The Fate of the American Chestnut Tree

In the 1800’s the New World was growing exponentially. Immigrants from all over the world were coming to North America to settle in this land of opportunity and endless natural resources. These opportunists brought with them their culture, and in many cases, plants and seeds from their homeland. The English, Scottish and Irish brought over their manicured lawns and golf clubs. Asians at this time came here with their Maples, Azaleas and Dogwoods along with their natural art forms and associated gardens. In addition, the Dutch introduced their spring flowering bulbs to our landscape.

Many times when exotic plants are introduced to an area where they have never grown, their diseases and insects are also introduced. Little did we know at that time, how detrimental some of these plants diseases and insects from other continents would affect our native trees. In some cases, these foreign pests and diseases can lead to a plant pandemic. Our native landscape at times, has very little natural ability to fight off and defend against an enemy they have never encountered.

A few examples of introduced exotic species with associated insects and diseases that had a grave affect on native North American trees are; the Dutch Elm disease, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and the American Chestnut blight. The Dutch Elm disease killed street tree Elms almost overnight. The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid’s introduction to the Eastern Hemlock forest has drastically changed this forest structure in many native woodland settings. The chestnut blight may have had the worst impact of all the pests and diseases I mentioned above.

The American Chestnut Tree was, up until the early 1900’s, the predominant tree species of the eastern forest. The American Chestnut was a fast-growing, single stemmed, very large tree that is a member of the Beech family. A dietary staple for many Native Americans, early settlers, mammals and birds, the American Chestnut has been defined by many as a perfect food. Unlike other woodland nut trees such as Oaks that set flower early in the spring, and can be affected by late season frost, the American Chestnut flowers well into the growing season. Flowers and associated nuts of the American Chestnut is seldom harmed by late-season frost. For this reason, wildlife could depend on this nut every year.

The American Chestnut blight was first detected in Bronx, NY in 1904. The blight was brought to this country by the introduction of diseased Chinese Chestnuts. By the 1950s mature American Chestnut trees were all but gone from the Eastern American forest and landscape. There are a few isolated, mature American Chestnut trees and some small groves that have survived the blight. Their immunity is where the re-introduction program begins.

These disease-resistant American Chestnut trees and their hybridization with disease- resistant Chinese Chestnuts is ongoing and will take a bid more time to produce disease-resistant trees. The American Chestnut Foundation with university help is working to introduce a blight-resistant American Chestnut tree back into the forests and landscapes of Eastern North America.

I look forward to the day we can start planting disease-resistant American Chestnuts back into our native landscapes. This day is fast approaching.

May’s Transition

May is a busy month for gardeners. It begins looking much like winter with most trees getting ready to bud out and ends looking a lot like summer with all trees and shrubs in full leaf. The landscape changes by the day in May and it is interesting and fun to document this transformation.

Flowers are everywhere and you may have noticed drifts of violets within your lawn. This broadleaf perennial that blooms this time of year can be found in every shade of lavender, white and yellow. The violets are a very important nectar source for our native bees.

It’s been a rainy, cold spring so many of the brooks and ponds were at their high water mark this past April. Water levels start to lower in ponds and streams during the month of May, and that’s when the trout start biting for local fishermen. There are still some secret fishing holes where brook trout can be found hiding under a stump at the curve in the river where the current slows. Brook trout are not really trout but are in the Char family. Brook trout are more closely related to salmon rather than trout. Brook trout is New York’s State Fish. It is a native fish that can be found in clean, oxygen-rich waters. In my youth, I could be found this time of year back in the deep woods with a pocket fisherman, a small fry pan, bread and butter. I would catch a couple of fry-size brook trout and cook and eat them in the woods. This made for a great sandwich.

This spring as we are working around our property we have the time to focus on planting a sustainable, edible landscape. If we have the room, we can establish an orchard with numerous varieties of fruit trees. In our area I have had success with growing apple trees, pears, peaches, plums, and cherries. Additionally, I have planted many native trees and shrubs.

