Bulb-a-licious

Bulbs are the sentinels of spring. We spend all winter in anxious anticipation of the rainbow of blooms that spring forth from those tiny little bulbs we plant in the fall. Bulbs should be planted now if you plan to enjoy them in spring. They need to go through the winter cold in the ground in order to bloom the following spring. In the world of bulbs, a little planning is required. Those that flower in spring need to be planted in the fall. Those that flower in late summer can be planted in early spring.hoa-ha-lan6-605781-1371470690_500x0

 

In the snowy month of March, you will see crocus peeking through the snow. Use them in borders of the garden, edging, in the grass, woodlands, and slopes or under trees. The colors range from white, yellow and striped to lavender and deep purple. These bulbs care little about spring snow and insist on flowering regardless of cold temperatures or severe weather. In addition to Crocus the Muscari, Anemone Blanda , and Galanthus bloom early.

crocus

The most popular bulb is the Tulip. We have many different types of tulip bulbs. The tulip has varieties that bloom in March, April and May, depending on the type you choose. Darwin hybrids are well known for their dependable performance, year after year. Tulips look best when planted in groupings of 5 or more bulbs. This will provide you with a patch of bright color that can be fit among existing perennials in the garden. Try planting in larger swaths of color where you might plant a border of annuals. Once the bulbs are done blooming, it will be time to plant your annuals. Your bedding plants will then disguise the bulb foliage while providing your summer garden color.

darwin tulips

Spring just wouldn’t be complete without the ever-dependable Daffodil. They just announce the word Spring with their everlasting beauty. Daffodils are perfect for rock gardens, borders and beds. They are offered in a wide range of colors and shapes and are perfect plant for naturalizing. Daffodil ‘Golden Bells’ is new for 99. Also known as the Yellow Hoop Petticoat, it has as many as 15 stems per bulb. A group of 5 or so will form a carpet of dainty, upward facing bright golden bells in your garden next spring.

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)
www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

 

 

 

What’s Bugging Your Plants?

It’s that time of year when the pesky pests come out to munch on our favorite garden plants. The warmer the weather, the faster those tiny eggs hatch. Before we know it, an army of aphids (or other pests) have decided to call our plants “home”. There are some things to know when determining how to manage pests in the yard. First, you’ll need to identify what you have in order to choose the best course of action. Some pests can be managed with a strong spray of water from hose, others may require an insecticide. Most insecticides target select pests. If you don’t know what you have, clip a small section of plant that is affected and put it in a sealed, clear plastic bag. Take the sample to your local garden center or county extension office for identification.

The most common pests are aphids, spider mites, white fly, Japanese beetles, earwigs, scale, and slugs.  There are a plethora of other insects, like tomato horn worm, psyllids, flea beetles and geranium bud worm, too.  Many will be managed by Mother Nature’s predatory insects.   Others, however, may require a bit of direct attention.

Aphids are probably the most common garden pest.  They are usually green, but may be black or red, or even woolly.   Aphids are pretty easy to identify.  You’ll be able to see adults with their distinctive horn-like spikes over their back legs.

Green Aphids

Aphids are pretty easy to manage.  If it is a light infestation, like the one pictured above, a hard stream of water will knock them off, pretty easily.  Ladybugs love to munch on aphids.  Release them in the cool evening hours and they’ll be making mince meat out of those aphids in no time.  Your ladybugs will stay in the area as long as they have a food supply.  Once your aphids are under control, they are likely to move on to another food source.   They can also be controlled using Neem oil or pyrethrin sprays.   Both are safe and effective, natural products.  Avoid applying any chemicals on hot sunny days.  Apply them in the morning or evening, to avoid damage to foliage.

Ladybug (the good bugs) eating an aphid
Ladybug Larvae
Spider Mites in web

Spider Mites

These tiny little creatures usually go without notice until we see their telltale webs.  For the most part, they hand out on the back of leaves, sucking the life out of our plants.  They are a little smaller than a pin head, making them difficult to see with the naked eye.  If you hold a piece of paper under an infested leaf and tap the leaf, some will fall onto the paper, making them easier to see.  Spider mites aren’t fond of moisture.  Direct water spray from a hose nozzle will usually knock them off.  That said, they are persistent little buggers.  Spraying them with a pyrethrin spray, or Neem oil would be prudent.   As with any chemical that is not a systemic, you’ll want to spray ever 5-7 days for 2-3 weeks, in order to catch each life cycle.

 

 

 

Feelin’ Hot, Hot, Hot!

