Maine Home Garden News — August 2017

August Is the Month to . . .

By Cathryn Kloetzli, Extension Professional in Agriculture and Food Systems, UMaine Extension Oxford County

Northern Bayberry: A Resilient, Functional Native Shrub for the Sunny Maine Garden

By Marjorie Peronto, Extension Educator, UMaine Extension Hancock County

Morella pensylvanica, aka Myrica pensylvanica (Northern Bayberry) is a native shrub that grows wild from Newfoundland to Maryland. Although it is reliably evergreen in its southern range, it is typically deciduous or semi-evergreen in Maine. Along the rocky coast in Acadia National Park, northern bayberry forms immense colonies of windswept, salt-sprayed plants that reach only two feet in height.

A colony of Morella pensylvanica grows along the coast in Acadia National Park.
A colony of Morella pensylvanica grows along the coast in Acadia National Park. Photo by Reeser Manley.

Because of its ability to tolerate heat and drought once established, landscapers often select this shrub when faced with poor sandy soils where few other plants will grow. When planted in a full sun garden with rich soil and adequate water, it can grow well over six feet tall and wide. All parts of this plant have a spicy scent when crushed. In our garden, on a warm August afternoon, we cannot pass by the bayberries without running our hands along the leaves to savor the spicy scent. This is one of many reasons why we planted them; for the bold texture, dark green color, and delicious aroma of the summer foliage.

Northern bayberry has bold, glossy, aromatic summer foliage.
Northern bayberry has bold, glossy, aromatic summer foliage. Photo by Reeser Manley.

Northern bayberry is a must for the bird garden. Because of its suckering habit, it forms dense thickets which serve as a nesting site for songbirds, offering excellent protection from raccoons and other nest predators.

The small gray waxy-coated berries borne in clusters along the stem are a preferred winter food of chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, tree swallows, catbirds, bluebirds, and yellow-rumped warblers. The fragrant waxy coating is also used to scent bayberry candles. Northern bayberry is typically dioecious, with only female plants bearing fruit. Include at least one male plant in your landscape to ensure adequate pollination. The best time to purchase bayberry plants is in the fall when the females are fruiting, which makes it easy to distinguish between males and females.

In addition to its wildlife value, the fruit of northern bayberry is used to scent candle wax.
In addition to its wildlife value, the fruit of northern bayberry is used to scent candle wax. Photo by Reeser Manley.

The following photographs were taken along a winding bayberry-lined drive leading up to the Cape Cod home of Patricia Crow and James Hadley. The bayberry served as a foil for colorful herbaceous perennials and shrubs, all selected for their ability to nourish wildlife.

An informal bayberry hedge forms the perfect foil for butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’), and the bold-textured flower clusters of oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia).
An informal bayberry hedge forms the perfect foil for butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’), and the bold-textured flower clusters of oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia). Photo by Reeser Manley.
The fruits of American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) add a splash of color to the bayberry hedge.
The fruits of American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) add a splash of color to the bayberry hedge. Photo by Reeser Manley.

A striking combination we see growing naturally along the coast of Maine is northern bayberry with one of New England’s native roses (either the Carolina rose (Rosa carolina) or Virginia rose (R. virginiana)). The dark green foliage of bayberry makes an excellent foil for the simple pink flowers, deep red autumn leaves, and bright red hips of these roses.

Writing about bayberry also brings to mind a late summer discovery along the rugged coast of Vinalhaven, of bayberry and staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) growing together. The dark red pyramidal fruit clusters of sumac surrounded by the bold bright green of bayberry foliage formed an image impossible to forget.

Not Your Grandmother’s Cutting Garden

By Lynne Holland, Community Education Assistant (Home Horticulture), UMaine Extension Androscoggin and Sagadahoc Counties

peonies in bloomIn old crime films when they have no leads, they round up the “usual suspects” and try to pin it on one of them. While snow is still on the ground and plans are being made for the gardening season ahead, cutting gardens are not unlike that mystery with no clues — gardeners often fall back to the “usual suspects.” As a floral designer with more decades of experience than I care to admit, I have always challenged myself to expand the definition of floral arranging options to keep things interesting throughout the year. My definition of and choices for a cutting garden might surprise you.

