Our Backyard: Hydrangeas, Poison Ivy
Q. My blue hydrangea has produced spectacular flowers this summer, and I want to use them in fall arrangements. How should I preserve the flowers? — W.M., Plymouth, MA
A. All types of hydrangea (and many other plants) produce flowers that can be attractive and long lasting in dried arrangements when properly prepared. The best time to cut them is just before they reach their peak of size and color and before they show any sign of browning. Hang the flower heads singly or in loose bunches in a dark, dry, warm area — such as an attic — where air circulates freely. The darker and faster they dry, the better their color will be preserved.
If you are adventurous, you might want to try other drying methods such as silica gel or even the microwave. I’ve personally had success simply letting the flower heads dry out in the vase after enjoying them in a summer bouquet. It makes me feel good to use preserved flowers I’ve grown myself as a natural alternative to the silk ones that are becoming so commonly available today.
Q. Poison ivy is growing along the ground and up trees all over our yard. How can we eliminate it and make the area safe for our children? — R.S., Suffern, NY
A. Late summer is an ideal time to control poison ivy because the plant has little time to recover before winter dormancy.
Wearing clothing that completely protects all exposed skin, pull all the vines off trees and lay them on the ground. Apply an herbicide specifically formulated for poison ivy control to all the foliage and stems, following label directions. Next year, any surviving shoots can be pulled up by their roots.
If you prefer to use no chemicals, try covering all the leaves and stems with black polyethylene, held down with stakes or a layer of wood chips or mulch. Without light for a year, the plant will not survive. Alternatively, you can locate every plant stem and pull it out by its roots.
Most importantly, protect yourself. All parts of the poison ivy plant, alive or dead, carry urushiol, the oil that causes problems. Never burn poison ivy, because even the smoke can cause serious injury.
Q. Our lawn looks really unhappy after the summer. What should we do? — T.E., Yarmouth, ME