It’s mid summer and the heat is on! Some of your plants may be showing signs of heat stress. Leaves may wilt. Vegetables like lettuce and spinach may bolt (flower prematurely) or in the case of plants you want to blossom, like peppers or watermelon, they may drop blossoms, reducing yield. Here are a few tips to help your garden withstand the hottest part of the summer:

1. Watch- Plants will often tell you when they are needing water. Lawns will turn a bluish green and show footprints that don’t rebound. Bean leaves will turn a darker green and begin to wilt. Most plants will perform better if you don’t allow them to wilt before watering, so check your garden every day and observe their needs.

2. Water- It’s true that you need to water more often during hot weather, but first check the soil. The surface may look dry even though there is plenty of moisture in the root zone. Over-watering can be just as harmful as under-watering, so don’t over do it. Slow, deep watering will insure that water soaks down to the roots. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work well. If using a hose that has been laying in the sun, be sure to let it run for a minute or two, until cool water comes out.

3. Mulch- A couple of inches of organic mulch like compost, grass clippings, or bark mulch will help reduce moisture loss and cool the soil temperature. A side benefit is that it prevents most weeds from germinating, too.

4. Shade- Cover cool weather veggies like lettuce and spinach with shade cloth. It won’t totally prevent bolting, but it could delay it a bit. Also, raise your lawn mower blade up so that you have 3 inches of grass left standing after you mow. This will provide shade for the roots of your lawn keeping them cool and much happier (which means a greener lawn).

5. Don’t spray chemicals during heat- Avoid spraying garden chemicals when temperatures are above 85 degrees. Weed killers can volatilize (evaporate and become air borne) and drift onto desirable plants. Insecticides can burn leaves of plants when temps are above 85. Spray early in the morning when temps are cooler and the air is still, or wait

Green Thumb Tips-April

Flower Gardens

Watering plants that have been recently planted outdoors is tricky. The rule is to water them in thoroughly after they are planted. Then watch the area next to the edge of the original soil ball to see if it is getting dry. You want to encourage the roots to move out into the surrounding soil to get water without letting the original soil ball get too dry. Reduce the watering frequency with time, but water thoroughly each time you water. Don’t just wet the surface of the soil.

An easy way to harden plants that are going outdoors is to cover them with Plant & Seed Guard for a few days after you plant them. You can use wire supports if necessary to hold the fabric away from the plants. Attach it to the ground with wire staples. It’s re-usable.

Pot begonias and dahlias now and keep them indoors until later in May. This will give them a good head start and they will bloom earlier after putting them outside.

Plant gladioli, lilies, cannas, callas, ranunculus, crocosmia and other summer blooming bulbs toward the end of April. Plant pansies between the bulbs to give you early color.

Fertilize your spring-flowering bulbs after the blooms have gone with Gro Rich Rose & Perennial fertilizer. Wait until the leaves turn brown to remove them. The leaves help build strength in the bulbs for next year.

Place your plant supports into position early. If you wait until they really need support, it may be difficult as the plant will be too large. This is especially true for peonies.

When you hand water, use a nozzle with a shut-off or trigger nozzle that stops the flow of water when released so you don’t waste water.

Before transplanting, be sure that your plants are not dry.

Flowering annual starts which can be planted out in early April after “hardening them off” are alyssum, dusty miller, sweet peas, anchusa, larkspur, centaurea, pansies, dracaena, and snapdragons.

When is it safe to plant other flowers?

Pinch back your annuals to promote stronger, bushier plants and more flower production.

More on Planting and Caring for Annuals and Vegetables

Perennials & Roses & Vines

If you have a fence you’d like to hide there are several plants you can use besides shrubs. Vines like trumpet vine, silver lace vine, wisteria, honeysuckle vine, Virginia creeper and climbing roses which are perennials can be used. Annual vines like sweet peas, morning glories, Scarlet runner beans are just a few good fence covers. Remember other tall plants like sunflower or hollyhocks.

Group flowers and vegetables with the same water needs together to take advantage of their lower water requirements.

When planning your flower bed, whether it is planted in annuals or perennials, don’t overlook ornamental grasses for a beautiful contrasting texture.

Spring is the best time to divide perennials that bloom in mid or late summer such as asters and chrysanthemums. Wait until September to divide early spring-flowering perennials like bleeding hearts and peonies.

Plant wildflower seeds in April. Improve your soil before planting by raking in either peat moss or compost or a combination of the two.

Add some spice to predictable bulb and perennial beds by broadcasting seeds of annuals like larkspur, cosmos, poppies, bachelor buttons or other annuals among your established plants.