The native Paw Paw tree is one of my favorite North American fruits. The Paw Paw’s fruit has a tasty tropical flavor and custard-like texture. This tree does not self-pollinate so in order to get fruit we need to plant 2-3 trees for cross pollination.

Blueberry shrubs are a must for most residential landscapes. This native shrub has four season interest and rewards us with a late season fruit that makes for an extremely healthy snack. Blueberry shrubs require an acidic soil so a PH of 5.5 can be reached by adding oak leaf compost, peat moss or a sulfur soil additive. Blueberry shrubs come in two sizes. The standard size blueberry shrubs will grow up to six feet tall. The low bush blueberry will grow a foot high and makes a great ground cover.

The Elderberry is a large shrub that should be planted in everyone’s yard. Elderberry is another native shrub that is easy to grow and produces bushels of small, dark, red berries loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants. I would also recommend growing Lingonberry, Huckleberry, Cranberry, and Blackcap Native Raspberry to round out the hedgerow along the property line. Adding these canes and shrubs to the hedgerow will give us more privacy and additional fruiting capabilities in our landscape.

As an early riser, I often venture out into the yard to work around the garden. During these early morning hours, songbirds are singing their hearts out. Mocking birds, Jays, Robins, Cardinals, Red-wing Blackbirds, Mourning Doves, Woodpeckers and Turkey are all calling out to their mates to build a home and start a family.

By Memorial Day we should have our vegetable garden all planted and ready for the June, July and August sun. This year let’s go all out and plant every vegetable we can fit into the garden. It has been a tough couple of years for tomatoes because we have had a few wet summers in a row. This year let’s hope for a dry, warm summer where we can control the moisture. These warm, dry summer conditions, usually bring the best yields.

Let’s experiment this year with cold-hardy figs. The fig fruit is really an inside-out flower that can be grown in containers. Most figs are not cold-hardy in our region, therefore putting figs in containers and bringing them into the garage during winter, makes the most sense.

The native strawberry Fragaria virginiana, should always have a place in the edible landscape. As a ground cover, strawberries are my first choice. Growing many different varieties of strawberries will ensure heavy fruit production. Strawberries prefer full sun, but will also fruit in a partially shady environment. Let’s grow some good eats this season.

UPDATE 4/20: Native Landscapes & Garden Center Covid-19 Response

Native Landscapes & Garden Center: Covid-19 Response

Native Landscapes Garden Center is OPEN. Please respect our staff and follow protocol set forth by NYS and wear face covering/gloves when looking through our inventory. Customers may call or e-mail to inquire about plant availability and pay for orders over the phone via credit/debit card. After payment is received, the plants will be gathered for pick-up or delivery. Appalachian Trail hiker packages will not be accepted at this time, we ask that hikers intending to use us as a Mail Drop location send their packages to the Pawling Post Office at 10 Broad Street, Pawling, N.Y. 12564. Our bathrooms will not be open to the public until further notice.

Landscaping & maintenance services will continue as usual and our employees will be practicing CDC-recommended approaches to avoid infection.

We wish all of our customers and neighbors a healthy, productive Spring!

Our Contact Info:

Address: 991 Route 22, Pawling, N.Y. 12564

Phone: 8458557050

Fax: 8458557016

E-mail: –or- emma@nativelandscaping.netMertensiavirginica

A Native Plant Challenge

On Friday, March 27, I was a guest on The Leonard Lopate at Large show on 99.5FM WBAI in NYC along with Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.

The conversation was centered on Dr. Tallamy’s newly released book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard published by Timber Press. This book is a sequel to his previous book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants.

On this show, Dr. Tallamy went into the science behind why ecologically friendly land management practices are so important in today’s outdoor environment. He begins his new book with some very interesting natural history. In 1903, then President Theodore Roosevelt was standing on the rim of The Grand Canyon as mining was on the verge of gouging the canyon into pieces. He said the five words that would bring The National Parks System another pristine location, “Leave it as it is!”

