Saturday, March 4, 2023

Plans for 2023

 2022 was a particularly bad year  for me in the vegetable garden.  Conversely it was a great year for our local ground hog and rabbits.  The chicken wire fencing that I had sunk in around the perimeter had sufficiently rusted away to allow too many access points to control.  So may first garden job this year is to  rebuild the subsurface groundhog fence.  I've adopted a design I found on the Massachusetts Audubon site.  The key feature is that it extends the fencing horizontally outward from the fence.  This is supposed to make it more frustrating for critters to dig under the fence.  In preparing the area for the new fencing I needed to clear out the wild blackberries that are encroaching on the garden.  A future headache will be when blackberries start growing up through the horizontal welded wire.

Here's the garden last spring.  You can see the dense growth of
blackberries on the left that is encroaching from the outer fence. 
The inner fence need to be re-established at the base. 
I'm planning on transplanting a fig to the center.

Here's the plan for the buried welded wire fencing that should
keep the ground hog from burrowing under.  The loosely attached
chicken wire creates an unstable barrier that the ground hogs
find difficult to climb on.

While many folks do not like these somewhat weedy blackberries, with a little management they can produce some good quality fruit.  The secret is to prune back the long flowering branches to 4-8 buds in late winter/early spring.  This reduces the number of berries produced, but increases their size and sweetness.  In fact last year the blackberries were the best performing food plant in the garden.  In addition the tall blackberry canes around the garden help deter the deer from jumping over the double fence.  For a good resource for keeping deer out of a garden take a look at Deerproofing your Yard and Garden by Rhonda Hart.

Last year I started growing a 'Brown Turkey' fig outdoors in the ground.  It should do fine with the cold, it's cold hardy in USDA zones 5-9.  It does, however, get browsed by deer.  For this reason I will move one out to the center of the fenced in vegetable garden.  

Replacing Exotic Spireas

Over the past couple of years I have been accumulating native some native shrubs as replacements for exotic spireas and forsythia.  First was New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus).  This grows about 3' tall and wide in part to full sun and dryish, slightly acidic soils.  A major drawback is that deer and rabbits like to eat it. I will be using those in the pool enclosure where at least the deer are excluded.  Sizewise this is a good replacement for the spireas that I currently have.  

I have been growing meadowsweet, Spiraea alba for awhile.  This species is a vigorous grower with a rather rangy habit.  It is better suited as background plant, rather than a feature.  Last year I got a couple of shinyleaf meadowsweet, Spiraea corymbosa.  This Mid-Atlantic native has a habit more similar to that of its Asian relatives.  I will give this one a try in pool enclosure as well.

Another plant that I have been seeking for a long time is prairie willow (Salix humilis).  This Northeastern native willow is early spring blooming and only grows 4-6' tall.  It seems to be a good visual substitute for forsythia.  A couple have overwintered well in the ground.  If these continue to perform well I should be able to make more, since willows are particularly easy to propagate.    

this is the shinyleaf meadowsweet as it arrived last summer. 
If it has overwinter successfully, I will get it in the ground later this spring.

Woodland Management

Managing a landscape is as much about taking plants out as it is expanding and adding new plants.  In one area that is an early successional woodland (trees 15-20 years old) I have been aggressively killing off Tree of Heaven (Alianthus altissima).  As the larger ones are coming down the canopy is opening up and I'm seeing an increase in the undergrowth.  I need to manage this area by selective removing killing invasive species like multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).  Late winter/early spring is a good time to hit these with herbicide, while the native species are dormant.  For the larger roses I've been doing cut stem treatments (apply 20% glyphosate to freshly cut stumps with foam paint brush).  Garlic mustard and dense masses of rose with leaves get the standard foliar spray.  

I'm trying to eliminate the Tree of Heaven that has dominated
this young woodland.  Most of the trunks laying on the ground
are ones that I have successfully treated using the Hack and
Squirt method.  In the center is one of the musclewoods
that grow well in this mostly shady area.

These trees were treated two years ago with a commercial
mixture of 2,4-D and dicamba.  The one in front is being
helped along by some currently unknown critter.

My goal here is to maintain this as a high quality woodland.  A couple of years ago I started adding some young 2 gallon oaks and red maples, but these did not survive in this minimally cared for location.  There is some debate about how effective humans are at forest regeneration and that letting trees grow from the natural seed bank may be more effective.  So now I am just adding protective cages around desirable seedlings especially oaks, maples, black cherry and musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana).  The most prolific native tree in these woods are box elders (Acer negundo).  These don't need any protection.

I am, however, adding some bare root evergreens to our windbreak to the north and west of our house.  The white pine trees here are aging out and I would like to get some replacements established before these have to come out.  This year I am adding some red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Canaan firs (Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis).  Of the fir trees I've tried to grow here in the neutral pH soil in Pleasant Valley, the Canaan fir seems to be the happiest. 

This Canaan fir is still in the wire cage I
put around it to protect from deer rubbing.

Shade Management

Another bit of shade management I did was to take out a rapidly growing tulip tree that was too close to the house and swimming pool and would soon cast too much shade on some smaller trees and shrubs.  I figured I could cut it myself this year while it was under 40' tall, any bigger and I would want professional help.  Many of the other tulip trees here are 80+ feet tall.  I really hated removing a native tree like this but in this location it would soon dominate the landscape.

The tulip tree I removed was only about 10 years old
(see inset) but was already nearly 40' tall.  It was
casting a lot of shade on a nearby persimmon. 
The box elder may be next.

This nearby tulip tree is probably in the 70-80' range
and growing.  A good choice here, but much to big to
be close to the house.

Invasives Management

And of course I'm am continuing a broad fight against the invasive plants.  In addition to early spraying for garlic mustard and multiflora rose, I am starting to go after the Japanese honeysuckle growing on the ground.  I have just a little more time to treat these with glyphosate before the spring ephemerals come out in force.  Also with the warm winter we've had it is almost time to apply a pre-emergent  herbicide to control the Japanese stiltgrass that will start sprouting in early May.  These pre-emergent treatments have been very effective at reducing the amount of stiltgrass growing in the lawn.  They also seem to have reduced that amount of hairy cress (Cardamine hirsuta) in the lawn.