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Growing Roses Fearlessly

By Lee Macneil, North Reading Garden Club


When I have the opportunity to speak to people about growing roses, there are a few comments that I hear repeatedly. The most common is " Oh, I have tried to grow roses, they always die on me!" Another one I have heard so many times is "I would never try to grow ROSES, they need so much attention, and I donít have the time.Ē  Well, I am here to tell you that things are changing in the world of rose gardening.  We are entering an exciting new era of hardier, more disease resistant roses. Combine that with safer and easier to use chemicals that keep our gardens pest and disease free.  New effective methods in organic gardening have also been developed recently much to the delight of gardeners who choose not to use synthetic chemicals.


Perhaps your experience with growing roses consisted of planting a Hybrid Tea rose that was packed into a plastic bag full of shavings. You bought it at a local department store, supermarket, or even drug store.  If so, donít blame yourself for losing that rose.  Hybrid tea roses (which have the flower style of a florists rose) are notoriously tender in colder climates.  The poor thing had its roots chopped back mercilessly to get it into that skinny bag. And most of the roses that are packed that way are older varieties from back when the rose breeders didnít concentrate nearly as much on breeding roses that were disease resistant.  So in effect, you bought a handicapped rose. If it lived for a year or two, you did really well.


These days, rose hybridizers (or breeders) are producing many roses that are classed as Shrub or Landscape roses. While most shrub roses do not have the high centered bloom of a hybrid tea, they compensate by producing many more blossoms, and blooming nearly constantly throughout the season.  They are garden workhorses, providing beauty and vibrant color in the border garden, or mixed perennial bed.  I like to recommend that anyone new to growing roses start with a potted bush from the " Knockout" or " Carefree" named series. These roses can do very nicely with nothing other than plenty of sun, and regular watering.


Try a shrub rose in your garden this year, it will change your opinion about growing roses forever. You may even get totally hooked on them, like me.


Feeding Backyard Birds

by Charlene Malek

Today one in three households in North American feed backyard birds at an average of sixty pounds of seed per year. New Englanders are the most enthusiastic providers with the highest percentage of households. Although there is evidence that people were offering food to wild birds many centuries ago, it was not until the 19th century that the actual idea of enjoying birds simply for pleasure first emerged. The pioneer of the feeding of birds was probably the German nobleman Baron von Berlepsch in the 188Os. He used feeding devices and nest boxes to encourage birds, although part of his purpose was the supposed control of insect pests. He poured fat on twigs of trees. Peanuts, as a food to attract birds, were introduced in the 1950ís. Presently there is a range of food types and equipment available that are scientifically tested by companies so that feeding birds is practical and enjoyable.

In addition to commercial means to attract birds, a well- planned landscape can beautify your property and also attract and feed birds. Trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, native and cultural plants can be utilized in your landscape plans. Grow a couple of plants from each of the groups to provide seeds and fruits for all seasons.

Trees offer shelter for birds that visit your yard. Both evergreen and deciduous trees can provide an escape from predators, a winter shelter, or spring nesting place. Also the sap, seeds, and berries are a source of food. Blue spruce, mulberry, and cedar are among the possibilities.

Shrubs planted in groups allow birds a haven to scrutinize your yard without the fear of being discovered by cats and other predators. Some shrubs hold their fruit and seeds longer than others so check with your garden center to be sure. Some that do sustain a food source are cotoneaster, Virginia creeper, firethorn, and common juniper.

Flowering plants are a significant food source for some varieties of birds such as sparrows, finches, and chickadees. At the end of the blooming season, leave the dried flowers as is for the birds. Annuals that produce seeds are cosmos, larkspur, snapdragon, and bachelor button. Bee balm, tickseed, and purple coneflower are perennials that will add color and a food source to your garden.

The secret to bringing birds to your backyard is to provide diverse, appropriate habitat with vegetation that provides shelter and natural food. These plants--and a water element such as a bird- bath or small pool--also help attract insects that are dined upon by many bird species.

