If you happen to have a garden or have decided that this is the year to start one there are lots of things to keep you busy at this time of year!
Hopefully you waited until spring to clean up your garden to allow beneficial insects and other arthropods such as bees and butterflies to overwinter. Now that spring has sprung you should leave debris as long as you can to give these creatures a chance to emerge from their winter hiding places. You should start carefully removing debris from around blossoming plants. If you must cut back hollow stems, bundle them so any pollinators overwintering inside have a chance to emerge. As you are cleaning up be on the look out for praying mantis egg cases know as ootheca. This is one time when you should leave things till tomorrow!
Mulching is another spring time activity. There are many different types of organic mulch that will not only suppress weeds, but also add organic material to the soil as they break down. You don’t have to mulch everything, in fact many ground nesting bees such as bumble bees need a bit of bare earth to make their nests. And if you are mulching your trees make sure to keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the base of the tree so that it is not touching the bark.
There are lots of places online where you can purchase seeds. If you still have seeds left over from last year and don’t know if they are still good, don’t throw them out, try this simple home germination test.
sterile potting mix
It is important to use sterile potting mix to avoid disease issues like damping off. Do not reuse potting mix and do not use garden compost.
You don’t need to buy a fancy container to start seeds. Just make sure the container has been sterilized and has drainage holes.
You want to keep the soil moist, but be careful not to over water or you may have a problem with damping off.
Some seeds need light to germinate, but all seeds need light after they germinate. Once your seeds sprout a light source will help prevent them from becoming leggy. You can purchase grow lights or just use a soft white fluorescent bulb. Here are directions on how to build a Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame.
Most seeds will germinate between the temperatures of 55°F and 75°F, but the optimal temperature for each type of seed varies. You can create a mini-green house to trap heat and moisture. You can also buy heating mats to warm the soil. Click here to see Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination.
Out in the Garden
Gardening is an activity for the whole family! Children love helping plant seeds! Right now you can be direct seeding cool season crops in your garden such as beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. If you want to have a continual harvest, consider succession planting or seeding several smaller plantings of the same crop at timed intervals, rather than all at once.
While most people are busy seeding, some perennial plants are already coming up or even ready to harvest! Chives are a great example of a perennial that allows you add something fresh and green to your meals in the early spring. If you planted chives in your garden last year, they are probably already making their way to your table. This perennial of the onion family begins growing in early March and is able to be snipped with scissors and eaten soon after and throughout the growing season right up until the fall frost.
Another perennial making an appearance is rhubarb! Rhubarb is a great addition to any vegetable garden and as it is deer resistant and highly attractive it can also be used as part of your edible landscape. Although the leaves of rhubarb are considered poisonous, the stems of this spring crop that can be used to make the classic strawberry rhubarb pie as well as many other delicious snacks.
And as always, if you are having any issues in your garden, need help identifying the cause of a problem or figuring out a management strategy give us a call. Our Garden Helpline phones are staffed April – November, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. But you can always leave us a message or send us an e-mail.
This article profiles an urban lot that was transformed into an oasis for body, mind and soul as well as for wildlife. This lot belongs to a local Master Gardener and illustrates how much privacy, beauty and biodiversity can be created with thoughtful design and considered plant choices. We’ll review the design principles employed in this yard and then take a look at the ecological needs fulfilled through the design and its implementation.
First and foremost, this design provides privacy and the sense that the space is an outdoor room. The lot is 50′ wide and faces southeast. The edges of the property are bordered by deciduous and evergreen trees. The tall Norway Spruce provides a strong anchor for the southern border and creates a shade garden for almost half of the yard, while the mature deciduous trees provide both frame and boundary for the property. Given that this garden is in shade much of the time, plant textures are emphasized in throughout the space. Since the plants are in groups instead of individual plants, the various textures become harmonious and interesting rather than chaotic to the eye. The repetition of plants by massing gives the design a simplicity that helps quiet the mind and gives one an opportunity to linger in areas and simply enjoy the beauty of a plant’s texture and color.
The central planter provides the main focal point of the yard and is the only place where we find a traditional lawn. The repetition of red in the plants helps to unify the yard and gives the focal point additional structure. The use of evergreen boxwoods around the base of the container ensures that the focal point will be held even in winter when the planter is moved indoors and allowed to go dormant.
The lawn around the focal point draws the eye to the back of the circle where a stone path peeks between the low shrubs and groundcovers. The curving shape of the path gives the landscape a sense of movement and entices one into the farther spaces. The copper birdbath provides another focal point that draws the viewer’s eye and invites the viewer to another part of the garden that is more private. The red pole, which supports an unseen, yet occupied birdhouse, gives us a hint that there is more to that part of the garden than we can see and provides a touch of mystery.
