2018 starts with snow

Maybe you have heard that we just got hit by something, which meteorologists call a “bomb cyclone”: A rotating storm with a cold center that is combined with a very strong dip in atmospheric pressure. Whatever it was called, it brought us the first snow of 2018. Here in New York City, it was less dramatic than the name might suggest. We had worse blizzards. Nevertheless, it snowed from morning until afternoon, and our snow team braved the elements five times to clear the sidewalk.

Shoveling while the snow still comes down hard. The garden got a nice thick blanket.

From a gardener’s perspective, all that snow is great. This is because next in the forecast are several days of particularly cold temperatures (down to 3ºF) and strong winds. But our garden has now a warm blanket that will protect it from this bitter weather.

Meanwhile, some “sissy” plants enjoy a vacation indoors. Hibiscus, coleus, plumbagos, pelargoniums and begonias would be long dead otherwise. They are looking forward to spring, just like us!

This hibiscus likes it warm and got droopy when the temperature in its winter home temporarily dropped below 50ºF. It perked up when it got warm again.

As the year ends

Yesterday, after a first week of unusually cold temperatures, we got a dusting of snow. It was not enough to merit shoveling. My snow-duty partner had already spread a little salt on the sidewalk, enough to eliminate any danger of slipping. I therefore had time to take a walk around the garden with my camera.

A little snow makes everything look prettier. But it also makes it harder for our winged winter residents to find something to eat. Yesterday, a friendly neighbor had scattered some bird seeds through the fence onto the garden path. Sparrows, mourning doves and a robin were visibly thankful.

Sparrows eating seeds.

Our patio table with a white table cloth and a white-throated sparrow.

White-throated sparrows can be seen in New York year-round, but in winter they are a lot more numerous. Indeed, the appearance of many white-throated sparrows in fall is a clear sign that winter will arrive soon. White-throated sparrows are a regular and welcome guest in our garden. On a sunny day, one can hear their song “O-oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” even in the middle of winter. Yesterday, though, all birds were busy eating and apparently not in the mood for singing.

Seed pods of hibiscus and tree peonies with white bonnets, more white-throated sparrows.

House sparrows and mourning doves are permanent residents in the garden. The sparrows breed in the bird houses that we hang up for them. Where the mourning doves build their nests, we still have to observe. Yesterday, month away from breeding season, both birds joined the white-throated sparrows at the feeding site. They flew up when I approached with my camera and took perch on the grape vine nearby. Their fluffed-up feathers show how cold it was.

On the perch

Brr, it is cold!

The forecast tells us that it will be very cold for another week with temperatures in the single digits during some nights. Good that our birds have warm feathers and also a little shelter in the garden, and the plants are dormant and safe from the frost.

On this lasts day of 2017, I wish gardeners, garden-lovers and their friends here and everywhere a happy and peaceful new year!

Before winter arrives

The forecast is telling us that winter will take its first swipe at our region tomorrow afternoon. The night is predicted to be bitterly cold with temperatures in the 20s. The National Weather Service warns: “These conditions will kill crops and other sensitive vegetation, ending the growing season for 2017.” By this weekend, our basil, coleus and nasturtiums will be dead.

Late fall clematis in the morning sunlight.

This would have been pretty hard to believe just a couple of days ago. Some summer flowers were still doing really well. Even the sunflower was standing tall and did not look like it wanted to stop blooming yet. The roses, by the way, had a particularly nice fall bloom this year and are not done yet either.

A really tall sunflower and morning glories.

On the other hand, it is time to make some room for planting tulip and daffodil bulbs, and many plants and animals in our region need the winter break to remain healthy.

We brought the hibiscus and begonias indoors, donated the red wiggler worms to an elementary school and gave our bees a warm blanket.

Winter you may come, we are (almost) ready!

Here are some photos as a farewell to the growing season 2017.

Cleome, Nasturtium, Echinacea and Phlox are all still doing well.

“Onion grass” and hollyhock.

And then there are the roses! Chicago Peace, Souvenir de la Malmaison, Happy Chappy and Capitaine Dyel de Graville. The roses will survive the frost and may keep blooming into December.

Some of the last tomatoes (orange cherry tomatoes that are still quite sweet); the flower of a toad lily and the berries of lily of the valley; Kirengeshoma palmata, a Japanese plant that flowers late in fall.

Of asters, bees and birds

Asters are reliable fall flowers. They bloom year after year from mid September until late October without requiring much care. Cutting them down once in early June delays the flowers a little bit and they show up when the summer flowers begin to fade.

Aster display in 2014 (Foto Hubert Steed)

Now, most asters are gone, but a few weeks ago, they were in full bloom. We mostly grow the non-double-flowered kind that produces nectar and pollen in the yellow middle of each flower. Both are eagerly collected or sipped by bees and butterflies.

Aster flower with honey bee (left) and wild bee (right).

Monarchs love asters, too. (Foto Hubers Steed)

These insect visits guarantee that the flowers are pollinated and produce seeds. The seeds germinate readily in the following spring. This is one reason we have Asters in colors from light pink to dark purple. They are a genetic mix of the flowers from the previous year. Each new plant is a surprise.

This year, I contemplated cutting the faded aster flowers off. This way, I would not have to weed out as many aster seedlings next year. After all, I need to keep some space for other plants as well. But then I noticed that now, after nectar and pollen are spent and bees and butterflies are gone, the flowers are visited by other animals: Our resident house sparrows are harvesting the seeds of my aster plants. Since this food has to be much better for them than bread and cookie crumbs from the trash can, I put my shears away. If the sparrows eat the seeds, I don’t have to worry too much about weeding next year either.

Female house sparrows, perched on my border fence, nibble on aster seeds.

A handsome male is watching in the distance.

Monarchs and other insects late in October

On the last Saturday of October, it still did not feel like fall. Only the honey locusts were dropping their golden leaves, and it was so warm that working in the garden in a T-shirt felt just right.

Insects were out and about.

A hover fly, masquerading as honey bee.

A queen bumble bee (or so I think) looking for a place to spend the winter.

The milkweed bugs moved to the salvia in large groups. I wish I knew why.

Most notably, we are still visited by many monarch butterflies, who refuel on the nectar of milkweed, zinnias and sunflowers.

Overnight, a storm moved in and it is now windy and wet. The garden needs the rain. I hope that the butterflies found good shelter until the storm is over and they can continue their journey south.