Trees & Shrubs

April is the best time to plant new trees and shrubs. Improve the soil first with compost and/or peat moss. Then apply MYKE Tree & Shrub Transplanter and water in with Root Stimulator, both of which reduce transplant shock and stimulate root growth.

When planting large trees, stake them for the first year. Use 2” wide staking straps around the tree. Do not use wire, twine or rope on the tree itself. Place the stakes 2-3 feet away from the tree, tie the strap to the stake and leave a little slack. Let the tree sway slightly to develop roots and caliper.

April is perfect time to take stock of the plants in your yard. Are there plants that have overgrown their spaces? Are some sickly and unattractive? Now is the time to pull them out and replace them with a new and vibrant plant. This is what garden renewal is about.

Cut back butterfly bushes, blue mist spireas, Russian sage and other late summer-blooming shrubs at this time.

If you didn’t get around to pruning your shrubs and trees in March, you can still do some pruning now, the earlier the better.

Start your fertilizing program for roses, trees and shrubs when the leaves appear on the branches.

Protect your ash trees from Emerald Ash Borers. Use Ferti-lome Tree and Shrub Systemic Insect Drench for easy-to-use systemic protection from insects all year long. Follow the label directions and just mix it with water in a watering can or bucket and pour the solution around the base of trees or shrubs.

Watch for distorted leaflets on honeylocust trees. Leafhoppers can damage this trees fine leaves. They can also damage lawns. A good insecticide can help eliminate these tiny pests.

If you don’t have room for two different fruit trees for cross pollination, try one of our 4-in-1 apple, pear or sweet cherry trees for a great crop of fruit. There are four different grafts on one tree.

Are you tired of raking up crabapples in the summer? Spray crabapple trees with Monterey Floral Growth Regulator at mid to full bloom. This will prevent the fruit from forming.

Check for borer holes in your shade, spruce and pine trees. Evidence of these borers will be small holes, possibly with evidence of sap and/or sawdust. Our plant doctors can recommend the proper treatment depending on the type of tree and borer.

Remove protective tree wrap from young trees around April 1. Check the trunk for any problems.

Remember the worms on the ash trees last year? Watch for them again this year and spray with Eight from Bonide.

Although annuals look beautiful planted around new trees, there is a danger of over-watering your trees while trying keep your flowers pretty.

There are several trees, shrubs, and flowers which will attract those all-important pollinators – the bees. Anyone with a fruit tree or a vegetable garden knows their importance. Stop by our Plant Doctor desk for a list of these plants. Remember to refrain from spraying insecticides while bees are present. Something to note: bumblebees are more effective pollinators than honeybees.

Deep-root waterers get water under the lawn which is useful for trees, shrubs and roses. Some of these tools also have a container for dissolving fertilizer pellets to feed your plants right at the roots.

Before transplanting, always make sure trees and shrubs are not dry to help avoid transplant stress.

Start treating your pine and spruce trees for insects like scale, tussock moth, Cooley spruce gall, pine tip moth, pitch mass borer, and ips beetle. Come in and we can recommend the appropriate preventive treatments.

Vegetable Gardens

It’s time to plant seeds of peas, turnips, carrots, beets, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, radishes. Plant garlic cloves, seed potatoes, dormant strawberry plants and onion sets.

Keep an N-sulate cover handy for unexpected frosts after your garden is planted. It will keep the frost off new seedlings as they emerge from the soil.

Mid-April is the time to set out broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, radicchio, and Brussels sprouts plants. Be sure to “harden them off” first.

Enjoy an earlier growing season by four weeks by setting out Season Starter plant protectors in April. You can set tomatoes and pepper plants inside them ten days after initial setup of your Season Starter. The setup period allows the soil beneath the solar shelters to warm to a temperature suitable for plant growth.

If you are having trouble growing plants in your gardens, have your soil tested. We can test your soil for nutrient deficiencies for a nominal fee. We can let you know what to do to improve your soil for more flowers and vegetables.

Vegetable gardens benefit from watering at ground level, instead of watering overhead. Watering with soaker hoses helps to prevent many diseases and insects.  

Remember to rotate your vegetable crop plantings each year. Plant each variety of vegetable in a different part of your garden than you did last year. This will minimize repeated problems with disease and insects.

Plant your fast growing crops in two-week intervals to prolong the availability of lettuce, spinach, peas, and radishes. When the weather gets too hot for these vegetables, plant some in the shade of taller plants, like pole beans and corn. This system is also good for gardeners with limited space.

