“Climate Change, Science, Communication and Action” Online Course from Cornell University

Cornell University Civic Ecology is once again offering a 6-week online course on “Climate Change, Science, Communication and Action” starting this week, 9/11/18. Please share with anyone you know may be interested! Registration remains open this week at:
Suffolk County residents who enroll in this course are welcomed to join our local Suffolk CCE Community Action group, where we will provide educational resources and additional in-person trainings that address Gardening in a Warming World.
Contact Donna Alese Cooke at dmc72@cornell.edu to learn more about our local Suffolk CCE Community Action group, and the upcoming free in-person classes that will be available to Suffolk County residents participating in the “Climate Change, Science, Communication and Action” online course. 

What are those Webs in the Trees?

Fall webworm is all around on Long Island now.  Our Diagnostic Lab is getting many complaints about a wide variety of trees and shrubs with lots of webbing, defoliation and browning leaves.

According to Sandra Vultaggio, Horticulturist in our CCE Suffolk Diagnostic Lab, this pest has been particularly successful this year in part due to the high humidity we’ve experienced. Since this is a late-season pest it does not tend to affect the health of the tree. It is more of an aesthetic issue when the brown leaves and webbing occur. For this reason we do not often recommend pesticides. Once the caterpillars are finished feeding, which takes roughly 6 weeks, they will fall to the ground to pupate over winter. It may be wise to do a thorough fall cleanup of leaves and debris around the trees this year.

Dan Gilrein, Extension Entomologist adds that some herbaceous plants are affected as well. Some may confuse this with gypsy moth, which doesn’t produce webbing and is not active this time of year, or (eastern) tent caterpillar, which is active in spring mainly on cherry and apple, ornamental varieties of these, and some related plants. Fall webworm is a native insect and its populations go in cycles. It’s wide host range includes over 400 plants. This particular ‘outbreak’ is the largest he has seen, though similar (short-lived) population explosions have been observed elsewhere. Fall webworm levels were high in parts of the Adirondacks last year, for example, but have since collapsed for the most part. Dan is not sure know why these population swings occur, but they probably have to do with direct and/or indirect impacts of environmental conditions on  the insect, its natural enemies, and possibly its hosts.

While the webbing and damage are very ostensible, the actual harm to the plants is probably much less.  At this time of year the foliage has done most of its ‘work’ and will be declining soon. There might be some concern for plants that are being heavily defoliated, were in poor condition, or just recently planted, but generally plants should grow normally next year. The good news is this insect has many natural enemies (one author refers to it as a ‘parasitoid hotel’), so the numbers are expected to be much less next year. Ways to deal with this are:

  • Remove webbing and caterpillars by hand which will improve the appearance immediately.
  • Prune out infested branches. This is the last alternative, as it can damage the plant, spoil the appearance, and open wounds.
  • Contact a consulting arborist or landscape professional for assistance, who can assess and handle the job.

Photo courtesy of Master Gardener Holly Sisti

Be on the Lookout for these Vegetable Garden Diseases!

Look out for these garden diseases! See symptoms? Please report!

Occurrence of a couple important diseases of vegetables and basil is monitored in the USA every year to be able to inform growers when they need to be prepared for them to develop in their crops. Their occurrence is variable and impact is great, thus the importance of monitoring, which is done primarily by plant pathologists working with growers. Gardeners can access this information, thereby also benefiting, and they can play a very important contributing role by reporting when these diseases occur in their gardens. Some gardeners already have been! I have lots of photos to help with identifying these plus other diseases at: http://blogs.cornell.edu/livegpath/gallery/ and information about them at http://blogs.cornell.edu/livegpath/extension/for-gardeners/. Make sure to take photos to document your report.

Late blight of tomato and potato. Occurrences are mapped at http://www.usablight.org/. At this webpage anyone can sign up to receive alerts when late blight has been confirmed near them; the alert system is not just for growers.

