Christmas Trees – the December 2017 Tree of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Among the pleasures we enjoy in December is choosing a Christmas tree. The choices are many: the firs (Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir), pines (Scotch, Eastern White), red cedars, and spruce (Colorado Blue, Norway, Concolor). Throughout the United States there are more than 35 different evergreen species grown for the holidays. They are available either cut, in containers, or balled and burlapped.

If you choose to purchase a cut tree, try to prevent the cut section of the trunk from being exposed to the air for more than three to six hours; it should be put into a container with water as soon as possible. Next, trim off the lowest branches which might interfere with the tree’s staying upright in a stand, and then remove ragged branch tips or unattractive branches. Saw off an inch of the trunk so the tree can absorb water freely, and fasten it to its stand, which should contain plenty of water. The water, especially at first, should be replenished often.

Artificial Christmas trees are often made of PVC, a dangerous chemical, which is not biodegradable, and does not have the wonderful fragrance of a real tree. However, they may be used for many years and are maintenance free.

A live tree, while somewhat more labor intensive to care for, may be planted in your yard after its holiday use, and enjoyed for years to come. You must do some planning before you take the tree home but it is well worth while. 1) Determine what spot on your property affords the correct exposure (full sun) and space. Check a good source or the internet to determine how much space your particular species of tree will require when mature. 2) Dig the hole NOW before the ground freezes. Digging a frozen hole is no fun. Make the hole approximately 2 times the width of what you expect the container or root ball will be. This is important; and do not dig the hole any deeper than the height of the container or root ball. Fill the hole with leaves or mulch as insulation, and cover the hole and the pile of soil with a tarp and more leaves or mulch to avoid freezing. Throw away whatever sod was dug up as you do not want it included in the backfill.

Your live tree should be indoors as briefly as possible; place it at first (in a waterproof tub or container) in a garage or porch to allow it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. Water it lightly and frequently, or place ice cubes over the root ball to keep the moisture levels up. Spraying the tree with an antidessicant such as Wiltproof will help control moisture loss through the needles.

When the tree is ready for planting, roll it into the hole and orient it so that its best side faces your house or the street. If the hole is too deep, add soil into the bottom and compact it until it is the right depth. Remove as much of the burlap around the root ball as possible; if it is in a container, remove the container. If it is in a wire basket, cut off as much of the basket as you can. Then, begin to backfill with the soil you set aside. Water it thoroughly and slowly as you fill the hole; this will push out air pockets and saturate the sides of the hole as well as the back fill.

It is not necessary to stake or guy the tree. Cover the area – to the drip-line- with 2-3” of double-shredded, hardwood bark mulch, keeping the mulch 2” away from the trunk. Water your Christmas tree every day for a week, twice the second week, and then once a week until the ground freezes and your hose becomes useless.

Autumn Splendor – November 2017 Plant of the Month

sassafrasby Ann Farnham, LLA

At this time of the year we are especially fortunate to live in a region which displays brilliant leaf color in many of the abundant deciduous trees. The colors vary from yellow to orange, and bright red to purple. This does not happen throughout the world, but only in the Northern hemisphere and one small area in South America. The Northern hemisphere regions include Eastern Asia, Japan, Southwest Europe, and the United States and Canada. In the United States and Canada the foliage display ranges from Southeast Canada and the Northeastern United States, and its high altitude areas, like the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Rocky Mountains of the Western U.S. and Canada.

The brilliance of the color changes from year to year depending on weather conditions: a warm, wet spring, a summer which is not too hot and dry, and a fall with plenty of warm, very sunny days, lessened moisture, and cool nights.