Several challenges pop up when designing a cutting garden. The first challenge is to plan for having plenty of material for arrangements available at the same time in the space that you have to work with. Secondly, gardeners should be prepared to trial and embrace options they hadn’t considered in the past. Last, is the mission of finding greenery and accent material that lasts as long as the flowers. Addressing those options takes planning, vision, some luck, and a sense of adventure. So let’s take these challenges one at a time and see how to address them in your unique landscape.

Many cutting gardens are full of annuals because, generally, annuals produce flowers quickly and are more likely to re-bloom than most perennials. A number of seed suppliers have entire sections on their websites and in their catalog for cut flower seeds; Johnny’s, Harris, Burpee, Swallowtail, and Seed Savers all have content dedicated to the cut flower crowd. These resources can offer some great inspiration for expanding your horticultural palate. In general, cutting garden flowers should have stems of 15” or more and be able to survive out of the garden in a vase for several days. Another factor to consider is the ability to remove leaves or other parts of the flower that might be underwater to minimize bacterial growth. In many types of plants, pinching growing stems will encourage branching and longer stems in most varieties (ex: snapdragons, zinnias, cosmos, some sunflowers). Although it may be painful to snip the tip of that new plant around the Fourth of July, you will be rewarded in a few weeks with three or four long stems of flowers rather than one single flower.

border garden in bloomFirst blooms of most annuals will appear in mid to late July and any real abundance of flowers may not arise until early August. This is where a selection of perennials (bulbs, herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs) can play a big role in offering material all year round. The use of bulbs is a trick long used in Dutch and English gardens. Bulbs planted in fall such as daffodils, hyacinth, and tulips produce the first focal flowers of the season. Other, less known bulbs planted in the fall that can add interest and uniqueness to your bouquets include Belladonna Lily (resurrection or naked lady lily), Camassia (Indian Hyacinth), Crocosmia, and many varieties of allium. Summer planted bulbs and tubers that will fill in your later bouquets include gladioli, tuberose, and a myriad of dahlias.

Potted plants from the winter will also produce flowers for vases. Amaryllis, forced daffodils or hyacinths or even some exotic flowers can fill your vases late in the fall or early in the winter. One of my favorite flowers to use in small vases is the miniature rose. The plants found in the supermarket floral departments are frequently hardy so I cut the flowers as they bloom indoors then plant it early in the spring when the ground thaws. I’ve found that some tend to produce several long stems (9”-12”) in the second season with multiple buds — perfect for a desk or bedside table.

Standby garden plants such as peonies, hydrangeas, and butterfly bush are often overlooked as too touchy for arranging. The trick with these is a sharp cut, removal of most foliage, and making sure they’re cut just before they peak in the garden. If they are open and gorgeous on the plant you have missed your opportunity.

The last challenge is that of finding accent material (texture, filler, and greens). Of course, many types of ferns are found in floral bouquets, but many of our Maine-grown ferns do not last like the ones grown further south. Greenery is not just found on the forest floor. Look at the shrubs and trees to find nice, long lasting foliage and sometimes the bonus of a small unique flower. This is where long term planning pays off. Consider adding an Andromeda (Pieris) or laurel (Kalmia) to a shrub border — both offer firm, glossy green leaves that are excellent for arrangements. Hosta leaves make a great surround low in a vase for a mass of flowers. Vegetable gardens can also produce interesting foliage from asparagus greenery to brightly colored varieties of chard. A host of herbs  (sage, winter savory, tarragon, lavender, and dill, just to name a few) have greenery that last many days, are often available later in the season and smell delicious. Winter savory, thyme, and oregano flowers are some of my favorite fillers.

Looking for vertical interest? Root the curly willow you get in a spring bouquet and grow a small tree or multi stem hedge in a sunny wet area. Black and fantail pussy willow are also relatively easy to start from cuttings. Harry Lauder Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), and Red Twigged Dogwood (Cornus cericia) are just a few shrubs that have branches that have winter interest. Holly, boxwood, Yaupon holly, and many needled evergreens are good for more than just Christmas arrangements. Perennial grasses work well in tall and oversized vases. The key to using these shrub and grass materials is a good sharp cutting tool and very clean vases.

Challenge yourself not to just have a cutting garden, but a cutting landscape. Plan and plant your landscape to produce vases of flowers from the first forced branches of forsythia in early spring to the evergreens and amaryllis of the darkest days of December. I still have a goal of 12 months of flowers from my garden and I have come very close many times with Mother Nature’s cooperation.