By placing a floating row cover over your carrot, lettuce, and spinach seed, your seeds will germinate quicker, and the birds won’t make a meal of them. Floating row covers also eliminate cabbage loopers on cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.  Keep your cover handy in case there is a cold snap for any newly planted vegetables and flowers.

Use soaker hoses in your vegetable garden and flower beds. You can either lay the hose on top of the soil next to the plant or bury it to get water directly to the roots. Soaker hoses can also be used to water trees and shrubs.

Lawns

Early April is the best time to start fertilizing your lawn. By using a fertilizer with pre-emergent (weed and grass preventer), you will be able to eliminate a lot of annual grass and weed seeds by keeping them from germinating.

April is a good time to seed or overseed lawns. Use a good grass seed and apply New Lawn Starter fertilizer after the seed is sown. Keep the area moist even after germination. Do not apply a pre-emergent crabgrass control before or after seeding, as this will prevent grass seed germination. Sod is an easy alternative to seeding.

Core aerate your lawn before fertilizing this month. Not only does this help the lawn’s vigor and health, it also reduces maintenance and water usage. Be sure your lawn is well watered a day or two before aeration.

Keep your mower blade sharp. Dull blades can invite lawn diseases to enter grass blades. Bring your rotary mower blades into Echter’s for sharpening. You can bring them in on or off the mower.

Use a rain gauge to measure the amount of water you are putting on your lawn. Apply 3/4” to 1” slowly enough to evenly soak the lawn without running off the area.

Inspect your irrigation system regularly. Be sure sprinkler heads are not plugged and are properly adjusted for the radius and the level of spray needed. As surrounding plants grow, you will need to modify your system. Especially check for leaks in the sprinkler lines.

Houseplants

On a nice warm day, take your houseplants outside and give them a shower, or use your bathroom shower. The plants will appreciate a good cleaning after being inside all winter.

Birds

It’s spring cleaning season even for birds. If you haven’t cleaned your bird houses this year, clean them out and then spray them with a bird feeder cleaner before the new birds arrive.

Continue feeding the birds at your feeders. Seed-producing plants are just beginning to grow and there are now more birds competing for the depleted wild seed supply. Give them a supply of water also.

Itching to Plant

Peas in the garden

The calendar says spring, but the weather isn’t quite ideal for most garden veggies and annuals. While planting seeds indoors for later transplant is fun, it’s not exactly scratching our itch to plant in the garden. So what can we plant? Asparagus, Chives, Fennel, Garlic, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Strawberries are the earliest veggies to plant. We’ll focus on 3 of the most popular early vegetables – peas, asparagus and strawberries.

Peas in inoculent

Peas are among the easiest vegetables to grow. It’s a great choice for beginning gardeners of all ages. They can usually be planted around the first week of April. Here are a few tips. Dampen the seeds and cover them with inoculant for legumes before planting, then plant. Peas and other legumes benefit from inoculation, which adds bacteria to the host plant seed prior to planting. The bacterium attaches to the root system and creates a symbiotic relationship with legumes, making it easy for your peas to obtain and use nitrogen.

Asparagus crown

Asparagus takes a little effort and time, but the reward is oh, so tasty. ‘Martha Washington’ is one of the most popular varieties. However it produces both male and female plants. Female plants produce attractive red berries in the fall, but fewer edible spears. ‘Jersey Giant’ is a contemporary hybrid of all-male plants, which is more productive and has greater disease resistance. ‘Purple Passion’ produces purple spears which dress up the dinner plate and often entice children to eat their veggies.

It’s best to wait a year after planting asparagus, before making a harvest. This allows the plants to develop a healthy root system. In the second season, harvest spears larger than a pencil. The third season, and thereafter, harvest as you choose. Allowing the plants three seasons to fully establish themselves insures a long lived patch for years to come.

Strawberries are another popular perennial edible. It’s best to provide a separate planting area for them, outside your normal vegetable beds, because plants spread rapidly. There are 3 types of strawberries: June bearing, Everbearing and Day Neutral. We skip the June bearing plants because we want strawberries more than just one month each year. Everbearing strawberries provide two crops of strawberries, making them ideal for canning and freezing. Fort Laramie, Quinalt and Ozark Beauty are some of our favorites. Day Neutral strawberries produce fruit from spring to fall, making them a great choice for enjoying fresh from the garden throughout the summer. Our favorite is Eversweet, with its large, deliciously sweet flavor. It’s also the best choice for container growing since it doesn’t require pinching of runners or flowers to establish.

