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Weeds are more than inconvenient plants!
Whenever I hear someone say, “A weed is just a plant growing where you don't want it,” my internal botany nerd kicks into high gear.
In botanical science, there is a defined category of plants called weeds. It’s not a negative term, but rather it helps define very specific characteristics that only certain plants have. Weed plants are very adaptable and able to create symbiosis within a broad range of cultural conditions. They produce abundant amounts of viable seed. Weed plants have unique and clever mechanisms by which they disperse their seed farther and wider than non-weed plants.
Importantly, many weeds also provide the predominant basis of nutrition for a large number of pollinating insect species. In addition, weeds are often the first plants to move into territory disturbed by events such as forest fires and landslides. Weeds “re-vegetate” these areas and alter the soil biology, thereby preparing the ground for higher level plant families.
The idea that a weed is a simply a plant in an inconvenient location may be a popular sentiment, but it’s not accurate from a botanical point of view, and doesn’t reflect the importance of these plants. “Weed” is a specific category of plants that play a crucial role in our interconnected biosystem.
Maureen Murphy, owner
Bayview Farm & Garden
Love a Cedar Tree? Thank a Caterpillar!
It’s that time again… the tent caterpillars are back!
We get questions about tent caterpillars every day at Bayview Farm & Garden as we head into the upswing of their seven-to-nine year cycle. It’s amazing how many caterpillars there can be. Longtime Whidbey Islanders may recall 1985, when cars were skidding on the streets because of the thickness of caterpillar bodies.
We can show you how to control caterpillars in your garden and protect plants in a non-toxic way, but it’s also good to take a moment to appreciate our creepy crawly neighbors and the meaningful place they hold in the biosystem.
Their host plant is the Red Alder (called “red” because of how they look in the spring when the buds are swelling). In the years when tent caterpillar numbers are large, they all but completely defoliate the alders. This opens up the forest floor to sun, rain and air circulation. The fallen insect frass (caterpillar poop) provides rich nutrient to the baby conifer seedlings and saplings.
When you hear the raining sound of something that isn't rain, it’s Mama Nature fertilizing her garden. During this time, conifers enjoy a huge growth spurt and get a boost past the understory brush. Alders help prepare the ground for the royalty of the great coniferous forest, primarily Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock. Alders take nitrogen out of the air and deposit it into the soil (magic, right?) If you pull a baby Alder seedling from the ground and look at the roots, you can see the little nitrogen nodules.
However, when caterpillars exit their nests, they start to eat and never seem to stop. When they leave the Alder forest and head into gardens, their favorite treats seem to be the leaves of apple and cherry trees and roses, but anything leafy in your veggie garden will do.
So while we do need to protect our gardens and plants, some perspective on this amazing little creature may help us get through caterpillar season with greater understanding of the place we live.
By the way, if you see a little white dot on the back of a caterpillar's head, that is an egg from a beneficial predatory wasp, whose population ebbs and flows opposite the tent caterpillar. You might want to leave it alone as the wasp has plans for this one...but that's another chapter...
Bayview Farm & Garden
You may have heard that you should plant peas around Presidents Day. This may be good advice in some parts of the country, but around here many people experience that as too early. Our Northwest soils are still very cold and water saturated in mid-February. Many times the seed simply rots before it has a chance to germinate. This is also a time of year when the birds and mice are scavenging vigorously for food. They love the taste of those water softened pea seeds and will scratch them up, leaving you wondering why your peas didn’t come up. The main reason for sowing pea seed early is that peas are a cool season plant. When it gets too hot into the summer, they will quit bearing fruit and the season is over for peas. However, on Whidbey Island, our summer temperatures generally stay on the moderate side. This provides for a naturally extended cool growing season, which is not great for things like tomatoes and melons, but is just right for peas.
Whether sweet peas or vegetable peas, it helps to start them indoors around President’s Day. Soak the seed overnight in water before planting to help soften the seed coat. Plant outdoors in mid-March. Be sure to dig in plenty of compost to the seed bed, and organic granular fertilizer. Hit is with some liquid fish fertilizer after they are up and running to help the process along. Beware of slugs rasping off the tender new growth. If we have a hot, early summer (fat chance), your harvest season will be short, but most likely you’ll have some fresh peas to enjoy with friend and family for the Fourth of July picnic.