Late blight on tomato

Downy mildew of cucumber, squash and other cucurbits. In addition to information about occurrences, at http://cdm.ipmpipe.org/ there is a map-based forecasting system predicting where the pathogen is likely to develop next. There is also an alert system gardeners can utilize.

Downy mildew on cucumber

Downy mildew of basil. Reporting presently is done to a spreadsheet at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lHTfaVYxjjr7CxbEJiv8qgYmB5VdMFdT_4ehfjQrc5U/edit#gid=0  A map-based webpage is being developed similar to that for the other two diseases.

Downy mildew on basil

Take advantage of these great resources, and please contribute reports to increase the value of monitoring and our knowledge about occurrences of these important diseases.

Dr. Meg McGrath is an Associate Professor at Cornell University’s Long Island Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, New York.

Not sure of the disease on you vegetable plants? Contact our Horticulture Diagnostic Lab and drop off a sample for diagnosis. For current hours, visit: http://ccesuffolk.org/



New Online Master Gardener Volunteer Training

No need to wait until you retire to take the Master Gardener Training program! New this fall, CCE Suffolk will be offering an online, hybrid training program that is designed for you to learn at your own pace, while easily fitting into your busy schedule.

Starting in September of 2018, the program will include all of the horticultural topics and hands-on training needed to become a Master Gardener Volunteer for Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension. Monthly weekend in-person trainings will take place one Saturday each month from September 2018 through March 2019. Now is the perfect time to take the first step, and join our very dedicated group of expert gardeners!

See our new brochure to learn more about the Master Gardener Volunteer program.

Download the application for the 2018-2019 training here.

Questions? you can email Donna Alese Cooke at dmc72@cornell.edu or call her at 631-727-7850 ext 225

Master Gardeners volunteering at Spring Gardening School



Landscape Trees with Beautiful Bark

Sycamore bark

With spring rapidly approaching there’s no better time to appreciate the silhouettes of our trees, especially those with attractive bark. This is a valuable ornamental feature often overlooked. While you are likely familiar with some of the larger trees that have striking bark, such as American or European beech, American sycamore or London Plane tree, there are many trees suitable for smaller landscapes which will catch your eye.

Japanese stewartia

Perhaps you are familiar with Stewartia psuedocamelia, or the other Stewartia species which have white camellia-like flowers in the early summer. But did you know that as they mature they develop an exfoliating bark in a patchwork of copper, tan, olive and lavender? Stewartia spp. are typically pest free and offer fall color too. Every yard should have one! Another tree offering bark in similar colors are the Crape Myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica hybrids. Crape myrtles are widely known for their late summer flowers in shades of pink, red, purple and white. When looking for a crape myrtle for your landscape select varieties best suited for our colder winters and then chose a flower color.

River Birch Bark


Maybe you have a wet site where many trees do not do well. I have just the solution for you, and it has attractive peeling bark to boot! The tree I’m referring to is called a river birch, Betula nigra. Young trees have papery bark in shades of cream, salmon, orange brown, and cinnamon brown which peels freely. As the tree matures the trunks become dark reddish brown to gray-brown in color with plate-like scales. River Birch also boasts resistance to the bronze birch borer, a devastating pest of many other beautiful birch trees.

A lesser known tree with highly ornamental bark is the Paperbark cherry, Prunus serrula. Much like most other flowering cherries, its white flowers are short lived and it may be prone to disease and insect pests, but the bark is incredible! I came across this tree in the New York Botanical Garden and was wowed! The bark is a glistening coppery red-brown, looking more like polished copper than living bark. I’m still contemplating including this one in my own landscape despite the pest management it will likely require.

Birch bark Cherry

Acer griseum

Mature Kousa dogwood bark


Before leaves and flowers emerge this spring, get out and really look at your trees. Botanical gardens and arboretums are a great place to see some of these trees and others that are especially beautiful in winter. Take notes and photos. Consider planting one or more of these trees with beautiful bark to give your landscape four season appeal!

