Wild Friends in My Backyard this Autumn

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A few years back, we purchased a motion sensor camera to put in the woodlands behind our house – strictly for fun.  It is amazing to see what we capture from time to time living and roaming in the wild. Turkeys, raccoons, our cats, and more.  Two recent visitors have been this fox below, and a buck.

I know foxes live out in the woods beyond our backyard, and I recognize their barking sounds.  They sound like a dog with a scratchy voice.  I’m sure my chickens are not liking their visits – I can imagine the foxes scan the coop’s pen from time to time when we don’t know it.

One year, a momma fox and her two babies hung out in our yard quite a bit.  I was sitting on my porch, quietly sipping coffee, and the momma fox came right up near me suddenly, not knowing I was there – and she had the nerve to yelp at me a little because she was startled when she saw me.  I yelped back, because I was startled too, and quickly ran back into the house.

Fox, Broad Brook, CT

Fox, Broad Brook, CT

And this buck, in the photo below, was also captured by the camera this week as he slowly walked up to the camera to investigate it – they are smarter than we think.

This shot is particularly cute with his inquisitive eyes. He is seeing the blinking red light which flickers when a photo is taken. We got many snapshots of him on the camera, but I picked this one to share this morning.

Deer use our backyard as a passage way – the Scantic River runs beyond our property and with the wetlands and many trees, they enjoy the woodland areas.

One year, a little deer in the backyard showed up, so I snuck up with a camera to take a photo, using the pool as a shield as I approached her.  I got rather close to the deer – but she didn’t run away.  My father later told me to never do that again, deer can attack, he stated.

Deer Spotted in Autumn, Broad Brook, CT

Deer Spotted in Autumn, Broad Brook, CT

People will complain about deer munching on their garden plants – but I guess because there is plenty for them to forage on in the woodlands, they don’t seem to bother my landscape plants much, but I certainly would be annoyed if they attempted to munch on my plants in my container gardens scattered around the yard.  Sometimes, in the winter, they may try to bite a bit on some holly bushes in the front landscape area of my house, but it doesn’t happen often.  Thankfully.

There are many critters around here in my backyard – raccoon, fox, and deer are common visitors.  This spring, a family of raccoons took up residence in the garage attic – How did they get in?  Through the pet door for our cats!  It was not fun eradicating the momma raccoon and her 3 babies. Afterwards, the pet door got shut off for a while until we resolved their regular visits.

I really don’t mind the wild visitors in my yard – they bring a sense of calm when you quietly witness them walking around and enjoying their surroundings – so long as they leave my six hens alone – they are welcome!  It is all part of enjoying nature, and as this autumn approaches and we witness the change of the leaves, feel the cooler breezes, and listen to the quieter evenings no longer filled with the sounds of crickets and frogs, I guess we will welcome our wild friends along with the change of seasons.

Cathy Testa

American Arborvitaes – Easy To Grow, Unless You Made These 5 Mistakes

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Arborvitae_0004Mistake #1 – Placed it where deer roam to dine

Thuja occidentalis (Eastern or American arborvitae) is a needled evergreen tree often planted in rows to create living borders between properties.  It is very easy to grow, low maintenance, commonly sold, and available in many choices of cultivars, but if you placed it where hungry deer tend to roam during their forage for food, you are asking for trouble.

Deer favor American arborvitaes and will typically dine on the lower portions of the leaves when they are hungry enough.  Your trees will end up looking like deformed topiaries, instead of full evergreens with a conical to pyramidal shape from top to bottom.  This will be a big disappointed if you invested in planting a long row of them as a hedge.

Alternatively, if deer grazing is not a problem on your property, this plant makes an excellent evergreen candidate for hedges, as foundation plants, and as backdrops to perennial beds.  You can use methods to protect the trees during the winter season with burlap, deer fencing, or wire cages, however, this is a process you may not prefer.

Mistake #2 – Planted it in full shade or exposed windy locations

If you have a lot of shade, beware when it comes to arborvitaes.  Too much shade will make the plant a bit more floppy, open and loose looking.  It may make it because they are generally easy to grow and tolerant, but they prefer full sun to “part” shade (and enjoy some light afternoon shade in warmer locations) to perform their best.