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The process, which some of us learned in our high school biology classes, begins with the fact that deciduous, green leaves contain chlorophyll, which in the presence of sunlight, water, warm temperatures and carbon dioxide, produces sugars which feed the plant, tree or shrub. Leaves also contain carotenes and xanthophyll, pigment compounds whose yellow colors (the colors seen in egg yolks, carrots and flowers) are masked by the green chlorophyll. When the days become shorter, the chlorophyll has insufficient light to continue making sugars and breaks down, making the green color disappear; the other pigment compounds then become apparent. Meanwhile, the plant begins to form a membrane between the leaf and the leaf stalk, cutting off the movement of the leaf’s sugars to the rest of the plant, sealing off the leaf and gradually severing it. The sugars become entrapped in the leaf. Another pigment compound, anthocyanin, then appears as a result of the accumulation of the sugars; its appearance also depends on warm and bright sunny days followed by cool nights, under 45° but above freezing. The anthocyanin contains the red to purple pigments which we see on Sassafras, Red Maples, Fothergilla, and Flowering Dogwood, among others.

If a plant is located in a shady area it will not produce very brilliant colors as the process requires a certain amount of bright sunshine. A plant might exhibit much brighter color on its sunnier side, as well. A cloudy, rainy and warm fall restricts sugar production by the carotenes and xanthophyll, and what is produced continues to be transported to the trunk and roots, not “entrapped” in the leaf. Thus, poor or no color.

Some plants’ leaves will always turn yellow regardless of weather conditions, and some, such as Beech and some oaks, simply turn brown. All deciduous leaves eventually fall, some turning brown only after they fall from the plant, tree or shrub.

Needled evergreens such as pines, spruces and firs have needles which are covered with a heavy wax coating and have chemical fluids inside the needles which resist freezing. However, needled evergreens do experience periodic leaf fall and some, such as certain arborvitaes and junipers, change color.

Near freezing temperatures, low nutrients and other environmental stresses can also cause more and premature red in leaves.


This is an opportunity to encourage all gardeners to compost and use their leaves. A mulching mower chops up the leaves and returns them to nourish the lawn (mow frequently, however), and a blower-vac can chop up leaves into a bag for later composting and use. These chopped leaves make a fine mulch on beds. Pine needles also make an excellent mulch, being acidic in nature, especially beneficial for rhododendron, azalea, and other broad-leafed evergreen plants. 


  • To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.
  • To estimate the age of a tree, go to mdc.mo.gov

The purpose of the Ewing Township Plant of the Month is to call attention to Ewing Township plants of note based on their beauty, size, historical significance or threat, and thus engender a greater appreciation by residents for the plants in our community.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents. Let us know about your favorite trees, shrubs, flowers, and concerns in Ewing Township and perhaps one will be selected for the Ewing Township Plant of the Month.

Substitutes for Invasive Garden Plants: October 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

In September 2017 the Ewing Green Team and the Ewing Environmental Commission published a brochure about twelve invasive plants which, unfortunately, are sold at nurseries and garden centers in our area. Some states and communities prohibit the sale of known invasive plants, but Ewing does not do this. We named the brochure Invasive Plants commercially available in New Jersey. It was distributed at the 2017 Ewing Community Fest along with another brochure, The Ecological Benefits of the Not-So Perfect Yard. We called the invasive plants “The Dirty Dozen”, citing the most commonly used invaders.

In the chart below we list good substitutes for these popular but invasive garden plants. The suggested plants are all hardy to our USDA Hardiness Zone and are native plants.

To clarify what the advantages are to using native plants, the information is available on this web site, dated March, 2017, “Native Plants”. More information, titled “More Bad News”, was the April, 2017 Plant of the Month. More information about the substitute plants, natives and invasives, is easily accessible on the Internet.

Be sure to visit www.npsnj.org/plant-lists-native/trees for landscaping; www.MAIPC (The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council), and plants.usda.gov. We also recommend the book, Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery and Zwicker.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

