Friday, October 29, 2010

Leaf Color.

10-29-10 SHORT HILLS: We’re back to seasonal weather and might get a first frost in the next few nights. The big storm that ravaged the mid-west was exhausted by the time it got here, and all we had was a breezy day and, maybe, a quarter inch of rain.

The deciduous trees are busy conserving nutrients and energy stores generated in and by the leaves and storing them in the trunks and roots for the winter. This is why the leaves lose the green color, which comes from chlorophyll, and display the yellows, oranges, pinks, purples and reds we all love. The yellows are from carotenoids which also color carrots, of course, other veggies and egg yolks. The carotenoids are present in the leaf all season but only appear when the green is gone. The reds are from anthocyanins. These chemicals are produced when chlorophyll production ceases. Why? They may repel aphids from over-wintering eggs on the tree, or they may, after leaf fall, suppress the growth of competing tree species.

Nothing a plant spends energy on is frivolous or wasted, but is a hard-won trait providing some survival advantage resulting from years of evolutionary wars.

Borrowed from Wikepedia, authored by the USDA Forest Service.

Another maple. Does it look different now that we know a little more about it?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Berries and Magnolias.

10-26-10 SHORT HILLS: Warm weather continues with a light breeze and humid air—feels like the tropics. Rain has seemed imminent for a few days, but all we’ve gotten is 0.1 inches.

I went to Home Depot to get bird seed, which I did, and found that all their trees and shrubs are 50% off list price. Well—who could ignore that? Especially because the stock looked good, and fall is a good time to plant, no worries about too hot or too dry and time enough for the plant to get established before any hard frost.

I bought and planted a southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', and three beautyberry, Callicarpa japonica, which have the most vividly-colored, small magenta berries. Birds, this is for you.

The burning bush and red maples have started to turn in NJ.

Is this a vivid color? If you were a bird, could you resist these?

Roses are still on the job.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Red Seeds.

10-24-10 SHORT HILLS: So far we have had I cold night, no frost, but in the mid-thirties. [Where I’d like to be.] It has been dry, but rain is promised for this week. It’s pleasantly warm, T-shirt weather, if you’re working outside. I did move and extend a rock border to the bed with the southern magnolias and a bunch of other trees and shrubs including viburnums, yews, hollies, spireas, barberries, a dawn redwood and a hawthorn. As the bed gets bigger, I adjust the border.

While working around the magnolias, I was struck by the opening seed clusters. The seeds are brightly colored, red, as are so many berries in the yard—burning bush, spice bush, holly, barberry, viburnums, yew—to mention a few. Why does the plant invest in the bulky, vividly-colored seed coverings? Why not just put the DNA package out in the air or dump it on the ground? Why go to the expense of a fancy seed in what is always a tight economy for the plant?

I guess the answer is that the pretty wrappings make the seed look like a tasty present for the birds and, maybe the squirrels. If the animal eats the seed for its cover of carbohydrate, a day later it poops out the hard center of the seed, with the DNA, some place else and wrapped in a bit of fertilizer. That way the plant’s offspring get scattered around to new sites promoting the enhanced survival of the species. Since so many do it, it must be a successful strategy.

Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, fruit ball with seeds.

Sugar Maple looks even sweeter today.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


10-21-10 SHORT HILLS: I just noticed that witch-hazel is in bloom. The flowers are tiny and delicate and don’t exactly draw you in from fifty feet away like a magnolia or peony. They are pleasantly scented if you get close enough. Who do you suppose pollinates these flowers? When it is still in leaf, it’s easier to see the flowers from underneath the leaves. Some witch-hazels flower only after the leaves have fallen. Some are reddish and come out in very early spring. When the leaves turn, they have the same color, yellow, as the flowers. These shrubs are not the source of hazel nuts, but do make a fruit with four seeds. The shrubs can get ten to twenty feet tall and tolerate full shade.

That dead leaf is from the tree that keeps the witch-hazel in shade most of the growing season.

From underneath the leaves, the flowers have four bracts, four ribbon-like petals and four stamen around a central pistil.

You can see an opening flower bud here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Sun Sinks South.

10-20-10 SHORT HILLS: The weather has been seasonal. We got another 0.1 inches of rain.

We are one month past the Equinox, when the sun was on the Equator, and the sun is now half way down to its southernmost declination. On this date in August, the sun was at the corresponding declination in the northern hemisphere. The sun has moved 23° of latitude southward in 60 days.

The foliage color, a response to the sun’s movement, is good here in NJ and, again, changing earlier than usual, a response to some unknown effect of the weather this growing season.

Sweet Gum Tree.

Sugar Maple.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pumpkins Float Down Connecticut River

10-16-70 SHORT HILLS: We had another storm here Thursday night which delivered another 0.65 inches of rain. Friday and today have been very windy, shaking all the loose leaves out of all the trees.

A few days ago, before the last rain, I was out in the yard with the dogs, and we were caught in a leaf storm. A wind gust shook ash trees and, for a few minutes, it rained yellow leaves, all back-lit by the sun. Of course, I didn’t have the camera with me, and it was over by the time I got it.

The color here is already pretty good. Here’s an ash from a few days ago.

