Evergreening up the Landscape

The Living Landscape Journal November  2014

Evergreening up the Landscape

The rains began to fall in early October and in a month’s time the water levels were up to almost normal.  We got a bit of a scare in late October when the forecast was hinting at another Halloween snow storm. That would have been the third Halloween snow storm in five years. Let’s be thankful that did not happen again.

This is the time of year when everyone starts to ask about what type of Winter we should be preparing for. Many Meteorologists across the area stick their neck out with this year’s long range winter forecast. I’ve heard everything from the worst Winter in 500 years to an average Winter with more precipitation than normal, so I went to the local expert. I asked local Meteorologist,  Mike Shustak what his long range forecast was for this winter. He looked at me as if he was rattling through long range weather maps in his head and asked me if I had a quarter in my pocket. I handed him the quarter and he flipped it in the air and said heads a bad winter, tails a mild winter. It came down “tails” so according to Mikes scientific analysis, we are in for a milder than normal Winter.  By the way, I saved the quarter.

November is preparing for a long Winter’s nap as the Bear, Bat, Woodchuck, Skunk, Raccoon and Chipmunk prepare to go into a semi – hibernation state called “Torpor”. The animals activity slows way down where rest and inactivity becomes the normal.

The landscape in November looks unkempt as leaves, sticks and stems are blown around in the consistent November breeze. Evergreens become the focal point in the landscape this time of year. Fall is the season to add a full bodied Native White Spruce to that perimeter hedge row hole that needs to be filled. White Spruce is one of the more delicate looking, short needled Spruce and  the tree cones at a young age. White Spruce is deer resistant and makes a great Christmas Tree.  I recommend planting a grove of them for privacy in a sun filled location.

Native Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, and Andromeda are the perfect broad leaf evergreen shrubs to accent just about any foundation, hedgerow or raised bed planting. Mountain Laurel features my favorite broadleaf evergreen  star shaped flower in red, pink or white. If not planted in the proper soil and exposure, Laurel can be a tough plant to establish. Native Rhododendron comes in all shapes and sizes. The larger Rosebay or Maximum Rhododendron can reach 20′ tall. The “Maxi” flowers in early summer, and it’s not unusual to see this pink to white flower in full bloom early in July. Catawbiense Rhododendron flower much earlier in the season and has a full hydrangea looking flower in many different colors. In a naturalized bed the white, light lavender and dark purple flower work well together. Andromeda flowers in very early Spring and has a fragrant white bloom that has a similar bell shape look and color as the native Blueberry flower.

Most years, our garden soil freezes by mid December so we have a good  6 + weeks to add some handsome evergreens to our landscape this Fall.  “Last one to the garden center is a turkey.”

Pete and the Natives


A Dry Goblin


The summer of 2014 is a season I will not soon forget. It started cool and moist and

remained that way most of the Summer and there were only a handful of days above 90

degrees. This cool, damp Summer weather created some fungus problems with Black

Spot, Powdery Mildew and Apple Cedar Rust wide spread. I did take notice in a grove

of Maples that the invasive Norway Maple was much more fungus ridden than the

native Sugar Maple planted nearby. Go Natives!


August and September switched rolls this year. August turned out to be a cool, damp

month and September was warm during the day and cool at night. September was dry

with very little rain. Appalachian Trail hikers have been complaining about dried up

streams and a lack of drinking water for the last month. Hiller Brook, the stream just

south of the Garden Center that flows off North Quaker Hill into the Great Swamp, has

completely dried up. I’ve observed this brook drying up in late July and August but never

this late into September. The Blue Heron are having a “field day” plucking out the

trapped fish in the dry brook puddles.


These dry warm days and cool nights have kicked off some of the most brilliant fall color

in years. The Maple swamps have turned florescent red and orange and the Fall foliage

is now working its way up the ridges. WARNING! Please be careful with open fires and

discarding cigarette butts until we get significant rain. The woods are tinder dry and the

forest floor is filling up with dry leaves so the fire danger is running high.

How I enjoy this month’s bountiful harvest. October is the first biting cold front that

requires a heavier jacket. October is apple cider, pumpkin seeds, hickory nuts, and a

hearty late evening meal after a long day of yard work. The first cold October night

starts the first fire of the season with a book and marshmellowy hot chocolate and

before too long I am out for the night.


