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Designing with Ferns

A recent webinar from Ecological Landscape Alliance

Check out their website for more gardening webinars. Many are free during the pandemic.

Thank you Jessica LaMothe

The Dirt

Gardening Resources & Tips from the MMGA
October 2020
Time’s a-flyin’
Time flies when you’re having fun in the early fall garden and hopefully when you’re reading The Dirt. Amazingly this is our 2nd anniversary issue! Yes, the first issue of The Dirt went out October 1, 2018. Since then we’ve published info on we-don’t-know-how-many gardening resources and best practices…and — thanks to your referrals — grown our readership from 673 to a whopping 3,080.
We’re celebrating our anniversary with an exciting announcement: The Dirt is now mobile friendly! We know that many of you read us on your phones, so thank you for your patience and enjoy our new format!
This issue be sure to check out our October Gardening Tips, profiles of the majestic ostrich fern and a dedicated Master Gardener, an environmentally responsible approach to bedding your garden down for winter, and an MG-recommended easy-to-use tool to remove unwanted seedlings with stubborn roots.
A favor: While you are always welcome to forward The Dirt by email, please help us reach more home gardeners on a regular basis by inviting your friends to subscribe. They can send us an email at TheDirt@MassMasterGardeners.org and simply say “sign me up.” Thanks in advance for your referrals.
P.S. No “terrible two” tantrums for us. We’ll see you again with another issue of The Dirt on November 1. Stay safe.
Last chance to sign up! New fall-oriented gardening webinar series starts in FIVE DAYS!   Thank you to the dozens and dozens of home gardeners who have already registered for the MMGA Home Gardening Webinar – Fall. PROCRASTINATOR ALERT: The first class is this coming Tuesday, October 6, and registration closes on Monday. So sign up soon.   With summer coming to an end, it’s time to take stock of your 2020 gardening successes (and failures!) and focus on 2021 and what you can do now to up your gardening game next year. Our unique, fall-focused series of four webinars is taught by MMGA garden educators with over 44 years combined experience as Master Gardeners and members of our popular Speakers Bureau.
MMGA Home Gardening Webinar Series – Fall Tuesday evenings, 6:30-8:00 PM October 6, 13, 20 and 27
Topics to be covered — one per evening — include four “fall essentials”: Pruning Basics: Learn the art and science behind the when, how, and why to prune your woody plants.Preparing Your Home Garden for Winter: Before putting your garden to bed for the season, learn what tasks will best prepare your plants to survive winter.Planting Spring-Blooming Bulbs: Explore the history of bulbs, where they come from, what growing conditions they need, and the many different types available to us for fall planting in New England.Gardening Ergonomics: Ensure that your body can operate at peak performance by fitting garden tasks to the person (you!)…and using correct postures, tools, and techniques.
All sessions will be conducted via Zoom videoconferencing, which delivers an easy, fun, interactive experience. Time for Q&A is built into each class, and handouts will be emailed in advance.
Even if you have attended our Home Horticulture Evening Lecture Series, Speakers Bureau talks, and other training programs in the past, the fall focus of this MMGA Home Gardening Webinar Series ensures you will learn relevant new tips and techniques.
For more information and to register, visit our web page.
CLICK HERE
Questions? Email us at HomeGardenWebinar@MassMasterGardeners.org.
P.S. Already registered? Visit the Home Gardening Webinar Series website or read our list of Frequently Asked Questions.
O is for October And for stately shade-lover, our native Ostrich Fern
In the early spring, ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) begin to emerge from the soil, offering a sight to behold along river and stream banks throughout New England. The common name of the plant derives from the resemblance of the fronds to the tail feathers of the ostrich. Young coiled tips of emerging fronds — the so-called fiddleheads (named because of their resemblance to a violin’s scroll) — are considered a delicacy in our region, with a taste similar to asparagus.
Ferns are the kings of the shade garden, and the large, vase-shaped ostrich fern is one of the most striking of our native ferns, reaching heights of six feet or more in optimal conditions. Their bright green fronds are beautifully textured.
The ostrich fern is dimorphic, which means it has both male and female fronds. Green sterile fronds emerge in the spring and turn a bright golden color in the fall. Fertile female fronds develop later and are much shorter and a deeper green than the stately sterile ones. The female fronds ultimately turn brown and remain through the entire winter, offering four-season interest in the garden. The fronds release their spores in the spring and eventually die back, making way for new growth.
While many ferns prefer acid to neutral soils, ostrich ferns are tolerant of a wider range of soils. They thrive in moist conditions and in partial to full shade but are somewhat intolerant of high heat and humidity.
Ostrich ferns spread through rhizomes and can form colonies, making them a good choice for stabilizing stream banks. In the ornamental garden, ostrich ferns can be planted with spring ephemerals such as trilliums, which are mostly dormant by the time the fern reaches its full size.
IF YOU GO FORAGING NEXT SPRING:
Shoots of other ferns can be toxic, so never gather fiddleheads without an edibility expert by your side. And limit your ostrich fern harvest to just a few shoots in a cluster; otherwise the plant could die.
Meet a Certified Master Gardener A life of giving back: Holly Perry   The past year has seen a surge of interest in gardening as the stresses of dealing with a pandemic have led many to turn to the therapeutic power of nature.    Master Gardener Holly Perry was ahead of her time. Thirty years ago, as she juggled working full time and raising two children, Holly would spend weekends gardening to ease the stress. “Gardening was cheaper than going to the psychiatrist,” she says. “Gardening was my escape.”
