Roots and Shoots: What Did You Do in the Garden? 

It was a year of upheaval, unrest, staying close to home, and so many other things.

In The Current’s first issue of 2020, I shared five ways that gardeners could support nature in their landscapes:

■ Create a pollinator island of native plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall.
■ Reduce your lawn by 20 percent.
■ Make a rain garden to hold stormwater on your property and reduce run-off.
■ Plant a tree.
■ Make a compost pile for your kitchen scraps and other organic waste to use as natural fertilizer on your garden.

Email me at [email protected] and share your stories. I’ll compile them for a New Year’s column.

Everyone needs a break

With the exception of that New Year’s column, Roots and Shoots will be going offline and returning in February in time to dive into the planting season.

In the meantime, here are some seasonal gardening resources from past columns, with links.

What’s your zone?

Understanding a plant’s ability to survive cold temperatures is a key factor in choosing what to grow.  Climate change is making it necessary to understand a plant’s ability to handle heat, as well, and research is underway on those limits. Knowing zone information lets gardeners experiment as our temperatures vary more than in the past to see what new plants will thrive here in the future.

In a 2019 column, I explained plant hardiness zones and microclimate growing conditions. Beacon is in Zone 6a (minus 5 to zero degrees) and Philipstown is in Zone 6b (minus 10 to minus 5 degrees). Microclimates within the zones will see those numbers shift slightly.


Deer browsing has been more intense than usual and it’s very discouraging. Then I found this wintergreen plant in the woods behind my house, the first one I’ve seen there. (Photo by P. Doan)

Reading for long winter nights

When working in the garden is cold-prohibitive, reading books about plants is the next-best thing. Last year I shared several that I enjoyed. Weedless Gardening: The Hassle-Free All-Organic System, by Lee Reich, is a useful guide to methods of easing up on the back-breaking aspects of gardening. Learn how to prepare and maintain landscape beds and vegetable gardens with less work and better soil.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, looks at indigenous ecological traditions and values through science. The book shows how indigenous peoples’ deep understanding of and respect for nature were also standards for land and forest management that we should have been following all along.

End of season notes 

If you still have the energy and attention span after the brutal news cycle of 2020, see my November 2017 list of projects that can still be done outside to prepare for next year’s garden and optimize your resources. Winterize any watering equipment, including rain barrels. Clean and sharpen tools. Top-off the garden beds with aged animal manure to add soil nutrients.

Can you name that tree? 

In an interview with a forester in early 2016, I learned about ways to identify trees by their bark in winter. It makes any winter hike or walk so much more exciting when you can drop tree facts on your friends and family. This stuck with me: You can tell the difference between oaks based on the bark. We have four major oaks that are native to the Highlands. Red oak is the most prevalent. The bark has vertical lines like ski tracks that are rust-colored. Black oak looks like alligator skin. (Those two trees can hybridize and will show both characteristics.) White oak has a shaggier bark and will rub off. Chestnut oak has thick, corky bark, like a movie version of a dinosaur leg.

Buried in snow, dreaming of spring

A column from 2015 shared tips on starting seeds indoors and covered growing mediums and ways to trap heat and moisture for germination. If bird-watching has become an interest, go to to join the Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s an international effort to log sightings that become valuable data for conservationists and scientists.

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