Charlie’s Mid November Newsletter
It’s settling into that classic November/December weather pattern here in the Northeast. Cloudy, cold, short days with threats of rain or snow showers are always possible. It’s a chance to do some last minute garden chores before I call it quits for the season.
One chore that continues, regardless of freezing weather, is harvesting leeks. Leeks are amazing. They can withstand cold weather and even freezing and still taste great. I talk about them here.
We don’t normally think of shrubs blooming in November, but one does. Witchhazel can bloom in late fall or winter depending on the species. Even when not blooming, it’s a nice shrub in the landscape. I talk about witchhazel as well.
Also, milkweed has gotten lots of press for its vital part in the life of Monarch butterflies. The larvae feed exclusively on the milkweed leaves. However, some farmers consider milkweed a weed reducing the quality of the forage crop and being toxic to animals. Now, from Vermont and Quebec comes a new version of an old use for milkweed that may have farmer’s growing it instead of alfalfa. Read more here.
Finally, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! With this crazy world, it’s good to pause and give thanks and appreciate the great things in our lives. I appreciate you coming along on this gardening ride with me through the newsletter and wish you all a happy holiday and happy gardening.
Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
Witchhzael is probably known to most people as that astringent used medicinally. But witchhzael is also a hardy, native shrub with an unusual flowering habit. If you’re growing the native Hamamelis virginiana, then you should be seeing spider-like, yellow blooms in fall on the shrub. If you’re growing Hamaelis mollis, those blooms will happen in late winter. Either way it’s not a time you normally think of for flowers.
The flowers are just one of the reasons to grow this shrub. If can reach 10 to 20 feet tall and wide when growing well. It also suckers, so makes for a nice, informal hedge. The green leaves are attractive and turn a nice fall foliage color. There are variety selections that expand the color range and size options of witchhazel. ‘Little Suzie’ and ‘Harvest Moon’ are dwarf selections of the late fall bloomer. ‘Diane’ has red flowers in fall. ‘Arnold’s Promise’ blooms in late winter with golden flowers. ‘Jelena’ (shown here) has an unusual blend of red, yellow and orange blooms and attractive leaves.
Witchhazel grows best in full to part sun on well-drained soil. It’s a pretty carefree shrub with few pests. Deer occasionally browse ours, but they never spend much time on it.
It’s best to plant witchhazel in the landscape against evergreens or a dark building. That way the small flowers will show up more clearly when in bloom. Witchhazel can be mixed into a shrub border with other popular shrubs such as dogwood, viburnum and fothergilla.
It’s not too late in most areas to plant your spring flowering bulbs. For those in the South and West, now is the perfect time since the temperatures have finally started dipping below 60F. While large flowered bulbs, such as hyacinths, tulips and daffodils, get a lot of attention, I like the delicate bulb selections, too. One of my favorites are the small flowered narcissus or jonquils. These small-sized flowers grow well in tight clumps and offer the color of a big bulb, with the delicateness of a more refined bulb. Some offer another desirable trait; fragrance.
‘Jetfire’ features 8-inch tall plants with yellow petals and an orange to red colored center. ‘Butterfly’ gets a little taller, to 14 inches, with rounded white petals with orange and yellow striped centers. The ‘Poet’s’ daffodils features white petals and a small, round, yellow center edged in red. It has a sweet fragrance. ‘Tete’ Boucle’ is a small, 8-inch tall variety with double yellow flowers. ‘Tete a Tete’ comes in a yellow or white version and naturalizes well.
Mix and match these small flowered narcissus with scilla, crocus, and grape hyacinths. The flower colors compliment each other and the flower sizes won’t seem out of proportion. After flowering, let the foliage naturally yellow and then cut it back for summer.
Narcissus are not the favorites of squirrels, chipmunks, voles or deer, so if you’ve had troubles with those pests in the past, this might be the bulb for you.
I know for most gardeners, it’s not time to plant leeks, but it’s sure time to eat them. We’ve been enjoying our leeks ever since the weather turned colder. The taste and texture seems to mellow with the cooler weather. If you haven’t been growing leeks, put it on your list for next year. They’re really easy to grow, even when started from seed indoors, and they produce reliably with little care.
In our zone 5 climate we plant transplants in late spring in full sun on well-drained soil amended with compost. I like the hardiness and blue green leaves of the ‘Tadorna’ variety, but there are many varieties available. Poke a hole in the soil with a bulb dibble or round dowel and plant the leek seedlings about half way down their stem. This will encourage more blanched white stems.
Start harvesting in late summer or fall. In fact, you can harvest really anytime once the plant gets established. Of course, for most varieties the longer you wait, the thicker the stems. I’ve harvested leeks right into winter. On morning the leek plants were frozen solid, but I harvested and cooked them that night. They tasted great. Leeks also can be harvested, cleaned and frozen for winter soups.
Use the mild flavored leeks as you would scallions or onions. One of our favorite winter dishes is potato-leek soup. It’s a good meal on a cold, November day.
For more on growing leeks, go here.
In Our Garden: New Use For Milkweed
Milkweed is a native plant that’s an essential food for the Monarch butterfly larvae. It’s also a great garden plant as well. Now, an old use for the milkweed floss or fluff found in the pods, is coming back. In Colonial times, milkweed floss was used to stuff pillows and quilts. Now a manufacturer in Quebec is using the fluff to insulate winter jackets with great results. Not only is the fluff a good insulator in cold climates, using milkweed floss has created a demand for more milkweed.
Hundreds of acres of milkweed have been planted in the Vermont and Quebec to supply the floss needed to insulate these jackets. Also, these hundreds of acres are a boon to Monarch butterfly larvae because the crop isn’t harvested until after the monarchs have left.
It’s a great new cash crop for farmers and a good way for consumers to buy a natural fiber and help a butterfly.