When planted in full shade, their stately upright form will suffer.  Before you invest in planting a row or barrier of several plants in your landscape, consider the sun exposure during all parts of the day.  Think about how the shade is cast throughout the day, especially if located near large homes or buildings.

Arborvitaes are generally picky about wind exposure as well, especially if the windy site is open with no protection around the plants.  During the winter, when exposed to wind, the foliage will suffer and may display brown to yellow spots the following spring from winter burn.  It is not super unsightly and can be cleaned up by pruning if limited, but could lead to some disappointment.

If planted in a container garden or patio pot during the growing season (because this plant also makes an excellent thriller in patio pots), be sure to protect the containerized plant during the winter months by moving it to a sheltered location such as your garage or shed.

When planted in the correct exposure, these evergreens will demand little attention.  Its flat sprays with overlapping scale-like leaf patterns are densely packed on the trees and are slightly aromatic.  Another interesting feature on this evergreen are the urn-shaped small cones.


Mistake #3 – Failed to protect it during heavy snowfalls

This plant can topple a bit during heavy snow storms and you may end up with arched plants from broken branches due to the weight of snow and ice.  During heavy snowstorms, which are thankfully months away now, you may want to loosely place twine around them to help keep up their branches or protect them with a wooden frame during the heavy storms.  Another option is to gently shake accumulated snowfall off the plants, if you feel like venturing out during the storm.



Mistake #4 – Planted it too deep or failed to water it

If your arborvitaes turn brown shortly after planting, this could be an indication you planted them too deep.  Because roots require oxygen and arborvitaes are relatively shallow rooted, they will suffer from lack of oxygen below the soil if planted incorrectly.

Be sure to follow the instructions provided by your nurseryman, or hire a professional if you are installing a large barrier or hedge – it will be worth the investment and help protect you from hurting your back, especially if you are planting larger balled and burlapped trees which are very heavy to move and place in the ground.

Arborvitaes can take a wide range of soils from average to well-drained, and overall, they are not super challenging to grow, however, their preferred soil conditions are moist and well-drained.  Think about the soil in your yard before you proceed.

After planting time, you should follow a watering routine as dictated by your nurseryman, especially when planting during the hottest parts of summer.  Once these plants are established, they are more tolerant to drought, but it is important to get your plants growing with a good start.  Do not leave them unattended during the heat of summer.

Planting any new plants, especially a row where you invested in purchasing several, should be monitored for watering during dry periods as well.  Do not fail to water it, and if you plan to leave for vacation immediately after planting them, remember your neighbor may not want to water them for you seeing as you just put up a privacy barrier between your properties.  Plan when you plant to avoid letting the new trees sit without attention.

Mistake #5 – Planted in compacted areas or where additives accumulated

Because arborvitaes are excellent candidates as tall hedges, many people will plant them alongside driveways or roadways on their property lines.  Be aware of any hard packed areas where the roots may struggle to get established.  And if planting balled and burlapped trees versus containerized ones, follow the instructions on how to property deal with the twine so you do not end up girdling the tree’s trunk near the soil line.

Additionally, roadside salts or runoff from lawn herbicides may injure hedges overtime.  Always consider the soil conditions of your planting site before proceeding with planting a hedge.  If planted at the base of a slope for example, accumulation of harmful additives in the area can affect the planting area.  While these evergreens are tough, anything sitting in a pool of pollution will suffer eventually.

American arborvitaes are native to the northeast and commonly used in landscapes as hedges, foundation plants, backgrounds to perennial beds, and focal points – and they are relatively easy to grow with some tolerance, but they still need a bit of awareness of their prefer conditions to perform at their best.  Avoid the 5 mistakes above, and you will enjoy your privacy in no time.

Pressed Sample of Flat Sprays

Pressed Sample of Flat Sprays


Thuja is pronounced kind of like “Fool-ya” but with a ‘th’ instead of the F.  To hear how it sounds, check out wordHippo.  By the way, many folks refer to arborvitaes as cedar trees.