The yard evokes a feeling of balance with the shrubs softening the borders of the property and the understory trees filling the gaps between the shrub layer and the canopy of the deciduous trees. The varying heights of the plants provide visual interest and contribute to the feeling of privacy that is created in such a small space. The repetition of color throughout the garden contributes to the sense of balance, with the yellow-greens contrasting with the darker greens, yet not competing with them.
Seasonal interest was also a major consideration in the design of this space. There is year-round interest provided by many elements of the garden. The plants were chosen not only for their texture, but for their bloom times and flower colors as well. There is a continuous supply of flowers in the garden throughout the spring and summer and into fall. The changing color of the leaves of the trees and shrubs during the autumn supplies the visual interest that flowers provided the rest of the season. In the winter, the evergreens take center stage, furnishing a stark contrast to the more delicate structures of the deciduous plants.
Overall this garden creation has a feeling of unity, where all of the parts work together to create a coherent whole. The massing provides a rhythm that is relaxing and the multiple textures provide interest within that rhythm. The reiteration of certain colors also unifies the space by visually connecting different areas of the property.
Looking at the yard from an ecological point of view, the property provides all the layers of a forest garden: tall tree layer, low tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer and, of course, the root layer. The tall tree layer consists of both deciduous and evergreen trees. These trees provide food in the form of seeds and shelter within their branches to birds and squirrels. The leaves of the deciduous trees also supply an important habitat for insects, including butterflies and moths, providing spaces to lay eggs and food for growing larvae.
Since the garden was designed to be in continuous bloom for more than half the year, it can be considered an insectary. There are various flower shapes throughout the garden, providing food for many different types of insects. Some insects prefer umbelliferous flowers, while others prefer flowers with central florets like asters. The diversity of flower shapes and bloom times helps ensure that beneficial insects will have a continuous food supply and will help keep invasive and/or problem insects at manageable populations.
As we have spent much of this issue discussing soil and the soil food web, we need to look at our garden through that lens. In addition to providing mulch and habitat for overwintering insects, fallen leaves contribute to the soil structure and organic matter content in the soil. These photos were taken in spring and we can see how full and lush the vegetation is early in the season. This verdure is due not only to the care of the gardener, but more so to the health of the soil where these plants are growing. The soil food web is very dynamic in an environment like this and the result is the beauty that we see in these photos. May you be inspired to use these design principles and nourish your ecosystem to build a beautiful garden of your own.
Currently, there are 70 active Master Gardener Volunteers in Orange County. These volunteers help Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County disseminates research-based information to the community. Volunteers go through an intensive training to increase their knowledge of gardening and landscaping. Once they complete the training, they are required to volunteer 30 hours a year, which includes six hours of continuing education.
Master Gardener Volunteers write for the Gardening in Orange County newsletter, answer gardening questions on the “Garden Helpline”, participate in community and school gardens, read to school children, and we provide workshops to the community on a wide range of topics.
Master Gardener Volunteers come from different backgrounds and careers. Here are just a few stories of their stories.
Brooke M., New Windsor Master Gardener Volunteer
Becoming a Master Gardener six years ago was the fulfillment of a longtime dream! I was introduced to gardening by my maternal grandmother who grew wild abundant perennial borders. She changed her color scheme regularly and encouraged me to see gardening like painting, providing joy in every glance. Being a Master Gardner lets me combine my skills from being a teacher, Museum Educator, and photographer with my absolute passion for plants. Going out to schools, garden clubs, and other public gatherings to share knowledge is one of my favorite things. Contributing to GOC by writing and editing is another. This year, helping to start a new school garden was the highlight. Nothing is more fun than hearing the laughter of children in the garden and seeing the wonder on their faces when they taste a fresh carrot. I have found new friends and opportunities in this program and it enriches my life.
When I was a child, my dad grew zinnias from seed and I know my love of gardening was cultivated by the beautiful gardens he created in our yard. I asked a thousand questions; he did not always know the answers, but he let me keep asking! I think he grew delphiniums for their beautiful (and rare) periwinkle color.
I bought my house in 1992, and shortly thereafter I attended the Garden Days sponsored by the Master Gardeners. I soaked up all the material and tried to apply it in my own yard. I subscribed to “Gardening in Orange County”. Now my gardens are filled with Milkweed and plants that the deer do not eat. My andromeda (Pieris japonica) is about 35 years old.