Article and photos by Alice Raimondo, CCE Suffolk Horticulture Consultant

Register for the 2018 Spring Gardening School

Join us for Suffolk County’s annual Spring Gardening School on Saturday, April 14, 2018, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Organized by Master Gardener Volunteers for the last 36 years, this beloved event kicks off the growing season for hundreds of gardeners who gather together for a day of learning and fun.

Spring Gardening School 2018 will be held at the Riverhead Middle School in Riverhead, NY. All classes are taught by Master Gardener Volunteers and Cornell Cooperative Extension Educators. The day consists of workshops held during three sessions and offers classes for beginners to advanced gardeners. This year a keynote address on “The High Line: Lessons for Your Garden” will be presented by Roxanne Zimmer Ph.D., Master Gardener Volunteer from Peconic.

You can sign up for such classes as School & Community Gardens 101, Gardening in Deer Country, Edible Landscaping, Gardening in Small Spaces, and many, many more. This year, you can choose to create hands-on take home projects such as Botanic Art (see project below), Nature’s Colors in Your Hands (plant dyes), Make & Bake Herb Bread & Butter, Floral Arranging, and The Art of Bonsai.

The fee to attend is $65 per person ($60 early bird, before March 1st), which includes free soil pH testing, a plant diagnostic clinic, gardening exhibits, and an early plant sale from some of the finest nurseries on Long Island; continental breakfast, delicious boxed lunch, raffles, and door prizes. Preregistration is mandatory; first come is first served.

Classes fill quickly! Download the brochure here which has the registration form to mail back to us. We look forward to seeing you there!

Attracting Birds in Winter

Keep your gardens alive with color through the winter by attracting songbirds to your yard.  Feeding birds throughout the winter not only benefits the birds, but is a great hobby for gardeners to keep us active and engaged with the outdoors. Heavy winter snow events can cover up much of bird’s natural food sources, forcing them to seek out what humans may have left out for them.

Downy Woodpecker, photo by Sandra Vultaggio

There is nothing quite like seeing a bright red Cardinal against a snowy backdrop. When feeding birds, you can try to be specific as to which birds you would like to attract, or very simply provide a mixed seed which will attract an array of birds. Different feeders are attractive to some types of birds, while discouraging others, and specific foods and seeds will attract some birds and not others.

Northern Cardinal, photo by Sandra Vultaggio

Hard wire mesh feeders are attractive, often painted with bright colors and will attract many of your smaller, clinging birds like Chickadees, Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice. These are great for larger seed blends like black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. They often stay stocked for a while since the birds need to pull seeds out individually. They also tend to leave the ground below much cleaner.

A platform feeder is great for any bird, but especially attractive to the larger birds: Blue Jays, Mourning Doves and Flickers. You will often find Dark-Eyed Juncos using these types of feeders as well. Any type of seed and nut mix will work well on these types of feeders. It’s fun to watch the individual personalities as the different species interact in the open space.

Hopper-type feeders are great for keeping seed fresh and protected from the elements. These are a great option if you don’t intend to go out to fill the feeders often, as they can hold quite a bit of food.

A popular food source for birds in winter is to provide suet. Suet is a high-energy food source that will attract woodpeckers. Peanut butter is also a great fatty food source. You can search for fun DIY feeder projects using peanut butter and seed that will be sure to attract lots of different hungry visitors.

Tufted Titmouse and White-breasted Nuthatch. Photo by Alice Raimondo

Ready for some real entertainment? Get yourself a peanut wreath. It is so much fun to watch the blue jays and squirrels bickering with each other trying to remove the peanuts from the spiral of wire.

Blue Jay under a peanut wreath, photo by Sandra Vultaggio

Prolonged freezing temperatures can make water sources scarce, so providing fresh water is a surefire way to attract birds and other wildlife to the yard. Often times you’ll attract a more diverse set of species with water than you would with seed. You can provide a fresh water source all winter long if you purchase a water de-icer or an ice-free birdbath. These contraptions do not heat the water, but simply keep the water from freezing – typically down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the quality re-icers on the market need to be plugged in and generally cost $1-2 per month to run, depending on how cold the weather is.

