Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Extension Educator, Horticulture
March 30, 2011
· If you haven't applied crabgrass preventer, you have a very short window as forsythia has already bloomed (sort of), but don't apply if you seeded your lawn. You can use a post emergent product if germination occurred and immature crabgrass is present.
· It is about time to mow already, and remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at a time to prevent raking or catching clippings.
· Cut back butterfly bushes to live material, with a 10 inch maximum height.
· Cut back mums, but leave two inches of dead material since much stored food is located there.
· Cut back ornamental grasses to a height of four inches or so.
March 30, 2011
While 60-70 degree temperatures get us used to spring/summer, we may be jumping the gun on planting warm season garden items. Witness the 30 degree temperature drop of the last week. Many annual flowers, tomato plants, and other warm season plants should not be set out until after May 10. When we look at our average frost free date, we see that it is April 25. About half the time in the last 30 years, the average last spring killing frost has occurred by this date. That also means that about half the time it hasn't.
Those selling transplants love those of us that like to buy these plants in early to mid-April. More years than not, they get to sell us at least two sets of transplants. Of course all bets are off if you use protective covers (such as milk jugs, row covers, or wall-of-water types of protection). Usually it is just as easy to wait until the recommended date, and that would be after the range of April 25-May 10 for green beans, sweet corn, and tomatoes. These are all considered "tender vegetables."
Melons, peppers, pumpkin, and squash are considered "warm-loving" and should be planted in the range from May 10- June 1. Pumpkins planted for Halloween jack-o-lanterns should be planted about Father's Day. These pumpkins will get ripe too quickly for use in late October if planted the normal time. Pumpkins for pies can be planted in the May 10 to June 1 period.
Any time now, when soil conditions permit, it is time to plant things such as asparagus crowns, leaf lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb plants, spinach, and turnips. Give it another week or two and it is time to plant such things as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. As with most things, a little bit of planning goes a long way in preventing problems later on.
Questions abound regarding fertilizing the garden. The (without soil test information) rule-of-thumb rate for fertilizing flower or vegetable gardens is about 15 pounds of 10-10-10 per 1000 square foot of area. If you are using 12-12-12 or 13-13-13 fertilizer, use about 12 pounds per 1000 square foot. Soil pH may need to be adjusted due to the addition of lime and sulfur, which are acidifying. Generally, about 4.25 pounds of lime neutralizes the acidity from one pound of nitrogen or sulfur. Beware of pH requirements for different plants before you go out to apply lime. Surrounding plants are also affected. Examples would be blueberries, rhododendron, azalea, pin oaks, and many evergreens.
March 28, 2011
Each year, the winter annual weeds chickweed and henbit run number one and two in the early spring. Winter annual weeds can actually germinate in the fall, carry through the winter, then get going very early in the spring. They also are done by the heat of the summer, leaving seed to germinate again later in the fall. Right now chickweed stands out in yards because it is quite abundant, and has a lighter green color than grass and most other weeds. It is even evident as grass is just beginning to green up. There are two types: common chickweed and mouse-ear chickweed. Henbit is easier to identify since it has purple flowers and smells like mint. As for control, that gets a bit easier.
The straight 2,4-D that is used on dandelions seems to act like a fertilizer for chickweed and other problem weeds. 2-4D is a growth regulator, and if it doesn't actually kill a weed it does make it grow faster. Combinations that contain 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba are rated very effective on chickweed, henbit, red sorrel, purslane, white clover, and others. Just remember the control time for most broadleaf weeds is early May. These combinations are sold under several different trade names. You can find these at most hardware, discount, and lawn and garden stores. Just check the label under active ingredients and check for two long chemical names and dicamba. You can also check to see that it says it will control chickweed and henbit. This group of chemicals is effective in the 50 degree range and up. It just takes a lot longer for control with very cool temperatures. As with any chemical control, read and follow label instructions very carefully. There will be some cautions on these product labels concerning injury to sensitive plants that you should be aware of. This is because dicamba can drift as a vapor for a few weeks after you apply it if the weather gets hot and sunny.
March 28, 2011
Throughout the year I get several calls and samples brought in dealing with puffballs or toadstools. Even this early in the season, we have had calls about dark green grass in rings that kind of looks like a target pattern. These rings are called fairy rings, and they frequently have the puffballs or toadstools growing in the area.
Fairy rings are caused by a fungus that is in the soil. Actually there are about 50 fungi that can cause fairy rings. These fungi feed on decaying organic matter such as large roots from trees that were in the area, or from buried lumber. The dark green circle part of the equation comes from extra nitrogen that becomes available as the organic matter is broken down by the fungus.