I became a Master Gardener because of all the wonderful people who answered all my questions on the “helpline” at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Middletown.
I have been a Master Gardener for 11 years now. I enjoy being in the company of other volunteers who love plants, trees, shrubs and flowers. Go ahead and ask questions. I am happy to help others cultivate their love of nature!
Doug M., Middletown Master Gardener
Although I have lived in Orange County all my life, the experience of purchasing and renovating a neglected property in Middletown ignited a love for gardening which changed my life.
My gardening obsession led me away from a career in interior design to attaining a Certificate of Horticulture from the New York Botanical Garden where I also discovered my passion for creating botanical artwork. With that change in place, my life was now consumed by horticulture.
I was drawn to the Master Gardener program because it is a stimulating and satisfying educational process where members are continually receiving and sharing information.
I am especially drawn to the design and artistry of gardening and have led programs on container gardening and botanical drawing. I also enjoy projects where I can get my hands dirty.
My four years as a Master Gardener have been rewarding, especially the shared experiences with other volunteers.
Jim H., Monroe Master Gardener
I have lived in Orange County for 21 years but I am a native of Texas. I grew up in the fruit orchards of Dallas County, Texas and every home of mine has had a garden. A career in High Tech Communication took me around the globe six times. I have experienced a lot of things in my life, but I am pulled to the challenge of gardens.
I love vegetable gardening and I want to pass on my passion to elementary children. I am involved with two school gardens in Monroe. The North Main Garden is located in a 100-year-old church courtyard next to the school. It is a pollination garden with six raised beds and the vegetables are donated to a local food bank. We work with the Ecology Club and teach classes on recycling and composting.
The Pine Tree Elementary garden was built with donations from the Girl Scout cookie sales. This garden is totally managed by 3rd grade students and it is a learning garden from the soil up! The students plant seeds, learn correct watering techniques, transplant material, weed and mulch. It is a hands-on endeavor with no smartphones or computers.
The Master Gardening Program has given me the opportunity to give back to my community. What keeps the gardens running is the look in the children’s eyes when they pick a ripe vegetable!
Joe G., Warwick Master Gardener
I’m the son of a passionate gardener and grew up in a small Connecticut town in the 1970’s. Dad had a huge vegetable garden and I spent many hours with him there, tending his plants and growing an area of my own starting at age 7. Giant pumpkins were my favorite.
My gardening passion grew and I worked for a landscaper through high school and college. My adult career is in packaging, so my gardening passion had to be limited to a hobby, but I became a Master Gardener in 2013 to deepen my knowledge and spread my passion to others.
My retirement goal is to operate a farm, which I decided to start in my 40’s rather than wait. I farm part time, growing Hops and Shiitake Mushrooms and benefit from the education and access to information the Cooperative Extension network has provided through the Master Gardening program. I enjoy creating and presenting educational workshops through the MG program and writing articles for Gardening in Orange County and the Time Herald Record.
Kate H., Cuddebackville Master Gardener Volunteer
I have lived in Orange County for over 40 years, but I am originally from California. What brought me to the East Coast was a position as an instructor, and clinic coordinator, in SUNY Orange’s dental hygiene department.
When I learned of the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program, I was intrigued. I have always loved gardening, and I love teaching, so being part of a volunteer program where I could teach horticulture topics sounded perfect to me. I knew I would learn a lot when I started the MG training, but how much I learned, and have continued to learn for the past 11 years, is astounding!
I have also come to understand more about Cornell Cooperative Extension – what an incredible resource it is for the people of Orange County. Its scope of programs and outreach is amazing and inspiring.
I have been involved in community gardens, children’s programs, lectures, and workshops. They have been fun, interesting and satisfying. But what really amazes and delights me is the group of Master Gardeners themselves. They have a great variety of interests and specialties; they are talented, generous, and wonderful company! I feel lucky to be part of this group of volunteers.
Nancy F., Cornwall Master Gardener Volunteer
I graduated from the Orange County Master Gardener Program in March of 2016 following my retirement in 2015 as a Family Nurse Practitioner for Newburgh Enlarged City School District. My love for flower gardening expanded to vegetable gardening and a variety of gardening and health-related school programs. As a result of collaborations with the Orange County Department of Health Healthy Orange Team, the Newburgh Enlarged City School District’s Wellness Team and the Fuel Up to Play 60 grant, my journey lead me to my lifelong passion to be a Master Gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program.
The Master Gardener Program has provided me with opportunities for continued professional development in areas that require research-based gardening knowledge and has afforded me the opportunity to continue collaborations with other gardeners and associations.
