Category: Debra R. Messick

Embrace moondust for your plantings

Spring planting season, with longer, warmer, brighter days, is when gardeners traditionally celebrate the resurgence of the sun. But some growers are also inclined to embrace the night sky and the moon, whose cyclical phases, they believe, can help them produce bigger, better crops. Google the term “moon phase gardening” and results will run the gamut from venerable publications like the Old Farmer’s Almanac to an array of spiritual new age enthusiasts and off the grid homesteaders. Despite a diversity of backgrounds, they share an almost fervent belief that the moon’s alchemy makes a huge difference in the quality of crop production. Many who work the soil learned early on the lore of planting by the moon from family elders handing down their knowledge through generations. But each season, it seems, new disciples  are discovering the wisdom of the ‘old ways’ when they choose to practice more natural methods of organic and biodiversity gardening. For others, who remain totally in the dark, the venerable Old Farmer’s Almanac’s 2019 edition dispels the notion that moon phase gardening has anything to do with sowing seeds at midnight. Neither is it astrology, the Almanac states, though some ‘true believers’ have connected the dots to include the implications of star signs and beyond. Dorchester County Master Gardener Laetitia Sands does not claim to be an expert, though she’s explored lunar gardening premises (and promises!),...

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Ready to start your own moon garden?

We’re used to selecting plants to adorn our surroundings according to how much sun or shade they prefer. But some flowers wait until the sun sets to truly shine. These are the florae whose late (in the day) blooms emit intoxicating scents perfect for luring night pollinators, and, if they’re lucky, people who’ve discovered the peaceful pleasures and sensory delights of a garden at night. More people are discovering the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of their gardening labors after dark, when the air is cooler, and the busy rush of day is past. For horticulturalist Heather Wheatley at Homestead Gardens, a moon garden makes perfect sense for people working from sun up to sun down, lacking the time to enjoy the outdoor sanctuaries they created. One of her favorite moonlight delights is the Yucca, a member of the Agave family, whose flower blooms in the evening and attracts its own pollinator, the tiny yucca or pronuba moth. Another is Night Phlox (Zaluzianskya)—one variety is nicknamed “Midnight Candy.” White flowers which reflect moonlight make up the main palette element, but often they are tinged with touches of pink, gray and other accent hues. “There’s a range of shades from light to deeper with a variety of textures,” Wheatley added. Homestead horticulturalists also recommend, no surprise here, Coreopsis “Moonbeam,” which becomes iridescent after dark, Moonflower, Four O’Clock, Jasmine, Tuberose and...

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Pussy willows whisper ‘Welcome, spring’

A robin’s song used to be the first sign of spring. But with robin migrations mitigated by warming temperatures, now the lucky robin plucking a worm from the warming soil is also regarded as the true harbinger. But for evidence pointing to winter winding down, there’s an even earlier “bird” to watch for, a different “animal” altogether — the pussy willow, which makes its debut in late February and March here in the Mid-Atlantic region. Known scientifically by its proper Latin name, Salix Discolor, it’s native not only to Maryland but throughout large swaths of the northern United States...

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Ground rules for under-the-canopy gardens

When you think garden, do you envision open space graced by boundless sun? If your answer is “yes,” walking in the woods might open your eyes to other possibilities. Smaller trees and shrubs — think rhododendrons and dogwoods — enhance the understory. Shade-tolerant and dappled sun loving florals—think spring cyclamen and lady slipper—discreetly please the eye. If your homestead harbors arbors of stately oaks or elms, a charming garden paradise can still be yours by layering. Heather McCargo, of Maine’s Wild Seed Project, advises using the forest as template for a woodland garden, first analyzing your site’s light levels then deciding on plants. Deciduous trees allow greater amounts of direct and indirect sunlight to filter down to the forest floor than evergreens, she stated. Early spring — before the trees fill in with leaves — is a prime time for many wildflowers (and bulbs) to bloom. Other understory plants seem able to wring enough light from less optimal locations. “These are the plants that can tolerate the immediate north side of a building which is usually in complete shade. Farther out, the light levels can increase depending on the time of year,” she advised. Varied vegetation layers, including smaller understory trees and larger shrubs, help to duplicate the ecosystem found in natural forest habitat, adding visual interest and attracting wildlife and pollinators, McCargo attested. Woodland soil, nutrient laden courtesy...

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How smart is your home?

Science fiction seers have long prophesized a golden age of automated home nirvana. Those who grew up watching “The Jetsons” cartoons, believed it was bound to happen, but in a someday off in the distance. Alexa wasn’t around then to ask when it would begin. But Amazon Echo’s iconic voice-activated assistant, whose “powers” derive from Cloud computing technology, seems to be everywhere today, announcing the future’s arrival. Thanks to the “magic” of WiFi and the Internet of Things, that long-promised era isn’t merely on our proverbial doorsteps, it has literally crossed the threshold into our living spaces. Now, at the touch of an app or voice command, we’re able to customize and control our residential environment with almost cinematic virtuosity, even remotely view and speak with whoever’s at our door, from anywhere around the house, or around the country. For tech savvy savants with the financial resources, there’s almost no limit to devising the digitally enhanced home of their dreams. But even for those with far less know-how and fewer dollars to invest, a world of possibilities awaits. It can actually be as simple as screwing in a smart lightbulb or plugging in a smart WiFi plug to any outlet, which can render regular devices Internet controllable. No matter the level of smart home brilliance you aspire to, the foundation remains the same: good WiFi coverage, coupled with a...

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