                                       PLANT SUBSTITUTES FOR THE “DIRTY DOZEN”
Common Name Botanical Name Substitute  Common Name Substitute Botanical  Name
Autumn Olive Eleagnus umbellata Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Highbush cranberry Viburnum trilobum
Bamboo (Running)      [ 1] Several species and genera Ilex opaca American Holly
Magnolia virginiana Sweetbay Magnolia
Ilex glabra Inkberry Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Rhododendron maximum Rosebay Rhododendron
Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedar
Bradford Pear    [2] Pyrus calleryana Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
American Snowbell Styrax americanus
Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus
Green Hawthorn Crataegus viridis
Winged Silverbell Halesia diptera
Dogwood * Cornus alternifolia, florida*, sericea
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Highland Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Summersweet Clethra alnifolia
Smooth Witherod Viburnum nudum
Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet
Japanese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis Sorgastrum nutans Indian Grass
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem
English Ivy Hedera helix Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny Spurge
Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot
Gaultheria procumbens Creeping Wintergreen
Mahonia nervosa Longleaf Oregon Grape
Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii Fothergilla gardenii Dwarf Fothergilla
Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Itea virginica Sweetspire
Diervilla lonicera Bush-Honeysuckle
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica Lonicera sempervirens Trumpet Honeysuckle
Clematis texensis Scarlet Clematis
Japanese Wisteria Wisteria floribunda, sinensis Wisteria frutescens American Wisteria
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Asclepias syriacus, incarnata Butterfly Weed, Milkweed
Coreopsis verticillata, grandiflora Tickseed
Echinacea tennesseensis Tennessee Coneflower
Eupatorium  dubium, hyssopifolium Joe Pye Weed
Liatris spicata, aspera Gayfeather, Blazing Star
Winter Creeper Euonymus fortunei Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick, Bearberry
Decumaria barbara Woodvamp
Vaccinium crassifolium Creeping Blueberry
1 See July POM, 2017 Running Bamboo
2 See March TOM, 2016 Callery Pear
3 See July POM  2016  Burning Bush
See also March POM 2017   Native Plants
April POM 2017   More Bad News
Cornus florida* Choose disease resistant variety

September Plant of the Month (NOT!) – Stilt Grass

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Stilt Grass (AKA Eulalia or Nepalese Brown Top), is botanically classified as Microstegium viminium. This is a notable invasive pest with which most Plant of the Month readers are probably familiar. Introduced into Tennessee as packing material for porcelain coming from Japan and China in 1919, it has now spread into 19 states from New York south to Florida.

Stilt Grass can seem invincible. Flowering occurs here in New Jersey in mid-August to September, and the yellow to red dried seeds are produced from August to mid-October in our area; the seeds are tiny, 0.1” in diameter, and one plant alone can produce 1000 seeds.  They spread, not through animal involvement, but water runoff, wind, our shoes, our clothes, mechanical equipment, mowing, tilling, flooding, and more. Although the plant is an annual, dying back at the first frost, the seeds remain viable for five to ten years, making quick control a fantasy. Germination occurs in late spring, before crabgrass emerges.  This grass thrives on roadsides, in ditches, moist woodlands, lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens.

Disturbed sites, moderate to dense shade, and moist, acidic to neutral soils are preferred. Stilt grass, like so many invasives, out-competes native plants. Animals avoid the plants and seeds, and deer ignore them while grazing on other plants nearby, which creates more space for the stilt grass. Huge patches develop as a result, threatening native communities, displacing natives, and degrading wildlife habitat. Large areas of dead Stilt Grass, after frost and before spring plants appear, are fire hazards. There seem to be no insect or diseases which attack Stilt Grass.

What does this invader look like? It has pale green to lime green, lance-shaped leaves which are arranged alternately along the stem and measure 1-4” long and 0.5” wide; there is a white stripe which goes along the mid-rib. It will reach 2 to 6.5’ tall depending on environmental conditions. The weak, narrow stems are erect to reclining, and where the stem node touches the soil it will take root and sprout more plants. The roots are shallow.

Control of Stilt Grass may take years, but there are guidelines which will help. Foremost, control attempts must be addressed before flowering and seed-set. In small areas, such as flower beds, 1. hand-pulling is easy, as the roots are shallow. However, do not be surprised when more appear in the spring; remember, the seeds live for years.  2. String trimmers are very effective if you can avoid whacking your perennials and shrubs. Remove the grasses and do not include them in compost piles or the city brush and grass clippings collection area. 3. A pre-emergent herbicide- such as Preen, corn gluten meal, Pendulum, Panoramic, or Oust – might help in the early spring. This is an annual effort.