October is quietly hiking, listening and observing in some of the most beautiful woods in

the world. Our pace changes in October with shorter days. Our list of chores is much less than it

was a month ago. A time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in this year’s garden.


October is scaring the socks off the first visitor on All Hollows’ Eve. Make friends with all

the ghosts and goblins in your neighborhood. This friendship will help on mischief night.

Native Insects at the Garden Center

While working at Native Landscapes Garden Center every day, you tend to notice some interesting insects where their host species are native plants. A few that I always look for are the Tulip Tree Silk Moth, the Spicebush Caterpillar, and the Great Spangled Fritillary.

The caterpillar in the above picture is the Tulip Tree Silk Moth. I first discovered this caterpillar a few weeks ago. It has grown from a small caterpillar barely able to fill up the leaf, to a mature giant, taking over the leaf with its long body from eating Black Cherry leaves. On the same plant, sleeps another Tulip Tree Caterpillar morphing into its moth form. Prunus serotina or Black Cherry is a host to many native species of insects and also provides food for birds and wildlife. It can grow to be 50 to 80 feet tall and produces showy white fragrant flowers from April to May. Black Cherries prefer full sun but can tolerate part shade and average to medium well drained soils.

The Spicebush Caterpillar pictured to the left with its black “eyes” mimic the look of a tree snake to scare away hungry predators. When this caterpillar chrysalises, it turns into the Spicebush Swallowtail, a beautiful black and blue butterfly. The Spicebush is one of the earliest flowering understory trees in the Northeast forest with yellow flowers sprinkled about the tree before the leaves emerge in spring. When the leaves are crushed it produces a spicy lemon aroma which is its own natural deer repellent. The dried berries from this shrub have been used as a substitute for all-spice.

The Great Fritillary is another native insect that enjoys nectar particularly on Echinacea plants. The Fritillary host plant are young Violet leaves in the spring. They gather nectar from native plants such as Coneflower, Milkweeds, Ironweed, Mountain Laurel and Joe Pye Weed. In late summer and fall the Fritillary lay their brown eggs on violet leaves where they over winter, hatching in the spring.

As always remember to grow native plants in your gardens because it is important to support all our local wildlife . When maintaining your gardens, be careful what chemicals you spray. Only spray when there is an infestation of insects and use environmentally friendly products or sprays you can make in your own kitchen.

~Cassandra Kessman

A Special Event

On October 29th, around noon, it began to snow. By three that afternoon, almost six inches had accumulated and it began to snow harder. It was a heavy, wet snow so limbs began breaking and power lines started to fall. By midnight, the heavy snow was tapering and our area had received fourteen to twenty three inches. It looked like a war zone with trees, branches and electric poles snapped and down everywhere. On Sunday, the clean up began.

What was unusual about this storm was how fast the snow accumulated on the very warm ground. The dense snow fell heavily and contained a very high water content. If this storm had been all rain, we would have received four inches of rain. Most of the damage occurred at lower elevations where the snow was the wettest and the trees still had more leaves. The landscape was massacred in many areas.

I did some research to see what trees were hardest hit. The trees most damaged were deciduous trees that hold on to their leaves later into the fall season. The trees incurring most damage were the Norway maples and Bradford pears. In fact, Dalton Farm in Poughquag lost every one of their Bradford pears in the landscape. My findings were that native species faired better than exotic species. In all fairness, there was also damage to some weak crouched native species. However, for the most part, our natives held up better and non-natives were more heavily damaged.

This storm was reminiscent of the October 4, 1987 storm that dropped about a foot of heavy wet snow. There are some distinct differences between these two storms. The 1987 storm was more localized and occurred earlier in the month. The trees were still in their summer green canopy and the damage was much more severe in our area. The damage from the ’87 storm was primarily confined to the Hudson highlands and the Berkshires. This year’s Halloween storm was more wide spread. A storm we will not soon forget.

