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Don’t dig your dandelions. Consider leaving any dandelions alone this fall. We have a nice lawn, and only a few dandelions – we’ve been practicing Edible IPM (Integrated Pest Management) for years. We don’t spray or use anything on our lawn, which means we can eat the early spring dandelion leaves. They are delicious in salads, and also in soup. We’ve eaten so many that we hardly have any in the Spring, and I do miss them! Much cheaper and tastier than burying the large leaves in the grocery store.

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Evergreen Country Gardeners enjoyed the CT Flower and Garden Show – Bursting into Spring – which took place February 22-25 but many of us were at the Convention Center from the 20th – 25th! The following eight members members participated in the show as entrants and or volunteers.

  • Donna Nowak (President) – Show Schedule Chair, Design Entry
  • Kathy Harris – Botanical Arts – Photography Division Chair
  • Suzy Fisher – Quality Control Chair
  • Trish Manfredi – Table Entry
  • Carole Fromer – Design Division – Judges Clerk
  • Valerie Escalera – Design Division – Quality Control
  • Jim Oliphant – Botanical Arts Division – Photography – Judges Clerk, Photography Entrant
  • Shirley Jackson – Hospitality

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Members of Evergreen Country Gardeners in Glastonbury gathered recently to make 33 floral arrangements for Welles-Turner Library and area nursing homes and shut-ins using leftover flowers from The Federated Garden Clubs of CT’s standard flower show held in conjunction with the annual CT Garden and Flower Show, held this year Feb 22-25. The show is held at the CT Convention Center in Hartford. After the show closed on Sunday members of the club collect all of the discarded and leftover flowers from the exhibits for these arrangements.

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Changing leaves signal that the growing season is winding down. Here are fall gardening tips for what you should do to prep your landscape for colder months.

  • Deal with fallen leaves. Turf grass won’t tolerate thick layers of leaves well. If you don’t have a lot of leaves, skip raking and mow over them to chop them into smaller pieces that will add nutrients to the soil.
  • Seed or lay sod. Cool temperatures combined with late fall rain make for ideal conditions for establishing new lawns or repairs in most regions.
  • Aerate your lawn. Plan to aerate high-traffic areas annually to loosen compacted soil; otherwise, every 2-3 years will do.
  • Keep up with weeds. Dandelions, clover, and other common lawn weeds will start proliferating as the temperatures cool off in fall.
  • Raise your mower blade. Keeping your lawn taller will encourage more root growth, which helps your grass survive the winter better.

Prep the Perennial Garden

Perennials are garden workhorses. After a long growing season, they’re ready for a winter rest. Stop deadheading in early fall and leave the above-ground parts standing even after frost kills them (unless pests and diseases are an issue). They’ll provide both food and shelter for wildlife. Songbirds will enjoy the seed buffet, and many pollinators like native bees overwinter in standing stems and brush.

Complete the following tasks in your perennial garden in the fall:

  • Remove weeds. Clear away as many as possible now so you have fewer to deal with next spring.
  • Add mulch. After the ground freezes, add a 4- to 5-inch-thick layer of bark mulch over the crown of perennials planted this growing year and those that are frost-tender in your area.
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, and many other spring-blooming bulbs are best planted in late September or October.
  • Dispose of diseased or pest-ridden plants. Remove any leaves, stems, and whole plants with diseases or bugs to reduce problems the following year.
  • Water once a week if dry. Even though perennials are going dormant in fall, their roots are still actively growing until the ground freezes. Well-hydrated plants withstand winter stresses better.

Refresh Your Vegetable Garden for Next Year

Whether you have an elaborate kitchen garden or a small patch for raising edible plants, things will start to slow down in the fall as you harvest the last of your tasty bounty. Once a few frosts finally bring the growing season to an end, check off these vegetable garden chores to prepare for next season’s harvest.

  • Clean out beds. Removing all plant debris helps prevent pests and diseases from overwintering in your garden and returning even worse in spring.
  • Put away stakes, labels, and other accessories. As you remove plants, don’t forget to gather items such as labels, stakes, and cages. Store them where they’ll be handy to reuse next year.
  • Add compost. Spread a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of compost over your beds to enrich the soil. No need to till it in; precipitation and soil organisms will do the job for you.
  • Plant cover crops. Sow cover crops like mustard, peas, or clover in the fall to prevent erosion. Then turn them over into the soil in spring to add nutrients.
  • Expand planting areas. If you’d like to increase your planting space, fall is an excellent time to set up new raised beds or smother grass where you want to create an in-ground bed.