Dr. Tallamy talked about how ecosystems around the planet are on the verge of shutting down. We have this notion that as we grow our population, the planet must be growing with us. This is not the case and as Dr. Tallamy would say, “The world is no longer flat.” We still have the ability to keep our water clean and drinkable, our climate cooler and our landscapes native.

Dr. Tallamy talked in depth on why locally grown native plants are so important to local ecosystems. Native plants sustain local wildlife, where non-native plants, including invasive species from Asia and Europe do not. These non-native plants have little or no ecological significance and can play a large role in ecosystem collapse.

What I suggest, since we are all home looking for the next great thing to do, is get out in the yard and become part of the solution. Survey your land and landscape and figure out how we can cut down the size of the lawn, create more meadow, and plant more native trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers and vines. It’s time to bring back the native landscape that was in place just decades ago.

In Dr. Tallamy’s book, he writes about creating a Homegrown National Park with native plants by connecting each yard, in every neighborhood, in every town, in every county, in each state across the country with a living landscape. This concept can be implemented and accomplished but it needs everyone’s support and help. In the end, we will have created as Dr. Tallamy states, our Homegrown National Park in which we can all take credit for a job well done.

This can be fun and easier than you think.

Let’s give it a try. We can do this!

Spring Cultural Practices

As winter rolls into spring getting out into the yard to begin our spring chores is always something gardeners look forward to doing.  Surveying the landscape to check for and remove broken limbs and branches, as well as pruning where necessary, will shape our plants to desired design forms. It is not necessary or beneficial to the environment to be super clean when maintaining our landscape. Leaving our landscape more natural looking rather than tightly manicured is beneficial to us, the wildlife residing in our yards, and is a lot less work.

Getting down on my hands and knees and inspecting the soil is something I always do this time of year. Mole and vole tunnels just below the soil surface can dry out plant roots in our established landscapes.  It is important to compress these tunnels as soon as the soil thaws.

In the fall, I mulched all my beds with leaf mulch because beneficial insects live in the leaf litter. As leaf mulch breaks down it acts as a natural fertilizer and adds additional soil microbes.

Once the frost is out of the ground in mid to late March, would be the best time to transplant trees, shrubs and perennials. With plenty of moisture in the ground, plants should not go into shock when moved before bud-break.  Most shrubs and perennials can be split up now and moved into other desired areas of the landscape.

Spring is the best time of year to plant new trees, shrubs and perennials in our area. The healthiest and best looking plants are on display and ready to purchase at our local garden center in April and May.  The new plants set in the landscape this spring have this year’s growing season to acclimate to their new environment. Make sure the soil is not super saturated when planting and transplanting this spring season. Microscopic air pockets, that are not present in saturated soil, are very important for healthy plant growth. Soil compaction, due to wet soils, can kill a plant if the plant is not adapted to these particular conditions. Let the soil dry out a bit before working and cultivating this spring.

When planting a new tree, shrub or perennial in our yard make sure the plant is adapted to the new site. For example, Rhododendron or ferns would prefer a shady, more protected growing site free from standing water. Planting a shrub in an area that does not mimic where it grows naturally can stress the plant and make it unattractive as it declines.

Consider planting native plants in the landscape that have adapted to our particular soils and environment. Established indigenous plants require less, if any, fertilizer, water or pesticides. Native landscapes sustain local ecosystems and feed beneficial insects and birds that find our yard home.

Let’s get outside and enjoy some of this warm, healthy sunshine this spring.


Pete and the natives

Natural History

Early European explorers, some of the first white men to land on the shores of eastern North America back in the 1400s, told documented stories of a pristine wilderness like no other in the Northern Hemisphere. Back then the “New World” was wild and beautiful.

Manahatta is what the Native Americans call Manhattan. Manhattan Island, five hundred years ago, had over fifty-five different ecosystems. It was a wilderness that contained diversified landscapes featuring everything from tidal pools along the Hudson River to ancient upland hardwood forests.