 

While we offer strawberry transplants in packs, you may find it easier to start from dormant bare root stock. When planted in early spring, once night temperatures are consistently above 25°F, they establish quickly. Be sure to stay on top of weeding around your strawberries. An ounce of prevention goes a long way when it comes to the strawberry patch. Mulch will help keeps weeds in check, making it a little easier on your knees. When it comes to June bearing and Everbearing varieties, it’s a good idea to remove the flowers and runners for the first season in favor of growing a healthy root system. We know it’s a lot to ask, but a little self-control now will provide you with a bigger harvest the second season. Container grown strawberries won’t over-winter here, so there’s no need to pinch off flowers or runners.


To get started, amend the planting area with compost. Soak your strawberry roots for about half an hour, to rehydrate them, before planting. Plant them so that the soil level is level with the crown of the plant. Be ready to cover with netting to keep birds and small animals from snatching your strawberries as they grow. Drip irrigation is the best way to water strawberries. If you water overhead, do it in the morning. This will allow the fruit and foliage to dry before nightfall, reducing the risk of disease affecting your plants.

Green Thumb Tips – March

Echter’s Plant Doctors are available during store hours seven days a week to answer your gardening questions. For accurate diagnosis, it helps to bring in a sample.

Flower Gardens

Plant begonias, dahlias and cannas in pots inside to give them a head start. Leave them inside until mid-May. You will have flowers much earlier.

Plant sweet pea seeds now, using an inoculant for better germination and flowering.

Perennials & Roses & Vines

Lift and divide crowded perennials late this month if new growth is evident. Proper soil preparation is essential for good growth after replanting.

Lily bulbs can be planted outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked for blooms in late June through September.

Cut back old stalks from your perennials, so you can enjoy the new foliage and flowers. Cut back ornamental grasses as low as possible so the old foliage won’t detract from the new growth.

Trees & Shrubs

Early March is the best time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs. You can see the branching structure. (Some exceptions are birch, maple, walnut, and elm. These should be pruned mid-summer.) Remove dead, dying, or unsightly parts of the tree. Remove branches that are crossed against each other. Use a pole pruner to reach branches up to about 15′ off the ground. Pruning paints and wound dressings are NOT recommended on the pruning cuts.

Prune fruit trees before they leaf out. There is less danger of spreading disease. Pruning assures good air circulation for better fruit production. Examine apple, pear, hawthorn, crabapple trees and cotoneasters for evidence of fire blight. The leaves remain on the branches and the branches will look scorched. Prune out infected branches and sterilize your pruners, loppers or saws between every cut. While these plants are in flower prevent this disease by spraying Ferti-lome Fire Blight Spray.

Prune new shrubs and trees very little for the first two years. Your plants need to establish a good root zone, and the more top growth (leaves and branches) the plant has the more the plant can produce its own food to grow. Look for these three things when pruning – dead branches, broken branches and branches that cross over and rub on others.

If your lilacs, honeysuckle or any other shrubs are really overgrown, prune out two or three of the oldest, largest stems using a lopper or a pruning saw. This will rejuvenate these plants.

Trees, shrubs, vines and roses have deeper root systems and should be watered for a longer period of time and less frequently than shallower rooted plants such as perennials and annuals. Do not water if the ground is frozen.

Suffocate overwintering insects, like aphids, spider mites and scale on trees and shrubs by spraying dormant oil.

Don’t be in a hurry to remove the mulch around roses and in perennial beds. We could still have some harsh weather.

Vegetable Gardens

Remember to rotate your vegetable crops each year. Plant each variety of vegetable in a different part of your garden than you did last year

Plant spinach, peas, Swiss chard, radishes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, kale, lettuce, leeks, rutabaga, onion seed and sets, bare root strawberries, asparagus, and potatoes directly into the garden if soil temperature is at least 40 degrees

Now is the time to start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, onion, alyssum, lobelia and pansy and geranium seeds inside for planting out later in the spring. Start tomatoes and peppers inside now to be planted out in late May.

When starting flower and vegetable seeds indoors, use clean new containers and a good seed-starting mix in order to prevent disease problems.

Give asparagus beds a good layer of compost or cow manure. You will have much larger and better production.

Prune out raspberry canes which produced fruit last year. (They will have a papery gray bark and traces of where the fruit attached.) Leave the canes which didn’t bear for this year’s crop.

If you saved seeds from previous years, plant a few seeds in small pots. Label and test to see if they will sprout.

Plan to grow one new vegetable you haven’t tried before. It will create renewed interest in your garden, and you might find a new favorite.

