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Archive for February, 2012

A light snow lays on a dogwood branch.

It was predicted but I didn’t believe it.

They kept changing the projected totals in the days prior to the storm. First it was 5″-8″, then it was 1″-3″, then it was 3″-5″. The question was, should we get my old 1948 John Deere tractor started and put the plow on? Nah! We probably won’t get any snow at all.

Seven inches by 8pmInstead, we spent Saturday in the orchard pruning all the fruit trees, then we cleaned up and burned the clippings and other accumulated brush until dark. It had been a beautiful warm sunny day and the evening was clear and still warm – in the upper 40’s. Surely the predicted snow, if it came at all, wouldn’t be significant!

However, when the snow started coming down fast and furious on Sunday afternoon, I started to second guess our decision about the tractor and plow. I was surprised at how fast it began to accumulate especially after the temperature had reached almost 60oF on Saturday. By 8pm, seven inches of snow covered the table on our deck and it was still coming down pretty hard!

Uh oh!

Daffodil flower stems poke out of mounds of soft snow.

Daffodil flower stems poke out of mounds of soft snow.

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Well, Monday morning was beautiful! The sun was out and it was crisp and cold – 17oF. Sparkling snow covered everything! I measured 8¾” total. I’m sure the plants, which were now covered with this light, fluffy blanket of snow, “appreciated” its insulating properties – especially the daffodils. It had been predicted to be a wet, heavy snow but luckily the temperature dropped quickly before it started and this spared our trees and shrubs from some major snow damage.

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

The trees were especially pretty after this storm. It’s amazing how the snow accentuates the branch structure of different trees. Each tree species seems to have its own unique pattern.

Of course my favorite was our little Japanese maple (affectionately called “Cousin Itt”) which was beautifully draped with snow.

Horizontal branching on our flowering cherry.

Horizontal branching on our flowering cherry.

A beautiful snow covered redbud.

A beautiful snow covered redbud.

The snow covering on the flowering cherry highlighted its more horizontal branching pattern while the Redbud showed its more vase-shaped, upright form. Crabapples, dogwoods, oaks, and walnuts all have their own unique “skeletons”.

The distinctive growth forms of different trees add an element of beauty to the winter garden. It’s something that you can’t appreciate in the summer when the trees are clothed in leaves but it becomes part of the allure of the winter landscape. Branch structure and tree form might be a feature to keep in mind when choosing trees and shrubs for the garden.

A native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida

A native flowering dogwood, Cornus florida

Snow lays on dead leaves that remain on this young oak through the winter.

Snow lays on dead leaves that remain on this young oak bending the lower branches downward.

The snow was beautiful while it lasted but by noon the bright sun had caused most of the snow to drop from the trees and the snow had begun to melt in the more exposed fields around the nursery.

Andre's weeping crabapple has an interesting branching pattern that is accentuated by the snow cover.

Andre's weeping crabapple has an interesting branching pattern that is accentuated by the snow. This was taken after a lot of snow had dropped off.

Ilex 'Sparkleberry' is Andre's favorite deciduous holly cultivar. It still retains some of its bright red berries.

Ilex 'Sparkleberry', Andre's favorite deciduous holly cultivar, still retains some bright red berries.

Luckily the roads and our driveway were warm enough when the snow started that it didn’t accumulate as much there – only about 6″. So it turns out that I didn’t need to plow anyway. By the time I got home, the driveway was clear.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Gray Squirrel

A gray squirrel grabs seed from a tube feeder.The squirrels are hungry.

I know that – but this winter has been plenty warm enough that they shouldn’t have to be chowing down on all our birdseed! Yet, there they are every morning swinging from the feeders, hanging upside down or sitting in the seed trays, joyously dining at the “Jones’ Bird Cafe”. For them, it’s the easiest meal in the neighborhood, so why not?

I know we’re not alone in the struggle to keep squirrels out of the bird feeders. It’s an ongoing battle for many people that enjoy feeding and watching the birds and it has prompted many bird feeder manufacturers to get pretty creative in the fight against squirrel invaders. The innovations they have come up with vary from feeders surrounded by wire cages to feeders where the food ports are closed off when a squirrel climbs onto them to feeders with perches that spin and flip the squirrels off the feeder (that’s a fun one!).

A Tufted Titmouse takes sunflower seeds from one of the "squirrel proof" feeders we got from Mom.

