Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
October 28, 2010
Fall is definitely upon us, and we know the season coming next! While the weather is somewhat cooperative, it is time to take care of some of those final outside chores. At least you'll feel prepared when the weather turns cold, and the main gardening activity is planning for next year.
Leaves have been one of the main clean-up items this past week. They will continue to be an item, so here are a few options for you. Mulch them where they aren't too thick. You can mulch with a mower, blower vacuum, or a chipper. This will reduce the volume greatly. Then the mulched leaves can be used as, well, mulch; but they may best be used on beds away from the house. The decaying organic matter tends to increase the millipedes, pill bugs, and other nuisance pests around the house. Composting is also a great option. Composting leaves isn't tricky, it just takes a little bit of formulation. The rule of thumb is to add about one-fourth of a cup of commercial fertilizer per compressed bushel of leaves, or to use one part leaves and 2 parts of green material such as grass clippings or green material removed from the garden. Mulching before composting is a double-edged sword. The finer material will decompose quicker, but it will also compact more and reduces the oxygen need to make compost. For more information on composting, check the website at http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/homecompost/
Tender bulbs, roots, or corms should be dug, if you already haven't done so. These would include dahlia, cannas, caladium, tuberous begonia, and gladiolus. Many of these will actually have rotting problems from frost. Be careful when digging so the bulbs are not cut, as any wound usually means a rot will begin. Any bulbs that look diseased should be thrown away. Most can be dried at room temperature, but gladiolus should be dried at a higher temperature (70-80 degrees) and dusted with malathion to protect against thrips. Store all the bulbs in a cool, dry place.
Plants which are completely dormant, such as peonies can be cut back. Leave a couple inches above ground on plants such as mums since they store food above ground as well as below. The couple inches will also help catch snow and leaves to help create a "self mulched area" to help them survive the winter. Clean up around fruit trees, the garden area, and flower beds. Materials may be composted as long as they are not severely diseased.
December through February are the best months to apply the plugs to pin oaks and other trees which show iron chlorosis. You are best to not do any pruning at this time. Wait at least until December for the non-evergreens, with December being the best month for oaks (due to oak wilt) and maples and other trees with a high sap flow. The December to February time period is the best for pruning most non-evergreens. Do those in late June.
Generally knockout roses don't require special care in hardiness zone 5 or south. We are in zone 5b. If you do want to do something because of prior problems, you can mulch the crown area. Some go to the extreme and burlap them or put wire around them and fill with leaves, but that is entirely up to you. The basic care is a pruning, if needed, in the early spring to size or shape.
October 28, 2010
With scattered frost and cooler temperatures behind us, many are beginning to look at preparing for the winter, and roses are one plant which needs special preparation. Many of the roses that are classified as old garden roses are extremely tolerant of cold temperatures, while others like hybrid teas experience considerable damage. Also, budded roses stand a greater chance of injury or death due to severe cold than do own-root roses. When selecting roses, always select cultivars that are able to tolerate the coldest temperatures in your area based on USDA hardiness zone maps. One of the ways to protect roses for the winter is to be sure they go completely dormant. To accomplish this, stop fertilizing early enough so growth slows down. No fertilizer should be applied after August 15. To further encourage dormancy, stop dead-heading or cutting flowers after October 1 and allow the plant to form hips.
There are many methods to provide winter protection for roses. The whole idea of winter protection is to keep the plant uniformly cold and frozen all winter and prevent the damaging effects of alternate freezing and thawing. Whatever the method, don't begin covering plants too early. Wait until a hard killing frost has caused most of the leaves to fall, and the temperature has dropped into the teens for several nights. Prior to covering, remove any foliage or other debris that might harbor disease for the next season.
Before covering, some tall roses may need minor pruning to reduce their height, and tie canes together to prevent wind whipping. Pruning at this point should be kept to a minimum. Most pruning will be done in the spring to remove dead and diseased canes.
