Black Swallowwort – Invasive Vine


Black Swallowwort is an invasive weed (imported from Europe about 200 years ago). It has been found growing in fields, the edges of woods, and in suburban and urban locations – growing in garden beds, up chain link fences and elsewhere. Black Swallowwort is everywhere. It threatens native plant habitats and has been listed on the New England invasive plants list. Many people don’t know the vine’s negative consequences and think it’s just an attractive foliage plant growing on their fence.

Black Swallowwort is a member of the Milkweed family, but unlike Milkweed, it is not a reproductive food host like Milkweed is for the Monarch butterfly. Many Monarchs lay their eggs on Black Swallowwort leaves mistaking them for Milkweed. When the larvae eat the Swallowwort leaves which are toxic, they die. Unfortunately, this vine is encroaching on the Milkweed plants’ habitat.

The vine’s stems are narrow and the leaves which are opposite one another on the stem are oval, shiny dark green with pointed ends. In June and July you’ll notice tiny purple flowers on the plant. When the flowers finish blooming, green seed pods form that reminds one of string beans but look more like chili peppers. The pods turn light brown when ripe and then open up to reveal milkweed like seeds (small flat brown seed heads attached to plumes of silky white hair) that are dispersed by the wind.

Getting rid of this noxious vine is very difficult. Just pulling the vine out of the ground doesn’t remove all of its roots. It has a complex root system most likely entwined with other plant roots, and the root crown and even the tiny white roots you’ll find, must be dug completely out of the ground to prevent more plants from coming up. If you notice tiny Black Swallowwort seedlings popping up around the larger vines, dig them up also.

If you can’t successfully remove the vine, use a scissor or your fingers to take off the seed pods before they become ripe. Put the pods (plus entire plants including roots and tiny seedlings) into a heavy duty black plastic bag, seal it with a twist tie, and put the bag in the trash. Don’t put pods in your compost pile or in a lawn bag that will be recycled. Another control is to mow the vine just as the pods are forming to prevent seed production. NOTE: I highly recommend you do not use Roundup a carcinogenic product that is harmful to animals, insects and people.


Garden Tasks for March

Clean your garden tools!

It’s mid February 2021, and snow is now covering the ground, and is due during the next several days in Massachusetts. Will there still be snow on the ground in early March? Possibly.

• Gardening tools that haven’t been cleaned can be washed and sterilized with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol. And, oiled with WD-40.

• Sharpen your pruning tools, shovel blades, garden bed edger’s and mower blades with a # 10 mill bastard file, or take them to a professional tool sharpener. You can purchase the metal file from your local hardware store or woodworking shop.

• If you left leaves as a ground mulch last fall, just move the leaves away from any spring bulbs/plants beginning to sprout, but keep the remaining leaves on the ground as worms, small insects and microorganisms have overwintered within these leaves.

• Remove standard winter mulch (woody shredded bark) when the soil has thawed from winter cold. Insects don’t typically live within these mulch layers. Apply, and dig in a two to three inch layer of compost to your perennial and shrub garden beds to amend the soil.

• Fertilize shrubs and trees with organic fertilizer (if there’s no snow on the ground; otherwise wait until the snow has thoroughly melted before application). Use Holly Tone for acidic loving plants, Plant Tone for alkaline loving plants, and Rose Tone for roses.

• Contact gardening and lawn care professionals to get scheduled into their calendar as spring is a busy season for them

• Pots used for planting need to be free of mold and fungus. If you didn’t clean your pots in the fall, soak and sterilize them for 10 minutes in 1 part bleach mixed into 9 parts water. Scrub them inside and out until they are clean, and then rinse them thoroughly with water.

• Draw up a plan for your vegetable garden so that this year’s crops will be rotated, and not planted in the same place as last year.

• Join a garden club or take a gardening class on-line to get new ideas and meet other gardeners. NOTE: Due to Covid 19 pandemic, garden clubs in the Boston area are meeting virtually via Zoom or Skype.

Click on this link – and/or the link: Sign-up today to join the Somerville Garden Club!


Garden tasks for March, spring garden clean up, cleaning garden tools, gardeners near Somerville

Plants Tolerant of Rock Salt

Plants Tolerant of Rock Salt

Plants tolerant of rock salt – a common ice melt used in winter

Winter brings snow, ice and slush; thus messy and slippery walkways and roads. To melt this mess, and allow safe walking and transportation, most cities, towns, and residents apply rock salt (sodium chloride) to these surfaces.

This form of rock salt becomes lethal to plants. As it melts snow and ice and dissolves into the resulting liquid, the salt makes its way into the soil, and its sodium and chloride ions separate. The sodium ions replace the phosphorous and potassium needed by the plants. The chloride ions when absorbed by the plant roots, travel up to the leaves, build up to toxic levels, interfere with photosynthesis and cause cell damage and leaf scorch. Salt also absorbs moisture from plant roots, causing a drying out or desiccation of the roots. Plants affected by rock salt may show signs of drought even when the soil is wet or waterlogged. And too much salt could result in the pooling of water on the soil surface. FYI: Earthworms and microorganisms are adversely affected by rock salt as well.