A short list of our non-traditional favorites

Many of these suggestions are considered fillers or accent options to complement more traditional cut flowers.

Early (Feb-May)

  • Bulbs: Spanish Bluebells, Tuberose, Frittilaria, Camassia, Belladonna Lily
  • Forced stems: Quince, Cherry, Serviceberry, Vernal Witch Hazel, Maple

Mid (June-August)

  • Food: Dill, Asparagus (foliage), Blueberry, Swiss Chard, Garlic Scapes
  • False Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi visnaga ‘Green Mist’)
  • Cornflower ‘Black Ball’ (Centaurea cyanus)
  • Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa)
  • Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica)
  • Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis)
  • Sea lavender (Limonium nashii)

Late (September-January)

  • Perennial grasses
  • Amaranthus
  • Assorted seed heads (Echinacea, Allium)
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
  • Staghorn Sumac
  • Sensitive Fern (fertile fronds)
  • Harry Lauder Walking Stick
  • Blueberry (stems)
  • Annabelle Hydrangea

Cutting Garden Chart

Plant / Flower Short Med. Tall Annual or
Time Use Notes
Sunflowers   X X Annual Summer
and Fall
Focal Branching and single stem; subsequent blooms smaller
Salvias x X   Annual Summer
and Fall
Mass Red, white, pink, and purple/blue; cut almost to ground for stem length
Amaranthus   X X Annual Fall Focal Many unusual shapes and sizes
Bells of
  X X Annual Summer Background
or height
Small thorns on stem at blooming; be careful
Lisianthus X X   Annual Summer
and Early Fall
Focal Looks similar to rose; long lasting
Scabiosa X X   Annual Summer Mass Has some blues
X X   Annual Summer
and Fall
Filler Purples, pinks, white, and red
X X   Perennial Spring Filler  
Tuberose   X X Perennial Summer Focal Highly fragrant, white flower; bulbs must be removed each fall
Frittilaria   X X Perennial Spring Focal  
Camassia   X X Perennial Spring Mass  
  X   Perennial Summer Focal Naked Lady Lily or Resurrection Lily
X X X Perennial Late
Spring and Early Summer
  Onion-like smell; some can be used as dried flowers
Self Sowers
Forget me nots X       Spring Filler Spread seeds for more colors
Lupines   X X Perennial Early
  Does not transplant easily
Asters   X     Late
Butterfly Bush X X   Perennial Summer   Keep cutting back for more flowers
Peonies   X   Perennial Summer   Foliage works in summer bouquets
Hydrangeas X     Perennial Summer    
Miniature Rose
X     Perennial Summer    
Montauk Daisy   X   Perennial Summer   Unique aroma
Andromeda X     Shrub Winter   Small bell flowers bloom in late winter
Curly Willow   X X Tree Spring   Easy to propgate
Black Pussy
  X X Shrub Spring    
X X   Shrub Spring    

Fair Season in Maine

By Trisha Smith, Community Education Assistant (Home Horticulture), UMaine Extension Piscataquis County

Judge and 4-H'er at the oxen showing at the Skowhegan State FairMaine has a rich tradition of celebrating summer and harvest seasons with agricultural fairs. The longest-running fair in the United States is the Skowhegan State Fair, which will celebrate its bicentennial in 2018. Fryeburg hosts Maine’s largest, attracting 300,000 people every year. You could visit a different Maine fair every week from the end of June through the first week of October!

Most fairs have a midway with rides and carnival games, but each has its own personality, a reflection of its surrounding community. Granges, garden clubs, and other community organizations set up displays to inform the public and attract new members. Local farmers and gardeners, cooks, crafters, and kids show off the results of their labors. Everybody wants to win a blue ribbon!

Blue (and red and white) ribbons generally have a cash premium attached, and can be a nice way to start a seed fund for next year’s garden. If you’ve grown something especially wonderful this year, made amazing zucchini relish, or want an outside opinion of your perfect pies, enter it in the fair!

While each fair has its own rules and guidelines, most have similar judging standards. Your entries will be judged according to these standards, not by how they compare to what others have grown or made.

Here are Skowhegan State Fair’s standards for fruits and vegetables:

  • Excellent: Clean, free from any damage, uniform in size, true to variety.
  • Good: Free from damage (no more than 5% loss of total weight), relatively uniform in size, fairly true to variety.
  • Worthy: Fairly clean, free from serious damage (no more than 10% loss of total weight), fairly uniform in size.
  • No Award: Dirty, seriously damaged, overmature, extremely different in size, shape or color.