Holly grew up in Dedham, leaving the area to attended Northwestern University, where she earned a degree in Education. She later earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College. After her first teaching job in Ohio, Holly returned to Massachusetts to raise her family in her hometown, purchasing a house a mere block and half away from the home she grew up in. Pictured at right is part of her inspired front garden.
Holly taught Spanish at Westwood High School for 33 years, serving as the department chair for ten years. During that time, the philosophy around foreign language instruction was undergoing a transformation. “All of the methods I had learned in the classroom and had practiced for 15 years went out the window,” Holly says. The change was necessary, she felt, and made teaching more enjoyable, as students were more engaged.
After retiring in 2001, Holly enrolled in the MMGA’s Master Gardener Training program. “I was always a gardener, but the course was a real eye opener,” Holly says. “I was more than challenged, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.” Holly completed the program in 2002 when it was still under the auspices of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. As the organization transitioned into an independent non-profit, Holly worked as a facilitator for Master Gardener Training from 2002 to 2010. In 2010, her work earned her the MMGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, “The Golden Trowel,” which recognizes members who have made “outstanding long-term contributions in the areas of Horticulture, Education, Outreach and Leadership.” According to Holly, “That was truly a great honor that I will always cherish.”
Motivated by the desire to deepen her connection with her hometown, Holly also joined the board of the Dedham Exchange, a non-profit gift shop featuring work by local artists and crafters. The volunteer-run store — which has been in business since 1914, donating a portion of proceeds to other non-profits and educational institutions — sells a variety of handcrafted items, including knitted sweaters, woodworking, ceramics, and toys. Each year the shop awards a scholarship to a boy and girl graduating from Dedham High School.
Holly also remains active with Mass Hort and enjoys gardening at the Gardens at Elm Bank, her favorite among the MMGA’s many approved gardening sites. She has a particular fondness for the Bressingham Garden, as she was part of the volunteer group that helped install the garden with famed plantsman Adrian Bloom in 2007. “It was phenomenal watching him create this garden without a map or a list. The garden was completely in his head.”
When not gardening Holly keeps busy traveling the world, including a trip to Egypt earlier this year, where she had the chance to ride a camel.
She also enjoys spending time with her large growing family, including two daughters, two granddaughters, and 2-1/2 great-granddaughters. “A half?” I asked. Her third great-granddaughter is due to arrive this month.
Dishing the Dirt: Advice from a Master Gardener Making a case for NOT cleaning your garden in the fall…   Thank you to this month’s contributor, Senior Principal Master Gardener Catherine Carney-Feldman (Class of 2014). The owner of a landscape design company focused on environmentally responsible gardening, Catherine is also a member of the Ipswich Conservation Commission and is the “volunteer in charge” of the nature gardens at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, where many North Shore Master Gardeners volunteer.
Over this past growing season many of us have observed a drastic decline not only in monarchs but in all butterfly species. Maybe you have also fewer bees and other beneficial insects and song birds as well. As a homeowner or gardener you might have asked yourself the question, “What can I do to support our declining local wildlife populations?” Besides providing the right native plants and avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, one of the most valuable things you can do to support pollinators, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small vertebrates is to provide winter cover in the form of fall leaves and standing dead plant material. In other words, “leave the leaves.”   For many gardeners, not cleaning or tidying their gardens in the fall, is a hard pill to swallow. The act of cleaning the garden in the fall may be an annual habit, a matter of social and cultural conditioning, or a holdover of outdated gardening practices from yesteryear. For whatever reason, we just can’t seem to keep ourselves from wanting to tidy up the garden at the end of the growing season. Thus we rake, mow and blow away every bit of nature that is essential to the survival of moths, butterflies, spiders, and dozens of beneficial arthropods.   Personally, it took me a couple of years to wean myself from the practice of annual fall cleanup. However, once decided, I’ve never regretted the choice. The only plants and plant materials I now remove from the garden in the fall are diseased. I leave EVERYTHING ELSE! This is the part that at first is hard to get used to. Your gardens do not look immaculate. However, in nature nothing is immaculate or perfect. By not cleaning our gardens, we are emulating Mother Nature — and she is the best of teachers!
So what is the environmental case for leaving our gardens untouched in the fall?
While monarch migration is a well-known phenomenon, it’s not the norm when it comes to butterflies. In fact, the vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape in different stages: as either eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, or adults. In all but the warmest climates, these insects — no matter in what stage they hibernate — use leaf litter for winter cover. Great spangled fritillary and wooly bear caterpillars tuck themselves into a pile of leaves for protection from cold weather and predators. Red-banded hairstreak butterflies lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of their caterpillars when they emerge. Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalises as dried leaves, blending in with the real leaves. These are but a few of countless examples.
