Punxsutawney’s Plight and Your Garden

What it really means for early Spring.

What it really means for early Spring.

It’s not easy for Punxsutawney Phil, or groundhogs in general. Also known as woodchucks, their name coming from the Algonquin (or possibly Narragansett) Indian word for the animal “Wuchak”. They have a heavy load; forecasting the entire coming of Spring without the aid of a meteorology degree or Doppler Radar. In fact, they only have one moment to do this monumental task, every February 2nd, also known as Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day began as a Pennsylvania German custom in the southwestern and central areas of Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, though it has it’s roots in ancient European weather lore (where it was a badger or sacred bear in the lead role). It is possible that this legend began as a folk embodiment of the confusion at the collision of two calendars. Some ancient traditions mark the change of season when holidays such as Imbolc, the Celtic celebration of the first annual experience that daylight makes a significant progress to the night. Other traditions held Spring’s start at the Vernal Equinox. So to settle the dispute, the Groundhog was thrust between these two factions, it’s Shadow Determination held forth to bring end to the crisis. He or she may use code words such as “shadow” or “clear, sunny day”, but what the Groundhog really is saying is “Danger”. And “chill out.”

But what does this all mean for us, the Central Texas Gardener? Early Spring temperatures can have an effect on not only your precious plot, but also your very health.

There are many factors to a plant deciding to bloom, soil nutrients, water, sun exposure, but day length and ambient temperature are key factors. Plants have proteins that sense the length of darkness, some plants require a certain length of this dark period to bloom at all,  and this can mean warmer weather will have no affect on them at all.

However some herbaceous plants quickly die back after blooming, ie. daffodils, and an early spring can lead to an early dormancy. One warm day will not be enough to trick plants into bloom, but quite a few can do the trick. Many warm days can raise the temperature of the soil, changing not only seed germination and planting dates, but also the length of not only blooms, but a plant’s harvest length and growing season. Spinach, best planted in colder temperatures, will not last as long in our Texas summers.

Also, warmer temperatures can signal plant dangers. Insect emergence is triggered by temperature. Therefore, in years with an early bloom, there is an earlier insect emergence as well.

If you are an allergy sufferer, here is a caveat: Folks with limited pollen allergies, oak pollen for example, may not be as affected, but broad pollen sufferers, oak, grass, and rag weed, may be in for a rough summer.

So if an Early Spring possibly leads to shorter flowering periods, less of certain plant growth times, faster insects, and allergies, can you imagine the weight groundhogs must feel? And all the publicity, not to mention a bunch of suited-up Pennsylvanian men in top-hats pulling them from their warm burrows without warning, to bring possible terrible news to their fellow Americans everywhere?

The next time you see a groundhog, give him/her a smile and maybe a hug. They’ve earned it.

Squirrel Appreciation

Show the squirrels a little love.

Show the squirrels a little love.

In theory, everyone likes Squirrels. And why not, they are bushy-tailed, good-looking, little chaotic tricksters that have co-existed around most of us all our lives. Their antics are ridiculous, their offspring are adorable, they are a constant source of nature’s entertainment at your window, or front porch. But for a gardener planting their Spring beds, these furballs are Enemy Number One. Following are some of the reasons why, and steps for prevention naturally, and with out causing your furry buddy any harm.

We all know of their affinity to cache, or bury their nuts and seeds in the garden for future consumption, disrupting your careful laid bed, accidentally tearing at newly-planted stems. But they also enjoy eating bulbs, stems, roots, and seeds too, leaving your entirely new arrangement in danger of being dug up, and snacked upon. Two ways to avoid this reality are to plant non-edible bulbs, such as Daffodils, that Squirrels have no taste for, there by keeping them from spending much time in an unwanted area. But until these bulbs have grown, and established, thereby becoming uninteresting to said Squirrels, placing a layer of wire mesh over the soil is helpful. The spaces in the mesh must allow growth of the bulbs, but no room to dig underneath. Weigh it down with bricks, and remove it when the plants have begun to grow substantially.

Squirrels also enjoy the woodsy, fibrous flavor of tree bark, and can do much damage to the shade-providing giants that you have carefully planted around. Since damage to that tree can have long-term significant impact on your garden and your environment, prevention of the destruction is crucial. Wrapping your trees lower layer of bark with a 24″(60cm) wide layer of aluminum flashing around the base of your tree trunks. Use aluminum, or stain-less steel nails or screws to attach the metal to your trunk, and don’t worry. A nail of this size, inserted 1″ into the bark won’t hurt it. The tree should compartmentalize, and heal around the wound just fine.

Bird Feeders are a prime target of our furry marauders, the seeds and nuts provided are definite bounty. But their theft can keep out the very visitors you are trying to feed. You can set up a Squirrel-proof feeder with a cone-shaped cover that Squirrels can’t break into, some of these also spin, shaking them off, and providing you with some much-needed giggles. If your bird feeder is on a pole, however, I cannot emphasize how amazing Vaseline is, as you can see in the following video. Hi-Jinks for hours.

