Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring's late - first crocus showed up yesterday

Crocus in bloom on this day a year ago

I've never been one to keep a garden diary in book form, but the great thing about blogging and digital photo metadata is that you have a pretty good record of what's blooming when from year to year.

The picture of the crocuses above was taken a year ago today. Yesterday's four little crocuses growing through old verbascum leaves sure didn't look anything as nice as the crocus patch above. And this evening, it's snowing...again.

Interestingly, last year, we had snow on April 8th (it was Easter weekend). Of course, it didn't last long. From the looks of things, I won't be surprised if we get a bit of snow again this April.

Last year's Easter weekend snow

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gypsy moth spraying: the question of the season

Gypsy moth egg masses on a young maple in my neighborhood

A few weeks ago I put an article about gypsy moth caterpillars up on my gardening website. Today I received this email from a reader in Oakville, Ontario:
I am interested in your article about the gypsy moth! We in Oakville have learned that some of our lovely forest areas are to be sprayed with Btk in May.

I was interested in your comments that this infestation doesn't last and in a few years is not present in that particular area where it was a problem. I would really appreciate any more thoughts you may have about this as my question to our local officials was to be: "What happens if you do nothing?" Thank you in advance for any information you may have for us.
This was my reply:
Thanks for contacting me about this issue, which is going to be of great interest and concern this summer. I have noticed that all the big oaks and maples at the local golf course across the road from me are covered in egg masses. If nothing is done, they are going to lose all their leaves this season.

We hand sprayed our own trees with Btk last May (they are not very large as yet, about 15 to 20 feet tall), and the control we got was amazing. I did a visual inspection of the deciduous trees on my property last week, and I found only two egg masses.

You are very fortunate that Oakville is willing to spray Btk in May. It is a safe, natural and effective control. It's true that the populations do crash after they get really bad, even if you don't spray Btk.

However, doing nothing this year could seriously endanger trees because they have been very stressed by almost a decade of drought, culminating in the worst drought in 49 years last year. If stressed trees get defoliated by the caterpillars, they will be in serious danger of further decline, and you could see a lot of large trees dying in Oakville in the next few years.

I would support spraying. It's a small price to pay for all the environmental and quality-of-life benefits of shade trees. Everything is a trade-off, but I believe the trees need us to help them now. With the drought stresses they have endured over the past decade, trees in southern Ontario don't have a lot of reserves. I hope that helps in deciding to support spraying.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service has an excellent gypsy moth education website, from which the following information is taken:
The Effects of Defoliation on Trees

The effects of defoliation depend primarily on the amount of foliage that is removed, the condition of the tree at the time it is defoliated, the number of consecutive defoliations, available soil moisture, and the species of host.

If less than 50 percent of their crown is defoliated, most hardwoods will experience only a slight reduction (or loss) in radial growth.

If more than 50 percent of their crown is defoliated, most hardwoods will refoliate or produce a second flush of foliage by midsummer (figs. 11, 12). Healthy trees can usually withstand one or two consecutive defoliations of greater than 50 percent. Trees that have been weakened by previous defoliation or been subjected to other stresses such as drought are frequently killed after a single defoliation of more than 50 percent. (My emphasis, as this is the current situation of trees in southern Ontario.)
The entire article can be found here.
© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wild garden vistor snacks on crabapples

Coyote foraging for crabapple berries

Around supper time this evening, my husband looked out the window, and said, "Isn't that a coyote?"

Yes, and there it was in our crabapple orchard, looking for a snack. We even saw it pick the fruit right out of the tree. (My dog does this on occasion too.)

Our crabapple trees have persistent fruit, and the birds have been harvesting them of late, but I often wondered who else snacked out there because my dog, Toby, is often very keen to go under the crabs to check out the scents.

I got out the camera, and was able to take some pictures from the living room window. When the coyote moved behind a tree, I went outside to see if I could get closer, which I did manage without being noticed.

But by that time Toby had seen the coyote and was going nuts, barking up a storm. He was indoors, but loud enough for the coyote to hear. Then, the coyote spotted me and took off through the neighboring tree farm to the woods.

So coyotes eat crabapples. Who knew?