Large areas can be weed-whacked, and post- emergent herbicides can be used. The post emergent herbicides include Roundup, Aquaneat, Finale, Assure 11, Aclaim and Barricade. Post emergent herbicides must be used very carefully, when rain and wind are not occurring, and where other, to-be-saved plants are not nearby. There are grass-specific herbicides as well.

Good Luck!

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.

Running Bamboo – July 2017 Plant of the Month (NOT)

by Ann Farnham

In May of 2016 a bill (A3735) was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to establish requirements for the sale and planting of running bamboo in response to the pleas of a frustrated new homeowner who, after purchasing her property, discovered running bamboo invading hers from a neighboring property (see Making Bamboo Taboo).

The bill specifically pinpointed the genus Phyllostachys and a species, arundinaria. However, Phyllostachys is not the only invasive running bamboo that grows in New Jersey. There are other running bamboo genera; Pleioblastus, Sasa, Arundinaria, and Semiarundinaria, grow here, and some grow as far North as Boston, primarily along the coastal regions. There are three native North American species and more than 700 species world wide, most native to China, Japan, and Asia Minor. Bamboos are not all tropical nor confined to lower elevations.

The common names “Heavenly Bamboo”, “Lucky Bamboo” and “Japanese Bamboo” are not bamboos but unrelated genera.

About Bamboo

Bamboo is a grass, but unlike most grasses we are familiar with, they have underground stems (rhizomes), from which new clumps (culms) arise. The rhizomes of running bamboos can range to 25 feet in length from a single culm in one single growing season and thus, before long, a significant number of plants emerge from them, sometimes intruding into unwelcome areas like neighbors’ lawns, driveways and flower beds. There are “clumping bamboo” genera which have rhizomes as well, but they do not have the invasive properties of the running bamboos.

Many bamboos, both clumpers and runners, make beautiful and graceful garden plants and thick privacy screens. They are usually low maintenance and care-free except for the rigid control that must be practiced to contain the runners’ rhizomes.  They are available in many sizes, colors and shapes, striped and solid. Some are among the fastest growing plants in the world:  up to 3’ in 24 hours, some to a height of 100 feet. Bamboos flower or set fruit infrequently; some species do so only after anywhere from 15 to 120 years, after which most die. Many are attractive in containers indoors, outdoors, or as bonsai.  Insect and disease pests are not very prevalent.

Economically, bamboos are very important throughout the world, not as garden and home plants, but as food, textiles, art objects, paper, tools, fishing poles, furniture, and building materials, among others. Ecologically, bamboo is a workhorse, sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen prodigiously, and providing unique wildlife food and shelter. It is a vital food for Pandas, whose populations have been seriously affected when groves die after flowering; likewise, animals which proliferate eating the seeds, die when the grove stops producing.

Clumping Bamboos

There are beautiful clumping bamboos, such as Fargesia (Pandas’ favorite) and other clumpers, which are cold hardy and disciplined. They can serve as privacy screens as well as accent plants and focal points. Clumping bamboos, contrary to running bamboos, do not require 2-3’ plastic, concrete or metal buried barriers, or surrounding ditches which require seasonal cleaning out of new rhizomes, or frequent 15-20’ wide perimeter mowing.

Running Bamboo Negatives

Running bamboos deplete surrounding soil of nutrients, which prohibits complementary planting or a wildlife friendly understory. They require a lot of real estate, none of which should approach neighbors, public land or highways because if not properly contained, the hardy plants spread aggressively and can cause damage to concrete sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures. Running bamboo is particularly problematic when it spreads from one property to another, and causes damage to the neighboring property.

Summary

There is much more to write about bamboos (physiology, restraint methods, maintenance, physical characteristics, distribution, propagation), as well as the many other species that have been categorized as invasive in NJ.  The Ewing Environmental Commission recommends that all homeowners learn more about the problem of invasive species, the damage that they cause in our ecosystem, and what you can do to halt their spread.   The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is an organization that is dedicated to that purpose.   For starters, take a look at their Do Not Plant List and then check out their Go Native Brochure for beautiful, native alternatives to plant in your home landscape.