Bird watching is the second most popular passive sport after gardening. With the arrival of spring, why not enjoy the beauty of songbirds by placing feeders, commercial or natural in your landscape? You never know who will come to visit!



The Importance of Garden Soil Testing

By Lee Macneil, North Reading Garden Club

 A simple soil test is one of gardenerís most valuable tools, and is one many of us often neglect.  It provides detailed instructions on how to amend your soil, and adjust your pH, specifically to the type of plants you wish to grow.  Vegetables, annuals and perennials, roses, shrubs, fruit trees, and lawn grass all require different levels of nutrients to perform at their peak. The soil test will show you just how your soil measures up.

Our New England soil tends to be very acidic, usually measuring 4.5- 5.5.  Many common plants, with the exception of azaleas, Rhodies, and Blueberries,  prefer a higher pH. The test will tell you if its necessary to adjust your soilís pH level and how to do it.

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst provides a soil-testing lab for our region. They offer several basic levels of tests ranging in cost from $4.00 for a simple pH test, to $50.00 for a hydrometer analysis of soil texture.  For the very reasonable fee of $13.00, they will perform a standard soil test with organic matter determination. This includes pH, buffer pH, Nutrient levels, heavy metal levels, (such as lead). When you send your sample, you label it with exactly what type of plants you are growing. The soil analysis includes the detailed recommendations for adding nutrients and adjusting the pH specifically for those plants.

Testing your soil not only provides us with the key to optimum plant growing conditions; it can sometimes save us money by showing what we may not need to be adding to our soil.

Right now is the best time to test your soil because samples should not be taken from freshly fertilized soil.

Please visit this link  for the Umass soil lab.  Their printable brochure and order form contains full instructions for collecting the sample and marking and packaging it. For further questions call the soil lab at (413) 545-2311.




By Charlene Malek

With the warm temperatures of the past days, many people are beginning to "think spring" which means sowing seeds for outdoor planting. A novice may ask why start plants indoors?  Besides providing a late winter project, it allows for the gardener to plant flower seeds that are too small to begin growth outdoors or that may take such a long time to bloom that they need a head start to maximize bloom time.  Among the annuals that will grow better if started indoors are begonia, coleus, dianthus, geranium, impatiens, lobelia, marigold, pansy, petunia, and snapdragon.

Most annuals should be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before being planted outdoors, some require 10 to 12 weeks of growth.  Those mentioned above need the latter. Check your seed packet to be sure. To sow your seeds, choose an appropriate container.  You can either purchase plastic or peat flats or make your own from clean, inch deep containers that have drainage holes in the bottom. Fill the container with a mixture of peat moss and vermiculite or perlite.  You can combine your own or buy ready-made mix. The lightweight potting medium is more sterile than regular potting soil and can help prevent disease which often kills or damages young seedlings.

Fill the container to within 1/4 inch of the top with premoistened medium. Sow the seeds evenly over the top.  Cover the seeds only as deep as their thickness.  Fine seeds do not need covering. Label the container and place in a plastic bag tied tight to keep in moisture.  Place in indirect sunlight.

When seeds have germinated, remove the plastic bag and place the seedlings in a sunny location. Water from the bottom if possible to prevent uprooting the tender growth.  Add fertilizer to water once growth is evident.  Transplant seedlings to their own pot when two sets of true leave have developed.

To transplant outdoors once frost is no longer a danger, you must "harden off" your seedlings.  Place them outside in a protested spot for a few hours a day, increasing the time every day. (A screened porch is ideal.) Plant outdoors as you would bedding plants, being careful not to damage the stem.  It is best to handle by the leaves. Sowing seeds indoors extends the satisfaction of gardening!



