Irises love having their “feet” wet, but they can be equally successful in raised garden beds, and will produce large amounts of blooms with moderate amounts of watering.  A spot prime for Irises ideally will be an area that has a little shade, and soil that has some organic material in it, with a little sand mixed in (play sand from Home Depot can be substituted).

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How To: Determine A “Pollard” Tree

img 0339 225x300 How To: Determine A “Pollard” TreeIf you are a new homeowner, or simply home shopping, you will want to determine if the trees around the property have been Pollard pruned, and factor the cost of yearly Arborist visits into your budget, or the asking price on a house.  A pollard tree requires large-scale yearly pruning to maintain the overall health of the tree, or the tree will suffer from structural issues, and pose a threat to nearby cars, and property, with regularly falling limbs and debris.

How To Tell If A Tree Has Been Pollard Pruned:

Throughout the fall and winter, a pollard pruned tree will be obvious, with the majority of it’s growth cut away, and no foliage visable.  Through the growing season, these trees may be more readily identified by abnormally thick growth in the crown of the tree, and a disproportionately thick truck of the tree when compared to the height of the tree.  In the height of summer, a pollard tree’s foliage often resembles a mushroom shape, wimg 03401 225x300 How To: Determine A “Pollard” Treeith an almost perfectly shaped dome of leaves rising over the trunk of the tree.  One of the trademarks of the rapid and thick growth following a pollard pruning is that the foliage in the crown of the tree is so thick that you cannot see daylight through the branches. Pollarding cuts off the mature and natural branching of the tree, and capitalizes on the rapid growth of what are called water sprouts. Out of each branch cut will grow wads of small water sprouts, that create a very full illusion of foliage, but a very weak structure. When looking into a fully leafed-out tree to check for pollarding, let your eye follow the main branches up the tree from underneath, and notice if the branches abruptly dead-end into clumps of long finger-like shoots that grow straight up toward the sky.  If you find this pattern repeated through the tree, then you have a pollarded tree.

To the left are two pictures.  The top picture is of a pollarded tree, and it’s mushroom cap growth, and bottom picture is of a tree pruned for structural soundness, but allowed to grow naturally. Asimg 0341 225x300 How To: Determine A “Pollard” Tree illustrated by these two pictures, average foliage growth on a tree that has not been pollarded allows sunlight through, and has been allowed to develop mature branches, that open the tree up, with yearly foliage growth more consistently toward the perimeter of the crown. Pollarding allows a tree to keep water sprouts, and trains a tree to repeatedly develop them, a practice discouraged in common pruning methods, where branches are carefully selected to bear the load of future years of growth.

If you are house shopping, pollarded trees in the yard, or along a street, that you may become responsible for, are one thing to add to your list of items to ask the prior homeowner about.  Yearly Arborist visits to care for your trees can add up, and will be an item you may want to use in negotiating your settlement.  Unfortunatley, due to the large-scale nature of this pruning method, it is not a practical project for the weekend DIY-er, and will require the hauling away of a years worth of tree growth. For new homeowners with existing pollarded trees, contact a knowledgeable arborist in your area to work on a plan to maintain a healthy pollarded tree.  A yearly, or bi-yearly full pruning plan will be needed for the life of the tree.

“Pollarding:” An Extreme Way To Shape Your Tree’s Growing Habits

img 0336 300x225 “Pollarding:” An Extreme Way To Shape Your Tree’s Growing HabitsI was on my way over to my sister’s house, when I passed Arborists in her neighborhood gearing up to prune one of her neighbor’s street trees.  Having seen the final result of the requested “pollard pruning” in years past I came by later to photograph the fresh cuts. This type of pruning is my absolute least favorite, and can give new meaning to the term ‘stark,’ leaving the tree with nothing but the bare essentials for the fall and winter months.

“Pollarding” is the once-yearly removal of all the previous years growth all at once, and when done properly requires a skilled and artistic eye, to correctly select the branches that will be kept in the final design. Arguably, this method is designed  to lengthen the life of a tree, and keep the tree size relevant to the space within which it is planted.  For hundreds of years, this type of pruning has been utilized across the great cities of the world as a method of containing street trees, and encouraging uniformity of appearance.  Historically speaking, this method was developed in the days of wood stoves, and earlier still, of hearth fires, when trees were pollarded as a method of guaranteeing a regular wood pile supply for the winter. The trimmings from the tree, including the leaves and young shoots were often kept as winter food sources for livestock. European countries especially hold many trees that were used for these “working” methods, until the last 50-75 years, whereas now much of the pollarding is continued for visual reasons.