A Master Gardener has many volunteer opportunities. I personally enjoy the Garden Help Line, writing for the Gardening in Orange County Newsletter, assisting student learning about bees, composting, flowers, vegetables, and bugs at the Orange County Arboretum.
Samantha G., Harriman Master Gardener Volunteer
My Master Gardener story is very simple. I have been a gardener ever since my mom said she would pay me a penny for every dandelion I dug up. I made ten dollars. Now I forbid dandelion removal in my yard! I came to Orange County in 2004, and promptly got a job in the Walmart lawn and garden department. I quickly realized that I was going to have to dig a little deeper to meet fellow gardeners and new friends. Lucky for me I noticed a small article in the local paper advertising the registration for the 2007-08 Master Gardener class. Although this really stretched my comfort zone, I knew that this program was what I needed to really become part of my new community. As a gardener I have very simple needs – a beautiful habitat in the middle of suburbia and a small garden to feed my family. As a Master Gardener it fills me with joy to show people how to find the answers for gardening success. I love to put the light back in their gardening shade.
This article first appeared in The Times-Herald Record on Saturday, February 16, 2019 in the Home & Garden section.
By Joe Gregoire, Orange County Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County
What made you decide to become a Master Gardener Volunteer and how do I know if the program is right for me? – Jackie from Port Jervis
I love this question and I’m asked often why I became a Master Gardener. As I’m a mid-career professional with a full-time job that occupies much of my time, people I work with are often curious how I have time and energy during the week to devote to volunteering as a Master Gardener. The training program took time to complete and in exchange for the education, all participants in the program give back more time through volunteer work throughout the year. So, instead of using my limited free time doing whatever I want, I make time to give back to the community. For me, its about passion. I’m passionate about gardening and have been from a very young age. And I have my Dad to thank for that.
One Saturday morning when I was seven, I came home from little league baseball to find the backyard and woods behind our house bull dozed into a large cleared field. Dad apparently had plans to start a vegetable garden and I wasn’t in the loop. Not that Dad needed my input, I was a little kid after all. But had I known what was coming, I could have removed my Matchbox cars from the sandbox the day before. I didn’t, and the bulldozer turned them into little treasures that would pop up in random parts of the backyard for years to come. And since I no longer had a sandbox to play in, playing in the dirt became the next best thing. And Dad made good use of me playing there, putting me to work weeding and watering, while quietly planting seeds in me that would grow into the deep passion I have for gardening today. The miracle of watching a tiny seed sprout and transform into a growing plant in a matter of days still gives me that sense of awe that is so rare in this busy world.
I find that carving out some of my free time to help share this passion and plant seeds in others like my Dad did for me, is rewarding beyond measure. While it takes my time, it gives me back energy, joy and relationships within my community I would not have otherwise. Sure, training for the program also expanded my gardening knowledge, but more importantly, it connected me to resources within the Cornell Extension office. I’ve used the training and resources to help expand my gardening hobby into a small farm business. And I’ve found opportunities to volunteer my time that help me hone skills I use in my full-time career, such as creating new presentations, public speaking, and writing articles (like this one).
So, what exactly is a Master Gardener Volunteer? The Master Gardener Volunteer Program is a national program of trained volunteers who work in partnership with their county Cooperative Extension office to provide home and community gardeners with research-based information and skills. In Orange County, Master Gardener Volunteers assist with gardening projects in the community, teach classes and workshops, work in school and community gardens, provide information at public events, and answer gardening questions through the Garden Helpline.
Who Becomes a Master Gardener Volunteer? Master Gardener Volunteers are adults of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. They range from having no professional gardening or landscaping experience, to very experienced gardeners. They all share a genuine interest in making the world more vibrant and livable through gardening. Master Gardener Volunteers are students, teachers, moms, dads, grandparents, working folks, retired people, and anything else you can imagine. All you need is a love for gardening, some time to volunteer, and a willingness to complete the training.
Master Gardener Training is completed locally in Middletown. Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County will hold its next training class for Master Gardeners starting in September 2019 and running through March 2020. The training will be held on Thursdays from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm. Applications will be sent out to interested individuals in the beginning of March 2019 and will be due back on April 19th, 2019. After applications are reviewed, interviews will be conducted in early May and final selections will be made. All applicants will be contacted by early August and notified of their standing. The training cost is $300. Scholarships are available.
If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer or want to learn more about the program, please contact:Susan Ndiaye, Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator,email@example.com, (845) 344-1234