The most common way to provide winter protection is to pile or "hill-up" a loose, soil and compost mix around and over the plant about 10-12 inches deep. A variety of hilling materials can be used, but the key is to be sure that the material is well drained. Wet and cold is far more damaging than dry and cold. Soil that is used to "hill-up" plants should be brought in from outside the rose garden. After the soil mound has frozen, the mound can be covered with evergreen boughs, hardwood leaves, or straw to help insulate and keep the soil frozen.
A variation of the "hilling" method is one utilizing collars. An 18-inch-high circle of hardware cloth or chicken wire is placed around the plant. The collar is filled with soil, allowed to freeze, then mulched with straw. The benefit of the collar is that it holds the soil in place all winter and prevents it from being washed or eroded away.
Another popular method of winter protection for roses is the use of styrofoam rose cones. If these are used, they need to be used properly. First, don't cover the plants too early. Follow the general timing guidelines. Second, cones need to be well ventilated by cutting holes around the top and bottom of the cones. This helps prevent heat build-up on the inside during sunny winter days. It is also advisable to mound soil around the crown of the plant before putting the cone in place. For extremely tender varieties, some rose growers cut the top off the cone and stuff it full of straw for added protection. It is also a good idea to weight the cone down with a brick or stone to keep it from blowing away.
Climbing roses offer more challenges. For marginal varieties, climbers may need to be removed from their supports and bent to the ground, then covered with six inches of soil and mulched. When laying climbers on the ground for covering, one needs to be very careful not to injure or crack the stems. As the weather gets colder their long stems are more rigid, and they are easily broken.
Another method that can be used is to physically pack straw around the canes while they are still attached to the trellis or support. The straw is held in place with twine to keep it in place over the winter.
October 14, 2010
The last week has found the lowly millipede taking homes by storm. If millipedes were insects, they would deserve insect of the week honors. Since they are not insects, we'll just dub them "pest of the week."
What are millipedes? They belong to the arthropod class Diplododa, which means double footed. The reason is simple: they have two legs per body segment. There are over 1000 types of millipedes. They prefer to live in moist places, such as under mulch, in flower beds, in good quality lawns, and under wood. They feed on decaying organic matter, and occasionally on tender leaves or roots.
Millipedes lay eggs in the soil in spring and summer months, and usually overwinter as the adults that we are seeing now. The big problem with millipedes is that they migrate. Right now they may be migrating through your living room. Nobody knows for sure why they migrate, but the best guesses involve searching for food sources, seeking moisture, and looking for a warmer place to overwinter. Unlike centipedes, millipedes don't bite or sting. They do give off a bad odor when disturbed or smashed. Be careful crushing them on carpeting, as they can cause a stain. If you're not sure whether you have millipedes or centipedes, here are some differences: centipedes have on leg per body segment while millipedes have two, centipedes normally have much longer legs than millipedes, and centipedes move rapidly while millipedes move slowly.
Now that we know a little about millipedes, How do we get rid of them? Well, there isn't a simple answer (or I'd be rich and everyone else would be happy), but an integrated program gives the best results. A program that uses both chemical and non-chemical methods is usually most effective.
Non-chemical controls aim at removing the moist resting places. Dethatch your lawn to reduce that damp thatch layer just above the soil surface, closely mow and edge the lawn to allow it to dry quickly, remove debris that provides hiding places, pull mulch away from the house, water grass in the early morning, and keep leaves from piling up along the foundation. The crumbling leaf material is an ideal cover and food source for millipedes.
If millipedes get inside the house, the vacuum cleaner is probably the best control. It is non-chemical and prevents stains from smashed millipedes. Other controls in the home include: sticky boards such as are used for mouse control, aerosol sprays that are used for flying insects, and baseboard sprays used for ants.
Outside the house, start with a foundation spray of something such as propoxur, bifenthrin, permethrin, or Sevin. Spray the foundation and the adjacent foot or so of soil, plants, and lawn. Make sure you treat doorways and other openings as well. Since millipedes aren't insects to begin with, don't expect complete control with a chemical spray program.
