NATURE’S TURN: Blooming witch hazel, garden cleanup

Weeds! Dead and dying annuals! Standing, spent stems of perennials! A profusion of weeds and debris persists! Does this sound familiar?

October 26 – November 8, 2015

Mt. Washington — Killing frosts have changed the landscape. Soon after the unseasonable 20-degree overnight of October 18-19, when leaf change was at its peak, treetops that had blazed translucent red, yellow and orange dulled as leaves began to dry and shrivel. Large, 3-pointed, yellow leaves of striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) – a charming small tree – detached from their stems and floated to the ground, where they looked like patches of sunlight on the forest floor. Oaks that had been green holdouts amidst the fire colors that lit our hillsides turned russet, yellow and brown. Now, in full sun, when wind moves their crowns the leaves glitter like sequins against the blue sky.

Winterberry on October 11, 2015. Photo by Judy Isacoff
Winterberry on October 11, 2015. Photo by Judy Isacoff

As most plants shed their leaves and their seeds take flight, graceful American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub, is in full bloom in gardens, woodlands and along country roads. At first, the sprays of fragrant, wavy, ribbon-like yellow petals are nearly hidden under cover of yellow leaves. When the leaves drop the shrubs are a soft haze of blossoms.

In the same environments, naturally well-manicured winterberry (Ilex verticilata) may be mostly green and studded with red berries after many frosts. The berries are known to attract countless species of birds. Nearby, high bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is turning from deep green to hot pink.

Meteorologists pronounced the recent 20-degree nights as weather typical of November and December. Although I’d harvested most tender plants from the vegetable garden, when the prediction of deep frost loomed I didn’t want to risk harm to storage crops. Not having left beets and Turtle Tree Seeds’ Black Storage Radish and Zuercher purple top turnips in the ground through a hard freeze, I engaged the whole family in pulling these crops for safe-keeping indoors.

We threw covers over Swiss chard, celery, parsley and lettuce. Left uncovered overnight, the Russian kale wilted, then mostly sprung back. Curly and lacinato kale showed no ill effects. Ethiopian cabbage suffered some minor leaf burn. A few overlooked radishes, turnips and beets seem largely unharmed, pointing to their hardiness to at least one 20-degree weather event.

Geo Kao and Kelsy Waggaman with bouquets of Turtle Tree Seed Zuercher purple top turnips. Photo by Mackenzie Waggaman, October 18, 2015
Geo Kao and Kelsy Waggaman with bouquets of Turtle Tree Seed Zuercher purple top turnips. Photo by Mackenzie Waggaman, October 18, 2015
Celery and parsley plants potted on October 23, 2015. Photograph by Judy Isacoff
Celery and parsley plants potted on October 23, 2015. Photograph by Judy Isacoff

Even though they were covered, celery and Swiss chard showed signs of uneven frost damage; the parsley and lettuces were fine. After the next 20-degree night last week, I cut most of the chard, lightly stir-fried then froze it. Having limited refrigerator and freezer space, I potted the celery and, proactively, a few of the parsley plants, and brought them indoors to a cold sunroom. Both celery and parsley plants provide a sampling of fresh herbs into early winter and can be returned to the garden in spring. The remaining parsley harvest will be made into pesto and frozen. See https://theberkshireedge.com/natures-turn-garden-table-good-keepers/

Weeds! Dead and dying annuals! Standing, spent stems of perennials! A profusion of weeds and debris persists! Does this sound familiar? It’s a challenge to eek out enough daylight and sought-after 50 degree interludes in which to conclude cleanup and soil preparation. The health of the garden – and perhaps our sense of well-being – depends on clearing away the past season’s detritus as well as assuring the fertility of the soil by turning in compost in readiness for spring.

Resources:

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/hamamelis_virginiana.shtml

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/Native_Plant_Materials/Native_Gardening/alternatives.shtml

Winterberry   https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_ilve.pdf

https://www.botanicalinterests.com/articles/view/26/Frost-Tolerance-of-Vegetables

https://theberkshireedge.com/natures-turn-garden-table-good-keepers/