Brooklyn, a Dutch word meaning marshland, was a maze of waterways and early trappers tell stories of trapping beaver the size of small bear. Long Island is where the last glacier terminated. The north shore of the island is a rocky coast line similar to what can be found on the adjacent Connecticut shore. The south shore of Long Island and the adjacent Barrier Islands, is an outwash plain with a unique pine barren ecosystem only found on Long Island, Cape Cod and southern New Jersey.  The New Jersey meadowlands are one of the largest wetlands on the east coast. It is a resting and feeding area for water fowl during their spring and fall migration.

The Hudson and Harlem Valley regions were a mountain wilderness that featured wild bear, wolf, eastern cougar, moose, passenger pigeon, heath hen, rattlesnake, tree frogs and bog turtles to name a few. There were also eastern buffalo in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York.

A feature of this region was “The Great American Eastern Forest,” an endless forest that greeted the first European explorers. This ancient forest stretched from Maine to Florida and as far west as the Great Plains. These woods contained some of the largest stands of trees in the world. These old growth forests had individual trees and some groves with specimens up to twelve foot in diameter and over two-hundred feet tall.  Noteworthy white pine groves could be found in eastern Maine, together with hemlock gorges in the Hudson Highlands, chestnut trees in the Berkshires and oak as far south as Georgia.

These trees along with native understory shrubs, perennials, vines and ground covers were the most bio-diverse, temperate region of the planet. Early settlers wrote of the wooded landscape smelling alive, fresh and clean when it was being explored by early Europeans.

Fast forward five-hundred years later, all but one percent of the Great American Eastern Old Growth Forests remains. A majority of these living specimens can be found today in isolated, hard-to-get-to areas of The Adirondacks, where poor access saved these trees from the ax.

From an early age, I was taught the important symbiotic relationship that exists between native plants, insects and birds. I learned how they depend on one another to survive in the natural world, and how their relationship can teach us to design and build a living landscape around our home and in our gardens.

The native landscapes we create on our land, can be the building blocks of local ecosystem regeneration to help create a healthier outdoor environment for us and the local wildlife. It starts by getting familiar with our localized natural history.

What’s growing in your yard these days?

Pete and the Natives





For many of us, it’s hard to imagine what it was like outside at night before the introduction of artificial lights. Have you ever walked through the woods or in a meadow at night dependent solely on star and moonlight? It can be a challenge until your eyes adjust. The darkness is full of mystery and tends to amplify sound; the unknown can play tricks on us. On cloudy nights, the clouds provide insulation that makes noises seem closer than they are. Natural darkness can also instill a sense of peace and wonder. What is really out there?

Recently, the mid-December full moon was bright on the freshly fallen snow and I took some wonderful late night walks with moonlight as my only light source. The walks were brisk and invigorating. Each time I went out, I became less fearful of the night and more conscious of the health benefits: breathing that cold, clean air, getting my legs in shape for ski season, better sleep.

Celestial bodies and meteor showers are much easier to identify once your eyes have adjusted to the night sky. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where light pollution is at a minimum, it opens up a whole new sky and landscape to explore. Sadly, a large majority of the U.S. population has already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye due to light pollution, which is brightest on the east coast. When viewed from space, it looks like a fairly thick line of light along the coast and slightly inland from Florida to southern Maine.

Light pollution, which affects the circadian rhythm in humans, also impacts the sleep-wake cycle in nocturnal animals including bats, owls, foxes, and flying squirrels. Breeding cycles, foraging behaviors, and migratory routes of wildlife including insects, turtles, birds, fish, and reptiles have been similarly affected. Almost two thirds of migratory birds travel during the night, using moon and starlight to navigate. Light pollution interferes with their ability to stay on course and many never make it to their winter nesting grounds.

Plants are also affected by artificial light. Plants take cues from the amount of light and darkness they are exposed to each day, so prolonged exposure to light pollution prevents many shrubs and trees from adjusting to seasonal change at the right time, disrupting their flowering and fruiting cycles.

If we can live with less night light, the entire natural world (including humans) will benefit from a return to darkness after the sun goes down.


Pete Muroski

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