Last year’s leaves provide the perfect mulch for this year’s garden and disappear once plants fill in.
The pith of the elderberry is soft and easy for a bee or insect to hollow out to deposit eggs.
Leave seed heads on perennials and annuals to provide winter food for native birds.
Our native bees (including bumble bees) also rely on leaf litter for protection. At the end of summer, queen bumble bees burrow only an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter. An extra thick layer of leaves is welcome protection from the elements. Other animals that hibernate in or under leaves include spiders, snails, worms, beetles, millipedes, and mites. Next spring they will support the chipmunks, turtles, birds and amphibians that rely on these insects for food. It’s easy to see how important leaves really are to sustaining the natural web of life.
Consider, too, those dried hollow stalks from your raspberries, elderberries, Joe Pye weed, hydrangeas, and summer flowers, which also provide a refuge for eggs of many native bee species, butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects. By leaving the dried flower heads on both your annuals and perennials, you are providing protein-rich seeds that are valuable food for our native birds that will spend the winter here.
If you must keep your lawns clear…
When it comes to lawns, if you must keep them clear in the fall and winter, collect the leaves and create a leaf pile in the corner of your yard where you can allow them to break down naturally. Rake or use a leaf vacuum to capture whole leaves, rather than shredding them with a mower.
Shredded leaves will not provide the same cover as leaves that are whole, and you may be destroying butterfly eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and other beneficial insects as you shred. Such efforts will keep insects and other species safe and allow you to benefit from the rich garden gift that falls from the trees above.
Leaving (or adding) leaves in the perennial flower garden
Leaves provide many benefits in your flower garden. They will decompose naturally, and as they do they provide valuable organic matter and build up healthy soil. They feed not only earth worms but also the many forms of micro-organisms that live in the soil. Fallen leaves also have the same weed suppression and moisture retention properties as shredded wood mulch — and they are free!
To mimic the natural ecosystem, a layer of leaves needs to be at least two inches thick. In the past, gardeners may have worried that leaves — matted down by snow or rain — would have a negative impact on their perennials. In reality, a thick layer of leaves provides additional insulation against bitter cold weather and can protect newly planted perennials from frost-heaves that may expose tender roots. Anyone who has spotted fragile spring ephemerals popping up in the woods knows that all but the frailest of plants will burst through the leaf litter in spring without trouble.
A trick I use in the spring is to brush the remaining leaves under and around my newly emerging plants and perennials. Within two to four weeks, the plants’ new growth hides the remaining leaves. Because of last year’s leaves, I now have my mulch, water retention, weed suppression, and compost all set in my gardens for the upcoming growing season!
The bottom line: Simply put, when we treat leaves and old plant debris like trash, we are tossing out the beautiful creatures that we’ll surely miss and worked so hard to attract. All spring and summer long you have provided your pollinators, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small vertebrates with flowers, bushes and trees for food, fuel, shelter and a place to nest. You planted native plant species and avoided pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. Don’t carry all of that hard work out to the curb or land fill.
Come spring if you still decide you need to clean up your garden and remove the leaves, make sure you wait until late in the spring season (around mid-May) until hibernating insects have had a chance to emerge so as not to destroy all the life you’ve worked so hard to protect!
Or you can choose like me to “leave the leaves”!
OCTOBER GARDENING TIP
Last year’s “abnormally dry” fall has turned into a 2020 drought categorized by the United States Drought Monitor as “moderate” to “severe” across much of New England. The drought map at left (9/17/20) reflects the first acknowledgement of “severe drought” in parts of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. If we don’t get some serious rain soon, you will need to water trees, shrubs, and any new plantings up until the ground freezes. Even established plants will need lots of water to prepare for the frozen soil of winter.
Recommended by a Master Gardener The extraordinary Extractigator
Thank you to this month’s contributor, Principal Master Gardener Mabel Liang, Class of 2005. Early in her career as an MMGA volunteer Mabel was part of the crew of over 200 who helped in 2007 to install the Adrian Bloom-designed Bressingham Garden at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Elm Bank. Today she gardens where she lives, a cohousing condominium complex in Cambridge, where she is a former chair of the landscape committee. Mabel also has a small gardening business. 
If you’re like me, many of the gardens that you work in have been untended for some time, resulting in them having little trees growing in them. Sometimes not-so-little trees, maybe a half-inch or more in diameter. If you’ve tried to remove these, you’ve found there can be an awful lot of effort involved. First of all, cutting them typically doesn’t work; the things just re-sprout and maybe produce witches’ brooms of stems. Digging them out can also involve a surprising amount of effort. (Oak trees in particular have a surprisingly long and stubborn taproot.) Pulling even a little oak tree seedling often doesn’t work, because it’s still attached to the acorn, which does a good job of holding onto the ground.
