Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Timely Tips for Spring Garden Cleanup

Are you itching to get out and start playing in your garden? Me too. It's time to: prune, mulch, stake and most important - plant! Here are a few things to consider as you head out in Slogger-shod feet and West County Rose gloved-hands armed with Felco pruners.

Snow Mold
1. Lawns - Check turf for this winter's gift - snow mold! You can't miss it (see picture). Symptoms look worse than their long term effect. Snow mold will disappear with fertilization and light raking once the ground warms and dries a bit more. Don't rake in deep shade where shallow-rooted fescues reside. You may pull them up and out. Fungicides are unnecessary.

Vole Tunnels
2. Voles - Yes, that's a "V", not an "M". This picture was taken in mid-March as the snow receded. My lawn has never had vole damage before, although I've railed about their potential winter damage on trees and shrubs for years. It looks as though I'll be raking, tamping lightly and reseeding areas of my back yard as soon as the soil thaws more.

Northwind Switchgrass
3. Perennial cleanup - For those gardeners that didn't get out the scythe (just kidding, I use pruners, too, I do) last fall the time has come. Try to begin cutting back before the days get too warm and new growth starts emerging in last year's stem residue. You may need to remove winter tattered foliage ("deadleafing") rather than doing a to-the-ground cut back on some evergreen perennials like Bergenia, Heuchera and Hellebores, for example. Don't cut back creeping Phlox, Oriental poppy and Iberis, or you'll be out of luck.

4. Perennial support - Don't forget last year's promise to yourself to get the cages, hoops and "grow through" plant supports on early. Remember trying to wrestle those 3' tall peonies into their cages? Gardening is much more fun when we're proactive with this very necessary task. This may even apply to shrubs. Let's get those 'Annabelle' Hydrangeas contained early so their beautiful ivory heads aren't resting on the ground this year.

5. Slug prevention - You know which of your prized perennials are attacked by slugs every year. At spring cleanup simply apply earth-friendly Sluggo (it's iron phosphate) around the crowns of susceptible Hosta, Ligularia and other slug-victims. They ingest it, stop feeding, and pass on to Hosta heaven before they reproduce. If applied preventatively it's really easy to have beautiful unblemished perennials.

Spring Break Tulip
6. Spring bulbs - Deer and rabbits  won't touch daffodils. Tulips are a three course meal. Foliage, buds, flowers- all fair game. While you can erect physical barriers that sort of negates the idea of a beautiful color display to welcome spring. However, there are a number of great repellents that can be applied so your garden can look like a slice of Holland. Both Bonide's Repels-All and Plantskyyd repellents come in granules to apply to soil, or liquid to spray directly on plant parts. They work! Don't forget to fertilize your bulbs this spring, either as they emerge or as they finish flowering.

7. Roses - Don't be tempted to remove winter protection too early. Don't be afraid to prune roses (other than climbers, species roses, and some shrub roses) hard. Even if my roses have green canes 15" or more I cut them back to an outward facing bud, leaving the stems (canes) only 4-8" tall. What rosarians say about pruning hard and getting more new basal branches is true. You'll also be removing overwintering black spot spores that lurk in old leaves and canes.

8. Soil preparation - Plant performance is all about soil, soil, soil. Spring cleanup and planting is the perfect opportunity to enhance your soil, especially if your garden has dense clay. Take this time to topdress annual, veggie and perennial beds with compost, leaf mulch or dehydrated manure. This can be cultivated in, or in the case of new beds rototilled or spaded in. After a couple of years of this TLC soils will start showing big structural improvements- and your plants will respond accordingly.

9. Weed prevention - Many weeds (especially annuals, the ones that grow for only one season) can be thwarted with pre-emergent weed control. After you've done whatever raking or cleaning you're going to do in beds (especially those with bare soil) apply the granules. Water in or lightly cultivate the granules into the soil surface. Understand that you're preventing weeds, not killing those that have germinated and are growing. Read directions carefully and fully BEFORE application to get maximum results!

10. Mulch- The tests have been done, the results universally show that virtually all plants perform with better, more vigorous growth if they're mulched. Spring is the time to get that organic matter down (leaf mulch, cotton burr compost, shredded pine or hardwood bark, etc). Remember you're mulching roots, not stems. So, try and leave mulch-free zones immediately adjacent to annual and perennial stems, and "trunks" of trees and shrubs. While mulch will dramatically deter weed growth you can apply pre-emergent weed control to the surface of mulches, if you like.

Emerging Tete-a-Tete Daffodils

Let the planting, mulching, pruning and staking begin!                                                                   


















Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Off to the Amaryllis Races

'Elvas'
It's really easy to understand why amaryllis are so wildly popular. They grow quickly once awakened from dormancy, have flowers that are the epitome of spectacular, are practically maintenance-free (can be grown in water or soil) and are just plain fun to watch! I heard people are even having amaryllis races - they all pot them the same day, then keep track of whose grows fastest, tallest, or has the most flowers. But they're so-oo-o-o easy even a tot could grow them.

Big bulbs!
My first memory of amaryllis was shopping with Mom at the florist for an azalea. I saw a box on the counter full of the biggest bulbs I had ever seen. The picture promised an amazing plant full of huge red trumpet-like flowers. I was hooked and coughed up $ 5.15 of my own money. I was so taken by the idea of this big, not-so-pretty bulb throwing up a flower spike like the picture that I would have paid double that. Remember, this was 1959 and that was weeks (plural) of allowance.

'Exotica'
I potted the bulb upon arriving home and a few weeks later bada-boom, bada-bing, the payoff came as promised. It grew jack-in-the-beanstalk fast producing not one, but two spikes of dinner plate dahlia-sized flowers that blew me away. Too cool. I felt up to any horticultural challenge after that.

The hybridizers are having fun!
In the ensuing decades hybridizers have been busybusybusy with amazing results. The color range has been dramatically increased. Varieties now have contrasting star-burst patterns in the center. There are also doubles that resemble florists' roses, as well as dwarf cultivars with more delicate flowers.

There are plenty of articles on growing them successfully, so I'd like to share a few tidbits you may not find elsewhere.

1) They may or may not bloom for Christmas. If they've been grown in the southern hemisphere they'll have fulfilled their full dormant period and should be ready to start growing as soon as you pot them. If they've been grown in the northern hemisphere they may need more "rest" before the show begins - so be patient. They'll brighten winter days in January and February just as well.

2) Water thoroughly when you first pot them. Don't water again until you see buds or leaves emerging from the neck of the bulb. That may be weeks if the bulb is still dormant. That's okay. If the bulb isn't ready to grow, don't force it by watering. That may lead to a rotten bulb. It'll grow when it's good and ready.

3) If you're trying to save the bulb to rebloom for next year, feed heavily throughout the spring and summer. It takes a lot of stored energy to produce those enormous blooms. I read once that for every four leaves the plant produces you should expect one flower spike the following season.

4) I'm loathe to mention this as is seems horticulturally perverse, but for those that have suffered tall amaryllis, they can be given a 4-6% alcohol solution (absolutely no more). This will stunt them and keep them more compact. Flowers will be full size, but the stems will be shorter. You'll need to Google that formula. I won't dispense moonshine concoctions for innocent amaryllis.

If I was a parent or grandparent with young children trying to interest them in the natural world an amaryllis race seems a perfectly fun place to start. Gentlemen, ladies, start your plants.

 
    

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Year in the Life of a Fraser Fir


I was fortunate recently to have the opportunity to chat with a new friend, Fletcher, the Fraser fir. We talked long distance. He shared highlights of life on the Christmas tree farm before coming to Chalet. There's a lot happening down on the farm!

Where I grew up in Virginia
Where do you come from, Fletcher?
Thanks for asking, Tony. My great-grandparents originally came from Mt. Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. I've kinda lost track, but I'm at least the 8th generation of Fraser fir coming from those cool mountains. I started out as a tiny seed from the cone of my parent tree. Did you know we Fraser firs may have cones when we're young, but have to be at least 15 years old to produce seeds? 

How did you spend your early years?
Well, the first 5 years of my life were spent at an evergreen nursery along with thousands of other seedlings. We got everything we needed there, like sunlight, fertilizer and water to grow big and strong. Like all brothers and sisters we were similar, but different. After growing 5 years, we're still shorter than a newborn baby. Can you imagine that?

Baby Pictures - 6 months, 3 years and 5 years old
How did you get to the Christmas tree farm?
This really nice couple, Farmer Bob and Farmer Sue, chose me and lots of my brother and sisters as "liners", which is just another word for baby trees. They planted us at their beautiful farm in Virginia in specially prepared soil in rows 5 feet apart- kind of like corn, but with the rows farther apart. There were over 1700 of us per acre. That's a lot of trees, but we didn't feel crowded!

Tell us about life on the farm.
Life is good. We grow for 2 years in the field before we get our first haircut, which my farm parents call pruning. When we grow 2' tall we start getting pruned every year in the middle of August to stay full and pretty, the way folks like us. My farm parents and helpers use machetes (long, sharp knives) like an action hero to trim our branch tips. It takes 5-10 minutes and doesn't hurt at all!

Then, on our 7th birthday we get even more attention. We don't get cake, but starting in late March Bob, Sue and many helpers pull the young cones off all of us trees. That way our energy is used to produce more branches, not wasted on un-needed cones. They do this plucking by hand so it's lots of hard work. It tickles, but Farmer says this makes us much fuller.

Growing Up - 8-10 years old
What about feeding?
Our farm parents never let us get hungry. We're fed a tasty (at least to us) fertilizer the end of April to keep us dark green. During the year we get showered 2-3 times with special foliar (that means our needles) fertilizers that have things like calcium and iron to keep us growing strong, just like boys and girls.

Are there weeds in your in your field?
Fortunately, Farmer knows how to deal with those pesky plants. The weeds are mowed so they don't steal all the food from the soil. Weeds don't share well, they can be bullies. So, it's really nice in the fields because Bob and Sue plant white clover between the rows. They tell us clover takes nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil for us to use. I love nitrogen - yum! And the bees use the clover to make the most delicious honey. I personally don't eat honey, but I hear humans love it.

So, what happens when you, your brothers, sisters and cousins are ready to be Christmas trees?
About mid-November our farm parents harvest us (a little like a corn farmer) one or two days before shipping us to Chalet. We're cut, brought down the mountain and stood up in a pine forest. Our trunks are touching the ground and we actually take up water before we're wrapped up for the ride. We're really fresh. And boy, do we enjoy the truck ride!

Christmas Tree Graduation
Fletcher, you're 7-8' tall. I don't mean to be impolite, but how old are you now?
Hmm, let's see. 5 years in the evergreen nursery, then growing in the fresh air and sunshine at the farm for 7-8 years. That should be about 12, maybe 13 years old. Wow, I guess that makes me a teenager!

You're right, Fletcher, it does. Thanks for sharing the details about your life as a Christmas tree. I know one day soon you'll play a big role in making a family's holiday very special! 


     












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