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Featured Stories

Butterflies now?

Meet the pollinators: The Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Written by Jill Eisenstein, Master Gardener and Master Naturalist Volunteer

What might a late winter day and a warm summer day have in common besides sun?


When it comes to butterflies, assumptions abound. Here’s one: butterflies either migrate or die off in the winter. Another one: butterflies need flowers to live. Or: adult butterflies only live a few days or weeks. But let me introduce to you a stunning outlier, a butterfly that startles us when snow is still on the ground -- the Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa).

The large – sometimes four inches across – dark, red/brown velvety wings have yellowish-white edges trimmed with striking blue dots. Apparently, they resemble the capes mourners wore in medieval times, and so the name. Mourning cloaks overwinter as – wait for it -- ADULTS in rock crevices, under tree bark, or in wood piles. Sometimes they snuggle under leaves or in stucco buildings. . . .

 READ MORE from the Putnam Pollinator Pathway.

Tea for Two: Easy Herbal Teas

Written by Helen Bowers, Master Gardener Volunteer


The story of tea begins in China. According to legend, in 2737 BCE, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. When some leaves from the tree (Camelia sinensis) blew into the water, Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided to try the infusion that his servant had accidentally created.


The story of tea also includes the East India Tea Company, the Boston Tea Party, the song “Tea for Two” and culminates in the Master Gardener Plant Sale Saturday, May 11th at Putnam County’s Veteran Memorial Park.


How many teas are there? How many stars are in the sky? But let’s start with three easy to grow tea plants, ones that come from the herbs the Master Gardeners will be featuring at the plant sale: Teas made from steeped herbs are called tisanes or more commonly herbal teas.


Mint (Mentha sp.) is the most common and easiest to grow. Plant mint in a pot so it doesn't spread too far, too fast. There will be at least 3 types of mint (peppermint, chocolate mint and lemon mint) and they all have leaves that make great tea. You can dry the leaves or use them fresh. And they make refreshing iced tea as well.


Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla and Chamaemelum nobile) is similarly easy to grow and it, too, makes a great cup of tea. Different from mint, chamomile tea is made from the lovely yellow and white flowers that look like they want to become daisies when they grow up. The smell of Chamomile is sweet and soothing. What’s more, it’s caffeine free, so you can relax with a cup of chamomile tea at bedtime.


Lavender (Lavandula sp.) has the prettiest purple flowers. Steep these flowers to make tea that will perfume the neighborhood. Lavender is reported to ease anxiety. Take a deep breath as you sip and the smell of lavender will carry your cares far away, up into the clouds.


You don’t even have to dry them first. All edible herbs can make a great cup of fresh tea. Muddling them with a little bit of sugar helps to abrade the leaves and gives an even stronger taste to your tea. At summer’s end, you can dry your herbs in the sun, a slow oven, or a food dehydrator, and enjoy your summer bounty all winter long.


There will be over 30 different herbs available at the sale Saturday May 11th. Gather up your tomato and pepper plants and then come over to the Herbs section to pick up your selection of tea and cooking herbs. And if you have questions, the Master Gardeners on site will help you choose. For more ideas on herbal plants that make marvelous teas please visit the University of Illinois Tea Garden teas list.

Photo Toshiyuki IMAI under CC SA

In the Lab: Firewood "Bugs"

If you heat your home with firewood, you know your log pile can be full of creepy crawlies, most of them harmless insects, spiders, sow bugs and millipedes. But a few hitchhikers can cause damage to structural components of your house, like carpenter ants, termites and wood-boring beetles. We get samples f these in our lab every year.

How do you keep your house safe? The first decision you'll have to make is figuring out where to site the wood pile. You will want to make it convenient, but try to keep it a small distance from your home (30 feet is adequate). Rodents and bugs like to live in and around piles of firewood, so it's best not to store it too close. Check out this fact sheet for more information on insects and firewood. Many people store a small amount in or next to the house that they can draw from as needed and replenish regularly. Bring in no more than you intend to burn for the day.

Learn more about heating with wood on our webpage

Photo borderhacker's via FLICKR CC SA

Creating a Meadow: Part I

Carol Ann Lutz, Master Gardener Volunteer, Jennifer Lerner, Sr. Resource Educator

What do we do with the ground beneath our feet? We… pave it, shape it, dig it, mine it, flood it, drain it, farm it, garden it, landscape it, build on it, entertain on it, play on it. We are managers, if not conscious stewards, of the ground beneath our feet.

Our personal parcel or space may be large or small, but what we do with it affects life around us. This article is presented in two parts. In this first part, we will describe meadow, pasture, and lawn, the history and uses of each. In part 2, we will consider reasons why and ways to convert some or all of your lawn to meadow.


Upcoming Events

Going, going . . .

Order Deadline Approaching

The 2024 Tree and Shrub Seedling Sale order deadline of March 24th is fast approaching. We still have some NYS-grown, disease resistant apple varieties, native shade trees and wildlife boxes., available for pre-order.

Learn More & Order

Gardening Questions? No Problem! 


Our Horticulture Hotline and Diagnostic Lab is open, and we're taking samples. You can find sample forms and instructions on our website.

Contact us at: 

Or call (845) 278-6738 and leave a message. 


Consider donating! CCE Putnam is a non-profit organization and we rely on generous neighbors like yourself to continue our work serving Putnam County. 

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