Running Bamboo Legislative History

Bill (A3735), establishing requirements for sale and planting of running bamboo, was introduced in the NJ Assembly (217th Legislature) on May 19, 2016. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It moved to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.  On October 13, 2016 the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee reported favorably upon the bill.

An identical bill (A2301) was introduced in the NJ State Senate on June 6, 2016.  It was sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee.  No action has been recorded since.

More Bad News About Non-native Plants – April 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

We continue to hammer away on the disadvantages of using non-native plants. Remember, a good definition of a native plant is one that existed in any specific region before the European settlement in this country. Ewing is in the Mid-Atlantic region and our natives are well adapted to our particular soils, precipitation, temperatures, elevations and exposures. Our native wildlife – insects, mammals, birds, reptiles – developed along with them.

Many people believe that if a plant is sold at a local nursery or garden center that it is all right to use. Unfortunately, that is not correct. Because we have no laws or ordinances that prohibit the sale of introduced or invasive plants (some states do), they are widely available. What we can do at this point is to be informed and avoid buying them.

What are some of the popular, non-native plants sold in local nurseries and garden centers?

In March, 2016 we wrote about Bradford Callery Pear, (Pyrus calleryana); In June, 2016 it was Acer platanoides, Norway Maple; in July, 2016, we wrote about Burning Bush, (Euonymus alatus); and in August, 2016, Winter Creeper, (Euonymus fortunei).  Unfortunately, these are all available at local nurseries and garden centers. A few more garden center boarders – invasives and aggressors – are listed below; most, having few natural predators, form un-challenged thickets at the expense of our native plants.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii): This vigorous, nectar-producing butterfly attractor is an attractive shrub with fragrant, colored flower spikes, It self-seeds prolifically, however, and before long your planting bed will be overcome with a Buddleia thicket which crowds out everything else. It is classified as noxious weed in Oregon and Washington.
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix): This popular and sometimes very lovely vine easily goes astray, spreading throughout woody areas and gardens, choking out other vegetation. English ivy kills trees and shrubs by smothering them.
  • Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica): This is not a bamboo, in spite of its popular common name. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially to Cedar Waxwings, cats and grazing animals, resulting in many deaths. Heavenly Bamboo crowds out other plants with prolific seeds and underground stems.
  • Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) : This shrub is banned in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. It displaces native plants with prolific, bird-dispersed seeds, and harbors ticks (due to the high humidity in its dense foliage) mice, and, as a result, lyme disease.
  • Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica): this plant harbors many insects and diseases but still outcompetes and replaces native plants. Its seeds, dispersed by birds, form dense thickets which are very tolerant to many conditions. It impedes the germination of native seeds.
  • Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda): This very adaptable vine shades out other plants and girdles trees and shrubs as it climbs, cutting off nutrients by choking the trunks and producing dense shade.
  • Maiden Grass/Chinese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis: More than 50 ornamental varieties of this grass are sold in the United States. The wind-dispersed, viable seed forms thickets which are very adaptable to many conditions, choking out native plants. This is a very popular ornamental grass which is popular to use in a lot of landscaping.
  • Periwinkle Vinca minor: ( not V. major).This groundcover forms dense, extensive mats, choking out other plants. It harbors blights and is allelopathic, meaning that its chemical compounds inhibit the growth of nearby plants.               
  • Privet (Ligustrum sp):  This popular hedge plant is toxic to pets and mildly toxic to humans. Thousands of fruits outcompete and replace natives. The seeds, dispersed by birds, form  very dense thickets. Compounds in the leaves protect the plant from feeding insects, so it is “trouble free” for the hedge-growing home owner.

For more important information about non-native plants, read Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery, and Zwicker

Go to www.MAIPC, the Mid Atlantic Invasive Plant Council for additional plant lists.