Care for Trees and Shrubs

Did you know fall is an excellent time for planting trees and shrubs? This is when you should start that new hedge or establish a new shade tree in your yard because the soil is still warm enough for roots to grow a little before winter. In addition, a little fall care for your established trees and shrubs will help them weather the colder months better.

Follow these fall gardening tips for trees and shrubs:

  • Plant new trees and shrubs. Add deciduous trees and shrubs until about a month before the ground usually freezes. You can also plant evergreen species in fall, but they tend to do better when planted in spring.
  • Provide plenty of water. Newly planted trees and shrubs—and established ones—will tolerate harsh winter conditions better when well-watered in fall. Likewise, extra water for evergreens is essential in fall.
  • Replenish mulch. Add a fresh layer of mulch, such as wood chips or shredded leaves, around trees and shrubs to protect roots from winter temperatures. Keep mulch from touching the trunks to prevent rot and other diseases.
  • Prune after dormancy starts. Trimming after September 1 will trigger tender new growth that’s easily damaged in winter. Instead, wait until leaves have fallen from deciduous species before pruning.
  • Guard trunks against deer and sun damage. Younger trees and shrubs can be ruined by deer rubbing antlers on the trunks. Plus, their thinner bark can be damaged by sun-scald. Using a tree wrap or guard in fall can prevent both issues.

Organize Your Tools and Gardening Gear

As the growing season winds down, don’t forget to prep your garden tools for winter. Cleaned and refreshed, your favorite garden helpers will be ready when you are, come spring.

  • Clean hand tools. Remove dirt, then place the metal ends of trowels, weeders, and other tools in a bucket of sand laced with vegetable oil.
  • Sharpen blades. Pruners and loppers can get dull with lots of use, as can shovels and spades. And don’t forget mower blades. Use a file to restore their sharp edges. Then coat with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent rust over the winter.
  • Drain hoses and irrigation lines. Before freezing weather sets in, remove any water from your garden hoses and irrigation tubing.
  • Prepare small engines. Drain gas lines of mowers, weed whackers, and tillers. Change oil as needed before storing machines in dry, covered spaces for winter.
  • Clean out sprayers. Empty and wash out your spraying equipment with soap and water, inside and out. Rinse and allow to air dry before stowing them away for the winter. And if you have leftover chemicals, store them in a safe place where they won’t freeze.

Clean Up Annuals and Containers

Colorful annuals are often the first plants to succumb to frosty fall weather. Once a hard frost does them in, you’ll want to tidy up planting beds and pots to be ready to fill again next spring.

  • Empty containers. The freeze and thaw cycle can crack containers, especially those made of clay left full of potting mix. After cleaning them out, store your pots and planters in a protected, dry area like a shed or garage.
  • Clean out flower beds. Once frost withers the zinnias, petunias, and marigolds in your garden beds, it’s time to pull them up so your planting space will be ready for new flowers in spring.
  • Collect and store seeds. You can save seeds of many kinds of popular annuals, such as celosia, petunia, cosmos, and nasturtium. Place each type of seed in a labeled envelope and stash them in a cool, dry place until sowing them in spring.
  • Clean out flower beds. Once frost withers the zinnias, petunias, and marigolds in your garden beds, it’s time to pull them up so your planting space will be ready for new flowers in spring.
  • Collect and store seeds. You can save seeds of many kinds of popular annuals, such as celosia, petunia, cosmos, and nasturtium. Place each type of seed in a labeled envelope and stash them in a cool, dry place until sowing them in spring.
  • Dig up tender bulbs. Cannas, dahlias, caladiums, and several other tropical bulbs and tubers will not survive winter in northern regions. Dig them up shortly after the foliage turns brown in fall and store them in a cool, dry place for planting outside next spring.
  • Take cuttings to grow indoors. Snip sprigs of flower bed and container favorites such as coleus, geraniums, and sweet potato vine before temperatures get below 50˚F. They’ll root easily in water, providing a little indoor winter color. You can even keep them going long enough to plant outside again in spring.

