Coming up on Saturday: GreenThumb GrowTogether Conference

Next Saturday, March 25, is the annual GreenThumb GrowTogether Conference. This is a really fun event with inspiring keynote talks, music and many interesting workshops. Some of these workshops focus on gardening techniques and community garden politics, others are hands-on fun with instructions e.g. for how to pickle or make soap and beauty products. Our own Sara Jones will give a workshop on beekeeping this year. Finally there is an opportunity to learn about the work of many gardening-related organizations from around New York during the lunch break.

Information tables at the GrowTogether Conference (Photo from GreenThumb website)

The conference takes place at Hostos Community College in the Bronx (450 Grand Concourse, right next to the 149th Street stop of the #6 Subway line). The program begins at 9:00 am. It is a good idea to come a bit earlier since the registration lines have been long every year. However, the $5 admission ($7 at the door) include a breakfast and, if you pre-register by Thursday, also a T-shirt and lunch. This is a great deal for a fun event that brings together gardeners from all over New York.



First day of spring

It is March 20 and the calendar tells us that it is Spring now. However, the garden is still covered with an almost solid blanket of snow. With temperatures below freezing every night and just barely above during the day, the snow is melting slowly.

The garden two days ago; it looked similar today

Many of those plants that were so eager to open their dormant buds in February suffered a big setback during this period of unseasonably cold weather. The young leaves on our roses and the buds on the quince froze or dried up. I am afraid that there will be almost no crab apple blossoms this year, and the hydrangeas have to start over again, too. I am hopeful for the tree peonies. Last week, when it was even colder than this morning, their big flower buds were hanging down, limp and sad. Today, they were at least looking up again.

Snow all over the garden. The hardy azalea and the daffodils seem to be OK, but the crab apple blossoms are all shriveled and dried up. Where the snow is melting, birds look for food and we see their footprints.

One good thing is: the snow brought some much needed moisture. Gardeners have to be optimists. We are curious to find out what is hidden under this white blanket.



No blizzard but thunder and lightning

The snowstorm “Stella” moved further inland, and instead of one foot of snow, we got several inches of sleet. In the morning, it was accompanied by thunder and lightning. Hopefully, this is how winter is making its final exit.

Stinging ice pellets instead of fluffy snowflakes

Once again, we shoveled the sidewalk around the garden. Doing this in 5 shifts made the work less strenuous. The day is not yet over, but we hope that the worst is behind us. For now, the shovels are put aside.


Before the storm

Spring has come early this year. The first quince bud opened three weeks ago, and Iris reticulata, Helleborus and even the first daffodils began to flower.

Then, winter came back with a vengeance. It brought bitterly cold nights and days on which the temperature rose barely above freezing. This morning, the ground was solidly frozen and the daffodils were hanging their pretty heads. They will recover, but this is not what they expected– or we.

And now, a blizzard is coming! The forecast is for up to a foot of snow. We’ll see. We got the shovels out again and are prepared. Stay tuned.


This following post has been in the making for a few months now. It is finally time to publish it. Remember the pretty tree peonies that bloomed in May?


The striped tree peony at the entrance to our garden.

We have three mature plants, which were all in need of some trimming. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could propagate these lovely plants at the same time? That is what we attempted at the beginning of June of last year.

The method of choice is called airlayering. We had tried it previously successfully with our peach tree. The idea is to encourage roots to grow on a branch while it is still on the tree. With the new roots, this branch can be cut off and planted into soil. For the peach tree, it worked really well.


New roots that grew among peat moss on a peach branch over three months in 2015.

Airlayering begins with cutting the bark on a branch all the way around in two places so that a ring of bark can be peeled off completely. This is where the new roots will sprout. To encourage root growth, we also applied some rooting hormone. Now, this branch is wrapped with wet peat moss. The peat moss is antiseptic and prevents bacterial growth in addition to providing a moist environment. To keep everything moist, the branch is wrapped in a sheet of plastic, applying a butcher’s fold. The plastic is carefully tied at both ends. Then it is time to wait.


Airlayering. Top row: peeling a ring of bark off a branch; applying rooting hormone; surrounding the branch with moist peat moss. Bottom row: wrapping the peat moss on the branch with a plastic sheet; tying a string tightly on both ends; the final package.

What should happen is this: by cutting the bark, we interrupted the flow of nutrients from the leaves to the roots. Water still flows on the inside of the stem from the roots to the leaves; therefore, the branch will not dry out. The leaves continue to perform photosynthesis and make organic nutrients, which can now fuel root growth at the cut site.

In September, we decided to check on our roots. We wanted to give the new plants a chance to establish themselves in soil before winter arrived.


Here is me with two cuttings. One branch after removal of the peat moss.

The root growth was not as vigorous as we had wished, but the method clearly worked. We potted our new cuttings and hoped for the best.

Now, in February 2017, we know that we were successful. One of our cuttings looks really good and is starting to grow. The mild winter may have helped us here. Seeing these swelling buds is very encouraging. We will try again this year and start a bit earlier in the season to give the roots more time to grow. We can also use this method to propagate roses and other shrubs. Pretty cool, right?

The same plant on February 23. It is still alive and the buds are opening.