Featured photos were all contributed by Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County as described below:
Trees ablaze with color by Annette Osterlund–Several environmental factors determine the color, intensity and duration of fall’s brilliant, yet all-too-fleeting, showcase. For the best display, trees need adequate soil moisture, coupled with warm, sunny days and cool clear nights.
Late-emerging butterfly by Margaret Montplaisir–Native butterflies, like this beautiful eastern black swallowtail, still need nectar sources in the early months of fall. Well-planned butterfly gardens include continuous flowering from spring through fall, making nectar available for the entire period butterflies are in flight.
Milkweed seeds taking flight by Linda Park–Milkweed pods split open in early fall to reveal a tuft of downy fluff attached to each seed. Nearly weightless, the silky threads allow the seeds be picked up by the slightest breeze and carried over long distances.
A kaleidoscope of fall color by Catherine Horgan–Prized for their intense color at the end of the growing season, most mums purchased in bloom at this time of year are not reliably winter hardy. There are varieties that are truly perennial in New Jersey, however. Perennial mums are best planted in spring, and should be pinched back throughout the growing season to keep them compact and holding off bloom times until later in the season.
Witch hazel foliage by Linda Park–Most well-known for the fragrant winter flowers it produces, witch hazels are true four-season plants, as evidenced by the beautiful golden-yellow, red, or orange leaf colors that add brilliance to the autumn landscape.
Monarch caterpillar by Joe Scarlata–Monarch caterpillars are “picky eaters,” feeding only on milkweed. To attract monarchs to your yard, try planting one of these varieties that grow well in our area: common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and butterfly weed (A.tuberosa).
Bumblebee on blue false indigo by Lan-Jen Tsai–The shape and structure of the flowers of blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) can make accessing their nectar a challenge for some smaller bees, but burlier bumblebees are well adapted to reach both the nectar and pollen within these uniquely-shaped flowers.
Monarch butterflies by Betty Scarlata–The generation of monarch butterflies (Daneus plexippus) that emerge in late summer and early fall in NJ are very different from the non-migratory generations that spend the rest of the summer here. Unlike its predecessors, this generation can live for eight months, long enough for them to migrate all the way to their wintering roosts in Mexico.
Praying mantis by David Byers–Along with their distinctive grasping front legs, a praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) also has the remarkable ability to easily turn its triangular head in order to see in all directions.
Carpenter bee on swamp milkweed by Kathy Enquist–Not just for Monarch butterflies, milkweeds –and other native plants– are important food sources for a variety of native pollinators, including a number of our native bees like the one pictured above.
Water lilies by Dorothy Donnelly–The queen of water gardens, water lilies add color, fragrance and tranquil beauty to any backyard pond or aquatic container. More than just a pretty face, they also prevent oxygen loss from the water surface, keep water cooler, and can even reduce algae growth.
Green garden vista by Joe Scarlatta–Flowers may be fabulous, but it pays to think beyond the petals. Above, the combined effect of subtle shades of green, layers of texture and a variety of shapes and forms result in a tranquil garden space that rivals the beauty of any flower-filled border.
Azaleas in bloom by Theodora Wang–Azaleas and rhododendrons make a spectacular spring arrival in mid-spring. While they both grow well in dappled shade, for the best flower display make sure they have adequate light for proper flower bud formation. If an area has become too shady for them, plants may need to be moved, or lower tree limbs can be removed to gain more light.
Spring pansies by Catherine Horgan–Cheerful and charming, pansies are very easy to grown and have one of the widest color ranges of any garden annual. The ideal temperature range for growing pansies is from about 40° F at night to 60° F during the day. They produce their best flowers in the spring when the weather is mild, then fade when the really hot weather arrives. The dark center markings in the variety shown above is called a “face.”
Yellow tulips by Betty Scarlata–Nothing says “Spring” like old-fashioned tulips. And while older varieties may be less spectacular than some of the newer hybrids, they are actually more likely to return and bloom year after year. Regardless of the variety, all tulip flowers should be snipped off as soon as they start to fade, so the plant can spend energy forming next year’s blooms instead of making seeds. Be sure to leave the foliage in place until it has completely yellowed and withered to ensure the show keeps going next year.
Bluebells by Eunice Wilkinson–Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are pink when in bud but turn a soothing shade of blue in flower. Native to moist woodlands, they are great to plant under trees or in other shady areas. Since they go dormant during the summer, plan to add some annuals or perennials between them to fill in any gaps after they die back.
Witch hazel flower by Annette Osterlund–At a time when so much of the garden world is still fast asleep, spring-blooming witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) add sparkle and scent to the landscape. The spindly flowers come in a variety of colors from yellow to orange to red and can appear anytime from January until March.
Pussy Willow Catkins by Margaret Montplaisir–One of the first signs of spring, pussy willow trees (Salix discolor) produce their “catkins” on still leafless stems. The silky, pearl gray buds are said to resemble kitten fur.
Winter berries by Betty Scarlata–Berry-producing shrubs are one of the best food sources for birds, particularly in the winter when other sources are scarce.
Icy branches by Margaret Montplaisir–Ice storms are very common in our region and can cause branches and limbs to break or even topple whole trees. Pruning trees on a regular basis can reduce a tree’s susceptibility to damage by removing deadwood and structurally weak branches.
Bittersweet berries by Linda Park–Although a somewhat quiet tree most of the year, American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) steals the show when its bold berries offer a rich pop of color at a time when the appearance of most deciduous trees is considerably more muted.
A blanket of white by Betty Scarlata–In addition to transforming the outdoors into a sparkling winter mural, a layer of snow acts as an excellent insulator for the plants in the landscape, offering protection from alternating freeze/thaw cycles. It also adds needed moisture to the soil as it melts.
Doe in the woods by Margaret Montplaisir–Late winter and early spring are when food supplies are most limited for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus.) Snow cover can prevent deer from reaching acorns and other low lying food sources, making tree and shrub damage more likely
Snowy garden path by Joe Scarlata–Once the snow has stopped falling and the walks have all been cleared, winter’s lingering light and long shadows lend an almost magical aura to the garden’s quiet grace.
Cardinal in early snowfall by Margaret Montplaisir–Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are not migratory. They remain a common–but brilliant–sight in Mercer County gardens and green spaces throughout the winter.
A swirl of evergreen roping by Betty Scarlatta–Decorating with fresh greenery is one of the oldest winter holiday traditions. Pines, firs, and cedars are all good choices for indoor use since they tend to dry out slowly and hold their needles well in heated interiors.
Festively decorated outdoor trees by Joe Scarlata–At Christmastime, many trees and shrubs are decked out with lights, baubles, garland, and tinsel. It’s important to remember to handle branches carefully, and not to wrap wiring or decorations too tightly around live plants where they can abrade or damage the bark or the sensitive tissue just beneath the bark. Such injury to trees and shrubs can make plants more vulnerable to pests, fungi, and disease.
Snow white amaryllis by Theodora Wang–Potted amaryllis are a welcome sight in the depths of winter. Bulbs grow best when they are kept slightly rootbound. Containers can be either clay or plastic, but drainage holes are a must to prevent the bulb from getting waterlogged.