This is where the Extractigator comes in! It’s an amazing tool that uses the mechanical advantage of the lever to assist you in, well, extracting saplings from the ground. It’s a tall instrument shaped like an elongated, upside-down, lopsided letter “T.” The longer leg of the T has jaws that you clamp around the base of the plant (ground level) to be removed. You then pull the long handle toward the ground, rotating it as if the joint of the T were the center of a clock…and the various “arms” of the Extractigator were the clock’s hands. The short side of the T stabilizes the process. Essentially, you lean on the handle. You feel the stem of the plant starting to move, and it is pulled out of the ground, including its upside-down “tree” of roots. It’s very gratifying! (The picture above shows the two legs of the T in the process of extracting medium size root.)
I first learned about this type of tool back in the early 2000s when I was working with a garden maintenance company. The owner brought a tool to a job site that I had never seen before: something called a Weed Wrench. It used leverage to allow you to remove saplings. The one disadvantage that I noted is that — depending on the composition of the soil — the end of the Weed Wrench would sink into the ground as you were leaning on it. The way around this was to find a rock that was large enough and flat enough to prop under the end of the tool head.
When I decided that I had to have such a tool for myself, I went searching on the web. I decided that the Extractigator (Shown at left) was superior: The short leg of the T was like having the rock built in. You could use the tool and not have it sink into the ground.
The folks who sell the Extractigator now offer an attachment they call the Big Foot, which provides an even broader base. But I have never had a problem which would cause me to want a Big Foot.
Another feature of the Extractigator is that it releases the stem. With similar tools, you have to reach down to the ground and free the stem before moving on. In addition, you can use it on that nub of a stem that has been left behind because someone (maybe you!) tried to deal with the tree by taking a pair of loppers to it.
The original trademarked Weed Wrench is no longer manufactured. The name has become a generic term (like “Kleenex”), and there seem to be a number of tools available now that use the WW term in their literature. Other than the Extractigator, one other tool has piqued my interest, the Pullerbear. The manufacturer’s claim is that you can get closer to the ground with its jaws. Where I live there are some young maple trees that have sprouted around the base of some rosa rugosa. The jaws of the Extractigator are too large to reach through the various stems, so I am thinking of trying out the smallest model Pullerbear. If I do, I’ll report back on how it does!
Editors Note: Per the Extractigator website, the tool can be used to remove a number of “banes of the gardener’s existence” on the Massachusetts Invasive Species list, including autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate), buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Japanese honesuckle (Lonicera japonica), Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), and more.  PLEASE NOTE: The garden tool featured in this article is recommended solely by the author, MG Mabel Liang. The Massachusetts Master Gardener Association does not recommend specific tool brands.
OCTOBER GARDENING TIP
If you online-ordered new spring bulbs, plant them as soon as they arrive. They will put down roots in the warm(ish) fall soil and be ready to take off as the soil rewarms in the spring.  Pay attention to proper planting depths: large bulbs need to be planted 8-12” deep; small bulbs, 6”. Add some chicken grit (available at farm stores) or gravel around the bulb to deter moles. A dose of red pepper on the bulb itself and lime on top of the soil will send most diggers (like squirrels) looking elsewhere.
Dirtying the Dishes: MGs in the Kitchen A hearty side dish to welcome fall…
This month’s “guest chef” is MG Christina Curtis, a 2018 graduate of Master Gardener Training. An active volunteer, when COVID-19 hit and the MMGA declared a temporary hiatus, she shifted gears to focus on keeping her two college-age children “on track” as they home-schooled. Although Christina confesses she misses the Master Gardener “hive,” she has used her free time well by taking advantage of online courses made available through the MMGA Continuing Ed Committee.
Christina reports she found this basic recipe on EatingWell.com — and adapted it a bit — while searching for ways to use unfamiliar CSA vegetables.
Roasted Turnips & Delicata Squash with Chinese Five-Spice Glaze Yield: 4 servings
INGREDIENTS: 4 medium turnips (about 1-1/2 lbs.), peeled1 small delicata squash, peeled and seeded2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil½ tsp. salt¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper2 tbsps. molasses1 small red onion, halved and sliced1 tsp. Chinese five-pepper spice*   DIRECTIONS: Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 450˚.Slice turnips and squash crosswise into 3/4” wide strips or “sticks.” In a large bowl, toss with oil, salt, and pepper until well coated. Divide vegetables between 2 large, rimmed baking sheets and spread in an even single layer.Roast the vegetables for 10 minutes. Carefully transfer turnips and squash back to the mixing bowl. Gently stir in onion, molasses and five-spice powder. Return the vegetables to the baking sheets; roast 15-20 minutes longer until tender. Stir once halfway through and rotate the pans top-to-bottom and front-to-back.
* HINT: Chinese five-spice powder is available in most supermarkets and Asian markets. Blends contain cinnamon, fennel seed, cloves, star anise, and either white pepper or Szechuan pepper.