Native plant alternatives to exotics can be found in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. In addition, be sure to visit the web sites:

  • The Native Plant Society of New Jersey for their
    • Tree recommendations for planting (both large and small)
    • Wild and Native Plants of NJ
    • Trees and Tall Shrubs by County
    • Invasive Species list
    • Wildflowers and Garden Conditions
    • link to the USDA database and
    • Plants by county.

The  Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

(Native) Plants of the Month – March 2017

istock_000045324030_large_monarchby Ann Farnham, LLA

Why do we emphasize using native plants? What are native plants? Are they better than introduced, exotic, non-natives? Why does the Ewing Township Code, Landscaping, require at least 45% native plants in all non-private property planting plans?

A native plant is one which, over countless years, developed with our environment’s soil types, precipitation, temperatures, elevations and exposures. A good definition of a native plant is one that existed, in any specific region, before the European settlement in this country. Our region is the Mid Atlantic Region.

Since that European settlement, hundreds of plant species have been introduced from many parts of the world. They are often very beautiful, sometimes seem to fit a specific need, might grow easily, and show off an owner’s sophistication and botanical interests. Many, however, have turned out to be invasive and some are toxic to people and wildlife.

Native plants, then, are adapted to their particular regions, in our case, the Mid-Atlantic. They are compatible with the physical geography and factors mentioned above. As a result, they require, after establishment, much less maintenance, less water, and do not require chemical applications of fertilizers, pesticides, and soil amendments. Birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, reptiles and mammals rely on their fruit, nuts, nectar, and seeds. Many birds depend upon native plant insects, such as caterpillars. Many alien plants are toxic to these native insects.

Imported exotics interrupt the food web by frequently out-competing the natives for space, exposure and nutrients. They usually do not support the insects upon which our bird population depends. For example, one brood of Chickadees requires 6000 caterpillars as food by the time it attains maturity (birds require the protein and fats from insects in order to mature or to lay eggs; in non-breeding times seeds and fruit do the job). A native oak, for example, can support more than 500 species of caterpillar, whereas a non-native Gingko only supports 5 species. Bird populations are in steep decline, certainly not only the result of habitat loss.

Our penchant for beautiful, green lawns has destroyed functional ecosystems by the use ofchemicals. In the process our waterways, air and health become polluted as well. The lawn mower itself compacts the soil and emits pollution where there used to be meadows, fields and woodlands, now lost to urbanization. We need to develop yards and gardens with friendlier habitats by using native trees, shrubs and flowers, and reducing lawn areas.

Many of our native plants have died or been seriously compromised with introduced pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer (ash trees), the Wooly Adelgid (hemlocks), the Japanese Beetle (almost everything), and fungal diseases brought in by the nursery trade. The attached Native Tree List has several trees, such as the Ash, Eastern Hemlock, American Sycamore and Flowering Dogwood, which now should not be used at all. Some selected, resistant varieties of Flowering Dogwood, however, are available such as the Rutgers-developed Cherokee series.

We want to recommend three books for your further understanding in alleviating the problems above.

  1. Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy;
  2. Native Plants of the Northeast by Donald Leopold;
  3. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants.

In addition, be sure to visit the web sites www.npsnj.org/plant-lists-native/trees_ for_ landscaping and plants.usda.gov.

See also, the Native Plant Society of NJ’s excellent list in Native Trees for Residential Gardeners.


The  Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to tree benefits.com/calculator/

Eastern Red Cedar – February 2017 Plant of the Month

By Quadell at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1685290

By Quadell at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1685290

by Ann Farnham, LLA

We miss the foliage of our beautiful deciduous trees at this time of the year and look at our evergreens with more respect: the pines, hollies, firs, spruces, cedars and junipers stand out.

Perhaps one of the least appreciated of the needled evergreens is our native (to 37 states) Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana. It is very hardy, withstanding all sorts of conditions, (rocky or clay soil, drought, wet areas, deer, erosion, air pollution) and spreads readily by birds and mammals disseminating the easy-germinating, tasty seeds everywhere.