With a little careful ingenuity, and compassion, you, your garden, and these little furballs can live peacefully for years. Patience and resourcefulness almost always win the day. Good Luck, Gardeners!

-Heather Coffey

National Bird Day, Everyday.

 

Our native Texas Birds come in a rainbow of awesome!

Our native Texas Birds come in a rainbow of awesome!

National Bird Day was January 5th. A holiday dedicated to bird watching, bird adoptions, and protecting threatened bird species.  We may be a couple days late but we here at Seedlings Gardenings wanted to discuss a few reasons why Birds play an elemental and positive role in your garden and your life, year round.

  • Birds are a better source of pest control than most companies I have seen, and they won’t involve harmful pesticides. Many insects from aphids, spiders and mosquitoes, to caterpillars and snails are on the menu for our avian friends.
  • They are efficient pollinators. Nectar-sippers such as Hummingbirds and Orioles flock to vibrant flower garden blooms, helping give an extra boost to your blossoms, which in turn creates more blossoms which equates to more bird visits.
  •  Our avian friends are weed fighters. Finches, towhees, and sparrows consume mass quantities of seeds, mostly those of weeds, helping prevent germination of unwanted plants. In turn, planting seed-producing flowers for your feathered friends gives them a natural food source that encourages visits, without extra visits to the grocery or pet stores.
  • They are also helpful decorators. producing bird-friendly landscapes typically make use of native plants that are drought tolerant, therefore cutting costs on both your wallet, and our water table. These plants are also more capable of withstanding our zone’s harsher weather, such as freezes, and rain-less months. This landscape in turn can mean higher property values for the homeowner. Well-maintained, native appropriate landscaping that attracts birds and butterflies has typically a better curb appeal, and shows a good investment in home sales.
  • But most importantly, and in keeping with National Bird Day, observing backyard birds can give the homeowner and their family a unique opportunity to study their local wildlife, with events such as migration, seasonal plumage changes, courtship behaviour, nesting, and parental roles. In our continually diminishing wildlife habitats, introducing private backyard sanctuaries provides a critical preserve for local species, and migrating visitors.
From pest and weed control, to prettier environments and higher valued homes, Birds are a heavy-weight contributor to an all around healthier home.
-Heather Coffey

Now What to do With That Tree?

Have a pet lion? They will gladly snuggle your old tree?

Have a pet lion? They will gladly snuggle your old tree!

The holidays were lovely, everyone exchanged presents, we all ate too much and napped in front of the TV, but it’s time to clean up all the shredded paper and decide how to handle the holiday mess. That festive tree is still looming in the corner, quietly dropping needles that you’ll find for months. You should sort that out.

There are a variety of options. Pay attention.

Obviously, recycling is the best idea.

Strip your tree of ornaments, tinsel, all that, and let the city have its way. Simple and efficient. But if you’d like to do something more creative, keep reading.

1. Insulation!

Strip the tree of live limbs. You’re going to want to place those limbs on the

ground around the plants that require ground cover for the cold months. This really isn’t that

necessary in most of Texas as the majority of the state doesn’t get cold enough for the ground to

freeze. But you can use the boughs as a makeshift insulation cover for gardens if needed.

 

2.Bird Sanctuary!

Move the tree, with the stand, out to your yard. If you’re the type

that’s concerned about aesthetics and what the Johnsons will think, use your backyard. Once out

there, attach any birdhouses you have lying about and/or hang bits of cardboard or wood smeared

with suet, a type of animal fat that the internet tells me is available at most grocery stores. You’ll

have happy, warm birds and your cat will sit in the window doing that weird cat noise they do

when they see birds.

 

3.Erosion Prevention!

Erosion is an increasingly devastating issue, particularly along the coast lands in East

Texas. Louisiana has in the past set up several programs to combat this problem. Tragically, these

organizations have lost funding in recent years but the idea is sound and worth looking

into.

4. Fish Sanctuary!

Sinking your tree (tinsel and ornaments removed) into a private pond or lake creates a watery

haven for your fishy friends. Plus, I think that’s just a really eerie visual image.

5. Hiking Trails!

In a similar vein,many parks and hiking trails will take old trees to use as path barriers, or mulch them to keep their

trails maintained.

6. Plant It?

Finally, if you’re the type to have a tree every year, it may be a wise investment to get a

rooted tree this year. It will typically come bagged, generally burlap, and you can use it normally

for the holidays then plant it in your yard. Most Christmas trees generally do well in mild

climates, so summer may result in dropped needles and, to be honest, occasional death of the tree.

However there are plenty of indigenous evergreens that can survive in Texas.

It’s an excellent choice to save money and reduce your holiday trash.

 

More information about this can be found all over the place, but

Real Christmas Tree is an incredibly comprehensive and helpful site. For this one

very specific topic. Don’t go looking for automotive tips or anything there.

-Thomas North

A Christmas Tree Year Round!