Some highly salt tolerant perennials include Dianthus, Wood Aster, Goldenrod, and low Day Lilies such as ‘Happy Returns’. Groundcovers such as Bearberry or Barren strawberry and grasses such as Little Bluestem or Maiden Grass are also quite salt tolerant. Perennials that are somewhat salt tolerant include Creeping Phlox, Heuchera; Coral Bells, Bellflowers, Yarrow, and some Sedums including Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Hens and Chicks. Hosta, Purple Coneflower, Thyme and Daffodils have the least toleration for salt.

One way to prevent salt damage is to stop using de-icing salts and use coarse sand. The sand provides traction and makes the paving less slick. Or use the organic ‘Ice Melt’ de-icing product made from magnesium chloride. You can also protect your evergreen plants and shrubs from the salt by wrapping burlap around them or putting up fence barriers.

Holiday Evergreen Swags


Would you like a beautiful hand made SWAG for your front door,  or ARRANGEMENT for window boxes or outside containers?

I create custom made Holiday Evergreen Swags to hang on your front door, or elsewhere. (large $55 or small $40 each)

Using various live evergreens, pine cones, and handmade bows/ribbons the swags are ready to hang.

Window boxes and outside containers; prices TBD

Contact me before December 10th at 857-919-4735 or to place your order. And, to arrange a pick-up date at my home in Somerville.

Garden Tasks for November/December

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is garden-q-a-winterize-your-hoses.jpg

Here are some garden tasks to take care of before the ground freezes:

• Continue to water shrubs and small trees, particularly evergreens, until the ground freezes. You may have to use a watering can with water from indoors as you’ll need to disconnect your water hoses from outside spigots before temperatures reach freezing. Drain out the water from all hoses, roll up them up and store them in a dry location such as a garden shed, garage, or basement. Turn off the water to outside spigots.

• If your garden beds need to be mulched, wait until the ground freezes to do so. Application of tree bark mulch at this time helps keep the soil at an even frozen temperature, and helps keep the ground from heaving. Put down three inches of mulch. Salt marsh hay is also a great mulch to be used for tender shrubs and perennials. You can purchase the hay at many garden centers, but do this before the end of October, or the hay may have sold out.

• Wrap burlap around your evergreens and hydrangeas to shield the shrubs from strong cold winds and snow. Burlap will also protect evergreens planted near roads that will be salt sprayed by plows. Also, stuff healthy fallen leaves (not diseased leaves) between the hydrangea branches for more protection. The winter of 2014 was so harsh, that many hydrangeas did not bloom this year.

• Tie Rose canes together and secure them to their supports to avoid winter wind damage. And mound one foot of soil or compost around the base of rose bushes to shield the bud union from winter harm.

• Clean all garden tools: scrape off excess dirt, wipe the tool down with an old cloth or a wire brush if needed, and let it dry. Rub off any rust with oil or steel wool. Tools with a sharp metal part should be sharpened with a special sharpening tool. Then use a lubrication oil spray on metal parts to protect from rust.

Contact Judy Eisenberg at

or 857-919-4735

National Pollinator Week


Purple Cone Flower

Bumble bee pollinates Purple Cone Flowers.

National Pollinator Week; June 19th through 25th, is a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them.

Quote from the Pollinator Partnership website: “Ten years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.”

“The Pollinator Partnership is proud to announce that June 19-25, 2017 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

The Pollinator Partnership website lists events around the country. However, during National Pollinator Week, you can encourage friends, neighbors, co-workers, and perhaps clients, to plant native plants and shrubs in their gardens to support pollinators such as birds, bees, butterflies, bats and beetles in the ecosystem.

You may ask, “What is pollination?” Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another flower of the same species, where it can fertilize it and start the development of fruit and seed production. Even though some plants can pollinate themselves, most need the assistance of insects, birds, bats and other organisms — together referred to as pollinators.

FYI:  At the July 12th meeting of the Somerville Garden Club, guest speaker Jessica Lubell, Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Connecticut, will give a presentation on  ‘Landscaping With Novel Native Shrubs’. Native shrubs provide support for pollinators and other ecological systems, and are a suitable landscape alternative to invasive plants.  The meeting will be held at the TAB building at 169 Holland Street in Somerville, from 7:00 – 9:00 pm; second floor in the senior room. All are welcome; no attendee or parking fee. Parking available for the event in the large parking lot to the left of building.

For further details:

Rugosa rose & bumblebee

Bumble bee pollinating native Rugosa Rose.