This tree has many present day uses. The fragrant wood repels moths so is used to line closets and chests; the heartwood is rot resistant and is popular for shingles, furniture and fencing; wind breaks; hedges; foundation plants; perfumes; a flavoring for gin; and medicinal applications. Prior to the 1940s it was the wood used in pencils. Years ago it was a favorite for building log cabins and coffins. It is used now, especially in the South, as a Christmas tree.

Van Cotter, one of the Ewing Environmental Commission’s early members, said, “My wife and I would tie ropes to both ends of a red cedar tree and pull it up and down the chimney of our Virginia home, with me on the roof and her by the fireplace. It did a good job of cleaning the chimney.”

Our native Americans used Red Cedar as an antiseptic, for rheumatism relief, childbirth recovery, coughs, intestinal worms, canker sores and to help cure mumps. We know now that it can be toxic in inappropriate doses.

Wildlife also loves Red Cedar. It provides year- round dense shelter and the blue-grey, succulent berries seem irresistible. Cedar Waxwings were named for this favorite food ( juniper is not a true cedar, however) and French traders named the city of Baton Rouge after it: in French, Baton Rouge means “Red Stick”, of which there were many. The bark of the tree is grey to reddish-brown.

This tree can reach 30’ to 60’ in height with a spread of 8’ to 25’, depending on the variety. It is usually broadly conical to columnar with dense, horizontal branching.  Easy to transplant, it prefers a dry to medium, well-drained moist soil, and full sun. The trees are dioecious, meaning that they are either male or female, usually not both. The berries, of course, are borne on the female trees. Foliage is flat, scale-like and prickly.

Eastern Red Cedar

By Famartin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The biggest Red Cedar problem seems to be Cedar Apple Rust and Bag Worms. The Red Cedar is an alternate host to a serious fungus that affects apple trees; do not plant them near apple or crabapple trees as the fungus is hard to control. Bag worms “bags” can be removed easily from small and few trees, but this should be done as soon as they appear. Bag Worm homes can easily be mistaken for cones; although birds do a good job eating the larvae, and if hand picking does not work, call your Cooperative Extension Service for advice on insecticides and timing.

Most Red Cedars become brown-to rust colored in the winter, losing their normal green color. However, there are many cultivated varieties (cvs) today which retain the green color all winter, such as ‘Corcorcor’, ‘Canaertii’,  ‘Emerald Sentinel’, and ‘Hillspire’, among many others. A wide variety of green tones (grey-green to blue-green) are also available. There are also shrub and groundcover cultivars of Juniperus virginiana  in many garden centers and nurseries.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to treebenefits.com/calculator/.

River Birch – Jan 2017 Plant of the Month

river_birch

By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

by Ann Farnham, LLA

The January  Plant of the Month is an unusually beautiful and useful tree that affords all season interest.

Betula nigra, River Birch, is a fast-growing, medium sized tree which has become popular as a specimen tree or in groups for large residential properties, parks, golf courses, and other situations. Growing to 40’-70’ or more with a slightly smaller spread, this tree is hardy to USDA Zones 4-7, ranging from New Hampshire to southern Minnesota to northern Florida and west to Texas. Ewing is in USDA Zone 6b.

The tree’s habit, when young, is pyramidal, and it can be multi- or single trunked. At maturity the tree becomes rounded.

river_birch_exfoliating_bark

Close up of the beautiful exfoliating bark By Googoo85 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

River Birch has many great assets. It has an exfoliating ( “peely”) bark, which ranges from peach to reddish-orange-brown to salmon-pink and reveals a creamy inner bark where it peels. This makes the tree unusually attractive, especially in the winter after its leaves have dropped.

This tree is low-maintenance, and is the most disease resistant of the Birch family. Unlike other birches which are suited to more northern habitats, River Birch is very tolerant of heat, standing water (it is also drought resistant), and most important, it resists the Bronze Birch Borer, which kills most other birch species in our area and warmer zones. It hosts few diseases or pests. Deer don’t favor it, which is another plus here.

The water tolerance of River Birch makes it very useful for planting along ponds, streams, flood plains and other low areas. It is used frequently to naturalize detention basins as it will tolerate standing water as well as dryness. It is a good tree for bioswales or rain gardens.

