Let's Blame Phil For All This

Posted: March 10, 2014

After all, he did forecast six more weeks of winter...
A native American plant not actually native to our region but blooms this time of year is the Ozark witch hazel.

A native American plant not actually native to our region but blooms this time of year is the Ozark witch hazel.

Okay, it isn’t my fault, really. I know last month I had written about the benefits of snow and apparently Mother Nature must have read my article and felt  we hadn’t had enough this year. Please, don’t blame me, its Punxsutawney Phil’s fault. He did forecast six more weeks of winter.

There are some long term benefits of snow. Melting snow does provide much needed moisture for plants. Plants that are dormant still need water as they continue to lose moisture through evaporation. Evergreens are especially are hard hit during the cold, dry months.

It is hard to believe, but there are actually plants that bloom this time of year. Last month I mentioned the skunk cabbage and its unusual ability to produce heat. Another Native American plant blooming now, not actually native to our region is a member of the witch hazel family. Commonly called the Ozark witch hazel, it is native to the Ozark Plateau region of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. This is a great winter and early spring bloomer for pollinators. There are several species of native witch hazel and depending on the species, blooms at varies times of the year. Yes, in the dead of winter, this plant will be in bloom. 

Let’s ponder a minute. Witch Hazel? Odd name for a plant? Did it get its name because witches consider the plant to be a magical herb able to ward off evil and heal broken hearts? Is it because the y-shaped witch hazel sticks were used for dowsing, the ability to find water under the ground, so it was considered a form of witchery? What about all the healing properties associated with the plant? Were the early settlers swayed to believe this plant had magical powers only associated with witches?

Actually none of the above is correct.

In fact the name witch hazel is believed to have come from the Middle English "wicke" meaning easily bent, the dowsing stick bends toward the ground when water is detected below, and "wych," an old Anglo-Saxon word for "bend." Thus through everyday usage, wiche or wych became witch. So no witch craft was involved.

Pucker Up

All I can say is to think spring. It has to come, doesn’t it? If you attended the Educational Series that were held in January, you know that you can get a head start on some of your vegetables. If you didn’t attend and want to know how to get that head start, contact me. The phone number and e-mail are at the bottom of the column.

One of the early crops to appear in your garden is the tangy, tasty, pucker your lips rhubarb.

Let’s reminisce a moment, especially those of us with snow on the mountain, unless all your snow melted and went south years ago. I so do remember as a child walking along and spying a patch of rhubarb. Nice broadleaved plant with red stalks, minding its own business, not in the least trying to tempt me and lead me astray. It always did however as the temptation was to great not to go and rip off a stalk, tear off the leaf, wipe off any dirt and bite until the flesh. I can still see my self shudder with the first bite, almost like a dog that just got a bath.

Well, rhubarb is a fairly easy plant to grow. There are several things that you should take into consideration before you go out and buy some roots. Newly planted rhubarb should not be picked the first year. The plant will need time to get established before you start to harvest.  Rhubarb can be picked the second year, but sparingly. After that at any time during the growing season, but the best time is late spring. If you plan on harvesting throughout the summer, only remove what you actually need. Remember you are putting stress on the plant whenever you remove leaves. I would stop harvesting in late summer or early fall. This will allow the plant to get ready to go dormant for the winter and have enough stored energy to grow the following spring.

Just remember the leaves are poisonous.

Vermin Eater

I’m sure we all have run across the individual who is sly, cunning, sneaky or treacherous. I guess this definition does suit the weasel. The weasel is found in the north temperature regions of North America and Europe and Asia. Unfortunately the weasel is valued for its fur, especially their winter coat of white.

The weasel is an effective predator of mice, rats, voles and rabbits, though they also will dine on birds, eggs, insects, fish and frogs. Also chickens are known to attract the cunning weasel. They prefer areas near water or marshes. Also areas that are grassy open areas next to wooded areas.

Other than raiding the chicken house, the weasel is a very important predator to have around.

Works of Art

There is the saying that you should stop and smell the roses. Let’s go one step further and stop and look at the bugs. You have all seen a butterfly with its remarkable markings, but have you really taken a good look at what Mother Nature has placed on this earth. I’m serious, take some time and explore your gardens. Get a magnifying glass and spend some time seeing the shapes and colors of the insects. It is amazing that something so tiny can be an amazing work of art.

Bugs - I’m using the term to include all those crawling, flying creatures that inhabit every corner of the world. Of all the bugs in the world, only 3 percent are harmful to man or animals. So don’t panic and grab the can of insecticide. Bugs are here for a purpose. They are a food source for birds, amphibians, animals and even man. Take time and not only smell the roses, but look at the bugs on the roses. You will be amazed.

Pests & Winter

I know we have all complained about the bitter cold winter this year, especially when the bill for heat has to be paid. But there is some benefit from all this. The hemlock wooly adelgid that is decimating the hemlocks will begin dying when temperatures fall below zero. Ticks may also be affected and may help slow its northern spread due to warmer winters in the past. The freezing temperatures may or may not be a help in our area with the emerald ash borer, but in areas that have experienced long weeks of subzero temperatures should d see a die off.

Bee Helpful

Okay, you, the wood workers, are you bored and want something to do and also be a great benefit to a native pollinator?

Of all our native bees, the only social one is the bumble bee. The build their nests in small cavities such as rodent nests in the ground, holes in the ground made by decaying tree roots, in other words any number of places large enough to create a small colony. Did you know you can make your own bumble bee nest? I would like to be able to construct one, but then I do enjoy all five fingers on both hands. You can go on line and google how to build a bumble bee nest or contact me for information.

Our native bees are very important to our food source. Remember prior to the invasion by white man to North America, there were no honey bees. Our native bees along with other wildlife are responsible for 80 percent of the pollination of plants.

Less Mowing

So keep in mind, although we have experienced a rough winter, there are benefits that we cannot ignore. We were meant to have snow and cold weather. Mother Nature was here on this earth long before we were. The first person I hear this summer complain about the heat will be……….!!! And I mean it, unless it’s me of course.

It’s not too late to make plans on reducing the size of your lawns; you know the barren wasteland, devoid of wildlife, the manicured piece of dirt, costing you money and time to mow. Start small, read books; ask us at the Extension Office for ideas and help.

Remember, it’s easy to be green. Happy Gardening!

Contact Information


Quentin Stocum


Master Gardener Coordinator, Clinton County

Phone: 570-726-0022 ext 3828

Quentin shares his 'Easy to be Green' news column in the Lock Haven Express newspaper