Friday, October 21, 2016

Fall Garden Punchlist

If you're a DIY gardener in the upper Midwest you can do some garden prep in early November before the real winterizing begins. It's hard to overlook the obvious, like chucking the blackened skeletons of frost-stunned annuals, emptying containers for the next color display and cutting back perennials that don't dazzle in snow. May I remind you of some more easily overlooked chores?

Lawns
Hopefully, you fertilized the end of August or early September. You're no-o-o-t-t-t fi-i-i-n-i-i-sh-ed. Making another application, whether organic or synthetic, around Halloween or even early November, will give you a head start on thicker grass for 2017.
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Keep mowing as long as grass is growing. Or, don't leaf (pun intended) the leaves to freeze on the lawn. Keep harvesting and removing. Leaves that freeze matted into your grass will leave an unpleasant reminder for you in the spring - a bare spot that corresponds exactly to where the leaves froze. This bare soil (in the sunny parts of your lawn) will be where crabgrass may appear next spring, as if by magic!

Bulbs
After planting your new spring-flowering bulbs do fertilize. Years ago we recommended putting the fertilizer in the bottom of the hole and placing the bulbs on top. Research now dictates putting the bulbs in the hole, covering them with soil and placing the fertilizer above the bulbs. Water will move the nutrients down into (but not past) the root zone.

   
As hardy as tulips, hyacinths and daffodils are a 1-2" layer of an organic mulch (leaf mulch, cotton bur compost, pine fines) is a great recommendation when you've finished planting and watering. We've learned that mulched bulbs produce a more uniform flower show than unmulched. Flowers may be delayed a bit since mulched soil warms slowly, but is that a big deal? Not for me either.


Houseplants
Bringing tropicals and houseplants back inside after a summer vacation on the patio? At least two weeks before the first expected frost do your own USDA-style inspection. Don't overlook the potential livestock biomass hiding and multiplying  even though plants appear clean at a glance.If the plant has mealybugs or mites, I would pitch it. If the plant has less difficult issues to control consider using "Systemic Granules". I recommend sequestering any summer-outside plant in a solitary confinement room (with no other clean plants to infest) for three to four weeks until you're sure it's pest-free.

Deer rubbing. Courtesy Univ. of Maryland
Wildlife
Male deer (bucks) are testosterone-crazed in October and November. They take their itchy-antlered frustration out on young tree trunks (less than 3" in diameter, with limbs at least 5' off the ground). These attacks can easily kill a tree by slashing off the bark. You can try a repellent (like Plant-Skydd), or put three or four heavy temporary metal fence posts in the ground a couple of feet from the trunk to deter.

Well-placed stakes keep deer at bay
Deer will eat arborvitae and yews in winter. They can be dissuaded by covering evergreens with "deer" or "bird netting". It's a black mesh so it doesn't show, but does make grazing difficult. Easier to move to the neighbors' landscape.

Rabbit damage on burning bush. Courtesy US eXtension
Bunnies maybe driven (in deep snow) to chew off arborvitae branches they can reach. They will also strip bark from burning bush, crabapples, fruit trees, Cotoneaster and hornbeam. The easiest solution is to screen the trunks with hardware cloth corrals. Remember to make them high so that with deep snow and standing on tiptoes "Bugs" can't reach over and gnaw a meal off your prized specimens. Stripped bark can be fatal. This should also offer protection from mice and voles. They're all rodents and love the same dinner fare!

Completing any, or all, of the above tasks should put a better face on your garden come spring!      









  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bambi-Proof Bulbs


It's fall and a gardener's fancy turns to thoughts of a stunning spring garden radiating color from bulbs. Increasingly many of us have to garden with one eye on that prize and the other on lookout for the next raid from White-tailed deer. If Odocoileus virginianus regularly plunders your garden consider the following spring-flowering bulbs whose flavors are decidedly unpalatable to Bambi.


Allium (Ornamental onion) - Their popularity continues to explode exponentially, as it should. Check out the diversity of flower sizes, colors, bloom times and ease of maintenance that makes one or more of the varieties suitable for almost any imaginable garden situation (except deep shade). Loved by pollinators, Alliums are hated by deer and rabbits for their strong odor and bitter taste when cells are crushed. Don't worry, it won't even get to the taste test.


Camassia (Camass or Quamash) - It's hard to find tall spring-flowering bulbs and Camass does that very nicely, thank you. Grows to 20" and blooms at the end of spring bulb time. Prefers a bit more moisture than most spring bulbs and full sun, but tolerates light shade. Deer and rodents will take a pass.


Galanthus (Snowdrops) - I saw these in a mass planting early this spring and thought, "Why haven't I grown these?" These little charmers bloom right through snow. The downward-hanging, milk-white flowers with green tips remind me of airplane propellers. Subtle, so plant in groups of a dozen or so. They'll naturalize since they're animal-proof. I want to plant the double-flowered Galanthus (flore pleno) this fall. 6" tall, partial sun.

Leucojum (Snowflake) - Late spring blooming, pendulous, bell-shaped white flowers with green dotting on the tips. Long-lasting flowers, elongated, strappy foliage. Part sun/part shade and moist sites. Depending upon species, may get 12-20" tall. Neither deer nor rodent, nary a nibble!


Muscari (Grape hyacinths) - The search for "different" has brought many new forms of this old favorite to our gardens. The standard M. armeniacum is a beautiful cobalt blue naturalizer that doesn't flinch in the face of a deer onslaught. Muscari are different than most bulbs. How so? They produce a few inches of grassy foliage in early fall that remains in place, evergreen, over the winter. Some cunning gardeners use Grape hyacinths to mark areas where larger, major bulbs are- by planting Muscari around the perimeter. This leafy halo helps highlight where the other bulbs are resting during fall and early spring. This can prevent shovel damage if your garden memory gets hazy over the winter. Mine sometimes does, unfortunately....


Scilla (Squill) - The charming blue "haze" in many peoples' spring lawns is almost always from naturalized Scilla siberica. 4-6" tall, grassy foliage blends right into the grass. Reproduces freely by seed and bulbs. Partial shade or full spring sun are fine. Deer and rodents won't stop to dine on this plant.

Daffodils - Deer, rabbits, rodents.No animal is interested in any part, whether it's the bulb, the leaves or the flowers. Totally off limits. Plant daffodils and know that your spring garden will be untouched. 

If none of these suggestions send your horticultural pulse racing (this is by no means a complete listing of all deer-resistant bulbs) and you must have the wonder of tulips I hear you and feel that need, too. So:

  • Check out the small species tulips. They are smaller in stature and flower size, but some do exhibit deer resistance.Otherwise,
  • Be prepared to spray standard tulips with repellents when they emerge, when buds are first visible down in the leaves, and just before buds show color. If you'd like a recommendation, I've had great luck (and beautiful tulips) using Plant-Skydd.

Bulbs, buds, blooms. Just beautiful.  
     

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