Wow!! That’s a lot of work! But it will make your life in the spring much easier!

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  • Instead of raking up or blowing all the leaves off your lawn, mow some of them. The tiny pieces resulting will be fertilizer to encourage a greener lawn next spring.
  • Recycle your discarded pumpkins, compost them or cut them into smaller pieces and leave in a wooded spot for wild animal treats.
  • Consider individual composting to help the climate. You can start composting your garden waste by having your own composter or subscribe to a company like Blue Earth who, for a monthly fee, will provide you with a container which they pick up weekly and repurpose it into fertilizer. They will give you back several bags of the fertilizer each year.
  • Check with your town about whether they collect kitchen scraps. In Glastonbury there is a container at the New London Turnpike transfer station where residents can dump their scraps, at no fee, as long as they have the necessary town dump permit. The collection is sent to Southington where it is processed into bio-fuel.
  • Glastonbury plans to add a Blue Earth Container for residents to dispose of kitchen waste. Current plans are to place the container behind Town Hall in April of 2023.

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Kill them all!!

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By now, most every garden club has held programs on butterflies and host plants that attract them. Those living jewels that flutter from flower to bud, down to the muddy pools they drink from, seem worth anything to bring into the landscape. I thought so, too. But now, I’m refining my approach after tangling with an herb that should be strictly left out of any garden. “Beware of the Stinging Nettle” should be a refrain that echoes through the mind of any gardener.

“Burning” or “Stinging Nettle” is advertised as a butterfly attracting weed, an herbal hair rinse, an “energizing nettle bath”, or even as a tea served with elderflowers, lemon balm or a slice of citrus. Don’t do it. Be wise: stay strictly away. I share this advice after nearly three years of burning pain in my hands and arms that will not go away, and for which there is no cure.

This is the back-story. Three summers ago, I moved back to Connecticut. The house I bought had a landscaped, but neglected yard on the edge of a wood. The garden beds, if you could call them that, were full of a 10-14 inch green plant with oval, hairy leaves with serrated edges, arranged along the stem like a mint. Seedlings were liberally represented beneath them.

Did I look them up in a book? No. Eager to start my perennial garden, I plunged my hands in and began clearing them out. They are quite juicy when crushed, and the liquid flowed up my arms and on my legs as I kneeled. I spent hours pulling. They were ubiquitous after a moist spring and early summer.

The day after my first weeding, I woke up with arms, legs, and hands bright red and burning. No water, ice, soap, lotion or other emolument would quiet the burning. I treated it like poison ivy. No change.

At that point, I went on the internet and identified the nasty weed that had attacked me. In German, it’s called “Brennnessel” (burning nettle), and in English, “Stinging Nettle.”

Several months later, after three trips to the doctor, multiple heavy-duty cortisone shots, lotions, medications and soothing baths, the redness and oozing sores disappeared. The burning did not. Three years later, the burning still crops up when my hands get dry. Apparently, the tiny hairs embedded themselves and will not come out. As I move, they burn.

Herbals will tell you that nettle can be found in any lot with moisture, disturbed, nitrogen-rich soil. Woodland clearings, fertile fields, riverbanks, gardens and meadows are their favorite spots.

I say, “Leave them there!” Do not introduce them into your yard under the misguided impression that you are aiding butterflies. Otherwise, for your efforts, your children, grandchildren, friends, pets, and visitors may brush up against them and suffer for years to come. Let the butterflies use the ones in nature!

So how do you deal with nettle?

A gardening friend, who is also a medical doctor, devised a safe way to remove nettle, if you find it in your yard.

Liberally apply hand cream to your hands and arms as a protectant. Find two of the oblong plastic bags newspapers are wrapped in. Slide one up each arm, sticking your fingers through the plastic at the closed end of the bag. Your fingers will go through and anchor the bag. Put on two pairs of medical gloves (latex or plastic), one over the other, on each hand. Then don your gardening gloves.

Watching that the nettle, or its juices, do not touch any skin on your arms or legs, start pulling. Check your gloves periodically to make sure they are holding up. Change them if you find punctures. Seal the nettle in a plastic garbage bag and dispose of it in the dump. Do not put it in compost, as the hairs continue to infect any soil they come in touch with.