Bayview Farm and Garden
The winds of November begin to blow in earnest. The last of the autumn-colored leaves and late season flower petals are blown swirling into the air and settle into the nooks and crannies of our garden, our neighbors' gardens and the thicket and forest beyond. The apparel of summer is finally shed and fall cleanup is done. Many people move indoors and forget about the garden for the winter except to dream of spring's eventual rebirth and splendor. But for those who plan for the beauty of the winter garden, this time of year is just one brief phase between the inhale and exhale of Mother Nature's great cycle.
The palette of the winter landscape offers a voluminous range of garden fascination. There is the richness and texture of the distinguished class of plants known as conifers, and the varnished, glistening family of the broadleaf evergreens. We see the striped, flaking, or mottled bark of the deciduous trees in every color from glossy copper to ghost white, or the bounteous clusters of many-colored berries adorning twigs and branches. In addition to these, it is the blossoms of winter that are most welcome during the short and misty days.
We marvel at the color and fragrance of these off-season performers, complete with the attending pollinating winds and the insects that for some complex biological reason prefer to feast and labor with a winter seasonal bias.
Here in the temperate maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest, we are most fortunate to be able to include in our garden palette a fine and ample selection of winter blooming ornamentals.
As most of the plant world seems to be tucking in for a long winter's nap, there are several groups of camellias that are waking up fresh and ready with a full autumn and winter chorus of color and fragrance. The broadleaf evergreen, Camellia sasanqua varieties begin popping their single or semi-double, and often fragrant blooms as early as October and continue through the entire winter depending on the variety. They range in color from pure white, bi-color pinks and white, shades of deep rich rose to pale pinks, and reds. These elegant plants drop their spent blooms modestly and inconspicuously, a characteristic adding to their charming well-behaved manner.
The pink flowers of the Viburnum bodnatense begin to emerge just after the leaves have dropped in November. This stiffly upright deciduous shrub offers a pink cloud of full bloom around the Christmas holiday and erratic, light spot blooming in the summer and fall. Cut the branches to force indoors for a softly fragrant mid-winter floral arrangement.
Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera standishii are two members of the Honeysuckle genus. They are shrubby, twiggy species that are essentially invisible during the summertime in their foliage phase and are not overly showy in their flowering phase, but put your nose up to the small, white tubular flowers and breathe deeply for a profound experience in aromatherapy! These Honeysuckles are wonderful for cutting the bare woody branches just before the buds open. Bring them inside to fill the room with a sweet, gardenia-like perfume in the depth of winter.
No Northwest garden is complete without the glistening green foliage and sweet, heady perfume of the Sarcococca species. Also known as Vanilla Plant or Winter Box, this plant produces numerous tiny, cream-white fragrant florets that cling to the undersides of the stems, and infuse the air with a delicious vanilla-like scent. Locate this plant in a shady location near a door or walkway to delight your senses as you pass by. Sarcococca begins blooming in January.
Probably the best and most profound genus of winter-blooming plants is the group called Hamamelis or the Witch Hazels. These slow-growing and stable aristocrats offer beguilingly fragrant flowers with fringey, strap-like sepals. Superb work has been done in the cross breeding of Hamamelis species to produce some excellent cultivars. Look for H. mollis 'Pallida' with its butter yellow flowers. 'Diane' produces a rich and somewhat brooding dark red, and 'Jelena' is an intriguing coppery orange. ‘Arnold’s Promise is considered by many to be the best yet of the Witch Hazels. This fragrant plant, with its clear yellow flowers, wins the prize for the heaviest crop of blossoms and the longest bloom progression. As the Witch Hazels mature, they begin to set the garden awash in an ambrosial scent beginning in January.
The visual display and gentle fragrance of the Corylopsis species, or Winter Hazels, provide a brightly architectural effect in the winter garden. The smaller, spreading C. pauciflora or Buttercup Winter Hazel is best for smaller spaces. C. sinensis, the 10’ tall Chinese Winter Hazel, requires more open space. The vertical aspect of the drooping catkins on the shrubs' naturally graceful structure conveys the sense that the garden is decked with soft yellow tinsel.
A conversation on winter bloomers is not complete without noting the importance of the wondrous genus Helleborus. For ease of care, multi-seasonal interest, adaptability, handsome foliage, generous flower display, and color range, the Hellebores are second to none. My favorite is the Helleborus orientalis or Lenten Rose. It affords a wide range of flower color; white, many shades of pink, reds, purples and near blacks. Some flowers are handsomely speckled, some solid, all beautiful. Grown in full to part shade, the flowers emerge in late January from great clumps of bold, leathery foliage to nod and glow in the crisp, pre-vernal air, announcing that spring is not far off. Helleborus niger, or Christmas Rose, is slow to establish, but worth the wait for its clean, white, single rose-like flowers. H. foetidus brightens any dark January day with light creamy-green, not quite chartreuse flowers and rich, dark green, finely textured foliage. H. argutifolius or Corsican Hellebore is more adapted to sunnier situations. It has gray-green spiny foliage and large chartreuse flowers.