As November turns into December, we begin to focus on keeping warm. Out of the hope chest comes the red union suit, wool socks and mittens. Mittens are much warmer than single finger gloves. By keeping our fingers together in one mitt, it helps prevent frost bite when the temperature drops below zero. Keeping our toes warm is just as important as fingers. Stay away from steel toe boots and go with a heavy insulated boot with traction. If your fingers and toes start to burn from cold, keep them moving. Steady blood flow from movement will prevent frost bite.

The landscape is as different now as it was in early October. Plants such as winterberry, partridge berry, running pine, mountain laurel, sycamore and Christmas fern have a uniqueness and stand out in the winter landscape. It’s time to mulch the garden just as the ground freezes with a mix of native composted roots, leaf mold, shredded bark and chips. Begin pruning the landscape now in preparation for future growth and structure. Don’t be too tidy in the garden. We need to leave some seed heads for the hungry critters.

December is the start of winter. As a kid, I remember winter being my favorite season; following animal tracts in the snowy woods, sleigh riding on the backyard hills, all day hockey out on Wolf Lake, and making a few bucks shoveling neighborhood walkways. Winter has become more of a chore these days. I wonder if it’s age or attitude? I’ll give that a bit more thought during the next blizzard.

It’s December, the holiday season. Hooray! A time to give thanks and praise. Tradition is this year’s theme for me and my family. Simple and festive, where less is more. A gift from the heart, not the pocketbook. Where faith and trust in one another will help us through another season. May the festival of peace, hope and understanding be wrapped under your tree this special season. Happy holidays!

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Patience This Spring

April was another below average temperature month and sure enough, we had a snow storm on April 15th. The high for the month was around 70ºF and the low dropped into the mid-teens. Here at the Garden Center, the cold nights had us running for cover on some tender container plants. Annuals and warm blooded vegetables need to wait until the last weekend of May before planted outside in the garden or container.

What I love most about May is it begins looking almost like winter with most trees still waiting to flush out. The month ends at full leaf looking and feeling much like summer.

This year’s theme and focus in the garden is a more edible landscape that will feature replacing landscape trees shrubs and perennials that have weakened or have overgrown their spot with plants such as beech plum, blueberries, amelanchier, elderberry, paw paw, mulberry, cranberry, strawberry, chokeberry, gooseberry, hickory and hawthorne. Also, instead of planting annuals in the garden we should try finding spots instead for carrot, sunflower, lettuce, organic corn, cucumber, grapes, radishes and columbine. Vegetables will grow just as happy in colony plantings instead of planting in straight rows. Colony planting or mass planting looks more natural.

Now is a good time to get our containers ready for spring. Container gardening has a very wide spectrum. Bonsai, specimen planting, fruits, vegetables and vines can all be planted in containers around the property. From shade to sun and everything in between, container gardening can be set up to accommodate all cultural settings. Freeze tolerant containers that will not crack are a must in our area. The most decorative containers are made of wood, concrete and stone. Clay and ceramic containers tend to break apart when the cold and the ice settles in. A light soil mix with sand, some humus, or leaf mold works for plants that need a dryer container soil.

I’m finding the garden soil, in low lying areas, still too wet to work and plant in. Working wet soil disrupts the air holding capacity and compacts the soil and can choke plants to death. The soil should be ready in about a week. Patients in the garden this spring.

Pete and the Natives


Early Spring Jaunts

On the last day of March, we went “out like a lion” with an ice storm. The calendar told us spring began the afternoon of March 20th, but we had to wait until April Fool’s to experience the first day of spring weather. March was much colder than average by almost 6ºF. This winter was one of the top 20 snowiest winters and was consistently cold with no Indian summer. We dropped below 0ºF on numerous occasions in January, February and March. The coldest night bottomed out between 20ºF and 25ºF below zero.

Oil and electric bills were sky high this winter and unfortunately, it may not be over. I smell a spring snow storm. I remember May 9th back in the late 70′s when a foot of snow fell the day after I mowed the lawn. This spring has that type of feel.

Now here is some good news to the bitter cold and snow. Entomologists are telling us these extremely cold temperatures this winter may have knocked back the tick and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid populations. Let’s hope so.

Everything is late this spring. We are well into April and the maple syrup is still running, Snow Drops and Crocus are two weeks late, Pussywillows are just peaking out and there is still a snow pack in the deep woods. Before you know it, we will be up to our eyeballs in spring chores.