The downside to pollarding is that once a tree is pruned with the pollarding method, the tree must always be pruned in this same way, as the top growth out of the cuts are untrustworthy, and weak, and can cause damage to the tree, or nearby property.  Pollards are susceptible to wind and storm damage, when fully leafed out, and when left unpruned for more than one or (at maximum) two years, can actually strangle themselves with the overabundance of shoot growth and water spout growth that becomes tangled in the crown of the tree.

Over time, the appearance of the tree after pruning will alter, and large “knuckles” will form at the top of the branches, as the tree repeatedly heals from repedetive cuts in the same area, and seals and protects itself from the weather. The final result after years of pollarding will produce a rather ominous looking tree trunk shape, a fact not lost on the author of the  “Harry Potter” stories, who designed a rather aggressive character named “The Whomping Willow,” on the appearance of common Willow tree Pollards in England.

My Thoughts: I personally would never apply this technique to my own trees. To the untrained (or concerned) eye, this method looks more like scalping a tree, than encouraging growth, and in the United States, where this method is used infrequently, the appearance of the trees especially through the fall and winter months may repell homebuyers if your house is on the market.  Unfortunately where curb-appeal is king, this method often will not provide a return on the yearly investment you make with local arborists, in the care and upkeep of this high-maintenance method, and will be an item that either you, or the homeowners that follow you, will need to build into the yearly budget throughout the life of the tree.

Your Thoughts: What are your thoughts on pollarding?  Do you own a pollarded tree?  Would you ever used this method in your own yard?

Poke Weed: To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question!

img 0349 300x225 Poke Weed: To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question!

The past two months were unusually dry for the second year in a row in my area.  Today periodic rain showers were a refreshing change of pace and a welcome sign to me that Fall is coming!

I’m currently cooped up indoors recovering after a minor surgery, but I made my way outdoors when the first ray of sunlight peeped through the clouds, to take pictures and look around.  I found a stray Poke Weed that had taken up residence under the deck stairs, and was struck at how pretty even that looked after the rain. With the right mindset anything can be beautiful!  Covered in rain drops those berries look inviting to even me, although I am pretty sure they are not what the doctor ordered!

Can You Eat Poke Weed?

I was reminded of a lecture that one of my professors gave me years ago.  He told the class that the leaves of a young Poke Weed are edible and safe to humans, as long as the plant is not producing fruit or flowers. He explained that once reproductive cycle begins, the plant, and later berries are toxic for human consumption, and that the window of opportunity around which the plant is edible can vary, thereby making it a questionable snack for the unwary. I chuckled when I remembered that random fact and tucked it back into the recesses of my brain reserved only for life-or-death survival tips likely to benefit me in the event of nuclear holocaust. Should I ever be eking out a living with nomadic tribes in the hills of Tennessee, I’ll happily volunteer to fix a poke weed salad if the others go club dinner over the head, but short of those extreme circumstances, I’ll stick with Romaine Lettuce!

With the potential risk involved, I think I’ll leave the plant and its berries to the local wildlife for now, and hope they return the favor by dropping their berry dyed “calling cards” on the neighbor’s cars and not mine! But just in case you ever do find yourself desperate, here are some hints to help you identify Poke Weed.

How to Identify Poke Weed

Pokeweed often grows rapidly in one season up to a height of 10 feet.  Generally first appearing in late spring, they prefer hearty soil, and a little moisture, and have rather fleshy stems that are easily broken, and pink, with the color deepening at the time of fruiting.  Pokeweed flowers from July to September, and produces self-pollinated fruit anywhere from late summer to mid-fall.  The flowers of the plant grow at the ends of the branches, in clusters of white flowers that are followed by clusters of dark blue or purple berries.  The berries produce a deep magenta dye that is often impossible to remove from clothing.  (Belated apologies to my mother, who made many heroic efforts against set-in stains following childhood “combat” missions at the park with the neighborhood kids)

What do you think: Is there an odd plant that you have been told could be a survival-only, Bear Grylls-style, eat only as a last resort, food source?