Keeping cut greens fresh through the Holidays

by Lee Macneil, North Reading Garden Club

Everyone enjoys the sight and scent of fresh greenery in their homes during the Holiday season!  However the warmth and dryness of a heated home poses a challenge in keeping greens from drying out and losing their vibrant color and fragrance and dropping their needles and leaves.  Properly cared for greens can last two to three weeks.  Those without a water source must be replaced much sooner.  Here are some tips for keeping holiday greenery looking fresher longe

*  When cutting your own greenery, cut in the morning or late afternoon, when plants are at their highest water content. Greens that you may have in your yard that are suitable for cutting are Ė Pines, Spruce, Fir, Cedar, Juniper, Boxwood, Holly, Rhododendron, winter creeper and Ivy.

   *  Soak fresh cut or purchased greens overnight in a tub or large bucket of water, allow to dry with cut ends submerged in water.  If you wish to use a commercial anti transpirant (Wilt-pruf or Cloud cover), now is the time to do it. These are sprays that help lock moisture in. (Do this outdoors.

    *  Re-cut, crush and splay woody stems, Remove all needles or leaves that will be below water level in your containers.

   *  Floral preservatives may be purchased from florists or craft stores.  They will help extend the life of all plant material.

   *  Large boughs or branches may be arranged in deep containers filled with pebbles to keep them upright, then filled with water.

   * Smaller displays can be arranged in shallower containers using "Oasis " (Floristís wet foam) Soak the foam in water or preservative before inserting stems.

    *  Check water levels in containers often! Woody stems take up a lot of water!  Keep filled as needed. Spray with a mister or spray bottle, especially pieces without a water source such as swags, wreaths, and garlands.

    *  Whenever pieces are not on display, keep them in a cool place, such as an unheated garage.

     * To prolong freshness do not display near heat sources, like registers, lights, fireplaces or direct sunlight.

     * Use extreme caution when using lighted candles with any type of arrangement!  Make sure candle flame is at least 10" from greenery.  Use only the freshest moist material, and never burn unattended!

Storing Summer Bulbs

Contributed by Charlene Malek

Prevent your summer bulbs from rotting over the winter by following these tips.

*Dig up bulbs such as dahlia, caladium, canna,calla lily, tuberous begonia, and gladiolus after the frost has killed foliage.

*Let them dry in the sun for a day or two. Brush or clean off the soil and cut off remaining foliage.

*Discard any bruised, nicked,moldy,or diseased bulbs.

*Store bulbs in dry peat moss, sand, or sawdust in a location about 40F to 50F with about 50% humidity. A cool basement or garage will work. Remember that heat and moisture can cause rot and freezing temperatures will kill the bulb.

*Cover containers to keep out critters and insects.

Fall Planting Ideas

By Lee MacNeil

While we all enjoy the thrill of the spring planting season, we should remember that the late summer/early fall season is an excellent time to plant Trees, shrubs and perennials, as well as the spring flowering bulbs.

Planting spring flowering trees and shrubs in the fall gives them a great head start towards their flowering season, Cooler fall temperatures lessen transplant shock, and if planted before the first week of November they will have adequate time to grow healthy new roots before the ground freezes.

Evergreens because they are so prone to desiccation, are best planted before the end of September here in our zone. Always be sure to water heavily right up until the ground is frozen! Evergreens can also benefit by spraying with Wilt-Pruf or other moisture retaining spray.

There are a few woody ornamentals that establish roots so slowly you should avoid planting now, and wait until spring, These are; Fir, Birch, Gingko, Magnolia, Ornamental Pear and Hemlock.

Perennials planted in fall should be mulched with a good 2" layer of straw or bark mulch, this helps to retain moisture and will help insulate the plants roots from repeated freezing and thawing. I like to be sure to put the plantís nametag deeply into the soil This first year, so I donít inadvertently weed it out in the spring!

Another great reason to plant in the fall is the fantastic clearance sales many nurseries have to avoid wintering over potted stock! But perhaps the best reason is that it feels so good to be outdoors on a crisp autumn afternoon working in the garden! No heat, no humidity, no insects, Sheer bliss!



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Last modified: 10/08/2006