Town Hall Steps

Thank you Jessica Lamothe for keeping the pots on the Manchester Town Hall steps filled now that the town green is once again open.

A Summer St. Garden

Our club member’s garden on Summer St. Beverly and her granddaughter created this park-like setting from scratch.

from https://grownativemass.org/ They are offering free Zoom lectures in the fall.

Native Plant Challenge

Continues through May 2021: https://www.gcfm.org/president-s-project

 

50th Anniversary

Recognition from the Federation:

SSGC 50 years

The Executive Board met via Zoom July 28. President Elaine reported the Manchester Community Center will only allow small groups to meet when it reopens in August. Attendees must sit 6’ apart and total attendance is limited to 12. The kitchen is closed, no food allowed. Under these stipulations the Board decided to postpone the fall season. We will continue to monitor the situation through the fall. The Board voted to make a $150 donation to the MCC to hold our meeting time.

Peggy Finn noted the success of our June Bloom Raffle drawing. Kathy Ryan is looking at local presenters for when we can hold programs again. The Board will hold off on collecting dues until we can resume meetings.  We wish everyone a wonderful summer and good health in this stressful time. Feel free to contact any Board members with questions or suggestions.

And the lucky winner of a $50.00 gift card to Wheel Works Pottery is Gayle Masiero.  Congratulations Gayle. And thank you to everyone who helped make this fundraiser a success. We hope to see you all again in September.

SSGC auction 2019 (2)

2019

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