October 14, 2010
Fall isn't a bad time to plant trees; however, the rule is "the earlier – the better." Many sales occur in the fall, and it is a good time to buy. Planting at the earliest possible time will allow for roots to recover from injury in the case of dug trees, or to grow in the case of container stock. Where soil amendments and fertilizer are needed, it is best to add and incorporate before planting. Mulching will also help retain moisture, and even out soil temperatures. Use two to four inches of a good quality mulch. With the dry weather, it is also a good idea to give all your perennials a good watering before soils become frozen.
October 7, 2010
This past week, rust has paid us a return visit. As grass growth slows, rust is one of the lawn fungi we are dealing with. Rust appears as an orange or yellowish-orange powder (spores) on grass leaf blades, especially in late summer to early fall when the weather is dry. Rust typically develops on lawns growing very slowly. Overall, the turf may assume a yellow, red, or brown appearance. Close examination will reveal the pustules, which easily rub off on your hand. Rust spores can easily be tracked into homes.
Low fertility (in particular nitrogen) and low water availability slow down turf growth, allowing rust to develop. Seasons with excess rain may have rust outbreaks due to loss of available nitrogen. Cool nights with heavy dew and light, frequent rainfall add to the ideal conditions for rust to develop. Warm, cloudy, humid weather followed by hot, sunny weather also favors rust development on lawns. Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue are all affected, depending on cultivars. Rust spreads through air, water, shoes, equipment, and sod. Rust may weaken turfgrasses and make them more susceptible to other problems.
Control rust through sound turf management. Begin by choosing a quality blend of turfgrass seed. Resistance to rust can vary according to the race of the disease present. Maintain lawns through sound watering, mowing, and fertilizing. If you are watering, water early in the day so the grass dries quickly. Manage problem thatch. Increase vigor with an early fall nitrogen application, but don't overdo it. Check soil phosphorus and potassium levels through soil testing. Also assure good airflow over the site and light penetration by pruning trees and shrubs in the area near the lawn.
A change in the weather will make rust fade away. Early September is a key time for fertilization. If you missed the early September timing, you can do a fertilizer application now. Use something with an even analysis or a winterizer. If conditions are dry, irrigation is also needed to increase the growth rate of the lawn. Fungicides are rarely suggested on home lawns for rust control. Focus on the listed cultural practices described above.
October 7, 2010
Peonies are one of those "plant it and forget it" flowers. Many haven't been bothered for over 50 years, and are still going strong. As with most plants, crowding can occur, and the time to dig and divide is late September through October. Peonies do best in soils with a slightly acid to neutral pH. The best time to add lime, if needed, is when you dig the plants and replant them. Amend the soil when planting.
When dividing, make sure you leave buds on each piece you plan to plant. These buds should be no deeper than an inch when replanted to allow for proper flowering. Mulching will help year-long on any plant, and peonies are no exception.
October 7, 2010
To start with, remove all the dead, short, and weak canes. The large remaining canes are thinned to 4 to 8 inches apart. The canes are cut back to 5-6 feet tall or if no support is provided 3 to 4 feet tall. The canes that produced last year should be removed anytime after harvest, or removed in the late fall. Canes are productive only one year and the new growth will produce the next year's harvest. The exception is the Heritage, or ever-bearing, raspberry which produce two crops of berries. One is in the fall, and the second is late spring or early summer. These berries should have the canes removed after the late spring or early summer crop.
October 4, 2010
If you are ready to have the season conclude, harvest what you can. A freeze is worse than a light frost, as damage may actually occur to thin-fleshed crops such as tomatoes. The main things to harvest prior to a frost or freeze include squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, etc. Virtually everything in the garden will be affected except for frost tolerant crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and the like. The main problem with any of the vining crops is the possibility of the vines rotting back to the vegetable. This in turn means they won't keep well. Unfortunately, vining crops harvested early won't continue to ripen. Green pumpkins tend to stay green.