For more specific information on what is required of exhibitors, along with tips for success, browse the Skowhegan State Fair’s Exhibition Hall Rules.

If you are new to exhibiting and competing, your first step is to find a “Fair Book” for the fair you’re interested in. Many can be found online well in advance. Others still publish primarily on paper, and may or may not upload their information much before the event. Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs lists links to websites and contacts for each fair as well as the season calendar.

Celebrate Maine’s farms and farm communities at a fair this season. Whether or not you choose to compete, make time to check out the exhibition halls. You may see a new vegetable or flower variety to try, or connect with a garden club or Grange. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel, eat some fried dough, check out a live band. If it has been years since you went to a good old-fashioned country fair, wait no longer! Find a fair near you, or plan a road trip.

See you at the Fair!

Food & Nutrition: The Cost of Preserving in Maine

By Kathy Savoie, Extension Associate Professor, UMaine Extension Cumberland County

Master Food preserver lifts a canning jar from a hot water bath while demonstration participants look onIn Maine, freezing and hot water bath canning are the two most economical means of preserving the harvest at home, according to a new study by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, just in time for this year’s growing season.

The study, “The Cost of Preserving in Maine,” by UMaine Extension Associate Professor and Registered Dietitian Kathy Savoie and Kate McCarty, Community Education Assistant, found freezing fruits and vegetables was most cost-efficient at an average 38 cents per pound including 16 cents in energy per pound, compared to 73 cents per pound including 01 cents in energy per pound using the hot water bath canning method.

The most costly preservation method at triple times the expense: pressure canning, at an estimated $1.14 per pound including 03 cents of energy cost per pound. Drying was the third most costly preservation method at an average 99 cents per pound including 32 cents in energy cost per pound.

The costs were determined using average energy and preservation equipment prices in Maine, which may vary by location. The formulas for kilowatt-hour use during freezing and blanching, cost of repairs of equipment, and appliance energy use come from USDA research.

“Home food preservation has rebounded as the approach to extend year-round access to local foods. Home food preservers play an important role in supporting Maine agriculture and a sustainable local food system,” says Savoie, who has been providing educational programming related to nutrition, food safety, and food preservation since 1996. The cost of energy used in the preservation methods, as well as packaging materials/equipment required, should be considered. There are also noneconomic factors to take into account: taste, preferences, storage space, and price of equipment. A diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables each contain important nutrients and contribute to a healthy diet.

Indeed, a survey of 2,606 participants in UMaine Extension food preservation workshops found only 40 percent cited saving money as a reason for preserving. The top three reasons: increasing year-round consumption of locally grown foods, personal satisfaction, and desire to preserve homegrown produce.

Among the study’s other cost-related facts to take into consideration when preserving the harvest:

  • The cost of a freezer is the greatest expense associated with using freezing as a method of food preservation. However, the longer a freezer lasts, the less the cost per year to preserve.
  • Despite the higher cost to pressure-can a pound of food, there are reasons one would chose it over freezing, including the frequency of power outages in your area.
  • While hot water bath canning is a less expensive method of preserving than pressure canning, food safety recommendations limit the products that can be preserved using the hot water bath canning method. Only high-acid foods such as jams, jellies, salsa, tomato products, and pickles can be preserved using a boiling water bath canner. Low-acid products such as vegetables and meat must be pressure canned or frozen.
  • Maine’s high humidity and low nighttime temperatures prevent successful outdoor or solar dehydrating, which means an electric dehydrator or oven must be used. And while the cost for this preservation method are highest, it is best for creating lightweight snacks essential for outdoor recreational activities.
  • Cold storage or root cellaring is a low-cost way to store fruit and vegetables in Maine. Apples, root vegetables (potatoes, beets, rutabagas), carrots, garlic, and onions are best suited for cold storage and can last several months longer if stored in the right conditions.

For a copy of the full report, see Bulletin #4032, The Cost of Preserving Food in Maine.

For more information on UMaine Extension Home Food Preservation resources, including hands-on workshops and publications, see Food Preservation.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information.

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Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around Maine, with Katherine Garland, UMaine Extension Horticulturalist in Penobscot County, serving as editor.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

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