Written by Cathy Testa

Arb w Pansies

Arb w Pansies

Gardens and Social Media face the Same Challenges

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Recently, my email account got hacked.  A friend told me, “Don’t sweat it, it happens to everyone.”

I contacted my e-mail service provider, changed my password, and thanked Facebook friends for alerting me.

Right after that, I discovered one of my clients responded to the hacker’s e-mail, writing she didn’t believe they were Cathy T.

They sent her a reply, a very convincing one, insisting it was me.  And continued with how they desperately needed money for a cousin’s kidney transplant.  I was supposedly in Belgium.

That’s it, I thought.  I’m terminating this account right now.

Was the termination a bit drastic?  Yes, it was.  From what I’ve read, there’s no need to kill your e-mail id, but I wanted to eliminate this problem because I didn’t want anyone to fall prey to a scam.

This whole situation got me thinking about how gardens and social media face the same challenges. Both are grown in open and linked environments subject to threats and invasions.  You can do lots to deter them, but many will break their way through when you let your guard down.

So, what can you do to reduce the occurrence of painful incidents by hackers or pests?

From cutting to a monster friend in the garden

From cutting to a monster friend in the garden

No. 1)  Don’t accept “every” friend or plant

A gardening friend stops by to offer you a freebie plant from their garden.  It may be a cutting, division, or seeds from a flower. Before you accept their donation, think of it just as you would for a request of a “new friend” in Facebook.  Ask yourself, “What’s the story behind this plant?  Does it have a nice personality or an aggressive one?  Why are they offering it up?” You may be surprised to find out; donations or requests for acceptance usually come from a plant posing a problem in your friend’s garden. It could be invasive, it might be an aggressive spreader via underground suckers, or it is a prolific seed-producer. Think of plants like bamboo, mint, willow, or datura – all pretty or unique, but some species take over fast, thus become a nuisance.  Bottomline, don’t accept it right away without asking about its history, behavior, and characteristics. Same goes for friends on blogging sites, Facebook, and Twitter.  Do a little bit of research before you click accept.

No. 2)  Don’t overcrowd your garden spaces or sites

Ever feel like you have so many friends on Facebook, you don’t even know who they are anymore, and it would take forever to sort them out?  Same thing with e-mail; your inbox is so over loaded, you don’t recognize some of the senders.  Overcrowding can invite problems; create hiding places for stalkers, and ends up in chaos. Too many plants in a gardening space reduce air circulation around your plants; if the foliage remains wet, they get diseases.  Plants requiring sunlight may receive too much shade, limiting their ability to thrive.  Nutrient competition will arise as well.  And “you” might not be able to even enter your garden for routine maintenance.  A full and flush garden is spectacular, and a full inbox may make you feel popular, but keep in mind, it provides the phisher with opportunities just like it gives a critter a chance to pass through without notice.

Bugleweed, a spreader and seed producer.

Bugleweed, a spreader and seed producer.

No. 3) Be Inspector Clouseau when buying a plant in person, or on-line

Get out your reading glasses and open your eyes.  Inspect your plant before purchasing it from a garden center, especially if they are on a sale rack.  Just as you would look over a new app for your smart phone, carefully look it over first before clicking install.  Look for any bad signs.  On perennials, look for unusual spots, insect holes or trails on leaves, shriveled or blotched tissue, and partially eaten foliage.  Check woody plants for tears or cracks in the bark.  Any wounds in the bark can negatively affect the flow of water in the plant.  You may even want to shake the plant to see if insects fly away from it; whiteflies are tiny feeding insects on the undersides of leaves. Look at the top and undersides of the leaves, and if possible tap it out of the pot to inspect the roots.  Healthy roots have white tips; they are not dark brown and mushy. If the potting mix smells of rot – this is a clue.  A white powdery substance on the leaves could be disease, known as powdery mildew caused by a fungus.  Or it could be hairs on the plant’s leaves, which is normal.  The point is – check it before you succumb to the temptation of the flashy dings and whistles.  Some problems on plants are treatable or may be minor; others are an invitation to future problems in your gardens.  For on-line plant purchases, do a little research to find out their reputation.  Read about how they ship their plants, what to expect when they arrive in the mail, and how to care for them upon arrival.  Make sure they are legit.  You don’t want to be buying from Mr. Belgium.