We need to wait one more week for the sun to melt the snow and the ground to dry out a bit more so we can work the soil. The heck with waiting, let’s go for a hike. Hiking was tough this winter with the deep snow pack. Snow shoes were a must the last 2 1/2 months. Let’s get some exercise and catch up on our hiking and exploring this early spring. It’s the most interesting time of year to be in the woods, before the deciduous tree canopy flushes out, wildflowers such as Swamp Marigold, Trillium, Columbine, Jack in the Pulpit, Virginia Bluebells, Mountain Pink, Shad, Spice Bush, Native Andromeda, Bleeding Heart, Pussywillow, Trout Lily, Skunk Cabbage, Woodland Phlox, Wild Ginger, White Foam Flower, Crested Iris, Pink Shell Azalea, Blueberry, Cutleaf Toothwort and Anemone are to bloom.

Here in Pawling, we are in a trail lands region for hiking. The Appalachian Trail traverses our region with many different and challenging terrains. The Pawling Nature Reserve, a Nature Conservancy wilderness with its many trails, is a true wilderness region straddling the towns of Dover and Pawling with access off of Quaker Lake Road. A hike up to Cranberry Mountain off Havilland Hollow is a great loop hike for you and your canine friend to enjoy some quality time together. For a quick outing, take a short walk up to the awe inspiring Dover Stone Church and take in the beauty of one of our local treasures.

There are many trails in the Harlem Valley worth exploring and picking a few hikes is the perfect way to get some cardiovascular and leg exercise before we get our nails dirty. Happy mud season!

Pete and the Natives


Spring Sweet Nectar

Spring time brings longer sunny days, warmer weather, bursting leaf buds and quaint spring ephemerals. Tree sap begins to thaw and moves up majestic maple trunks with new invited nutrients. Leaf buds and early spring flower buds burst open, welcoming pollinators to a drop or two of nectar and a dusting of pollen.


Bees fly back and forth to their hive during their long busy day treks to share nectar with the “house bees”. The “house bees” ingest the nectar and hold it in their “honey stomachs.” The house bees have two stomachs, one for ingesting honey for nutrients and one for the storage of nectar. After storing the nectar, the house bee adds enzymes to the nectar and drops it into a hexagon shaped cell within the hive. Before they drop it in the cell, the nectar stays in a droplet outside the bees mouth and evaporates for up to twenty minutes. The process is repeated until the whole cell is filled up. The house bees will fan the nectar using their wings to promote more evaporation. Once the moisture content of the nectar drops to about 20%, the house bee caps it with a layer of wax for protection. Here, the honey is stored for the colony as food for larvae and potential new queens. The honey is an important beneficial carbohydrate for adult honey bees, especially, the worker bees, who are busy collecting nectar all day.

Nectar and honey are not the only food source for a bee colony. They also rely on pollen as a source of protein, lipids, vitamins and minerals. When the worker bees head out for the day, they come back with pollen in their “pollen basket” located on their back legs. When they bring the pollen back to the hive, the bees moisten the pollen with nectar to make “bee bread”. “Bee bread” is an important protein source, especially for developing bees. Not only is pollen important to bees it is important to ensuring future seed development within flowers known as pollination.

One bee can visit up to 5,000 flowers in one day and can make an average of 20 – 25 trips to its hive! However, if the weather does not cooperate this spring and we get high amounts of precipitation, there is the possibility of the bees starving due to a low ration of honey within the hive after the long winter. Bees are able to sense air pressure. When the air pressure drops they know it is going to rain and they begin their journey back to the hive. During a good season one large bee hive can produce up to 20 – 30 pounds of honey.