A Tufted Titmouse feeds at one of the mended "squirrel proof" feeders.

My mom and dad also have a hard time trying to feed the birds at their home in Vermont. Between the bears and squirrels, it’s been quite a challenge. They had some great squirrel-proof feeders but unfortunately they weren’t bear-proof! Hungry bears just pushed the feeders over and popped them open to get at the seed. They even came up on the deck at night and attacked the one that was hanging from the deck railing! Mom and Dad quickly learned that they needed to wait until later in the winter when they were sure the bears had gone into hibernation to safely put out their feeders.

This year Mom got two NEW squirrel-proof feeders for Christmas. These are tube feeders called the “SquirrelBuster Classic” made by Brome Bird Care. The tube is surrounded by a wire shroud with openings that line up with the seed ports. The lightweight birds can sit on the perches or hang from the wire shroud to feed but as soon as a squirrel gets on the feeder, its weight lowers the shroud to completely cover access to the seed ports. Ha! Foiled! This is a great design that works very well. The squirrels get quite frustrated!

Oh Boy! A new feeder filled with lots of sunflower seeds!

Oh Boy! A new feeder filled with lots of sunflower seeds!

Now as for those other squirrel-proof feeders that were all bent up and broken by the bears, my husband Eric, ever the scrounger, asked Mom if he could have them to see if he could fix them. She was more than happy to have them out of their garage. With some work, my resourceful husband was able to beat and bend them back into working order. He also modified the mounts so they could be attached to our deck railing in a location that was convenient for watching the birds over our morning coffee.

It took the birds a little time to warm up to these new feeders once they were out and filled with seed, but it certainly didn’t take long for the squirrels to discover them.

That’s when the fun began …

Hey, wait a minute - where did the seed go?

Hey, wait a minute - where did the seeds go?

I know it's in there - I can smell it!

I know they're in there - I can smell them!

What's going on here - where are my seeds!

What's going on here - where are my seeds!

Oh man - I can see them in there! How do I get to them?

Oh man - I can see them in there!

Harumpf! I think I'm foxed!

Harrumph! I think I'm foxed!

What a riot! Those silly squirrels were very persistent but the feeder did its job and they just couldn’t figure out a way to get to the seed. They still haven’t managed to get in – much to our delight! It must frustrate them terribly especially when they see the birds merrily eating from the seed tray. At this point they don’t even seem to try anymore especially since there are three other feeders that they can easily steal all the food from. Well, at least we know these two feeders will always have some food for the birds!

Maybe I need to ask for a SquirrelBuster for Christmas this year! But I always want to keep at least one squirrel-friendly feeder around. Those clowns are really fun to watch, too!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Holly berries covered with a light hoar frost

Old-time saying? Yes, but this age-old bit of weather lore is nonetheless a fairly accurate predictor.

Full moon over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The clear full moon as it rose over the Blue Ridge Mountains Tuesday night.

Moonlit nights are clear nights. Clear nights mean no cloud cover to hold in daytime warmth which results in a rapid temperature drop through the night. Sunday night we had a beautiful, bright, almost full moon and by Monday morning, the temperature had dropped into the low 20’s. We awoke to a beautiful hoar frost covering everything.

Hoar frost, also called true frost, forms when water vapor in the air turns directly to ice crystals without first condensing into water droplets (dew). This occurs on nights when the temperature drops below freezing before the water vapor begins to condense. Ice crystals will form on any cold surface creating a frosty white wonderland that is quite a beautiful sight. Sometimes, when the air is very moist, a covering of hoar frost can become so thick, it can be mistaken for snow!

Miscanthus plume covered with delicate ice crystals.

Miscanthus plume covered with delicate ice crystals.

This is what we woke up to on Monday morning. Because the air had been so saturated from the recent misty rain and the moonlit night had become so crisp and cold, a fairly heavy hoar frost had formed on every exposed surface – plants, shrubs, berries, grass, trees, and even rocks.

A beautiful frosty morning!

I couldn’t help going out to snap a picture or two. Well, a picture or two turned into a 45 minute photo session as I discovered more and more fascinating crystal covered bits of nature! The further I wandered from the house, the heavier the layer of frost became.

Too bad I didn’t think to put my jacket on!

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Here are a few of the “cool” frosty photos I took.

Closer to the house where it was more protected, the frost was lighter. My Helleborus flowers were nodding.

Closer to the house where it was more protected, the frost was lighter. My Helleborus flowers were frost covered and nodding.