Damaged bark areas, how long has it been in this whittle pot?

Damaged bark areas, how long has it been in this whittle pot?

No. 4) Keep your garden tools and links sterilized

Some gardeners don’t realize they are spreading invisible problems with unclean garden tools. A malicious link, hyperlink, or shortlink in an email will do the same.  With a quick click, it will move the vector just as a infected garden pruner, shovel, or weeding knife will spread a disease, insect, or viruses from one place to another.  And in this case, you are helping to transport them on their adventure.  Wash your tools with soap and water, or soak in a bleach to water ratio.  Heating your tools is another method, but that is something I haven’t tried.  At the end of each season and beginning of spring, take the time to clean tools before using them.  Remember, operator error is often the number one cause for the problem getting into your scenario.  In our midst of excitement or wanting to get it done now, we forgo the process of cleaning our tools. Clean up old debris around you garden too.  Insect pests may spend the winter in the debris to come alive in spring.  And pause before clicking on links from friends.  If they are not showing a visible sign of why they sent you the link, their implement of transportation is executed without you knowing – at first.

If you can, do not use or use correctly.

If you can, do not use or use correctly.

No. 4) Use the correct “…..-cide” and anti-virus software

A common habit of an anxious gardener is to assume one insecticide, pesticide, or herbicide fits all.  You are wasting your money and time if you do not read the label and follow directions exactly for the plant you are trying to cure of a pest or plant you are trying to rid in the garden.  Harming the environment unnecessarily comes into play as well, and we don’t want to do that as gardeners.  Remember, a pesticide is a “chemical” used to kill an organism considered a pest.  There are organic methods believed to be safer, but either way, use the correct type suited for the plant.  If you spray too much, more than required, or sometimes apply on a hot day or in direct sun, you can harm the plant more than the pest or insect has. When it comes to anti-virus software, consult your tech support expert.  That is where my advice is weak.  I probably have made the same assumptions with anti-malware as a gardener does with a pesticide.  Please read the label first before application or installation of either.  With anti-virus software, it is important to stay up to date. Too late, the culprit breaks in.  Timing is important when treating pest insects as well.  They have a pattern and stages, so pay attention to their life cycle because they populate according to specific seasons.  Exact timing is key.  If the insect is not doing major harm, planning a short stay, avoid using a chemical all together.  Remove it by hand instead.  And continue to follow Number 1, 2, and 3 above.

Red and bright, should I fight?

Red and bright, should I fight?

No. 5) Take a hiatus or terminate

Just the other evening, a news station reported statistics indicating people are taking temporary breaks from their Facebook activity.  The demands for attention are starting to exceed the pleasure.  We become obsessive, realizing we have spent the majority of our day browsing pages.  Same can happen with our gardening addictions. Unable to let go of your dream vision of a perfect garden, spotted in the latest garden magazine or favorite blog site, you become engrossed.  You spend every available minute worrying why it didn’t come out exactly as planned, even though you did everything right up front.  You picked the right place in your yard for your plant, you tested the soil and amended it appropriately with nutrients and organic matter, you nurtured it with water, and selected resistant cultivars, but alas, that deer jumped the barrier, the insect found a tasty treat, or a critter burrowed below creating new pathways to enter and destroy.  So what are you to do in your moment of peril?  Cry by the garden’s edge, consider hiring a deer hunter, or reach for the wrong pesticide?  As a last resort, you might do the impulsive thing – like I did with my hacked e-mail.  Rip it all out, terminate.  Yet, I wouldn’t recommend that.  Fix the immediate problem, and then take a Hiatus – preferably one where you aren’t weeding and tweeting.

Cathy T on a Hiatus

Cathy T on a Hiatus

Container Crazy Cathy T
New email: To be posted