January 29, 2009

Some January blooms

Some people say they stink, but I can't get enough of that
paperwhite perfume (they smell just like hyacinth to me, and
c'mon who thinks hyacinth stinks?? Okay fine, maybe it doesn't
smell exactly as good as hyacinth, but pretty close.)

Even dime-a-dozen Kordana and Parade roses provide
cheer in the depths of winter.

The big bloom in the center was once a funny-looking bud
like the two on the right. These blooms look different from
others on the same plant, so they're probably some kind of

January 20, 2009

Cold-Spell Gone, Not Forgotten

With the clipper out of the way, let’s take a look at what it actually brought. Accuweather provides a nice monthly record of temperatures for a given location; check out January’s temperatures (thus far) right here. It seems we only got as cold as –2 degrees Fahrenheit on two occasions; January 10th, and January 15th (the clipper-induced low). I’m not counting my chickens yet…January isn’t over! However if –2 is the lowest we will see this winter, then we are looking at another year of sweet, sultry zone 6.

January 13, 2009

Clipper Update

Alright so Accuweather now claims that Thursday's low will be -6. However the National Weather Service is predicting -11! Oh the suspense is killing me. I'm contemplating purchasing one of those garden thermometers, because regardless of what weather station says what, I'd like to know exactly what the low will be in my own garden. Also, I think the NWS collects its weather data for Central New York in Binghamton, which may be colder since there's likely less of an urban heat effect. Crossing fingers here!

January 12, 2009

Alberta Clipper

It's coming. Within the next few days. It may actually bring our yearly low in Central New York. What am I talking about? Why, the low-pressure system sometimes called the 'Alberta Clipper', infamous for chilling any garden in its path. Accuweather.com claims that our coldest will be 0 or -1 degrees on Thursday. Of course this can change at any time, but hovering around 0 is still comfortably within zone 6. Hopefully this will be our low for this winter (I believe last winter's low was -4 degrees Fahrenheit for Syracuse). It doesn't appear that we're going to get our 70 degree January day this year! Oh well, I'd just be happy with another zone 6 winter.

January 5, 2009

Indoor Gardening

When I step outside into a Syracuse January, my mind can’t help but drift to June days when the peonies, roses, and lilies are in full bloom, and we get our few months of tropical weather as a reward for drudging through a very frosty winter. While the bite of a 10-degree wind chill soon jolts me back into reality, the urge to cultivate plants is still there, and I satisfy it by tending to my indoor garden.

“Indoor garden” is just a fancy way of saying houseplants. It’s right around this time of year when many gardeners enjoy growing flowers and plants in the convenient climate-controlled atmosphere of their own home. Fortunately, there are many plants that thrive in the warm, dry atmosphere of a centrally heated house. And even if some don’t, there are always a few tricks to keep houseplants healthy and happy.

At Christmas many people like to start forcing bulbs such as amaryllis and narcissus. Keeping certain plants like poinsettia and wintergreen are also popular. Here’s a tip: right after the holidays many of these plants are drastically reduced in price. One thing I don’t like about the commercialization of these plants however is how they are marketed as being disposable and ‘meant’ to be purchased new every year. Actually, with proper care they can be kept for many, many years. You can even plant some of them outdoors!

This year I’ve started a few indoor gardening projects. I received
an amaryllis ‘Cinderella’ (actually Hippeastrum sp., ‘amaryllis’ is a
misnomer) for Christmas and I planted the bulb a few days ago. Hopefully I’ll be rewarded with large, spectacular red and white blooms in about 5 or 6 weeks. Always the horticultural bargain hunter, I purchased some post-holiday paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus tazetta) for about 3 dollars, which I’ve also started. Yesterday I picked up two Kordana miniature roses for 2 dollars each from a supermarket clearance shelf. These pretty little roses are not fragrant, but how can I complain about 2 dollar roses? They bloom profusely, and they are hardy to zone 5, which means I can plant them in the garden or maybe along the sidewalk out front.

The trick to keeping these kinds of supermarket plants alive is knowing what they actually need to thrive. Often what you see in the store has been living in greenhouse conditions, over-fertilized. In the case of Kordana roses, they are often treated with growth retardant to keep them at a certain size. I’ve learned that what you think is one “rosebush”, is actually several plants jammed into one container. The best thing to do is enjoy them for a bit, then start thinking about separating the plants into their own containers (some for that sidewalk or walkway, some for houseplants). It’s probably a good rule of thumb to remember that however the plant came from the florist or grocery store is definitely not the best way to keep it in the long-run.

January 2, 2009

Long Island Observations

Happy New Year! For the holidays I spent some time visiting family in Long Island. For the first time, I was really able to notice the botanical and climatic differences between Long Island and Syracuse. I’ve always known that it was a little warmer there (zone 7 compared to our zone 6 in Syracuse), but it surprised me as to how much I was able to feel the difference from a mere one zone change.

Besides the milder temperature and less ice, the next thing I noticed were the rhododendrons. Not only in people’s yards (almost everyone has rhodies in their front yards), but also along the highways in the woods. For example, along the Northern State Parkway wild rhododendrons abound. These aren’t just Department of Transportation plantings either; I’m talking deep in the woods wild rhodies, like you would see in the Appalachians. Now the woods, they are pretty typical second-growth hardwoods. However, I noticed many healthy-looking American beeches. Healthy that is, until the Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) thriving in those woods kills them. The bright red bittersweet berries are beautiful, but disheartening because those berries will be carried by birds to continue the spread of this very invasive plant.

The next thing I noticed was the widespread planting of yucca. These are along buildings, at gas stations, in front yards, inside highway medians, etc. Many of these aren’t just the little spiky clumps; they are trunking yuccas. It gave the appearance of little palm trees everywhere. Now several yuccas are quite hardy; I have some in my garden here in Syracuse. I don’t know my yuccas very well however, and I’m not sure if the kinds planted in Long Island are of a more tender variety. I know that not all of them trunk, so there’s probably a few different kinds planted there. Many of them are probably Yucca filamentosa which is a common garden plant. In fact, I believe there is a relatively new planting of this along a building wall on the north side of Erie Boulevard here in Syracuse.

Finally, the crown jewel of my Long Island observations; Southern magnolia. I noticed two specimens growing in Great Neck in front yards. They weren’t very large trees, but well beyond saplings. I’d say they were about 12-15 feet tall.

· Long Island is acidic (rhododendrons need acid soil to thrive)
· Long Island is warmer (large, healthy Southern magnolias and preponderance of yuccas, both of which can be grown in Syracuse, but which grow faster in warmer climates)

Thus concludes my holiday report. Happy New Year (again)!