The blueberry buds and branches were white with frost crystals.

The blueberry buds and branches were white with frost crystals.

A wild honeysuckle vine with needle-like ice crystals projecting from the leaves and stem

A wild honeysuckle vine with needle-like ice crystals projecting from the leaves and stem

Hoar frost covers the scale-like needles of a cedar branch.

Hoar frost covers the scale-like needles of a cedar branch.

Frost covered an old flower stem

Frost covered an old flower stem

A colorful heuchera leaf is edged in white ice crystals.

A colorful heuchera leaf is edged in white ice crystals.

Even this spider web was covered with jewel-like ice formations.

Even this spider web was covered with jewel-like ice formations.

The spider web shown above may have been protected enough that a heavy dew formed first and then froze forming ice droplets rather than frost crystals. This is what happens when water vapor in the air condenses and forms dew before the temperature drops below freezing – you get frozen dew rather than true frost (hoar frost). So interesting!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Boxwood bronzing in winter

We recently received an interesting question on our discussion board:

I’m curious to know what has caused the leaves on some of my boxwoods to turn orange during the past two months.

Here’s a snippet of the answer I wrote out to him:

“If exposed to full sun and frequent frost and wind, the foliage of some boxwood may become orange or bronze in the winter …”

Such a contrast between boxwood species

Such a dramatic contrast between two different boxwood species.

This is really quite common especially in certain boxwood varieties such as the small-leaved Korean Boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana).

In fact, the other morning when I was taking pictures in the Viette gardens, I noticed that the Korean boxwood in front of an outbuilding had a very definite orange/bronze tint while the boxwood right beside it, a different species but growing under the same conditions, was still a nice healthy green color. The contrast was striking and a neat display of the seasonal variation that can exist between two different species.

On the protected leeward side, the foliage remains green except towards the top where it is more exposed.

On the protected side, the foliage remains green except towards the top where it is more exposed.

Even more interesting is the fact that only one side of the Korean boxwood is showing the bronzing of the leaves; namely the side that faces west and is exposed to the prevailing winds and the sun. The side that faces the building (which is about 8 feet from the hedge) is still green except for some bronzing near the top where branch tips are more exposed. This provides pretty good evidence that the bronzing occurring here on this particular variety is due to the environmental effects of sun and wind. The building is definitely providing the boxwood with protection from the elements.

There are certain things you can do to help protect boxwood and other evergreens from sunburn and winter winds that might cause discoloration of the foliage.

The windward side has become bronzed from wind and sun exposure.

The windward side has become bronzed from wind and sun exposure.

Most important is to keep them watered during the winter especially when the ground is not frozen. Gardeners often forget that evergreens continue to function physiologically (albeit at a reduced rate) throughout the winter. Cold winter winds can suck moisture from the leaves and if this water is not replaced through uptake by the roots, winter injury can occur. This is why it is important to water your evergreens deeply in the late fall before the ground freezes. During dry winter weather when the ground is not frozen, be sure to check your evergreen trees and shrubs and water deeply if necessary. This is especially important during a mild winter like we’ve been experiencing so far this year. The addition of a layer of mulch will help retain the soil moisture.

Boxwood bronzing

The small-leaved Korean boxwood typically turns bronze in winter.

Feed your boxwood in the spring and again in the fall with a slow release organic fertilizer like Espoma Holly-tone or Plant-tone to keep them healthy and vigorous.

Spraying evergreens with an anti-desiccant like Bonide Wilt Stop will also help to protect them from winter injury by forming a soft, clear flexible film over the leaves. In colder areas, the more tender broadleaf evergreens like Camellias and some varieties of boxwood and hollies should be sprayed with Wilt Stop and then carefully wrapped in burlap for additional protection from sun and wind.

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The answer, continued:

“The good news is, though many consider it unattractive, this bronzing will not kill the boxwood and they should green up again once temperatures warm up in the spring.”

Certain branches became more orange

A few branches became a brighter orange with no green remaining.

Personally, I think this winter “off-color” adds some interest to the boxwood – sort of like “fall color” in the winter! And keep in mind that for some boxwood like the Korean boxwood, this color change is normal during the winter months.

It is important to note that the overall bronzing of the foliage that I am talking about here is a seasonal discoloration, not winter kill. Winter kill is permanent and must be pruned out in the spring – but that’s another story …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Oh and Happy Groundhog Day!

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