Rototill or turn over your gardens when the soil is fairly dry. Add organic matter like Canadian sphagnum peat moss and/or compost to your gardens before rototilling.

Although earthworms can be a nuisance for some, they are of great value in keeping soil aerated.  Earthworms take organic matter from the surface and drag it down into the soil, thus making them great little composters.

Lawns

Core aerate your lawn before you fertilize in the middle of April. This helps to promote deep root growth by providing oxygen and moisture to the roots. You can leave the plugs on the lawn as they will compost back into the soil.

Overseeding a thin lawn can begin as March warms up. Rake areas to be seeded to expose the soil.

Seed these areas with a good quality grass seed and keep moist until well germinated

We do not normally recommend power raking, but hand thatching is very beneficial for the lawn. It allows good air circulation and can prevent many diseases of the grass.

If you had disease problems in your lawn last year, apply Ferti-lome F-Stop when grass greens up as a preventive measure.

Once snow has melted off your lawn, check the turf in shaded areas for snow mold, a fungus that is white to pink in color and grows on the surface of the grass blades. If you see snow mold, lightly rake the affected areas and dispose of the debris. Exposure to light and air will normally dissipate the snow mold.  The grass will grow out from the crown of the plant as spring progresses. If the turf becomes patchy, you can overseed the area. There is no effective chemical control.

Indoor Plants

March is a great time to transplant houseplants into the next-sized larger pot. Use a good well-drained houseplant potting mix.

 Prune back leggy houseplants now before the spring flush of growth.

 As days grow longer, houseplants resume active growth and benefit from applications of fertilizer like Jack’s Classic Houseplant Special.

 Start an indoor herb garden. Plant several kinds of herbs together in a pot, or grow them individually in small pots. Chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for a sunny kitchen windowsill. Snip and use herbs during their indoor stay. In spring set the pots outdoors or transplant them into your garden.

Birds

You can help birds with their nests by providing a mesh bag near bird activity areas outside, filled with pieces of thread, string, yarn or lint from your dryer. Also leave small piles of twigs to help them in their nesting process.

Put up birdhouses this month in preparation for new arrivals this spring. Birds are very specific about the size of the entry hole. Be sure you have the right-sized entry hole for the birds you want to attract.

Also remember to clean out and sterilize last year’s houses.

Put up a woodpecker house under the eaves or near your home. This may deter other flickers from beating on your house. Woodpeckers and flickers are territorial and will keep others away.

Misc.

Now’s a great time to inspect your old patio furniture and replace it if necessary. Special orders placed now will usually arrive in time for the outdoor season.

Make sure your tools are clean and sharpened. For a nominal fee Echter’s will sharpen your pruners, shovels, hoes, hedge and grass clippers. 

Bring smaller twigs of crabapple, cherry, forsythia, quince and pussy willow into the house. Place them in a vase of water and you will have spring flowers in a few days.

Has your compost pile stopped “cooking”? Reactivate the microbes this month with a prepared compost maker product and get that decomposition started again.

 Clean leaves and debris from your gutters for more efficient water runoff from your roof.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Poinsettias

 

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Peterstar Marble Poinsettia with tightly budded flowers framed by the colorful bracts of foliage.

Millions of poinsettias are purchased each year during the Christmas season by people who enjoy the color and warmth they provide to their home.  Healthy plants will last throughout the holiday season.  How do you choose the perfect poinsettia?  Poinsettia plants should be stocky with dark green foliage, well-formed richly colored bracts (modified leaves) and very few open flowers (golden-yellow clusters located at the center of the bracts.) Proper selection will help to insure a long lasting plant that you will enjoy throughout the holiday season.

 

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Sturdy branches filled with deep green leaves indicate a healthy plant.

 

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Healthy poinsettias have lush leaves and bright colors.

 

There are few tricks to get your poinsettia home safely.  If temperatures are below 50° F, the plant must be sleeved to protect the plant as it leaves the warmth of the garden center.  Avoid exposing poinsettias to cold temperatures.   A chilled plant will begin to drop leaves very quickly.   Once inside,   remove the protective wrapping.  It is often easier to carefully slit the side of the sleeve to remove it.  Because poinsettia bracts are a little sticky and can adhere to plant sleeves, pulling them down will result in branches breaking.   Don’t leave them wrapped for more than the time it takes to get your plant home.   Leaving them covered can result in blackening, curling and overall plant distress.  If you plan to give the plant as a gift at a later time, ask for a second plant sleeve to use when you transport it to its final destination.