Gardening Tips for Drought


Here are some tips to help your plants survive during a season such as last summer’s drought:

  1. Use native plants, trees and shrubs that adapt well to this area.
  2. Place plants with similar light and water requirements together in the flower beds.
  3. Dig in organic matter such as, compost, manure, or rotting leaves.
  4. Put plants needing lots of water, near a downspout, near drainage areas that are low-lying, or in the shade of other plants.
  5. Do your watering early in the morning for the most benefit and most efficient use.  Watering later in the day during warm or hot weather leads to quicker evaporation.
  6. Conserve water, and help plants survive by using soaker hoses, or drip irrigation.  Overhead sprays tend to evaporate, and miss areas that need watering.
  7. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic bark chips,  or shredded leaves to conserve soil moisture and reduce weeds.

Spring is almost Here!


It’s late February, and there is still some snow on the ground. Hopefully the snow will melt by early to mid March. Here are some garden related tasks that can be taken care of during March.


• If you haven’t cleaned your outdoor planters, scrub and sterilize them now with a solution of 1 part bleach mixed with 9 parts water. Then rinse them thoroughly with clean water.

Gardening tools that haven’t been cleaned can be washed and sterilized with this bleach/water solution, or with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.

Get your pruning tools, spades, garden bed edger and mower blades sharpened if needed.

Get your lawn mower and other garden equipment tuned-up.

Draw up a plan for your vegetable garden so that this year’s crops will be rotated and not planted in the same place as last year.

Contact gardening and lawn care professionals to get scheduled into their calendar as spring is a busy season for them.

Join a garden club or take a gardening class to get new ideas and meet other gardeners.

New Years Garden Resolutions


Square Foot Gardening

In January, so many of us make resolutions for the new year, work on achieving these goals, but by February lapse into old habits. Myself included. Last year I made a resolution that I would plant within a few months, all potted plants I acquired either via the Somerville Garden Club’s monthly raffle or annual plant sale, or that I purchased from garden centers. I did pretty well, but there are still three small plants in pots on my driveway now buried in snow.

Here are some New Year’s resolutions you might consider committing to in 2017:

  • Commit to spending fifteen minutes every day in your garden, or schedule one to two hours per week. Get a family member, friend or neighbor to help you or keep you company.
  • Make a resolution to conserve the use of water in your garden. If affordable, instead of using overhead ‘water-waster’ sprinklers for your garden or lawn, have an underground irrigation system installed, or use soaker hoses as a cheaper means to conserve water. Or, purchase a water barrel to harvest rain water from a down spout attached to your rain gutter.
  • To save money and have more types of plants to choose from, grow plants from seeds indoors. Order seeds from catalogs, or buy them from your local garden center. You’ll need a grow light, seed starting soil, small pots or a seed starting kit. Plant the seeds in their indoor pots about 8 weeks before the final expected spring frost. Follow directions on the seed packets or from the starter kit.
  • Growing local and sustainable food organically is a healthy and fulfilling alternative to buying food from the supermarket. So, grow vegetables and herbs; adding some flowering annuals and perennials for variety and color. Plant them in the sun in raised beds, or in raised square foot garden containers to keep the plant roots safe from any lead in your soil.
  • Go to lectures, the library, or search online to learn about building raised beds and growing organically.
  • If you’ve been using chemicals on your lawn, plants or shrubs, make the choice to go organic this year. Using organic fertilizers, soil amendments and pesticides will be healthier for your family, neighbors, the plants, and for the environment around you.


I’d love to hear what  your gardening resolutions are for this new year!

Contact me at:

Winterizing Broad Leaved Evergreens


Do some of the leaves on your broad leaved evergreens turn brown and fall off during the winter? Or have what’s called ‘winter burn’; when the edges of the leaves turn brown over the winter but don’t fall off ? If so, there is something you can do to prevent this leaf damage and loss.

All evergreens lose moisture through their leaves in winter, especially broad-leaf evergreens such as Rhododendron, Azalea, Andromeda, Laurel and Boxwood. If planted in an unprotected area open to cold, drying winds, evergreens are susceptible to desiccation; a condition in which the foliage dries out, turns brown and may drop. To decrease water loss, spray and coat both sides of the leaves with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt-Pruf or Wilt Stop during a day in mid to late November with temperatures above 40 degrees . Make sure it isn’t going to rain or snow during the next couple of days or the spray application may wash off. If you didn’t get to this task in November, then in January if there is a day and evening that stays above 40 degrees, you can treat your shrubs then.

You can purchase Wilt-Pruf or Wilt-Stop at most local garden centers or hardware stores that have a gardening department. (Note: Do not spray arborvitae, junipers, blue spruce or cypress). And, for extreme weather conditions, you can build a protective shelter for your evergreen using stakes and burlap.

You can also use an anti-desiccant spray to prevent leaf dehydration over the winter on cut broad leaved evergreen leaf branches you use for making winter wreaths, swags, and decorations in window boxes. Spray the leaves before you wire the branches together. The spray takes less than an hour to dry.