In honor of how much pollinators and bees do for us to produce delicious honey, I think it is important to change our mindset and for now, think about our lawns. What is our lawns ecological significance? Does it help the bees? This spring lets think about converting some of our lawn into a garden that can act as a nectar source for important pollinators and bees. When thinking about plants for your nectar garden, think natives! I cannot stress enough how important native plants are. They have so much more to offer our wildlife and insects than our lawn or “green desert” as Kim Eierman founder of Ecobeneficial likes to put it. (www.ecobeneficial.com) It is important to know that some non-native plants do not produce nectar for nectar feeding insects and birds. Do some light research and you are bound to find wonderful native nectar plants. A few of my suggestions are Clethra alnifolia, this shrub produces many fragrant racemes of white flowers and the bees absolutely love this plant. After it flowers, birds will feed on the seed heads in the fall. Asclepius tuberosa, a bright orange flowered perennial that is also a host for the monarch butterfly and the grey hairstreak butterfly. This plant has a significant amount of nectar for pollinators it is a great addition to any garden. Joe Pye Weed or Eupatorium maculatum is a tall, upright perennial with big pink billowy flowers. Joe Pye provides sweet nectar and pollen to the hard working bees in August. All of these plants and more you can find at Native Landscapes in our Garden Center. We will be opening April 1st and Pete and I will be happy to answer any questions about native plants.

Happy Spring!

Cassandra Kessman


A New Beginning

It happens every seven to eight years and it’s happening again this year, the year without a winter. Many long range forecasters predicted a tough winter after the Halloween snowstorm. They predicted heavy snow and cold for November and December with a seasonable January and February. It’s been an extremely mild winter through January with very little snow. January 2012 is the second warmest January on record in our area. Ponds and lakes did not freeze so no ice skating, ice fishing or snowmobiling thus far. It’s an unusual weather cycle this winter with cold weather lasting a few days then rain and warm temperatures. This persistent freezing and thawing is not good for plants. Trees and shrubs in our region prefer gradual change not abrupt temperature and weather swings. Keeping our cultivated and natural landscapes mulched helps during these weather fluctuations. This strange weather stresses plants and many fruit gardeners are concerned as flower buds swell during these warm spells. If this weather continues through February followed by cold in March and April fruit production could be greatly effected as the flower buds will be damaged.

February starts with Ground Hog Day as our local woodchucks study their shadow to predict the end of winter. Our shadows get shorter as we gain an hour and a half of light this month. February is a fickle month as the sun works north and the warm southern air starts battling the dense winter cold. It’s the classical spring verse winter snow when one day we are out pruning shrubs in the warm late winter sun, the next day we’re scraping ice or snow of the front walkway.

February is the first signs of spring in the garden and in the woods. Early spring bulbs are poking their heads through the soil checking on the temperature. Pussy willow buds are swelling and waiting for the right moment to open. Skunk cabbage is working its way up through the mud along the edge of the swamps. This year’s growing season is just getting started. Chickadees, Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Owls, Hawks and Eagles are scouting out this year’s nesting sites. They are all looking for a safe location with adjacent food plots and hunting grounds. Chickadees and Cardinals are looking through the Gray Twig Dogwood patch for tight branched area where they will be camouflaged from cats. Woodpeckers and Owls are scouting out the tree hollows that are just large enough to fit through but not big enough for raccoons and skunks. Hawks and eagles are cruising around the skies over meadows and waterways for good hunting and fishing to feed their young. In the past year I have seen Bald Eagles over Whaley Lake, the Ten Mile River and the north flow of the Great Swamp. It’s encouraging to see these birds in the trees around our waterways and meadows. It’s a good sign.

February is the hunger moon as the last full month of winter is here. Animals living in our yards and in the deep woods continue scouting their hunting grounds for a berry, bud or mouse they may have missed during an earlier visit.

February is the sugar sap flow; I’ve seen Silver Maples, Red Maple and Sugar maple tapped for syrup in our region. Sugar Maple has the highest sugar content in its sap and is the most widely tapped tree. Early sap is always the sweetest and maple syrup is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners to use in cooking and baking.

Plant life begins a new season as the sap begins to flow in most trees and shrubs by the end of February. As plant life wakes up so does animal life, a correlation we need to understand for our own wellbeing. The warm sun is welcome and not only does it start the sap flow, it also begins to get our warm blood flowing. It’s valentines season, each year at this time nature suggests we court. Let us not forget that we are part of nature and not something separate. Somewhere deep down inside us there is still a primitive instinct in place to reproduce. Catching the eye of our mate is just what the doctor ordered to get the winters cobwebs out and put us into a spring frame of mind. Happy Valentines Day with lots of love.