Some prevention will help keep the problem from occurring. Simply removing stumps, large roots, and not burying lumber help prevent this type of problem. As for a cure, fungicide drenches have been successful on a very limited basis. One option is to mask the symptoms of the dark rings by fertilizing the surrounding grass with a high-nitrogen fertilizer to make that grass green also.
As for the puffballs, toadstools, or mushrooms, they are part of the same complex as fairy rings. They are part of the natural decay process that helps break down large wood items in the ground. There is no real control so mowing them off or knocking them loose with a garden rake is about the best thing going.
March 18, 2011
Many lawns have brown spots or patches. In most cases these are a warm season perennial grass such as nimblewill. There is no selective control for these grasses, meaning glyphosate (Roundup). These spots green up slowly and brown out early. The best plan is to spray them in late July when they are growing, then put down new seed in mid-August.
March 18, 2011
Warmer temperatures have us thinking spring. Lawns are greening up very quickly. Spring seeding lawns is usually our second best choice, because of the warm weather soon to follow, but it does work when we have cool, wet weather. Fall has been the preferred time for many years, but once again, temperature and moisture have a great effect on success.
Spring seeding should be done between March 15 and April 1 for the best chance of success. The reasons for the early date are the heat and the long germination time for Kentucky bluegrass. It can take up to a month for bluegrass seed to germinate. This means an April 1 seeding might germinate May 1. Then add six to eight weeks for it to become established. This could then be close to July 1. Usually we tend to get hot weather by then. Let's start with the basics. The normal seedings are a blend of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fine fescue. The fine fescue is much better in shade, and the perennial ryegrass will provide quicker cover. The seeding rate is generally four pounds per 1000 square feet in bare dirt seedings. Use two pounds per 1000 square feet in overseeding thin lawns. Of course this can run into some real money when doing very large areas. Many rural seedings are done more on the basis of a pound per 1000 square feet. There are almost 44,000 square feet in an acre, so you can do the math on this one.
Fertilizer is always an area of many questions. The place to start is a soil test. This will tell you where you are starting from. Basic soil test levels for phosphorus, potassium, and soil pH should be in the neighborhood of 40, 350, and 6.1 respectfully. Phosphorus and potassium are on a pound per acre basis. This must be considered if you use labs that report in parts per million, which will give numbers half as large. These numbers will provide a great environment for grass. Grass will really grow in very poor conditions, but it certainly won't have that manicured lawn look many strive for. Lacking a soil test, or being at recommended fertility levels, general maintenance applications provide a pound each of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium per 1000 square feet of lawn area in May and again in September. Really lush lawns will usually have twice as much nitrogen applied in a season, but split among four applications.
If you decide to try seeding this spring, remember a couple of things related to weed killers. Number one, you can't use crabgrass preventer in the spring if you put down seed. The crabgrass preventer doesn't know the difference between grass seed and weed seeds. The second rule is to mow the new seeding at least three times before trying any broadleaf weed killer. Generally this means spring broadleaf control doesn't happen when you seed in the spring. The end result is if you seed in the spring, you control weeds in the fall. Seed in the fall, and you control weeds and crabgrass in the spring. If you do plan to use a crabgrass preventer, time it so it is on about the time the forsythia blooms. This would be the approximate soil and air temperature needed for the crabgrass to germinate. April 1 is a good guess, but this date can vary widely with the weather. Many crabgrass preventers also only last for four to eight weeks, so plan on repeating the application in June anyway.
March 18, 2011
Watch roses to determine when to start uncovering and pruning. Many recommend doing your pruning chores when forsythia is in bloom. Also, if you haven't uncovered strawberries, keep an eye on them. They should be uncovered when you see green leaves under the straw, and definitely when you see yellow material – that means you are just a little late. Keep the straw handy in case you need to re-cover them.
March 11, 2011
· Finish up pruning deciduous trees and shrubs. Buds are beginning to swell on early species. Evergreens should be done in June, flowering shrubs after they flower, and oaks in December.
· Get prepared for the spring turf preparation season. The recommended dates for seeding, dethatching, and aerating run from March 15 to about April 1.
· Start your own transplants. The rule of thumb is to allow about six weeks before you want to set the plants outside. We are in zone 5b.
· Look for spruce spider mites. They begin by mottling needles. They are a major cause of dead areas in spruce tree foliage. Threat with a miticide if needed.
March 11, 2011
It seems like quality fruit must be sprayed at the recommended intervals. For apples and pears, we start with dormant oils, these need to be applied before buds swell. Dormant oils are usually needed only every two or three years to provide control of scales and mites. Sure, the populations will build up in the off years, but should remain relatively low if the three-year program is followed. Superior oils are lighter grade oils which won't cause as much burn damage during late spring, or even in-season, use. Superior oils will also provide control of the mites and scales.