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, March 20, 2008

First day of spring: cold again, my birds are back

The creek today: the flooding usually lasts just a day

Amazingly, yesterday we hardly saw a bird. Then today, we had flocks of birds on the property. If I were a bird photographer, I'd have pictures of them.

From the kitchen window, I saw a woodpecker, robins and a blue jay, all within seconds of each other on the same oak tree. Then, while out on our walk, we finally heard them and saw them: the redwing blackbirds are back! We also saw flocks of cedar waxwings and robins (both drawn to our crabapple trees), not to mention, alas, hordes of starlings.

I sure hope it warms up for them all. Today's temperatures hovered around freezing all day, with the wind making it feel much colder.

Not looking or feeling the least like spring

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's the cruelest month

T.S. Eliot wrote:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Do you think he might really have meant March, but that April just sounded better?

Today's pictures are of the great meltdown and our creek flooding after the rain. Cruel indeed, but we need to get through mud season to reach spring.

No red-winged blackbirds yet. Last year at this time they'd been here a week. The snow is melting late. But at last it is melting.

Private investigations

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, March 13, 2008

At Canada Blooms

This year Canada Blooms theme is 'Flower Power', with psychedelic '60s theme and lots of emphasis on what they call "the eco-savvy future of horticulture in Canada." I can't say the show turned me on much, but it was good to see flowers in bloom.

Andy Warhol theme with a wall of Campbell's soup cans

Paul Zammit's entry garden display

Visitors were encouraged to vote for the best front garden in a series created by a number of gardening and other "celebrities" (I'm not sure we actually have bono fide celebrities in Canada). My favorite was the one above designed by Paul Zammit, a wonderful plant enthusiast from Toronto's Plant World garden centre.

The cutest idea I saw was this fountain designed by Toronto landscape architect Christopher Clayton, whose small garden display was a masterwork of clever reuse of old garden and other stuff.

With so much writtern from an anti-lawn point of view in the gardening and other media these days, turf had its own public relations billboards, which extolled the environmental benefits of grass. Hey, plants are good, and guess what, grass is a plant.

I can't imagine my 10 acres without some lawn. No lawn and no mowing would amount to a quick reversion to the mess of burdock, thistles and buckthorn that we found here 10 years ago.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gardening on stamps

Gotta hand it to Canada Post once again. Last year they issued gorgeous lilac stamps, and now they have lucious peony stamps on offer. They're domestic stamps; one features Elgin Peony and the other the single-cup Coral 'n Gold.

They were designed by Isabelle Toussaint, the same Montreal graphic designer who created the lilacs stamps.

Another little set of stamps of interest to gardeners, issued in December 2007, features beneficial insects: Lady Beetle, Lacewing, Bumble Bee, Dragon Fly and Cecropia Moth.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Find the snowdrops...

So where are the snowdrops? About four feet under, to the left of the bench.

We had an absolutely gorgeous hoarfrost morning which lasted a good long time, almost to noon.

Panicum virgatum 'North Wind' is my favorite ornamental grass. It looks so lovely all winter that it almost pains me to cut it down in spring.

This the hill just in front of our house, and here's how it looks in August. What would we do without the sheer drama of the seasons?

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Winter just won't let up...

Today's snowdrift in front of our hoophouse

We tend to get our hopes up for an early spring when the calendar hits March, and the past few winters have lulled us into thinking that the "real" winters of yesteryear were no more.

No so this year: we're getting record amounts of snow. Today's headline in the Toronto Globe and Mail says it all: "Old Man Winter pumps up the volume." We've had snowstorm after snowstorm, and the current one is about the biggest of the season. Some are calling it "the winter from hell."

It certainly is that for snow removal budgets, and there is now so much snow that a quick thaw could bring serious flooding to parts of Ontario.

The snow removed from Toronto streets
Photo by Boris Spremo, The Globe and Mail

However, I'm happy. This snow pack is a god-send for our poor parched landscape, not to mention the water levels in the Great Lakes. If you recall, last summer, we had the worst drought in almost 50 years, so all this preciptation is manna from heaven, as far as I'm concerned.

Fortunately, there's a breath of spring in the air: the Canada Blooms garden show starts in Toronto next Wednesday. I'll be there to see what's new.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener