April 2013 Cuttings

April 2013 Cuttings

"Cuttings" is your source for garden updates and horticultural tips from Reeves-Reed Arboretum's horticulture staff. Check back monthly to find out what's blooming at the Arboretum, get the inside scoop on upcoming events, and learn some timely tips you can put to use in your own garden.

Please click here for Shari Edelson's interview with HomeTowne TV about "Secrets of the Garden: Winter Pruning"!

Please click here for Shari Edelson's interview with HomeTowne TV about "Secrets of the Garden: Mulching Beds"!

Please click here for Shari Edelson's interview with HomeTowne TV about "Secrets of the Garden: Spring Planting"!


In the Gardens: A Nice, Cool Spring

We've grown so accustomed to bizarre weather these past few years that a slow, cool springtime, such as the one we're currently experiencing, can seem downright suspicious. Especially after last year's March heat wave, which caused spring-blooming plants to flower almost a month early, this year's spring has felt more like winter! But in all honesty, we at Reeves-Reed are glad for the cool weather. For one thing, it's heightened the sense of delicious anticipation that accompanies the change in season, and has given us time to witness the slow, stately unfurling of spring.









The lovely blossoms of lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) are opening at their own pace this year. (Photo: Julieanne Frascinella)

We also appreciate the extra time we've been given to finish our winter pruning, get the garden beds mulched, and round up those last few pesky leaves that keep blowing into the gardens as though they think it's still autumn. Finally, this spring's cool temperatures have given us a fascinating window into what this time of year used to feel like fifty years ago! Believe it or not, last month's average temperatures were actually right in line with early spring temperatures during the 1960s – the National Climatic Data Center has an interesting graph of average March temperatures from 1895 to the present, which you can check out here.

At any rate, we hope you come out to the Arboretum on or after April 14, when we'll be reopening to the public following the completion of our current construction project – we can't wait to welcome you back, and enjoy the springtime with you!


April Garden Tips: Mulch Madness!

When people ask me what I'm doing in the garden these days, the answer is, almost invariably, mulching. Last year, we used over 150 yards of mulch here at Reeves-Reed Arboretum – and while you probably won't need quite that much at home, you're probably getting geared up to do some mulching of your own. In general, mulch is a layer of some material, usually organic, that is spread over the top of a garden area. As we all know, hauling wheelbarrows of mulch around is great cardiovascular exercise, and pitchforking it into the garden beds is pretty good strength training – but aside from the physical workout (or, as some might say, extreme exhaustion!), what are the actual benefits of mulch? Here's the short answer – mulch is absolutely essential in most garden settings, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! 








Mulching can be fun – just look at these Reeves-Reed Arboretum volunteers! (Photo: The Land Conservancy of New Jersey)

What Type of Mulch to Use?

Some mulches are better than others, and some (such as shredded rubber tires) I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pitchfork. In general, the best mulches are those that gradually decompose in the garden, thereby adding fertility to your soil and boosting the health of your plants.

It's best to use a mulch that's already partially decomposed – for example, aged hardwood bark mulch as opposed to freshly-shredded wood chips – as the early stages of the decomposition process may actually reduce the amount of nitrogen available in the surrounding soil, thereby reducing the vigor of your plants. In addition to aged bark mulch and other wood-based products, shredded leaves, aged pine needles, and compost-based mulches are all great choices. If you're using a compost-based mulch, though, you'll want to be certain that the compost has been produced at a high enough temperature to kill any weed seeds – otherwise, you may be introducing weeds to your garden along with your mulch!

In general, I would steer away from non-organic mulches, such as shredded tires, for garden uses. While non-organic mulches can suppress weeds, and may hold aesthetic appeal for some people, they don't provide nutrients to the soil or retain moisture, two of the most important functions of a good mulch. 

Main Benefits of Mulch

There are four basic reasons to use mulch in the garden: moisture retention, weed suppression, soil health, and aesthetics.

  • Moisture Retention: Mulch holds rainwater, helping it percolate slowly into the soil. In addition to preventing erosion, which can scour away your beautiful soil and cause nutrients to leach from your garden, the mulch actually serves as a barrier to prevent moisture from evaporating from the soil on hot, sunny days. When your soil stays moist for longer, you don't have to water as frequently – which is great for water conservation, as well as for your water bill!
  • Weed Suppression: By creating a barrier atop the soil, mulch discourages weed seeds from sprouting, which means that you won't have to spend nearly as much time on your hands and knees pulling out unwanted "volunteers."
  • Soil Health: As already mentioned, mulch does some of its best work when breaking down. As the mulch is decomposed by insects, fungi, microorganisms, and other fun garden denizens, nutrients become available to your plants. In addition, decomposed mulch creates a fluffy, humusy layer of topsoil in your garden, which adds to the soil's ability to retain water and creates a perfect environment for plant roots to thrive.
  • Aesthetics: In simple terms, it just looks good! One of my horticulturist friends refers to mulch as "the makeup of the garden," and I couldn't agree more. Mulch helps your garden beds to feel "finished," and really adds to the aesthetic impact of your landscape.

And on top of all that, once you're done spreading all of your mulch, you have definitely earned the right to sit back, take a break, and enjoy your garden – which, as we all know, is the best reward there is.


Volunteer in Our Gardens!

Saturday Volunteer Sessions

April 6, April 13, and April 27

9:00 am to 12:00 pm











If you love working outdoors, we'd love to have your help at one or more of our upcoming April volunteer days! Please join us for a morning of fun springtime work. We'll be planting, weeding, and yes – mulching, all in the beautiful setting of the Arboretum's gardens and grounds.


Volunteer with Sculptor Tom Holmes!

Saturday, April 20

9:00 am to 12:00 pm











Reeves-Reed Arboretum is thrilled to be featuring the work of Tom Holmes, nationally renowned artist and sculptor, in our 2013 ART in the Garden exhibition – and we'd like to invite YOU to be a part of the creative process! Come out on Saturday, April 20 from 9:00 am to noon and help Tom install site-specific sculptures. All sculptures will be created from natural materials collected this past winter by RRA volunteers.


NOTE TO VOLUNTEERS: Until mid-April, volunteers should park on Hobart Avenue opposite our main gates and enter the Arboretum through the pedestrian gate at the main entrance. Volunteers should dress in comfortable clothing, wear sturdy shoes and bring a refillable water bottle. Tools, gloves and water will be provided.

To sign up, or to learn about other volunteer opportunities at the Arboretum, please contact Lisa Martin at l.martin@reeves-reedarboretum.org or 908-273-8787 ext. 2222.