The first regular spray of the year is applied when the green tissue is ½ inch out of the bud. This spray for homeowners usually consists of a multipurpose fruit spray (and sulfur if needed for powdery mildew). Multipurpose fruit spray has been re-formulated the last year or two to include malathion, captan, and carbaryl (methoxychlor was eliminated from the old mixture). This same mixture would be used when the fruit buds are in the pink stage (when fruit buds show color). After that, the persistence and consistence pays off as you spray with the same mixture about every 10 days until we get to within two weeks of harvest. In our area, we need to continue spraying this late because of apple maggot and sooty blotch.
This spray schedule will also control borers on apples and pears, if you also thoroughly spray the trunk and main limbs of the trees. On non-bearing, young fruit trees where borers have attacked, you can spray the trunks every two weeks during June and July with a multipurpose fruit spray.
The spray schedule for peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums varies a little bit. The dormant spray for them uses captan fungicide. This is the only spray that controls leaf curl and plum pockets. The next spray is when fruit buds show color with captan, followed by captan at bloom. When the husks begin to pull away from the base of the fruit we would then spray with sulfur, captan, and malathion. This mix would then be used every 10 days or so to within a week of harvest.
For borers on the peach group, you can spray or paint the trunk only with carbaryl (Sevin) on June 15, July 15, and August 15. We walk a tightrope with the loss of some of the insecticides since carbaryl can cause fruit drop or thinning on the peach group and some apples.
March 2, 2011
As we get warm spells, we will have the usual "nuisance pests" appear. These include millipedes, Asian ladybugs, ant swarms, box elder bugs, and elm leaf beetles to name a few. They are called nuisance pests because that is what they are. Very few will do any damage to anything, they just cause that feeling of disgust when you find them in the house.
The best controls are foundation sprays using a chemical such as permethrin or bifenthrin, spot sprays of the same chemical to control grouped insects, bait stations, and sticky traps. A combination of methods will actually give the best results, even if they are not perfect.
March 2, 2011
We are rapidly approaching the end of the pruning season for most fruit trees and deciduous ornamentals. There are a few rules that are recommended for pruning, and there are several other items that are up to "pruner discretion." One of the beginning items to discuss is the equipment.
Most pruning can be done with three pieces of equipment. The most used piece is a pair of bypass pruning shears. These shears will cut up to about 3/8 inch comfortably, and make sharp cuts that don't tear or crush. There are still anvil type shears available, but their use is mainly in vineyards to girdle grape vine ends. The second piece of equipment is a bypass lopper. Loppers can cut up to about 1.5 inch wood, depending on the type and size. If you have the money, a good set of compound action loppers would be a good investment. The third piece of equipment is a pruning saw. These can come in several shapes, sizes, and price ranges. For smaller limbs, a folding or straight pruning saw is a good buy. For larger limbs, a bow saw may be needed. The maneuverability and ease of use are key points when selecting a saw.
The time of year we prune various trees and shrubs is important. Most trees and shrubs that aren't flowering in nature should be pruned between December and mid-March. Flowering trees and shrubs should be done after they flower. Evergreens are best pruned in late June. With oak wilt in the area, oaks should be pruned in December to lessen sap flow, which attracts virus-carrying beetles. And, any branch that hits you in the face when you are mowing should be cut off immediately (except on those oak trees)!
Basic pruning should serve to remove poor branches, keep the plant growing aggressively, and do a little bit with shaping a plant. Poor branches mean bad angles from a trunk or main branch, dead branches, branches that rub together, or multiple leaders. As far as keeping a plant growing aggressively, remember that pruning is a rejuvenation process. Regular pruning also produces more two-year-old wood that produces fruit on fruit trees, and flowers on flowering trees and shrubs. Minor shaping and sizing are possible, but major changes probably mean a different plant should be selected.
When making a pruning cut, the key is to cut back to something. Branch tips can be cut back to a bud, and entire branches can be cut back to another branch or the main trunk. When making the cut to a branch or trunk, cut to the edge of the collar (about a 1/16 of an inch from the other branch). Cutting too close to the other branch destroys the water carrying tissue, and leaving a stub will guarantee a rotten branch stub (that will eventually rot into the main branch or trunk). Topping a tree lessens weight, and reduces size, for a short period of time. Within five years of topping, you will generally have more weight and growth than you would have had without topping. If you are making cuts on large branches, it is best to cut once about 18 inches from the main branch, then make a second cut to leave the 1/16 inch collar. This will help prevent the cut branch from tearing other branches.
Hopefully these basic pruning hints will help you get started on the right foot. Remember the golden rule of pruning "If you think you've cut out too much, you're probably about right."