No Mow Year Three

Well, we mowed the no-mow again (loving the oxymoron), as it was due for its spring knockdown. Like I’ve seen in quite a few farmers fields this year, it actually wasn’t a great grass year-the clovers, alfalfas, and wildflowers seem to have been able to keep pace with the spring flush of grass growth this year. We do an intitial mowing in June (early July this year, rain) to prevent long grass from being availible for deer tick egg laying, as well as giving the wildflowers a fair shot at competing against the grass. Look around Addison County, at many of the hay fields. The second cut of hay is the attractive one, the one where the alfalfa and clover really stand up, while the grass plays second fiddle. Hopefully, it will be the same in our no-mow zones with wildflowers. This year, though, the wildflowers stood out with the grass, and some early ones had started to bloom. They’ll re-bloom, even after being mown.

Observant people will have also noticed that we slightly expanded some of the no-mow areas this spring. Facilities Services, in concert with the Master Plan committee, identified some areas next to existing no-mow locations that needn’t be mowed lawn. The insight of the Master Plan committee was great to watch. With a wonderful eye for design, they expanded no-mow almost right to the front door of Bi-Hall, further shrinking what we are beginning to call Bicentennial Park, making the park like area smaller, but more readable and usable. The same effect was done up by Hadley-Milliken-Kelly-Lang, bringing the no-mow area closer to the row of dorms, making a park like space for what we are now calling Ross Commons surronded by no-mow meadow. There is a bonfire pit in the middle of the commons now, as well as a volleyball net.

There’s a wonderful article, not availible online, sadly, in the May issue of Landscape Architecture that I’ve recently read, entitled “Graduating To Green”, by Mark Hough, ASLA. It starts “The traditional American campus landscape, captured most vividly by an image of open lawns with mature canopy trees, is one of our most established, celebrated, and significant landscape typologies and is, in the 21st century, at a crossroads.” The article is very interesting, and longer than I have time to write about on a beautiful summer evening, but maybe in the next rainstorm…

Some Rain

As in, wow, that was some rain. The weather station recorded a peak rainfall rate of 13.71″ per hour, and we got a half of an inch of rain in a little less than 5 minutes. Middblog was tweeting, here’s a good picture.

A cold front coming down from Canada was pushing a line of storms in from the northwest, and while the weather service wasn’t expecting too much, they were hinting of potential. Campus had some rain earlier this morning, but then the sun came out, even early across upstate New York, so the heating of the atmosphere allowed some local cells of intense storms to grow. My kids were even impressed.

When Good Plants go Bad

My most depressing year at the University of Vermont would have been my junior year. All plant and soil science majors took Plant Pathology that year, two semesters worth. For all of you non-science plant geeks, plant pathology deals with diseases of plants-basically anything except insects. Virus, fungi, bacteria, even abiotic problems were addressed. After a year of learing the various ways plants die, I remember thinking about the hopelessness of it all, wondering how on earth plants even existed.

Insect pest management was the previous year. Insects, while a pain, can very often be sprayed, attacked by other bugs, or even crop rotated away. But most of plant pathology? Hopeless. At best, they are “controlled”, like most fungicides, at worst, well, here’s a list of plants if you have to replant that may not get that disease. No magical sprays, potions, or elixirs to help you along. Often the best defense against many of these problems is simply a good offense-a healthy thriving plant will suffer some little indignities here and there, but will fight on.

The recent spate of warm and wet weather has Verticillium Wilt  rearing its nasty little head around. I’ve gotten several emails about it recently, and am expecting more. Verticillium Wilt is a soil borne fungus that enters the roots, then both produces toxins and spreads spores throughout the xylem (water tissues) of the plant. The plant, in a bit of idiotic self defense, uses various compounds to plug the xylem further, ostensibly to stop the spread of the  fungus, but further restricting water movement inside. The name wilt is a descriptive, as the first symptom typically seen is the last, as the leaves wilt and die from lack of water.

In fruit trees, the fungus is called Black Heart, commonly seen in Apricots, but is also seen in many types of plants, such as potatoes, tomatoes, mint, and many types of trees and shrubs. The fungi, Verticillium albo-atrum or V. dahliae, can persist in the soil for up to 15 years, forming small black resting structures activated when roots grow near them.

On campus, Verticillium wilt is evident on some older plantings of lilacs, like on the picture below. This particular clump is near Battell, on the wetter, or beach, side. Lilacs don’t like wet feet (roots) to begin with, and this may help bring about the fungus.

Lilacs at Battell


Verticillium symptoms on Lilac

Another victim of Verticillium seems to be a Catalpa, know by my kids as the Green Bean tree, for the size seed pods it produces. Spectacular in flower, this tree was the subject of my first Twitter picture about a month ago. (Are you following Middland on Twitter? I’m having a blast posting pictures of plants in bloom around campus, I’m at http://twitter.com/middland.)

Verticillium wilt in Catalpa

The location is directly across from Emma Willard, blocking one of the special sightlines at Middlebury, that of the view from the front of Emma Willard looking up towards Old Chapel. While I mourn the loss of all trees, more than one person has lamented the unfortunate planting location of this tree, wishing it were elsewhere. This loss is particularly wrenching for me, as I watched it come down with this disease last year, but then watched it leaf and flower out again this spring. Thinking Verticillium more quickly virulent, I had false hope this spring, and now know better. Fortunately, the next nearest tree is a birch, resistant to Verticillium, so this loss should be confined to a single tree.

Wilting leaves on Catalpa