After removing all nettle from an area, always garden with the plastic glove/garden glove combination on your hands. The hairs remain for years in your soil, and can be just as damaging when bare hands come in contact with the dirt as they were on the plants. And please, please remember, “Always…beware of the Stinging Nettle.” Never be so foolish as to share it with a friend.

Janet Spaulding

Disclaimer: These thoughts and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of this organization.

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After years of dire reports about the decline of the monarch butterfly population, fans of this gorgeous insect now have at least a glimmer of good news: monarch numbers may once again be on the rise in Connecticut.

An annual one-day butterfly count conducted by volunteers in the Farmington River Valley sighted 63 monarchs on July 22-23 – the highest total since 2008.

Two years ago, the Connecticut Butterfly Association’s count found no monarchs at all, and just eight were spotted in 2016.

“It’s very good news,” Jay Kaplan, a member of the butterfly association who participated in the most recent Farmington River Valley count, said of the number of monarchs spotted. “But this is just one year,” he cautioned.

“You can’t go on a one-year total and think everything is great,” said Kaplan, who is also director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center in Canton. “This could be a one-year blip.”

The butterfly association’s annual count has been happening for 20 years and covers the same 15-mile radius covering all or portions of Avon, Simsbury, Canton, Farmington, West Hartford, and Burlington. Kaplan warned there is no way of knowing if this year’s count was an anomaly, or the start of a trend indicating the striking orange-black-and-white butterflies may be starting to recover.

Kaplan can recall times several decades ago when naturalists could see hundreds of monarchs migrating past on a single day. And reports from the monarch’s “overwintering” sites in northern Mexico for 2016-17 haven’t been encouraging.

The dramatic decline of this colorful creature has conservationists worried, because the monarch is considered an “indicator species” of the health of our environment. State and federal officials and environmental groups across the U.S. are campaigning to help save the monarchs.

At the Kellogg Environmental Center, volunteers are participating in a long-running effort to monitor monarch numbers and reproductive success. Jenny Dickson, a state wildlife biologist, said Connecticut’s environmental agency is now “looking at how we can manage habitats to make sure they are a lot more monarch friendly.”

Major national efforts are being made to plant or preserve more milkweed and other native plants along the monarch’s migration routes. Milkweed is considered a key food source for monarch caterpillars, and plans call for planting hundreds of millions of milkweed in the next few years.The Kellogg Center study covers “a couple of acres” of fields in neighboring Osbornedale State Park, according to Susan Quincy, an environmental educator at Kellogg.

They also record the temperature in direct sunlight and shade, record the stages of growth on the caterpillars they find, note the density of milkweed plants, count any adults, and check for a type of aphid that feeds on milkweed and deters monarchs from laying eggs.

Many scientists believe the monarch’s decline is the result of factors that include loss of winter habitat, climate change, and agricultural practices involving pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified crops that have significantly reduced the butterfly’s natural food sources, primarily milkweed.

Monarchs migrate thousands of miles every year, reproducing as they travel, from the northern U.S. to spend the winter in a small area of sheltered mountain valleys in Mexico. In the spring, they fly north. During their northward migration, a monarch will typically live two to six weeks, but monarchs born in late summer can survive through a winter to start the next year’s migration north.

In 2016, a study published in the journal Scientific Reports reported that the past two decades have seen the eastern monarch butterfly winter population plunge by 84 percent, down to perhaps 33 million.

The study by a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey warned that there is now a “substantial probability” that the eastern monarch will go extinct unless this decline can be reversed. The fear is that the monarch may be headed toward “quasi-extinction,” a term experts use for a species when there are too few individuals left to ensure reproduction.

“This is a species we are watching very closely,” said Jenny Dickson, a wildlife biologist at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Monarch butterflies are not on DEEP’s threatened or endangered species listings for Connecticut. But Dickson said those lists are scheduled to be updated in the next couple of years, explaining that her agency will be evaluating the local and regional status of the butterfly and ways to help it.

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Have you ever wondered how you can avoid spreading nasty infections from one of your plants to another while you are pruning them?

Well, wonder no longer!

Here’s how.

Simply wipe your shears off with a household disinfecting wipe. Alternatively, you can use a solution of 50% isopropyl alcohol and 50% water. Dip your tools in the water solution and allow them to air dry, or wipe them thoroughly.

That’s it! Simple, yet effective.

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