The leaves are leathery, lustrous, dark green, 1.5” to 3.5” long and up to 2.4” broad, and diamond shaped. They flutter in the wind, revealing a silvery colored underside. The leaf margins are doubly toothed; in the fall the yellow leaves drop quickly.

The blooms, which appear in April or May, are drooping, brown 3” catkins for the male flowers, and smaller, green, upright catkins for the female. The flowers are wind-pollinated and produce small nutlet-like fruit in the late spring.

River Birch requires a moist, fertile, acid soil with a pH of less than 6.5 and sun, although it will tolerate light shade. They are somewhat sensitive to fall planting and transplanting. Avoid pruning River Birch in the spring when its sap is running; save the chore for late summer and fall.

Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup. The wood is too knotty and contorted to be useful commercially.

Three favorite cultivated varieties of River Birch are ‘Cully’ (Heritage ®), ‘Dura Heat’, and ‘Little King’ (Fox Valley ™), a relatively dwarf ( to 15’) variety.

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Christmas Trees – December 2016 Tree of the Month

christmastreeby Ann Farnham, LLA

Among the pleasures we enjoy in December is choosing a Christmas tree. The choices are many: the firs (Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir), pines (Scotch, Eastern White), red cedars, and spruce (Colorado Blue, Norway, Concolor). Throughout the United States there are more than 35 different evergreen species grown for the holidays. They are available either cut, in containers, or balled and burlapped.

If you choose to purchase a cut tree, try to prevent the trunk from being exposed to the air for more than three to six hours; it should be put into a container with water as soon as possible. Next, trim off the lowest branches which might interfere with the tree’s staying upright in a stand, and then remove ragged branch tips or unattractive branches. Saw off an inch of the trunk so the tree can absorb water freely, and fasten it to its stand, which should contain plenty of water. The water, especially at first, should be replenished often.

Artificial Christmas trees are often made of PVC, a dangerous chemical; they are not biodegradable, and do not have the wonderful fragrance of a real tree. However, they may be used for many years and are maintenance free.

A live tree, while somewhat more labor intensive to care for, may also be planted in your yard after its holiday use, and enjoyed for years to come. You must do some planning before you take the tree home but it is well worth while.

  1. Determine what spot on your property affords the correct exposure (full sun) and room. Check a good source or the internet to determine how much space your particular species of tree will require when mature.
  2. Dig the hole NOW before the ground freezes. Digging a frozen hole is no fun. Make the hole approximately 2 times the width of what you expect the container or root ball will be. This is important; and do not dig the hole any deeper than the height of the container or root ball. Fill the hole with leaves or mulch as insulation, and cover the hole and the pile of soil with a tarp and more leaves or mulch to avoid freezing. Throw away whatever sod was dug up as you do not want it included in the backfill.

Your live tree should be indoors as briefly as possible; place it at first (in a waterproof tub or container) in a garage or porch to allow it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. You can water it lightly and frequently, or place ice cubes over the root ball to keep the moisture levels up. Spraying the tree with an antidessicant such as Wiltproof will help control moisture loss through the needles.

When the tree is ready for planting, roll it into the hole and orient it so that its best side faces your house or the street. If the hole is too deep, add soil into the bottom and compact it until it is the right depth. Remove as much of the burlap around the root ball as possible; if it is in a container, remove the container. If it is in a wire basket, cut off as much of the basket as you can. Then, begin to backfill with the soil you set aside. Amendments such as peat moss do not need to be added to the soil, and do not fertilize. Water it thoroughly and slowly as you fill the hole; this will push out air pockets and saturate the sides of the hole as well as the back fill.

It is not necessary to stake or guy the tree. Cover the area – to the drip-line- with 2-3” of double-shredded, hardwood bark mulch, keeping the mulch 2” away from the trunk. Water your Christmas tree every day for a week, twice the second week, and then once a week until the ground freezes and your hose becomes useless.

BEST WISHES FOR THE HOLIDAYS FROM YOUR EWING ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION!