I grow roses in my garden and would never think of cutting one before its prime. However, when it comes to buying roses locally, I usually choose those that are just beginning to open. Why the disconnect? It’s mainly habit, I suppose, and the fact that we Americans are only beginning to discover the perks of Russian-cut roses. Continue reading →
Flowers in December, you say? It can’t be possible. Yet overnight, bright white blooms have popped up in my garden. Helleborus niger, commonly known as Christmas Rose, is running the show. And at holiday time, my dreary landscape has never looked better. Continue reading →
Who doesn’t love the taste of herbs cut fresh from the garden? Cold weather doesn’t have to spell the end of that enjoyment. In fact, you can grow bundles of savory herbs throughout all the seasons. All you need are some plants, a sunny window and a little TLC in the form of good soil, attentive watering and a regular supply of food. Continue reading →
Long before it became a trending food, flowering kale was a garden star, delivering a pop of color to fall’s graying landscape. The plant is not only prized for its striking foliage but it’s also one of just a few species that thrivesin cold weather. In fact, flowering kale likes cold temperatures so much that it often stays attractive well into winter. I can’t think of a better choice for fall gardens and containers. Continue reading →
They say good things come in small packages. And when it comes to trees, I’d say that’s certainly true. While tall species like maples, oaks and elms boast lofty canopies, small trees flaunt their beauty up close. They’re a great addition to any landscape. But they’re especially suited to the smaller space, where even one, well-chosen specimen can brighten up a garden. Continue reading →
One of my favorite places to visit in the spring is the March Bank at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum. The estate’s stunning 60-acre naturalistic garden has one of the finest displays of minor bulbs around. Blooming in succession over a span of a few months, the bulbs weave a thick carpet of purples, pinks, blues, yellows and whites beneath the property’s centuries’ old trees. Faced with all that beauty, I vow each year to plant a few minor bulbs of my own. Continue reading →
In mid-summer, daffodils are rarely top-of-mind. But this is precisely the time when you need to be ordering them. And this is especially true for the more sought-after, unusual varieties. Why stick with yellow trumpets when daffodils come in so many colors, shapes and sizes? See below if one or more of these different types of daffodils wouldn’t be the perfect fit for your spring garden. Continue reading →
Sunflowers are known for their unique tracking ability. As they grow, young sunflowers follow the sun from east to west across the sky. Come nightfall, the flowers pivot back from west to east, only to begin the cycle all over again at dawn. Continue reading →
To prune or not to prune? This is one of the quintessential gardening questions. Recently, I asked a top landscaper in Virginia to weigh in on the issue. “When is the best time to prune hydrangeas without cutting off next year’s flowers?” I asked.
“Never,” she replied with a laugh. “But your best shot is after they’ve bloomed.”
It turns out that knowing how and when to prune hydrangeas involves first, identifying what kind of shrubs you own. And it all starts with determining whether they flower on old or new wood. Continue reading →
Even bad boys can have a good side; and so it goes with an unwanted inhabitant of many a garden, poison ivy. The native plant sure knows how to take over a room. For humans, its ornamental qualities are less than desirable. That being said, poison ivy does have its uses. See below.
WHAT IT IS
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poison ivy is one of the most common poisonous plant species found throughout the continental United States. A native of North America, it grows mostly in the eastern and midwestern states where it tends to inhabit forests, fields, and shorelines. More worrisomely, it’s also come to love urban/suburban environments such as road sides and parks. This in turn has led to it taking up residence in many of our backyards.
Poison ivy is a member of the sumac family, Anacardiaceae, which comprises over 860 known species. Along with poison sumac and poison oak, it is part of the genus toxicodendron, whose toxic properties produce contact dermatitis in affected individuals.
A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP
So what makes toxicodendron so toxic? The culprit is urushiol, an oily resin with allergenic properties. Urushiol is found in every part of toxicodendron, including dead or dormant plants. When poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac are bumped, damaged or even burned, they release urushiol as a means of protection.
In fact, research shows that only a small amount of exposure can cause an allergic rash. And by small amount, that means just 1 nanogram or one billionth of a gram. There is even evidence that urushiol can remain on a surface for up to five years. The take-away? I’d say avoid these plants altogether.
On a good note, apparently about 10 to 15 percent of the human population is immune to poison ivy and its cousins, and therefore will never experience the rash. And poison ivy is less common outside the U.S., although it can still be found here and there around the globe.
HOW TO IDENTIFY POISON IVY
A common adage says ‘Leaves of three, let it be’, while another counsels ‘Leaves of three, run and flee’. I prefer the latter, having suffered from major breakouts throughout my lifetime in the garden. That being said, poison ivy is a chameleon when it comes to appearance. it can be downright hard to identify. Compare the photo below to the two above. You’ll see what I mean.
The truth is poison ivy has so many variations it can baffle even the most seasoned horticulturalist. Take for instance its make-up. It can be a creeping groundcover, or a woody vine (referred to as a liane) which, once it scales a tree, can put on 20 feet of growth in just one season. And full sun can cause it to take on a shrub form.
And while most of us know to look out for a plant with three leaves, from that point on, things can get murky. Poison ivy has a compound leaf, which means that what presents as a single leaf is actually three. Additionally, its leaves can be shiny or dull, and their size and shape can vary greatly. Some leaves are toothed, while others are deeply lobed. And in some rare instances, poison ivy can have five leaves instead of three.
Poison ivy taking on fall color
Look for bright green leaves during the growing season and bright red ones in the fall.
HERE’S THE RUB
The good news is that, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), poison ivy rashes are not contagious and therefore cannot be spread from person to person. However, it is possible to pick up the rash from toxins stuck to clothing, tools or other items including pets (see below.) And contrary to common thought, the rash occurs only where the oil has touched the skin. So rubbing or scratching won’t spread it. What may seem like a spreading rash is actually the toxin’s effects appearing gradually over time.
Always wash your skin and clothes after coming into contact with poison ivy. This is essential to removing all traces of urushiol. And use cold water, not hot. Hot water thins the oil and helps it dissipate more quickly.
CAN ANIMALS GET POISON IVY?
According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the answer is rarely. Usually, their long protective coats prevent the plant oils from ever reaching their skin. However, animals can carry the toxin on top of their fur, so don’t let your pet rub against you if you think he or she’s been in contact. Try bathing yours with a colloidal oatmeal shampoo while wearing gloves to eliminate the urushiol.
My cat, Squeaky
IT’S GOOD FOR SOMETHING
Before you decide to remove that patch on your slope, you might want to think again. Like kudzu, poison ivy is great at erosion control, especially on coastlines where it acts as a stabilizer for sandy soil. (It’s a big player along the Eastern coastline.) Moreover, it provides valuable food for many species of wildlife, who eat its fruit, stems and leaves. And it also functions as a protective shelter for small mammals.
Small animals like rabbits like to feed on poison ivy
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
As with most unwanted plants, the best way to eliminate them is to get to know their seedlings and start early. As poison ivy matures, however, it may require years of patient digging to totally eliminate its root structure. You can apply an herbicide like glyphosate to the plant’s roots, leaves or vines. However, be sure to wear eye protection and gloves when chopping down vines. And never use a chain saw, which can spread the toxins by air.