For tomatoes, you may pick green tomatoes and they will ripen after a period of time. The best way is to pick firm, good quality fruit, and wash well with soapy water. After they are dry, wrap in newspaper or tissue paper and place on a rack or in a cardboard box in a single layer. Check periodically for tomatoes going out of condition, or becoming ripe. To speed things along, you can try putting a tomato in a paper lunch bag with a banana peel. Bananas are high in ethylene, which is the same thing used in a gas form to ripen tomatoes in transport during the winter. Of course, the flavor just isn't the same as a vine-ripened tomato, but tomatoes in the fall or winter are good regardless.
As for flowers, the same principals of protection apply to annuals. Of course if you have hanging baskets or potted plants, you can simply put them in a garage or shed until the danger of frost has passed. The key point is one or two nights of frost, followed by a week or two of good weather, probably justifies some protective measures. A frost every night for two weeks, or a long period of freezing temperatures, probably mean major efforts will produce very little gain.
October 1, 2010
Sooty blotch and flyspeck are caused by different fungi that commonly occur together on the same fruit. The sooty blotch fungus causes surface discoloration with black spots or blotches which can be a fourth of an inch or larger. These spots may run together, making the apple appear to be covered with something like charcoal dust. This disease is more superficial than anything, since it is only on the skin. Vigorous rubbing, or scrubbing, will remove the black discoloration. If you want to be sure, you can always peel the apples.
This disease is most common with moderate temperatures and wet weather. Wet weather can include heavy dews which don't get dried out very well. Anything that cuts down on air circulation helps promote sooty blotch. Pruning and thinning fruit will help improve air circulation, and lessen the disease problems.
The best chemical control program is to use a multi-purpose fruit tree spray, containing captan fungicide, as a preventative. For this disease, it is recommended to begin by early June, and continue the program until harvest. For the organic gardeners, sulfur will help some. However, it is not as good as the captan. Remember many diseases are preventable in home fruit production, but they are not curable. Once you see the problem, it becomes a to-do list item for next year.
October 1, 2010
The number of problems from moles seems to be greatly increasing. This means the food sources are abundant. The major food sources for moles are grubs and earthworms. With the large increases in grubs in some areas due to the Japanese beetle larvae, there may be plenty of food available. The exact number of grubs necessary to cause damage to turf is dependent on the type of grass, the condition, the moisture available, and other factors. Figure somewhere between six and twelve grubs per square foot of turf to cause damage. One mole feeding on those grubs can really raise havoc.
The best way to get rid of moles is to remove their food source. While grubs are undesirable, the earthworms are beneficial. We have to decide on controlling a desirable part of a healthy lawn to use this approach. In the "good old days," we treated with diazinon insecticide. It controlled grubs, and it greatly reduced the earthworm populations. This solved the problem when the moles then went to the neighbor's yard in search of food. With diazinon long gone from the homeowner market, most of the remaining products for grub control are not effective against earthworms. The main exception is carbaryl (Sevin), and it is only effective against the Japanese beetle grubs.
If you don't want to try and eliminate the food source, you are reduced to "folklore treatments," traps, or poison baits. The folklore treatments work just often enough for someone to give them a little validity, but often don't work for the next person who is trying to control moles. Some of these include juicy fruit gum, bubble gum, cigar smoke, moth crystals, and the list goes on and on. Traps can be effective, but they have to be set properly. The type of trap also makes a difference. The loop and scissor type traps tend to be more effective than the plunger type. There are soft bait poisons on the market now which will do a decent job.
As the weather grows colder, the grubs will go deeper into the soil. This makes them harder to control, as does their larger size. We are about at the point where this will begin to occur. This leaves traps or poison baits. For poison baits, think about the food sources of the mole. They don't eat seeds, so poison peanuts may not be the best choice. The newer soft baits are similar in texture to worms or grubs. Just like the old "creepy crawlers" we used to make with the rubber type compound, and they will be more successful.