Contrary to popular belief, the Poinsettia is not likely to harm your pets or your children.  Research at Ohio State University, working with The Society of American Florists, has proven that no toxicity was evident at experimental levels that would well exceed the amounts likely to be ingested in the home environment.   Were a person to consume a great many leaves, the result would likely be mild stomach upset.  The white sap can cause skin irritation which can be remedied by washing with soap and water.

How to care for your Poinsettia

• TEMPERATURE: A cool room (65-70F during the day and 60-65F at night) is ideal. Avoid hot or cold drafts or excess heat from appliances, fireplaces, radiators or ventilating ducts.

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Glace, the brightest of the white poinsettias

• LIGHT: Very bright, indirect light is essential for proper growth and color retention.

• WATER: Plants should be checked daily and watered thoroughly whenever the soil feels dry to touch or the pot becomes light. If the plant is wrapped in foil, slit the bottom to avoid water accumulating at the bottom of the pot.  If it is in a basket, be sure to discard any drainage that collects.  Poinsettias hate to have their pots standing in water and they aren’t very forgiving about it.

• FERTILIZER: Plants should be fertilized with a well-balanced all purpose fertilizer like Peter’s 20-20-20 until the poinsettia is in full color. Once in full color, reduce fertilizing to ½ strength once every 3-4 times that you water.

 

Reflowering Your Poinsettia

If you have a gardener’s green thumb, you may want to try your hand at reflowering your poinsettia next year. If you follow these directions very carefully, it is possible to have your poinsettia in flower by Christmas.  The following describes the cycle of poinsettia color.

• December: Full bloom. Water as needed.

• Late March to Early April: Color fades. Keep near a sunny window. Cut stems back to about 8”. Water as needed and fertilize with a well-balanced, all purpose fertilizer like Peter’s All-Purpose Plant Food. Around May you should see new growth.

• June 1st:  Re-pot if necessary in a well-drained potting mix.  You can put your plant outside if you would like as long as the night temperatures are consistently above 55 F and it is protected from the hot sun.

• July-August:  Pruning may be required to keep your plant compact and bushy.  Do not prune after September 1st.

• Starting October 1st:  Provide complete and continuous darkness for 12-14 hours night combined with 6-8 hours of bright light a day. During the night, stray light of any kind, streetlights or household lamps, may delay or halt the re-flowering process.

• Remember: The key to success is to follow the strict light-dark requirements very carefully.

• Once your poinsettia is in full color, stop fertilizing until it loses its color and the cycle starts again in March.

Poinsettia Facts

The assigned botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, meaning “the most beautiful Euphorbia”. The United States’ first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett, sent several plants back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina in 1825. The common name, poinsettia, comes from his last name.

 

Water Wise Lawn Watering

About 3%  of residential water use goes to outdoor watering, including lawns. By effectively using water and reducing wasteful practices such as improper watering you will create deep, vigorous root systems and help the lawn be more resistant to drought conditions. The following techniques are beneficial for healthy turf.

Aeration – Creating holes or slits so that air and water can penetrate beneath the surface will improve drainage and stimulate new roots that provide the lawn more resistance to drought for the summer ahead. Aeration can be done in the spring or fall, but it is best done when soil conditions are moist. This ensures that the aerator will pull deeper plugs. The plugs should be 3 to 4 inches deep for best results.

Mowing – It is best to mow often, but not too close. Cutting the lawn to the recommended height is healthier during drought conditions. Bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass should be mowed at a height of 3 inches. Longer grass has more leaf surface to absorb greater amounts of sunlight, encouraging thicker turf with a deeper root system.

Watering – Many questions arise concerning watering. What time of day is best?  How often should you water? How much water is needed? Here are some guidelines for watering your lawn. It is best to water when the temperature is cooler, so that less water is lost to evaporation. Evening and morning hours are the best time. Allowing the lawn to dry down between watering cycles allows air to enter the soil and stimulates deeper root development. Watering too frequently or flooding the turf is not healthy for the lawn and is a waste of water. The soil should be soaked to a depth of 4 inches at each watering cycle. The best way to achieve this is to put down about a ½ inch of water, move the sprinkler to another area and then move it back and apply another ½ inch of water. This technique gives the water a chance to soak in without wasting water to run off. It is simple to measure the amount of water by placing shallow containers or a rain gauge in the spray area

Lawn grasses are rarely killed by droughts. Proper watering practices will help conserve water and save money, while maintaining an attractive and healthy lawn.