Eastern Bluebirds enjoying a heated birdbath. Photo by Alice Raimondo

When you feed birds outside, you may quickly find that the larger predatory birds are just as hungry as the songbirds. Hawks will often perch in high trees near feeders, waiting for an unsuspecting dove. For this reason, it may be a good idea to hang feeders near shrubs or other brush material so the birds will have quick access to shelter if needed. In the same way, be aware that feral cats have a way of staking out backyard birdfeeders.

Sometimes you do not have to invest any money at all to attract birds to your yard throughout the winter. You can simply provide habitat for them by minimizing your fall cleanup. Leaving sticks and other small debris lying about for wildlife to pick up and use as needed. Or pile up larger branches and debris in a discrete corner of the yard where wildlife can use it as shelter through the winter Allow spent flower heads to stand throughout the winter for finches to pick through. Consider leaving the dried stalks of ornamental grasses to stand all winter to provide habitat and shelter for wildlife and insects. In the spring, birds will often take pieces of the grasses to assemble their nests.

Following some of these tips will ensure that looking out of your window in the winter will not just make you long for springtime, but appreciate the beauty that each season brings us.

Black-Capped Chickadee, photo by Sandra Vultaggio

by Sandra Vultaggio, CCE Suffolk Horticulture Consultant

Caring for Holiday Plants

It’s that time of year again, when we either give or receive plants as gifts and tirelessly try to keep them healthy throughout the year in hopes they may bloom once again. Because these plants are grown specifically for the holiday season, there are some tips and techniques you can use to keep them from ending up in the compost bin and looking beautiful year-round.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is a popular potted plant at this time of year, providing color throughout the holiday season. Newer poinsettia cultivars are long-lasting in contrast to those available a few years ago. When purchased, poinsettias should be in prime condition, should be well shaped plants with dark green foliage and bracts free from defects.

To care for Poinsettia, soil should be kept moist at all times, but not excessively wet. Water when the soil begins to feel dry and apply enough to the surface until it runs through the drainage hole. For best results, do not allow foliage to wilt between watering. Keep poinsettias away from cold drafts and excessive heat, otherwise this may cause foliage and bracts to wilt from rapid water loss.

Poinsettias are among the most difficult plants to re-bloom in the home. To learn more about propagating poinsettia and proper care for re-bloom next year, our fact sheet on “Care of Holiday Plants” includes more information on Christmas Cactus, Cyclamen and other blooming holiday plants available this time of year.

Adapted from Resource The Selection, Care, and Use of Plants in the Home, by Charles C. Fischer and Raymond T. Fox, Cornell University, 1/90.

Learn & Grow from the Experts!

Applications for the 2018 Master Gardener Volunteer training course are now being accepted!

Anyone who enjoys gardening and has a desire to learn and share their knowledge and skills can apply. Participants receive research-based instruction during the course of the training and upon graduation, Master Gardeners give back and share their knowledge though community service, projects and educational outreach.

For more information, contact Donna Alese Cooke, Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at dalesecooke@cornell.edu or at 631-727-7850 x225. Application materials can be downloaded at: http://ccesuffolk.org/gardening/master-gardener-volunteers.

Applications are due by October 31, 2017, and can be emailed, mailed or faxed to 631-852-3205 attn: Donna Alese Cooke

Master Gardener Volunteers at the Children’s Garden at Suffolk County Farm


Master Gardeners in the Community: The Wedge at Mt. Sinai Heritage Park

The perfect time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now. This Chinese proverb applies to many aspects of life including the creation, enhancement and maintenance of the landscape at the Wedge in Mt. Sinai.

The Wedge (Heritage Park and Heritage Center) was just a seed of an idea 20 years ago. In just a score of years, 18 acres of sod farm have been transformed into a “mini central park” cherished by many and envied by others. Volunteers, donors and local government have foraged a partnership to ‘grow’ a mix of passive and active recreational features at the Wedge. Contoured slopes, meandering walking paths, landscaped areas and gardens, a playground, putting green and three sports fields allow visitors to ease their minds, reflect, learn, enjoy, communicate, romp, run, walk and play. Add to these are the community and private events sponsored by the 501c3 Heritage Trust at the Heritage Center.