That storm at the beginning of the month caused a lot of flooding in the Connecticut River Valley in VT and NH. Pumpkin farms on the banks of the river to north of us had hundreds of acres of pumpkins harvested from the vines, but not yet gathered. They estimated a 100,000 pumpkins set sail down river. A disaster for the farm families, but dramatic videos.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vermont Pix.

10-13-10 SHORT HILLS: We came back to NJ yesterday. The color was actually better in southern VT, MA and CN than what we had further north. Back in NJ we had had 1.2 inches of rain, so we're catching up. Here are some of the pix from last week in Vermont:

Norwich-tree tops.

Thetford-Brady the horse takes five.

Thetford-Red Maple again.

Woodstock-Big barn, little hill.

Pomfret-all hills.

Pomfret-Galaxy Rd.


Actually, we left by car.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wright's Mountain.

10-11-10 VERMONT: Yesterday I hiked with Roger and Ann, we climbed Wright’s Mt. in Bradford, VT. It’s not real high, but the trails are winding and numerous. The trail map looks like a snarl of yarn. The mountain bedrock is schist. It has some nice views from the vantage points and an interesting pile of huge boulders called the Devil’s Den. I think it is a glacier created pile under south-facing cliffs. It was an all afternoon event and had my hips griping by the end.

Last night Judy threw another one of her soirees. Roger, Ann, Adena, Craig, Ken and Jane were our guests. We settled most of the world’s problems, and everyone stayed fairly late, considering that it was a school night.

Today I was back in the yard. With Judy’s help, all the outdoor furniture was stored and the boat is in the barn. I sprayed burdock, thistle and nettle in the pasture around the barns with RoundUp. I cleared another bed, hauled away the cuttings, enlarged another bed by moving the rock border outwards and weeded a different bed. There’s lots more to do, but I’m caught up for now and waiting for a hard frost before doing the rest.

New blooms: witchhazel [forgot to mention last week].

View from Wright's Mt. looking west.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Foliage.

10-9-10 VERMONT: Yesterday and today were both lovely, although there was a shower yesterday at dusk. I pulled out all the flower bed borders yesterday and labeled them all and put them in the barn. Then I started cutting down stalks of phlox, peony, beebalm, hollyhock, bleeding heart, delphinium, day lily, filipendula and others that are done for the season. Other flowers like hosta, sedum, alkanet, boltonia, rogersia, turtle head, aster are still green and some still blooming. There are more beds to do, but I’m caught up for the moment. There is a frost predicted for tonight, so I may have more to do tomorrow.

Today we did errands and drove to Woodstock, VT on the back roads which are usually gorgeous in foliage season. And so they were today, but the color was a bit more muted and muddy then in other years. The leaf season is early this year, and trees in parts of Pomfret and Sharon are mostly bare. Those heavy rain and wind storms probably did it. Nevertheless, I did get some nice pix to post, but I’ll do it next week with the faster connections in NJ.

Eagle-eyed Judy saw a bear in Norwich, not far from the town center and later flushed a grouse in our pasture, neither of which I got to see. We did see a mama turkey with two chicks this afternoon.

Mt. Lafayette in the center, in the White Mountains. That's about 40 miles away to the NE.

After heavy rain, interesting mushrooms pop up.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Foliage Season.

10-7-10 VERMONT: We came up yesterday in a soaker from Connecticut to Vermont that continued over night and stopped about noon today. There was already plenty of precip here. I had put the rain gauge away to avoid an early frost cracking it, but a bucket I had left out was almost full. According to NOAA we had almost seven inches of rain here in the past two weeks.The pond was full and draining, the little pond which had been dry is almost full, and the usual low spots are soggy.

The leaves are about at peak for foliage color. As usual some trees are bare, some in full color and some still green depending on species, exposure, elevation and latitude. Vermonters say that the best color follows warm days, cool nights, but without hard frosts. That’s what we have had, but it’s not as glorious as in other years. Yesterday in the rain and mist the colors were muted, but today after the sun came out, the colors were bright—no surprise, of course.

I started fall wrap-up, clean-up, put-away and take-down. I pulled all the plant supports-stakes, hoops, ties, poles, the electric fence around the veggies, the tomato cages, the hummingbird feeder, beetle traps, hoses. Tomorrow I’ll get the flower bed border guards.

New Blooms: cimicfuga, late monkshood.

Barn bracketed by maples.

Red Maple. Very red maple today.

Monday, October 04, 2010

From Sweaty to Sweatery.

10-4-10 SHORT HILLS: We ended up with 4.2 inches of rain from the storm and got another 0.05 inches last night. In about a week we have had almost 5 inches. I guess that takes care of the drought. All the transplants look fine, how could they not with all the rain?

I bought two hydrangeas on Saturday at The Farm and planted them yesterday in the spots vacated by the lilacs. It’s always a good time to buy garden plants, the nurseries are discounting to clear stock for the spring. Plantings done now have four to eight weeks to settle in before real cold hits with little chance of getting too hot or too dry.

The warm air brought by the tropical storm vanished with the sunshine and it’s been sweater weather since. Vermont later this week.