Hail Recovery

Severe hail damage is devastating and discouraging. First of all – take a deep breath and don’t despair. Many times plants will recover from some hail damage, other times there will be no recovery and replanting will be necessary. Here are steps to consider:
• Do a general clean-up of the area and remove the damaged parts of plants – trim off any hanging stems and remove the debris in the area.
• If all that remains are stems, trim them back by half and they will possibly releaf.
• Lightly cultivate the soil around the damaged plants. The force of hail and heavy rain compacts the soil and leaves a hard crusty layer at the surface – gently cultivate to break up the crusty layer.
• Avoid the urge to immediately fertilize the damaged plants. Give them a chance to develop new growth. After a week to 2 weeks fertilize with fish emulsion or seaweed extract. After they have resumed active growth, regular fertilization can resume.

In many instances, hail damage is a Mother Nature “pruning” of the plant. Remember that pruning stimulates growth, and many plants can recover. There will be those that are beyond repair and will have to be replaced.

There are many ways to protect plants from hail to come.  Invert cardboard boxes, buckets or pots, over your plants.  Hail netting is a great way to protect plants.  Use stakes to hold it above the foliage of your plants.  It’s durable and lasts for years.  Because it allows water and sunlight to pass through the netting, it can be left over plant for a time, safely.

The Grass Can Be Just as Green on Your Side of the Fence

Having a healthy, lush lawn isn’t as difficult as you might think. Follow these easy steps and your lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood.

Core Aeration – Core aeration is recommended in the spring and again in the fall. It is best to have some moisture in the soil at the time of aeration.  Core aeration is simple, cost-effective and very beneficial to your lawn. It helps to reduce soil compaction, promote root growth and reduce a buildup of thatch. Lawn aeration will greatly improve a lawn if scheduled on a yearly basis.  Aeration allows water and fertilizer to get down to the root zone. It will help to reduce the thatch layer which blocks water, oxygen and fertilizer from penetrating to the root of the plant.

Fertilize – 4 times a year

Early Spring – late March to mid-April. This is the ideal time to include a pre-emergent application on your lawn.  Pre-emergents create a gaseous barrier that prevents annual weed seeds from germinating.  If you plan to overseed or reseed areas of your lawn, avoid using a fertilizer that contains a pre-emergent.  Otherwise, your lawn seed will not germinate.   If you plan to aerate the lawn, do so before applying pre-emergents.  Aeration after application will reduce the effectiveness of the pre-emergent, significantly.

Late Spring – late May to mid-June.  Choosing a fertilizer that contains a broadleaf weed herbicide can be helpful, at this time.  It will take care of those pesky dandelions and thistles.

Mid-Summer – mid-July to mid-August.  Like the previous application, a fertilizer with a broadleaf weed herbicide will continue to protect your lawn from dandelions.

Fall – late September to mid-October.  A winterizer is ideal at this time.  Lawn Winterizers are designed to release nutrients slowly, prepare your lawn for the harsh weather to come and build sturdy, healthy turf.  This is the most important fertilizer application to protect your lawn and shouldn’t be missed.

Watering

Under normal circumstances , 1 inch of water per week is sufficient to maintain your lawn.  Apply 1/2 ” of water at each watering.  During consistent extreme heat, 1 ½ inches of water per week is ideal.   Apply 3/4″ of water, twice weekly during these times.

Check your watering system by running a zone for your allotted time and measure your output by putting out some shallow containers.  Adjust your time to allow for adequate water output.

Early morning watering is preferred, before 10 a.m. if possible.  Watering in the mid-day heat means much of the moisture will be lost to evaporation.  Evening watering can contribute to the risk of fungal disease in the lawn and garden.

Mowing

Adjust your mower height 2 to 3 inches  and keep blades sharp.  A well maintained mower can make all the difference.  Dull blades shred the grass tips, creating stress.  Stressed lawns are easy targets for disease and insects.

The most common fungal disease in lawn is Ascochyta Leaf Blight. It is caused by drought stress or inefficiencies in irrigation systems.  Ascochyta is a fungus that lives on the leaf blade.  It enters the leaf blade through the cut end (when you mow).  It causes the blade to turn a straw color and wither to a point.  It seems to coincide with periods of cool weather followed by hot, dry conditions. 

Fungicides are ineffective on Ascochyta – focus on irrigation system.  Look for broken or tilted heads, adjust the spray/arc of your sprinkler stream to get more uniform coverage and water appropriately.

If you are trying to control and suppress any kind of fungal disease in your lawn it is recommended that you use an organically based fertilizer that is lower in slow release nitrogen.