Living Christmas!

Living Christmas!

Christmas is not so secretly one of my favorite holidays, and one of the main reasons for this is sitting in a pot on my piano bench right now.

My Christmas Tree!

The tradition of the Christmas Tree was first recorded as a budding tradition in early modern Germany. It came to England with George III’s wife, and later was embraced nation-wide after Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert made it a main stay in their celebrations in 1841.

The tradition jumped the Atlantic Ocean, following the publication of Godey’s Lady’s Book and by the 1870’s putting up a Christmas Tree was common in America.

Very few things are as compelling to me as the smell of pine, immediately evoking a freshness, cold air, and an almost quiet sacredness, like an old growth forest. Snow-covered mountains, sleds, woodland creatures, and more.
But living as we do in Zone 8-9 and 1/2, snow-covered forest glens seem far and few between. However, our rocky hill country yields many options for that Old Tannenbaum feel that you can experience year round.

Leyland and Arizona Cypresses, Junipers, Afghan Pines, and Italian Stone Pines can fit the bill and each have a unique feel and fun history.

In 1888, six seedlings of a hybrid of Monterey Cypress, and Alaskan Cedar were discovered at Leighton Hall in the South Of Wales. The trees were growing on the estate, and crossbred purely by accident, a feat rare for conifers.
Propagated root cuttings only, The Leyland Cypress is a sterile hybrid. Because it does not find itself in the Pine or Fir family, it does not produce sap, thereby making it the ideal Christmas Tree for those with an allergy. Found at tree farms, it is highly sought after as a wind break, and ornamental tree.

Arizona Cypress is a native Texan via Big Bend National Park. Compact, drought-tolerant, and fast-growing, it is highly prized also as a specimen tree, and a dense wind break on the Plains, and with it’s adaptability to different soil situations, and love of full sun, Arizona Cypress is a delight. it is listed as a popular choice on the local organization, TreeFolks free sapling program. It even helps control erosion in dry areas. A perfect Christmas Tree for the Southwest.

Junipers, coniferous trees in the Cypress family, Cypressaceae, have a multitude of uses, beyond an excellent front yard Christmas tree. The Dutch word for juniper is genever, which is the source of gin’s name, the berries being a major ingredient in the flavor. It is also used as a spice in many culinary dishes.

There are many different types of junipers, with vastly different cultural uses. Some are used in landscaping; some as bonsai. Some given the common name of cedar, are the true source of the red cedar found in cedar chests. Some types, the tar or sap are used as a ceramic decorator, and as tooth care. Some indigenous people have recommended it’s use for treating diabetes, as a female contraceptive, and to treat asthma, sciatica, and even to hasten childbirth. It is even used to cleanse homes from bad spirits as a smudging device.

Afghan Pines, or The Lonestar Christmas Tree, has another name, Eldarica Pine. First discovered in the Middle East some 2500 years ago, it in 500 BC Persia was a highly prized, and forbidden forest provider, called “The Tree Of Royalty”.

First introduced to the United States in 1961 from Afghanistan, it now thrives in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. It retains it’s Christmas Tree shape it’s entire life with out pruning, looks much like a Scotch Pine, and is an excellent container plant. It provides much shade, while requiring low amounts of water. If you are looking to have a forest in the middle of a desert, Afghan Pine may be your answer.

Italian Stone Pines, a popular table-top Christmas Tree, an apartment-dwellers favorite, has gained the award of The Royal Horticultural Society”s Award of Garden Merit. Perfectly suited to our Zone 9 climate, this little Mediterranean gem has a range from North Africa to New South Wales. It’s edible pine nuts have kept this tree cultivated since prehistoric times. Also known as the parasol, or umbrella pine, it has widespread cultivation as a popular ornamental tree.

So how does one keep that Christmas vibe all year long?

As with any forest, it begins with a single tree. To insure a tree’s long life, proper planting is essential.

  • First, when choosing a location, survey the area. Is there enough sun, or even indirect light?
  • Depending on how big the tree is supposed to grow, make sure there is enough room around the proposed base, the roots will stretch as wide as the tree grows tall.
  • When digging your hole, make sure it is two to three times the size of the root ball.
  • After placing, add a little compost in with the soil.
  • Water your new tree really thoroughly.
  • Follow with some foliar feed, spraying the leaves as well, hence the name.
  • Voila, your forest beginnings!

Each of these trees mentioned are perfect for three reasons.

  1. They are all suited to our climate, Zone 8-9 1/2. Drought tolerant, heat. Less water.
  2. They each are perfect for a momentary partner in the Christmas celebration, embodying all of the ideals.
  3. For the Purposes of Conservation, a new tree that requires little water and has maximum effect helps with erosion, heating and cooling, and our very emotional state in general.

So for those of you desiring that forest glen, that cabin hidden in the woods, that Narnia feel, these options will help take you from rocky hill country, to a Christmas Rocky Mountain High.

-written by Heather Coffey