The 2017 crop of Master Gardeners toured the park in May. I enjoyed sharing information and experiences about the landscape and hardscape added to the Wedge by volunteers, scouts and local business. At the end of the tour I felt there was more to share about being a Master Gardener volunteer at the Wedge.

Any volunteer project will confront challenges (issues) like soil preparation, water supply, money, leadership, time, consensus building, short and long term maintenance, nurturing of personal rewards, and permission from and coordination with the powers that be. All have been experienced and are part of the ‘tree’ planted twenty years ago.

The playground and putting green are great family fun. Organized sports are played on the ball fields but it is not uncommon to see kids and adults engaged in “free play” or friends and families picnicking on the same fields. The play knoll is climbed by tots, rolled down in the summer and sledded down in winter. The park’s daffodil Smiley Face brings smiles to faces when 2,500 daffodils bloom.

The activity and landscape changes with the season but one constant is the use of the 0.7 mile perimeter path.  Kids, adults, families, friends, residents of group homes, people recovering from surgery or heart attacks walk, stroll, run, ride scooters, and learn to ride bikes on the path.

The park is so favored because of its openness, sense of safety, location, contours and landscape. The textures, colors and shapes of the landscape change with each season. The spring Master Gardener tour highlighted the following:

  • Old Man’s Machine and Crop exhibit – Crop plots of grains, flax, potatoes and rows of lavender have a back drop of farm implements that were used to prepare soil, plant and harvest crops.

  • Mt. Sinai Garden Club’s perennial and shade garden along with 8 community plots.
  • Small pollinator garden and corn crib shed.
  • Avenue of America mile sign post and the beginning of the Heritage Planet Walk.
  • Avenue of America trees and location of Parade of American Flags. Selected state trees were described and a prize Gold Rush dawn redwood was admired. In 20 years all these trees will enrich visitor’s pleasure in the park.
  • Court of America sitting area with a rock garden representation of the United States.  Aluminum edging forms the outline of the country, rocks represent mountains, shaped bluestone the Great Lakes and various plants vegetate the land (below). Presidential blocks border the 20’ x 14’ “map”.

  • The blooms of the Patriotic Triangle symbolize the colors of our nation and the three sides and corner columns (Ionic and two Corinthian) represent the branches of government.
  • The dawn redwood corner is developing into a low maintenance landscape. The Arkansas rose is the symbol of Iowa and North Dakota and Vinca, St. John’s Wort, Walkers Low and Liriope will suppress the growth of weeds. The tall redwood is still recovering from being transplanted eight years ago and someday will be 130 to 150 feet tall.
  • A butterfly garden triangle is well established and has a bridge for the bridging ceremonies of local Girl Scout troops.
  • A grass play knoll provides a high place to climb and enjoy the open space of the park. Families and friends picnic on the crest or watch kids roll or sled down the slopes.
  • A new golf putting green is enhanced with a landscaped water feature.
  • A Hinoki cypress maze has plant but will take time to establish. When opened it will complement the playground and putting green.
  • The Four flags triangle is enhanced with shrubs and perennials.

People compliment and thank us for our volunteer work on the landscape and it is not uncommon for people to ask questions about what is planted. The last 20 years has been rewarding. The next 20 years will provide future master gardeners and other volunteer opportunities to enrich and maintain the Wedge. Visit the Wedge and say hello if you see us puttering in the park. Congratulate Fred when you see him, he has volunteered 40 years of community service for CCE Suffolk.

If you’d like to help please contact any of the below:

Fred Drewes; ave.america2010@verizon.net  631-473-6776

Heritage Trust; contact@heritagetrustmail.org:  631-509-0882

Walter Becker, Mt Sinai Garden Club; WBecker@WJBsales.com

Article written by Fred Drewes, Master Gardener Volunteer                

Photos courtesy of Valerie Bruno, Master Gardener Class of 2017