Also noteworthy are the genus' Sycopsis, Stachyurus, Chimonanthus, Daphne and Abeliophyllum. All are admirable in the winter garden and all are compatible with the style of our native landscape of conifers, ferns, salal, and huckleberry.
Whether planted against the backdrop of stately conifers or woven into a mixed border, the winter bloomers create a colorful tapestry that can carry the garden and our senses through the seemingly long months of darkness and dormancy with a subtle and quiet grace until the wild riot of spring begins again.
Bayview Farm & Garden
The days are shorter, our clocks have been set back... Flowers have medicinal properties not only for our bodies but also for our souls! A Fall and Winter Container to greet you in the morning when you leave for work can brighten your day. Check out this free tutorial from Maureen Murphy, Owner of Bayview Farm and Garden on how to create a gorgeous container to lift your spirits and match your style! Did you know that you can plant spring bulbs in your fall containers? Check it out! For more cool tips from our expert staff be sure to Like us on Facebook and Sign up for our E-News (links in the sidebar).
Did you know that the best time to plant trees, shrubs, vines and most perennials on Whidbey is during the months of September, October and November? The soil is still warm, the temperatures are cool and the rain (thankfully) begins. Planting in the fall cuts way down on the need to water, and allows the plant to slowly establish a strong root system underground while everything above ground is moving into a restful dormant phase. By the time spring arrives, the plant is well rooted and ready to blast into a new growing season.
At the time of planting, be sure to work in plenty of organic matter such as compost or steer manure. This, and a handful or two of a good quality organic fertilizer with probiotics will go a long way toward establishing the roots, improving the soil condition and encouraging healthy microbial action.
Fall Check List:
* Clean up debris from vegetable beds, dig in extra compost, plant winter vegetables, or sow winter cover crop seed on beds that are to remain fallow.
* Plant the spring blooming bulbs: daffodil, tulip, crocus, allium, iris, hyacinth, anemone, fritillaria. Pansies and Forget-Me-Nots are perfect for planting over bulbs. Don’t forget the bulb fertilizer...it makes a big difference.
* Plant garlic, shallots and some onion varieties. Select a bed that has not grown plants in the allium family for at least three years to break any disease cycles. These tasty bulbs are fun and easy to grow.
* Do some light pruning and shaping on summer blooming deciduous shrubs. Fruit trees can be pruned after harvest. Take the time to learn to do this properly through classes or seminars, or hire someone who has had actual training in pruning. Always check the background and references of anyone you hire for this kind of work. Improper pruning creates worse problems.
* Withhold fertilizer from container fuchsias and geraniums if you plan to winter them over. It’s time to let them slow down and harden off.
* Plan for fall color in the garden. Excellent trees for our area include, Katsura, Liquidambar, Red Maple, Ginkgo, Vine Maple, Japanese Maples, Korean Dogwood, Oxydendron (Sourwood), Parrotia, Stewartia, Amelanchier....Good deciduous shrubs: Euonymus (Burning Bush), Hamamelis (Witch Hazel), Aronia (Chokecherry), Enkianthus, Fothergilla, Kerria, Blueberry (the one called ‘Toro” is dynamite!), Smoke Bush, Oak-Leaf Hydrangea, Nandina, many Viburnums, many Spiraeas...the list is long.
* Groom and wash houseplants that have been outdoors for the summer. It’s time to bring them in without any unwanted house guests.
* Install, reseed and feed the lawn. Cooler temperatures are ideal for good root development of the lawn. The fall feeding is the most important one of the year. Cooler temperatures also stimulate lawn growth and another mowing may be necessary.
* Transplant trees and shrubs. As soon as plants show fall color or exhibit signs of dormancy, you can start transplanting. Be sure plants are well watered a couple of days before and immediately after transplanting. Liquid seaweed extract works wonders in eliminating transplant shock.
* Transplant and divide perennials if needed. Some perennials are best to plant and transplant in the spring, such as Lavender, Rosemary, Santolina, Lithodora, and some later summer blooming perennials.
* Look for dried pods, berries, hips, cones, flowers and twigs to collect for holiday decorating.
...and if you do all these things this fall, you certainly are one energetic gardener...hats off to you!
Bayview Farm & Garden
Farm & Garden