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Turkey Forcast

Long range forecasters are sticking their necks out once again, as they do every year at this time, to give us an indication on what this year’s winter weather might look like. Most long range forecasters are predicting a colder and snowier start to the winter with more normal conditions finishing the season. The reason for this they say is because a strong La Nina, or blocking pattern, is setting up over Greenland. For the northeast, that means more frequent coastal storms with heavy inland snow.

Conversely, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a milder than normal winter with the coldest weather forecast for November and December. Last year, the first major snowstorm hit the day after Christmas when over two feet fell in our area shutting down roads and transit systems. The heavy storms continued through January and when it finally stopped, over ten feet had fallen in parts of our area. And, was it cold! If you remember, many of last year’s long range forecasters called for a mild, wet winter. Who should we believe?

Some of the most accurate weather wisdom comes from Mother Nature and here is what she is revealing. Like most long range weather forecasts, Mother Nature is a bit fickle. Acorns, which are a staple food for most woodland creatures, are very light or non-existent in some areas and heavy in others. Wooly bear caterpillars are mostly brown in some woods and black in other areas; the blacker the caterpillar, the tougher the winter. Bee and wasp nests, which tend to be higher off the ground when heavy winter snows are coming, are high in some areas and low in other areas. My conclusion is a cold, snowy start and a mild finish. It’s anyone’s guess in this period of climate change.

November begins the deer rut season, so be careful driving around sunrise and sunset. This is the time deer activity picks up. November is finishing up fall cleanups and composting your leaves. Decomposed leaves are an excellent soil conditioner for the garden and to use when transplanting. November is the time to prune trees and shrubs because most insects and fungal diseases have gone dormant. November is the month most animals fortify their winter home and start insulating their dens with material like milkweed, cotton-like seeds. This is one of the reasons I don’t mow my meadows until late winter or early spring. November is the Leonid’s Meteor Shower which peaks between the 13th and the 20th. November is hard frost, the owl hoot and long shadows.

Kicking off the holiday season, smothered in brown gravy with all the trimmings, the roasted turkey gets my vote as top bird on this family holiday of giving. Pardon my halftime nap. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Slimy Tunnels

Why are there worms in the soil? One of the many questions I have asked myself in the course of a day. Everything in the natural world usually has a function. Worms create tunnels in the soil. These tunnels act as a pathway for roots to travel. Worms ingest decomposed leaves and organic matter. This is probably why they stay within one foot or so of the earth’s surface. We very seldom find worms in clay or very sandy soil; places roots don’t like to hang out. Worms also aerate the soil. Their travels create small air tunnels just under the soil surface. Our native earthworms are small one inch creatures; very narrow and delicate. Large earthworms or night crawlers are slimy worms from other continents. They accompanied the soil from roots of plants brought from other lands. When trees, shrubs and perennial roots use these earthworm holes to wander through the soil, there is an air transfer at work that’s keeps our landscape healthier. Soil that has been compacted through super saturation can choke plants and create an unhealthy environment. I mention all these factors because I am seeing some very strange plant phenomenon in the woods.

Since mid-August we have had almost thirty inches of rain. The unusually heavy rain occurring this time of year has stressed many trees and is drowning many plants in the landscape. I’m seeing yellowing and browning on leaves and leaf tips on some maples are turning that characteristic black when plants get too much water. These conditions are most pronounced in heavier soils that tend to drain much slower. It’s all a function of climate change. What’s next? I don’t believe any one knows, but stay tuned as I plan on following these changes very closely.

Don’t fret, it’s October, one of our favorite times of the year. It’s the season to put away the mower and get ready to compost the leaves. October begins green and ends gray; but in between, we have some of the greatest color on the planet. October is the time of year to relax and smell the apple punk. October is long hikes in the deep woods to enjoy the maple, hickory and birch hues. October is our first frost. October is the beginning of the fall rainy season….uh-oh! October is stacking up the wood pile. October is windy. October is the hunter’s moon. October is geese flying south before winter sets in. October is the night sky full of stars. October is good eats. October is getting out the long johns and feety pajamas. October is grrrrrrrrrreat!


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